Suffrage in the 20th Century: Overviews

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SOURCE: Showalter, Elaine. "Women Writers and the Suffrage Movement." In A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, pp. 216-39. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

In the following essay, Showalter explores the response of British women writers to the suffrage movement, noting that the struggle for votes did not seem to have a generally positive influence on writers, stimulating guilt, hostility, and class-based criticism instead.

The lyrical and diffuse feminist protest literature of the 1890s became political in the hands of the suffragettes. Most Victorian women novelists had dissociated themselves from the women's suffrage movement, which had its theoretical origins as far back as Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and its formal English organization in Manchester in 1865. The strategy of public anti-feminism came partly from women writers' reluctance to take on the extra burden of this huge battle and partly from their own sense of being superior and exceptional. In an early article on "The Enfranchisement of Women" (1851), Harriet Taylor had attacked women novelists for being "anxious to earn pardon and toleration" from men by pretending to be content with their lot: "The literary class of women, especially in England, are ostentatious in disdaining the desire for equality or citizenship, and proclaiming their complete satisfaction with the place which society assigns to them."1 Charlotte Brontë, who thought it sensible not to brood on evils beyond repair, and Mrs. Gaskell, who believed that women should fight for others but not for themselves, were offended by Taylor's innuendoes. George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning approved of feminism in theory, but did not think that Victorian women were ready to assume the responsibilities of political equality. Browning believed that, "considering men and women in the mass, there is an inequality of intellect."2 Charlotte Yonge, Elizabeth Linton, Dinah Craik, Christina Rossetti, and Margaret Oliphant, among the feminine writers, were vehemently opposed to what Oliphant called "the mad notion of the franchise for women."3

There were women writers who supported the suffrage idea from the first. In 1866 a petition requesting the franchise was signed by 1,500 women; John Stuart Mill presented it in their behalf to the House of Commons. Barbara Bodichon, Jessie Boucherett, Rosamond Hill, and Elizabeth Garrett were the authors of the petition, and the women writers who signed it included Amelia Edwards, Matilda Bethem-Edwards, Harriet Martineau, Annie Keary, and Anna Swanwick. The names of the greatest women of the day—George Eliot and Florence Nightingale—were conspicuously absent. Both had refused to participate, Eliot on the grounds that woman's harder lot should be "the basis for a sublimer resignation in woman and a more regenerating tenderness in men,"4 Nightingale on the grounds that "there are evils which press more hardly on women than the want of the suffrage."5

In 1889 a number of prominent women and wives of prominent men, alarmed at the radicalism of the feminists, signed "An Appeal Against Female Suffrage," which was published in the Nineteenth Century. Mrs. Leslie Stephen, Mrs. Walter Bagehot, Mrs. Matthew Arnold, Mrs. Humphry Ward, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Linton, and Beatrice Potter joined in asserting that the limits of the emancipation process had been reached. Later Beatrice Potter—who had become Mrs. Webb—recanted; her explanation of her earlier motives probably speaks for other women as well: "At the root of my anti-feminism lay the fact that I had never myself suffered the disabilities assumed to arise from my sex."6

From about 1905 to 1914 a new militancy in the suffrage movement created a climate in which excuses of the sublimity of suffering, the existence of other problems, or the class privileges of a female elite no longer sufficed. Women writers could not continue to ignore the issues or to remain neutral. Under the charismatic leadership of the Pankhursts, the suffrage campaign became an integral part of the female consciousness. On both sides of the issue, women produced an enormous quantity of writing, from political pamphlets to novels. Relatively little of this work is distinguished as fiction, but it is of immense interest historically; it provided the link between the ambivalent altruism of the feminists and the self-contained theories of the postwar female aesthetic.

Elizabeth Robins became the president of the Women Writers Suffrage League in 1908. In Robins the suffragettes had one of their most versatile and vigorous crusaders. Like Olive Schreiner and Sarah Grand, she had a dazzling personality that attracted disciples, men as well as women.7 Under the pseudonym of "C. E. Raimond" she had written several novels, including George Mandeville's Husband (1894); one novel, The Magnetic North (1894), became a best seller. Robins' play, Votes for Women (1907), which she later made into a novel, was the most influential piece of literary propaganda to come out of the suffrage movement.

The Women Writers Suffrage League was the brainchild of two young journalists, Cecily Hamilton and Bessie Hatton; they founded it in 1908 as an auxiliary of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, with the object of obtaining "the Parliamentary Franchise for women on the same terms as it is, or may be, granted to men." In this endeavor the talents of writers were of particular use. Other auxiliaries committed their specific skills to the goals of the campaign; the actresses' league, for example, came to make up and disguise the W.S.P.U. leadership in their hideouts from the police.8 The W.W.S.L. prospectus stated that:

Its methods are the methods proper to writers—the use of the pen. The qualification for membership is the publication or production of a book, article, story, poem, or play, for which the author has received payment, and a subscription of 2s6d to be paid annually.…Women writers are urged to join the League. A body of writers working for a common cause cannot fail to influence public opinion.9

League members were expected to send frequent letters to newspapers, to contribute to suffrage periodicals, and to write essays, stories, and plays dramatizing the demand for the vote. On the whole they did not engage in militant confrontations, but Elizabeth Robins and Beatrice Harraden, close advisors of the Pankhursts, frequently attended planning and fund-raising meetings. Another enthusiastic member, Violet Hunt, recalled selling tracts on Kensington High Street with May Sinclair and futilely attempting to get Henry James to sign a suffrage petition. Like most of the women writers, Violet Hunt was less than eager to participate in the large protest marches that led to jail terms, hunger strikes, and the horrors of forcible feeding. She was excused by the Pankhursts on the grounds that she had to support an invalid mother, that staple furniture of the woman writer's home: "So my nose remains its own shape, not squashed against the flank of a horse—voted by Miss Evelyn Sharp as the safest place of all when the mounted police were turned out to disperse us."10

Nonetheless, the women writers were a conspicuous part of the campaign. In the great demonstration of June 1910, over a hundred women writers marched behind the "scrivener's banner" with Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, Gertrude Warden, Alice Meynell, May Sinclair, Flora Annie Steel, Mrs. Israel Zangwill, Mrs. Havelock Ellis, and Evelyn Sharp. For several years they, and their counterparts in the Men's Suffrage League and the Fabian Society, kept up a steady stream of commentary on the question of the vote and the subjection of women. There were fervent novels, like G. Colmore's Suffragette Sally (c. 1911) and Charlotte Despard's and Mabel Collins's Outlawed: A Novel on the Woman Suffrage Question (1908); short stories, like Evelyn Sharp's "Rebel Women" (c. 1912); and collections of poems, like Elizabeth Gibson's From the Wilderness (1910). Plays with a suffrage theme became popular, not only at regional and London meetings of the societies, but also in the West End. Cicely Hamilton wrote several such plays; her comedy about a women's general strike, How the Vote Was Won, had its debut April 13, 1909, at the Royalty Theatre; A Pageant of Great Women, a capsule history of artists, rulers, saints, and warriors that starred Ellen Terry, opened at the Scala Theatre in November 1909. Beatrice Harraden's skit Lady Geraldine's Speech and Bessie Hatton's more emotional Before Sunrise, on the familiar feminist theme of the girl forced to marry a syphilitic roué, were other well-known W.W.S.L. productions.



Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Manchester in 1858 and attended suffrage meetings with her mother from the age of fourteen. In 1878 she met Richard Pankhurst; they married in 1879 and had five children, including daughters Christabel (born in 1880) and Sylvia (born in 1882). The family moved to London in 1885, and their home became a social center for Fabians, anarchists, and free-thinkers. The Pankhursts returned to Manchester and joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1893; Richard Pankhurst died in 1898. Sylvia studied art in Venice, while Christabel became involved in the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. On returning home from Venice, Sylvia was asked to decorate an ILP hall in memory of her father. When the newly decorated hall opened, the Pankhursts were shocked to learn that women were to be denied admission. In 1903 Emmeline and Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU); in 1905 Christabel and a fellow suffragette disrupted Winston Churchill's speech at Manchester's Free Trade Hall to ask whether the Liberal Party, if it came to power, would support women's suffrage. The two women were ejected from the meeting and arrested outside when Christabel attempted to make a pro-suffrage speech. Such militant tactics intensified from 1908 until 1912, when they escalated to attacks on property and arson and the leaders of the WSPU were arrested on charges of conspiracy. Christabel escaped arrest by fleeing to Paris, continuing to direct the WSPU campaign and editing The Suffragette for the next two years. Sylvia became estranged from her mother and sister when her support of socialist and working-class concerns clashed with Emmeline and Christabel's belief that supporting such causes would impede progress toward women's suffrage. In 1914, the year the WSPU directed all of its energies toward the war effort, Sylvia broke with the WSPU, cofounded the Women's Peace Army with Charlotte Despard, and attended the International Congress of Women for Peace at the Hague. Emmeline died in 1928; the last time that Christabel and Sylvia met was at their mother's grave.

Of all the suffrage plays, Elizabeth Robins' Votes for Women (re-titled The Convert as a novel) excited the most comment. Its plot, which was the same in the play and the novel, was melodramatic but enthralling. Against a detailed and realistic background of suffragette activism, Robins presented the struggle between a militant woman, Vida Levering, and her former lover, Geoffrey Stoner, now an M. P. In the past the heroine had been forced to have an abortion because her lover dared not face marrying her. When he falls in love with a more aristocratic young girl, his magnetic and persuasive ex-mistress blackmails him into backing the suffrage bill with the threat of seducing his eager fiancée into the woman's movement. These motives and tactics were not those of the W.S.P.U., but in representing the struggle for the vote as a sexual combat between two individuals Robins was expressing the underlying anxieties and emotions of many of her contemporaries. Samuel Hynes, one of the few scholars to write about Elizabeth Robins, says that the tone of Votes for Women, "is not that of a debate but of a bitter, deep-felt, intimate quarrel, like a husband and wife on the brink of divorce. When the standard cases of suffering women are brought up—the ruined maids, the Piccadilly whores, the tramp women, the starving working mothers—they are involved in order that their sufferings may be laid to one cause, the sexual viciousness of men. The sex war has begun, and the play is a dispatch from the front, fiercely partisan and militant."11

The play and the novel also give a very clear and reliable account of what it felt like to be a suffragette. Involved in the campaigns almost from the start, Robins made a special effort with her documentation for this work. In November 1906, she accompanied Christabel Pankhurst and Mary Gawthorpe to Huddersfield for the by-election, "to get the atmosphere," as she told Hannah Mitchell, a socialist suffragette.12 Mrs. Mitchell later recognized bits of her own interviews with Robins in the novel. At this point Robins had completed a draft of the play, which she wrote "at white heat" in the fall of 1906; but, as she wrote to Millicent Fawcett, it seemed too controversial and partisan to be produced: "Instead of wearying out my soul by battering at their doors, I shall set to and turn the thing into a book as fast as ever I can. No trouble to get that accepted, however much a firebrand!"13

As it turned out, theater managers were more willing to risk controversy of this sort than she had suspected, and the play was produced at the Court Theatre in April 1907 with C. Aubrey Smith and Edmund Gwenn. Critics particularly admired the Trafalgar Square suffrage meeting that took up most of the second act. The Morning Post called it "a marvel of realism. It may advance the cause of female suffrage more than any number of meetings in Trafalgar Square could do."14 The novel was published in October 1907. It was the first thing that Robins had written "under the pressure of a strong moral conviction,"15 and it displayed a histrionic intensity not wholly artistic. The Convert, however, is a worthy contribution to the literature of the suffrage movement, particularly in its willingness to face the spectre of sex-antagonism, and it should be read in conjunction with H. G. Wells' Ann Veronica. Robins repeatedly suggests that the handling of the suffragettes had brutally sexual significance, a fact that should have been obvious but was repressed in contemporary historical accounts. In the later years of the suffrage campaign, forcible feeding by tubes inserted through the nostrils or down the throat became the standard procedure for treating hunger-striking suffragettes in the prisons; like the Lock Hospital examinations of the Contagious Diseases Act, the whole struggle took on the quality of a rape.

