The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume III, Number 2-3, Pages 23-40
Pat Horner is a free lance writer and a teacher. Her study of May Arkwright, one of the best known women in the politics of the early twentieth century, is based primarily on research in manuscripts at the Eastern Washington Historical Society and the Washington State Library. A short reading list on the woman and the movement follows the article.
May Arkwright was born in a coal mining community in Washingtonville, Ohio on July 21, 1860. May's mother died when she was very young and her father took her out of school two terms after her tenth birthday to care for her blind grandfather. Little is known of May's childhood, except what she shared with the press and revealed in her letters. She appears to have led an unusual childhood. Her primary responsibility was to care for her grandfather and she took him from meeting place to public square to hear speakers expounding on the issues of the day. Many times in her life May told the story of one of the speakers she and her grandfather went to hear, a young lawyer named William McKinley. May's grandfather invited Mr. McKinley to spend the night with the Arkwrights and after guiding the two men to their house, May served them cider and her own homemade doughnuts. May recalled that her grandfather and Mr. McKinley discussed the war, reconstruction and women's rights, and this discussion of women's rights was the first time she had heard that women did not enjoy the same political and economic rights as men. According to May, Mr. McKinley "deplored the fact," and stated that woman was the "intellectual equal of man and should be his political equal." McKinley then patted the small girl's head and said: "I believe when this lassie grows up she will be a voter."
May appears to have regarded her grandfather highly, and he, in turn, seems to have exercised a positive influence on her life. In the dining room of her home in Wallace, Idaho she hung a crayon portrait of him in a prominent place, and in a letter to William E. Borah, later a United States Senator from Idaho, she gave her grandfather credit for her aggressive stance toward life: "When I was a child my grandfather used to say 'Hitch your wagon to a star, girlie. You may never reach the eminence to which you aspire, but place no limit on your aspirations.'"
On June 6,1882, at the age of eighteen, May married Frank Day in Mahoning County, Ohio.' May did not talk about this marriage in later years, nor of her second marriage at age twenty-two to a coal miner named Gilbert Munn. Both marriages were short-lived. One year later, in 1886, she joined forty miners and their families from Youngstown, Ohio and migrated to Idaho, 2500 miles away to take part in the rush for gold.
May settled in Wardner Junction, Idaho and found a job cooking in the back of a saloon. This job appears to have lasted only a short time before she opened her own boarding house in Wardner Junction. By September 1887, May had met Levi W. (Al) Hutton, a train engineer who ate regularly at the boardingnd on November 17, 1887, she and Al were married and moved into an inexpensive two-room flat in Wallace, Idaho above the railroad tracks. A February 25, 1888, advertisement in the Wallace Free Press suggests that May again changed jobs, with a relative increase in status:
WALLACE HOTEL/ Corner Sixth and Cedar Sts., Wallace, Idaho/ The Most Pleasant Place to Stop on the South Fork/ E. G. Arment, Proprietor/ The Dining Room is under the Supervision of MRS. L. W. HUTTON/ Best Cooks Employed and Every Attention/ Given to Guests/ Tables Unsurpassed in Coeur d'Alene.
Between 1892 and 1899 many miners in the Coeur d'Alenes were laid off, and those that remained in the mines "worked for a lower wage than the $3.00 to $3.50 a day they had received in 1890. Unions had existed in the Coeur d'Alenes since 1889 and though their numbers did not grow significantly during the next ten years, their militancy did. Undoubtedly May had contact as a cook with many of these miners, and this contact as well as her background in Ohio among miners (and her marriage to a miner), must have reinforced her sympathy for their plight. On Saturday, April 29, 1899 Al and May Hutton became directly involved in the mining disputes in the Coeur d'Alenes when Al at gunpoint was forced to drive his train loaded with angry miners and dynamite to the Bunker Hill and Sullivan mine. The concentrator was blown up, the men reboarded the train, and Al took the train back to Wallace. It is not known whether May had prior knowledge of the dynamiting, nor how Al felt about driving the train to the mine, but when questioned, Al said that he could not identify any of the men on board. Al was arrested on May 29, 1899 and placed in the famous "bullpen" along with members of the union and their sympathizers. It is at this point that May entered the conflict. She visited Al at the bullpen daily until he was set free twelve days later. In a news clipping from The Evening Telegram May took credit for Al's release:
I told the Governor at that time that I would rather have a live husband than a dead hero. And they released him. They had to. I had the winning cards. They didn't dare keep him, for I was in possession of information which forced them to let my husband out...I gave the authorities an ultimatum. I said if they did not let out those men in the bullpen I would bulletin that information which I had all over the country. I got 29 men out on the strength of it.
If, indeed, May had damaging information which forced the release of AI, there is no other evidence to back up her claim. It is also possible that Al was freed because the authorities were unable to prove his complicity in the dynamiting.
Al's release from the bullpen did not end this conflict for May. In 1900 she had published under her name, The Coeur D 'Alenes or a Tale of the Modern Inquisition in Idaho. The book's dedication reads:
To my husband, who an innocent man, was arrested and confined in the 'Bull-Pen' for Days In An Effort to Coerce Him Into Giving Testimony, knowing his Reputation for Probity and Honor in the Community Where he had Resided for Years, This Book is Lovingly Dedicated.
May stated that she wrote the book from a neutral position and in so doing would "... be able to give a true and impartial account of the events which occured within her knowledge during a residence of fourteen years in the state." May's attempt at impartiality was somewhat of a failure. Her book was a clever diatribe against the Coeur d'Alene mine owners, and she clearly gave her unqualified support to the miners:
Read then, you curled darlings of wealth, you trifling puppets of society. These men, who have suffered such indignities, are those whose labor has made possible for you to enjoy your present position in idleness. Working men everywhere read this true tale, and learn how your brothers in Idaho have suffered the torture of the damned, not because they have committed crimes, but because the capitalistic aristocrats have decreed they shall no longer be free men, but servile slaves, and have also decreed to disrupt labor organizations, by which workingmen attempt to hold their greed in check.
