Martha Jane Whitman, described as one of the “stalwarts” of the Idaho suffrage movement, was one of the main women involved in Idaho becoming the fourth state to grant women unrestricted voting rights. Because of Mrs. Whitman and other prominent suffragists, such as Mrs. Kate E. N. Feltham, Mrs. C. J. Robbins, and Mrs. M. C. Athey, to name a few, on Nov. 3, 1896, voters had the opportunity to cast their ballots not only for the next president and governor, but also to amend the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The amendment won a clear majority, and on Dec. 11, 1896, the justices ruled unanimously in favor of the amendment.
According to a Biographical Sketch of Martha Jane Jamison Whitman by Patricia Lyn Scott as part of the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States, it all began when the Idaho Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) held its organizational meeting in Boise on Nov. 20, 1895. Eight Idaho counties were represented. During that meeting, bylaws were adopted, officers elected, and an initial plan was developed. Martha Jane Whitman was chosen to serve on an advisory planning board to work with the elected officers.
In the next eight months, 30 equal suffrage clubs from the state of Idaho were organized.
In May, 1896, plans were put in place to hold an IESA convention, and Martha Jane Whitman was appointed to oversee organization of suffrage clubs in southeastern Idaho.
In July, the three-day IESA convention was held in Boise, and Martha Jane Whitman was a credited delegate from Montpelier. During that session, the speakers challenged the past and current view of women’s inferiority. It was also reported that Bear Lake County was doing “excellent work” and that it was “the best working organization in the state” (Methodist minister from Boise, Rev. John W. Huston).
During the final convention day, new officers were elected, new resolutions were passed, and the plan of work was approved. The “well-liked and respected,” and Republican, Martha Jane Whitman was elected as president.
At that point, Mrs. Whitman returned home to organize her own Bear Lake County.
On Aug. 8, she spoke to the Bear Lake County Republican convention. The Republican delegates passed the equal suffrage resolution. On Aug. 15, she spoke to the Bear Lake County Democratic convention and they, too, approved the suffrage resolution becoming the only county delegation at the State Democratic convention pledged to equal suffrage.
On Aug. 17, she returned to Boise to direct IESA’s final push to the November election.
On Aug. 14, along with Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National Association of Women’s Suffrage, Mrs. Whitman arrived in Boise to attend and speak at Idaho’s four-state political conventions. At those conventions, they were successful in winning the support of all Idaho political parties. This removed partisan politics from the suffrage campaign.
Between the time of the IESA convention and mid-October, 24 additional local suffrage clubs were organized in southeast Idaho with 71 authors. All Idaho counties but Custer County supported equal suffrage, and Bear Lake County provided the second largest majority support. In fact, Dingle carried a unanimous vote.
On March 8, 1897, Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg recognized Martha Jane Whitman’s contribution to Idaho by nominating her as the University of Idaho’s first woman regent. The nomination was approved promptly by the State Legislature.
Martha Jane Whitman became the first woman to register to vote in Montpelier. At first, the women in Montpelier hesitated to register, but after Mrs. Whitman registered, she was followed by Mrs. Mary G. Gee, president of the local club. The fact that registration was to begin was not generally understood; however, a large number of women finally registered, entitling them to vote at the election.
While no statewide elections were scheduled until 1898, municipal elections were held in 1897, and Martha Jane Whitman became one of Idaho’s first woman voters.
Martha Jane Whitman was a force to be reckoned with. She and the other women who stood strong in their convictions and who also stood as an example to other women in the state of Idaho are what is needed to stand for principle and change. Without women, and people in general like these, our country would not be what it is today. The great state of Idaho would not be what it is today. Idaho stood out and stood up for women because of Martha Jane Whitman. We need more people like her in our country, people with strong convictions and the strength of character to move forward with those convictions to the very end.
Martha Jane Whitman, born Martha Jane Jamison, was born Feb. 12, 1863, in Oquawaka, Illinois, to William Beatty and Elizabeth Edmonds Brent Jamison. It’s not clear when she arrived in Idaho. She worked as a court stenographer in the late 1880s and then as a deputy clerk for the circuit court in southeastern Idaho.
She married Marcus Frederick Whitman, a mining operator, in Paris on Jan. 19, 1891. They made their home in Montpelier. They became the parents of one son, Marcus Jamison Whitman, and two daughters, Marguerite White Whitman and Florence Virginia Whitman.
She passed away on March 2, 1939, in Gardena, Los Angeles County, California.