Hearts were heavy after the failed New York state suffrage campaign of 1915 (Episode 67) but Carrie Chapman Catt knew that New York was key to gaining suffrage in the Eastern states and would bring voter support to the federal suffrage amendment. A federal amendment needed not only to have ⅔ of the Congress pass it but also to have ¾ of the states ratify it. With her winning plan (Episode 69) Catt threw all her political prowess, financial resources, and organizational savvy behind an all out effort to pass suffrage in New York state and highlight the patriotism of women during the war.
For the 1917 campaign, suffragists divided New York state into 12 sections which matched the congressional districts. Each section was led by a chairwoman who coordinated local suffragists in a door-to-door campaign in order to distribute suffrage literature to every resident in the district. The suffragists were able to get the corrupt insider-politics political machine of Tammany Hall (lead by Boss Tweed) to stop opposing suffrage. Many of the anti-suffragists were too busy with the war effort to have the extra time to fight against suffrage. With opposition to suffrage weakened, the final key was that the 1917 campaign finally worked across class and socioeconomic barriers. Many leaders in suffrage had always been middle to upper class educated white women. By being less elitist and reaching out to women of color, the working-class, immigrants, and the poor, they strengthened their numbers and support. Men who were small town farmers and blue collar workers were more likely to vote for suffrage if it would help their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, and not just be seen as an upper class white socialite cause. The Women’s Trade Union League (Episode 49) reminded working-class men that women were more likely to vote for workers rights and protections and African-American women mobilized African-American men to vote for suffrage.
While the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) pushed for state suffrage in New York, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) pushed for national suffrage and continued to picket the White House. NAWSA emphasized the patriotism of women helping with the war effort and standing with the President. Conversely, the NWP decried the hypocrisy of fighting a war abroad to promote democracy yet denying democracy to its own citizens and were outspoken against the President. Catt and Paul still clashed on methods and personally disliked each other but the tag teaming of the more moderate NAWSA with the more progressive NWP was putting pressure on President Wilson from all sides. Even though it was a midterm election, Wilson could not afford to lose control of Congress or have a negative image during the war. Wilson did support state rights to pass suffrage so he was able to endorse the suffrage referendum on the New York state ballot without seeming to cave to pressure for a federal amendment. However when suffrage passed in New York state on November 6, 1917, it was the first of the east coast dominoes to fall. New York’s greatest prizes were the 46 federal representatives in Congress and the 43 electoral college votes. The wealthiest and most politically powerful state in the union was now accountable to both male and female voters.
Also in 1917: Indiana passed three suffrage laws. Thousands of Indiana women registered to vote as fully enfranchised Hoosiers (residents of Indiana) but two of the three laws were struck down by Indiana state courts as unconstitutional before the fall election. Women of Indiana would have to settle for only partial suffrage but it made them more determined to push for a national suffrage amendment. North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Rhode Island also passed partial suffrage. Arkansas was still fully non-suffrage when it came to the general elections, but in 1917 it allowed women to vote in the primary elections.
28 second silent film clip: NY suffrage leaders (Mrs. Helen Rogers Reid, Vera Whitehouse, and Harriet Burton Laidlaw) meeting with former president Teddy Roosevelt during the 1917 campaign.
This week’s song pick:
“Rie y Llora” by Celia Cruz https://youtu.be/83S-KtvGM2M
Episode 75 Sources: