Anti-Suffragism in the United States

Fremont Cartoon. Coll. Library of Congress
Figure 1. The newly formed Republican Party and its presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, threatened to impose abolitionism and women’s equality, among other radical reforms.

N. Currier and Louis Maurer, The Great Republican Reform Party, Calling on Their Candidate, 1856. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By Rebecca A. Rix

From the 1840s, when six New York women protested taxation without representation, through the 1920s, after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, supporters of women’s right to vote met opposition.[1] In the early nineteenth century, suffragists were among the radical reformers threatening to democratize a republic still based on status hierarchies. After the Civil War and Reconstruction emancipated enslaved African Americans, established birthright citizenship, and promised equal protection to all citizens, suffragists and reformers fought for decades to realize that equality. Anti-suffragists, conversely, fought to maintain the male-headed family, rather than the individual citizen, as the representative unit of republican government.[2] While anti-suffragists eventually lost their battle, their opposition delayed woman suffrage for decades and transformed family-based republicanism from a patrician opposition to democratization into a popular defense of tradition and family against feminism and the social welfare state. Suffragists’ belief in individual representation inspired decades of battles over the right to vote and other reforms that supplemented or supplanted traditional family-based government with laws that gave women—and others once assumed to be “naturally” unequal—civil and political rights.[3] For anti-suffragists, the franchise meant more than just the right to enter a voting booth and cast a ballot: the vote was an affirmation of the fundamental political equality of all persons holding it, in both the private and public spheres—a radical interpretation of the founding ideals that anti-suffragists were eager to extinguish wherever it threatened the republic.

In the 1830s and ’40s, anti-suffragists posed woman suffrage as an absurd conclusion to the enfranchisement of unpropertied men—if all individuals had a “right” to vote, why not women?[4] In the early nineteenth century both northern and southern states eliminated property qualifications for voting, leading to nearly universal white male suffrage. Workingmen’s suffrage bolstered the assumption that men were responsible for supporting and governing their wives and dependents, who owed them deference and labor.[5] Despite sectional differences over slavery, political leaders and clergy emphasized white men’s shared sovereignty over their “domestic” dependents, including slaves.[6]

In the 1850s, antislavery and proslavery advocates battled to define the institutions of new western states and territories as well as the status of enslaved people in free jurisdictions. The US Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision was a watershed in imbuing national citizenship with expansive civil and political rights—and then limiting that citizenship to white men.[7] The decision enraged abolitionists, free enfranchised Blacks, and free states and fueled sectional conflict and made national citizenship a focal point of postwar Reconstruction.

Northerners had ridiculed the 1855 campaign of the “Republican Reform Party” (Figure 1) for encouraging African Americans’ and women’s egalitarian aspirations, but these aspirations became contentious political issues during postwar Reconstruction. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment’s declaration of birthright citizenship and its provision of equal rights protections at once invalidated Dred Scott and unsettled antebellum republicanism’s conferral of rights based on one’s status within the polity.[8] Suffragists opposed the inclusion of the word “male” in the amendment’s protection of voting rights, arguing instead for citizen suffrage. After its ratification, some suffragists tested this provision by attempting to vote (and sometimes succeeding), hoping the ensuing litigation would produce a judicial decision that women’s citizenship conferred suffrage. Others petitioned for a woman suffrage amendment, particularly after their failure to secure universal suffrage in the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited denial of the vote on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.[9] Anti-suffragists noted the apparent racism of suffragists’ opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment.[10]
The Remonstrance. Coll. Library of Congress
Figure 2.  In 1890, the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women launched the Remonstrance as a digest of local, national, and international anti-suffrage news and strategic planning.

Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897–1911, Library of Congress.

In congressional debates over national woman suffrage in 1871, following women’s enfranchisement in Wyoming and Utah Territories, women “remonstrants” organized in opposition. Like suffragists, remonstrants used traditional rights of petition and remonstrance to influence legislators for or against legislation. In an open letter in the New York Times, Almira Lincoln Phelps posited that the feminine “silent masses” opposed woman suffrage, a measure agitated in the regrettably revolutionary tradition of “female Thomas Paines.” In Congress, remonstrants claimed their female authority, customarily using their married names, to decry suffragists’ democratic agitation. Mrs. General William Tecumseh Sherman and Mrs. Admiral John A. Dahlgren warned that suffragists’ “illusive new doctrine” of individual rights violated the fundamental principle that the family was the basic unit of republican government. Male family authority was so fundamental to their republicanism that remonstrants urged a constitutional amendment to defend the patriarchal family against laws defining women’s individual property and marital rights. The republic needed women as wives, mothers, educators, and philanthropists—not women who competed against men for jobs or preferred political intrigue to domestic duties.[11]

