Anna Johnson Gates (January 25, 1889 – January 12, 1939) was a suffragist and progressive era politician who was the first woman elected to the West Virginia Legislature.
Gates began her political career by working with suffrage organizations in Kanawha County, distinguishing herself as an activist and gaining respect in the community.
She remained politically active after women gained the right to vote and established herself as a successful voice for the Democratic Party in her area of West Virginia. She served as associate chairman of the Democratic executive committee of Kanawha County in 1920. In July 1922, Gates announced her candidacy for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Her election would make her the first women to hold a seat in the West Virginia Legislator.
During her first speech as a member of the West Virginia Legislature, Gates commented, “Women in most states are awakening to their political responsibilities. The women do not urge the election of women as women, but believe women should be represented in office, and only ask for cooperation.”
While in the legislature, Gates served as the Chairperson of the Committee on Arts, Science and General Improvements. She also was on the prohibition and temperance, education, humane institution and public buildings, and medicine and sanitation committees.
This blogger finds it annoying to not be able to find newspaper articles on a member of the WV Legislature and, more importantly, one of our state’s first women in politics. It became MORE annoying to find out that a huge swath of articles name her ras Mrs. Tom Gates and NOT Delegate Anna Gates. She fought for women’s rights and they still named her more a man’s wife than a voted-in politician. Annoying.
One from the WV State Archives:
Anna Johnson Gates
July 16, 1922
Normalcy Sick, Mrs. Gates Will Run for House
Charleston Woman Seeks to Represent Local District In Legislature; Favors “Back to Wilsonism”
Issues Statement Setting Forth Views
Declaring herself to be in favor of the policies of Woodrow Wilson, good roads, education, child welfare, the defense of the good name of the state of West Virginia, the enforcement of the Volstead act, tax reform, a curbing of the appointment of boards and commissions, the dignity of labor as well as that of capital and a proper respect for the law by both Mrs. Tom Gates, of Broad street yesterday announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the West Virginia house of delegates subject to the August primary election.
Her statement follows:
“My name having been suggested at the Democratic conference for the house of delegates from Kanawha county, I am a candidate for the nomination. I hope that no one will vote for me solely because I am a woman – women and men must work together for the public good; and if we divide according to sex no progress can be made. The men gave the ballot to the women supposing that we would help them to solves [sic] the country’s problems. We should accept the trust, not merely to secure office for women but to be of service to our country and state.
I would not consider myself a good Democrat unless I were a firm believer in the policies of Woodrow Wilson and unless I felt sure that I endorse all his splendid record. In so far as the national questions may be involved in my duties as a legislator, I am, without qualification, a Woodrow Wilson supporter.
I am in favor of good roads, broad and liberal support to education and child welfare, and the defense of the good name of this state and its institutions. I am for prohibition of the liquor traffic, and for good faith enforcement of the letter and spirit of the national and state constitutions on that subject and for all laws passed to carry out these constitutional provisions including the Volstead act. I am also for home rule, that is a wholesome recognition of the doctrine of the fathers that, except where the power has been otherwise delegated, each state, each county and each neighborhood is the best judge of its own domestic affairs.
Taxation has become burdensome, due to extravagance. Therefore, I am for reducing expense and for ferreting out graft and making it impossible, as well as for strict economy. We must curb the tendency to create boards and commissions and return to the simple processes of the fathers wherever the nature of the subject permits.
I believe in the dignity of labor and its just right to a fair return for services rendered and its right to organize, but labor, as well as capital, must obey the law. These are not mere words to generalize an acute situation, but my honest sentiments and no act or vote of mine will ever knowingly violate the letter and spirit of my words. My whole heart is in the work of building up our industries and in having industrial peace. I want to help the women and the men in true service to this county, my native satte [sic] and this blessed country.
Women must recognize that every political question has a history. This history was made before women had a vote. We must be sensible and take up these [q]uestions where we found them. The question of meat and bread; the revival of business; the starting up of factories and mines are all involved in matters of finance and economics. These are the important matters and on them I believe my party to be right and will act with it. We can do little that is permanent in uplift work while industry is prostrated and agriculture is discouraged – I want to see some more Woodrow Wilson ‘good times’ – I am sick and tired of ‘normalcy’.
