Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Virginia “Jennie” Catlin Arnott, 1857-1943
By Anna Katharina Rudolph, PhD student, University of California, Santa Barbara
Vice President and auditor, Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Association; Member, Woman's Club of Palo Alto; President, San Francisco Birth Control League
Virginia “Jennie” Catlin was born in Washington in 1857 and moved to California in 1868. Catlin attended Christian College in Santa Rosa, where she earned her teacher's certificate. In 1884, she married John Arnott, a contractor, and they had four children: Vallance, Catlin, Peter, and Sarah. Prior to moving to Palo Alto in 1900, Jennie Arnott worked in a factory in San Francisco, where she developed her lifelong interest in the welfare of the working people. She was an outspoken member of the Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Association and the Woman's Club of Palo Alto. She was a social activist for children's welfare and the emancipation of women, and she was the first woman candidate from the Socialist Party to run for State Assembly. She authored a number of articles on women's suffrage and other social issues in San Francisco Call, Daily Palo Alto Times, and Yellow Ribbon (San Francisco, CA). Arnott died on August 26, 1943, at her home in Palo Alto.
Between 1907 and 1912, Arnott was active as an officer of the Santa Clara County Equal Suffrage Association and as a prominent member of the Women's Club of Palo Alto. Newspapers reported her attendance at Equal Suffrage Association conventions in San Francisco and Oakland, where she gave campaign reports and spoke on various social issues. Arnott promoted the cause of women's suffrage locally in Palo Alto and traveled to suffrage conventions across Northern California. In 1908 she was present at a meeting of the Board of Education in Palo Alto to advocate suffrage for women in municipal elections, and she also gave a toast on "Santa Clara County" at the Palo Alto Suffrage League Banquet. At the fourth annual convention of the California Equal Suffrage Association in 1910 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, she gave the report of the standing committee on child labor. She was a leading speaker at the Palo Alto Woman's Day meeting in 1911, where she delivered a talk entitled, "From the Child's Standpoint." At many of these events, Arnott was accompanied by her daughter, Vallance, who would often provide musical selections.
Jennie Arnott was a strong advocate for the welfare of impoverished children and mothers. In 1915, she wrote an editorial for the Daily Palo Alto Times to raise awareness about the mental, physical, and moral dangers faced by children who grew to adulthood in the factory system. As a harsh critic of the common practice of sterilizing “defectives,” Arnott argued that the environment was to blame and “that our insane industrial system, with millions of people overworked, underpaid, crowded in city slums and factory towns, anemic, stoop shouldered, can breed naught else but defectives.” Arnott urged action in the form of meaningful social reform, asking “Why not lay the axe at the root of the tree, instead of trying to lop off some of the branches?” She was also a tireless supporter of women's rights to contraception. In the 1918 edition of the Birth Control Review, Caroline Nelson tells a rousing anecdote of how Arnott welcomed her to Palo Alto as “the first birth control propagandist.” Nelson “sought shelter and comfort with Mrs. Arnott,” who arranged meetings in her home, went out on the street corner to support “the cause of voluntary motherhood,” and helped Nelson to establish the San Francisco Birth Control League.
Jennie Arnott was drawn to socialism because she believed, “the socialist party is the only political party in America making a campaign for woman's suffrage. The other political parties have simply ignored it except the prohibition party, which has a half hearted plank in its favor.” She spoke and wrote extensively on socialism as the path to women's suffrage. In her article entitled, "The Forces That Are Making for Woman's Suffrage," in the Yellow Ribbon, she urged women to “seek the aid and cooperation of the male labor unions of the state. They have the power that we stand so much in need of.” For Arnott, women's suffrage was “the tool that is absolutely necessary in a country falsely called a democracy.” She calls the working woman “a factor to be reckoned with,” and indeed, Arnott herself became “a factor to be reckoned with,” when the Socialist Party nominated her as their first woman candidate to run for State Assembly in the 1912 elections. Although she did not win the election, Jennie Arnott nevertheless devoted her life to promoting the rights of women and children.
Arnott, Jennie. Daily Times Editorial Page. "What Causes Defectives?" Daily Palo Alto Times. November 22, 1915, p.2. Historical Newspaper Collection, Palo Alto City Library Digital Collection. (https://paloaltocitylibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/).
Arnott, Jennie. "The Forces That Are Making for Woman's Suffrage." Yellow Ribbon (San Francisco, CA). January 1907. Rare Books, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
Arnott, Jennie. "The Initiative and Referendum." Yellow Ribbon (San Francisco, CA). December 1906. Rare Books, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
Arnott, Jennie. Letters from the People. "Plea for Woman Suffrage, Palo Alto, February 4." San Francisco Call. February 7, 1910. Newspapers.com.
Arnott, Jennie. "Will Hold Woman's Suffrage Debate: Miss Cole and Mr. Thompson Will Present Their Views Friday Night. The Daily Palo Alto Times. August 5, 1908, p.4. Historical Newspaper Collection, Palo Alto City Library Digital Collection. (https://paloaltocitylibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/).
“‘Brotherhood' is Topic of Address: Mrs. J. Arnott Speaks on Interesting Subject.” Palo Altan (Palo Alto, CA). March 14, 1913, p.7. Historical Newspaper Collection, Palo Alto City Library Digital Collection. (https://paloaltocitylibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/).
Jordan, Frank C. (Secretary of State). California Blue Book or State Roster 1913-1915. Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1915: 304. HathiTrust.
Nelson, Caroline. Report on San Francisco. “Fight from Coast to Coast: Reports of the Leagues.” Birth Control Review 2, no. 3. (April 1918): 8. HathiTrust.
"New York Solons Shy on Chivalry: California Woman Lucky in their Men, Suffragist Tells Susan B. Anthony Club." San Francisco Call. February 19, 1911, p.64. Newspapers.com.
"Palo Alto Completes Work on New Charter: Document Filed with City Clerk after Long Labors by Freeholders." San Francisco Call. November 22, 1908, p.31. Newspapers.com.
"Socialists Discuss Woman Suffrage: Interesting Debate is Held at Ostrander Hall, Lecture Aug 14." Daily Palo Alto Times. August 8, 1908, p.1. Historical Newspaper Collection, Palo Alto City Library Digital Collection. (https://paloaltocitylibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/).
"Suffrage League Gives a Banquet - Leading Men and Women of Palo Alto Hear Equality Toasts." San Francisco Call. August 30, 1911, p.4. Newspapers.com.
"Suffragists Gathering For Oakland Meeting: California Association of Women Seeking Ballot to Open Friday." San Francisco Call. October 02, 1907, p.16. Newspapers.com.
"Suffragists Plan for ‘Woman's Day.'" San Francisco Call. February 26, 1911, p.31. Newspapers.com.
United States Census 1910, s.v. “Jennie C. Arnott, Palo Alto, CA.” HeritageQuest.
Van Ingen, Linda. Gendered Politics: Campaign Strategies of California Women Candidates, 1912–1970. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017, p.12.
"Woman's Day Will Be Fittingly Observed." San Francisco Call. February 20, 1911, p.5. Newspapers.com.