Remonstrants hoped to limit Reconstruction’s emphasis on federal authority, with its revolutionary implications for individual citizenship and suffrage, by restricting that authority to protecting male enfranchisement and family-based virtual representation. After suffragists revived their claims to the revolutionary tradition of natural rights during the 1876 Centennial, Mrs. Dahlgren countered suffragists’ claims.[12] Suffrage was no natural right, she explained in 1878, since women, like “idiots, lunatics,” and “adult boys” did not vote. Women should accept their place within a hierarchical order based on “immutable,” “fundamental,” “higher” social laws. For Dahlgren, the harmonious family was “the foundation of the State,” each “represented by its head, just as the State ultimately finds the same unity, through a series of representations. Out of this come peace, concord, proper representation, and adjustment—union.” Enfranchising all citizens would excite competing interests within the family and society and render “discord” the “corner-stone of the State.”[13]

In the 1880s, anti-suffrage congressmen highlighted woman suffrage as a threat to local self-government and sectional peace, quoting northern remonstrants such as Chicago’s Caroline Corbin, whose Letters from a Chimney-Corner, which linked domesticity with “home rule,” belied her patrician status.[14] As southern states restricted African American male suffrage, their congressmen argued that a proposed woman suffrage amendment threatened not only male authority in the family, but also states’ rights and “local self-government,” a polite term that connoted government by propertied white men, regardless of African American federal citizenship rights.[15] As Alabama Senator John Tyler Morgan explained, a woman suffrage amendment would draw a “line of political demarcation through a man’s household” and “open to the intrusion of politics and politicians that sacred circle of the family where no man should be permitted to intrude.”[16] In defending local self-government, anti-suffragists evoked memories of federal troops supervising southern polls and the alliance of abolitionists and suffragists, and they warned against any northern interference with southern Jim Crow laws—while also appealing to northerners who were leading their own antidemocratic movements.[17] By the mid-1880s, congressional Democrats’ success in stalling legislation and northern anti-suffragists’ remonstrances against extending the vote led to the suffrage movement’s congressional “doldrums.”[18]

Suffragists had some successes at the state level as Reconstruction ended, which provoked anti-suffragists to organize, first in Massachusetts and then in other states. When, in 1882, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) sought to expand on an 1879 Massachusetts partial woman suffrage measure, Massachusetts anti-suffragists organized to counter the considerable influence of celebrated abolitionist-suffragists such as Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe. As anti-suffrage leader Mrs. Charles Eliot Guild recalled, it was a moment when conservative women—whose postbellum political reputation was tarnished by their families’ non-abolitionism—claimed their “right to be heard” as remonstrants. [19] The first remonstrants operated within a patrician social network of Massachusetts’s founding families and were represented by prominent male relatives, including State Senator George Crocker, who advised them on legislative developments; publisher Henry Houghton, who printed anti-suffrage publications; and Harvard historian and critic of universal manhood suffrage, Francis Parkman. [20] Parkman added his Some of the Reasons against Woman Suffrage to a growing anti-suffrage literature explaining the traditional, historical, political, and evolutionary wisdom of men’s and women’s complementary, distinct forms of citizenship.[21] The AWSA’s Massachusetts activity kept the remonstrants busy through the 1880s, while the growing suffrage movement in other states engaged Massachusetts anti-suffragists beyond their state borders. Indeed, it was South Dakota’s 1890 woman suffrage referendum that inspired the transformation of their local bulletin into a nationally distributed publication, The Remonstrance.[22] (Figure 2)
Harpers Weekly. Coll. Library of Congress
Figure 3. New York Senate Republican leader John Raines and his Democratic counterpart, “Tom” Grady, receive anti-suffragists petitions in this 1907 Harpers Weekly cover. Anti-suffragists prevailed until 1917, when New York joined the many states that enfranchised women prior to the 19th Amendment.

Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897–1911, Library of Congress.

