Politics

Title

Politics

Subject

Politics, 2016

Description

"Political Women: Before, During, and After the 19th Amendment"


              When asked, most people will say that women’s political roles began with the passing of the 19th amendment to the United States constitution, which granted women the right to vote. However, women were active in politics long before that. Throughout history there has been a fight for women to gain a legal place in the political sphere; in fighting, women were already informally taking action in politics. From the common woman to more notable, women have worked together across centuries and numerous barriers to be formally included in politics.  Women have been political beings long before the government recognized them as such. When the 19th amendment was passed, women’s participation in politics continued yet was still obstructed by discrimination.

            From the very formation of American democracy, women were left out of political processes. The new Republic held onto the notion of a “political father.” [1] In this new nation where individualism and democracy were praised, women were overlooked politically. Though they held no formal political rights, women found themselves in the political sphere. The idea of Republican Motherhood promoted the notion that women should raise their sons to be good citizens, which placed an emphasis on women’s political nature. Women were expected to raise good voters but were denied the right to vote themselves. Despite their disenfranchisement, women still pushed for reform in legislation for issues such as child labor laws, education, healthcare, and more progressive issues such as women’s labor laws and birth control.[2] Abigail Adams is one figure that exemplified the idea of Republican Motherhood. She was considered the "colonial foremother” of feminism and fought for abolition and universal suffrage.[3] Though women had no formal political rights, Abigail Adams was one of the first female presences that had significant influence in the history of women’s rights.

Even more well-known than Adams are the duo known for women’s progress in politics was Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. When first meeting in 1851, Stanton was already well-versed in the world of reform. She had married antislavery orator Henry B. Stanton in 1840 along with having had an informal legal education from her father, Daniel Cady, a notable law instructor in New York. Instead of attending reform meetings, she worked behind the scenes as her role as a mother kept her busy. [4] 

Susan B. Anthony’s background significantly influenced her morale and her belief that women should have a say in political matters.[5] Growing up Quaker, Anthony was brought up in a family with experience in abolitionist activism. After a failed attempt to speak at a temperance rally to discourage alcohol consumption, she realized that she needed to lobby with the suffragettes for women’s political rights. When she met Stanton in 1851, the pair immediately began moving to the creation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and became known as an inseparable duo.[6] Anthony was the more versatile, working more with recruitment. Stanton wrote moving speeches and served as a firm foundation for Anthony to build from. The pair realized their combined potential and worked to create a suffrage movement that would change the course of history.

            The path to the 19th Amendment was anything but simple. Stanton and Anthony, as well as others, circulated petitions and urged Congress to pass an amendment to give women voting rights. Women picketed and campaigned because they realized quickly they not only had to fight for the right to vote, they had to win it.[7] While neither Stanton nor Anthony lived to see their Amendment passed, their work was fundamental in getting the amendment passed. After the American civil war, women’s rights leaders saw emancipation as one of the most important of their goals. They believed that it would be useful as both a symbol of women’s equality and individuality to help improve women’s legal and social conditions. The fight fell short when the passing of the 14th and 15th amendments only granted voting rights to black men.[8]

            In January of 1878, Aaron A. Sargent introduced the 19th Amendment (dubbed the Anthony Amendment) to the senate, but it sat in committees until 1887 when it was rejected by a 16 to 34 vote. As the number of states supporting suffrage grew, so did the number of supporters in Congress. In 1918, President Wilson endorsed the amendment and urged Democrats on Capitol Hill to give their support. In January 1918, the House of Representatives approved the amendment. However, in the Senate it failed to give 2/3 vote required for adoption. On February 10, 1919, it again failed by only one vote, but on June 4, 1919, the Congress of the United States finally approved the woman’s suffrage amendement.[9]

            Following that momentous approval, the suffragists needed to get three-quarters (36) of the states to ratify the amendment. The ratification process was anything but easy. Every state’s ratification (with the exception of four) met a long and difficult campaign against either the governor, the legislature or both. The article “Has Ratification Been Easy?” from the Suffragist, goes in details of the struggles women faced during this time. By the middle of June of 1920, a year after congress sent the amendment to the states for approval, 35 states had ratified, needing only one more to pass. In One Woman, One Vote, historian Anastasia Sims stated that the suffragist leaders were shocked when Delaware unexpectedly defeated the amendment. No other state was slated to hold a legislative session before the November 1920 election and many politicians from both side of the party wanted the proposal to be made part of the Constitution before the election. Some states, anti-suffragist, governors intentionally refused to call into session legislatures because they knew they were in favor of the enfranchisement of women. Polls of the legislatures in Connecticut and Vermont suggested they would have ratified if called into Special Session, so the President called a Special Session of Congress to be brought before the House again.  However, the anti-suffragist, anti-prohibition governors of the two states refused to do so. The cartoon “They Say”, illustrates the demand from Vermont legislatures who was constantly requesting a Special Session, but Governor Clement denied them based on his own anti-suffrage viewpoint, along with statements from him within the Suffragist. The people of Vermont were eager to support the amendment and wanted to be the 36th state but  President Woodrow Wilson found an alternative.[10]