Needless to say, May's book was an overwhelming success among miners in the Coeur d'Alenes. According to an article in The Evening Telegram the book was distributed through labor organizations and 7,000 copies were sold before it went to press. This book is also the first available evidence of May's strong class feelings, feelings which reappear in newspaper interviews and letters throughout her life, even though, in 1901 the Hercules mine, of which the Huttons owned 1/34 interest, began producing silver, making them capitalists of a sort.
According to Charles Gonser, even after the Huttons struck ore, May "...was still a friend of the working man." But being a friend of the working man and being the author of a book like The Coeur D'Alenes appear to have been two different things for the newly rich May. A Spokane book dealer's experiences were related in a 1953 issue of the Spokesman-Review: ...Mrs. Hutton, in her effort to withdraw the book from circulation, had bought every available copy, no matter the price, and it had become a rare volume, the market having been swept clean by the authoress. He said that the last volume he had possessed he had turned over to Mrs. Hutton for $40.
In an undated article in her scrapbook, May is said to have found it "inconvenient" to have been the authoress of the book. She replied to this allegation that she was "... prouder of having written that book than anything I have ever done for humanity, with the exception of running a boarding house in the Coeur d'Alenes and making an honest living," In another newspaper interview, after acknowledging that she did withdraw her book from the market, May continued:
...I felt so strongly about the incidents of that year up there that I felt I had a story to tell. I told it in a way that caught the fancy of the miners and put their case as it had never before been put...The next time that I write something it will have finish and some merit, I hope, to it.
May seemed to be saying that she realized the book was not a literary sensation, but was excusing herself because she was writing about an issue which she felt strongly about and to an audience who would not judge the book's literary merits. Yet, May did not address herself to why she took the book off the market. Perhaps as a newly wealthy woman she feared libel suits, or she may have had second thoughts about the manner in which she presented her case on behalf of the miners.
After the silver strike the Huttons moved from their hillside home in Wallace, where they had lived for the past twelve years, to a more comfortable house on a corner lot in the same town. According to Charles Gonser, May was not accepted within the Wallace, Idaho social circle of mine owner's wives, and it has been conjectured that May's size (she was a large woman weighing about 225 pounds) and her lack of formal education, as well as her past occupation as a boarding-house operator were seen as unsuitable to the other women. Nevertheless, Lucile Fargo states that May joined Wallace's "Shakespeare Club," and she and Al were visited by Clarence Darrow and his family when they came to Wallace and also entertained Carrie Chapman Catt, an Eastern suffragist and Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a nationally known poetess.
In 1904 May, benefiting from her newly acquired wealth and with it leisure from work, ran for the state legislature on the Democratic ticket. She didn't feel that she had a very good chance to win, but thought that if she talked with all of the delegates personally she might have a chance for the nomination. She is reported to have told the delegates that since there was so much publicity about her running for the legislature it would be nice if she could at least make a respectable showing. Wouldn't they, therefore, vote for her on the first ballot, and the on the second ballot they could vote for whomever they pleased? Evidentally May convinced the delegates. She won the nomination on the first ballot and then began a hard campaign to defeat her Republican opponent. The vote was close with May coming within eighty votes of victory. She is quoted as saying that she was beaten by the mine owners who contributed $20,000 to ensure her defeat. In an article entitled "Woman Politician Tells of Struggle," in the Portland, Oregon Journal, May was asked if men took kindly to her candidacy for the legislature. She replied: "I can't say that they did....but I got the vote of the women, that's one thing I would like to have understood."
In 1906 May and Al moved from Wallace, Idaho to Spokane, Washington where they had a four-story office building constructed, making their home on the top floor. By this time May's political philosophy was quite clear. She was first and foremost a Democrat, and like the great majority of people associated with mining, felt that William Jennings Bryan, who advocated the free and unlimited coinage of silver, was the best possible choice for the leadership of the nation. Indeed, May stated that "...no other person like him [had] ever lived," and in a letter to a Wallace friend, contended that "The ideas and principles of William Jennings Bryan....will live in the hearts of the American people when Teddy, Taft and Cannon are forgotten."
May appears to have given socialism some thought and announced at one point that she was a Socialist, "...or nearly one," adding for the press, her thoughts on the subject: "One of these days this country is going to wake up and find that more than half the people are socialists...Socialism is coming and it may be coming faster than many suppose." In 1912 May again spoke to the subject: "As sure as the world, unless progressive ideas prevail and progressive laws are enforced we'll have socialism in this country. It's evolute or revolute." Socialism was for May, then, an idea whose time was coming, but one which could be staved off if social reforms were instituted to meet societal needs.
One of the most important social reforms for May was that of women's suffrage. May had joined the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1905 and attended its thirty-fifth convention in Portland the same year. She had also met Abigail Scott Duniway, an Oregon suffrage leader, while still in Idaho, as well as Emma Smith DeVoe, a woman from Illinois who had been sent to the Northwest to help organize first Idaho and later Washington state. After moving to Spokane, May began actively working with the Seattle-based Mrs. DeVoe for the enfranchisement of Washington women and held the position of first vice-president of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, with Mrs. DeVoe president.
There is little record of May's suffrage activities during 1906 and 1907, except that she attended the National American Convention again in 1906 and spoke on women's suffrage and its effect on Idaho politics.