Massachusetts remonstrants corresponded with Chicago’s Caroline Corbin, a descendent of old northeastern families who moved west with her enterprising merchant husband.[23] Chicago was a railroad hub between western mines, forests, and farms and eastern capital and goods. Its rapid urbanization, industrialization, and expanding immigrant population gave rise to pressing social problems. Whereas Massachusetts anti-suffragists faced former abolitionist suffragists, Corbin contended with reformers such as Jane Addams who viewed the western city as an opportunity to develop and experiment with new ideas about the organization of society. Addams’s Hull House offered a laboratory for municipal reformers, useful social and educational programs for local workers and immigrants, and a professional network for female social scientists and reformers.[24]

Addams and Corbin held opposing views of how to ameliorate the social and economic misery of the 1890s generally, and in Chicago specifically. For Addams, woman suffrage was essential to governing a modern urban, industrial, and multiethnic society. Real democracy required developing individual citizens’ capacities, prioritizing the public good, and regulating the corrupting influences of poverty, disease, greed, and machine politics. Socialism and labor unionism were among the varied intellectual and social movements that informed Hull House residents’ reformist visions. For Corbin, reform experimentation and woman suffrage both threatened social order; restricting suffrage to male heads of household at once ennobled men and obliged them to support families and serve their community. Virtual representation reflected a wise public policy based on human evolution—marked by highly differentiated gender roles—and the progress of civilization; family unity was the foundation of organic social unity. Enfranchising women would fuel individual aspirations to equality, which would lead to socialism.[25]

Corbin overstated the suffrage-socialist alliance, but suffragists did form several significant political alliances during this period. Colorado’s successful 1893 suffrage referendum reflected a new threat—an alliance between western suffragists and Populists, supported by farmers and labor—and inspired the formation of new state anti-suffrage organizations.[26] The seasoned Massachusetts remonstrants helped New York remonstrants defeat an attempt to add woman suffrage to the state constitution in 1894. The threat led New York women to organize the first formal state anti-suffrage organization.[27] Their New York Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NYAOWS) provided a model adopted by Massachusetts (Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women [MAOFESW], 1895) and Illinois (Illinois Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage [IAOWS], 1897). These state organizations cooperated with each other and with male anti-suffragists, who provided them legal and political advice. Women anti-suffragists appeared for each legislative battle to disprove suffragists’ claim to speak for all women. (Figure 3) NYAOWS and MAOFESW leaders organized new state anti-suffrage associations and distributed anti-suffrage literature and association newspapers as far away as Oregon, Washington, California, Iowa, and other endangered states. In 1911, they formed the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS), led by NYAOWS president Josephine Dodge, and launched a new publication, the Woman’s Protest. Most western (and later, southern) state associations were founded by wealthy white women linked to NAOWS members by social networks.[28] Their task was to legitimate family-based suffrage and its political analog, local self-government by propertied elites, to voters with increasingly democratic aspirations. Public education campaigns, carried out by distributing campaign buttons through social networks and storefront headquarters, appealed to workingmen’s economic interests and desires to protect their families and communities against feminism, Progressivism, and socialism. (Figure 4) In the early twentieth century, anti-suffragists had to counter suffragists’ allegations that “Antis” were selfish aristocrats or, worse, that they provided political cover for immoral “interests” who benefitted from reform-minded women’s disfranchisement.
Anti Suffrage Pins. NOT PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Figure 4. These anti-suffrage campaign pins would have been distributed at anti-suffrage organization storefronts, along with pamphlets, postcards, and signs. Courtesy of the author.
While the Populist Party disintegrated after the 1896 election, its reforms, personnel, and democratic ideology continued to gain popularity. The Populists’ 1892 and 1896 platforms united reformers against monopolistic trusts, political corruption, vice, and the exploitation of workers and small businesses. The Democratic Party absorbed many Populists, who, in the solidly Democratic South, had to acquiesce to suffrage restrictions as Jim Crow solidified.[29] In the West, however, Populist reformers joined Progressives and played Democrats against Republicans, using new tools for direct lawmaking: the ballot initiative enabled reformers to write laws for approval by voters, instead of filtering popular sovereignty through legislators; referenda and recalls provided accountability. Colorado was first among many western states that enfranchised women in this way. Western anti-suffragists, often drawn from commercial cities’ founding families, conferred with eastern anti-suffragists to defend against these blows at “representative government.”[30] Anti-suffragists’ defense of property rights and virtual representation had long been consonant with regionally distinct forms of local self-government; this became politically problematic amid growing debates over using federal power to enfranchise women, regulate monopolistic trusts, regulate liquor consumption, and adjudicate labor conflicts.

