About this Episode
At the heart of the suffrage movement was a shared belief that women deserved to be full owners of their own citizenship and have the right to exercise that citizenship at the ballot box. But the suffragists agreed on little else.
From the beginning, the suffrage movement was splintered into different organizations that advocated different courses of action and often these organizations were in direct conflict.
Today we talk about the women who led the charge for suffrage, their successful advocating for the nineteenth amendment, and who they left behind along the way.
Cite this Site
Episode 2: "I Have Many Things to Say" Citations:
Theme Music: Hot Shot by Scott Holmes
Graham, Sara Hunter, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
Ford, Linda G., Iron Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman's Party, 1912-1920, UPA, 1991.
Heidenreich, Douglas R., "A Citizen of Fine Spirit" (2000). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 109. http://open.mitchellhamline.edu/facsch/109
Women in the American Politics System: An Encyclopedia of Women as Voters, Candidates, and Office Holders, edited by Dianne G. Bystrom & Barbara Burrell, Santa Barabara: ABC-CLIO, 2019
Episode 2: "I Have Many Things to Say" Transcript:
Last time, we discussed how women emerged in the American political realm well before the 19th Amendment granted them suffrage.
Following the unexpected exclusion of women from the Civil War Amendments, women continued to expand their political influence and work to affect both social and political change in society. However, it quickly became clear to many of these women that the only way to truly have a voice in their society was through electoral power. Women began to push to gain suffrage themselves, ultimately leading to the bitter fight over the ratification of the 19th Amendment and a crucial change in the legal role of women in American society.
At the heart of this movement was a shared belief that women deserve to be full owners of their own citizenship and have the right to exercise that citizenship at the ballot box. But the suffragists agreed on little else.
From the beginning, the suffrage movement was splintered into different organizations that advocated different courses of action and often these organizations were in direct conflict. Should they lobby on the state or federal level? Continue with the Cult of True Womanhood rhetoric or engage in public demonstrations of protest? Include women of color within the white ranks of the movement or save their enfranchisement for later?
Today, we talk about the women who led the charge for suffrage, their successful advocating for the 19th Amendment, and who they left behind along the way.
For Origins, Current Events in Historical Perspective, I'm Sarah Paxton and this is Prologued.
As the majority of reformers advocated for what they called one-reform-per-generation, they thought it would be too radical to ask for women's rights along with the rights of African American men.
For today's episode, I talked with Dr. Kimberly Hamlin, a professor of history at Miami University in Ohio, and a foremost authority on the history of the women's suffrage movement.
So after the 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified in 1868 and 1870, respectively, women began having internal and external discussions about the role of women's rights and this is where you see Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony begin to press for a federal amendment enfranchising women.
If the names Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sound familiar, they should. Anthony and Stanton were leaders of the earliest reform movements and were vital in bringing into the women's suffrage movement tactics that abolitionists employed to end slavery.
Born in 1820, Anthony was a member of the American Equal Rights Association, a universal suffrage organization that I mentioned in Episode 1, and when women were excluded from the Civil War Amendments and the American Equal Rights Association refused to push for an additional amendment that would include women, Susan B. Anthony moved on to form the National Women's Suffrage Association.
So Stanton and Anthony and some of their followers in the group they formed, called the National Women's Suffrage Association, started to say that what they needed—what women needed—was a 15th Amendment for women. Before they began advocating for this standalone amendment, however, some of the women in what was again called the National Women's Suffrage Association made a novel argument, which they called the “New Departure Strategy,” whereby they believed that women already had been enfranchised. If you read the 14th and 15th Amendments together, they believed you could make an argument that citizenship inherently included voting rights. So this is why you see, for example, Susan B. Anthony and Virginia Minor of Missouri voting along with dozens of other women in the 1872 elections.
Yeah, women were showing up at the polls nearly 50 years before the 19th Amendment. Anthony and Minor were testing this theory, both showing up at the polls to vote in the first major election after the passing of the Civil War Amendments, and they encouraged other women to do the same.
Anthony herself voted in the first district of the Eighth Ward of Rochester, New York, and she was arrested 10 days later on November 18, 1872, for voting illegally. What followed was a politically fraught criminal trial. Anthony was not the only one arrested that day, there were 14 other women arrested for illegal voting. Yet she was the only one subjected to examination, denied a trial by jury and found guilty by the court. When asked if she had anything to say before sentencing, Anthony delivered what historian Ann Gordon referred to as “the most famous speech in the history of the agitation for women's suffrage.”
