Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Johanna Claussenius Pinther, 1861-1938
By Evelyn Rose, PharmD, Project Director, and Amy O'Hair, BFA MFA, Assistant Project Director,
Johanna Claussenius Pinther and the First Suffrage March in the United States
In the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, 225,000 residents displaced by the catastrophe were in search of new neighborhoods. Some of those refugees made their way to Glen Park, a hilly rural district five miles southeast of the city's business center. Because city government was more focused on rebuilding downtown than extending basic infrastructure to more distant neighborhoods, Glen Park needed a voice. Several women stepped forward to help lead local efforts to improve the neighborhood. But more surprising is the role these women played in California's push for women's suffrage; within two years of moving to Glen Park, they would make history by leading the first suffrage march in the United States.
Johanna ("Hanna") Claussenius Pinther was the real mover and shaker of Glen Park. The daughter of a California pioneer, she nearly succeeded in bringing the house down during a Christmas concert at just four years of age, foretelling how fearless she would be when engaging the public in future demonstrations. In 1908, she cofounded the Glen Park Outdoor Art League, the first organization of its kind in San Francisco. She served as the league's first vice-president. She also founded and was president of the Glen Park Woman's Club. Both organizations following the tenets of the City Beautiful movement and strove to compel the city to bring basic services and amenities to the neighborhood and preserve the green spaces for its residents. Women's clubs such as these also served as a pedestal for members to concurrently work for their most fundamental right: the right to vote.
After an agonizing defeat at the polls in 1896, California suffragists adjusted their strategy, creating what would become known as the California Plan. Throughout the United States, the cause of suffrage had become disorganized, with women of differing social classes refusing to collaborate; the cause had also become associated with other political issues, such as temperance, which had prevented popular support in cities like San Francisco. The California Plan demanded unity: women of all classes, from the wealthy clubwoman to the working-class factory girl, were now called to link arms and march forward together, no matter how much they disagreed on other issues. There would be one cause only: Votes for California Women!
In 1908, Hanna became an active member of San Francisco's organizing committee of the California Equal Suffrage Association (CESA), led by Mrs. Mary Sperry. Lillian Harris Coffin served as CESA's leader of the Central State Committee. In California, the state's Democratic and Labor Committees had already added suffrage to their political platforms, yet the Republicans were slow to join the cause. With the State Republican Convention scheduled to be held in Oakland in August 1908, the women saw a perfect opportunity to place the issue squarely before the party in the run up to the November election. On July 7, 1908, CESA announced plans to bring their message directly to conventioneers by organizing a march to the State Republican convention. The aim was to induce the party delegates to place suffrage on the party platform.
In the lead up to the event, it was reported that Hanna was designing, sewing, and embroidering, all by hand, a beautiful suffrage banner. It was to bear the name of the California Equal Suffrage Association and display the Great Seal of California. The plan was to carry it at the front of the march. On August 27, the day of the march, Hanna and her step-daughter-in-law Jeanette Pinther were pictured in the Oakland Tribune as "Women After the Suffrage Plank." Members of CESA assembled at the Metropole Hotel in Oakland beforehand for final planning and a brief ceremony, joined by other prominent California suffragists, including Mrs. Sperry, Maude Younger, Selina Solomons, Mrs. Mary Gamage, Mrs. William Keith, and Mrs. Agnes Pease of the Women's Republican Club of Utah.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "A procession was then formed, and with the banner at the head, carried by Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Jr. [Jeanette Pinther], 200 determined-looking suffragettes [other reports state up to 300] marched two by two, forming a line two blocks in length, to the convention hall. They filled four rows of the gallery seats, and flaunted their gorgeous banner over the heads of the assembled statesmen by drooping it over the front of the box." The Chronicle published a photograph of Hanna, Jeanette, and Lillian Harris Coffin leading the procession, one that became an iconic image that nearly a century later, would appear on the cover of three books about the history of California suffrage.
In the end, the state's Republican committee did not add suffrage to their platform but did so the following year. California women finally achieved suffrage in 1911 by a narrow margin at the polls, only the sixth state to do so. While Hanna and the other women were frustrated and angry at the Republicans' rejection of their appeal, they may not have realized the history they had made: the CESA march in Oakland in August 1908 was the first suffrage march in the United States.
California women won equal suffrage in 1911 and Johanna Pinther supported the mayoral candidacy of James Rolph, Jr. that year. She was also active in the Glen Park Political league between 1912 and 1915. That League merged with the Glen Park Suffrage League. Johanna's last year of recorded suffrage activity came in 1915.
There had been one earlier but failed attempt at a march; Maude Malone of New York City's Harlem Equal Rights League tried to organize one in February 1908. Yet, by her own admission, the New York Police Department had "spoiled" her parade by keeping marchers on the sidewalk because they lacked a permit. Images of the event show Malone surrounded by curious men and boys without a woman in sight.
In a 2003 article in the journal Social Forces, H.J. McCammon lists all suffrage marches held throughout the United States by state. The earliest year in the author's list is 1908, under which two states are noted: California and Iowa. The march in Iowa occurred in November 1908, two months after the Oakland march. The state of New York, where Malone had attempted her march, is not included.
