Primary Education: Artifacts from the Los Angeles City Primary Election, 1 May 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In spring 1923, as Los Angeles and its environs was at the peak of another one of the region’s many boom periods, candidates for offices in the Angel City were on the stump trying to either, at the 1 May primary, win outright or force a runoff for the 5 June general election. Tonight’s highlighted artifacts from the Homestead’s collection comprise a pamphlet promoting the mayoral candidacy of Bert L. Farmer and a broadside posted outside the polling place for a city precinct for the results of two county propositions and the special election for the 10th Congressional District.

With the first, Robert L. (Bert) Farmer, was challenging incumbent first-term mayor George E. Cryer (who was recently featured in a post concerning the 1927 primary). Farmer (1875-1939), a native of Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo County, came to the Angel City in 1893 and worked as an insurance adjuster. In 1906, he became a city purchasing agent and four years later was the regional supervisor for the federal census.

Los Angeles Times, 1 May 1923.

He won election to the state assembly, but resigned after less than two years when he secured a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, serving two terms through 1921 and being president in 1918 and 1919 (his successor was Boyle Workman, great-nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and son of former mayor and city treasurer William Henry Workman, and who won reelection to the county in 1923.) Though Farmer left the council two years prior, he was Cryer’s main challenger in the 1923 campaign.

The pamphlet is a “List of City Officers, Departments, Commissions and Salaries of Los Angeles City Government” and with the front panel having the title and city seal, a reader might easily believe the brochure was an official city publication. Four panels discuss the duties of the various elected and appointed officials and the twenty-one city commissions (some had some remuneration, notably the powerful Harbor Commission, but most had no such benefit).

Los Angeles Record, 1 May 1923.

Two panels have Farmer’s portrait, his title as former council president, and the date of the primary election, while lists his campaign headquarters at the Hayward Hotel (now an apartment building) at Spring and 6th streets. The third panel promotes his attributes of “Experience—Ability—Character” and provides a brief biography, emphasizing, obviously, his public service. The other part of this panel states that “he stands for economy, co-operation between departments, adequate fire and police protection and improvements and betterments of the harbor district.” Farmer also advocated for a new city charter.

The broadside was for precinct 209 of the city and a statement noted that “the Board [of precinct officials] must, before it adjourns, make copies of the result of the votes cast at such polling place, which copes must be signed by the members of the Board and attested by the clerks; one of such copies shall be posted on the outside of the polling place, and one copy sent in unsealed envelopes to the Registrar of Voters.

Times, 1 May 1923.

Written in pencil were the vote totals for the six candidates for the congressional seat, as well as the tallies for the two propositions, dealing with a $5 million bond issue for the couunty hospital and farm for “the indigent sick and dependent poor persons” at Norwal and a $2 million bond issue to build a new Hall of Justice, including a courthouse and jail.

The special election was called because of the death of incumbent Henry Z. Osborne (1848-1923), a Civil War veteran from New York with an extensive newspaper background in New York, Cincinnati, Memphis, New Orleans, Austin, and the mining town of Bodie in California before he came to Los Angeles during the boom of the 1880s and later became the publisher of the Los Angeles Express.

Los Angeles Express, 2 May 1923.

Osborne, a Republican, held many federal and local posts during his career, including as the customs collector and a federal marshal in the Angel City between 1890 and 1906 and a member of the Board of Public Works in the mid-Teens. He was a member of Congress from 1917 until his death and his namesake son, a civil engineer with no prior political experience, ran to replace him.

There were five other candidates in the campaign (Upton Sinclair, the author of the famous exposé of the Chicago meatpacking industry, The Jungle, considered running before abandoning the idea), including Prohibitionist John C. Bell; Republican attorney and “wet” (meaning, not a supporter of Prohibition) Frank McDonald, who lost by a wide margin to Osborne, Sr. in the last campaign; Alfred L. Bartlett, a Republican lawyer who’d served two terms in the state assembly and was a former county committee chair for the G.O.P.; John D. Fredericks, the former district attorney from 1902-1914 and during which he prosecuted the McNamara brothers in the Los Angeles Times domestic terrorist bombing case, unsuccessful challenger to Governor HIram Johnson in 1914 and president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce; and Lloy Galpin, the sole woman contender and a high school civics and history teacher in city schools since 1908.