But despite this speech, Anthony was fined $100 for the crime of voting illegally. To which she responded, “May it please Your Honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” And she never did.
Dr. Hamlin mentioned another name, Virginia Minor. She took it one step further.
They were trying to test out this legal strategy that Virginia Minor and her husband, Francis, had developed where they thought we could press the case that women already had been enfranchised because citizenship inherently included voting rights. So this case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, which rules in 1875 in Minor v. Happersett that citizenship does not inherently imply voting rights, and, thus, women are not enfranchised by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
So that didn't work. What now?
For women like Anthony and Stanton, it was time to double down on creating a federal amendment that would formally enfranchise women. They set up shop in Philadelphia in 1876 and wrote what they called the 16th Amendment, what others would call the Anthony Amendment, and what would eventually become the 19th Amendment. But not for a long time.
California Senator Sargent did introduce the Anthony Amendment in 1878; but it failed to get the 2/3s Senate support needed to pass a constitutional amendment. It was becoming less likely that a federal amendment was going to happen.
But the National Women's Suffrage Association wasn't the only game in town. The American woman's Suffrage Association had a more expansive view of women's rights, including issues such as fair employment laws. They also employed a state focused strategy that lobbied state officials to propose state constitutional amendments enfranchising women who lived within their state. As the likelihood of a federal amendment was slipping, the National Association began to reconsider their absolutist position on a federal suffrage amendment. And, with this consideration, they also begin to reconsider their rivalry with the American Association.
In 1890, the two rival suffered organizations, the NWSA and the AWSA, merge to form the mouthful NAWSA, the National American Women's Suffrage Association, and NAWSA still sort of tried to advance a both/and approach where they thought they could work for state suffrage amendments and federal suffrage at the same time, but they didn't do either one, you know, wholeheartedly, or they'd also most certainly did not have a budget really to fund such activities.
So then there was this new group, NAWSA, which in many ways mended the early rift over federal and state tactics. Theoretically, NAWSA supported amendments on both the federal and state level. But, as Dr. Hamlin said, this wasn't really possible and NAWSA was stretched too thin.
Because NAWSA couldn't adequately support both campaigns, their state level work operated mostly through local civic clubs, folding the women's club movement into their suffrage campaign. NAWSA president, Elizabeth Catie Catt, referred to this strategy as the “society plan, as they used clubs focused on societal improvement to garner support from middle- and upper-class women of society. Many of these club women were wary of women's political involvement; however, they did see women's role in reforming society. Like we discussed in the previous episode, many women still firmly believed in the Cult of True Womanhood. This was the ideology that held that women's role in society was with the family due to their inherently pious virtue. And this ideology was then used to support socio-political movements aimed at protecting the moral fabric of society. These clubs supported social movements like temperance, child labor reform, education reform, all areas deemed domestic and therefore within the women's sphere of control. Voting, they argued, fit with this Cult of True Womanhood rhetoric, and would only enhance their ability to support these causes. By appealing to these largely middle-class white women, the National Association worked to build a base of support for suffrage among local women.
While NAWSA initially ended a rivalry over the state versus federal, their focus on employing social reform tactics resulted in a new conflict over protest strategy. Enter, Alice Paul.
So the rift between NAWSA and Alice Paul begins pretty much as soon as Alice Paul comes to NAWSA. Alice Paul moves back to the United States after having spent time in London and she goes to the NAWSA convention in 1912, reports on her activities, and she proposes a novel idea based on her experiences in London, where she wants NAWSA to begin doing more public protest—to stop just sending letters and polite petitions and to take the movement to the streets.
So she proposes at the 1912 NAWSA convention that NAWSA let her take over the more or less dormant congressional committee and turn it into a vehicle which will organize a massive march to coincide with the first inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, which is going to happen in March of 1913. NAWSA leaders recognize Alice Paul's brilliance, they recognize her energy, they want to keep her in the fold; but, they also think she's kind of dangerous and they're not 100% sure that they buy into all of her ideas.
So they reluctantly agree to let her take over the congressional committee with the goal of making this parade happen. Alice Paul works together with a small band of volunteers, including a woman named Helen Hamilton Gardner, whose biography I've just written, and they succeed in putting together the largest most successful software demonstration that ever was.
This parade is the women's suffrage march of 1913, which has been cited as one of the inspirations for the massive Women's March on Washington in January of 2017. Alice Paul and her faction of NAWSA had received government permission to hold the parade on March 3, 1913. However, they were immediately met with a wall of angry male protesters who were not deterred by the police escort ordered to assist the suffrage just down the street. In fact, despite being ordered by Congress to keep the road clear for the March, later testimony suggests that the male police force of the Federal City not only failed to clear a path, they themselves often joined in with the angry mob spewing vitriol at the suffragists. It wasn't until a military cavalry was called in that the streets were finally sufficiently cleared and the March was able to be completed.
