The women’s suffrage movement was already active in many parts of America in the late 19th century. In 1894, 25 ladies met to form the Ladies Literary Society (now called the Minerva Club). They were hungry for broader knowledge and companionship and sought to elevate the cultural level of the community. Among those 25 ladies were Harriett Sharp Hart (2/1/1844 – 10/7/1896) and her two daughters, Laura Sharp Bryant and Lucy Sharp Haslam. In an old trunk containing the personal effects of Harriett Sharp Hart, her granddaughter Elizabeth Scott (Minerva Club President, 1965-66) found notes written in pencil for a speech very likely given early in the existence of the club in the 1890s. (From the archives of the Santa Maria Valley History Museum)
The Need for Women’s Rights
Why is it men so fear the ballot for their wives and yet allow any disreputable man, be he drunkard, drug addict, or gambler, to vote and help make the laws that his wife and children must abide by, and yet in the city, this is the class of men who control the polls. Banks, churches, and corporations allow women to vote, so surely in this age of reason all fair minded men will grant to woman her right to assist in exploding the shams of society as it is found, as well as to help solve the problem of a better civilization. For in striving to improve her own ideas of justice in government, women cannot help but make the standard of justice more perfect in her sons.
Equal rights in the political field are demanded and justly so. Women have to abide by the laws, and if she owns property, she is taxed the same as men and taxation without representation is unjust as our forefathers said.
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It is a disgrace to this great nation and glorious country that sensible and well informed women have not as much privilege granted them as the ignorant man who cannot speak a word of English, and the uneducated man who can neither read nor write. I for one, hope our dear friend and advocate, Susan B. Anthony may live to see the day when women will be allowed the ballot. What a glorious day it would be for her work of a lifetime and self-sacrifice that she has given to the cause and feel that her labors had not been in vain.
Harriett Hart, wife of the “Father of Santa Maria”, Rueben Hart, clearly believed that women were deserving of the same political, economic, and social rights enjoyed by men. Her stirring words should rouse all women to not fail to exercise the hard-won voting rights earned by the Suffrage movement and granted by the 19th Amendment.
Despite their lack of franchise, the Minerva ladies actively pursued participation in community affairs. They were able to exercise considerable influence, including the creation of Buena Vista Park, incorporation of the City, and impressively securing a Carnegie Library for the community of Santa Maria.