The Woman Boss of Denver

Damon Runyon

Harper’s Weekly/December 26, 1908

Mrs. Anna Margaret Scott, Who Garners Votes and Crops with Equal Ability

 

THE slate-makers of the Republican party in Denver sat one night with their heads close together framing up the city ticket. The big boss was reclining in a chair just outside the group, smoking innumerable cigarettes, and occasionally replying gruffly to requests for suggestions.

The Fourteenth ward was reached.

“Bill Skeezicks for alderman there,” said a committeeman. “There’s a swell Republican Ward for you. If all the others in town were like that—”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted the big boss. “Who’s that dub you’ve got for alderman?”

“Bill Skeezicks,” said the committeeman. “He’s Anna Scott’s man.”

“Anna Scott be dished!” roared the big boss, impolitely. “We want Sam Smiler up there. Who’s this Bill Skeezicks, anyway?”

“We don’t know,” replied everybody in alarmed chorus. “He’s Anna Scott’s man.”

“Well, we won’t have him,” was the boss’s ultimatum. “Put down Sam Smiler and have him nominated for alderman from the Fourteenth.”

They put down Sam Smiler. Then someone telephoned York 2011.

“The big fellow says you can’t have that Skeezicks party, Mrs. Scott,” breathed the some one into the ‘phone. “He says he wants Smiler nominated up there.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” came a soft voice from the other end of the wire. “Well, you tell him I’m going to nominate Bill Skeezicks for alderman from the Fourteenth, just the same.”

They carried the news to the big boss.

“Of course you can talk her into having Smiler,” they suggested, soothingly.

The boss snorted in derision and anger.

“I’ll not try to talk any woman into anything,” he bellowed. “Give her a good beating and she’ll quit. I’ve been hearing about that Scott woman for quite a while now, and she’s been getting away with things up there because she never ran afoul of us, and I didn’t pay much attention to her. Now she’s getting high and mighty, and we’ll just take her down. Go after that ward!” he ordered, imperiously.

They did. They sent the primitive steam-roller of that day into the startled precincts of the classic Fourteenth, to the astonishment of the residents, and to the apparent destruction of all opposition. “Sam Smiler, and get out of the way!” whined the wheels of the big roller as it rumbled through the peaceful streets like a Juggernaut.

It roared past 527 Corona, and a stout-set woman with a placid, motherly countenance hurried to the window and watched it. Then she put on her hat and went to call on the neighbors.

“Nothing to it in the Fourteenth Ward,” reported the roller drivers. “We’ve flattened her out,” and the boss grunted with satisfaction and said something hateful about a “fool woman.”

They tiptoed into the headquarters when they bore the primary returns to the big boss, and they stood back in fear and trembling while he looked them over. Bill Skeezicks had been nominated, and Sam Smiler was lost in the ruck. The big man eyed the result without a word and then glanced scornfully at his shaking satellites.

“Mrs. Scott did this?” he finally demanded. They nodded dismally. “Send her to me,” he ordered, and the next day the stout-set woman with the placid, motherly face appeared before the boss and they looked each other over eye to eye.

“I want you to take charge of the fight in the Fourteenth,” said the boss, noting the square-cut chin and the wide-open, fearless eyes. “Anybody who can whip me that way in a preliminary must go into the main event. We need you.”

The woman demurred. “I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I wouldn’t have fought you if you hadn’t fought me first. I’ve won. Now you can go ahead and elect my man. I’m not capable of carrying on the fight in the field.”

“Anybody who can trim me the way you did is capable of anything. You must take charge of the election,” declared the boss.

“Well, I’ll do it if I can do it my way,” she finally agreed.

“Do anything you want—just elect your man,” the boss replied.

Bill Skeezicks was elected by so large a majority that they haven’t finished counting it yet. To this day they recite the election in the Fourteenth as a striking example in Colorado politics of the difference in the use of money with men and women.