Times, 2 May 1923.

The race was considered a three-way one with Fredericks, supported by the very powerful Times, the front-runner and Bartlett thought to be the most serious contender, with the younger Osborne also given a shot. The other three were deemed to be out of the running. Meanwhile, there didn’t seem to be a serious opposition to the two county propositions, with the booming economy perhaps making voters feel comfortable in taking out large amounts of bonds for the county hospital/farm and Hall of Justice projects. The latter was completed two years later, closed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and reopened in 2015 after a seismic retrofit and restoration

With low turnout, not unexpected for primary campaigns even with Farmer challenging Cryer, the election resulted in an easy victory for the incumbent mayor, who went on to win reelection in 1925 and 1927, as well, though he faced more criticism, even from the Times, due to the “machine” led by Cryer’s campaign manager and “close adviser” Kent Parrott. The two propositions also easily passed, with the precinct totals being 98-30 in favor of the hospital and farm and 94-20 approving the Hall of Justice bond issue.

Fredericks also cruised to victory in the Congressional race with about 30,000 votes to Osborne’s 18,000, though he narrowly bested Osborne, Jr., in the 209th precinct, garnering 45 votes to the latter’s 41. Bartlett suprisingly performed poorly overall and only received about 9,000 total tallies and eleven votes in the precinct, the same as McDonald, while Bell finished dead last with seven. Galpin placed well in third place overall with nearly 14,000 votes and also got eleven votes in the precinct, and it is worth discussing her candidacy in some detail, given her historic status as the first local women to seek a seat in Congress.

Lloy Galpin (1876-1935) was born in Saginaw, Michigan, where her father was a lawyer and her mother had beeen a teacher, a profession she later took up again. The Galpins came to Los Angeles when Lloy, the eldest child in the family, was eight and just as the Boom of the Eighties was underway. She studied at the Los Angeles Normal School (the precursor to U.C.L.A.) and Wisconsin State College and was among the first American teachers sent to the Phillipines after the conclusion of the Spanish-American War.

Galpin was there for about six years and then returned to the Angel City and began her career teaching at the secondary school level, while she also ramped up her involvement in civic and political areas, including being a founder and president for four years of the Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, a finance committee member of the state federation, a member of the Los Angeles Municipal League, a significant figure in the local woman suffrage movement, and a member of the Women’s Athletic Club.

While her candidacy would not have been expected to have been welcomed or extensively covered by the right-leaning Times, which tried an awful pun by suggesting that “she is not Gallopin fast enough to win” but might have needed the exercise, and Osborne’s former paper, the Express, also paid scant attention, the more liberal Los Angeles Record offered Galpin quite a significant platform. Columnist Gertrude M. Price in her “Community Teas” section in the 28 March edition exclaimed:

Oh, to think of it

A woman running for Congress, and women of many political faiths endorsing her.

Right here in Los Angeles too.

That’s the really important part of it.

Unfortunately Los Angeles women rightfully or wrongfully gained the reputation of being unable to agree upon or work in harmony for any candidate for any office who happens to be a WOMAN!

The endorsement signatures for Lloy Galpin, announced candidate for Congress, seem to indicate that the allegations were either wrong in the first place or no longer can properly be made.

A little over a week later, R.W. Borough’s article, which referred to the candidate as “non-partisan [and] mildly progressive,” opened with the observation that “from the merry, saucy, confident way Miss Lloy Galpin talks about her candidacy for Congress you’d never guess the yawning precipices lining her path to Washington, D.C.!”

Adding that she has the support of both [Hiram] Johnson Republicans and Wilson Democrats, Borough noted that Galpin “demands honesty both in public and private life” and quoted her saying that a representative “should be very well grounded in economics and psychology to avoid confusion and bewilderment.”