Women were active in these areas of reform, and women’s political power influenced the 1912 presidential election. The four presidential candidates faced a new constituency in western states—newly enfranchised women; Progressive Theodore Roosevelt and Socialist Eugene Debs endorsed woman suffrage.[31] Two new Populist-Progressive constitutional amendments (the Sixteenth, income tax, and the Seventeenth, direct election of senators) inspired suffragists and Prohibitionists, who had long advocated for woman suffrage.[32] While intrinsically important, a number of reformers also viewed woman suffrage as an expedient to those promoting child welfare, Prohibition, labor regulation, unionism, African American civil rights, and many other reforms. Indeed, as suffragists championed Progressive reforms, many portrayed “Antis” as witless wealthy women associated with corrupt and corrupting interests. (Figure 5)

Yet many anti-suffragists were also devoted reformers, and among their anti-equality arguments were those for preserving state gender-based protective labor legislation. NAOWS’s Minnie Bronson, a Theodore Roosevelt–administration veteran, invoked her expertise in labor law to observe that political equality threatened women’s labor laws. As “feminism” emerged in the 1910s, anti-suffragists argued that educated, affluent women might benefit from gender equality, but what of workingwomen who benefitted from labor legislation premised on the state’s interest in protecting women’s maternal health?[33] Against arguments that the vote would enhance workingwomen’s ability to win labor legislation, Bronson maintained that women’s political equality might preclude state protective labor legislation that was constitutional only because women were, presumably, the weaker sex.[34]
The conflict between a federal woman suffrage amendment and paternalistic protection also threatened Jim Crow and southern traditions, southern anti-suffragists warned with increasing alarm in the 1910s. They feared that the “Anthony Amendment,” like the Fifteenth Amendment, would bring federal scrutiny of state polls, the enfranchisement of southern female Progressives, and growth of the Black middle class.[35] The Fifteenth Amendment had languished under Jim Crow for decades, but in 1915 the new National Association for the Advancement of Colored People won its Supreme Court case against grandfather clauses that exempted some (white) voters from voting restrictions based on the status of their ancestors.[36] During World War I, National American Woman Suffrage Association president Carrie Chapman Catt argued in a special suffrage issue of W. E. B. Du Bois’s the Crisis, that Wilson’s wartime democratic ideals required universal enfranchisement regardless of sex, race, or ethnicity.[37] With local Progressives for Prohibition and child labor regulation, and a national enthusiasm for Progressivism, southern anti-suffragists continued to invoke familiar tropes of federal interference in “local” affairs, which halted the nascent suffrage movement in the region.

When Congress sent the Nineteenth Amendment to the states in 1919, the NAOWS counted the southern states critical among the thirteen states required to stymie its ratification. Confident in the conservatism of northeastern and southern states, they were dismayed when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and final needed state to ratify the amendment in 1920.

After ratification, anti-suffrage leaders responded in different ways. While some former anti-suffragists refused to vote, many realized that their votes were necessary to counter what many Americans viewed as a powerful, Progressive women’s bloc. In North Carolina, May Hilliard Hinton, the president of the state’s Rejection (anti-ratification) League, appealed to the state’s (white) women to register and vote, as did the governor’s anti-suffrage wife.[38] Many northern anti-suffrage leaders entered partisan politics following the lead of New York anti-suffragists who had made use of their voting power since 1917 to oppose woman suffrage and Progressivism.[39] After ratification, northeastern anti-suffrage leaders organized within the Republican Party, contributing to its rightward shift in the 1920s. Elizabeth Lowell Putnam, MAOFESW leader and sister of Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell, worked against Progressive Republicans as vice president of the Republican Club of Massachusetts and was the first woman elected president of the Massachusetts Electoral College. An advocate of maternal and children’s social reforms who once supported the fledgling US Children’s Bureau, Putnam became opposed to its Progressive leadership and the Harding-era expansion of federal social welfare programs and the popular federal child labor amendment.[40] Putnam, like Harriet Frothingham of the Woman Patriots’ and their male allies in the Sentinels of the Republic and the Liberty League, opposed a national social welfare state as socialistic. They challenged the Nineteenth Amendment’s constitutionality and also Congress’s use of its taxing power for the Sheppard-Towner Act, which dedicated federal monies to maternal and infant health, but lost both cases before the US Supreme Court.[41] In 1924, these Massachusetts-based groups joined with conservative Catholics and others to organize Massachusetts voters against state ratification of the popular Child Labor Amendment to the US Constitution, arguing against what they called the “nationalization” of mothers and children. While reformers viewed such programs as promoting all citizens’ capacities, conservatives viewed them as a threat to family, tradition, religion, and local self-government and called instead for the protection of men’s traditional rights, expounding a democratized and modernized vision of family-based liberty.[42]

