Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Bernice Althea Sapp, 1881-1965

"Woman Champion of Suffrage”

By Nan Weber, author and independent historian

Bernice Althea Sapp was an organized, energetic, determined suffrage worker in Olympia, Washington. Bernice, daughter of William Leroy and Nancy C. Stagner Sapp, was born on January 22, 1881 in McLean County, Illinois. The family moved to Kansas by 1885 but their stay there was short. William and Nancy moved the family to Tumwater, Thurston County, Washington by 1887.

The year 1892 brought tremendous change for the Sapp family which altered the life path for both Bernice and her oldest sister Sadie. Their mother died on December 7th and both sisters moved to Olympia. While Bernice was boarding in Olympia and finishing high school, her sister Sadie enrolled in a course to become a stenographer. In 1899 Sadie was chosen as the docket clerk of the Washington State Legislature. By 1902 Sadie became the stenographer for the supreme court.

Once Bernice graduated from high school, she too became a stenographer. She began writing articles supporting the suffrage movement while still in high school. While she was furthering her working career, Bernice stayed focused on the movement and other civic activities. From 1907 through 1910 she kept a scrapbook for the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, collecting articles and photos that documented the cause.

In 1907 she became one of the vice presidents of the Olympia chapter of the State Suffrage Association. Bernice said her chief claim to fame was her election to the position of auditor of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association which came about in 1908. She served in this capacity through 1910. But more fame would follow her as the push for Washington state enfranchisement drew closer. Bernice, inspired by her sister Sadie, became a clerk for the Supreme Court by 1909, a position in which she would serve for sixteen years.


Bernice Sapp at Supreme Court office

The list of organizations she chose to, not only become member of, and serve in an executive capacity is impressive. In 1909 she became treasurer of the Equal Suffrage Club and one of several delegates to attend the state suffrage convention in Seattle on June 30 of that year. In August she became the treasurer for the Political Equality Club. By December Bernice was appointed campaign manager for Thurston County to canvass voters for their views on suffrage and ended the year as the assistant chair of the Woman Suffrage Booster Club while she headed the publication committee.

In June 1910 Bernice became the recording secretary for the Olympic Equal Suffrage Club. After women's suffrage passed in Washington State on November 8, Bernice helped draft a new constitution and by-laws for the Equal Suffrage Association as the organization changed its name to the Washington Council of Women Voters. The fall continued to be packed full for Bernice. She became a member of the local Socialist Organization and in December Bernice was chosen as one of the six women called for jury duty.

At the beginning of 1911 Bernice registered to vote and also became the first woman to make a deposit in the new bank—United States Postal Savings System. When, in Tacoma, the National Council of Women Voters held a public meeting, Bernice was heralded as one of the “heroines of the movement” for her service on the first all-woman jury in Olympia.

When the Socialist Party of Olympia held their fall convention, Bernice was nominated to run for the councilman-at-large. Although she did not win the seat, her civil involvement kept her life eventful. Beginning in 1912 she represented Olympia in the Women's Good Roads Convention in Tacoma. The aim was not only to push the continuance of the Pacific Highway but to assure the building of all roads in Washington.

Continuing her public service Bernice was elected the secretary of the Socialist Party and the secretary-treasurer of the Girls' Class of the Y.M.C.A. She sustained her position as an election officer in the Olympia City First Ward for many years. In March 1914 Bernice was elected the head of the Olympia Council of Women Voters. Other civic clubs Bernice lent her energy to were the Daughters of Veterans and the Sunset Club of the United Churches where she served as president. She continued to fight for national suffrage both locally and nationally by staying in touch with the national organizations and leaders.

At her death on October 22, 1965, Bernice was still a member of the Thurston County Pioneer and Historical Society, the State Capitol Historical Association, a board member of the State Capitol Museum and a member of the American Legion Auxiliary.


Eight young women of legislative session;


Young women of legislative session in Governor Hay's automobile;


Census Records (accessed through and/or National Archives and Records Administration—

Year: 1870; Census Place: Bluemound, McLean, Illinois

Year: 1880; Census Place: Ellsworth, Padua, McLean, Illinois

Year: 1885; Census Place; Chikaskia, Milan, Sumner, Kansas State Census

Year: 1889; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington Territory Census

Year: 1892; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington Territory Census Year: 1900; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington

Year: 1910; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington

Year: 1920; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington

Year: 1930; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington

Year: 1940; Census Place: Tumwater, Thurston, Washington

Military Records—

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records and



Thurston County, Washington Grantee/Grantor land records

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps,


Voter registration records, Thurston County, Washington; 1892-1916; Digital Capture of originals held at the Washington State Archives, Olympia found on

U.S. City Directories—

1822-1995, Olympia WA 1902 through 1950


Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress:

Washington State Library Digital Newspapers:


U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1990;

“The Woman Suffrage Movement in Washington” article by T. A. Larson

The Pacific Northwest Quarterly Vol. 67, No. 2 (Apr., 1976), pp. 49-62

This article by local historian Bernice Sapp was included in Gordon Newell's small book, “So Fair a Dwelling Place,”

Archives, Museums, Library etc.—

Bernice A. Sapp Scrapbook 1907-1910;

Bernice A. Sapp Scrapbook 1910-1913;

Sapp family correspondence;


Eight young women of legislative session;

Young women of legislative session in Governor Hay's automobile;

Bernice Sapp at Supreme Court office;

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