Saturday, November 12, 2016

100 years ago, many women said they didn't want the vote.

Here's a 1909 Editorial from the Ladies' Home Journal claiming women don't want the vote, an oft-cited anti-woman-suffrage argument.

I write about it in Furies Cross the Mersey.


A Few 'Restless' Women
Suppose we take the noisy clamor for the right of women to vote and reduce it to a practical test or two. Now we are certainly led to believe by the speeches of the female suffragists, that the American women really want the ballot - in fact, that definite statement is repeatedly made.  But just what is meant by the phrase "the American Woman" isn't always made clear.  How large a part of American Womanhood does it include?  Let us take an expression or two direct from women. Not many years ago an American President received the customary petition that is familiar to every President, asking him to incorporate into his next message to Congress a recommendation that the subject of women's suffrage be seriously taken up with the view of giving women the right to vote. The President was fair-minded. He was willing to see both sides, so he determined to test the truth of the phrase in the petition, that is " this was practically the unanimous desire of American womanhood as a whole," but that "men had refused to recognize the fact." That evening he handed the petition to his wife and asked her "What do you think of that?" "I really don't know," she answered. "I have never thought about it." The President said, "but the petition says it is the unanimous desire of American women."
"Perhaps it is," she answered. "Why don't you find out. Pick fifty women whose opinion you respect and write and ask them."

The President did.

There were 46 answers. Thirty four had no desire at all to vote. They were 'too busy' or left politics to their husbands. Eleven were absolutely indifferent.  One lonely lady said "she might vote" but added "probably, when the time came, I wouldn't bother to vote." Here, then, were forty-odd intelligent, representative women, and yet not a single one actually wanted the ballot!

…The simple fact  of the matter is that the vast majority of American women have not only no desire to vote, but, to use their own words, they are not bothering about the question. This is the actual condition that American suffragists confront, not the antagonism of men, for men, as a body, are not antagonistic, they are indifferent, perfectly content to let women fight this question out among themselves and find consensus among themselves. And up to this date that consensus is distinctly that the average woman's common sense, and particularly her knowledge of her own sex, teaches her that she is unwilling to run the risks, which she knows, far better than men, would accompany an extension of the franchise to her sex.  The field of politics as a new excitement for a few restless American women is barred to them by their own sex
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Ladies' Home Journal February 1909