Mary Leigh described her ordeal to her solicitor in 1909: "The sensation is most painful.…I have to lie on the bed, pinned down by wardresses; one doctor stands up on a chair holding the funnel end at arms' length, so as to have the funnel end above the level, and then the other doctor, who is behind, forces the other end up the nostrils."16 Although this practice disgusted most citizens, it also appealed to sadistic fantasies; one account of the suffráge campaign mentions that a rumor in the pubs was that the imprisoned suffragettes were being forcibly fed through the rectum.17

Without being in the least explicit, Robins' novel manages to create an atmosphere of sexual tension and anxiety. There are veiled allusions to the sexual humiliation of the suffragettes by the police: "They punish us by underhand maltreatment—of the kind most intolerable to a decent woman."18 Among themselves, the women decide who should volunteer to endure such abuse: "The older women saw they ought to save the younger ones from having to face that sort of thing. That was how we got some of the wives and mothers."19 Robins herself used the term "sex-antagonism"; she saw the suffrage campaign as reflecting a deep hostility between men and women that finds its characteristic expression in sexual intercourse. Because they are able to acknowledge the existence of sex-antagonism, the suffragettes are free to act; other women deplete their energy in efforts to deny their own hostilities and revulsions. When a dowager protests that she deplores the sex-antagonism of the campaign, a suffragette replies, "You're so conscious it's here you're afraid to have it mentioned."20

Although her main purpose was political, Robins was also interested in a new direction for women's literature. Like George Egerton, she wanted to explore the terra incognita of the female psyche, both for its own sake and for the sake of confounding male complacency about human nature. She referred to male complacency in a speech to the W.W.S.L. in 1907: "If I were a man, and cared to know the world I lived in, I almost think it would make me a shade uneasy—the weight of that long silence of one-half the world."21

Robins further understood that the suffrage campaign needed a new literature of female psychology to raise the middle-class woman's consciousness about her life. Why had such a phenomenon failed to occur previously? In Woman's Secret Robins linked the woman writer with other members of a dependent working class that must turn out the products demanded by the market:

Let us remember it is only yesterday that women in any number began to write for the public prints. But in taking up the pen, what did this new recruit conceive to be her task? To proclaim her own or other women's actual thoughts and feelings? Far from it. Her task, as she naturally and even inevitably conceived it, was to imitate as nearly as possible the method, but above all the point of view, of men.

The realization that she had access to a rich and as yet unrifled storehouse may have crossed her mind, but there were cogent reasons for concealing her knowledge. With that wariness of ages, which has come to be instinct, she contented herself with echoing the old fables, presenting to a man-governed world puppets as nearly as possible like those that had from the beginning found such favour in men's sight.

Contrary to the popular impression, to say in print what she thinks is the last thing the woman-novelist or journalist is so rash as to attempt. Here even more than elsewhere (unless she is reckless) she must wear the aspect that shall have the best chance of pleasing her brothers. Her publishers are not women.22

Cicely Hamilton suggested in a fascinating feminist polemic called Marriage as a Trade that women's psychological conditioning and experience were so specialized that, while superficially imitative, they were actually rebelling against their training by writing at all: "Any woman who has attained to even a small measure of success in literature or art has done so by discarding, consciously or unconsciously, the traditions in which she was reared, by turning her back upon the conventional ideas of dependence that were held up for her admiration in her youth." Hamilton also explored the theory that women writers viewed "romance" from an economic perspective, so that their love stories were not frivolous fantasies, but accounts of female survival: "To a woman, a woman in love is not only a woman swayed by emotion, but a human being engaged in carving for herself a career or securing for herself a means of livelihood. Her interest in a love story is, therefore, much more complex than a man's interest therein, and the appreciation which she brings to it is of a very different quality."23 Hamilton's ideas were on the brink of a feminist criticism, but she bogged down in her efforts to connect women's literature to the specific goal of the vote.

Meanwhile the members of the Anti-Suffrage League, called Antis, were busily proclaiming their view of the world; they also had writers on their side. It was true, as Janet Courtney ruefully admitted afterward, that the Antis inevitably attracted "all the ultra-feminine and the ladylike incompetents,"24 so that their propaganda was not as efficiently circulated, or as persuasively written, as that of the suffragettes. Some women writers, like "John Oliver Hobbes" (Mrs. Craigie), emulated George Eliot's majestic reserve and continued to see themselves as exceptions to the general inferiority of women: "I have no confidence in the honour of the average woman or her brains. The really distinguished women have been trained and influenced by men, and a man-hater I distrust and detest—she has the worst qualities of both sexes invariably. The great women Saints, the great Queens … the women writers,—Eliot, Sand, Brontë, Mrs. Browning, Christina Rossetti,—were all trained by men: they all liked men and preferred them infinitely before women."25 Marie Corelli, who had made a career of portraying femmes fatales, saw in grace and beauty, and wiles and seduction, a truer and more lasting source of power than the vote. In her 1906 pamphlet for the Antis, "Woman, or—Suffragette?" she described her own macabre version of female activism: "The clever woman sits at home, and like a meadow spider spreads a pretty web of rose and gold, spangled with diamond dew. Flies—or men—fumble in by scores,—and she holds them all prisoners at her pleasure with a silken strand fine as a hair." The decorative imagery of gold, diamonds, and silk does little to conceal the very unpleasant central metaphor of the female spider. In fact, Marie Corelli had a profound New Womanish faith in female dominance, and saw the proper relation of the sexes as that of goddess and worshiper. In 1905 she declared that "Woman must learn the chief lesson of successful progress, which is not to copy Man, but to carefully preserve her beautiful Unlikeness to him in every possible way so that, while asserting and gaining intellectual equality with him, she shall gradually arrive at such ascendancy as to prove herself ever the finer and the nobler Creature."26

It can reasonably be argued that the Antis cherished a more romantic fantasy of the evolutionary advantages of femininity than did the suffragettes, and, despite their political differences, shared the intellectual tradition of the feminists. One has to wonder how genuinely Mrs. Craigie despised man-haters, when she felt it "impossible not to notice the inferiority of the English males in nearly every class. I am struck by it as I watch the Bank Holiday crowds. Pretty-looking, refined girls with common, sickly, feeble men. If the men were strong, one could stand their roughness. But they are inane."27

Mrs. Humphry Ward, who had worked for women's higher education and for social reform, was appalled by what seemed the selfish individualism of the new campaign, and she became the first president of the Anti-Suffrage League in 1908. In the tradition of Mrs. Gaskell, "she felt it to be the duty of all educated women to work themselves to the bone for the uplifting of women and children less fortunate than themselves, and so to repay their debt to the community; but clamour for their own rights was a different thing; ugly in itself, and likely to lead, in her opinion, to a sexwar of very dubious outcome."28 Ward's self-sacrificing "feminine" position, which was appropriate in women novelists of Gaskell's generation, was awkwardly outdated in the twentieth century. Ward was sixteen years older than Elizabeth Robins, and as her insistence on writing under her married name suggests, her strongest identification came from her role as wife and mother. She was appalled by the demands of the suffragettes for the personal freedom that the vote symbolized:

So women everywhere—many women at any rate—were turning undiscriminately against the old bonds, the old yokes, affections, servitudes, demanding "self-realization," freedom for the individuality and personal will; rebelling against motherhood and lifelong marriage; clamouring for easy divorce and denouncing their own fathers, brothers, and husbands as either tyrants or fools; casting away the old props and veils; determined, apparently, to know everything, however ugly, and to say everything, however outrageous.29

Ward herself was a regal woman who "played the public personage to perfection; it came quite naturally to her."30 Other women writers reacted vehemently against her pretensions and her arrogance. In 1887, the Irish novelist May Hartley wrote angrily to Macmillan to complain about Mrs. Ward's having reviewed one of her books: "She condescends to allow jealousy and spite according to my informants to bias her judgments of other women writers." The same informants had told Mrs. Hartley that Mrs. Ward's consistent unfairness to women writers had caused her name to be struck from the reviewers list of the Times.31 Whether or not this rumor was true, Mrs. Ward was a difficult and intimidating person, whose own warmth and feminine sympathy were held in careful check.

Yet Ward had absorbed many of the attitudes and prejudices of the feminists. Even in her anti-suffrage novel Delia Blanchflower (1914), her concern for women makes itself felt. One of her male observers meditates on his "profound pity" for women's "sorrows and burdens," for "their physical weakness, for their passive role in life." Ward did not favor passivity; herself an indefatigable public servant, she shared with women of an older generation, like Florence Nightingale and Dinah Craik, a desire to see women's maternal energies directed outward, and she believed in the beneficent effects of altruistic sisterhood. Painfully and personally aware of the deficiencies of women's education, she devoted the early years of her marriage to raising funds for a women's college at Oxford. These were the acceptable "feminist" activities of a "feminine" woman writer.

More significantly, the relationships between women in her books, "the tender and adoring friendship of women for women," reflect the intense bonds of the female subculture. Vineta Colby insists that these intimate friendships, which "modern readers would immediately designate as lesbian," are intended by Ward as "decorous outlets for her characters' passions … not only proper, but even poetic and elevating."32 It is foolish to see the female friendships as perverted or unnatural, but they are also more than decorative. Ward's most powerful feelings are expressed in them. Bonds of loyalty, empathy, charity, and love between women are her answer to female oppression. Ward was also capable of a fierce response to any overtly sexual slurs. In 1913, when Dr. Almroth Wright published a notorious letter in the Times pronouncing suffrage militance a disease related to menopause and digressing on the ever-present danger of female "physiological emergencies," Ward (who was sixty-two) was as outraged as any suffragette. In her reply, she repudiated "for myself, and, I have no doubt whatever, for thousands of men and women who feel with me on the suffrage controversy, all connection with the bitter and unseemly violence which that letter displays."33

Ward shared with the suffragettes, and particularly with Mrs. Pankhurst, a sense that women were united by the terrible and holy suffering of childbirth. This shared experience obliterated class distinctions and brought all women down to the lowest common denominator of the body. Mrs. Pankhurst had been radicalized by her early experiences as Registrar of Births and Deaths in Manchester; Ward was profoundly stirred and disturbed by the pain of her own three pregnancies and deliveries. Clara Duff, after her first child was born, confessed to Ward: "I was so terribly upset by the horrors I had gone through I never could bear to see a woman in the street who was going to have a baby. I used to go home and cry! Mrs. Humphry Ward's eyes filled with tears and she took hold of my hand and said, 'Oh, my dear, did you feel like that? I did too, and I thought it was morbid and no one else would ever understand.'"34

Rather than confronting the sources and the causes of women's suffering in the political and sexual systems, as the feminists did, Ward chose to channel her feelings into the feminine networks of charitable agencies and settlement houses. Impelled by acute sympathy for women in their maternal role, she published a pamphlet on infant-feeding to distribute in the Oxford slums. In her novels, moments of feminist illumination are inevitably connected to the physical pain of childbirth or disease, and the rebellious energy that such moments inspire is rapidly reinvested in feminine altruism. Ward and her privileged heroines found in social work both an outlet for, and a sublimation of, their own inner conflicts about womanhood.

In her most famous novel, Robert Elsmere (1888), Ward gave a cautious but sensitive account of a postpartum depression. Catherine Elsmere confides to her husband that childbirth has been so cruelly traumatic, has brought her so abruptly to a confrontation with mortality, that she has begun to question the fundamental institutions of her life. The pain of labor

seems to take the joy even out of our love—and the child. I feel ashamed almost that mere physical pain should have laid such hold on me—and yet I can't get away from it. It's not for myself.… Comparatively I had so little to bear! But I know now for the first time what physical pain may mean—and I never knew before! I lie thinking, Robert, about all creatures in pain—workmen crushed by machinery, or soldiers, or poor things in hospitals—above all of women! Oh, when I get well, how I will take care of the women here! What women must suffer even here in out-of-the way cottages—no doctor, no kind nursing, all that agony and struggle!35


REBECCA WEST (1892-1983)

Rebecca West was the pseudonym of Cicily Isabel Fairfield, born in London in 1892. As a student Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Fairfield played the role of Rebecca West in Ibsen's Romersholm, and published her first article under this pen-name in The Freewoman, a feminist weekly, in February, 1912. West continued writing for The Free-woman, and attracted the attention of a number of prominent writers, among them H. G. Wells, who was struck by her 1912 review of his novel Marriage. This marked the beginning of a ten-year relationship between Wells and West—an affair that has tended to eclipse West's own success. It was as a book reviewer and journalist that she initially established her reputation, writing for a growing number of publications, including The Freewoman, The New Freewoman, Clarion, and New Statesman in Britain, and the New York Herald Tribune and Vanity Fair in the United States. Many of West's early articles were written in support of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to her journalistic output, West authored several works of fiction, including The Return of the Soldier (1918), which treats World War I from the perspective of the women awaiting the return of their loved ones. West received praise and wide attention for Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942), a 2-volume nonfiction work on Serbia and Yugoslavia that West had begun in the mid-1930s as a travel book assignment. West was present at the Nuremberg trials following World War II, and her reports on the proceedings, originally published in the New Yorker, were collected, along with West's accounts of other post-war trials in The Meaning of Treason (1949) and A Train of Powder (1955).

The pain of workmen and soldiers might be blamed on bosses and generals; women's "agony and struggle" too might be attributed to an oppressive system: to inadequate medical care, to religious resistance to anaesthesia, to the lack of contraception, to the sexual demands of husbands, and ultimately to God's curse on Eve. But Ward's heroine quickly modulates the enunciation of her suffering; she denies it as a personal problem and rededicates her life to good works. Her outburst is nonetheless a brief moment of authenticity in an intellectual novel of abstruse theological argument.

However hostile they may be to the methods and the theories of the suffragettes, Ward's heroines are helplessly susceptible to the poverty and the pain of other women. In The Testing of Diana Mallory (1908), the aristocratic Diana can resist the suffragette debates of her socialist friend Marion, but not the spectacle of Marion's fatal illness, the squalor of the slums, or the sound of "the wailing of babes":

One day, after a discussion on votes for women which had taken place beside Marion's sofa, Diana, when the talkers were gone, had thrown herself on her friend.

