Sadie Dotson Hurst (1857-1952)

Sadie Dotson was born in Iowa on July 27, 1857 to Charles and Miriam Dotson. She married Horton Hurst and at age 28, gave birth to a son, Glen; two years later she had another son, Dale.  Upon the death of her husband, Hurst developed an interest in theatre, and although she then was in her forties, she pursued this by moving her family to Reno in the early 1900s.

   

The Nevada campaign for women's right to vote was forming in the same era, and Hurst founded branches in Sparks, Verdi and Wadsworth, communities just east of Reno.  She was president of the Washoe County Equal Franchise Society when Nevada women won full voting rights in 1914.  After the vote was won, she continued her ties with leaders of the National American Women's Suffrage Association and the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC), while also founding the local GFWC affiliate, the Sparks Women's Citizen Club, and the Women's Republican Committee of Washoe County.  Feminist friends persuaded her to run a successful campaign for the Nevada House in 1918.

   

Like many other women in this era, Hurst supported a ban on alcohol sales and led the campaign in the legislature to ratify the federal 18th Amendment.  So strong were her convictions that she opposed a bill to allow "near beer," as well as flavored cooking ingredients with small amounts of alcohol.  In Nevada, a state with a long history of saloons, this was a sure way to lose the next election, but she did not compromise her views. 

   

Hurst's legislative agenda was largely composed of overdue legal adjustments to ensure the property rights of married women, including child custody.  Because other states, especially western ones, had long ago enacted such bills as requiring a wife's consent to property disposal, Hurst passed more legislation than the average freshman – but her future could be foretold by her removal from some committees, an extremely unusual act.  Nor was she a thorough believer in equal rights:  she opposed legislation that would allow Caucasians and Native Americans to marry, declaring, "I do not believe in the intermingling of races."

   

Nevada women had been voting for almost six years when their legislature ratified the federal 19th Amendment that granted the vote to all American women.  The Speaker of the House honored Hurst by asking her to preside when the resolution passed 25 to 1; there was no negative vote in the Senate.

   

That was in April of 1920, and Hurst lost the Republican primary in September.  Two years later, at age 65, she moved to California, where she lived on another three decades.  Sadie Dotson Hurst died in Pasadena on January 17, 1952, at age 94.  Nevada voters have continued her legacy by electing more women than most states:  only three legislative sessions since 1919 have not included a female representative.

Image credit: Nevada State Archives.