Friday, August 12, 2011

Women's Suffrage at 100

Randall Stephens

San Diegans will mark the centennial of women's right to vote in their state with a "Suffrage Parade" on August 28. (On October 10, 1911, an amendment on Rights of Suffrage passed by a popular vote of 125,037 in favor and 121,450 opposed.) Beautiful Balboa Park will set the scene for the gathering, which marks a major milestone for democracy. The march is sponsored by the Women's Museum of California. Organizers encourage participants to don "Suffrage outfits to march across the Laurel Street Bridge in celebration of 100 years of voting rights for California women." I hope it's not too hot for that, but knowing San Diego's predictable weather, I'm pretty sure it will be a great day.

California granted voting rights to women nine years before the nation did with the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." But even in the West, a region that was far ahead on social issues like this, there was considerable debate. It gives us some much needed perspective to consider how fiercely many Americans fought against suffrage. Both sides thought the stakes were extremely high. Why did opponents think women's suffrage was such a bad idea? What was the nature of the debate?

I paste here a selection from Dora Oliphant Coe's September 5, 1911 Los Angeles Times editorial. (The Times was an outspoken conservative paper in the early 20th century.) Notice the arguments against enfranchisement, especially the typical remark about "enslavement." Here Coe is summarizing the arguments of a prominent anti-suffragist:


Lisa Clark Diller said...

This is brilliant (I really wish I could "share" articles from the blog right away on FB and other social media rather than waiting till they end up on the HS FB page!). And so we begin a few years of such celebrations. I love studying women's suffrage from the point of view of those against it. Thanks for including the scan of the article. Just adds that extra bit of joy.

Anonymous said...

Our 'Granny' was a Suffragette. She was also one of the first women to graduate from Oxford; she also captained the England's Women's Hockey Team on their tours of Australia and South Africa in the 1920s. And I sometimes think what tremendous and courageous these women were--they went on to be the backbone of Britain during the Second World War and all the bombing and loss that entailed. And then, they rebuilt again.

Douglas Ewbank said...

Hannah Schoff was President of the National Congress of Mothers and Parent Teacher Associations (later the PTA) from 1902 to 1920. She was a national leader for child labor laws and juvenile justice. However, she was not a supporter of women’s suffrage. In a speech to a biennial conference on child welfare she stated that:
“With so much work waiting to be done, so many great and good undertakings that fall flat for lack of competent persons to assume control, it does not seem to me that our women of today may better devote themselves to the things which may be accomplished rather than bewail the fact that they are hampered in their actions for civic good by the lack of a vote.” (The Patriot (Harrisburg), Feb. 7, 1913, pg. 1)
Ironically, in the 1920s, Schoff lived one block away from Caroline Katzenstein who was one of the top leaders of the suffrage movement in Philadelphia.