For fifty years, anti-suffragists were a force in US political life. In battles against suffragists and their allies during Reconstruction and afterward, opposing those who saw in federal citizenship a means of realizing government by, for, and of the people, anti-suffragists developed a competing, conservative vision. Initially defending the traditional prerogatives of property and patriarchy, by the mid-1920s they shed the exclusivity and elitism of that vision to make anti-Progressivism appealing to a conservative working-class and middle-class electorate, including women, whose votes they had once opposed.
Rebecca A. Rix is an independent scholar of US gender, political and legal history, whose research focuses on the changing nature of the franchise in the history of American republicanism. She earned her PhD in history from Yale University in 2008 and held an assistant professorship in history at Princeton University, 2009–17. Her current book project analyzes anti-suffragism to illuminate the transformation of republicanism from a family-based to an individual-based model between Reconstruction and the New Deal.
[1] In this essay, I focus on the response of anti-suffragists to women demanding political rights in state or federal legislatures, where laws on voting rights are crafted, and thus where women’s claims demanded an answer from powerful men. Recent scholarship analyzes the “myth of Seneca Falls” and how it has obscured important aspects of the long struggle for women’s equal political and civil rights. As Judith Wellman and others have argued, “the ideas expressed at Seneca Falls [New York] did not burst full-grown upon the scene” in 1848, but were part of a “long debate about republican ideals and about the essential meaning of the Declaration of Independence.” Opponents of woman suffrage could ignore the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments more easily than a legislative petition, which prompted a response from legislators. In 1846, “six ladies of Jefferson county” petitioned for woman suffrage, arguing that New York had “departed from the true democratic principles upon which all just governments must be based” by imposing taxation without representation on women and leaving them unable to defend “their individual and personal liberty.” Jacob Katz Cogan and Lori D. Ginzberg situate the 1846 petition in the context of antebellum state constitutional conventions and debates over the realization of individual rights in republican government. See Judith Wellman, “Women’s Rights, Republicanism, and Revolutionary Rhetoric in Antebellum New York State,” New York History 69, no. 3 (July 1988): 354–355; Jacob Katz Cogan and Lori D. Ginsberg, “1846 Petition for Woman’s Suffrage, New York State Constitutional Convention.” Signs 22, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 428, 438–439; also Lori D. Ginzberg, Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s Rights in Antebellum New York (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005). On the Seneca Falls “myth” as the origins story of the woman suffrage movement, a narrative that elides other important historical actors and events, see Lisa Tetreault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). While Seneca Falls and the Declaration were undoubtedly important both historically and also as an inspiring origins story, understanding them as examples of a multifaceted, ongoing debate among different groups of Americans over the founding ideals and republicanism illuminates how a postrevolutionary, status-based republic began to become a democracy with individual rights.
[2] This essay primarily addresses the women who organized against woman suffrage. Calling themselves “remonstrants” or anti-suffragists, which suffragists shortened to “Antis,” they persuaded legislators and the electorate to vote against woman suffrage repeatedly. Anti-suffrage men opposed woman suffrage as clergy, public intellectuals, legislators, and sometimes in organizations; however, many were the silent partners or agents of women’s organizations. For a useful introduction, see Manuela Thurner, “‘Better Citizens without the Ballot’: American AntiSuffrage Women and Their Rationale during the Progressive Era,” Journal of Women's History 5, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 33–60.
Many who opposed woman suffrage also opposed white workingmen’s suffrage and African American manhood suffrage, preferring a form of republican virtual representation based on property, race, and ethnicity to democracy, and relied on laws governing voter qualifications and election procedures in order to shape the electorate. Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, rev. ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 98, 101–105, 156; Reva B. Siegel, “She the People: The Nineteenth Amendment, Sex Equality, Federalism, and the Family,” Harvard Law Review 115, no. 4 (February 2002): 1003–1006.
[3] Rebecca A. Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution: The Individual and Family Basis of Republican Government Contested, 1868–1925” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2008).
[4] Cogan and Ginzberg, “1846 Petition for Woman’s Suffrage,” 431–432.
[5] Robert J. Steinfeld, “Property and Suffrage in the Early American Republic,” Stanford Law Review 41, no. 2 (January 1989): 356, 364; Nancy F. Cott, “Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830–1934,” American Historical Review 103, no. 5 (December 1998): 1451–1454.
[6] Stephanie McCurry, “The Two Faces of Republicanism: Gender and Proslavery Politics in Antebellum South Carolina,” Journal of American History 78, no. 4 (March 1992): 1252–1259, 1263–1264.
[7] Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US 393 (1857); “Dred Scott v. Sandford,” Oyez, November 29, 2018.