"Dear, you can't wish it!—you can't believe it! To brutalize—unsex us!"

Marion raised herself on her elbow, and looked down the narrow cross street beneath the windows of her lodging. It was a stifling evening. The street was strewn with refuse, the odors from it filled the room. Ragged children with smeared faces were sitting or playing listlessly in the gutters. The public-house at the corner was full of animation, and women were passing in and out. Through the roar of traffic from the main street beyond a nearer sound persisted: a note of wailing—the wailing of babes.

"There are the unsexed!" said Marion panting. "Is their brutalization the price we pay for our refinement?" Then as she sank back: "Try anything—everything—to change that."36

While the Antis opposed militance from the right, another group of women opposed it from the left. These were the anarchistic socialists, friends of the Fabian Society, contributors to the New Age magazine in London and to Liberty in New York. The chief organ of this group was a periodical that went through three phases: the Freewoman, the New Freewoman, and the Egoist. All of these papers were financed by Harriet Shaw Weaver and edited by Dora Marsden, a graduate of Manchester University who had gone to jail with the W.S.P.U. in 1910. As Storm Jameson described her, Dora Marsden was "a small delicately-boned woman … with a subtle and powerful mind and a passion for philosophy, I believe, her only passion."37 She was working on a book ("apparently endless," wrote Robert McAlmon) of feminist metaphysics, and her essays on Bergson, Hegel, and Nietzsche helped break the provincialism of English literary philosophy. According to McAlmon, Harriet Weaver began publishing a paper in order to circulate Miss Marsden's work.38

In its initial format, the Freewoman (1911-1913) attacked the suffragists' obsession with the vote as the means to emancipate women, and developed its own philosophy of free love and individualism. Dora Marsden wrote lengthy and increasingly theoretical editorials defining a humanist philosophy and an aesthetic credo equally applicable to men and women; from the beginning male writers were involved in the paper.

The second incarnation, the New Freewoman, was born on June 15, 1913, with a minimized allegiance to feminism and a more general concern for other new ideas. In her first editorial, Marsden dissociated the periodical from the suffrage campaign: "For fear of being guilty of supporting the power of another 'empty concept' we hasten to add that the term 'Woman Movement' is one which deserves to go the way of all such—freedom, liberty, and the rest—to destruction."39 As subsequent issues made clear, the New Free-woman was "not for the advancement of Woman, but for the empowering of individuals, men and women."40 As the year wore on, the writers of the New Freewoman indicated more and more disgust with the fanaticism of the suffragettes.

An immediate source of irritation and alienation was the publication of Christabel Pankhurst's notorious The Great Scourge and How to End It (1913). The great scourge was venereal disease. Pankhurst estimated that 75 to 80 percent of all men were infected by gonorrhea; but, more basically, she argued that male lust lay at the root of female oppression:

One of the chief objects of the book is to enlighten women as to the true reason where there is opposition to giving them the vote. That reason is sexual vice.

The opponents of votes for women know that women, when they are politically free, and economically strong, will not be purchasable for the base uses of vice.41

In The Great Scourge, Pankhurst was simply restating feminist ideas that had been popularized in the 1890s by Sarah Grand and George Egerton. Her estimates of the extent of male vice were grotesquely exaggerated, but popular health manuals and medical texts at the turn of the century were equally frightening.42 The timing of her pamphlet, however, was wrong. Coming in 1913, it seemed maidenly and hysterical to a generation that had seen the postimpressionists and read The Way of All Flesh.

Rebecca West, then a daring young journalist at the beginning of her career, responded with indignation at Pankhurst's prudery, seeing it as a step backward: "There was a long and desperate struggle before it became possible for women to write candidly on subjects such as these. That this power should be used to express views that would be old-fashioned … in the pastor of a Little Bethel is a matter for scalding tears."43 Most suffragettes, however, could not imagine that sexual revolution would take the form of female license rather than male chastity. In this the New Free-woman was exceptional. In its single year of existence, it published some of the frankest material on sexuality to appear for several decades. In specific response to the prudery of the militant suffragists, Dora Marsden ran a series of articles suggesting a prostitutes' guild, like a labor union; she also published an extraordinary piece on female frigidity, which she believed to be an acquired characteristic of repression and economic dependence.

If women are not under-sexed, their sexual apathy is beautifully simulated. It is conceivable that this simulation may exist up to the point of yielding to man, but can it exist through the sexual act? Proof must, necessarily, be largely in regard of personal experiences, and such a record might not, in good taste, be produced; but what else can be inferred when widely experienced male sexual varietists almost unanimously concur in the statement that only a small proportion of the women with whom they have been associated (not prostitutes) experience a normal sexual orgasm, and that the sphincter of the vagina is rarely active?44

Obviously Dora Marsden was not undersexed, and, although she offered space in the periodical for the discussion of such trendy subjects as free love, Neo-Malthusianism, vegetarianism, and spiritualism, she continued to consider these questions primarily from a feminist viewpoint, albeit a very radical one. For example, Edward Carpenter, as typical a progressive cult figure as could be found, wrote an article on "The Status of Women in Early Greek Times" (August 1) in which he argued that homosexuals, or Uranians, as he called them, were more egalitarian to women than heterosexual men. The next month Marsden coolly refuted him: "There is an undeniable tendency in many homosexuals to look upon woman as an inferior.… It is hardly to be presumed … that the men who entertain this instinctive aversion to women are absolutely uninfluenced by it when summoned by women to support their demand for independence."45

Over the year, however, impatience with the suffragettes, and pressure from such male contributors as Ezra Pound and John Gould Fletcher to print imagist poetry and translations from French and Japanese writers, took the New Free-woman farther and farther away from feminist questions. In the issue of December 15, Marsden announced that henceforth the paper would be called the Egoist. A letter from five men suggesting that the old title led to confusion with "organs devoted solely to the advocacy of an unimportant reform in an obsolete political institution," and Marsden's own feeling that the time for rhetoric was past, forced the decision. "The time has arrived," she wrote "when mentally-honest women feel that they have no use for the springing-board of large promises of powers redeemable in a distant future.… They know that their works can give evidence now of whatever quality they are capable of giving them."

Egoism and feminism, however, were strange bedfellows. In the Egoist's five years of publication (1914-1919), male writers, including Pound, Eliot, and Ford Madox Ford, dominated its pages. In June 1914 Dora Marsden resigned her editorship to Harriet Weaver, who made the journal famous by publishing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and extracts from Ulysses. While the literary value of the Egoist appreciated over the years, its feminist potential declined. Leonard and Virginia Woolf both recorded their shock upon making the acquaintance of Miss Weaver, "a very mild blue-eyed advanced spinster," not at all what the "editress of the Egoist ought to be.…Her neat mauve suit fitted both body and soul; her grey gloves laid straight by her plate symbolised domestic rectitude; her table manners were those of a well-bred hen."46

On balance, the suffrage movement was not a happy stimulus to women writers. If they participated in its militant phase, they did get some sense of effective solidarity, but not as writers. Despite Elizabeth Robins' remarks, no real manifesto of female literature was produced; the Women Writers Suffrage League remained a political and, in many ways, a social organization. Alice Meynell, who opposed militance, nonetheless enjoyed her Women Writers dinners and the bustle of the marches. Several of the most committed activists felt frightened by the demanding fanaticism of the Pankhursts and by the dimension of the sacrifices they were asked to make for the Cause. Evelyn Sharp meant to pay the suffragettes a compliment when she had a male character in one of her short stories describe them as soldiers: "'This is the kind of thing you get on a bigger scale in war,' he said, in a half-jesting tone, as if afraid of seeming serious. 'Same mud and slush, same grit, same cowardice, same stupidity and beastliness all around.…The women here are fighting for something big; that's the only difference.'"47 Sharp does not make clear who is being stupid and beastly, but the warlike qualities of the W.S.P.U. were morally ambiguous. The Pankhursts maintained an internal military discipline, as well as a battle with the government; they awarded medals for valor and demanded unquestioning obedience.

Women writers respected the militants for their courage, but at the same time they expressed a combination of guilt and hostility toward the Pankhursts, simultaneously confessing their own lack of commitment and attacking the Pankhursts as being bullies and neurotics. Beatrice Harraden confided to Elizabeth Robins that she was glad when Mrs. Pankhurst thought kindly of her: "I always feel I've failed her by not giving up absolutely everything for the cause."48 Stella Benson, herself a suffragette, caricatured movement despotism as

The Chief Militant Suffragette, who believed that she held feminism in the hollow of her hand.… She was familiar with the knack of wringing sacrifices from other people. She was a little lady in a minor key, pale and plaintive, with short hair like spun sand. She dressed as nearly as possible like a man, and affected an eyeglass. She probably thought that in doing this she had sacrificed enough for the cause of women. She had safely found a husband before she cut her hair. I suppose she had sent more women to prison than any one magistrate in London, but she had never been in prison herself.49

Virginia Woolf, who once addressed some envelopes for the Adult Suffrage League, always depicted suffragists as incomplete and marginal people, seeking in the process and violence of the movement a passion that was lacking in their own lives. She described such a personality least sympathetically in Miss Kilman, the repressed governess in Mrs. Dalloway, and most sympathetically in Mary Datchet, the feminist in Night and Day who fully comprehends the compensatory nature of her life's work:

She had entered in the army, and was a volunteer no longer. She had renounced something, and was now—how could she express it?—not quite "in the running" for life. She had always known that Mr. Clacton and Miss Seal were not in the running, and across the gulf that separated them she had seen them in the guise of shadow people, flitting in and out of the ranks of the living—eccentrics, undeveloped human beings, from whose substance some essential part had been cut away.50

There was also a strong class-element in the response of women writers to the suffrage movement, as Virginia Woolf's writing makes salient. Besides having other unfortunate qualities, Miss Kilman perspires and wears unsuitable clothing and obtrudes her poverty. In joining the movement, women writers had to abandon class distinctions, the privileges of being ladies. In Mrs. Humphry Ward's description of a suffrage society called "The Daughters of Revolt," a dressmaker and a farmer's daughter are included; the prospective companionship of the vulgar and the uncouth could frighten women back to their drawingrooms.

In short, women writers found themselves confronted through the suffrage movement by a number of challenges and threats: by the spectre of violence, by the ruthlessness of female authoritarianism, by the elimination of class boundaries, by a politics of action rather than influence, by collectivism, and by the loss of the secure privacy in which they had been cultivating their "special moral qualities." The shift was too abrupt to be liberating, and in a reaction against it many women writers of this generation seem to have retreated from social involvement into a leisurely examination of the sensibility, into the cultivation of a beautiful womanly Unlikeness.

In The Tree of Heaven (1917), May Sinclair takes her heroine from a suffrage demonstration, to Holloway Gaol, and finally to a welcoming banquet for released prisoners, at which the Women's Marseillaise is sung: "The singing had threatened her when it began; so that she felt again her old terror of the collective soul. Its massed emotion threatened her. She longed for her white-washed prison cell, for its hardness, its nakedness, its quiet, its visionary peace."51 Inside that cell, women could preserve the illusion of specialness, of being different. Outside it, they encountered the complexity of being merely human. It is no wonder that they sometimes yearned to go back.