“I hired only women workers,” reported Mrs. Scott, in her expense account. “I believe them to be more effective than men. It cost me just $400 to carry my ward.”

The big-boss heard the report in amazement. “What do you think o’ that?” he shouted. “Here’s the cheapest ward in Denver. Every one of the others cost us from $2000 to $5000. I’m for Anna Scott and her women workers.”

That wasn’t the creation of Anna M. Scott as the boss of the Fourteenth Ward, by any means. It was merely an assertion of her authority, and an incident in the political career of the only woman in Colorado who, entering politics as a result of woman suffrage, has played politics exactly as a man plays it and developed into a minor boss and a powerful factor in the political affairs of Denver.

The Fourteenth Ward sprawls in a peculiar outline over most of the aristocratic portion of the city. It comprises many acres of magnificent homes. As the “Seeing Denver” cars chug smoothly over the macademized streets, the announcer bawls lustily that the young palace on the right is the $500,000 home of Mr. William Smith, the mining king, or that the small edition of the White House on the left harbors Mr. John Jones, the merchant prince.

The big car swings into a quiet street slightly shaded by infrequent cottonwoods, and passes a modest two-story brick which looks like a dozen other brick houses around it. A woman of broad physical outline and middle age stands on the porch pulling on her gloves, and the announcer removes the megaphone from his lips long enough to jerk the peak of his cap and say, “Mornin’, Mrs. Scott!”

The woman glances up abstractedly and nods. The car goes on and the announcer resumes his megaphone to call attention to the house on the next corner. He says nothing about the woman on the porch, but he has passed up with a brief personal salutation the most interesting sight the car has yet encountered. He knows Mrs. Scott well, perhaps, but he doesn’t know that she is the boss of the Fourteenth Ward, which accounts for his negligence.

Not all who know Mrs. Scott personally realize her political importance. They know her as a neighborly, pleasant-spoken woman, and they recollect that she always seems active in politics, and that they voted for certain things or certain men she had asked them to vote for, because they like her, but as for being boss of the Fourteenth–no, they never heard that.

Mayor R. W. Speer lives in our ward. Perhaps he is the boss. Horace Phelps, who was defeated for mayor by Mr. Speer at the last city election also lives here. Maybe he has something to say. United States District-Attorney Tom Ward is our neighbor. He may know something about the boss business. We vote for things Mrs. Scott asks us to because we like her, but we never heard she is a boss.

Opulence sits fat and smiling in the heart of the Fourteenth, and money holds animated conversation on every corner. Then there are other parts where Poverty has a considerable say-so, but Opulence and Poverty rub elbows at the voting-booth on election day and have an equal vote, and all votes are grist in the political mill of Anna M. Scott. She nods a brief morning salute at Opulence wending its way townward in a touring-car, and she stops to hold converse with Poverty carrying the dinner-pail. And on election day Opulence and Poverty race each other to the polls to vote for something Mrs. Scott has indicated she wants.

So Anna Scott runs the ward primaries and the ward conventions and dictates who shall be the alderman from her ward, and who shall go to the county and state conventions, and generally conducts political affairs in the four miles of the Fourteenth Ward and her own precinct, territorialy the largest in the city, after the manner of the rulers of the downtown wards. Her ward casts 3000 votes and her precinct 759.

In times of Republican administration if James Jackson, a voter of the Fourteenth Ward, wants a job on the street-cleaning department, he doesn’t go to his ward alderman or the head of the department. He goes to Anna M. Scott. If Mrs. Jackson wants a job as canvasser, or election clerk, or in some public office, she doesn’t go anywhere else but to 527 Corona, and if the place is gettable, and Mrs. Scott thinks Mrs. Jackson deserves it, Mrs. Jackson gets the job.

A trivial incident some fifteen years ago, at the very inception of woman’s suffrage in Colorado, gave Mrs. Scott a fleeting glimpse into ward politics, but it was enough to arouse her curiosity. She took a small part in a ward-campaign at the urging of her neighbors, became interested, and commenced a study of the game.