            Woodrow Wilson was able to convince the governors in North Carolina and Tennessee to call Special Sessions, but North Carolina defeated the amendment and urged Tennessee to follow their example. Suffragists were hoping on Tennessee legislatures would vote in their favor but were not sure of the outcome.  The letters from President Woodrow Wilson, William L. Fierson and Tennessee Governor Albert H. Roberts in the Suffragist. The Suffragist published letters from Wilson asking Roberts for a Special Session and asking Fierson for advice on ratification, along with responses from both. After long lobbying/debates in Nashville, TN, the final campaign for ratification took place. In the article, “TN 36th!” the Suffragist editors detailed the campaign for ratification. The article emphasizes the role of Sue White, the Tennessee State Chairman of the Women’s Party, and the leader in the final campaign. The result of the Tennessee legislature came to a tie of 48-48. The Speaker called the measure to a ratification vote (a recall vote), where most people assumed the vote was defeated by the ant-suffragist red flowers pinned to them.[11]

            Anti-suffragist representative, Harry Burn received a letter from his mother, Pheobe Ensminger Burn (also known as Miss Febb in the community). In the letter she wrote, “Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don't keep them in doubt. I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification”. Burn voted in favor of the amendment, resulting in Tennessee’s ratification. Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify the nineteenth amendment, and winning the women the right to vote.U.S. Secretary of State, Colby Bainbridge certified the results on 28 August 1920. The cartoon from the Suffragist, “Now All Together for the 36!” is an image of both parties standing on each side of a woman with a sash, with a banner above them reading “Tennessee”. This represents the two parties coming together supporting the amendment, and viewing women as equals. That following November 2, more than eight million women voted in the election. [12]

            In 1920, the passage of the 19th amendment changed the role of women in politics forever; for the first time in the country they were awarded the right to vote universally. Women showed up at the polls and “. . .were voting for and interested in the same issues that men were.”  With the formal right to vote, women were still supporting many of the same issues; increased spending for schools and healthcare rights were two issues women involved themselves in right after winning the right to vote.[13] The vast issues women were involved in kept them very busy politically as could be seen demonstrated in political cartoons of the day. One in particular shows a woman telephone operator surrounded by papers, each with an issues women were fighting for such as birth control, health care, and tax reform.[14]As time moved forward into the 1950s and 1960s women were still supporting similar issues and still are today. More recently, the gender gap in political interests have begun to break down. No longer are women primarily confined to domestic political issues; men and women alike are supporting the same issues and having differing views regardless of sex.

            To get a sense of what was happening with women in politics all over the nation we can specifically look at Tennessee, one of the pivotal and most controversial states in the passing of the 19th Amendment. Tennessee women generally followed the trend of other women all over the nation. Moving into the mid to late 1900s Tennessee women were finding ways to make their voices heard. The Tennessee League of Women Voters pushed two major issues: the revision of the Tennessee Constitution and reapportionment of the Tennessee state legislature. The league was greatly interested in state affairs. Their focus on reapportionment extended to overall efficiency of the state government. In the 1950s, the league extended their focus to matters of children and school board member selection and reform for the juvenile justice system. The women began promoting “personal democracy”.[15] These Tennessee women were making the effort to establish a core of educated women voters and to make sure their voices were being heard.

            In 1963, Tennessee Governor Frank Clement established the Government Commission on the Status of Women. The commission was tasked with exploring four specific areas of women’s lives: employment, different treatment under the law, educational policies concerning women, and the effect of insurance and tax laws on the income of women. The commission was composed of both women and men of both African American and white races. The commission ultimately came to call for an end to discriminatory pay policies, that women serve on juries, and to repeal the luxury tax specific to women (i.e. jewelry, make up and feminine products). Due to the pay gap and luxury taxes still remaining to this day, the commission was not successful in all of its goals, but in some it did make head way.[16]

            In the 21st century, the role of women in politics was beginning to change. No longer was it new for women to be seen as political beings, and newer issues were beginning to interest women. One of the biggest issues that women took up was combatting violence against women. Though women’s violence has always existed and has to some degree been addressed by the law, the rising rape rates and their subsequent trials or lack thereof deeply concerned women. Besides their concern over violence towards women, women continued to support social services and child care, education, health care, and reproduction and family planning laws.[17]