  1. Westminster Review LV: 310.
  2. Alethea Hayter, Mrs. Browning, New York, 1963, p. 183.
  3. Autobiography and Letters of Mrs. M. O. W. Oliphant, ed. Mrs. Harry Cogshill, New York, 1899, p. 211.
  4. Gordon S. Haight, George Eliot: A Biography, New York, 1968, p. 396.
  5. Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale, New York, 1951, p. 311.
  6. My Apprenticeship, London, 1971, p. 354.
  7. For an account of her charm in her old age, see "Profile of Leon Edel," New Yorker (March 13, 1971): 54.
  8. See Antonia Raeburn, The Militant Suffragettes, London, 1973, for an account of the W.S.P.U. auxiliaries, and Andrew Rosen, Rise Up, Women! London, 1974, for a general history of the W.S.P.U.
  9. Elizabeth Robins, Way Stations, London, 1913, p. 107.
  10. I Have This To Say: The Story of My Flurried Years, New York, 1926, p. 7. When she asked James to sign a petition in 1909, he replied, "No, I confess, I am not eager for the avenement of a multitudinous and overwhelming female electorate—and don't see how any man in his senses can be!" (p. 52).
  11. The Edwardian Turn of Mind, Princeton, 1968, p. 202.
  12. Hannah Mitchell, The Hard Way Up, ed. Geoffrey Mitchell, London, 1968, p. 163.
  13. Letter of November 1, 1906, in the Fawcett Library, London.
  14. April 8, 1907. For other reviews see Scrapbook 10A of Newspaper Clippings 1907 at the Fawcett Library.
  15. Letter to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, November 1, 1906.
  16. Statement of Mary Leigh, September 22, 1909, quoted in Shoulder to Shoulder, ed. Midge Mackenzie, New York, 1975, pp. 128-129. See also statements by Sylvia Pankhurst (Acc. 57.70/13) and Janie Terrero ("Prison Experiences," 1912, Acc. 58.87.62) in the Museum of London.
  17. Sir Harry Johnston, Mrs. Warren's Daughter: A Story of the Woman's Movement, New York, 1920, p. 246. Janet Arthur, a Scottish suffragette, "was subjected to the final indignity of rectal feeding" (George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England, New York, 1961, p. 387). In large demonstrations suffragettes were "indecently assaulted" by plainclothes police (Raeburn, Militant Suffragettes, pp. 154-155).
  18. Elizabeth Robins, The Convert, London, 1907, p. 158.
  19. Ibid., p. 163.
  20. Ibid., p. 238.
  21. Elizabeth Robins, Woman's Secret, W.S.P.U. pamphlet in the collection of the Museum of London, p. 6.
  22. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
  23. Marriage as a Trade, New York, 1909, pp. 183, 196.
  24. Janet Courtney, The Women of My Time, London, 1934, p. 174.
  25. John Morgan Richards, The Life of John Oliver Hobbes, London, 1911, p. 326.
  26. Marie Corelli, "The Advance of Women," Free Opinions, London, 1905, p. 184.
  27. Richards, Life of John Oliver Hobbes, p. 325.
  28. Janet Penrose Trevelyan, The Life of Mrs. Humphry Ward, London, 1923, p. 225.
  29. Delia Blanchflower, quoted in Vineta Colby, The Singular Anomaly: Women Novelists of the Nineteenth Century, New York, 1970, p. 158.
  30. Courtney, Women of My Time, p. 20.
  31. Add. Mss. 54970, Macmillan Papers, British Museum.
  32. Colby, Singular Anomaly, p. 122.
  33. See Roger Fulford, Votes for Women, London, 1968, pp. 229-230.
  34. Anne Fremantle, Three-Cornered Hat, London, 1971, p. 67.
  35. Robert Elsmere, ed. Claude deL. Ryals, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967, p. 265.
  36. The Testing of Diana Mallory, New York, 1908, p. 381.
  37. Journey From the North, I, London, 1969, p. 77.
  38. See Robert McAlmon and Kay Boyle, Being Geniuses Together, New York, 1968, p. 82. McAlmon writes of Harriet Weaver: "When she was nineteen she was caught reading George Eliot's Mill on the Floss and was publicly reprimanded from the pulpit by the village minister."
  39. New Freewoman (June 15, 1913): 5.
  40. July 1, 1913, p. 25. For an account of the history of the periodical, hostile to its feminist phase, see Louis K. MacKendrick, "The New Freewoman: A Short Story of Literary Journalism," English Literature in Transition (1972): 180-188.
  41. The Great Scourge, London, 1913, IX.
  42. In their work in Manchester the Pankhursts had seen the effects of venereal disease on women. In 1914 Mrs. Pankhurst said, "The main motive behind the suffragette campaign had been her horror at the prevalence of filthy sexual disease and moral squalor" (quoted in David Mitchell, The Fighting Pankhursts, New York, p. 141).
  43. Roger Fulford, Votes for Women, p. 256. Christabel Pankhurst, born in 1880, was twelve years older than Rebecca West.
  44. September 15, 1913: 174.
  45. September 1, 1915: 115.
  46. Quoted from diaries of April 14, 1918, in Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again, London, 1964, p. 246. The "spinster" is Leonard's, the "editress," Virginia's.
  47. "The Women at the Gate," in Rebel Women, London, c. 1912, p. 13.
  48. Letter of September 14, 1912, in the Fales Collection, New York University Library.
  49. R. Ellis Roberts, A Portrait of Stella Benson, London, 1939, p. 40.
  50. Night and Day, London, 1971, ch. 20, p. 246.
  51. The Tree of Heaven, New York, 1917, p. 225.


SOURCE: DuBois, Ellen Carol. "Woman Suffrage around the World: Three Phases of Suffragist Internationalism." In Suffrage and beyond: International Feminist Perspectives, edited by Caroline Daley and Melanie Nolan, pp. 252-74. New York: New York University Press, 1994.

In the following essay, DuBois examines the international dimensions of the women's suffrage movement, commenting on the influence of the temperance movement, the development of socialism, and the rise of women's conventions, respectively.

Why Have Woman Suffrage Movements So Little History?

Even with the revival of modern feminism and women's history, woman suffrage movements have been a curiously understudied phenomenon. There are two related explanations for this lack of scholarly attention. One is the assumption that, with the exception of a few very well-known and highly dramatic cases such as England and the United States, women have been 'granted' the vote by friendly (or calculating) governments, rather than because of their own organised demand for it. Nowhere does this pre-emptive scholarly dismissal seem more pronounced than in the cases of New Zealand and Australia. Here, the movement's first historian, New Zealand progressive William Pember Reeves, observed, scarcely before the first women had returned from the polls in 1893, that chivalrous politicians granted women the vote without their having to mobilise significantly on its behalf.1

The claim that woman did not fight for their own political equality is closely related to another dismissive evaluation of women's enfranchisement and an even greater barrier to interested scholars. This is the very commonly made claim that the enfranchisement of women has been, on balance, a conservative development, both with respect to the forces responsible for achieving votes for women and the ultimate impact that women's votes have had on political life. This is unsubstantiated by empirical research, which has had remarkably little to contribute to our understanding of the impact of gender on voting behaviour, since men's and women's votes are only rarely counted separately. Whether or not women vote differently from men, and whether that difference is titled to the right or the left seems to vary a great deal, and to reflect not only the general political environment within which voters act but whether or not there are political factors working on women and not on men, especially when there is an active and widespread feminist movement at work.2

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the claim of conservatism with respect to woman suffrage movements is that it predates, not only the actual enfranchisement of women, but even the heyday of the woman suffrage movement. The charge that women would vote more conservatively than men was an important element in the debate itself, coming both from conservatives in support of woman suffrage, and from leftists, as an argument against votes for women. During the 1875 debate over whether to include woman suffrage in the founding documents of the German Social Democratic party, opponents cited the allegedly reactionary political tendencies of women, especially their ties to the church. William Leibnicht responded that 'opponents of female suffrage often maintain that women have no political education but there are plenty of men in the same position, and by this reasoning they ought not to be allowed to vote either. The "herd of voters" which has figures at all elections did not consist of women.'3 William Pember Reeves's curious dismissal of woman suffrage activism in New Zealand and Australia might make sense in this context, reflecting some embarrassment on the part of this secular liberal over the evangelical forces behind the woman suffrage campaign and a wish to distance organised liberal women from what he regarded as the taint of its conservatism.

The general consensus as to the movement's conservatism is very widespread. Consider, for example, Richard Evans's classic survey, The Feminists.4 Evans argues that while the demand for woman suffrage has its origins in classical liberalism, its achievement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century coincided with and partook of the decline and contraction of that tradition. Led by elite and conservative 'ladies', Evans argued, the turn-of-the-century movement abandoned its roots in universal suffrage traditions, and struck a Faustian bargain in which it accepted property restrictions in order to get the vote for privileged women. Particularly in Germany, he argues, 'The enfranchisement of women was seen both by politicians and by the suffragists themselves, as a means of controlling society in the interests of the "table" part of the population, the middle classes.'5

For a while at the beginning of the women's history revival even feminists seemed to embrace their own version of the tendency to dismiss woman suffrage as a conservative development, especially with respect to issues of women's sexual and social freedom. From this perspective, the campaign for political equality appeared to be the least interesting and most narrow aspect of women's efforts for self-liberation. Here the argument was that votes for women substitutes formal, legal equality for other, more radical aspects of the women's movement, for instance challenges to conservative sexual morality. Among United States historians, both Aileen Kraditor and William O'Neill set the tone for this type of argument.6 Feminists such as Kollontai and Goldman are invoked as alternative heroines of women's emancipation to bourgeois suffrage leaders. Turning again to Australia and New Zealand, Pember Reeves's categorical dismissal of the role of any organised women's movement in winning votes for women was replaced with a second set of interpretations which focused on the woman suffrage leadership taken by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) throughout New Zealand and many of the states of Australia. However, the WCTU's suffrage activism was not seen as a positive force for women's emancipation, but rather as a reinforcement of the confining notions of separate spheres and women's responsibilities for morality, notions that are conservative both in terms of women's roles and larger social relations of class and power. This approach restores women's agency to the suffrage story but pays the price of conceding the movement's fundamental conservatism.7 Is this price necessary?

I would like to offer an alternative, revisionist overview of woman suffrage movements around the world, in which I intend to stress two aspects. One is the internationalism of these movements, the co-operation among women of various nations, the influence that actions of women in one country have had on those in another, and the way that women's international co-operation gave them resources to combat their marginalisation in the politics of their own nations. Woman suffrage can be usefully conceptualised as an international protest movement, or perhaps more accurately several such movements. My own tendency has been to study suffragism in the context of a single country, in my case the United States, in order to demonstrate how much women's drive for political equality was shaped by, indeed part and parcel of, a particular national political history, that it cannot be understood without reference to that history.8 Yet a national focus alone underplays the rich, international circulation of ideas, personalities, organisations and inspiration that sustained woman suffragism over its very long history and that in many cases has been a crucial element in the actual achievement of women's enfranchisement. Ian Tyrrell suggests instead a more international history (he uses the term 'transnational' so as not to suggest global harmony and equality) which takes into account, without taking for granted, the national framework of the political life from which women were excluded and which they wished to enter.9

The other and related aspect of my approach is to challenge the conservative hypothesis, to argue instead that woman suffrage has been, on balance, a progressive development, drawing on and adding to left-wing political forces, albeit frequently in an embattled fashion. This is an argument I have been putting forth ever since my first piece on suffragism in the US, entitled 'The radicalism of the woman suffrage movement', but here I want to reframe this claim in international terms.10

Most obviously, in the years of international woman suffragism's greatest strength, from 1890 through to World War I, it was influenced and spread by women associated with the Second Socialist International. However, especially inasmuch as this development took place against a substantial anti-feminist and anti-suffrage counter-tradition within international socialism, this argument need not be limited to women working within the framework of organised socialist parties. On either side (chronologically speaking) of the suffragism of the Second International, we can find the impact of the World's Women's Christian Temperance Union and the international character of the independent militant suffragettes, who had their beginnings in Britain. Such a reconceptualisation and a global survey can, not incidentally, help to expand our definition of progressive politics in this period to incorporate more women operating outside of formal (and male-dominated) left-wing environments.

This review takes place from a deliberately and self-consciously socialist-feminist perspective. A corollary to the conservative thesis is the insistence that there has historically been a fundamental antagonism between socialism and feminism. By contrast, modern socialist-feminists try to tolerate the tension between the two movements and to make of it a creative and powerful progressive politics. Describing United States women's theoretical and scholarly efforts in the 1970s to reconcile the two traditions, or at least put them on speaking terms with each other, Mary Bailey characterised the hyphen that separates the two sides of socialist-feminism as a metaphor for the unresolved tension, the creative conflicts that this wing of the modern feminist movement strives to tolerate, explore and advance. Movingly, Bailey writes, 'What intervenes in this relationship of two terms is desire, on every level. Hyphen as wish. We have heard its whisperings.'11

While modern socialist-feminism is uniquely self-aware, it is possible to trace such politics back into the nineteenth century, and to argue that they have consistently been a radicalising force in the movement for women's emancipation. This chapter can be read, therefore, as a contribution to the reconstruction of the socialist-feminist tradition, as part of a contest over the meaning and political direction of the contemporary women's movement. This argument can—and has—been directed to either side of the hyphen: to the feminist audience, the emphasis is on the importance of socialist influences in our tradition; to the socialists, the message is the existence of a rich women's emancipatory vein to our history.

Women's Temperance and Woman Suffrage: The First Internationalism

The first international woman suffrage movement, much overlooked, was the World's Women's Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU, formed in the United States in 1874, began as a conventional Protestant women's organisation with a narrow moral reform focus, but soon became an amazingly ambitious, politically aggressive women's organisation. The leading figure in this transformation was Frances Willard, and one of the distinctive marks of her leadership was her brilliant work at enlisting the organisation in the fight for woman suffrage.

