Washington State Library

Emma Smith DeVoe Papers

Emma Smith DeVoe
Emma Smith DeVoe

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 When Emma Smith DeVoe was eight years old, she attended a speech by Susan B. Anthony on women’s suffrage and when the crowd was asked who was for women voting, she rose to her feet.

  Born in Illinois to an abolitionist family in 1848, Emma Smith had a fine education for the period and taught at Eureka College in Illinois in the music department.   She married John DeVoe in 1880 and moved to the Dakota Territory.   Supported by her husband John, Emma Smith DeVoe’s interest in politics and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union naturally led her to women’s rights. Well-known eastern suffragist Susan B. Anthony recognized her attractive appearance, singing voice and talent as an organizer and her “feminine” political style.   DeVoe worked as an organizer for NAWSA, for many years under the tutelage of Carrie Chapman Catt, traveling to many states including North Dakota, Illinois, Iowa and Kansas.  In 1905, the DeVoes moved to Washington after she had taken a hiatus from organizing for several years.  She worked first in Oregon and then started work in Washington for National American Woman Suffrage Association in late 1906.  Emma Smith DeVoe was the great organizer for the Washington campaign and has been credited with its victory in 1910 but not without controversy because of her sometimes autocratic style.

            DeVoe went on to found the National Council of Women Voters in 1911 to bring together western voting women.  The group eventually merged with theLeague of Women Votersin 1920.  She pressured Governor Louis Hart to call a special legislative session for Washington to ratify the national women’s suffrage 19th amendment in 1920.  She later became active in the Republican Party and wrote from that viewpoint for the Tacoma News Tribune.  The Republican Party appointed her to a position on the Republican National Committee in the early 1920s.  At aged 76, she campaigned for Calvin Coolidge but died in 1927. Emma Smith DeVoe was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

For more information on Emma Smith DeVoe see:
Winning the West for Women: The Life of Suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe by Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal

Additional Materials at the State Library

Digital Publications

    • Classics in Washington History, a digital collection of full-text books, includes works about women who lived and worked in Washington Territory and State.


    • The Washington Rural Heritage website documents the early culture, industry, and community life of Washington State. Use the search term "women" to locate materials within the Washington Rural Heritage collection.
    • The Women in the Washington State Legislature database contains information on women who have served in the Washington State Legislature. Information includes the number of the district they represented, county (ies) represented, whether they served in the House or Senate (or both), date of first term served, number of terms served, years served, and age when first elected.

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