While the columnist replied that these last qualities are exactly what politicians promote, Galpin added, “this is to be the center of the world activity in the next 50 or 100 years, and the pace we set, the distance we can go, seems to me to depend very largely on how carefully we plan.” Whether it was discussing the development of the harbor or the proposed Colorado River aqueduct project, she opined that big projects like these “are the tools and weapons to be used against inefficiency and poverty in the building of a race.”

Express, 24 March 1923.

Her use of that last term was not explained and she added, “a young race is very likely to make the development of these things an end in itself instead of the means” and went on to suggest that “the resources of the Colorado river should be used for the people.” Private capital should be expected to extract its profit, but such resources “should be used for the upbuilding of our nation.” Along these lines, Galpin proferred that “I believe in a high-bred race. I believe in the humanitarian principles that will maintain a high standard. As a nation we have always been credited with believing in that.”

After noting that “a man can get more than a woman” and then asked, “but how?” wondering “I want to know how he can get more,” the candidate told Borough, when queried about how she got into the race, “I am still bewildered. I still don’t know whether I’m in it.” Yet, she spoke with depth and feeling when she offered sentiments like, “the study of history has taught me that you cannot violate the laws of nature very long without a protest” and “I seek to understand natural laws to apply them to human welfare.”

Record, 28 March 1923.

Galpin spoke eloquently about protective tariffs, a major issue in the 1920s and one that still carries a lot of weight among some today, taxation, transportation, and the military, saying, concerning the latter, “we are spending 96 cents out of every dollar of national revenues for the upbuilding or maintaining of the machinery of war and the paying off of past war obligations,” the last regarding debt from the First World War being the lion’s share of that figure.

When Borough asked her “have you any business alliances here that would influence your vote in congress?,” the candidate laughed and replied, “I don’t know whether that is fortunate or unfortunate, but I have none.” On 10 April, the Record printed a letter on Galpin’s position on Prohibition, tariffs, the League of Nations, and her general political stance and her straight answer included:

I am in favor of the fullest enforcement of the Volstead act and opposed to any modification or weakening of the law.

I am opposed to any tariff that raises the cost of living for the masses. [A current bill] is a subsidy in favor of the special interests. It is a tax and the people cannot be taxed into prosperity. . .

I pledge myself to favor any form of co-operation with other nations, be it league or association or court of international justice, that will tend to establish an orderly settlement of controversies among nations and end war.

I have always rated as a progressive and am registered as a democrat. I feel in full sympathy with every forward-looking, forward-tending movement in governmental affairs.

The Record ended by exclaiming, “you have our complete confidence, Miss Galpin” and warned “the gentlemen [running against her] must face the issues if they make a good showing alongside of you.”

Record, 16 April 1923.

An ad from her campaign committee asked for 5,000 women “who believe in the advancement and destiny of women in America” to send a dollar to get Galpin elected, calling her “one of the foremost women in public affairs in this city” and “a leader in all movements for civic progress and betterment.” It added that her candidacy was “the greatest single opportunity the women of Southern California have ever had as citizens” and that, by sending her to Washington, “they can set the highest standard for women in Congress.”

Members of the executive committee for Galpin’s campaign included the wife of progressive stalwart Dr. John Randolph Haynes, Grace Stoermer (who was the secretary of the California State Senate and later a vice-president of the Bank of Italy, renamed the Bank of America), the first woman librarian in Los Angeles and a national Democratic Party delegate Mary Foy, and Mary Julia Workman, Boyle Workman’s sister and a prominent educator and social and civic figure.

Times, 24 April 1923.

As noted above, Galpin,a long-time resident of the Eagle Rock neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles, did pretty well given that not only was she the first woman in the region to run for Congress, but that she was a Democrat in a time of nearly complete Republican dominance in local and national politics during the Roaring Twenties. She did not run again for elective office, but was a delegate to the Democratic Party national convention in 1924 and campaigned for the party’s presidential candidate Al Smith four years later. She continued teaching until her death from heart disease at age 58 in 1935 and, though she is largely forgotten, she deserves a larger place given her historic campaign in the 1923 special election.

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