Willard profoundly expanded the WCTU by introducing what she called her 'do everything policy', a complex structure in which separate issues were pursued within semi autonomous 'departments', each under the authority of its own 'superintendent'. Within this framework, and fuelled by Willard's deeply political sensibilities, woman suffragism flourished. By convincing WCTU women that temperance itself was a political issue, she led her constituency to advocate woman suffrage, which had previously been taken up only by small and politically isolated advanced groups of women. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the WCTU under Willard's leadership was one of the first environments within which woman suffrage was made comprehensible and compelling to substantial numbers of women.12

In 1884, Willard, in conjunction with her companion Lady Henry Somerset, declared the formation of the World's Women's Christian Temperance Union, an international companion organisation to the American WCTU. The temperance movement had long been transatlantic, following British lines of international influence, and the formation of the World's WCTU had a great deal to do with Willard's deepening bonds with British temperance women. Still, what is striking about the World's WCTU is its movement in western and southern, rather than eastern and northern directions. WCTU organisers in the western United States, who were working to 'uplift' Asian women immigrants there from prostitution and opium addiction, began to see that if populations, workers and vices migrated from nation to nation, perhaps virtue and organised movements of upstanding women could do the same.13

The World's WCTU was spread by American organiser/missionaries. Two of the most intrepid of these missionaries to the world's women were Jessie Ackerman and Mary Leavitt, who planted the World's WCTU's first truly successful seeds in Australia and New Zealand. Leavitt's WCTU career had begun as suffrage superintendent in Massachusetts. WCTUs already existed in South Australia and New Zealand before Leavitt arrived, but what she brought with her was the broader, 'do everything' vision of the organisation that Willard had developed, and particularly the commitment to securing political equality for women. In her pioneering examination of the New Zealand woman suffrage movement, Patricia Grimshaw argues that the international links of WCTU suffragists in that country gave them considerable cachet, as well as access to the whole range of Anglo-American suffrage thought, including the advanced ideas of John Stuart Mill. In the far-flung outposts of Western civilisation, affiliation with the international women's temperance movement was a way to combat the sense of isolation on the periphery. Kate Sheppard touted the case of Wyoming, the sole American suffrage state, in her first New Zealand propaganda.14

One final comment about the internationalism of the woman suffrage movement in this early stage: it did not all go in one direction, carrying political authority and innovation only from the centre to the periphery. Early victories in Australia and New Zealand sent sophisticated women activists back to England and the United States, where they helped to move suffrage movements into new directions. Dora Montefiore, the mother of New South Wales suffragism, moved from Australia to England, where Sylvia Pankhurst credits her with encouraging her in the early 1900s to make her first outdoor suffrage speech.15 Australian suffragism sent Alice Henry to the United States, where her biographer, Diane Kirkby, argues that she was one of the earliest to insist that wage-earning women must be made the centre of an expansive, modern woman suffrage movement.16

As suggested above, historians' recognition of the role of the WCTU in the early enfranchisement of women in Australia and New Zealand was at first accompanied by a consensus that this temperance/suffrage movement was basically conservative in thrust, in Tyrrell's words, intended to 'advance the women's culture of evangelical domesticity' rather than to move women into politics or politics in a progressive direction.17 This judgement has begun to give way in two directions. One strategy has been to learn more and more about the diversity of women's suffrage activism in this early period. Audrey Oldfield, in her detailed study of Australian suffragism state by state, emphasises the substantial number of suffrage leaders who were secularists, not WCTU evangelicals; associated with the beginnings of the Australian Labor Party; and linked to groups of wage-earning women.18 The emphasis here shifts from the WCTU to the larger political environment within which it was situated; woman suffragism in Australia and New Zealand flourished as part of a larger political context of expanding reform ambitions, maturing working-class and socialist movements, and new links between liberalism and state activism, in other words the emergence of what would soon be called progressivism in the US.

Alongside of this, there is another analytic strategy, which involves re-examining the political and ideological content of the WCTU itself. As Tyrrell argues, the WCTU's evangelical roots lent it a quite critical perspective on the commercial and material preoccupations of advancing capitalism. In England, temperance/suffragists and leaders of the World's WCTU were women like Margaret Bright Lucas and Hannah Whithall Smith, from families long at the cutting edge of British liberalism. In the western United States, where the WCTU was an extremely important and progressive locale for women's activism in the late 1880s, the union was a substantial source for the political upsurge of Populism. Willard herself played a significant role in the early stages of the People's party and state WCTU leaders included fiery Populist radicals like Mary Lease of Kansas, who urged her followers to 'raise less corn and more hell'. In the US, these political links were crucial to (although not always credited with) the first successes of woman suffrage. The first genuinely popular political victories of woman suffrage, in the 1890s, were in states where insurgent Populist parties were strong—Colorado, Idaho, and California, where suffrage was narrowly defeated in 1896. Colorado was the first state (as opposed to territory) in which voters authorised woman suffrage in a popular referendum; this took place the same year as women won the vote in New Zealand. The second successful voter referendum was in Idaho, the next year. There were important campaigns in Kansas (1894) and California (1896) which also reflected Populist support.

While the WCTU's class and economic politics demonstrate a significant left-leaning bent, its moralistic approach to the family and to sexuality was far more conservative. This aspect of the WCTU's moral reformism has been widely studied and needs even more examination, but here I want to observe that this sexual and familial conservatism equally characterised the socialist parties of the period. Indeed, in the United States, Mari Jo Buhle has demonstrated that the Protestant evangelical moralism of populist politics of the 1880s was crucial to the translation of socialism, which had been marginalised in German-American communities, into a genuinely American idiom; for US women, she demonstrates that the WCTU was virtually a conduit into socialism.19 To take just one example, Ella Reeve Bloor, legendary founder of the Communist Party in the US, got her political start in the WCTU. In Australia, the WCTU had close relations with trade unionists and labour parties. Here and elsewhere, the Victorian, traditionalist perspective of moral reform movements on sex roles and the family was welcomed by socialists as a way to reinforce domestic peace in the working-class family and may have eased the way for working-class feminism.

Similar arguments can be made with respect to the issue of race. With the notable exception of New Zealand, where the woman suffrage campaign (relative to other countries) included indigenous Maori women in its scope, the WCTU's record on women of colour is mixed, to say the least. Over and over, the alleged inclusiveness of the WCTU's vision of a worldwide reform movement of politically empowered women gave way to claims or challenges about the barbarism or political incapacity of non-white peoples. On tour around England to raise international awareness of the plight of her people in the US, African American suffragist Ida B. Wells charged Frances Willard with aiding and abetting the epidemic of lynchings in the southern states by her readiness to accept the portrait of black people as fundamentally immoral.20 In Australia, as Oldfield describes it, a superficial racial universalism quickly gave way to refusals to include Aboriginal women in the 1902 act of enfranchisement. But again, these same limitations were equally true of working-class, socialist and left-leaning political forces in the period, of which the WCTU suffragists were a part. Queensland, where the racialism of the suffragists was the most explicit and aggressive, also boasted exceptionally close ties between suffragists and the Labor Party.21

Cheryll Walker's work on South Africa is most revealing of this pattern. Woman suffragism, which was first brought to the Cape Colony in 1895 by the World's WCTU, was aided and supported by the rise of a South African labour party. For several decades, woman suffragists negotiated the treacherous waters of South African racial politics by taking the position that women should vote according to the same rules as men; in the Cape, this would have included Coloureds and Africans. Finally, in the 1920s, when the Labour Party enrolled in the campaign to remove Cape Africans from the voting rolls, woman suffragists easily gave in on principle and acceded to this exclusion, earning the aid of the ascendant National Party and the rapid resolution of their demands. Given what she judges to be the ultimate conservatism of these developments, Walker nonetheless comments on the fact that the movement's 'early sponsorship was from the left'.22 Ian Tyrrell has thoughtfully explored the contradictions between the WCTU's decided commitment to Anglo-Saxon superiority and the fact that its deepest criticisms were reserved for the moral failings of British and American society. But here too, this constitutes a similarity to rather than a difference from socialism in the age of empire.

Woman Suffrage in the Second Socialist International

In the early twentieth century and overlapping with the World's WCTU, an even more openly and aggressively feminist movement began to develop within international socialism, with political equality one of its most consistent demands. The largest socialist women's movements were in Germany, the United States and Austria but there was also activity in Italy, France, Russia, all of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, the Southern Cone of Latin America, and undoubtedly elsewhere.23

The figure most identified with this international socialist women's effusion was Clara Zetkin. Through the 1890s, Zetkin forged a socialist women's programme and practice within the German Social Democratic party which became the prototype for women in socialist parties around the world. There is, to take just one example, evidence of a socialist women's organisation in Argentina, the Feminist Centre, working from 1906 through to 1912 with Socialist deputy Alfredo Palacios, advocating the Second International feminist platform, including woman suffrage and special labour legislation for women.24From 1907 though to 1915, the size and vigour of this worldwide socialist women's network constituted a sort of informal women's International, with annual conferences. International Women's Day, which is celebrated around the world, and Women's History Week, which American feminists now celebrate in March, are the lineal descendants of the International Proletarian Women's Day first authorised by the 1910 international socialist women's conference.

Socialist Women's Day seems to have begun in the United States in 1909, as part of the International-authorised socialist campaign for woman suffrage.25 Zetkin picked it up within the International in 1910. The holiday was carried through the Comintern and became a solely Communist observance, until the American women's liberation movement, itself inspired by Communist women activists in the 1960s, reimported the celebration to the United States. By the late 1970s, liberal Democrats took the holiday through one more political transformation, and it became the federally mandated Women's History Week.26

Most accounts of these embattled socialist-feminists emphasise either their struggles with the sexism of male socialists or their challenge to middle-class women's movements, but it was really the balance they struck, always fragile and often upset, between these two political forces that determined their political environment.27 In several of the leading parties, the tension between socialism and feminism led to open conflict between socialist women leaders themselves. Among German socialist women, for instance, Zetkin's loyalty to international socialism was counterpoised to (and balanced by) Lily Braun's greater inclination to the independent women's movement. There were similar sororal antagonisms in the French party between Elizabeth Renaud and Louise Saumoneau, and in Italy between Annas Kulisckoff and Mozzoni.28 But backing off a bit from the continuing temptation to choose sides or to designate one position alone as correct, one can read the fierce battles between them as an expression of the dialectical situation of social feminism, the shifting and unstable but distinct and authentic political territory it occupied.

The issue of woman suffrage was at the very centre—the virtual expression of—the balance socialist women struck between the non-socialist women's movement and the male-dominated socialist left. Had they not forced their perspective forward within their parties, woman suffrage would have languished as a principle tainted by socialism but not really sustained by it. On the other hand, it is not too much to say that had it not been for the degree of autonomy socialist women were able to sustain within their parties from the mid 1890s on, and for the new classes of women to whom they brought the issue, the demand for woman suffrage probably would not have been revived and placed at the centre of a militant, mass, modern women's movement.

Zetkin first succeeded in getting the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to adopt the explicit endorsement of political rights 'without distinction of sex' in 1891. For decades, socialist men had been thwarting suffrage petitioners by objecting that women were too reactionary to risk enfranchising. This time, Zetkin responded that the vote 'was a means to assemble the masses, to organise and educate them', and that it was precisely political organising, including working for the vote, that would 'educate' women out of whatever relative 'backwardness' they suffered.29 Within the International, the first pro-woman suffrage resolution was passed in 1900, but particular nation parties continued to set aside demands for woman suffrage to concentrate on universal manhood suffrage. The campaign led by Zetkin, to strengthen organised socialism's commitment to woman suffrage, coincided with the first all-women international socialist conference, at Stuttgart in 1907. There the International accepted the principle that political equality for women was a non-contingent, fundamental demand which socialist parties must pursue 'strenuously'. A plank was adopted to the party's platform which insisted that 'the socialist parties of all countries have a duty to struggle energetically for the introduction of universal suffrage for women'.30

Women working from within socialist parties liked to argue that the bourgeois case for woman suffrage was a defence of property and individual privilege, while they demanded the vote as a weapon of working-class power and on the basis of fundamentally different presumptions. While full discussion of this issue cannot be included here, two points should be noted: first, that property qualifications on women's voting had at least as much to do with marital as class status; and that many of the leading non-socialist suffragists called for universal woman suffrage, without property restrictions.

What really distinguished socialist women's suffragism from the bourgeois variant was the link they made between women workers and political equality. The distinctively socialist argument for woman suffrage rested on the recognition that the increasingly public character of women's labour had to be matched with an equally public political role. The decidedly non-socialist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose historical account of women's evolution toward emancipation is indistinguishable from Engels's, was a major force in popularising the socialist approach to women's equality throughout the non-socialist women's movement in America.31 'The demand for woman suffrage results from the economic and social revolutions provoked by the capitalist mode of production', resolved a socialist women's conference in 1904, 'but in particular from the revolutionary change in labour and the status and consciousness of women.'32 In the United States, England and elsewhere, such economic arguments came to be widely accepted among non-socialist suffragists, which is an indication of the degree to which socialist women led the larger suffrage movement into new territories.

Substantive support for woman suffrage within socialism thus required overcoming the powerful heritage of socialist and trade union hostility to wage-earning women. Previously female wage-earning had generally been decried as an index of working-class degradation; in the socialist utopia, adult women would be relieved of the necessity of wage-earning. After the 1890s, this was much less the case. The tradition of 'proletarian sexism' left its mark, however, in the policy of special regulation of women workers, offered as protection for the most vulnerable in the labour market, but actually functioning to keep women in a separate and unequal sector of the labour force.33

Through the 1880s, laws to regulate the wage relation only for women workers were advocated in male-dominated trade unions and socialist movements, but women activists, including those who concentrated on organising wage earners and who accepted the desirability of state regulation of the wage relation, opposed such selective legislation for women only. In England, the conflict between these two positions occurred early in the history of the Fabian Society, over the 1896 Factory Act. Socialist feminists, among them Elizabeth Cady Stanton's daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch, criticised the limitation of hours among women workers, while Beatrice Webb, representing the classic trade union position and the leading faction within the Fabians, argued (successfully) for laws against the exploitation of women workers.34 In the complex interactions on behalf of suffragism within the Second International, support for sex-based labour legislation seems to have been the price extracted from women for substantive support from socialist men for woman suffrage. Zetkin, who had attacked special restrictions on working women at Stuttgart in 1889, changed her position in 1893, now faithfully advocating special labour legislation for women.