She made up her mind at once that the way to understand politics was to begin at the very beginning, and she made ward and primary politics her especial study. She also concluded that, since the law made men and women equal in politics, and politics was primarily a man’s game, the way to play politics was on a basis with the men. And that is the way she plays it.

In fifteen years she has lost her ward but twice, and she never lost a primary fight since she entered the game.

As a boss she doesn’t look the part. A comfortable looking woman of mature years, who dresses quietly, and has a reserved manner, she bears more the appearance of a home-body, whose greatest activity might centre about the Helping-Hand Guild, rather than the most astute woman politician in Colorado. It is not until one talks to her on the subject of politics, and hears her briskly rattling off the slang phrases of politics in her quick, incisive voice, when she wants to express her thought succinctly, and displaying a marvelous knowledge of the great American game, and of men who engage in it, that one realizes that beneath her staid exterior there is a masterly personality.

Ask any woman what women are the most prominent in Colorado politics, and, if she knows anything at all about the matter, there will come naturally to her lips the names of Sarah Platt Decker, Helen M. Grenfell, Katherine Craig, Ellis Meredith, Mary C. C. Bradford, and a dozen others, but not the name of Anna M. Scott. Ask any man who deals in politics the same question, and he will likely say right off the bat:

“Well, Anna Scott is probably the shrewdest politician.”

Anna M. Scott is distinctly not representative of the Colorado woman suffragist, as the suffragist is now constituted. Her creation is due to woman’s suffrage, all right, and she declares that whatever power she possesses is maintained through her women friends, but she is a pioneer—the pioneer, in fact—of a type of woman in politics, which, it would seem, must eventually become numerous if the women hope to deal on an equality with the men.

The women leaders profess a dislike for Anna Scott’s political methods, although their understanding of these methods seems somewhat vague. They know that her methods are not their methods, but they admit that her methods have been decidedly successful in most instances.

The leaders are inclined to draw their political skirts at the mention of her name, but over and beyond the leaders there is a big army of women voters who, quite evidently, follow the lead of Anna Scott—quite evidently, or she couldn’t be boss of the Fourteenth Ward Her petticoated army is heavily reinforced now by large detachments of men who also follow her banners perforce.

Some of the women have been very bitter against Mrs. Scott in times past. One of them in particular used to give out “stories” to a political reporter on a Denver paper which was opposed to Mrs. Scott’s political affiliations, these stories reflecting no little discredit on the lady from the Fourteenth. One day a woman called the reporter on the telephone and asked:

“Have you ever met Mrs. Scott?”

The reporter admitted that it had never been his pleasure. “She wants to talk to you,” said the woman. “I wish you would go out to her house and see her.”

The reporter, who had been picturing Mrs. Scott as a veritable dragon, was disposed to decline, and then he reflected that perhaps Mrs. Scott might make it a point to call on him during office hours, so he got on a street-car and went out to Corona Street, feeling rather cramped about the diaphragm, and shaky in the knees.

He was received very kindly by Mrs. Scott, who said:

“Now I know where you get your stories, all right. They come from some of these women who don’t like me because I play politics in a way that is different from theirs. They don’t understand my methods, and I don’t blame them, but I don’t like to be continually misrepresented. Supposing you and I have a square deal all around.”

And then she talked with him for several hours, and he went away vowing to himself and to everyone he met that Mrs. Scott was the greatest woman he had ever met. Thereafter, some of the biggest political “beats” in the town were executed by that reporter, and they came through Anna Scott. Today he is managing editor and a political force in the Democratic party, but he still avers that he has never met a better politician, man or woman, than Anna Scott. The incident shows Mrs. Scott’s direct method. She goes at once to the source of things, and usually goes in person.

