Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Emma Shirtzer, 1862-1925

By Ada Chang, undergraduate, University of California, Berkeley

Mrs. Emma Shirtzer was a women's rights activist in Oakland, California during the early twentieth century. In records, her last name is often also spelled Shertzer. Born in 1862 in Kentucky, Shirtzer spent much of her early life in the East. She gave birth to her son, Robert Shertzer, in Indiana in 1894. While Emma Shirtzer married, there are no records of her husband. Census records show that she lived in Oakland in the 1910s and 1920s. She worked as a "manager" or "proprietor" and she housed many lodgers in her home. Prior to being heavily involved in Women's Suffrage, she participated in social and church work as well as the Temperance movement. During the 1920s, much of that work focused on helping poor mothers and children in matters of family welfare.

Emma Shirtzer participated in various political actions throughout this time period. As member of the College Equal Suffrage League of Northern California, Shirtzer helped college-educated women discuss suffrage and brought the idea of campaigning politically for women's suffrage to college campuses. The league's actions introduced many educated women to activism and empowered them fight for their rights as citizens outside of the issue of suffrage as well.. The league also actively participated in politics and sent delegates to political conventions in Oakland. In September of 1908, Shirtzer traveled to Stockton, California ahead of a delegation from the Equal Suffrage League in order to "arrange the details of the [Equal Suffrage League's] campaign," at a conference. .In 1911, the league took on the active campaign for a referendum to amend the Constitution of California to grant women the right to vote. The College Equal Suffrage League focused their efforts on Southern California and small towns in Northern California. League members developed a "highly individual" method of campaigning, passing out leaflets and putting up posters, holding pageants and social functions, and hosting public meetings with famous speakers to promote the amendment. October 4th, Emma Shirtzer demonstrated with other prominent Bay Area suffragists at the hearing of fellow Equal Suffrage League member Leola Hall for a traffic violation that they deemed unjust. The amendment movement had become so widespread that the judge in the case asked for a publicity banner as a memento. Just a few days later, on October 10th, California citizens voted upon the referendum. Emma Shirtzer joined other women in Oakland to stand at the polls and look out for voter fraud and continue to campaign for the amendment. In the end, the amendment was approved giving women the right to vote in California.

After that success, Emma Shirtzer continued to work for and be involved in political action and women's rights. On January 3rd, 1913, Emma Shirtzer acted as a small table hostess at a women's lunch with over 900 women in attendance. Various speakers discussed how women could educate themselves on the way government functioned and some of the issues the women at the time were interested in, like municipal beautification and economic reform...On January 10, 1919, Emma Shirtzer was appointed Assistant Journal Clerk to the Legislature of the State of California during its forty-third session.2 Six years later, Shirtzer passed away in Alameda County in 1925.


California. Alemeda County. 1910 U.S. Census, Digital images. April 16, 2017.

California. 1905-1939 Death Index. Digital images. April 18, 2013.

"Civic Spirit Dominating Feature Great Concourse of Intelligence." San Francisco Call, January 4, 1913, 113th ed. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The history of woman suffrage. Vol. 6. New York, NY: National Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Legislature of the State of California. Journal of the assembly. Sacramento, 1919. Accessed April 16, 2017.

McAfee, Tabitha. The Impact of the College Equal Suffrage League on the Oregon Votes for Women Victory in 1912. Oregon Heritage Comission. Century of Action: Oregon Women Vote 1912-2012. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Silver, Mae. Women Claim the Vote in California. Found SF. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Stuart, Paul H. "Social Work Profession: History." PhD diss., Florida International University, 2013. Accessed April 16, 2017.

"Suffragists Take Court by Storm." San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 1911. Accessed April 16, 2017.

"Suffragists to Attend Political Meeting." The San Francisco Call, September 01, 1908. Accessed April 16, 2017.

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