Correspondence indicates that May became more active in 1908 and worked actively and closely with Mrs. Emma Smith DeVoe in what appeared to be a somewhat subservient relationship. On one occasion May asked Mrs. DeVoe to provide her with an outline from which she would prepare a speech, and on another, she flattered Mrs. DeVoe with the statement: "...we need you and cannot win without you." This feeling was reiterated in a later letter when May told Mrs. DeVoe that she was needed in Spokane to "...rouse us up again."
May took the initiative in late June of 1908 when she suggested to Mrs. DeVoe that a suffrage plank be presented at the upcoming Democratic convention in Denver. She suggested that the plank read: "We declare for a educational qualification for all voters, regardless of sex, race, color or previous condition of servitude." This suggestion appears not to have been well received. Penciled at the bottom of May's letter was a note to Mrs. DeVoe from her husband, Henry: "Emma dear, this plank won't do. The Southern delegates would fight it to the death. 'Educational qualification without regard to sex' is all right, but let it stand there .... "
May attended the convention and reported to Mrs. DeVoe that the plank was not included in the Democratic platform. May continued that she had talked with Samuel Gompers "the great labor leader" and reported that he was "indignant" that the plank was rejected, but assured May that "...if none of the advocates of the cause ever raise their voices in its behalf, it will nevertheless prevail universally in another decade or two."
May advised Mrs. DeVoe that she fully agreed with Mr. Gompers and would be busy until after the election organizing Democratic women to elect William Jennings Bryan, and with the many things she must attend to in the fall would not be spending much time on suffrage. Nevertheless, May agreed to write a speech for the upcoming state convention, and responding to an inquiry by Mrs. DeVoe, stated that she could not possibly take the presidency of the state suffrage organization, since "No woman that I know of can fill that position but Emma Smith DeVoe." May's good feelings toward Mrs. DeVoe are evident in the conclusion of her letter: "In the cool October days, Mrs. DeVoe will come to Spokane, and she and Mrs. Hutton will take the big red automobille and get converts for the suffrage cause, primarily, and have a good time generally."
May's enthusiasm waned somewhat as the year progressed, and she informed Mrs. DeVoe that she was having some difficulty with her convention paper because of a houseful of relatives from Ohio. May was also expected to respond to the Governor's address of welcome and asked Mrs. DeVoe if she would write this response for her to memorize. It appears that May was both physically and emotionally spent: "I do not know what is the matter with me lately, but I cannot concentrate on anything...My state of mind and health is such that I cannot accomplish much."
A November 1908 letter from May to Dr. Cora Smith Eaton, Treasurer of the Equal Suffrage Association, gives the first hint of organizational independence on May's part, as well as hostility toward the west-side suffragists:
[I]...have decided that we will conduct our campaign on the east side along entirely different lines than the Seattle women are persuing. I have been in politics a great many years and know that the still hunt is the winning hunt...You say you are weary distributing posters, "Votes for Women.' Weare not, because we didn't post any in Spokane. I have however, something less than a ton in cold storage, and will use them when we are ready for the men to vote on the question. In my opinion, these posters in the face of the people at this time only arouses antagonism which we particularly desire to avoid.
May's suffrage activities increased 1909 and she reported to a friend that she and Mrs. LaReine Baker had been working quite alone on the east side the mountains. May traveled to Walla Walla to speak at the American Federation of Labor convention, organized debates on women's suffrage in the Spokane area and offered prizes to high school students for the best essay on "Why Women Should be Given the Ballot." By March of 1909 she was working furiously to prepare for the upcoming suffrage convention in Seattle. Parlor meetings were held nightly to enlist members in the Equal Suffrage Association and May reported, to LaReine Baker that "The membership is rolling up to beat the band."
As the membership increased, so to did the conflict between the eastern and western factions of the Equal Suffrage Association. In correspondence with LaReine Baker, May enclosed a letter she received from Dr. Cora Smith Eaton, stating that this had been her only communication from Dr. Eaton "...since she informed me that if I did not do as Mrs. De Voe dictated I would be eliminated from the work in Washington." May also communicated with Abigail Scott Duniway during this period, telling her of their increased membership and her hope that this would "...make the 'Big Noise' sit up and take notice." In other correspondence May made it clear that she no longer favored Emma Smith DeVoe, or any one woman, for president of the Equal Suffrage Association. She stated that Spokane area suffragists would be willing to join with discontented suffragists on the other side of the mountains to amend the constitution and change the management: "I do not consider those who make a profession of, and earn a livelihood in, any reform are the best elements for success."
May was fighting back, evidentally reacting to an attempt by DeVoe forces either to change her tactics or purge her from the Washington suffrage movement entirely. She stepped up her campaign for members in the Equal Suffrage Association by offering to give any young lady a round-trip ticket to Seattle to attend the convention if she would bring in fifty paid memberships to the organization. May told Mrs. Baker she was certain the eastern suffragists and the "rebels of Seattle" would have enough delegates at the convention" to elect Mrs. Homer Hill president " and thereby displace Mrs. DeVoe.
Mrs. DeVoe and her allies by this time realized they had an angry and vigorous force to contend with on the eastern side of the mountains. Mrs. DeVoe's husband asked Dr. Eaton to comment on May's integrity and she responded with undisguised hostility:
As to the rich woman's (Mrs. Hutton, of Spokane) paying fake dues for fake members to fake clubs, I think there is little fear of it. Her devotion to the cause knows no bounds but money, but when it comes to spending money for vengeance, I think she would be very economical. I never knew anyone in my life who hung on to money the way she does. She is reported in the Spokane Spokesman Review as having offered a ticket to Seattle to the convention to every high school girl who gets 50 members to the local club, but it is not likely that even one girl will be able to fulfill the requirements. This lady likes the notoriety of offering money prizes, but she makes the conditions so hard that her purse is not endangered.