            In the most recent decade, women’s political participation has begun to fall; the novelty of being able to vote has worn off. Women don't remember the fight for suffrage, and the women who championed the 19th amendment are long gone. Children and grandchildren are no longer hearing the stories of how their ancestors fought to give them the right to vote. The lower voter turnout rates are not to blame solely on the lack of novelty of being a woman voter; voter turnout across the board has decreased in both men and women. However, despite this overall downwards trend in political participation, a gender division still exists. At the turn of 20th to 21st century, Tennessee was ranked particularly low in women’s political participation. In 1992-1996 the state ranked 46th out of the 50 states in both the percentage of women registered to vote and voter turnout amongst women. One area in which Tennessee was above average was in women’s resources ranking, 21st out of 50. Women officials in office were relatively low, however. There was only one woman in a statewide executive elected office in Tennessee and no women representing the state in congress by 2000. The state legislature boasted a 16.7 percent of women in 1999 and women made up 36.4 percent of the appointed officials in the state.[18] In 2015, the number has only slightly increased to 17.4 percent in the state legislature but has gone back to 16.7 percent for 2016.[19] Currently, there are now two women serving as congresswomen in the House of Representatives.[20]

            One might think that the fight for equality and women’s rights would have long since been accomplished, and yet in our time of convenience it seems we have forgotten what a privilege it is to vote. There are countries in our world that still deny their women basic rights as human beings. To think that there are women in the world that do not know the triumph of having a say in such a male-dominated field seems inconceivable to the average American woman. It would seem that we view the world through rose-colored glasses and take for granted our advantage in the politics of the world, let alone the entire country. Some may say that we do not face the same hardships as our suffragette heroes of the past, but by careful examination of today’s political atmosphere, one might come to a vastly different conclusion. We must each use our earned right as intelligent and able women to distinguish ourselves not only in our country but also our homes. The modern woman must come to the realization that the battle was won, but the war is far from over.

 



[1]  Linda K. Kerber No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Hill & Wang, 1998) Chapter 1.

[2] ”Women at the Polls” The Suffragist volume VIII no. 11 Dec 1920; Ibid., “Women’s Party ‘Busy!’”; Thompson, R.A. (1994). Ruth Thompson, “After Suffrage: : women, law, and policy in Tennessee, 1920-1980” PhD diss., Vanderbilt University,1994 pg 229 ; Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Status of Women in Tennessee : politics, economics, health, demographics (Washington D.C.: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2000), 17.

[3]  Levin, P.L. (1996). Abigail (Smith) Adams (1744-1818), First Lady: 1797-1801. In L.L. Gould (Ed.), American first ladies Their lives and their legacy (pp. 16-45). New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc.

[4] "Stanton Biography: Stanton and Anthony Papers Online." Stanton Biography: Stanton and Anthony Papers Online. July 2009. Accessed April 15, 2016. http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/resources/ecsbio.html.

[5] "Susan B. Anthony." Bio.com. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://www.biography.com/people/susan-b-anthony-194905.

[6] June-Friesen, Kate. "Old Friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Made History Together." The National Endowment for the Humanities. July/August 2014. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/julyaugust/feature/old-friends-elizabeth-cady-stanton-and-susan-b-anthony-made-histo.

[7] "Women in the Progressive Era." Women in the Progressive Era. Accessed April 23, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/progressiveera/suffrage.html.

[8]  Spruill, Marjorie Julian. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995. 9-11,81-88, 333; Spruill, Marjorie Julian. Votes for Women!: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation: “Why?”. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995

[9] Spruill, 333-335.

[10]“They Say” The Suffragist, pg 181; “Has Ratification Been Easy” The Suffragist Feb 1920, pg 19;

[11] Suffragist: Special Session pg. 121-122; Suffragist: TN 36th (1&2) pg. 199-201 Sept. 1920; Spruill, Marjorie Julian. Votes for Women!: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995.

[12]  Cohen, Jennie. "The Mother Who Saved Suffrage: Passing the 19th Amendment." History.com. August 16, 2010. Accessed April 15, 2016. http://www.history.com/news/the-mother-who-saved-suffrage-passing-the-19th-amendment; Suffragist: “Now All Together for the 36!”; Spruill, Marjorie Julian. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995. 338, 342-348

[13]  ”Women at the Polls” The Suffragist volume VIII no. 11 Dec 1920

[14] Ibid., “Women’s Party ‘Busy!’”

[15] Thompson, R.A. (1994). Ruth Thompson, “After Suffrage: : Women, Law, and Policy in Tennessee, 1920-1980” PhD diss., Vanderbilt University,1994, 186-229

[16] Ibid., 242-244

[17]  Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Status of Women in Tennessee : Politics, Economics, Health, Demographics (Washington D.C.: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2000), 17.