Therefore, the first march - not only in California but also the United States - was the CESA march in Oakland on August 27, 1908, led by Johanna Pinther, Jeanette Pinther, and Lillian Harris Coffin. It is time for this significant suffrage event to be recognized in the annals of American history.
We lose track of Johanna Pinther after 1915, but we know she remained a member of the Native Daughters of the Golden West in Placerville and that she died in Coloma, California in 1938.
Johanna Pinther, of San Francisco (right) co-leads the first march for suffrage in the United States, Oakland, California, August 27, 1908, with Lillian Harris Coffin of Mill Valley, California (left). Jeanette Wall Pinther (center) of San Francisco carries the banner of the California Equal Suffrage Association. Image from the California Historical Society.
1.Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project. Glen Park Resident Johanna Pinther and the First Suffrage March in the United States. Available at GlenParkHistory.org.
2.Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project. The Suffrage Movement in Glen Park. Backstory to the First March for Suffrage in America. Available at GlenParkHistory.org.
3.San Francisco Call, October 15, 1910. Improvement Clubs Now Look Back on the Splendid Work of Upbuilding Many Parts of the New and Greater San Francisco. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
4.San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 1908. Glen Park Women Form an Outdoor Art League. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
5.Abel L. The California Plan: California's Suffrage Strategy and Its Effects in Other States and the National Suffrage Campaign. Voces Novae, Chapman Univ Hist Rev. 2013: pg 5. Available at Voces Novae.
6.Silver M. The Sixth Star. January 24, 2000. Available at FoundSF.org.
7.Claussenius Family Tree. Available at Ancestry.com (subscription required).
8.San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1908. Republicans Meet to Nominate Electors, State Convention Organized in Ye Liberty Theater at Oakland - WOMEN'S PARADE FEATURE. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
9.Los Angeles Herald, June 26, 1908. Convention to be Held at Oakland. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
10.Harper IH (ed.) The History of Woman Suffrage, vol. VI, 1900-1920. National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. Available at Google Books.
11.Oakland Tribune, August 27, 1908. The Suffrage Plank the Women Have Asked For. Available at NewspaperArchive.com (subscription required).
12.San Francisco Call, July 7, 1908. Suffragists to Storm Convention. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
13.Lompoc Journal, July 11, 1908. State Suffragists Adopt Yellow as Battle Color. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
14.San Francisco Call, August 11, 1908. Suffragists Elect and Install New Officers. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
15.San Francisco Call, August 18, 1908. With Yellow Ribbons Pinned on Their Breasts. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
16.San Francisco Call, August 25, 1908. Suffragists to Storm Convention. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
17.Berkeley Daily Gazette, August 28, 1908. Band of Suffragettes Invade the Republican State Convention Hall. Available at NewspaperArchive.com (subscription required).
18.San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1908. Suffragettes Out in Force, With Banners Flying Women Descend on Hall of Convention. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
19.San Francisco Call, August 28, 1908. Suffragettes Parade to Convention Hall and View Proceedings From Gallery. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
20.Oakland Tribune, August 28, 1908. Women March to Convention With New Banner Asking for Suffrage from Republicans. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
21.San Francisco Call, August 28, 1908. Plea of Suffragettes is not Heeded, Suffragettes are Defeated. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
22.San Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1908. Turn Deaf Ear to Plea of Suffragists, Platform Committee Ready to Report. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
23.Oakland Tribune, August 28, 1908. Platform a Powerful Document, Strong Declaration of Principles is That on Which the Party Will Go Before the Voters. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
24.San Francisco Call, September 1, 1908. Suffragists to Attend Political Meeting, Women Arrange to Go in a Body to Stockton. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
25.Mead RJ. How the Vote was Won: Women Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914. New York University Press: New York, New York. 2004.
26.Cherny, E et al, eds. California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, Nebraska. 2011.
27.Gullet, G. Becoming Citizens: The Emergence and Development of the California Women's Movement, 1880-1911. University of Illinois Press: Chicago, Illinois. 2000.
28.San Francisco Call, October 13, 1911. Suffrage Victory is Certain. Available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
29.New York Times, October 13, 1911. CALIFORNIA FARMERS GIVE VOTE TO WOMEN. Available at the New York Times (subscription required).
30.McCammon HJ. "Out of the Parlors and into the Streets": The Changing Tactical Repertoire of the U.S. Women's Suffrage Movements. Social Forces. 2003, Vol. 81, No. 3, pg. 787-818.
31.New York Times, February 17, 1908. Suffragist Parade Despite the Police. Available at the NY Times (subscription required).
32.New York Tribune, February 17, 1908. Great Moral Victory But Without a Parade. Available at Newspapers.com.
33.Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), February 17, 1908. Paraders in Grand Demonstrations for Suffrage. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
34.Buffalo Enquirer, February 17, 1908. March Nothing But a Quiet Stroll. Available at Newspapers.com (subscription required).
35.Iowa's Suffrage Scrapbook, 1854-1920. Available at the State Historical Society of Iowa.