A later letter from Dr. Eaton to Mrs. DeVoe discussed the organization of new suffrage clubs and the reading of the Equal Suffrage Association constitution on this issue. They were disappointed to find that the constitution allowed any four members to form a club and thereby be entitled to one delegate. Dr. Eaton and Mrs. DeVoe would not be able, then, to control the number of delegates May brought to the convention and Mrs. DeVoe's presidency appeared in jeopardy. But Mrs. DeVoe and Dr. Eaton were not to be so easily defeated. On June 17,1909 Dr. Eaton wrote May telling her the dues for membership to the Equal Suffrage Association that she had turned in would not be acceptable:
The return is made for the reason that I believe you are ineligible to membership in the Washington Equal Suffrage Association because of your habitual use of profane and obscene language and of your record in Idaho as shown by pictures and other evidence placed in my hands by persons who are familiar with your former life and reputation.
May responded to this letter angrily, telling Dr. Eaton that as an elected state officer she would be at the state convention and would have with her as many delegates as their membership was entitled. She ended her letter: "Perhaps, Doctor, you thought to frighten me with this array of accusations. You have made them and it is up to you to prove them, which you will be given ample opportunity to do." May passed the letter from Dr. Eaton freely among her friends and co-workers, but did not press the issue beyond her reply to Dr. Eaton. For Dr. Eaton and Mrs. DeVoe the letter appears to have been an undisguised threat, warning May that if she persisted in threatening Mrs. DeVoe's leadership her character would be badly tarnished.
May continued her membership drive and the Spokane branch of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association became the largest in the state. But, when the state association met in Seattle the Spokane delegates were challenged for withholding the names of their members until two days before the meeting time. The Spokane women and their Seattle supporters were not allowed in the general meeting and Mrs. DeVoe was again elected president. Later at the national suffrage association meeting, in response to the conflict, both the eastern and western factions were denied the right to vote, though both groups were seated.
In a letter to Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, Dr. Eaton elaborated on the Seattle debacle and attempted to justify it with an expose of May's alleged bad character. She stated that May was known as "Bootleg Mary" in the mining camps, that she ran a "...bad house, kept for immoral purposes," that her language was "profane and insulting," and that she was generally more of a hindrance than a help in the suffrage campaign. Her removal from the state organization, according to Dr. Eaton, was a "...surgical operation - an amputation, following the opening of a very foul abscess."
The social differences between May Arkwright Hutton and Emma Smith DeVoe were extreme and may have contributed to their counterproductive power struggle. May was a woman with little formal education who saw suffrage as a hobby, and Emma Smith DeVoe was an educated, professional organizer who must have felt politically and organizationally superior to May.
In addition, May was a staunch and committed Democrat who believed in political involvement, while DeVoe was a conservative Republican who felt that politics should take a back seat to suffrage. The Cora Smith Eaton correspondence also suggests that there was some antagonism toward May's newly acquired wealth, while May felt a class division between herself and most upper class women because she felt they had never worked in their lives in the way that she had.
Though May was no longer an official member of the Washington Suffrage Association, she was not to be removed from the struggle, and on October 7, 1909 she organized the Washington Political Equality League with an office in the Hutton Building. There were now three organizations working for women's suffrage in Washington state, with Mrs. Hill of Seattle in charge of one, Mrs. DeVoe in charge of another and May responsible for the third. May wrote Mrs. Hill that she was more than willing to meet with any of the leaders so that their work would not overlap, and stated that she could "...well afford to let bygones be bygones, having been completely vindicated by home women who know us best."
With the assistance of a publicity person, May kept the issue of suffrage before the Eastern Washington public throughout 1909. In July 1909 she wrote Mrs. Homer Hill that the Spokesman Review was not very favorable to the cause of suffrage, "...but I intend to whip them into line in the next ten days..." How she succeeded in this task is not clear, but newspaper interviews and articles on suffrage and the role of women proliferate throughout this period.
May actively assaulted the image of the militant suffragist, taking to task the English suffragist, Emmeline Pankhurst for advocating violence to aid women's rights: "Men will grant favors to their own mothers and wives that they will not concede so readily to strangers...Our campaign in Washington was an appeal, not a fight. We never allowed our workers to be abusive to men." May's primary appeal was to common sense, guided by her feeling that if the justice of the suffrage cause was presented to male voters by their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives, it would be successful. In addition, May expressed a faith in the fairness of western men; this faith appeared to be genuine and can probably be traced to her years of close association with men, both in her boarding house-cook days and in her early years in Idaho politics.
May's suffrage speeches and interviews stand out because of her sensitivity toward working women and her class hostility toward wealthy, upper-class women. In a short speech written in 1909, May stated that college educated women were not interested in women's political emancipation, though one would think that their education would broaden their outlook and make them more sensitive to their less fortunate sisters. But, according to May, education had produced in these women "...the opposite effect. As a rule they are self-centered, exclusive, ultra-conventional, and content to rest upon their college-earned laurels..." She claimed that "...as a class they have not suffered enough." May contended that her work in the attainment of the ballot was not for these women, but for the "laundry worker, the shop girl, the stenographer, the teacher, the working woman of every type, whose home and fireside and bread are earned by their own efforts."