As she grew in political stature in her own ward, Mrs. Scott was gradually drawn into state politics, in which the women of Colorado are perhaps more active than they are in municipal affairs. The politicians appreciated her political importance and paid her deference, but if the women felt that she had any power at all they would not admit it, and some of them decided that it was time to cut her down. One of them in particular, a woman of considerable prominence, whom we shall call Mrs. Smith, felt it incumbent upon herself to take up the cudgel against Mrs. Scott and eliminate her from Republican politics.

Mrs. Smith figured that the best way to accomplish her purpose was to organize a new club of Republican women, which was to be very exclusive, and principally exclusive of Mrs. Scott. She told the State chairman about the idea, and the state chairman, being a man and acquainted with Mrs. Scott, told Mrs. Smith to go ahead.

So Mrs. Smith issued sixty typewritten invitations, calling her meeting for a certain day and a certain hour, at the Women’s Club. Mrs. Scott did not receive an invitation, but a friend did. The friend showed her invitation to Mrs. Scott. Mrs. Scott promptly borrowed the typewritten document. Then she had 400 facsimiles of the invitation struck off, with the word “copy” in tiny letters at the top. She mailed these copies around to her friends.

On the day set for the meeting Mrs. Scott’s friends were on hand, not one of the 400 sending regrets. Mrs. Smith and the select sixty were also there, and Mrs. Smith had them assembled in a room ready for business when the clamor of the Scott 400 was heard at the door. There was a great to-do. Mrs. Smith suspected a job at once and pulled a table across the doorway, seating herself upon the table and excluding the unexpected guests. When Mrs. Scott arrived on the scene Mrs. Smith was certain of the job, and charged it through a crack in the door.

“Why,” said Mrs. Scott in apparent amazement, producing an invitation, “I came in response to this. Are you folks going to organize a club? Isn’t that nice!”

“You go away!” commanded Mrs. Smith.

Mrs. Scott’s amazement gave place to vast indignation.

“Well, we’re all here, and we all came to organize a club. If we can’t do it in here, we’ll go somewhere else and organize a club ourselves,” she declared, and thereupon she rented a room in the same building, took her 400 faithfuls with her, and proceeded to organize her own club. Incidentally she duplicated the other organization formed by Mrs. Smith, in name and everything else, so closely that it is suspected it was something more than coincidence. The result was very confusing indeed, and the State chairman roared with laughter when he heard about it.

Mrs. Scott has attended as a delegate every city, county, and state convention held by the Republican party since the women were granted equal suffrage.

It is claimed by the politicians of Colorado that the women are steadily losing interest in politics, but the wish is probably father to the thought. Mrs. Scott charges that this apparent falling off in interest is due to a systematic effort of the politicians to push the women into the background. For a long time she has been vigorously fighting a rule of the Republican party in Denver, which she regards as particularly unfair to the women, and to which she attributes whatever failures there may be charged to the women of her party. It is that a male member of the central committee shall be elected from each precinct and he shall appoint a woman member, with power to remove her at any time for cause.

The rule at one time read that the “committee-man” should be elected, and this meant either a man or woman, and gave the women a chance to fight for place on the committee. They got about forty members, and, under the leadership of Mrs. Scott and several others, were planning to keep on growing until they had control, or at least half of the committee. The men then changed the rule in the manner mentioned.

In all parts of the state, except Denver, the women are still elected as members of the state central committee, but the men charge that the women do not take the proper interest in the matter, and cite that out of fifty-nine counties only half a dozen women took enough interest at the last meeting of the State committee to attend.

“Oh yes,” says Mrs. Scott, “but these men have a system of preventing the woman member from getting railroad passes to come to Denver, where the meetings are held, as they do. In addition to paying her fare she would have the expense of remaining here several days, and it is pretty easy to see why she is prevailed upon by the man to give her proxy.”

The state rules were changed to give two male members of the committee to each county, but at the last state convention Mrs. Scott succeeded in having them read that the member may be a man or woman.