While the 1913 March sparked substantial public attention and goodwill, it further drove a wedge between the nonpartisan NAWSA and Alice Paul supporters, who believed in order to affect change, you must protest the party in power, who at this point in time was Woodrow Wilson's Democrats. Increasingly frustrated, Paul’s group formally split from NAWSA in 1914 and formed the National Women's Party. The suffrage movement was once again divided, with the two groups employing very different strategies to gain enfranchisement.
Alice Paul first tries to meet with President Wilson after the 1913 suffrage March, she does succeed in bringing a small group of women to the White House, but you can tell even from the beginning that Woodrow Wilson does not like Alice Paul, she's very demanding when her letters to him. She says things like “We'll be there Wednesday at four!” and Woodrow Wilson says things like “Oh God, if I have to meet with these ladies, can I at least please pick the time that they come?!”
Into this kind of space enters Helen Hamilton Gardner, who is NAWSA's lead negotiator in Washington. The NAWSA congressional committee referred to her as their diplomatic core because she was a diplomat who kind of worked behind the scenes. So in 1916 Helen Hamilton Gardener had returned to DC from spending the winter in California, where she had seen how Alice Paul's National Woman's Party was stridently targeting Democrats, even Democrats who favored women's suffrage. Helen Hamilton Gardner and NAWSA could not see the logic in this plan. Why would you campaign against Democrats in office when these Democrats favored woman suffrage?
So she came back to DC and she wrote President Woodrow Wilson's Chief of Staff, a guy named Tumulty, Joseph Tumulty, a letter introducing herself and she said, “Hey Tumulty, I write to introduce myself and set the record straight that Alice Paul does not represent the ‘real suffragists of America.’ The real suffragists of America are nonpartisan and we are with NAWSA.” And so, through this letter, she becomes friends with Tumulty, she becomes friends with Woodrow Wilson and his second wife, Edith, and by the 1918/1919, Helen Hamilton Gardner is a welcome daily presence at the White House. She sends apricots from her garden, she sends birthday cards, she sends chummy notes, she calls on the phone. And Woodrow Wilson, and especially his Chief of Staff, Tumulty, works hand in hand with her to get the 19th Amendment through Congress.
Alice Paul, on the other hand, continues to target Woodrow Wilson in public. In 1917, the Silent Sentinels began protesting at the White House and Woodrow Wilson increasingly refuses to meet with her at all. At the same time, you can see his relationship with NAWSA grow warmer as he welcomes Helen Hamilton Gardner and Carrie Chapman Catt into the White House multiple times.
This was a massive split in the suffrage movement and one that Dr. Hamlin tells me continues to define how the suffrage movement is discussed among scholars, with historians aligning themselves depending on who they thought was more successful: Team NAWSA or Team Alice.
Ideological and tactical debates demonstrate that even the earliest women voters, the suffragists, were not a band of sisters pushing for equal rights. However, we can see just how truly divided American women have always been if we look at the characteristics by which the suffragists defined their own ranks and through which they decided who was, and who was not, fully a woman in both their eyes and the eyes of the law,
Women of color have always, from the outset, been vital to the women's suffrage movement. But to tell their stories, historians often have to look in different places than the mainstream white suffrage groups. And that's because the mainstream white suffrage groups either NWSA, AWSA, or the united NAWSA were largely segregated. So while some women of color like Mary Church Terrell, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, did occasionally address these white led suffrage groups, they were not welcomed as leaders or as equals and oftentimes even as members.
But women of color were still leading the suffrage movement. In addition to Mary Church Terrell and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Nellie Griswold Francis was an African American woman in Minnesota who founded the Every Woman Suffrage Club, which organized the African American women of Minnesota in the fight for suffrage and subsequently joined, and was active in, the National Association of Colored Women.