In a letter responding to Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, a wealthy eastern woman who did not feel that women needed the vote, May carried her argument one step farther. She stated that even if Mrs. Fish didn't feel that she needed the vote, she had a responsibility to achieve it for other less fortunate women for whose living conditions "Mrs. Fish and people of her class are in a great measure responsible. "
May did not see any contradiction between votes for women and the fulfillment by them of their traditional role as wives and mothers, though she felt that suffrage would have an educating and therefore, broadening effect on women and in so doing would help both women and men better understand one another. For May, the enfranchisement of women would also insure their equality before the law, especially in wages and work. In short, suffrage for women would mean "a square deal for all." May also felt that women had a right to participate in the making of laws under which they were forced to live: "man is not woman's keeper, and has no more inherent right to think and vote for her than he has to suffer punishment for her crimes."
On a personal level, May saw suffrage as giving women the chance to be men's helpmates and companions, rather than their toys. But being a helpmate and companion did not, for May, negate what she felt were women's natural functions as mothers. Indeed, May saw suffrage as potentially improving the conditions under which husbands and wives labored and lived and thereby improving the lives of their children and contributing to a healthier society.
May also felt that in the long run women would make better citizens than men, "for man's sensibilities have naturally become dulled by his contact with the world, while woman's sensibilities are more keen from her more secluded environments." In short, May was subscribing to the prevalent idea of the day that women would bring a different sensibility to politics, what she called in one interview, the "mothering" of politics. At the same time, May was careful to note in her interviews that women "will never become so obsessed with zeal for the suffrage cause or politics as to forget their womanhood, or what is due true manhood."
The constitutional amendment permitting women to vote in the state of Washington was passed by the voters on November 11, 1910 by a vote of 52,299 in favor and 29,676 opposed. In Spokane County the vote was 5,639 in favor and 4,551 opposed. According to Lucile Fargo, even May's "severest critics" acknowledged that she "was a born leader, and above all, that she got things done." In a November 11, 1910 telegram May was praised for "The quiet, ladylike manner in which the [Spokane] campaign was conducted." Abigail Scott Duniway in her autobiography stated that May "managed her part of the [suffrage] program with ability and tact," and Spokane area newspapers were unanimous in their praise for May's organizational abilities as well as her political influence, "which is excelled by the influence of no man nor woman in the state...She is a woman of high ideals and her influence must not be underestimated nor ignored."
For May, women's suffrage and "the labor problem" were integrally linked issues, and May was favorably impressed by labor's treatment of women. May was committed throughout her life to the idea of collective bargaining to safeguard the interests of the working person, and was a strong supporter of the Western Federation of Miners. Interestingly, May collected no clippings about IWW for her scrapbook during their free speech fight in Spokane in 1909 and alluded to the "Wobblies" only once, rather negatively, when asked if she and other club women would also attempt to speak on the street. May assured the reporter that they certainly would not. According to Mr. Gonser, May did not consider the Wobblies a legitimate part of the labor movement and was undoubtedly influenced by the breaking away of the Western Federation of Miners from the IWW in 1907. After May's death, her husband announced that she had directed in her will that 5,000 dollars be donated toward the construction of a new labor temple in Spokane, a significant gesture, since May left nothing to any of her numerous relatives.
May's concerns were not limited to women's suffrage. She spoke out and acted on various local, state, and national issues, and her interesting, varied and often contradictory positions are worthy of examination.
May was an ardent advocate of vocational training for boys and girls, and often denigrated the public schools for perpetrating what she called a "book culture," which did not prepare children for the "...ordinary everyday things of life..." In a letter to the editor, May went so far as to state that she was "...opposed to the free school system and free books..." because she felt it took responsibility for the education of children away from their parents, while giving the child the idea that it was acceptable to get "...something for nothing." In addition, May expressed the feeling that teachers were an overpaid "privileged class" and she repeatedly took the position that they should not be entitled to a pension.
May included with her criticisms of the education system the suggestion that school children be required to wear uniforms to "quell the envy and strife between pupils...in the matter of dress." She also advocated the inclusion of more practical studies within the school curriculum and suggested that all boys from the age of ten be responsible for the planting, tending, and nourishing of one tree for the following four years. In addition, the boys could be responsible for the beautification of parks and streets and in so doing, learn to appreciate nature while at the same time practice being good citizens. Curiously, May did not advocate this program for girls, perhaps feeling that their need in these areas were not as great.
May looked to the government for the development of industrial education in factories, industrial homes, shops and experimental farms. In addition, she advocated in a letter to John D. Rockefeller "the establishment of an institution for the training of housekeepers," and suggested that women would not be ashamed to hold such positions if they were not called servants, and if such duties were not considered "drudgery," but were recognized as being as important as those of the governess or teacher.
May also expressed concern about prostitution in Spokane. She blamed the politicians, rather than the prostitutes for its existence, and stated that the city was more concerned with the money they made from arresting and fining prostitutes than it was with putting an end to the practice: "Let us endeavor to abolish the old solomonic idea of the subjection and degradation of women and prove Spokane is in all things progressive."
In addition to speaking out on prostitution, May proved herself an effective advocate for mistreated young women in general. On one occasion when a young man abandoned his pregnant girlfriend, May wrote him in Nelson, British Columbia: "Your advice to a girl whose present difficulty is caused by your innate perfidy is a little surprising...Now Mr. what provisions are you going to make for the indebtedness incurred by the girl?..." On another occasion May provided financial aid to a destitute young actress from Chicago and then wrote the manager of the vaudeville circuit for which the young woman worked and told him that he had a responsibility to care for his workers as long as they were in his employ. May also contributed money to the Florence Crittendon home for unwed mothers and was a member of its Board of Directors. She felt that women in the home should be encouraged to keep their babies and be taught how to care for a home and children, as well as be assisted in eventually finding jobs and husbands, a task which May is reported to have given her personal assistance.
