Women are allowed to have different political opinions.
People form their political views from a combination of their environment and experiences mixed with a dash of logic and emotions. No one believes their personal views are unreasonable and when the sources that created those opinions are considered, it seems to be a natural conclusion to hold those particular values. Before any anti-suffrage woman is painted as a villainess, consider why she felt that way and if she was really against helping women or if she just came from a different perspective on how it should be done? What were the underpinnings and influences? Why was giving someone the power to vote so threatening?
The first full-on, nationwide, organized, well-financed, counter-campaign of anti-suffrage was launched in 1911.It was also woman-led. There was no need to have formal anti-suffrage organizations before this time because there was enough anti-suffrage sentiment as part of everyday culture. Suffrage had been a fringe idea for decades and was mostly supported by people who were marginalized in society and didn’t have enfranchisement. Six states now have full suffrage: WY (Episode 23), CO (Episode 41), UT (Episode 25), ID (Episode 46), WA (Episode 34) and CA (Episode 52). Suffrage becoming a mainstream idea meant it would have to be addressed.
An argument that gets used in every equality movement is to showcase all the people of that `oppressed” group who are already succeeding in various professions and doing just fine in society. The current uncovering of so many women in history that were making all these impacts can support this argument. How can one say that women are oppressed? They went to school; became business owners, scientists, lawyers, teachers, architects, doctors, writers, etc? Look at all these women, including women of color, who made it! But equality is not proven by the grit of those that make it despite the odds; it’s about a level playing field and everyone having a fair shot at the target. For every woman who made it into a profession, there were hundreds that weren’t even given a chance to try, and those that did make it were almost always paid less than a man was.
Many of the anti-suffragists were accomplished, intelligent women with connections and influence who felt that they had plenty of power without the vote. From their perspective this proved that the vote isn’t necessary for women to succeed and that women voting was not going to fix what was wrong with the government. It was very common for women, especially of the higher classes, to be heavily involved with charitable social work for the good of society. This too was a form of power within society that would be altered if everyone, including women of lower classes, had a say in how things were run.
With the vote, women would have to work in the dirty pool of politics instead of more morally-pure charity work. In order to vote correctly and not just check some random name on the ballot, women would have to take the time to read about the issues, go to political rallies, hear candidates speak, and take the time to consider how each candidates’ policies would impact society. It would be like “putting a loaded gun in the hands of a small boy and telling him not to shoot blackbirds” (Mrs. Pearce Bailey 1909 Suffrage Debate*). All this involvement in politics on top of their commitment to charity work would take women away from their current domestic duties and actually put more burden on them. Suffrage was an outright threat to femininity and society. Women anti-suffragists felt it was their civic duty to save the country.
In fact, rather than calling themselves anti-suffrage some groups choose to call themselves the very patriotic but vague label of “Governmentalists”. Mrs. Williams Force Scott (1909 Suffrage Debate*) worried that women could form their own political party and it “would be women against men, and more dangerous than labor against capital.” (There were many worker’s rights strikes going on at the time--often asking for the most basic of compensation--Episode 6 and Episode 49.)
In 1911, the president of the newly formed National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) was Josephine Jewell Dodge, Vassar College graduate, wealthy New Yorker, and prominent leader in establishing child-care programs for working women. Treasurer of the NAOWS was none other than Ida Tarbell, a hard-hitting investigative journalist (and occasional muckraker) best known for her spectacular exposé of Standard Oil Company’s monopoly. (She took on John D. Rockefeller!) Secretary was Mrs. Rossiter Johnson, aka Helen Kendrich Johnson (Episode 47).
Another famous anti-suffrage woman was children’s book author, Kate Douglas Wiggins. She encouraged women that staying in the background was more fitting because she valued a “woman strong enough to keep just a trifle in the background, for the limelight never makes anything grow.” Kate Douglas Wiggins, author of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, dreamed of becoming a scientist but was discouraged because of her gender. She became a writer instead.
So what did the anti-suffragists do when suffrage passed in their state? Some boycotted the voting process, however, the majority voted because it was now a civic duty.
This week’s song pick:
“The Fear” by Lily Allen (clean version) https://youtu.be/FD-c6cx98ls
* NY Times Article April 24, 1909 “SUFFRAGETTES MEET THE ANTIS IN DEBATE”
Are you part of the Silent Majority, a reluctant voter, or worried that you are an uninformed voter? Click here
Episode 54 Sources:
https://www.loc.gov/resource/rbcmil.scrp5011001/?st=text (names of NOAWS board members listed)