Organisationally, the intermediate position of socialist suffragists led to the twin principles of autonomy for women's organising in socialist parties and antagonism to collaboration with non-socialist suffragists. Of these, hostility to bourgeois women's efforts was the more intensely expressed, perhaps because they represented such serious competition. The initial impulse for the international socialist movement to organise working women in the 1890s, after decades of inactivity, was the necessity of countering the organisational inroads that non-socialist women were making among female wage earners. Barbara Clements argues that the great Russian socialist, Aleksandria Kollantai, was drawn to the organising of working women and to feminist issues by the fear that the bourgeois women's movement was becoming too influential among working-class women.35

In 1896, Zetkin made hostility to the non-socialist women's movement a fundamental principle of socialist women's organising in Germany. Despite the fact that their programmes were largely the same, Zetkin argued fiercely against any collaboration between women in the 'proletarian' and 'bourgeois' movements and struggled constantly (if futilely) to draw the line between the two. In 1907 at Stuttgart, Zetkin overcame strong opposition from Austrians and Americans to establish non-co-operation with bourgeois suffragists as the official policy for socialist women around the world. Like the concessions that Zetkin and other socialist women made to sex-based labour legislation, anti-collaborationism helped to offset the innovation that strong support for woman suffrage from a socialist platform represented. Anti-collaborationism was more important rhetorically than organisationally, and was honoured as frequently in the breach as in the observance. In the US socialist women kept their sectarian distance from their 'enemy sisters' only in New York City; everywhere else, there was considerable co-operation throughout the 1910s, especially around votes for women.36

Although Zetkin's rhetorical challenges were directed at bourgeois suffragists, she also fought to keep socialist women from being overwhelmed organisationally by men within socialism. In structural terms, this commitment to autonomy within socialism was expressed by organising women separately from men within the party, a corollary to the practice of organising them separately from the non-socialist women's movement. The most vigorous and powerful of the national socialist women's movements—United States, Austria, Scandinavia—followed the lead of the Germans and organised women separately from men. In the US, socialist women had their own organisation, the Socialist Women's National Union, even before Debs formed the American Party in 1902; in 1908 it metamorphised into the Women's National Committee of the Socialist Party, USA. To be sure, in Germany this strategy was dictated by laws which prohibited women from engaging in political activities.37 (By definition, an all-women's organisation could not be political.) But the separate organisation of women within socialism served an enormously important positive function as well, making it possible to set up the infrastructure of a semi-autonomous women's movement, and to nurture an entire generation of socialist women leaders. Indeed when, in 1908, the repeal of the German anti-association laws led the leaders of the SPD to abolish separate women's organisations, Zetkin fought furiously against this action, which she felt would lead to women's eventual disempowerment within German socialism. However, she lost, and her own power within the SPD declined.

Such semi-autonomous socialist women's organisations never developed in France or Italy, which may be one of the reasons why woman suffrage did not come to either country after World War I. Despite the fact that the socialist parties in both countries formally supported woman suffrage as a parliamentary measure, and that, at least in France, there was a non-socialist woman suffrage movement of some size, the absence of the link between the two may well have been crucial. Finland serves as a fitting counter-example. There the SPD was unusually hospitable to feminists within the party, and a large socialist women's network developed, which played a major role in the first victory for woman suffrage in Europe, in1906.

Feminist Internationalism: Militant Suffragism around the World

The emergence of a newly militant suffragism, influenced by the upsurge of socialist politics after 1890 but ideologically and organisationally independent of it, is the third source for the great growth of the woman suffrage movement internationally. While WCTU suffragists translated the goal of political equality into a familiar, female-friendly idiom, and suffragists within socialist parties prepared the way for a wage-earners' suffragism, these independent militant suffragists made their contribution to the revival of suffragism by linking it to a fundamental challenge to gender definitions and relations, and adding a whole new level of tactical radicalism to suffrage agitation. This independent militancy was decidedly internationalist, both in spirit and in substance. Its roots were in England, but its branches reached out, not only through Western Europe and North America, but also to China, South America, Central Europe and elsewhere.

This phenomenon of independent militant suffragism is related to, though not exactly the same as, the activity of those disruptive suffrage radicals who surfaced in England about 1906, and who were dismissed by the press as 'suffragettes', a term of opprobrium that the women themselves embraced and inverted. The British suffragettes are one of the few aspects of the international woman suffrage movement that have entered general historical consciousness, but study of them has, until recently, been limited largely to the complex and contradictory Pankhurst family, whose turn to Tory jingoism during the war has added considerable fuel to the thesis of suffragism's ultimate conservatism. However a new generation of women's historians is offering a revisionist interpretation of the history of suffrage militance in England which better allows us to appreciate its links with the left. They emphasise that the radicalisation of the suffrage movement in Britain reached far beyond the Pankhurst family; that its roots lay in the organisation of working-class women and the dedication of activists inspired by, but independent of, organised socialism; and that the mainstream of British suffragism eventually maintained the political alliance with Labour they initiated.38

The militant revival of British suffragism predates the involvement of the Pankhursts and can be traced to a working-class-based suffrage movement of Lancashire textile workers in the 1890s. Middle-class suffragists with socialist inclinations turned to organisations of working-class women, notably the female textile workers' unions, to generate a working women's suffrage movement. The tactics of this new kind of suffragism were borrowed from trade unionism, and emphasised 'open-air campaigning, factory-gate meetings and street corner speaking'.39 Politically its goal was to pressure the fledgling Labour Party to provide a parliamentary route for woman suffrage. The Pankhursts, a family closely associated with Labour, began their suffrage work within this framework. In 1903, they organised the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), which initially emphasised public agitation, working-class organisation and Labour Party political links.

In 1906, the WSPU moved its operations from Manchester to London and at first concentrated on organising mass public demonstrations, the likes of which had never been seen in any women-led movement.40 Soon other British suffrage societies, including the once conventional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), were organising 'monster demonstrations' for suffrage. By 1911, militant modern tactics under various organisational labels dominated the British suffrage movement.

As the WSPU moved away from Manchester and from its working-class origins, it developed its own highly influential form of civil disobedience, borrowed from the 'political law breaking' tradition of Irish nationalism.41 Christabel Pankhurst, referring in 1908 to the 'Fenian outrages in Manchester and the blowing up of Clerkenwell Gaol', wondered 'how anybody after that can say that militant methods are not effectual'.42 This civil disobedience strain took on an increasingly violent air, culminating in fire bombs and martyrdom on the part of the suffragettes and punitive forced feeding on the part of the state. Sandra Holton argues that the shift from mass to illegal tactics alienated many working-class women, who expressed their suffragism at giant demonstrations rather than in prison. Nonetheless, the political theatre of arrests and forced feedings intensified women's militance around the world.

These independent suffrage militants, labelled by the British press as 'suffragettes', came to stand for a modern, post-Victorian approach to building a mass woman-suffrage movement. The term 'suffragette' conjured up radical challenges to dominant definitions of womanhood. Until this point, bourgeois femininity—in Europe, North America, and their cultural outlands—was marked by a devotion to the separation of the domestic and private world of women and the public and political world of men. Suffragette militance literally took women out of the parlour and into the streets. Parades, outdoor demonstrations, street corner meetings - these were the marks of modern suffrage agitation. Inasmuch as wage-earning women provided the female army that first breached the walls around the public realm, suffragette militance was initially 'viewed as a specifically working class initiative'. But the challenge to cloistered femininity that it expressed eventually drew passion from women of all classes.43 Indeed, the more upper class the woman who made the challenges to traditional sex-roles were, the more effective the challenges were.

In the same way as they had pioneered mass suffrage demonstrations, the Pankhursts inaugurated and then abandoned to other British suffragists the strategy of pressuring the Labour Party to support woman suffrage. This meant countering the Independent Labour Party's insistence that so long as votes for men were bound by property limitation, it could not support the suffragists' position of votes for women on the same terms as men; it would only endorse expansion of the suffrage to all adults of both sexes. About the same time as the WSPU shifted from Manchester to London, from mass demonstrations to civil disobedience, and from a working-class base to elite cadres, the WSPU repudiated Labour as a lost cause and started to move to the right, a shift which has weighed heavily in virtually all histories of British militance until recently. But Sandra Holton has shown that the NUWSS took up the paths that the Pankhursts had pioneered, that of hammering away at Labour's objections to woman suffrage. In 1911, this persistence was rewarded by Labour's agreement to support a compromise bill, which set the level of female enfranchisement at an intermediate position, between propertied and adult. The bill failed when the Liberals deserted it, but the détente between suffrage and Labour held firm.

The example of the British suffragettes had tremendous international influence, attributable to the extensive worldwide publicity they worked so hard to get. The International Woman Suffrage Association (IWSA), established between 1899 and 1902, also provided a conduit for their influence, much as the Second International did for the socialist suffragism of Zetkin and Kollontai. The IWSA had been designed to meet every five years, but it soon found itself meeting much more frequently infused with the spirit of suffragette militance.44 In 1906, the IWSA met in Copenhagen, and delegates brought back the news of the British militants to Hungary, Russia, and elsewhere.45 In 1909, it met in London, and delegates were treated to various demonstrations of militant tactics—mass marches, civil disobedience, hunger strikes. In 1913, in conjunction with IWSA meetings in Budapest, Sylvia Pankhurst toured Central Europe to talk about her working-class-based version of militance.46

Socialist women of the Second International, who had helped to inspire the formation of the IWSA by their example, were in turn much influenced by the feminist militance it spread. Despite their oft-repeated opposition to 'collaboration' with 'bourgeois suffragists', they could not resist the energy of the suffragette example: Richard Evans believes that the mass demonstrations of International Proletarian Women's Day from 1911 through to 1913 were imitations of the 'monster parades' organised by British militants.47

American suffragists were especially quick to pick up the inspiration of the British militants. Many of them were influenced by and sympathetic to socialism, although not party members. Harriot Stanton Blatch, herself a veteran of British Fabianism in the 1890s, returned to the US to organise a working-class-based, tactically militant, independent women's suffrage insurgency. (After American women won the vote, Blatch became an active member of the Socialist Party and ran for office on its ticket.) In San Francisco, trade union activist Maud Younger ('the millionaire waitress') organised the Working Women's Suffrage Society.48 By 1913, tens of thousands of women were marching in New York City and the example of suffrage parades was spreading across the country. Despite the dictums of the Second International, American socialist women cooperated closely with these independent militants. In California in 1911, in Wisconsin in 1912, even in New York, it was often difficult to distinguish the two groups or to predict which feminists would show up inside the party, which outside. In 1913, this suffrage revival culminated with a mass suffrage parade in Washington DC and the creation of a national suffragette society.49



"Women fight for a place in the sun for those who hold right above might."

Stanton, Harriot Stanton. "Our Foe." In Mobilizing Woman-Power, p. 21. New York: The Womans Press, 1918.

Harriot Stanton Blatch was born in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1856, the daughter of prominent abolitionists and women's rights activists Henry Brewster and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Blatch graduated with honors from Vassar College in 1878, attended the Boston School of Oratory in 1879, and then traveled in Europe. In 1882 she contributed a chapter on the American Woman Suffrage Association to the four-volume History of Woman Suffrage edited by her mother, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. She married English businessman William Henry Blatch in 1882 and lived in England for twenty years, serving on the executive committees of the Women's Local Government Society, the Women's Liberal Federation, and the Fabian Society, and actively involved in the woman suffrage movement. Blatch moved with her family to the United States in 1902 and became active in the Women's Trade Union League and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1907 she formed the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women in New York City; the Equality League held the first open-air meetings, stationed women watchers at the polls, and in 1910, when its name was changed to the Women's Political Union, held its first woman suffrage parade down Fifth Avenue. In 1916 the Women's Political Union merged with the Congressional Union (later the National Woman's Party), led by Alice Paul. During World War I, Blatch served as director of the Woman's Land Army, and in her Mobilizing Woman Power (1918; foreword by Theodore Roosevelt) she urged American women to political activism and described the contributions of French and English women to the European war effort.