My work, if nominated, will not be confined to the selfish task of being elected, but to the larger one of condemning high taxes, ‘deflation’ and the inefficiency which has in two years changed a prosperous, happy people into a discouraged, unemployed, unhappy people. To be elected in nothing, but to help in our splendid cause is a work that deeply interests me. I hope to be nominated so that I can help make a healthy change.”
“Tosses Turban Into Ring” – there are times when I realize it is probably for the best that I was not born during a time that women were kept “beneath” men…
Anna Johnson Gates
November 26, 1922
Lion’s Club is Addressed by Mrs. Tom Gates
First Woman Legislator In West Virginia Outlines Program She Will Follow While In Office
Is One of 37 Women Elected on Nov. 7th
The first woman to represent the state of West Virginia in the legislature has made known the things she will endeavor to accomplish when that body meets. In a speech delivered at a meeting of the Charleston Lions club last Friday, Mrs. Tom Gates, elected a member of the house of delegates at the election of November 7, delivered her first speech since the campaign.
Mrs. Gates was one of the 37 women candidates for office in the United States who was successful. Her speech was made entirely from the standpoint of the women of the county and was enthusiastically received by the women present at the meeting of the club. It follows:
“I will not enter into any controversy or discussion as to the merits and wisdom of woman suffrage – that is a closed chapter so far as the American people are concerned.
There are many fields of usefulness open to a woman – There are a number of subjects which are nearer to her heart than men can realize, and you must concede if you are fair minded men, that there are a few subjects upon which she is better posted and better able to advise than are the men. I refer more particularly to that citadel of woman’s strength – THE HOME, not overlooking, however, the most important questions of education, sanitation, health, moral conditions, and the surroundings of the infants who will constitute the coming generation.”Man Makes Law.
“First of all – from the dawn of civilization man has made the law which dominated his relations with woman. Woman had no choice whatever therein, except in so far as reflected by her influence on man. Now that woman has been put on the same footing as man and in many instances has acquired some representation in the legislative halls of both State and Nation, it behooves woman to inform herself upon the political questions of the day, upon the intricacies of civil government, but most particularly upon subjects of legislation most needed for the elevation of the human race.
Did you know that there were over 400 women candidates in the election just passed? So far, the information obtained, shows just 37 of these women were elected to office. In this 37 were state representatives, county commissioners, two judges, and one congresswoman. This of course, does not include the great number of county superintendents of schools and small district offices to which women were successful. The point that I am trying to make, is, that women in most states are awakening to their political responsibilities. The women do not urge the election of women as women, but believe women should be represented in office, and only ask co- operation.”Impressed With Responsibilities.
“Entering the legislative halls of this state as I do, uninitiated, in the intricacies of politics, uninformed upon many of the great economic and political questions of the day, realizing as I do my unpreparedness and inexperience in dealing with these great questions, I am gravely impressed with the responsibility which rests upon my shoulders, and it shall be my endeavor to devote my energy to a close study of such propositions as are most material to the welfare of women and children, and the morals, education and health of the coming generation, avoiding as far as possible the presentation or advancement of any untried, unreasonable fanatical or visionary schemes of reform and leaving the more intricate questions of political economy and legal problems to the consideration, as far as possible, to those splendid experienced minds of the other sex so ably represented in our legislative bodies.
I would like to touch briefly upon a few of the reforms which from a woman’s standpoint are badly needed on our statute books. All women are not saints by any means – there are many bad women, but a man can easily free himself from a bad woman; whereas, on the other hand, there are many women bound hand and foot to bad men, who neglect, abuse and cruelly treat them, whose duty is his to protect, who willfully squanders their sustenance, to the sore neglect of their helpless offspring, for whose support and care the state holds him responsible. The present laws of the state seem to be inadequate to reach this class of men.