[18] Ibid., 21

[19]  "Women in State Legislators for 2015." National Conference for State Legislature. September 4, 2015. http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislators/womens-legislative-network/women-in-state-legislatures-for-2015.aspx. "Women in State Legislators for 2016." National Conference for State Legislature. February 4, 2016. http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislators/womens-legislative-network/women-in-state-legislatures-for-2016.aspx.

[20] "Tennessee." GovTrack.us. Accessed April 15, 2016. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/TN.


Works Cited

  Kerber, Linda K. No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship, New York: Hill & Wang, 1998.

"Women at the Polls." The Suffragist, December 1920. Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

“Women’s Party, Busy!” The Suffragist, December 1920 Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

Thompson, R.A. “After Suffrage: Women, Law, and Policy in Tennessee, 1920-1980” PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 1994.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Status of Women in Tennessee : politics, economics, health, demographics, Washington D.C.: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2000.

 Levin, P.L. Abigail (Smith) Adams (1744-1818), First Lady: 1797-1801. In L.L. Gould (Ed.), American first ladies Their lives and their legacy New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc.

 "Stanton Biography: Stanton and Anthony Papers Online." Stanton Biography: Stanton and Anthony Papers Online. July 2009. Accessed April 15, 2016. http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/resources/ecsbio.html.

 "Susan B. Anthony." Bio.com. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://www.biography.com/people/susan-b-anthony-194905.

June-Friesen, Kate. "Old Friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Made History Together." The National Endowment for the Humanities. July/August 2014. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/julyaugust/feature/old-friends-elizabeth-cady-stanton-and-susan-b-anthony-made-histo.

 "Women in the Progressive Era." Accessed April 23, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/progressiveera/suffrage.html.

Spruill, Marjorie Julian. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, Troutdale, OR: New Sage Press, 1995.

Spruill, Marjorie Julian. Votes for Women! The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the

South, and the Nation, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995.

“They Say” The Suffragist, Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

 “Has Ratification Been Easy” The Suffragist Feb 1920, Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

The Suffragist: Special Session, Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

The Suffragist: TN 36th (1&2) Sept. 1920, Periodicals, Available at University of Memphis McWherter Library Special Collections.

Cohen, Jennie. "The Mother Who Saved Suffrage: Passing the 19th Amendment." History.com. August 16, 2010. Accessed April 15, 2016. http://www.history.com/news/the-mother-who-saved-suffrage-passing-the-19th-amendment

  "Women in State Legislators for 2015." National Conference for State Legislature. September 4, 2015. http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislators/womens-legislative-network/women-in-state-legislatures-for-2015.aspx.

"Women in State Legislators for 2016." National Conference for State Legislature. February 4, 2016. http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislators/womens-legislative-network/women-in-state-legislatures-for-2016.aspx.

 "Tennessee." GovTrack.us. Accessed April 15, 2016. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/TN.

Publisher

The University of Memphis Libraries

Date

2016

Contributor

Nadiya Workman, Jamey Wolf, Kate Wells

Rights

Digital Image © 2016, University of Memphis Libraries Preservation and Special Collections Department. All rights reserved.

Items in the Politics Collection

Woman's Party "Busy"
This illustration was featured in the December 1920 issue of the Suffragist magazine, a publication that focused not only on the suffrage movement but the political involvement of women. The publication was in production from before the 19th…

Women at the Polls
Yet another feature of the Suffragist magazine was this article covering the topic of women at the polls. Due to no author being mentioned, the information and final article is most likely the product of numerous persons from the Suffragist. Women at…

Has Ratification Been Easy?
his is an article in The Suffragist in February of 1920, titled “Has Ratification Been Easy?” by Elizabeth Green Kalb. She talks about the difficulties of the ratification process and the oppositions women were forced to overcome. she goes in…

"They Say"
The drawing, "They Say" was published in 1920, in The Suffragist. The drawing illustrates a donkey holding a sign that says Tennesse and an elephant holding a sign that says Vermont. A woman in front of the two is wearing a suffrage sash and is…

"Tennessee, 36th!"
"Tennessee--The 36th!" is a article from The Suffragist that was written in September 1920. The article talks about the week's of suspense that gave the final vote for ratification on August 18th. the article mentions Tennessee's intensive state…

"Special Session in Tennessee"
This article is in The Suffragist, that consist of letters/telegrams from President Wilson to Governor Albert H. Roberts of Tennessee appealing for a special ratification session. Govenor Roberts stated that he owuld comply with President Wilson, in…