What would Davis Waite think about Hillary Clinton? | AspenTimes.com

What would Davis Waite think about Hillary Clinton?

Tim Willoughby
Gov. Davis H. Waite was a hero of Colorado women's suffrage. (Colorado State Archives)

Davis H. Waite is one of Aspen’s most famous, and infamous, citizens. Owner of The Aspen Times, governor of Colorado, champion of labor and advocate for Populism, Waite was our most-watched resident from his arrival in 1881 until his death in 1901. From his prominent positions he promoted women’s suffrage and signed it into law as governor in 1893, but feminine politics left him with second doubts.

The Knights of Labor and other union movements along with suffragette legions championed women’s rights, beginning after the Civil War. Early victories granted women the right to vote, and to seek office, in school elections. Cities and towns, one by one, allowed women to vote in municipal elections. The cry of “taxation without representation” embarrassed all-male legislatures into allowing women to vote on some tax issues. Eventually, the western territorial legislatures of Wyoming, Utah and Washington broke from eastern orthodoxy and approved women’s suffrage. Wyoming, in 1890, guaranteed women’s suffrage in their state constitution.

Suffragettes were active in Colorado. The right to vote was not their only issue; temperance held equal importance. My grandmother was a vocal member and banned grandfather’s drinking at home. Waite, as editor of the Aspen Union Era, championed the tenets of the Knights of Labor. He expressed sympathy for the causes of Aspen’s suffragettes, but his Populist Party did not include a woman’s right to vote in its platform. Thus he avoided the issue in his 1892 campaign for governor.

Once elected, Waite felt the full force of Denver suffragettes. He recognized that they advocated many of the same Populist reforms that he did and that, by recognizing the right to vote in limited situations, he could further his own agenda. During his inaugural address, as women cheered from the balcony, Waite announced that the time had come for women to vote in all municipal elections. Some speculate that he was also interested in diminishing the competition from the Prohibition Party. Perhaps women would vote saloons out of their cities, thereby eliminating the need for that party.

A Populist legislator introduced a bill for a statewide vote on women’s suffrage. The bill passed the Legislature and Waite signed it. The 1893 state initiative passed by about 6,000 out of 60,000 votes cast, and Colorado became the first state where men’s votes recognized women’s right to vote.

Waite had the unfortunate timing of serving as governor during the Panic of 1893. His radical solutions to economic tribulations (taking over the railroads and creating state silver currency in opposition to President Cleveland’s ceasing free coinage of silver) galvanized the Republican Party to oppose him. Women voted for the first time in 1894 and Waite lost the election. It was a loss for the Populist movement and a very personal defeat for Waite. He blamed his loss on the Catholic Church and women.

Elections of the time were fraught with vote buying. He believed that the Republicans bought the votes of Denver prostitutes, saloon maids and a Catholic bishop. He was convinced a majority of women across the state voted against him. After leaving office, Waite toured the country on the lecture circuit, frequently voicing opposition to women’s suffrage. He claimed that self-interested male politicians too easily swayed women.

Perhaps U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would appreciate some of Waite’s opinions. Consider this from his 1892 Aspen Union Era: “Some of the Republican blatherskites who imagine they have a monopoly of all the loyalty and patriots of the country and who make membership in that party of corruption, scoundrelism and rascality a test of loyalty to the government have said that if the man did not like this country he could get out of it.” Many women thank Waite for kick-starting women’s suffrage and argue it is high time we had a woman president. At the same time it is understandable that they shudder when considering Waite’s sexist sentiments.

Davis Waite felt no love for the Republicans who dominated Colorado politics, and he had an equal distaste for Democrats. As for supporting a woman for president it is clear that Waite, while agreeing with her on many issues, would not place a “Hillary for President” poster on his front lawn.


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