However, while activists like Francis were organizing African American women, their white counterparts in both NAWSA and the National Women's Party viewed them as a liability. Catt, in order to have NAWSA appeal to the middle- and upper-class women's clubs, downplayed the role of their Black members and steered clear of controversial issues such as Jim Crow laws in the South. Similarly, Alice Paul suggested that the Black members of NAWSA could march in the back of the 1913 Parade, rather than with their state delegation, a suggestion fame suffragist an anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells flaunted by proudly marching with her home state of Illinois In many states, including Minnesota, debates raged over whether to support amendments would allow white women's suffrage while explicitly excluding Black women. Many suffragists, particularly those in the Jim Crow South, supported such measures. Southern senators even offered to pass the Anthony Amendment as long as language was injected into the bill that would have prohibited Black women, including Francis and her fellow Black suffragists from voting, thereby only granting suffrage to white American women. To Francis's relief, the white suffragists refused the change to the Anthony Amendment and NAWSA publicly stated that they would not support an amendment that excluded Black women. However, Black activists’ important contributions to the movement continue to be downplayed by white activists. And this exclusion continued right up to the moment the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. And then white activists largely abandoned Black women thereafter, leaving many Black activists to the limitations of Jim Crow and the deadly dangers of the Ku Klux Klan, who staged multiple protests and cross burnings in front of the Francis household after they moved into a white neighborhood in 1924.
So to find the suffrage activism of African American women, it's important to look at places like the AME Church, where women held leadership roles and where they advocated for civil rights and other reforms. And also in the Black woman's club movement, especially the National Association of Colored Women, where you can see the leadership of women like Mary Church Terrell, who was a prominent suffragist, and also in the NAACP, which Mary Church Terrell and other women helped found along with men. So, suffrage activism of women of color was not focused solely on the 19th Amendment, because for Black women to vote, they also needed the 15th Amendment to be enforced, they needed civil rights legislation. They also fought against segregation and lynching. So we see Black woman suffrage activism in more and more venues and we need to look beyond the white led suffrage groups to find it.
In a way that's similar to the impact that African American women, their activism, their struggle coming out of the abolitionist movement, had a huge impact on movements for women's suffrage, Native American women also impacted the struggle for women's voting in the United States.
That's Dr. Daniel Rivers, you may remember him from the last episode. He's a professor of history at The Ohio State University and a member of the Oklahoma Choctaw Nation. Last time, we talked about how Native culture was appropriated in the early women's rights movement, making Native women at least symbolically influential in the early years. But Native women themselves were also involved in the women's suffrage movement as active suffragists.
Two women that I'm thinking about in particular here are Marie Baldwin, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and Gertrude Bonnin, who was Lakota. These two women were both members of the Society for American Indians, which actually had one of its really important meetings here in 1911 on the Ohio State campus, Marie Baldwin gave a speech here at OSU in 1911. And these two women were very active in the movement for women's suffrage in the United States, Marie Baldwin, in 1913, marches with Alice Paul in Washington, DC.
And I would include both of them in a sort of demographic of Progressive Era Native Americans. And these were Native Americans who came out of the boarding school era, who came out of the era of the Western Wars, when military resistance was obviously no longer a possibility, and saw a new way of upholding their peoples in the United States. And that was largely to use the tools of the system itself as a way to protect Native American culture and tribal customs. So many of these individuals ended up going to law school or medical school—Marie Baldwin herself was an attorney—and they sought to use these knowledges as a way to protect Native American cultures. And you can see here how the vote would be a really important part of this way of thinking through Native American possibilities for cultural protection within the United States.
So what we found is, despite the imagery of the sisterhood of suffragists, the movement was born from the conflict surrounding universal suffrage, immediately divided between a federal or state focus, and was rife with tension over strategy through the early 20th century. Further still, race became a vein of conflict in the cohesion of the suffrage movement, with the voices and impact of suffragists of color routinely downplayed or ignored by the white suffragists of NAWSA and the National Women's party.
But these divisions among women were not limited to just the suffragists. Significant numbers of white women shun the vote altogether and actively campaign against the 19th Amendments ratification. They did so because they could not accept either the turn from a pure interpretation of the Cult of True Womanhood or the inclusion of women of color as their legal equals.
We'll discuss the women who didn't want to be enfranchised next time on Prologued.
This season of Prologued was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the Public History Initiative, the Goldberg Center, and the history departments at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with support from the Stanton foundation. Our editors are David Steigerwald, Steven Conn, and Nicholas Breyfogle. It was written and hosted by Sarah Paxton with research support from Min A Park. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer and our production specialist is Brandon MacLean and Oranjudio. Song and band information can be found on our website, and we encourage our listeners to visit episode descriptions for citations to background reading and sources that made this podcast possible. You can find our podcast and more on our website origins.osu.edu, on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify and SoundCloud, as well as wherever else you get your podcasts. As always, you can find us on Twitter @ProloguedPod and @originsOSU. Thanks for listening.