The suffragette example also shaped the Irish woman suffrage movement, which was only fitting, given the role that Irish constitutional nationalists played in holding up a final parliamentary solution to votes for women in England. The Catholicism of France and Italy is often cited as an explanation for their outrageously delayed enfranchisement of women, but the influence of Catholicism proved no serious barrier to the flourishing of militant suffragism in Ireland. The leading figure here was Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, a socialist, friend of Irish labour and militant suffragist. Inspired by the Pankhursts, she organised the Irish Women's Franchise League, which heckled politicians, held demonstrations and engaged in that signature suffragette activity—breaking windows with stones. In their struggle to influence the shape of the coming Irish nation, the suffragists eventually gained the support of the Irish Labour Party. In 1922, in their new republic, Irish women got the vote on equal terms with men, six years before the British.50

Nor was it only Europeans and North Americans who responded to the feminist excitement of the British suffragettes. In 1912 in Nanking, China, the Woman Suffrage Alliance, an independent socialist feminist group, petitioned the provisional parliament to 'enact equality of the sexes and recognize women's right to vote'. Convinced that the men would not take their demand seriously, they armed themselves with pistols, stormed the parliament building three days in a row and had to be dragged off by guards. In imitation of the WSPU, they broke windows, 'drenching their hands in fresh blood'. Around the world, suffragette sisters celebrated their dedication. The WSPU itself sent a message of support, and in New York, the president of the National American suffrage organisation paraded under a sign declaring 'Catching Up with China'.51 Argentinian suffragists, exasperated with a ridiculously limited municipal suffrage, organised the Partido Feminista Nacional, in imitation of the British WSPU.52

World War I and Votes for Women: Moving into a New Era

The women of most European and North American countries won the formal right to vote in the years during and immediately after World War I. But to grant the war itself agency in enfranchising women is, in the words of French suffrage historians Steven Hause and Anne Kenney, a way of denying the 'generations of feminist labor that made enfranchisement possible'.53 Nor is the correlation quite so precise. Combatant countries—France, Italy and Belgium—did not enfranchise women, while neutral nations—the Netherlands and Scandinavia—were among the first to do so. In some countries, for instance Denmark and Iceland, the war held up the enfranchisement of women, which was already in place by 1914. In England and the United States, the war provided time (and a supra-partisan environment) for the political forces necessary to enfranchise women to mature. In Germany and Austria, where defeat and revolution brought in Socialist governments which enfranchised women, a more direct causal role can be attributed to the war.

Indeed, a case can be also made that the war had a negative impact on existing woman suffrage movements. In France, according to Hause and Kenney, the war was actually 'a setback for the woman suffrage movement'.54 The war split national suffrage movements in two, just as it did socialist parties, and these were overwhelming setbacks. The majority of suffragists in combatant countries advocated preparedness, war work, and service to the state. In Germany, socialist and non-socialist suffrage women both formally embraced the war. In England, Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst became intensely pro-war, renaming their Suffragette magazine Britannia. Extremely conservative political forces were set in motion which dominated European politics for the next twenty-five years and in which reaction against the gains made with respect to sexual equality was a significant component. In Italy, Mussolini briefly played the pro-suffrage card, instituting municipal suffrage for women just as local elections were being undermined. By 1930, woman suffrage and Italian feminism in general had collapsed.55 In Italy and France, women had to wait until the end of a second world war to gain the vote.

While most suffragists became pro-war enthusiasts, a minority were determinedly anti-war. In England, Sylvia Pankhurst broke with her mother and sister to become a leading anti-war feminist. Outside of England, independent militants tended to the anti-war camp. In the US, the National Woman's Party resisted pro-war jingoism, being the first American organisation to run afoul of anti-sedition laws, even before the Industrial Workers of the World. In Ireland, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington became a militant pacifist. The international feminist pacifist network formed by these women, most of them suffrage activists, named itself the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and constitutes one of the most important legacies of the pre-war suffrage movement.56 Among women leaders within organised socialism, Clara Zetkin, who had long since been driven from the SDP's leadership, was notable for her opposition to the war.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the dynamic of international suffragism shifted away from Europe and North America, towards Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. These post-1920 movements for women's enfranchisement continued to develop in connection with larger working-class movements. Despite the fact that Communists disdained the parliamentary struggles which had allowed pre-war socialist suffragists to argue their case, left-wing advocates of political equality for women were still able to make some gains in the era of the Comintern; in Indochina and throughout Latin America, for instance, political equality for women was advocated in conjunction with working-class militancy beginning in the 1920s.57 International networks established before World War I also continued to provide a medium for the ideas and history of women's enfranchisement to move between nations, notably the International Woman Suffrage Association, renamed the International Alliance of Women.

However, it was a new political force, anti-colonial nationalist movements, which provided the major crucible for organised efforts for women's enfranchisement after World War I. Important preliminary work has been done in this area by Kumari Jayawardena with respect to Asia, and by Asunción Lavrin and Francesca Miller with respect to Latin America.58 They have convincingly demonstrated that revolutionary nationalism incubated women's ambitions for political equality in this new period and within this expanded global territory; Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern women political activists were both inspired and frustrated by the rising expectations of native-born, male-dominated elites, who sought to challenge imperial power and to cultivate political and cultural renewal in their new nations. More research is needed to build on this pioneering scholarship.

Moving the history of woman suffrage movements into the age of revolutionary nationalism would seem to pose a major challenge to the international framework I am advocating, but even here I think we will find that there is much to be gained by tracing the circulation of ideas, individuals, resources and inspirations between and among nations. New transnational women's organisations were formed, pan-American and pan-Pacific women's networks linking advocates of women's political equality; the League of Nations and the United Nations also facilitated the international spread of ideas of women's political equality. Finally, it is significant to recall the impact that images of fighting women activists from Asia and Latin America, women guerrillas carrying babies on one side and rifles on the other, had not so long ago on American and European women, who had become alienated from their own traditions of political activism and of struggles for sexual equality. It was as if these historical traditions, set in motion long ago in one part of the globe, returned to their origins, several epochs later, able to reinspire and reeducate anew.


  1. Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia, 212-14; Grimshaw, Women's Suffrage in New Zealand; and Katie Spearitt, 'New Dawns: First Wave Feminisms 1880-1914', in Kay Saunders & Raymond Evans, eds, Gender Relations in Australia: Domination and Negotiations, Harcourt, Brace, San Diego, 1992. Dr Caroline Daley of Auckland University has suggested that the focus on New Zealand woman suffrage as a gift rather than a political achievement comes from American and British interpretations, rather than New Zealand historians themselves, who turned away from Reeves's analysis to study the suffrage campaign in terms of political struggle.
  2. Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia, 221.
  3. Quoted in Werner Thonnesson, The Emancipation of Women: The Rise and Decline of the Women's Movement in German Social Democracy, 1863-1993, Pluto Press, Bristol, 1969, 32.
  4. Evans, The Feminists.
  5. Ibid., 217. See also Ross Evans Paulson, Women's Suffrage and Prohibition: A Comparative Study of Equality and Social Control, Scott, Foresman, Glenview, Ill., 1973, for a similar evaluation of woman suffrage, which applauds rather than criticises its alleged conservatism.
  6. Kraditor, Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement; and William O'Neill, Everyone was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America. Ian Tyrrell re-examines Kraditor's influential thesis that over time suffragists shifted from 'justice' to 'expediency' claims in the vote, Woman's World, Woman's Empire.
  7. Bunkle, 'The Origins of the Women's Movement in New Zealand'.
  8. DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage.
  9. Ian Tyrrell, 'American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History', American Historical Review (AHR), 1991, 1031-55.
  10. Ellen C. DuBois, 'The Radicalism of the Woman Suffrage Movement: Notes Toward the Reconstruction of American Feminism', Feminist Studies (FS), 3, 1975, 63-71.
  11. Rosalyn Petchevsky, 'Dissolving the Hyphen: A Report on Marxist-Feminist Groups', in Zillah Eisenstein, ed, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1979, 375.
  12. Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900, Temple Univ. Press, Philadelphia, 1981.
  13. Tyrrell, Woman's World, 19.
  14. Patricia Grimshaw, Women's Suffrage In New Zealand, 37.
  15. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement, Virago, London, 1977, first published in 1931, 178.
  16. Diane Kirkby, Alice Henry: The Power of Pen and Voice, Cambridge Univ. Press, Melbourne, 1991.
  17. Tyrrell, Woman's World, 221.
  18. Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia, 21. This was made most clear to me in Diane Kirkby's excellent biography of Alice Henry, which begins with a portrait of the Australian suffrage movement.
  19. Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920, Univ. of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1981.
  20. Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale White Women: Racism and History, Verso, London & New York, 1991, ch. 2.
  21. Oldfield, Woman Suffrage in Australia, 63.
  22. Cheryll Walker, The Women's Suffrage Movement in South Africa, Univ. of Cape Town, 1979, 26.
  23. Marilyn J. Boxer & Jean H. Quataert, Socialist Women: European Socialist Feminism in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Evans, The Feminists and Comrades and Sisters: Feminism, Socialism and Pacifism in Europe, 1870-1945; Charles Sowerwine, 'The Socialist Women's Movement from 1850 to 1940', in Renate Bridenthal, Claudia Koontz & Susan Stuard, eds, Becoming Visible: Women in European History, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1987; Jane Slaughter & Robert Kern, eds, European Women on the Left: Socialist, Feminism and the Problems Faced by Political Women, 1880-Present, Greenwood, Westport, Conn., 1981.
  24. Cynthia Little, 'Education, Philanthropy, and Feminism: Components of Argentine Womanhood, 1860-1926', in Asunción Lavrin, ed., Latin American Women: Historic Perspectives, Greenwood, Westport, Conn., 1978. On Second International feminism in South Africa, see Cheryll Walker, The Women's Suffrage Movement in South Africa. This was, of course, an all white-movement. On Galicia, see Martha Boyachevsky-Chomiak, 'Socialism and Feminism: The First Stages of Women's Organizations in the Eastern Part of the Austrian Empire', in Tova Yedlin, ed, Women in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Carleton Univ. Press, Ottawa, 1975.
  25. Meredith Tax, Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1980, 188.
  26. Temma Kaplan, 'On the Socialist Origins of International Women's Day', FS, 11, 1985.
  27. Mari Jo Buhle, 'Women and the Socialist Party, 1901-1914', Radical America (RA), 4, 1970; Boxer & Quataert, Socialist Women.
  28. Sowerwine, 'The Socialist Women's Movement from 1850 to 1940', 409.
  29. Quataert, Reluctant Feminists in German Social Democracy, 1885-1917, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1979, 94.
  30. Sowerwine, 'The Socialist Women's Movement From 1850 to 1940', 416.
  31. Buhle, Women in American Socialism, ch. 2.
  32. Thonnesson, The Emancipation of Women, 63.
  33. Alice Kessler Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1982, ch. 7. In her later work, Kessler Harris has backed away from this assessment to some degree; see Alice Kessler Harris, A Woman's Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences, Univ. of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Kentucky, 1989.
  34. Polly Beals, 'Fabian Feminism: Gender, Politics and Culture in London, 1880-1930', unpublished Ph.D thesis, Rutgers University, 1989.
  35. Barbara Clements, Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandria Kollontai, Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington, 1979, 59. Similarly, Linda Edmonson argues that 'such was the abhorrence felt by Orthodox Marxists toward the idea of separate women's organisations that the potential value of the female proletariat went almost unnoticed' until the non-bourgeois women's movement forced it upon socialists' attention; see Linda Edmonson, Feminism in Russia, 1900-1917, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA., 1984, 171.
  36. John D. Buenker, 'The Politics of Mutual Frustration: Socialists and Suffragists in New York and Wisconsin', in Sally Miller, ed, Flawed Liberation: Socialism and Feminism, Greenwood, Westport, Conn., 1981.
  37. Kollontai's biographer says that when she discovered that the separate organising of socialist women, to which she was passionately committed in Russia, was the child of German necessity, she was astonished; Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 64.
  38. Holton, Feminism and Democracy: Jill Liddington & Jill Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement; Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign, 1907-1914, Chatto & Windus, London, 1987. In addition, there is another group of contemporary feminist historians of British suffragism who have emphasised instead the sexual politics—as anticipating modern anti-pornography feminism—especially in Christabel Pankhurst's leadership. See Susan Kinsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1987 and Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880-1930, Pandora Press, London, 1985.
  39. Holton, 33.
  40. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement, 195.
  41. Rosemary Cullen Owens, Smashing Times: A History of the Irish Woman Suffrage Movement, 1889-1922, Attic Press, Dublin, 1984, 40.
  42. Quoted in Jane Marcus, ed, Suffrage and the Pankhursts, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1987, 48.
  43. Holton, Feminism and Democracy, 35; Ellen Carol DuBois, 'Working Women, Class Relations and Suffrage Militance: Harriot Stanton Blatch and the New York Woman Suffrage Movement, 1894-1907', JAH, 74/1, 1987, 34-58.
  44. Evans, The Feminists, 248-53; Edith F. Hurwitz, 'The International Sisterhood', in Renate Bridenthal & Claudia Koontz, eds, Becoming Visible: Women in European History, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1977.
  45. International Council of Women, Women in a Changing World: The Dynamic Story of the International Council of Women since 1888, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1966.
  46. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement, 535.
  47. Evans, Comrades and Sisters, 68-75.
  48. Susan L. Englander, Class Conflict and Coalition in the California Woman Suffrage Movement, 1907-1917, Mellen Univ. Press, Lewiston, New York, 1992; DuBois, 'Working Women'.
  49. Buhle, Women in American Socialism; Meredith Tax, Rising of the Women; Christine Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, 1910-1928, New York Univ. Press, New York, 1986.
  50. Leah Levenson & Jerry H. Natterstad, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Irish Feminist, Syracuse Univ. Press, Syracuse, New York, 1986, 37.
  51. Ono Kazuko, Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, California, 1989, 80-92.
  52. Ann Poscaletto, Power and Pawn: The Female in Iberian Families, Societies and Cultures, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 1976, 191.
  53. Hause & Kenney, Women's Suffrage and Social Politics in the French Third Republic, 202.
  54. Hause & Kenney, Women's Suffrage and Social Politics; Evans, The Feminists, 223.
  55. Donald Meyer, Sex and Power: The Rise of Women in America, Russia, Sweden and Italy, Wesleyan Univ. Press, Middletown, Conn., 1987, 37.
  56. Gertrude Bussey & Margaret Tims, Pioneers for Peace: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom 1915-1965, Alden Press, Oxford, 1980, first published in 1967.
  57. Sonia Kruks, Rayna Rapp & Marilyn Young, eds, Promissory Notes: Women in the Transition to Socialism, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1987.
  58. The English-language scholarship on post-1920 suffrage movements is just beginning to be accumulated. Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, Zed Books, London, 1986; Francesca Miller, Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, CA., 1992; Asunción Lavrin, ed, Latin American Women: Historic Perspectives.