Mrs. Scott entertains no visionary notions regarding politics, and few illusions. A strong woman suffragist, she attributes all her success to the women.

“I believe in universal suffrage,” she says, “but I believe that the property-owners, male and female, should be the voters. The poll-books should be made up from the treasurer’s books. A woman is held responsible for her debts, so she should certainly be allowed to assist in making the laws which govern her interests. There is no doubt in my mind that many politicians would like to see the women eliminated from politics. In the beginning they were very generous, but they have commenced to find it somewhat burdensome. They would relegate women to the background; but I suppose if the women held the power they would feel disposed the same way toward the men.

“Fifteen years have convinced the practical politician that the only certain thing about the woman vote is its uncertainty; wherefore he is reduced to the extremity of making guesses, and guessing is not practical politics. So the practical politician says suffrage is a failure because it is a nuisance to him: because he cannot control the woman vote. The truth of the whole matter is, female suffrage has not failed—and perhaps not succeeded—in any greater degree than male suffrage. The women have become identified with and a part of the political game.

“The women have not yet awakened to the fact that it is the preliminaries they should look after. They are the vote-getters, and they cast a big percentage of the vote, but the men never pay any attention to the women until after the ticket is made up. The women should begin at the primaries. That the day will come when the women will be on absolute equality with the men I firmly believe, but I don’t look for it in my time. If the women would go into the primaries and get into the conventions they would be a power. They seem inclined too much toward taking things for granted.”

Mrs. Scott invariably gets on the apportionment committee, which consists of a member from each ward. The importance of this committee is usually overlooked to a great extent, but Mrs. Scott thoroughly appreciates it. It is always read to a convention about the last thing when everybody is reaching for his hat, and the average delegate doesn’t know and doesn’t care what it means. The delegates to the conventions, and Mrs. Scott, as the committee member from her ward, names the delegates from that ward—and she is usually one of them.

“Never pick politicians for delegates; they’ll want to have something to say,” she observes.

Mrs. Scott declares emphatically that the women are more loyal to one another than the men. “I attribute all my success to the support of women,” she says, and adds, thoughtfully, “and to doing things in time.

“The woman in politics has brought about a reformation to the extent that there are no more rough-and tumble primaries,” she continues. “We hold them in our homes now, instead of some barn or saloon. We have purified politics to that degree, anyhow; although I regard politics as a good deal like a game of cards—there isn’t much to be purified. Our election laws are far from perfect. A foreigner can come to this country, be naturalized, and in a comparatively short time cast his vote; but our boys and girls must wait until they are twenty-one years old before they can do the same.

“The women do all the work in a political fight, and get the least. Our women may have failed to develop any great number of big politicians, but it is because of lack of opportunity as much as anything else.

“You must always remember that politics has not taken the Colorado woman out of the home. She is just as womanly now as she ever was. One good reason why they do not mix in politics to any great extent is that they are wrapped up in their homes, and in other feminine interests which occupy their time the same as women the world over. One of the very greatest accomplishments of woman suffrage is the entirely changed attitude of men toward women in all matters pertaining to questions of public interest. They now regard them as constituents and as human beings.”

While deploring the changed rule which makes the woman member of the central committee appointive at the hands of the male member, Mrs. Scott has evolved a bit of strategy which she preaches to the women.

“Exercise enough diplomacy to have the committee-man in accord with you,” she says. She exemplifies her idea in her own precinct. Her husband, who is a businessman, and takes little interest in politics, is the committee-man from the precinct. Mrs. Scott is the committee-woman.

“One of the stock arguments against equal rights is that women have been used in fraudulent voting.” says Mrs. Scott.

“That may be true, but, if it is, it is true only of certain localities. The thing to do is to cut out that class of men who make use of unfortunate women in a fraudulent manner at election-time.

