The 2018 election brought a blue wave to Nevada, but also a pink wave. Nevada now will have two women in the U.S. Senate and a female majority in the assembly. But a century ago, women were crucial in another midterm election. Two leading activists in the fight for women’s suffrage were on the ballot, and met different fates.
Sadie Hurst had served as president of the Washoe County Equal Franchise Society and helped win the fight for Nevada women to gain the right to vote in 1914. Two years later, Jean Dwyer, an Independent in Washoe County, became the first woman to run for the assembly, and lost. Meanwhile, Hurst remained active in the Women’s Citizen Club and Women’s Republican Committee of Washoe County. From that post, she launched a campaign for the assembly in 1918. She won one of Washoe County’s seven Assembly seats. Only one of that delegation was a Democrat, but Democrats had a majority in the assembly and won almost every statewide office. But Hurst won her race and became the first woman member of the legislature.
Soon after her election, Hurst said she had made only one promise: to vote for Prohibition. But her first measure as an assemblywoman was a joint resolution to support the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, assuring women’s right to vote. It passed a lot more easily than the suffrage law had only four years before. She introduced several bills to improve the lives of women and children, but they were defeated. She did push through legislation to protect animals against cruelty.
Her crowning achievement came in February 1920, when Democratic Governor Emmet Boyle called a special legislative session to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. The speaker, Democrat D.J. Fitzgerald, a barber and politico in Tonopah, asked a Republican to preside—but not just any Republican. Sadie Hurst, the first and only women to be a legislator. She discharged her duties, and the resolution passed the assembly, with one dissenter, a Eureka Democrat. Hurst said, “I am proud of the men of the West and of Nevada.” Her constituents were less happy with her and she lost her bid for reelection in 1920. She remained active in women’s organization but moved with her sons to California in 1922 and died in 1952 at age ninety-four.
Since Sadie Hurst took the plunge into politics a century ago, there have been three legislative sessions in Nevada with no women members. Not until 1966 would a woman be elected to the Nevada State Senate—Helen Herr, a Las Vegan who had served five terms in the assembly. Not until 2007 would Barbara Buckley become the first woman speaker of the assembly—and she had been the first woman to be the assembly majority leader.
Sadie Hurst helped pave the way. But she wasn’t the only leader of the Nevada suffrage fight to seek office in those elections. In 1918, Nevadans would choose a U.S. senator. The incumbent, Charles Belknap Henderson, had been appointed to succeed the late Francis Newlands. The Democrat faced challenges from Republican Congressman Edwin E. Roberts and from an Independent: Anne Martin, herself a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage, and not just in Nevada. More on her, and that election, next time.