May had little sympathy for organized religion. On one occasion May responded to a preacher who called suffragists "Female Freaks" by abhorring the fact that women held church socials and raised money to support such men and their institutions. In reaction to negative comments about women's suffrage made by Cardinal Gibbons, May elaborated further on women and the church:
The teachings and preachings of men of Cardinal Gibbons' theories have done more to dominate and keep women in subjection and thereby retarding the real progress of the race than all other agencies combined.
Where religion was a peripheral issue for May, the idea of social class was primary. May's class consciousness and her support of working men and women permeated her writings and determined to a great extent the issues she responded to in the press, and more generally, involved herself in. One of May's more interesting reactions was to an article stating that Andrew Carnegie was going to give ten million dollars to the cause of universal peace. May first questioned how Carnegie had acquired his wealth: "I would picture the men, women and little children who have toiled in furnace, mill and factory who earned for Carnegie his millions," and then questioned Carnegie's sincerity about world peace, since men were "slaughtered in war with the instruments manufactured by [him]." May concluded her by-line article with the statement that Carnegie's gift of ten million dollars,
...acquired by special privileges in his contracts with the government for the manufacture of steel armor plates, and the brain and brawn of his fellow beings are no greater than is a small contribution to the Salvation Army to help feed the hungry poor on Christmas day by those who are able to give only a modest dime.
In a similar vein, May questioned whether James J. Hill, the railroad magnate, was really an empire builder since he had "received a free gift of every alternate 40-mile section of the people's land to build the railroads. May continued that Mr. Hill should have to pay taxes on his land's present value since "no precocious child ever received such coddling as has his special privileged class at the hands of the government."
If Mr. Hill and industrialists were the villains for May, the tillers of the soil were her heroes. May attributed to the farmer, because of his solitary occupation, the ability to think, "and think right. The isolation of the farmer's life is conducive to thought. He finds time to read and digest all he reads." In addition, May felt farmers were "the only class" who had the potential power to lower the cost of living: "Let the farmer hold his commercial product and refuse to sell through the middleman but direct to the consumer."
Prisons and industrial schools were of special concern to May, and her scrapbooks contined various articles on prison conditions around the United States. May investigated charges of brutality against the young women in a Chehalis, Washington industrial school and found that their bodies were being bared to the waist before being disciplined with fourteen-inch paddles. May's approach to the problem was two-pronged. She wrote Mr. Aspenwall, the director of the school, with a carbon copy to the Spokesman Review, that her understanding of one of the functions of the school was to teach the young women modesty. She then moved to the subject of their misbehavior and asked if this "degrading, brutalizing method which you so brazenly acknowledge is practiced will accomplish desired results?" In addition, May wrote Senator R. A. Hutchinson and asked him to introduce a bill to the Legislature which would abolish corporal punishment in Washington state industrial institutions.
As early as 1905, while living in Idaho, May wrote a letter to the editor asking for better prisoner conditions in the Shoshone County Jail and suggested that the men should be housed on the top floor of their building so they could get some light and air, rather than in the basement. May reasoned that "...humane treatment during incarceration will make them better citizens when they gain their freedom." In another letter to the editor, sometime after 1906, May reacted to the sentencing of some iron workers to federal prison for a crime. On this occasion May addressed herself to the life of the iron worker and how this life tended to harden him toward basic human values:
Hour by hour, day after day, he toils with hard steel, hard tools, at hard work...The materials he works with are hard, his bosses are hard, his life is hard, and he is in constant battle against the hardest proposition that ever gained a foothold in America, - the Steel Trust, the arch enemy of the working man. Can we justly blame him for becoming cold hearted, morose, dissatisfied or even in extreme cases, desperate, and antagonistic against the world, his task master and the system under which he toils?
May appears to have concerned herself little with foreign affairs, and was consistently antagonistic toward foreign immigration. She saw "unrestricted foreign immigration" as being the cause of an influx of "...paupers from the slums of the old world," who because of their political immaturity, furthered the interests of "big business" rather than the common person:
America for Americans, should be our slogan...Alien hordes are in our midst. Men and women haunted by ages of oppression, understanding not that liberty is not a synonym for license are a menace to our progress...immigrants usurp our places in the industrial field, trample on our rights.
It is conceivable that May was reacting negatively to the anarchist movement of the period, seeing it as a threat to her conception of democracy and composed primarily of immigrants. She may also have been responding to the threat of competition in unskilled jobs, a threat she alludes to above, as well as in her writingsabout female domestic help.
May was as ardently opposed to war as she was to immigration. In her speeches she suggested that soldiers should be responsible for the patrolling of forests during the dry season, tree planting and farming, and thereby be a "producing rather than a consuming class." Her arguments against war were primarily economic:
Are you aware that Uncle Sam spent 70 cents of every dollar collected last year in paying indebtedness for past wars and providing for future wars? Let us consider when we read scare headlines in the papers that some foreign foe might attack us, that their strongest asset is our trade and friendship, and remember that neither individuals nor nations quarrel with their bread and butter.
May remained consistently opposed to United States' involvement in World War I, and shortly before her death in 1915 gave a lawn party in which all her guests were asked to sign a resolution "...commending President Wilson for his neutral stand in a world at war."
In addition to her assorted community activities, May remained active in Democratic party politics after the passage of the Washington Suffrage Amendment in 1910 and was named, along with Mrs. A. P. Fassett, the first woman juror in Spokane County. May also wrote in a December 1910 letter that she was the first woman to register to vote in Spokane and had spent thirty days in Olympia in early 1911 working successfully for the passage of an eight-hour bill for women.
