In 1871, the most popular women’s periodical, “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, best known for its fashion and literary arts, published an anti-suffrage petition signed by 19 prominent ladies. It is one of the earliest documents of the growing women’s anti-suffrage movement.
Most books teach that the struggle was and still is women vs men, also known as the “fight the patriarchy” approach, but it’s not that simple. Not all women wanted the vote. These were not foolish, uneducated, oppressed women; they were often civic-minded, active, strong-willed, and informed. They started anti-suffrage groups to oppose the vote. Both sides wanted better things for the next generation but disagreed on how to achieve them. Having the vote would mean working inside the existing system which was filled with red tape and corruption. Not having the vote would mean working on changing the system from the outside through civic works and charities. By staying out of politics, women would be able to operate with fewer moral compromises.
It was damaging to the cause to admit that not all women wanted the vote and that plenty of men supported suffrage. These uncomfortable facts were downplayed. Today these women-led anti-suffrage groups and pro-suffrage men are still glossed over or not mentioned at all. Stereotypical misogynistic men who opposed suffrage and women’s rights made better villains in a black and white world instead of dealing with grey characters. Since Seneca Falls, small pockets of anti-suffrage groups led by equally capable women started showing up. These small groups will eventually form one national group in 1911 (more in a later post).
The biggest argument in favor of the anti-suffrage groups was that of the “uninformed voter”. There were already thousands of male voters who were illiterate, uninformed, or worse yet, sold their votes for money. Why compound the problem by adding in more eligible voters? In response, Elizabeth Cady Stanton actually proposed an education requirement for all voters—which her own daughter, Harriet Stanton Blanch, debated her on.
Even when the 19th Amendment was going through the final ratification process, suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt estimated that about 1/3 of women in America wanted the vote, 1/3 were against it, and 1/3 didn’t care.
With every political issue, people that “don’t care” enough to speak up are labelled as the “silent majority”. The problem with the silent majority is that political leaders can ascribe agreement to either side of an argument. Until this elusive group makes their voice heard by voting, they are being used as pawns in a greater political game. This is why every vote counts so that it is “we the people” not “we the people who bothered to go to the polling place and decide for everyone else.”
If you, dear reader, are not registered, please find out how here https://vote.gov/
If you are afraid of being an “uninformed voter”, do something about it. There are plenty of non-partisan websites that compare candidates’ voting records and lay out party platforms. Nothing will be a perfect fit, go by the person’s record not just party; choose which one that addresses your core values the most.
2020 is a census year as well as an election year. Voting districts will be redrawn by the winning parties based on the data collected and those new lines will last for the next 10 years!
Here is a quick tutorial on gerrymandering by Princeton University https://vimeo.com/232680333
Register, vote, and take part in the census, because as Professor Sam Wang concludes, in a real democracy, “Voters [should] pick their legislators and not the other way around.”
Bonus: If the name Alice Stone Blackwell sounds familiar, it’s because she is the daughter of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell (episode 14). She will grow up to become a suffrage leader for the next generation (more on her in a later post).
This week’s song pick:
“Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Reilly (Fan Compilation of the made for tv movie based on the song—starring Barbara Eden!) https://youtu.be/R2_eAF5ev4s
Episode 27 Sources