Thousands of Women Fought Against the Right to Vote. Their Reasons Still Resonate TodayHistorians in the News
tags: suffrage, womens history
Susan B. Anthony stood on a stage in Upstate New York, asking a crowd to support the suffragist cause, when someone in the audience asked a question: Do women actually want the right to vote?
Her answer was hardly unequivocal.
“They do not oppose it,” Anthony replied vaguely.
She had little reason to believe otherwise, as recounted in Susan Goodier’s book, “No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement.” It was 1893, and suffragists were traveling across New York to build support ahead of a constitutional convention, when lawmakers would decide if the word “male” should be removed from the wording of the state constitution. Until then, most of the opposition to women’s suffrage had been dominated by men.
But as the suffragists would soon learn, women would play a crucial role in attempting to prevent women from gaining the right to vote. As the suffragist movement gained momentum, women mobilized committees, circulated petitions, and created associations to oppose women’s suffrage in New York and Massachusetts. Thousands of women would eventually join their fight.
“They said, ‘We’ve got to do something,'" Goodier said, “or else we’re going to be stuck with the vote.'”
Their efforts would ultimately fail with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. But the anti-suffragist women would become a nationwide force that would influence later generations of conservative women. And today, a century after women gained the right to vote, echoes of their message remain.
Granting women the right to vote, the anti-suffragists argued, would lead to a disruption of the family unit, of a woman’s role as a wife and mother, and of what they considered a privileged place in society — themes that would parallel those of Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist who would successfully campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
But their reasons for opposing suffrage were often more complex, focusing on the idea that women already had their own form of power. Many of the women in the anti-suffrage movement felt that the political system was a corrupt space, and if women joined it, they would inevitably become just as corrupt as the men, said Anya Jabour, a history professor at the University of Montana.
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