“The assertion that the woman votes as does the man is an old, old argument. I presume it is true that many women will vote as their husbands do, but then people who are married rarely differ greatly upon points of view, such as religion and politics. I believe, however, that the average woman will vote according to her beliefs, and cases where the woman’s vote is influenced by the husband, father, brother, or perhaps sweetheart are an exception rather than the rule. Politics, like religion, is largely inherited, and if the woman does not vote the precepts of her ancestry she is pretty likely to vote as her interests, demand. Mutual interests may quite naturally combine a family vote.

“That the woman is more susceptible to the use of money than the man is absurd. However, you will find that when a woman does take money she will take money from just one interest, while the man will take it from everyone who will pay him. The woman will spend it as directed, too, while the man will use it as he sees fit. If a woman is bought she stays bought.”

Mrs. Scott has not hesitated to defy even the state leaders on occasions. She was once chosen vice-chairman of the central committee by the women, but the men refused to confirm her. Whereupon she bolted and opened up headquarters of her own, from which she conducted the campaign on her own part.

On still another occasion, when the Republican boss had decreed that a certain woman should be the vice chairman of the central committee, but that another woman desired by Mrs. Scott as secretary could not have that place, Mrs. Scott took a band of women to headquarters while the boss was absent, elected the chairman he desired, and, by a rider to the motion electing her, also elected the woman they wanted as secretary. The boss howled in anger when he discovered the trick, and finally made the state chairman depose the newly elected secretary. Mrs. Scott again bolted, and opened up other headquarters. She has never bolted the party, however; merely the organization, always remaining Republican.

“Politics for politicians” is one of the ideas of this woman politician. “You’ve got to have women politicians, and you’ve got to have men politicians. You can’t get business men, or aristocratic men into local politicians.” And then she frankly owns that she is in the game because it amuses her. She has a comfortable home, and is in good circumstances, but devotes herself to politics just as other women devote themselves to society or the church.

“The strength of the woman vote is largely determined by the character of the struggle,” she says. “There are occasions when the women will vote much more heavily than on others, especially in local affairs. The only method used by practical politicians in attempting to control the woman vote is to hire them as political workers, and this system does not work out in controlling the female vote to any greater extent than it does in handling the men. They cannot be handled as a class—and let me say that we object to being classed as a ‘class’; that is, considered in the same light as the ‘negro vote’ or the ‘Polack vote.’” The women we have had in office made good records, and, speaking of the use of money, I call your attention to the fact that no man ever dared approach a woman legislator with a bribe offer.

“We have been instrumental in keeping the political parties clean. It would be fatal for a party to nominate a notorious drunkard or a libertine. Woman’s suffrage has not purified politics any more than sending a boy to school makes him moral, but we have eliminated a great many objectionable features. Drunkenness, profanity, and the old slam bang order of things are no longer known. In the lowest hole in this state, if a polling-place were opened there it would be as much as a man’s life is worth to use a rough word or indulge in an uncouth action toward a woman who went there to vote. The moral impress of the woman is felt perceptibly.”

Time and again the men politicians of the Fourteenth Ward have rebelled against Mrs. Scott’s petticoated rule. They don’t relish it a little bit, but every time an insurrection has started, Mrs. Scott has taken the field in person and put it down. The idea of a woman bossing his political bailiwick has kept many a man awake nights trying to figure out a method of besting Mrs. Scott, but they usually overslept themselves the next morning and awoke to find Mrs. Scott walking away with the spoils.

She has never aimed at obtaining any elective office. She is president of the Woman’s State Republican Club, and is chairwoman of the general committee of all the Republican clubs of women in Colorado, but she has been content to let others seek official posts. Mrs. Scott owns a big stock-ranch near Glenwood Springs. Not long ago an incompetent tenant impelled Mrs. Scott to take over the management of the ranch in person, and as it is 345 miles from Denver she is kept pretty busy maintaining her political domain in the Fourteenth Ward and running the ranch at the same time.

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015033848089&view=1up&seq=943&size=150)

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