A grassroots movement is honoring the gravesites of Washington suffragists including some right here on Capitol Hill, marking 100 years of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote and providing an important reflection on the past as the first woman to be elected U.S. Vice President prepares to take office.
Washington state won and lost the women’s right to vote four times before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, a process that took resilience and determination.
“[Suffragists] had to continually fight these societal norms. As much as they tried to use logic and the constitution, what really won the argument was these women had to demonstrate that . . . just because they got the right to vote doesn’t mean they were going to abandon their domestic duties and their husbands and their children,” ThankHer2020’s organizer Starlyn Nackos explained.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s also fascinating at the same time. The women that were so influential and successful were the ones who used those arguments. The first time women were able to successfully vote was because they hosted a picnic luncheon at the polling station.”
ThankHer2020 is a volunteer project that locates burial sites of those involved in Washington’s suffrage movement, cleans the headstones, and adds a “Here Lies A Suffragist” sign. A map of the burial sites as well as educational resources are listed at the ThankHer2020 website.
Capitol Hill’s Lake View Cemetery has ten graves that have been refreshed and honored, including the sites of Rosabel “Rose” Glass and Sarah Burgert Yesler. As they research their own local histories, volunteers across the state have reached out to add more suffragists to the list.
Nackos is a Snohomish-based middle school educator who reached out to the Washington State Historical Society to see if any centennial celebrations were in the works. WHS’s Centennial Commission had begun to compile names of Washington suffragists, but due to COVID-19 no events were planned. WHS put Nackos in touch with Saundra Magnussen Martin, who had also reached out.
The National Women’s History Alliance in Santa Rosa, California. originally coined the “Here Lies A Suffragist” recognition, which was taken up by the WSH, but Nackos, Martin, and others spearheaded the volunteer-run ThankHer2020 specific to Washington. Using whatever local information they could find, as well as findagrave.com, they drove to cemeteries, cleaned headstones, placed signs and sometimes added flowers or other memorials.
Nackos says the process “depended on the cemetery. Some of them would actually escort us to the sites, and there were some where there was nothing, no coordinates, no maps, or the maps were really old and difficult to navigate. It was like a treasure hunt. Once we found it we would take photographs, place the sign, and usually after the fact we would go home and do some digging on that individual.”
Nackos, Martin and other volunteers add biographical information they find about the suffragists to ThankHer2020’s Facebook page and Instagram account. “There’s still plenty of gaps to fill, but that’s an ongoing process,” Nackos said.
The community response to the effort has been overwhelmingly positive. Nackos said the most enthusiastic receptions have been in areas like Port Angeles or Whidbey Island where residents, some of whom are descendents of Washington’s suffragists, have a deep connection to local history. Some have said they will continue to commemorate the grave sites every election year. Looking past the centennial, ThankHer2020 intends to continue the work of documenting and researching the lives of the women, and men, who fought for suffrage.
There is a belief that Washington, and West Coast states in general, was more progressive compared to the rest of the nation when it came to suffrage. Nackos said that’s because those who came out west were already invested in bucking conventions.
“The women who were part of the settlement of the West were not debutantes. They had big plans and dreams for how they wanted to reinvent themselves,” she said. “That’s why the first five states that made suffrage legal were all in the West. I find that to be a common thread,” she said. “It was interesting to read about all these original pioneers that came off of the Oregon trail and immediately started advocating for women to vote.”
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