Celebrate history by visiting a suffragist headstone

By Zoë Strickland, Managing Editor, SoCoNews, June 28, 2021

sebastopol suffragettes

Mary Paul Dodgion, suffrage curator, and Donna Pittman, West County Museum director, standing beside the Sweetnam family plot where Lillian Sweetnam is buried. Photo courtesy Mary Paul Dodgion Facebook Twitter Email Print Save

As part of its ongoing effort to recognize local members of the suffrage movement leading up to the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Western Sonoma County Historical Society has adorned each identifiable suffragist headstone in the Sebastopol, Green Valley and Forestview cemeteries with a sign denoting the person’s involvement in the fight for women’s voting rights.

Mary Paul Dodgion, organizer of the history center’s exhibit on the suffrage movement, along with Gale Brownell, researched the various suffrage-involved women’s clubs mentioned in local newspaper archives, tracking the names of the women mentioned. Brownell then located and noted the plot location of each person on the list of suffragists.

Though the list of local suffragists surpasses 60 women, Dodgion said that she’s confident that there are more that they don’t know about.

“Some of those people are listed in those papers, but there are so many people where their names weren’t printed in the paper,” Dodgion said of connecting the dots between the papers of record and the women involved in pro-suffragist groups. She noted that women who held prominent positions in the clubs were mentioned frequently in papers.

During the search through newspapers and other archives, the following local organizations were positioned as pro-suffrage, with members involved in the movement: the Independent Order of Good Templars, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Woman’s Relief Corp, The Grange, Women’s Improvement Clubs, Native Daughters and the Republican Convention.

Included in the project was updating each grave on Find a Grave, a website devoted to cataloging cemeteries. There, if someone looks up a name of a local suffragist in the cemetery that they’re buried in, Dodgioin and Brownell have added a digital flower on the entry along with information about which suffrage-related club the person was in.

Dodgion said that the signs will be left up at each grave until around November, or whenever the weather gets bad. The goal is for them to be up through October, so they’ll be up for the historical society’s cemetery walk.

Though the West County Museum’s suffrage exhibit had a soft digital opening in September 2020, with the Suffrage Headquarters exhibit opening up for in-person viewing earlier this year, Dodgion said she views this as more of a “building up” event, rather than a “winding down,” with more suffrage-related events in the works for the summer.

Per Dodgion, to locate details on a person on the following list, go to the Find a Grave website. Those without a label are in the Sebastopol Cemetery. Other links; those noted with a “G” are in Green Valley Cemetery and those noted with an “F” are in Forestview Cemetery. Once a person is found, click on the suffrage poppy flower to read about their affiliations and then note the GPS coordinates to find their plot

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