Saturday, September 25, 2021

During a year of suffrage campaigns, a ladies society forms in Wintersburg

ABOVE: A small news item noted the organization of a ladies society by Issei (first generation Japanese immigrant) women in the peatlands of Orange County, "said to be the first one known in this country." (Santa Ana Register, September 25, 2021)

   Days before California women gained suffrage after election day, October 10, 1911, Japanese women in north Orange County organized. Scattered across the rural countryside, ladies society meetings were a way to connect and talk with other women who shared a common culture and experience. As most were new to the country, they could freely talk about how to navigate their new surroundings and share their confusion, experiences, and lend each other support. 

   Prohibited from becoming U.S. citizens due to their Japanese ancestry, the majority were women who had been permitted to join their spouses in the United States following the 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement between the U.S. and Japan. It was only two years prior to the first of California's alien land laws in 1913.

   The Japanese women of Wintersburg Village, Talbert, and Smeltzer may have been aware of the organizing effort in rural areas of California by women for Equal Suffrage. There was opposition to women's suffrage in the urban communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles and on election night, October 10, 1911, suffragists thought they had lost due to that opposition. 

   San Francisco had voted "no" by almost 14,000 votes. Los Angeles had voted "yes" by slightly over 2,000 votes.  The Southern California counties had "rolled up a slight majority for woman suffrage" reported the Santa Ana Register. There were election observers watching the ballot count, tagging approximately 3,000 as "fraudulent." But after several days of ballot counting, Equal Suffrage had passed statewide by 3,587 votes (final tally 125,037 to 121,450).  The rural precincts had come through. 

RIGHT: In go-big-or-go-home fashion the Santa Ana Register wrongly predicted the night of October 10, 1911, that the State defeated women's suffrage. The next day, the Register corrected and reported suffrage was "still in balance" statewide, but had lost in Orange County by 38 votes out of the 3,600 ballots cast. By Friday evening, October 13, the Register conceded in a much smaller news item halfway down the page, "Suffrage surely carried in State." By October 17, buried on page 4 there were small news items on women registering to vote and possibly voting in the November election on the "wet or dry" issue in Fullerton. (Santa Ana Register, October 10, 1911)

   In Southern California, Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopez was a prominent organizer for women's suffrage, frequently speaking to majority men audiences as they would vote on suffrage. "The first suffrage speech in Spanish that has ever been made in the State in this or any  other campaign was made at Ventura on Saturday by Miss Maria G. de Lopez, a member of the Los Angeles High School faculty. Many of the Spanish speaking people of Ventura heard the address which will be given in other parts of the State during the summer months when the State will be canvassed by the suffrigists (sic)," noted the Concord Transcript newspaper in Concord, California.

   The Santa Ana Register was certain the night of October 10 that women's suffrage had been defeated, running a large, below the banner headline, "State defeats woman suffrage."  The newspaper's corrections continued over the next several days in increasingly smaller headlines. On November 21, 1911, following state vote certification and women registering to vote, the Santa Ana Register predicted that "Riverside seems to have elected a socialist mayor" with the "woman vote practically all in by noon." By November 29, the Register seems to have accepted their new overlords, running a tiny article that bills had been introduced in Sacrament to make women voters eligible for all public offices "to harmonize the political code with the equal suffrage regime."

LEFT: Ten days after the vote on women's suffrage, the Santa Ana Register shared on page 4  opinions published by other Orange County newspapers, including the Huntington Beach News, which "rejoices in the victory of the woman's suffrage amendment to the California constitution." (Santa Ana Register, October 20, 1911)

   Japanese women organizing a ladies society in Orange County knew they would not be permitted to vote, since U.S. law considered them "ineligible for citizenship." But, their U.S.-born daughters would be citizens. The organization of women's society groups, sewing groups, and teas had long been a place where women could receive information and speak freely on political issues, and organize community causes. While there are no documents found to-date on the ladies society, the Santa Ana Register makes a reference in January 1920 of the organization meeting monthly and having met at the Garden Grove Japanese Institute.

   The year of 1911 saw significant social change and innovation in Orange County

   The Smeltzer Japanese Association entered its sixth year in 1911, electing a new board of officers (including Charles Mitsuji Furuta, Furuta farm at Historic Wintersburg).  The Association had been supplying Huntington Beach with day and nighttime fireworks for the annual July 4th events since 1905.

RIGHT: The Smeltzer Japanese Association holds its annual election of officers and states a mission "to reform the public morality and prevent misunderstandings among the Japanese and any other nations." (Huntington Beach News, republished in Santa Ana Register, April 21, 1911)

   Reverend Joseph Kenichi Inazawa moved to Wintersburg Village in 1911 to replace Reverend Junzo Nakamura at the Wintersburg Japanese Mission. Reverend Inazawa was joined by his wife, Kate Alice Goodman. They had attracted international attention in 1910 when they eloped to marry in New Mexico because the Inazawas' interracial marriage was illegal by California law. 

   Yasumatsu Miyawaki, who had opened the first Japanese market at 217 Main Street in Huntington Beach in 1907, filed his business name in 1911 as the Sun Rise Co. He opened his second market location in Talbert (Fountain Valley). Tsurumatsu "T.M." Asari, who had opened the first Japanese market in Wintersburg Village soon after his arrival in 1899, filed his business name in 1911 as the T.M. Asari Co. He became a prominent goldfish farmer and grower, helping earlier found the Wintersburg Japanese Mission and then the first Buddhist church in Orange County.

   The Wintersburg Japanese Mission was recognized by the Orange County's Young Christian Endeavor Union in 1911, presenting them with a banner they proudly displayed . They had raised funds throughout Orange County beginning in 1904 and worked to construct their Mission beginning in 1909.

   The Holly Sugar company began building their sugar beet factory in Huntington Beach in 1911, a boon for Japanese farmers who grew sugar beets. 

ABOVE: A wagon loaded with sugar beets races down Wintersburg Road in front of the Furuta farm, circa 1914. (Courtesy of the Furuta family) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    Japan sent the first shipment of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to First Lady Helen Taft in 1911, as a national gift to create an avenue of trees near the tidal basin in Washington, D.C. A gift that draws visitors more than a century later.

   Women aviators Mathilda Moisant, Harriet Quimby, and Mlle. Detrieu--aka "bird women"---flew in the Dominguez Field air show in 1911. Glen Martin was flying over Orange County skies at the speed of 60 mph in biplanes he constructed in a Santa Ana church building in 1911. This would inspire Japanese celery field worker and college student Koha Takeishi to attend the famous Curtiss Flying School in north San Diego county and the formation of the Smeltzer Flying Company in Wintersburg Village. Takeishi's later demonstration flights in the U.S. and his final flight in Japan would make international news.

   While these 1911 events drew more attention and media coverage, the tiny news item about Japanese women forming a ladies' organization at the time California women were campaigning for suffrage speaks volumes.

ABOVE: Charles Mitsuji Furuta, standing near the entrance of the Wintersburg Japanese Mission, holds the Young Christian Endeavor Union banner presented in 1911 by Orange County Christian groups for their work opening the Mission in 1910. Reverend Junzo Nakamura is second from right, standing. They are facing the unpaved Wintersburg Road, now Warner Avenue. The women seated in this photograph most likely were members of the Japanese ladies' society. (Wintersburg Japanese Mission, 1911, Courtesy of Wintersburg Church) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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