Under the present law, it is provided that if a man wilfully neglect, fail or refuse to provide reasonable support and maintenance for his wife and minor children, may, upon complaint of the wife to any agent of the West Virginia Humane society, and upon conviction thereof, be adjudges guilty of a misdemeanor and be committed to the county jail not more than 60 days, unless he can show physical incapacity or good cause. The justice of the peace in lieu thereof, may require the husband to give bond for the support of the wife and children for six months. This statute seemed to be wholly ineffectual in checking the ever increasing tendency of worthless husbands to neglect, mistreat and starve their children for the gratification of their own selfish desires.”To Remedy Condition
“The legislature of 1919, to remedy this condition, established the state board of children’s guardians, but this act does away with the West Virginia Humane society, and the law remains what it was in 1917.
I am not criticising the establishment of the juvenile court or the board of children’s guardians, but neither of these institutions seem to have reached a successful solution of the problem, and I can find nothing in the last two acts for the punishment of the husband who neglects his wife. The two acts referred to seem to deal entirely with the subject of delinquent, dependent and neglected children, taking them away from their parents and finding proper homes or places of custody for them. One of the reasons why these acts are not more effective is the natural opposition of the mother parting with the custody of her child – another is the fear of the mother and children that if they appeal to the authorities under any of the present laws, they will be subjected to further abuse and cruelty on the part of the delinquent husband complained of. Another reason that relief is not applied for is that if the delinquent husband is sent to jail, the neglected wife and children will, in many instances, result in their being left wholly without the means of providing rent and sustenance. The law is bad, in that it provides more for the punishment of the husband than it does for the relief of the wife and children. And this law does not provide for the cases where wives have been decreed divorces from their husbands with alimony, and are supporting their children, in which case the only remedy is to punish the husband for contempt of court.
I am not speaking of things now of which I have no knowledge, because for the past year I have been in a position to know whereof I speak, and to see many distressing cases of this kind.”Protect Next Generation
“The next important thing in my judgment is the duty of the state to protect the coming generation from the terrible consequences resulting from the marriages of persons afflicted with infectious diseases, resulting in bringing into the world innocent, helpless babes, often crippled or deformed, and in many cases subject to insanity, imbecility and misery, through no fault of their own, incapable of becoming useful members of society.
I believe it is the duty of the state to protect the coming generation from the ravages of sexual diseases and that duty is just as paramount as the duty to stamp out smallpox, scarlet fever and typhus. Some states have legislation upon this subject. In view of the fact that women and unborn infants are the greatest sufferers from these causes, I shall collect such information as I can secure from other states on this subject and shall endeavor to present the same to the leaders of my political party with request that they advocate the same.
The next important thing is the protection and development of wholesome children after they are brought into the world. Much has been done in the last decade toward the elimination of unsanitary conditions, especially in the large municipalities but much more remains to be done in order to eradicate the sources of disease, not only in our cities, but part[i]cularly among the poorer classes, in the slums and amongst the inhabitants of the small villages, mining towns and rural districts. I think it should be the duty of the state and county authorities through the schools and in every possible way to disseminate knowledge on this particular subject, and to use every possible means, including heavy fines and jail sentence, if necessary, to require the inhabitants of all parts of the state to keep their premises, their persons and their children in a clean and sanitary condition, so that the coming generation may learn to live like decent American citizens should live. That the children should be brought up in a healthy environment.”On School Question
“The next important step from a woman’s standpoint, is that of the schools. In my judgement, no effort should be spared to make the schools of this state the training station for the coming generation, both morally and intellectually; that every effort should be made to create a more wholesome moral atmosphere in all of our schools. That a closer scrutiny be made of the morals as well as the teachings of the teachers in our schools, and, while observing a careful avoidance of sectarianism, the children should be instructed in the principles of a Supreme Being and our duty towards Him and our fellowman, and they should be trained in a knowledge of their rights and duties and the high privileges of citizenship and they should be carefully trained to discriminate between the rights inherently theirs under the constitution and the rights of the other fellow, and, particularly in their duties to their fellowman, to the community in general and to the state and national government.
There are many other subjects of great interest to the women of this country, but the most imperative in my judgment, are those I have mentioned and it is the sincere hope of the women of the state that the upright, well disposed men of the state, supplemented by the aid, encouragement and votes of a great majority of the women of the state, will, within the next decade, accomplish marvelous advancement in conditions destined to bring about a better citizenship, a more happy and contented human family and a nation which shall be a guide and a beacon light.”