Biographical Sketch of Martha Jane Jamison Whitman

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Martha Jane Jamison Whitman, 1863-1939

By Patricia Lyn Scott, Independent Historian; Jefferson County Historical Society (Idaho) Board of Directors.

Member, Advisory Planning Board, Idaho Equal Suffrage Association; President, Idaho Equal Suffrage Association.

Martha Jane Jamison was born on February 12, 1863 in Oquawaka, Illinois to William Beatty (1816-1879) and Elizabeth Edmonds Brent Jamison (1826-1888). While it is unclear when she arrived in Idaho, she was working as a court stenographer in the late 1880s and then deputy clerk for the circuit court in southeastern Idaho. She married Marcus Frederick Whitman (1858-1930), a mining operator, in Paris, Idaho on January 19,1890. They made their home in Montpelier near the Utah border. They became the parents of one son and two daughters, Marguerite White Whitman (1891-1981), Marcus Jamison Whitman (1900-1983), and Florence Virginia Whitman (1909-1983). She died on March 2, 1939, in Gardena, Los Angeles County, California.

Martha Jane Whitman has been described as one of the "stalwarts" of the Idaho suffrage movement. The Idaho Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) held its organizational meeting in Boise on November 20, 1895. While only eight counties were represented, bylaws were adopted, officers elected, and an initial plan developed. Whitman was chosen to serve on an advisory planning board to work with the Association's elected officers. Thirty local equal suffrage clubs were organized in the next eight months.

In May 1896, three members representing IESA officers and its advisory board plus Laura M. Johns, a national suffrage organizer, held a planning meeting in Boise to provide additional regional oversight for local organizational efforts and to plan the IESA convention. Martha Jane Whitman was appointed to oversee the organization of local suffrage clubs in southeastern Idaho. The next IESA meeting was a three-day convention held at Boise's Sonna Opera House from July 1-3. The Idaho Statesman provided detailed daily coverage of its packed morning, afternoon and evening sessions. Martha Jane Whitman served as a credited delegate from Montpelier and was actively involved throughout the convention. Boise's Methodist minister Rev. John W. Huston welcomed the assembly and she provided IESA's official response. She challenged the view of women's inferiority and declared the "the elective franchise" as a "powerful lever" in their work. Later, she reported "excellent work was being done [in Bear Lake] county" and described it as, "the best working organization in the state." Later, she was appointed to two important committees on resolutions and the plan of work.

The final convention day witnessed the election of new officers, passage of resolutions, and the approval of the plan of work. While recognizing Idaho's Democratic majority, national suffrage leaders had urged the election of a Democrat as president, IESA elected the "well-liked and respected" Martha Jane Whitman, a Republican. Later she wrote to prominent Democrat and Boise attorney James H. Hawley and reported on her election as IESA president. She humbly noted her only recommendation was her "stupidity and personal pride." She stressed her total commitment to the movement and that the situation demanded her "best effort." She also asked him for his help and support.

Martha Jane Whitman returned home to organize her own Bear Lake County. On August 8th, she attended and spoke to the Bear Lake County Republican convention. The Republican delegates passed the equal suffrage resolution and she was elected as a delegate to the State convention. On August 15th, she spoke to the Bear Lake County Democratic convention and they too, approved the suffrage resolution becoming the only county delegation arriving at the State Democratic convention pledged to equal suffrage and were instructed to "stand firm." On August 17th, she returned to Boise to direct IESA's final push to the November election. Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National Association of Women's Suffrage, had arrived in Boise on August 14th to assist this effort. Mrs. Catt and Mrs. Whitman attended Idaho's four state political conventions. Both spoke at the conventions, Mrs. Whitman provided brief remarks and introductions, while Mrs. Catt gave stirring addresses. Their presentations and IESA's lobby efforts were successful in winning the support of all Idaho political parties. This removed partisan politics from the suffrage campaign. Later, Mrs. Whitman called, "the campaign with Mrs. Catt . . . as one of the most exciting incidents of [her] life."

The remaining two and a half-month campaign was marked with long hours, extensive travel, distribution of more than seven thousand leaflets, and countless speeches. Twenty-four additional local suffrage clubs were organized between the completion of the IESA convention and mid-October. Mrs. Whitman spent the month of October in Boise directing the campaign's final weeks.

While the votes cast in November overwhelmingly supported suffrage, the State Board of Canvassers ruled that the amendment "had been defeated" because the State Constitution required an amendment must "receive {the votes of] a majority of electors" and they defined electors as the total number of voters. Immediately, IESA appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court. On December 11, 1896, the Court ruled unanimously overturning the decision stating there was "no reason" for counting voters not voting for a measure as "no votes"; they just expressed no opinion. All Idaho counties but one supported equal suffrage and Whitman's Bear Lake County provided the second largest majority support, in fact, in one of its small communities (Dingle) vote was unanimous. Just days after the ruling the Rocky Mountain News interviewed Martha Jane Whitman. She recounted the challenges of what she called, "a most wonderful campaign" and acknowledged the contributions of all the men and women who made it possible.

On March 8, 1897, Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg recognized Martha Jane Whitman's contribution to Idaho by nominating her as the University of Idaho's first woman regent. Promptly, the State Legislature approved the nomination. Three days later she became the first woman to register to vote in Montpelier. While no statewide elections were scheduled until 1898, municipal elections were held in 1897 and she became one of Idaho's first woman voters.


"Bear Lake Convention" Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), August 11, 1896, 3. (Accessed: August 31, 2018).

"Democrats Meet," Montpelier Examiner (Montpelier, Idaho), August 15, 1896, 2. (Accessed: September 5, 2018).

"Equal Suffrage," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), June 28, 1896, 3. (Accessed: August 31, 1896).

"Evening Meeting," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), July 3, 1896, 3. (Accessed: July 3, 1896). "Martha Jane Jamison Whitman," (Accessed: August 30, 2018).

"First to Register," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), March 13, 1897, 3. (Accessed: September 2, 2018).

"For Free Silver – Republicans for Bryan," Montpelier Examiner (Montpelier, Idaho), August 8, 1896, 2. (Accessed: August 31, 2018).

"For Suffrage in Idaho," Caldwell Tribune (Caldwell, Idaho), February 20, 1897, 2. (Accessed: August 15, 2018).

Hawley, James Henry. "Papers of James Henry Hawley," Boise: Idaho State Archives. MS 48.

Idaho Equal Suffrage Association. "Minute Book, 1895-1896." Boise: Idaho State Archives, MS 2 .0100

"Idaho Suffrage Fight," Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), December 13, 1896, 16. (Accessed: August 12, 2018).

Larson, T.A. "Woman's Rights in Idaho," Idaho Yesterdays 16 (Spring 1972), 2-19.

"Mrs. Whitman is Boise Visitor," Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), August 8, 1936, 6.

"New University Regents," Blackfoot News (Blackfoot, Idaho), March 13, 1897, 3. (Accessed: August 30, 2018).

"Our Women Can Vote!" Lewiston Daily Teller (Lewiston, Idaho), December 17, 1896, 5. (Accessed: June 13, 2018).

"Personals," Idaho News (Blackfoot, Idaho), February 2, 1890, 2. (Accessed: August 20, 2018).

"Services Held for Martha Whitman," Caribou County Sun (Soda Springs, Idaho), March 9, 1939, 1. (Accessed: June 30, 2018).

"Suffrage Meeting Ends." Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), July 7, 1896, 3. (Accessed: August 30, 2018).

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