[8] William J. Novak, “The Legal Transformation of Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century America,” in The Democratic Experience: New Directions in American Political History, ed. Meg Jacobs, William J. Novak, and Julian E. Zelizer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 93–98, 105–112.
[9] Ellen Carol DuBois, “Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers: Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820–1878,” Journal of American History 74, no. 3 (December 1987): 836–862; Adam Winkler, “A Revolution Too Soon: Woman Suffragists and the ‘Living Constitution,’” New York University Law Review 76, no. 5 (2001): 1456–1526.
[10] Faye E. Dudden, Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 124; on the anti-suffragists in Washington, DC, see Susan E. Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign against Woman Suffrage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 19–23.
[11] The women who penned the anti-suffrage petition to Congress published it in the editorial pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, a popular monthly periodical well known for its promotion of what historians have called “the cult of domesticity,” to garner thousands of signatures for its presentation to Congress. The petitioners were culturally and politically influential women. Phelps did not sign the petition, but she publicized it and probably placed it for publication in Godey’s. Married anti-suffrage women often followed the tradition of being identified by Mrs. [husband’s full name], a social convention that reflected coverture, family lineage, and social position. Almira Lincoln Phelps, “Woman’s Rights: An Earnest Movement in Opposition to the Extension of the Suffrage—Address to the Women of the Country,” New York Times, February 27, 1871; Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 20; “A Uniform Divorce Law—New Movement for the Anti-Suffrage Woman,” Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1871; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 3, 1861–1876 (New York: Fowler & Well, 1882), 494–495; On petitions and remonstrances, see Susan Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
[12] Marshall notes that the DC remonstrants remained a cohesive group only through the 1871 crisis. Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 19–23.
[13] Stanton, Anthony, and Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, 3:99–103, reprints Dahlgren’s testimony and notes her ongoing influence.
[14] Caroline Fairchild Corbin, Letters from a Chimney-Corner: A Plea for Pure Hopes and Sincere Relations between Men and Women (Chicago: Fergus, 1886), quoted in Report of Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage in “Views of the Minority” [to Accompany S. Res. 5], 49th Cong., 2nd sess., S. Rept. 70, 1 (April 29, 1886); Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 89.
[15] Siegel, “She the People,” 997–1003.
[16] Congressional Record, 47th Cong., 1st sess., 229 (1881), cited in Siegel, “She the People,” 1001. John Tyler Morgan was a former Confederate brigadier general, a descendant of President John Tyler of Virginia, and an architect of white supremacy in Alabama. See Encyclopedia of Alabama.
[17] Siegel, “She the People,” 1000n160, 1003; on the “redemption of the North,” see Keyssar, Right to Vote, 96–138. As Keyssar notes, by the mid-1870s, a significant number of public intellectuals and politicians lamented the adoption of universal manhood suffrage in the wake of the Civil War, amid reports of Reconstruction’s failures and the rise of immigration, industrialization, the political machines, and reform movements. Finding it impracticable to restrict manhood suffrage, northern opponents of democracy resorted to controlling the frequency, procedures, and scope of political questions in local and state elections and enacting voter registration laws to control the electorate. A northern and western variant of southern disfranchisement, these methods of reducing democratic participation and direct representation came under increasing scrutiny in the 1890s–1910s, fueling not only Populism but also woman suffrage as part of a larger reform coalition.
[18] The “doldrums” saw lack of suffrage progress in Congress and northeastern states, with annual battles in which pro and anti arguments changed little. Ellen Carol DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 90–91, 301n6.
[19] Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 96.
[20] Marshall has traced the Brahmin origins of the early Massachusetts remonstrants, many of whom were members of the state’s founding Winthrop, Parkman, and Peabody families. Male relatives of the early remonstrants included Massachusetts legislators, publishers, and public intellectuals, including legislators George G. Crocker and Robert C. Winthrop; Harvard historian and critic of universal manhood suffrage Francis Parkman; and Henry Houghton and his son, of Houghton Publishing. Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 28–32, 81, 87.
[21] Francis Parkman, Some of the Reasons against Woman Suffrage, Printed at the Request of an Association of Women (Boston, 1884), condensed his two essays of 1879 and 1880 in the North American Review. His “The Woman Question,” in the October 1879 issue, inspired a rebuttal from Julia Ward Howe, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Phillips, and Lucy Stone, “The Other Side of the Woman Question,” in the November 1879 edition. The editors of the North American Review gave Parkman the last word, “The Woman Question Again,” in January 1880. On the remonstrants’ relationship with Parkman and the enduring popularity of this pamphlet over decades, see Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 81; on his arguments, see Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 138–141; for a useful summary of the 1879–1880 debate, see Tim Garrity, “The Woman Question: Francis Parkman’s Arguments against Woman Suffrage,” Chebacco: The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society 13 (2012): 6–18.