In 1911 Spokane city government was reorganized as a municipal government. The Mayor set up a Charities Commission and appointed May as one of the five members. According to Lucile Fargo, May worked long hours on the Commission, listened to the opinions of many people and observed for herself conditions in the Woman's Club Day Nursery, the Salvation Army Flophouse and the county poorfarm. May is said to have been "...fair and absolutely nonsectarian" in her duties and though she and the Mayor had disagreed on numerous occasions he reappointed her for a second term and is reported to have said: "There is no love lost between us, and I have had my share of public roasting [by May]. But I'd have to look a long time to find a more useful person for the job."
May was also deeply involved in the presidential campaign of 1912. Theodore Roosevelt had left the Republican Party to form the Progressive Party and the Democrats were unable to decide between William Jennings Bryan and Senator "Champ" Clark. May remained a staunch Bryan supporter. Since the close of the suffrage campaign May had become influential in local Democratic politics. This power became evident when Theodore Roosevelt made a trip to the Pacific Northwest and was quoted as saying that woman's place was in the home, and her name should be in the paper once when she is born and again when she dies. Needless to say, Roosevelt's comments were front page Spokane news, and so too was May's response, printed in a front page by-line article with the heading, "Asks Roosevelt to Stay Home":
It is not a question of whether woman's vote will do harm or good, but a question of equal rights and a square deal for all...No one denies that home is the best place for woman, but what, Mr. President, of the industrial conditions which have forced 8,000,000 women in the United States out of the home...
If you would live always in the hearts of the American people, abandon your hunting trips into Africa and devote your time to inquiring into the conditions under which the average American family lives .... Instead of slaughtering the denizens of the forest abroad, endeavor to prevent the slaughter of the innocents at home.
May's feelings about Roosevelt also made the national press, and in a February 9, 1912 article, she was quoted as calling him a "four-flusher", "hot-air artist", and a person who played to the galleries:
... the hero of the African jungle, who carries with him an army of press agents to herald to the world his every doubtful achievement...His shrewdness and subtlety in attempting to foist himself upon the people as president of the United States for a third term is equalled only by his inordinate egotism and conceit in performing his self-imposed task of advising the people of the world how to run their affairs, both public and private.
May's status in Democratic party politics was acknowledged when she and three other women were named as delegates to the State Democratic Convention of May 1912 in Walla Walla. Clark received the Washington nomination, much to May's chagrin, and May was elected to be the first woman delegate ever to attend the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. A new paper article gave one man's view of May's election: "I'll tell you boys, she's the girl to tie to." The reporter then applauded May's restraint in going along with the delegation for Clark, though she was "wild to vote for Bryan." May received the largest number of votes ofany Washington delegate, and when asked to respond to her election, after receiving an ovation, she said: "I would not have the nerve to come before this body and ask to be sent to Baltimore if I did not think I had earned that distinction."
May arrived in Baltimore on a hot, muggy June in 1912 and became instant copy for the Eastern newspaper men. She instructed them to omit the Mrs. from her name, and was described as a "big, motherly looking woman" of forty-nine with a "round, rosy face, and expressive blue eyes that flash when she discusses the rights of women." May endeared herself to the reporters by calling them "dearie" and by having "plenty to say and...a shrewd humor in saying it."
The reporters seemed most taken by the fact thay May was "a live wire from the West," who represented for one reporter "the stirring romance of the old west that is passing." To the west, and May's experiences working in it, were attributed her "masculine directness of purpose and a masculine capacity for giving and receiving blows," as well as her "breezy enthusiasm and energy" and her ability to fight in the open for what she believed.
Though May received an amazing amount of press coverage, the experience was unusual for her because she did not give a formal speech, but was one of many delegates casting her vote. She is reported to have been a conscientious delegate, staying in her chair throughout the lengthy sessions. Again, her personal choice, Bryan, was not nominated and neither was the Washington delegation's choice, Clark. Rather, it was Woodrow Wilson, who according to May, "...like all college professors, is not altogether practical..."
Throughout 1911 May reported to friends in her correspondence that she hadn't been feeling well, and the convention seemed to aggravate her poor health. Nonetheless, she stopped in Ohio on her way back from Baltimore and made thirteen speeches for suffrage and was invited to California to assist in the suffrage campaign in that state. May also gave suffrage talks in Oregon and addressed women's clubs in the State of Washington. In a March 1912 letter to a friend stated that she was "better, but far from well."
In July 1914 May and Al moved from their residence on the fourth floor of the Hutton Building in downtown Spokane to a new home on Seventeenth Avenue, and during that same year May suffered an attack of Bright's disease. A January 1914 article in the Daily Chronicle stated that May had been seriously ill for several months, "Formerly tipping the scales at 240, she weighs just 147 today." But May told the reporter she was "feeling fine."
But on October 6,1915, May died in her home at the age of fifty-five. The coroner listed the official cause of her death as "degeneration of the heart." May was eulogized in newspapers across the United States as an "author, suffragist, philosopher, humanitarian and probably one of the best known women in the great Northwest..." She was called a fighter who "always fought on the moral side of all questions," and who "never forgot the poor and unfortunate."
May's funeral was held in the drawing room of the Hutton home, and mourners overflowed onto the lawn: "Several hundred persons, including prominent business men, politicians, club women, little children and colored people" paid their last respects to May Arkwright Hutton. Al Hutton had a red granite monument built for May's grave, with one-half the stone finished and polished and the other half in its natural state, to "depict the unfinished life of Mrs. Hutton."
It is far from easy to categorize May Arkwright Hutton. She was a suffragist, but she was a unique breed of suffragist. She was, rather, a home-spun variety who, like the majority of eastern suffragists, disparaged radical tactics in the suffrage movement, but unlike them, appealed to the goodness and fairness which she felt was native to western men, while identifying primarily with working class men and women.
