A century ago, in 1918, Anne Martin of Nevada became the first woman to run for the United States Senate. She already had made a lot of history, and would make more. Her story is an important one.
She was born in 1875 in Empire City, a mill town on the Carson River. She attended Bishop Whitaker’s School for Girls in Reno and earned a bachelor’s in history at the University of Nevada, then a second B.A. and master’s in history at Stanford. In 1897, at age twenty-two, the University of Nevada hired her and she started its history department. She soon left to study overseas (and recommended her successor, Jeanne Weir, who later founded the Nevada Historical Society). In England, Martin joined the Fabian Socialists, who sought reform rather than revolution. She joined British suffragists in a demonstration that led to her arrest along with 113 other women in 1910. A Stanford classmate, Lou Henry Hoover, sent her husband Herbert to help her get out of jail.
In 1912, after returning to Nevada, Martin became president of the Nevada Equal Franchise Society. She led the successful effort to amend the Nevada Constitution to give women the right to vote. From there, she joined the executive committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and chaired the National Woman’s Party. She also decided to run for the Senate from Nevada. She said women needed to be involved in government and, if she lost, “I will have been a forerunner or a pathfinder for other women to make a fight.” She declared herself an Independent, a non-partisan. She endorsed Woodrow Wilson’s leadership in World War I, and supported laws to help workers and to develop government land—popular stands in Nevada. That didn’t make her popular with the state’s press, which didn’t distinguish itself: the Elko Independent called her “the Plug-Ugly of Female Politics.”
Being the first woman to run for the Senate unquestionably made her a target. Nor was it easy to run without belonging to one of the two major parties. A big issue for a lot of Nevadans was that she had strong eastern support from her fellow suffragists at the National Woman’s Party—some money, and a lot of personnel. Then and now, Nevadans often have claimed to oppose outside influences in the state’s politics, although it usually has depended on whose ox is being gored. If she expected all women voters to support her, well, no group of voters is a complete bloc. She had picketed the White House over suffrage and been arrested for it. That didn’t help her with Wilson’s supporters, or those who think war means the end of all dissent.
Martin also campaigned in a way we now find traditional, traversing the state by car. Only eight years before, Tasker Oddie gained a lot of favorable attention from Nevadans for doing that and won the governor’s race. By contrast, the press largely ignored Martin or criticized her. She won a lot of support from women and labor, but not enough. Democratic incumbent Charles Belknap Henderson won the right to finish his term, getting about twelve thousand votes. Republican Congressman E.E. Roberts got about eight thousand, while Martin took about forty-six hundred—certainly respectable for a third-party candidate.
Martin ran again in 1920 and lost, and continued to publish widely on suffrage and other issues. She died in 1951, remembered as a true pioneer for Nevada and for women’s rights.
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