[22] Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 24.
[23] Harvey M. Lawson, History and Genealogy of the Descendants of Clement Corbin (Hartford, CT: Hartford Press, 1905), 158–59; Bernice E. Gallagher, Illinois Women Novelists in the Nineteenth Century: An Analysis and Annotated Bibliography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 26–27; Jane Jerome Camhi, Women against Women: American Anti-Suffragism, 1880–1920 (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson, 1994), 85–86, 238–239.
[24] There are many scholarly treatments in different fields on Jane Addams and Hull House; the following illuminate why anti-suffragists feared both for decades. On their importance in shaping Progressive state and federal social reforms through the early New Deal, Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); on Hull House and Chicago as a “frontier” environment for reform epistemology, empiricism, and practice, Lela Costin, Two Sisters for Social Justice: A Biography of Grace and Edith Abbott (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), esp. 41–62; for an overview of Jane Addams’s contributions to political and social thought, see Patricia Shields, ed., Jane Addams: Progressive Pioneer of Peace, Philosophy, Sociology, Social Work and Public Administration (New York: Springer International Publishing, 2017); on the Illinois suffragists and their leaders’ views on democracy, see Grace Wilbur Trout, “Side Lights on Illinois Suffrage History,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 13, no. 2 (July 1920): 145–199.
[25] Marshall, Splintered Sisterhood, 27.
[26] Rebecca J. Mead, How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868–1914 (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 1–4.
[27] Susan Goodier, No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013).
[28] As Manuela Thurner argues, the race, class, and ideological differences between suffragists and anti-suffragists should not be overstated; while anti-suffrage leaders were predominantly wealthy, white, and from northeastern patrician backgrounds, the suffrage movement “counted a fair number of socially prominent women among its activists, and . . . had its own share of elitist, nativist, and racist rhetoric.” Moreover, like suffragists, many anti-suffragists were devoted to social reform and philanthropy. Thurner, “‘Better Citizens without the Ballot,’” 37–38.
[29] Early twentieth-century restrictions (including residency requirements, literacy requirements, and poll taxes) “made insurgency or political nonconformity virtually impossible.” Sara Hunter Graham, “Woman Suffrage in Virginia: The Equal Suffrage League and Pressure-Group Politics, 1909–1920,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 101, no. 2 (April 1993): 243.
[30] Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 233–236.
[31] Jo Freeman, “The Rise of Political Woman in the Election of 1912,” in We Will Be Heard: Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 49–75. While all of the candidates treated women as important to victory, only the Socialist Party and Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party endorsed woman suffrage, and Jane Addams seconded Roosevelt’s presidential nomination at the convention. Freeman, “Rise of Political Woman,” 51–52, 56. In 1912, the western states in which women’s votes would influence the electoral college were Wyoming (1869), Utah (1869/1896), Colorado (1893), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), and California (1911), for a total of 1.3 million women and thirty-eight electoral votes; Freeman, “Rise of Political Woman,” 51. By the end of 1914, nearly all western states and territories had enfranchised women, increasing the female voting population to four million. Mead, How the Vote Was Won, 4.
[32] Daniel E. Kyvig, “An Era of Constitutional Activity and Faith,” in Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776–1995 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1996), 216–218; Bernard B. Bernstein and Jerome Agel, “Democratizing the Constitution: The Progressive Amendments,” in Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1995), 117–134.
[33] Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987); Stanley Lemons, The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990).
[34] The Supreme Court struck down a state law to protect bakers’ health under the Fourteenth Amendment and its implicit “liberty of contract” in Lochner v. New York in 1905; in Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Supreme Court upheld a maximum hours law as legitimate on the basis of a state’s interest in women workers’ future maternal health. The problem of balancing women’s equality with men versus protecting women workers against “sweating” was settled in favor of equality—and “liberty of contract”—in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923). Joan Zimmerman, “The Jurisprudence of Equality: The Women’s Minimum Wage, the First Equal Rights Amendment, and Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 1905–1923,” Journal of American History 78, no. 188 (June 1991): 188–225; Siegel, “She the People,” 1012–1017; on Minnie Bronson’s professional history, rationale, and influence, see Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 156n422, 178–181.