May was also a politician who believed in and enjoyed being part of the democratic process. Indeed, May is said to have "...learned to get what she wanted in a man's way, by working and fighting for it."
May has also been called a humanitarian and a social reformer. She certainly would not be classified under the heading of a "Jane Addams reformer," Le., her ideas about society and social reform were not nearly as well refined as a woman of Addams' caliber. But May did have some ideas about social change, ideas which were rooted in her western and working class experience. May appears to have been somewhat representative of her class and generation in that she did not believe that people benefited from government aid in the form of pensions or free education, but on the other hand, she was a woman of the Progressive Era in that she was extremely critical of the steel trust, railroad magnates, and large corporations that exploited their workers. For May there were working people, and the rich who made their money from the sweat of these workers. May saw herself as a working person, though for the last fifteen years of her life she had been a wealthy woman, thanks to dividends from the Hercules.
May was also a wife, and from all accounts a devoted one, stating on one occasion that "God never gave woman a better husband than mine." During the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, May told a reporter that Al was the boss in the family, that he was "the grandest man in the world" and she would not have made progress in the suffrage movement "if he had not permitted me to become identified with it." It is possible that May was attempting to fit into the mold of what she felt was a typical married woman, but it is equally possible that she was being candid. She did, however, look at being a wife and mother with an eye to life's harsh realities for the working person: "motherhood in all its beauty, and home where love and contentment reigns supreme, are luxuries denied the average woman today. Economic conditions of today have forced the woman out of the home, away from the cradleside, into the world to earn her bread."
One aspect of May which appears particularly unique for a woman of her class and time is her desire to be remembered as an important and effective person: "What a beautiful thing it is to have lived so that when one passes to the Great Beyond, all with one accord will join in praises for one's good works." In a 1908 letter to her brother, Lyman, in Youngstown, Ohio, May told him how proud her father would have been of her suffrage work and concluded: "Now Lyman, you just watch my smoke, because I am going to do things!" In another letter to Senator W. E. Borah, May told him she was nearly as busy as a U.S. Senator addressing numerous suffrage meetings, but that she considered this good practice, "for you know my ambition is to be a United States Senator." At the time of her death May was certainly climbing politically, and it is not inconceivable that she would have achieved her dream had she lived. What is significant when one examines May's aspirations and concomitant successes, however, is that she truly believed she could make a difference in society and that she was a woman who had a chance to reach the heights to which she aspired.
The last aspect of May to be examined is the human element. This is perhaps the part of May that has been given the most emphasis in other works on her life, and not without good reason. May Arkwright Hutton appears to have been a strong individual with a dominating and arresting personality. Certainly, May saw herself in this way, and in a letter inquiring about whether she would be a candidate for the school board in Spokane, she replied: "The corporations know, and everyone else will know sooner or later, that they absolutely cannot control me .... " On another occasion, May stated that she was an "individualist" and did not " ... believe that men and women reach the highest state of development when they depend upon the prop of a lodge or church, or any other organization to aid them."
There was, too, in May Arkwright Hutton the more tender and sensitive side of her personality as exemplified in a letter to a close friend: "I have always contended that happiness is all that really counts in this life." In another letter to an old friend from Idaho, May told of the celebration of her and AI's twenty-first wedding anniversary and revealed a longing for their old surroundings and friends: The guests were comparatively new friends whom we are learning to love and appreciate very much; but after they were gone Al and I talked it over, and said, "how nice it would have been had we been back under the old roof and had around us twelve of the old crowd that were like one family, who participated in our joys and sorrows in the early days of the Coeur d'Alenes.
But May was not one to look back too long or with sorrow for times past, and continued that she was too busy to " ... indulge in vain regrets " but must make new friends and" work for the betterment of humanity."
Humor was an integral part of May's life and whether she was writing letters about the suffrage movement or Democratic politics, her humor was evident. May's criticism of the "tube gown", in view of her 240 pounds weight, is a good example of the scope of her humor. She stated first of all that for a woman of her "distinct type" the tube gown was inappropriate. She continued her case against this new innovation in fashion through the use of verse: That women are slaves to fashion's decree, We frankly admit is true, Our clothes are designed by designing men, With commercial ends in view. As well be dead as out of style, Is a maxim old and true; The tube gown may fit the slender girl, But what must the fat ones do?
May was, then, a suffragist, a politician, a humanitarian, a writer and a mine owner's wife. She went about all of these activities with aggressiveness and a distinct flair for the dramatic. In addition, May was a woman with unique and often progressive ideas who was not afraid to put these ideas before the public and when possible, act on them. She believed passionately in the democratic process and truly believed she could make a difference. At the same time, May believed in the common people and in their inherent fairness and goodness. May Arkwright Hutton leaves for women of the (40) twentieth century a proud heritage, not because she achieved greatness in an academic field, wrote an outstanding novel, or led a nation, but because she dared to be herself and would not settle for things as they were. May tried in her own way to effect change, and in so doing improved the lives of some of those around her, possibly influenced the lives of other women of her generation, and set a proud example for those of us who follow her.
For Further Reading
Duniway, Abigail Scott. Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States. Portland: James, Kerns and Abbott, Co., June 4,1914.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed., The History of Woman Suffrage. Six Vol. (Vol. V 1900-1920) National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.
Hutton, May Arkwright. The Coeur D'Alenes ora Tale of the Modern Inquisition in Idaho. May Arkwright Hutton, 1900.
Montgomery, James W. Liberated Woman: A Life of May Arkwright Hutton. Spokane: Gingko House Publishers, 1974.