Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party, 1912

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This postcard, published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, celebrates the passage of full suffrage in California in 1911 by depicting the symbolic adding of a sixth star to a suffrage flag. By 1912, there were 1.3 million women of voting age in the six states where women had equal suffrage with men. Theodore Roosevelt was the first presidential candidate to endorse women’s suffrage and the Progressive Party actively encouraged women to play organizing roles in his campaign. California and Washington, two of the women’s suffrage states with the largest number of electoral votes, would go to Roosevelt. Courtesy of National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, via Smithsonian Institution.

After seven years as US president from 1901 to 1908, Republican Theodore Roosevelt decided to re-enter the race for the presidency in 1912 to challenge his successor, William Taft. When he failed to secure the Republican nomination, Roosevelt formed the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party and ran for president on its ticket. The Progressive Party advocated a broad reform platform, including farm relief, social insurance, limits on campaign contributions, and an eight-hour workday. In 1912, Roosevelt also became the first presidential candidate to formally endorse women’s suffrage and advocate for women’s participation in Progressive Party organizing. By the 1912 election, women had equal suffrage to men in six states and constituted 1.3 million voters. Through both organizing and voting, they formed an important part of the Progressive Party’s success in the 1912 election.

Throughout the election, Roosevelt and the Progressives challenged the success of Republican incumbent William Taft’s campaign, and created a race in which Roosevelt was perceived as the primary challenge to Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson. Despite an assassination attempt in October 1912, Roosevelt campaigned to the end. Wilson won the election, while Taft achieved only 23% of the popular vote and eight electoral votes. Roosevelt earned 27% of the popular vote and eighty-eight electoral votes (including states like California and Washington that had passed women’s suffrage legislation), making him the most successful third-party candidate in US history.