[35] The defense of southern women and the “Lost Cause” southern legacy against federal enfranchisement was, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler argues, also mobilized to defend against southern Progressives and the harm that enfranchised women might do in regulating New South industries, including cotton, textiles, and liquor interests. Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 5–12, 17–20. See also, Elna C. Green, Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); Anne Myra Benjamin, Women against Equality: The Anti-Suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895 to 1920, rev. ed. (n.p.: Lulu Publishing, 2014), 337–361; Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, “Caretakers of Southern Civilization: Georgia Women and the Anti-Suffrage Campaign, 1914–1920,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 82, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 801–828. As McRae explains, southern anti-suffragism was not only about women’s roles, “but men’s civic responsibility, racial hierarchies, class privilege, and historical memory . . . the rise of industrialism, worsening labor relations, the influx of urban laborers (many of them women), a rising black middle class, and the challenges these changing conditions posed to patriarchy, familial authority, and the social order” (806). On Virginia, see Graham, “Woman Suffrage in Virginia”; on North Carolina, see Elna Green, “Those Opposed: The Antisuffragists in North Carolina, 1900–1920,” North Carolina Historical Review 67, no. 3 (July 1990): 315–333. On opposition to African American women voting from northerners as well as southerners, suffragists and anti-suffragists, see Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 107–135.
[36] The 1915 US Supreme Court decision in Guinn v. the United States struck down the “grandfather clause” as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009), 15–24, 47–48.
[37] It is important not to overstate the commitment of suffragists to universal equality or to idealize their vision; nonetheless, by the mid-1910s anti-suffragists were correct in observing suffragists’ participation in a broad reform movement—in print culture, in union and political endorsements, and in reformers’ commitments to multiple reforms such as social welfare, universal civil rights, worker rights, international peace work, economic equality, and new forms of direct democracy. Indeed, Carrie Chapman Catt’s vision for “applied democracy” highlighted this vision and the role of suffrage within it. W. E. B. Du Bois devoted a special issue of the Crisis to universal suffrage as a right of citizenship in its 1917 “Suffrage Number.” Carrie Chapman Catt in “Votes for All: A Symposium” (with Anna Howard Shaw and Mary Garrett Hay), Crisis, November 1917, 19–21; Jean Fagan Yellin, “DuBois’ Crisis and Woman’s Suffrage,” Massachusetts Review 14, no. 2 (Spring 1973): 365–375; for Catt’s description of applied democracy and postwar citizenship, see Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 315–328.
[38] Kristi Andersen, After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral Politics before the New Deal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 55–56.
[39] Goodier, No Votes for Women, 118–64. On the anti-suffragists through their post-ratification litigation and organization, see Benjamin, Women against Equality, 364–373.
[40] Putnam objected to the federalization of maternal health and welfare programs in the Sheppard-Towner Act (1920) and other social welfare legislation, which she viewed as unconstitutional; she also objected to the levelling aims of the reformers connected to the Hull House network and the League of Women Voters. Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 314–381; Sonya Michel and Robyn L. Rosen, “The Paradox of Maternalism: Elizabeth Lowell Putnam and the American Welfare State,” Gender and History 4, no. 3 (Autumn 1992): 364–386.
[41] On the Supreme Court cases, see Siegel, “She the People,” 1003–1019, and Rix, “Gender and Reconstitution,” 342–378. On former anti-suffragists mobilizing the Massachusetts electorate against ratification of the Child Labor Amendment in Massachusetts, see Rebecca Rix, “Every citizen a Sentinel: Every home a sentry box!”: Revolutionary Men, Home Protection, and the Popularization of Modern Conservative Thought in the 1920s” (paper presented at American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting, Miami, Florida, November 2013).
[42] For a short, useful (and admiring) introduction to the coalition defeating the amendment, see Bill Kauffman, “The Child Labor Amendment Debate of the 1920s; or, Catholics and Mugwumps and Farmers,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 10, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 139–169. The Catholic’s, working class’s, and farmers’ fear of reforms that seemed to treat children more as future citizens than as members of families and social communities was not unreasonable in light of Prohibition, which interfered with church and ethnic traditions, threats of losing children’s work on farms and as family wage-earners, and a recent Supreme Court’s decision to strike down an Oregon law compelling children to attend public schools. Former anti-suffragists helped this coalition with political and rhetorical contributions, helping to create and circulate the early ideology of modern conservatism as they battled against feminism, Prohibition, the Children’s Bureau and the Sheppard-Towner Act, a federal education bureau, a federal bureau of social welfare, a federal anti-lynching law, and, of course, the Child Labor Amendment. See also, Kim E. Nielsen, Un-American Womanhood: Antiradicalism, Antifeminism, and the First Red Scare (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2001); Jan Doolittle Wilson, The Women’s Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Kirsten Marie Delegard, Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); Rix, “Every citizen a Sentinel!”

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Part of a series of articles titled The 19th Amendment and Women's Access to the Vote Across America.

Last updated: April 10, 2019