Woman Suffrage – When Leaders Failed to Lead

In 1914, as the Nevada woman suffrage referendum approached, it emerged as the radical third rail of state politics. The Democratic platform favored a popular vote on the issue – a weak stance. The Republicans, even more weakly, specifically declined in their platform to take a stand on the issue. Only the Socialists gave woman suffrage a ringing endorsement. And that, from the growing party that would win 16% of the vote, was not a trivial matter. Opposition was more overt. George Wingfield, a wealthy and powerful man who was in the process of constructing the bipartisan political machine that would dominate Nevada for years, declared that if woman suffrage won he might move his investments elsewhere. This pronouncement may actually have been a lucky break for the suffragists. Many Nevadans admired Wingfield because they associated him with the new prosperity. However, others did not because he had been involved in breaking the Goldfield labor union in 1907. His opposition may have energized the labor vote for suffrage at the base.