100TH ANNIVERSARY OF 19TH AMENDMENT: Mamie Morrison, the trailblazing suffragist from Rough and Ready
Special to The Union
“Nana passed on her belief of women’s rights and independence to us…”
(Mary Ellen Schultz, granddaughter of Mamie Morrison Cole)
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Obtaining this right was the result of a long, hard fight that took almost 100 years to win.
Nevada County women were at the forefront of the lengthy campaign. And, in anticipation of this historic anniversary, we should honor and “remember the ladies” who worked so hard for this right.
Mamie Patricia C. Morrison is one notable Nevada County trailblazer in the fight for women’s rights who deserves renewed attention and respect. Her story epitomizes the independence, courage, and “go to” spirit of all the women of Nevada County who fought so vigorously, and for so long, to become participants in the political life of this nation.
Mamie was born in Rough and Ready on March 17, 1883. She was the oldest daughter of Daniel C. Morrison and Anna Mary Haney. Daniel Morrison, originally from Nova Scotia, immigrated to California about 1876. He had a ranch in Rough and Ready, and was a stonemason who owned and operated the first marble and granite works in Grass Valley. He supported women’s rights and was proud of the many accomplishments of his wife and three daughters.
Anna Morrison was born in California. She was a staunch supporter of women’s rights. She taught Mamie, as well as her other daughters, the need to be political, independent, self-sufficient, courageous, and unafraid of hard work. She also taught them to question the status quo, never take “no” for an answer, to always stand up for their rights and never back down from any man, or for that matter, any woman.
Mamie certainly took her mother’s lessons to heart. When at age 18 she became embroiled in an altercation with a neighbor boy, who slapped her in the face, she promptly filed assault charges against him. She worked hard at the ranch, taking responsibility for, among others things, growing and harvesting 30 acres of wheat, and ensuring the hay was brought in properly, stored and sold.
Mamie grew prize-winning vegetables, was known for her excellent pie crust and was always involved in community events and amateur theatrics. She belonged to the Women of Woodcraft, the female auxiliary of Woodmen of the World, a benefit society whose goal was to better the lives of its members, their families and of their communities.
Mamie was an expert horsewoman who was unafraid of “anything in the shape of a horse.” She thought nothing of spending hours riding sidesaddle from Rough and Ready to Nevada City, Grass Valley and beyond. In the summer of 1912, she and her sister, Martina, planned a pleasure trip riding from Rough and Ready to Sacramento to attend the state fair.
Urged by her friends to contact the state fair authorities about giving a demonstration of fancy riding at the fair, Mamie declined to do so, modestly claiming no great skill as a horsewoman! The ride to Sacramento was unfortunately scrapped when her mother fell ill, and Mamie and Martina were needed to care for her.
A proud suffragist, Mamie was involved in the California campaign to secure women’s right to vote. She attended rallies, meetings, public lectures and other events to support the cause. She made public appearances as a suffragist when she rode sidesaddle dressed in her suffragist “whites” — in the July 4, 1911, parade in Nevada City. She again rode as a suffragist in the Fourth of July parade in 1912, which for the first time was organized by the women of Nevada County. This parade was a dual celebration of both the nation’s independence, and California giving women the right to vote in state elections.
While Mamie had many family responsibilities, she still wanted to do more to advance the equality of women. She found a way to do that by putting her independent spirit, courage, sense of adventure and skill as a horsewoman to good use. And, in so doing, became a unique role model in the fight for women’s equality.
SERVING THE PUBLIC
In February 1912, only a few months after women obtained the right to vote in California, Mamie seized upon this newly found right by becoming the first woman appointed as deputy registrar of voters for Nevada County. She got the position by confronting the Nevada County clerk, and demanding the job, claiming that she could find about 500 people in the county who had never registered to vote. The county clerk, being somewhat skeptical in the face of such confidence from a young woman, in return, demanded to know how Mamie could find these eligible voters, to which she replied “just give me the job and you’ll see.”
The potential voters were mostly men who lived in remote mining and lumber camps, or on farms and ranches throughout the county. This meant that Mamie had to travel the county to find these eligible voters. To accomplish this goal, and to prove the skeptics wrong, Mamie rode her favorite horse, Gold Heels, from early morning until late at night. She carried only what she needed, including a gun, her rosary, her election materials and any other supplies she might need while on the trail. Within the first two weeks on the job she rode hundreds of miles and registered about 300 voters. At the end of her job as deputy registrar she had signed up about 500.
Mamie loved the work, her independence, and her many adventures along the way. When she got caught up in a barbwire fence while trying to take a shortcut across a field during her travels, she eschewed any assistance saying she could “extricate herself from any ordinary difficulty.”
Men in remote mining camps found the sight of Mamie riding into a camp with her serviceable skirt, blouse, and straw hat atop her head such a novelty, that they lined up simply to shake her hand, and thereafter enthusiastically agreeing to register to vote. Two miners who had recently struck it rich came to blows over which one would get the honor of cooking Mamie a meal when she showed up at their mine. Mamie made short work of these shenanigans by taking charge of the situation, and cooking the dinner herself.
She received marriage proposals from lonely ranchers, miners, lumbermen, and others, which amused her greatly. Declining these proposals good-naturedly, Mamie still got her moonstruck suitors to register to vote. Closer to home, Mamie took her registration book to social events and parties, requiring eligible young men to register before she would dance with them.
Mamie’s story was reported by the local newspapers, and was quickly picked up by newspapers in Sacramento, San Francisco and further afield. She was interviewed by reporters who were curious about how a young woman, riding sidesaddle, with only her horse for a companion, could travel around the county getting rough and tumble men in remote locations to register to vote. Mamie told the reporters she didn’t find it particularly difficult to get folks to register.
In the farming districts, she simply rode out into the fields and registered the field hands, first telling them all about the election, candidates, and issues, and then giving them information about the date and place of the election. She did admit it was hard when she was out traveling in the mountains at night. However, with her usual pluck, Mamie stated she would “just build a camp fire, roll up in my blankets and go to sleep.” When asked if she was afraid, Mamie answered: “Why, no; we hardly know what fear is in this county.”
Mamie didn’t stop making history after her stint as deputy registrar. In 1912, she went on to become the first woman to be nominated as a vice president for the Nevada County Republican Convention. She represented Rough and Ready, and in addition to her work as the convention’s vice president, she also served on the resolutions and party platform committees.
Mamie married George Cole on Sept. 8, 1915, in Grass Valley. They lived at Wolf, California — just south of today’s Wolf Road, near Garden Bar Road in South County — where they worked a 160-acre ranch and raised three daughters.
Mamie taught her three daughters, as well as her granddaughters, the same values she had been taught by her mother — independence, courage, hard work, to question, to be involved, and to always fight for the rights of women.
She continued to be involved in politics for the rest of her life.
Mamie died on Nov. 30, 1962. She is buried in Clear Creek Cemetery, off McCourtney Road, in Nevada County.
This story was first published in the April 2020 edition of the Nevada County Historical Society Bulletin. Visit http://www.nevadacountyhistory.org or more information on the historical society.
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