The American activist Anne Martin (1875–1951) was an important organizer in the effort leading to the expansion of the right to vote to women, both in her home state of Nevada and nationally. Martin ran for the U.S. Senate twice, established the history department at Nevada State University, and was a central figure not only in American feminism but also in pacifist causes and social justice efforts.
Funny and brash, Martin attended the private Bishop Whitaker School for Girls. After a class rebellion in which she drew caricatures and wrote satirical poetry about the school's principal and other teachers, her entire class was held back for a year before being allowed to graduate. In 1891, she matriculated at Nevada State University (now the University of Nevada, Reno).
In the 1890s Martin catalogued her goals and dreams in a diary, listing, as quoted by biographer Anne Bail Howard in The Long Campaign: A country residence where “I should live independently, governed by no law but my own conscience.” She did well enough on placement tests to enroll as a sophomore, and in 1894, at the age of 19, she earned her B.A. in history. She moved on to Stanford University (then Leland Stanford Junior University) for a second history degree and then an M.A., completing that degree in 1897. Returning home to Nevada, Martin was hired to teach at Nevada State, there establishing the school's history department and serving as department chair.
Thanks to her family's prosperity, Martin grew up without financial constraints and hungered for something more than material comfort. “Will I never have any ambition, will I never accomplish anything?” she asked in her diary at age 17, according to Howard. “O, I must do something. I suppose I should live more for others, but I don't understand how. I must do something.” Although a university department chairmanship in her 20s might seem an enviable record of accomplishment, Martin was still restless. In 1899, after a man to whom she was close was killed in a boating accident, she took a two-year leave of absence from the university and traveled first to New York City and then to England, France, and Germany, sitting in on classes at Chase's Art School and Columbia University in New York as well as at the universities of London and Leipzig.
In 1901 Martin returned to Reno for her father's funeral. She taught art history courses for several years at Nevada State and seems to have disagreed with her family over the management of her father's estate and business interests. In 1904 she began a new round of world travels, visiting and studying countries in both Europe and the Far East. By 1909 Martin was living in England, writing newspaper articles and short stories (sometimes published under the name Anne O'Hara), and becoming involved with progressive political movements such as the socialist Fabian Society.
It was during this period that Martin's orientation toward women's rights emerged in earnest. Joining the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), she was active in England's suffragette movement, organizing meetings and street demonstrations. During one 1910 demonstration favor of the pro-suffrage Conciliation, Martin and 30 other demonstrators were arrested on the orders of then–Home Secretary Winston Churchill and charged with disturbing the peace. Future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, at the behest of his wife Lou, a college friend of Martin's, traveled to England with bail money in hand, but she had already been freed when Hoover arrived.
Returning to the United States, Martin found the woman suffrage movement gathering steam in her native West. The Equal Franchise Society was formed to agitate for suffrage in Nevada in 1910, and she was elected the organization's president in 1912. By that time, the legislative battle to give Nevada women the right to vote had to be voted on in the affirmative by the Nevada legislature twice, in 1911 and 1913. The final step would be a statewide referendum on the issue. Suffrage faced strong opposition from industrial leaders and from Nevada's powerful saloon industry, which feared that women, if given the vote, would support alcohol prohibition. Martin, as organizer of the pro-suffrage campaign, cannily focused its efforts on small towns. Although suffrage indeed would be rejected in the referendum in November of 1914, a large Yes vote in outlying towns propelled Martin's forces to victory within the legislature by more than 3,000 votes.
By this time, Martin's ambitions could hardly be confined to Nevada. Having won a suffrage campaign in a state she sometimes described as the most male in the country, she had national credentials. Martin met President Woodrow Wilson, who commended her efforts and pointed to state-by-state change as the best way to achieve the goal of giving women the vote. At first Martin agreed, joining the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which favored such a gradual approach. Soon, though, she began to believe that stronger pressure would be required in order to pass a national constitutional amendment. She left the NAWSA and joined the more militant National Woman's Party (more an advocacy organization than a political party), becoming its chairman in 1916. In 1917 she was arrested again, this time for joining a picket line on a sidewalk in front of the White House. Sentenced to incarceration in a workhouse, Martin and other members of the group were pardoned five days later by President Wilson.
With Nevada women already able to vote, Martin sought to mobilize them by running for the U.S. Senate from Nevada. She made two attempts, in 1918 and 1920. She focused again on rural Nevada towns, making up to five speeches a day as her caravan bumped over the state's primitive roads. Local newspapers, controlled by established interests, published unflattering portrayals of Martin as an aging spinster with an arrest record, but her effort gained favorable national attention, and this may have been part of her aim all along. She buttressed her campaign with newspaper and magazine article she authored, pointing out in a 1920 Good Housekeeping piece that, as quoted on the Nevada Women's History Project website, “Last year our government spent $47,000 to protect farmers against avoidable losses of hogs, corn and cattle. In the same period it spent, in an effort to prevent the avoidable loss of mothers and babies, just $47,000 less. And we lost 250,000 babies and nearly 23,000 mothers died in childbirth.” Pro-hog and pro-corn discrimination, Martin argued, should stop. Her efforts contributed to the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided federal funding for maternity care, in 1921.
Although other women had flirted with the idea of running for the U.S. Senate in the past, Martin was the first to win an official place on the ballot and she stressed this fact in her campaigns. Although she declined to join either political party and ran as an independent, she won about 18 percent of the vote in her 1918 campaign and nearly 20 percent in 1920. Martin's campaigning extended beyond the idea of women's suffrage. In her first run for office, she supported U.S. entry into World War I and showed a growing interest in labor issues and other social reform causes. This broadened focus antagonized some of Martin's hard-core suffragist supporters.
Sidelined by a cardiac episode in 1930, Martin recovered and continued to write. She also followed issues related to women and to politics in general, showing a knack for identifying emerging progressive issues. She became an early supporter of farmers’ markets, reasoning that they would benefit consumers by eliminating the price markups of middlemen. A friend of social reformer Jane Addams, she worked with Addams on several projects, also joining the Democratic Party and was being active during local meetings.
In her later years, Martin returned to Reno and took up residence in the city's Golden Hotel. She became an early supporter of the idea of an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution, although that idea has yet to come to fruition. Martin received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Nevada in 1945, and she died in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, six years later, on April 15, 1951. For some years her role in the history of women's suffrage remained little known, but a biography of Martin, The Long Campaign, returned her name to the historical record when it appeared in 1985. Martin's personal papers are housed at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.
Howard, Anne Bail, The Long Campaign: A Biography of Anne Martin, University of Nevada Press, 1985.
Hulse, James W., The Silver State: Nevada's Heritage Reinterpreted, University of Nevada Press, 2004.
Her Hat Was in the Ring Project website, http://www.herhatwasinthering.org/ (November 4, 2016), “Anne Henrietta Martin.”
National Woman's Party website, http://nationalwomansparty.org/ (November 4, 2016), “Women We Celebrate: Anne Martin.”
Nevada Public Radio website, http://knpr.org/ (November 13, 2014), “Women's Suffrage in Nevada.”
Nevada Women's History Project website, http://www.unr.edu/nwhp/ (November 4, 2016), Holly Van Valkenburgh, “Anne Henrietta Martin.”❑