Emma’s Sense of Equality

This mid 1920’s photograph deserves a narrative that goes deeper than noting its conservative, even stiff, upper class tone and hazy background of wealth, privilege and estate. The spotless, limousine sedan is parked in front of the Tacoma home of Emma Smith DeVoe, the legendary women’s suffrage leader who directed the “still hunt” strategy to pick off political opponents and quietly stalk enough male votes to amend the Washington constitution to include the vote for women. In November 1910, she and other leaders in the movement succeeded in making Washington one of the first States to give women the vote. Unlike many more radical women in the movement however, Emma portraitEmma split the state on suffrage tactics drifting toward the Republican party, advocating for the prohibition of alcohol, supporting alien exclusion laws directed particularly at Japanese Americans and writing critically about popular culture portrayed in novels, magazines and movies. A decade after the State amendment, Emma was at a seat of honor when the Washington legislature voted to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution on March 23rd, 1920 (second from the last state to do so). DeVoe went on to become vice chair of the State Republican Party and held leadership positions in the National party.
Her column in the Tacoma News Tribune, called “The Viewpoint of a Republican Woman” was always polite and reasoned but also strict in its judgement about young women in particular (She once published a Suffrage Cookbook that counseled women not to abandon their traditional domestic roles). Emma DeVoe passed away in Tacoma the same year  the locally made motion picture THE EYES OF THE TOTEM opened, 1927. She would never have allowed her driver to take her to the motion picture melodramas playing in the theater district, with its gaudy marquees, cigarette smoking ladies, and the breath smell of speakeasies and hip flasks. But if I could watch the re-premier of Eyes of the Totem seated next to anyone, it would be Emma Smith DeVoe. On some level, the film’s protagonist Miriam, would interest her and I think she would approve.

Did I mention that Eyes of the Totem is coming around again? June 9 &10 are the 90th anniversary of the film’s premier and it seems equatable to show it again.

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