SOURCE: Lumsden, Linda J. "The Right of Association: Mass Meetings, Delegations, and Conventions." In Rampant Women: Suffragists and the Right of Assembly, pp. 1-22. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1997.

In the essay below, Lumsden presents a survey of the various ways in which suffragettes exercised their right to association through participation in mass meetings, delegations, and conventions.

The right of association lay at the heart of the woman suffrage movement, as it does with all political and social movements. Individuals who gather to achieve common aims exercise the right of association, which encompasses the right to belong. Almost every aspect of the suffrage movement employed the right: When a woman paid dues to her local suffrage association, swapped stories at a suffrage tea, signed a petition, gathered listeners at her soapbox, marched down Fifth Avenue, voted for new officers at a national convention, joined the White House picket line, or helped form a political party, she exercised her right of association.

The right of association evolved from but is broader than the right of assembly, with which it is inextricably entwined. Alexis de Tocqueville observed during his travels across America in the early 1800s that the right of association formed the foundation of American society: "The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with them. I am therefore led to conclude, that the right of association is almost as inalienable as the right of personal liberty."1

Although America was founded on the right of religious association, the Bill of Rights ignored other associational rights, perhaps because the right was so basic it seemed self-evident.2 As a result, the United States was slow to develop formal recognition of associational rights, even though these rights were deeply rooted in the American and British experience. Voluntary associations got their earliest legal recognition in the common-law right of contract. Later, trades-men were free to associate for socializing or for education, but the advocacy function of the modern labor union remained unlawful until the mid-nineteenth century. Courts rigidly circumscribed union activities, applying criminal conspiracy laws to union efforts to compel members to unite for better wages or working conditions. No law guaranteed workers the right to organize in associations until the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933.3 The United States Supreme Court finally ruled in 1958 that freedom to associate for "political, economic, religious or cultural matters" was a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment.4 Like other facets of freedom of expression, however, the limits of its protections continue to be subject to legal tugs of war.5

Although suffragists faced no legal challenges to their right to organize, authorities infringed upon suffragists' rights of association when those authorities refused the women meeting permits or hall rentals. Only rarely did violence disrupt women's conventions, as when rowdies shut down the 1853 woman's rights convention in New York. Women at the 1913 Tennessee state suffrage convention evacuated the proceedings, however, when someone tossed a container of vile-smelling chemicals into the meeting hall. Women faced considerable censure from family, employers, the media, and men on the street when they participated in the suffrage campaign.

Suffrage was both a part and a product of the urge to join that infected women throughout the nineteenth century, first in charities, then in reform associations, most notably the abolition movement. In the late nineteenth century, women had other options for associating. Women's colleges, by then proliferating, fostered female autonomy, self-esteem, and sorority. Settlement houses in poor urban neighborhoods gave many of these idealistic, intelligent young women a home and a career.6 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union helped stir a feminist consciousness. Historian Susan Dye Lee noted the power of association that surfaced in the temperance movement: "It brought thousands of women out of their homes and into the community. It gave many their first opportunity to speak publicly, to lead groups, to formulate plans, and to execute goals. Unity in a cause women could identify with gave the crusaders a chance to express shared feelings of sisterhood. And, having learned the power of association, they began to organize beyond the local level."7

All of these voluntary associations bridged private and public life, culminating by the end of the nineteenth century in the massive women's club movement. Hundreds of thousands of women joined the thousands of clubs united under the auspices of the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Women's clubs served as training grounds for the activist, articulate reformers who steered the suffrage movement in the 1910s.8 "Women saw [clubs] as vehicles for training themselves about public issues and for making an impact on the world," according to historian Glenna Matthews.9 Suffrage study groups numbered among the clubs' many reforming activities. Club women applied the experience they had gained in organizing and legislative work to suffrage in the 1910s.10 By then, suffrage finally had evolved into a mass movement, probably the first of the twentieth century.11

Women found many ways to associate with the suffrage movement. At the most basic level, they exercised the right of association simply by joining the National American Woman Suffrage Association or any of its hundreds of local affiliates. The rise in NAWSA membership in the 1910s indicated the snowballing strength of the movement: it increased from one hundred thousand women in 1915 to about two million in 1917, in contrast to some forty-five thousand members in 1907.12

The creation of a Denver suffrage league illustrates the reach of women's informal associational ties. While campaigning in South Dakota to remove the word "male" from the state constitution, Matilda Hindman traveled to Denver to raise funds. She persuaded local friends to form the Colorado Equal Suffrage Association Education Committee. Louise Tyler, recently moved from Boston to the territory, encouraged the group to formalize itself with a constitution, bylaws, and regular meetings. She also brought the local group an invitation to affiliate with NAWSA. Thus a nineteenth-century prototype of networking expanded the suffrage movement.13

As suffragists banded together, they discovered the power of association, a power that becomes apparent when large numbers of people share a common purposeful identity. In the suffrage movement, the power of association first became visible in the three earliest forms of suffrage assemblies: mass meetings, delegations, and conventions.

Mass Meetings

Mass meetings were the least formal and most easily organized political assembly, with a long heritage in American politics. American men had traditionally gathered en masse in political parties or in trade unions, in halls or in the streets. Polemics and inspiration characterized the numerous speeches that were the hallmark of mass meetings. A popular strategy for citizens to protest unpopular legislation, mass meetings were sometimes called "indignation meetings" by suffragists. When rowdies disrupted a 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., for example, leaders that evening called an indignation meeting, where they called for—and won—a congressional investigation.14

The sight of hundreds and then thousands of women assembled to espouse suffrage made mass meetings an effective visual technique for women to show the public the extent of interest in their cause. Women in Utah Territory won the vote in 1870, for instance, partly because Mormon women's mass meetings across the state won legislators' attention and sympathy.15 The Mormon women's gatherings predated even the widespread mass prayer meetings of the WCTU later in the decade. The site of many Mormon mass meetings was the temple, which provided a safe, respectable venue for women venturing into politics. African American women also turned to the church when they used mass meetings as a mobilization tactic. When the Maryland legislature proposed an amendment in 1909 that would exclude black men from the polls, black women organized a mass meeting at a Baltimore church. The amendment died.16

As suffrage sentiment expanded in the East in the twentieth century, mass meetings grew larger and more frequent. Popular indoor venues such as Cooper Union and Carnegie Hall began over-flowing with suffrage crowds by the 1910s, so that eventually only the Metropolitan Opera House could house major assemblies of suffragists in New York City.17


After assembling together, the next step for woman's rights activists was to place their demands before legislators. Suffrage speakers and delegations ventured at risk beyond the portals of male political power. They had as their role model Angelina Grimké, the first woman to address any legislature. Grimké spoke in 1838 before the Massachusetts legislature on behalf of antislavery petitions presented by women. The disapproval of most New England abolitionists exacerbated her "fear and trembling," yet politicians and the press roundly praised Grimké's speech.18

Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered the first speech on woman's rights to a legislature in 1855, addressing the Joint Judiciary Committee of both legislative houses of New York on women's legal disabilities; in 1860, her speech to the legislature specifically centered on suffrage.19 The legislators failed to act on her proposals, but Stanton's appearance paved the way for what by the 1910s would be a flood of women's delegations to governors' homes, state houses, the United States Congress, and the White House.

In Wyoming Territory in 1869, for instance, a small group of suffragists appeared at Governor John Campbell's home, making it clear they would stay until he signed a suffrage bill. He did.20 Nearly half a century later, the Women's Political Union (WPU) in New York also marched on legislators' homes, where they serenaded them with suffrage songs.21

Beginning in 1868, suffragists attended every national political convention.22 More important, the National Woman Suffrage Association annually convened in Washington, D.C., so suffragists could present suffrage arguments to congressional committees. African American activist Mary Ann Shadd Carey, for instance, addressed the House Judiciary Committee on suffrage in 1871.23 Zerelda Wallace of Indiana told the Senate Judicial Committee in 1880, "We are no seditious women, clamoring for any peculiar rights," before she invoked women's responsibility for home life as a reason to give them the vote. "We find ourselves hedged in at every effort we make as mothers for the amelioration of society."24

Even women from the South, where sentiment against suffrage flowed strongest, chanced social censure back home by asking the Senate for the vote. "Voting will never lessen maternal love," Helen Morris Lewis of North Carolina promised the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage in 1896. A South Carolina woman advanced the white supremacist argument that formed the foundation of the southern suffrage movement: southern white women voters with property and educational requirements would outnumber African American voters. The speaker argued suffrage would curb rapacious blacks and stop lynchings by whites.25

Suffragists also visited state legislatures, for much of the early suffrage movement focused on persuading individual states to let women vote. Texas women converged on a state legislative committee weighing a suffrage amendment to the state constitution in 1907.26 The Equality League of Self Supporting Women in New York jolted legislators awake at the annual suffrage hearing in Albany that same year by introducing two working-class speakers whose moving personal accounts debunked the homily that woman's place was in the home.27 The effect was so invigorating that by 1909 the league arranged for special trains to carry whole carloads of speakers to enliven the annual hearing. Hundreds of women packed the hearing room, crowding out the legislators during the four-hour debate.28 Suffragists started to camp out at suffrage hearings in other states, such as Pennsylvania and Maryland.29

These group appearances were among the earliest demonstrations of the new assertive, public nature that would characterize suffrage assemblies in the 1910s. In 1909, two hundred women in Chicago boarded a special suffrage train that whisked them to Springfield. Twenty-five speakers, including Jane Addams, lectured the legislature for seven hours. The suffrage newspaper Woman's Journal became giddy over the female presence: "All day long the State House was in possession of the fair visitors. There corridors were a-flutter with spring millinery and gay frocks, the air was filled with soft laughter and dulcet-keyed arguments."30

The Journal's overwrought tone cloaked the radical, unfeminine nature of the women's ventures. Despite the Journal's frilly prose, women's appearance in previously all-male sanctums threatened men. The headline of an account by the Boston Herald of a similar demonstration conveyed their unease with the suffragists' demonstrations. "Women Suffragists 2,000 Strong Stormed the State House Today," announced the paper in 1909 after women marched from Beacon Hill to a legislative hearing.31 The crowd spilled out from the meeting rooms onto the State House steps and sidewalks, where the women conducted "great, orderly, inspiring" meetings. "Never was there such a demonstration," boasted Progress, the NAWSA journal.32

Such displays empowered and inspired participants. "I realized solemnly that we had embarked on a new phase of our movement," said one woman after witnessing the Boston demonstration.33 That new phase was characterized by an unapologetic recognition by women that they possessed the right to stand up and speak up in American politics. Marches upon state houses bordered on the militant and demonstrated a new confidence among suffragists in public. They were less fearful of being labeled unwomanly and more assured about taking their places in the corridors of male power, which had seemed so foreign and intimidating. The appearance of large numbers of women worked no overnight miracle on male legislators, but women's persistence began to get men's attention.

Women's presence also occasionally raised men's ire. In 1910, fifty automobiles deposited at the Senate hundreds of women carrying a mammoth national petition for a constitutional amendment solicited by NAWSA.34 Women filled the Senate to hear their representatives present suffrage petitions from their districts. The women clapped and laughed during the proceedings, sparking a confrontation that indicated male discomfort when a bold group of women challenged their authority: When the women ignored his gavel for order, Senator Kean of New Jersey warned them that Senate rules prohibited any displays of emotion. But after Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin delivered a particularly potent appeal, the women laughed again, and Senator Kean slammed down his gavel, threatening to clear the galleries. Silence ensued. "Dare to Laugh in Senate," said the New York Times sub-head.35

The spirit of confrontation escalated following the creation in 1913 of the scrappy Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) headed by Alice Paul. A hint of the flamboyant CU protests to come occurred when the CU's Mabel Vernon sneaked a big yellow suffrage banner into the Senate gallery during Wilson's address to Congress in 1916. Vernon unfurled the banner, pages grabbed it, and police escorted her out.36 In a more serious vein, the CU sent numerous delegations to President Woodrow Wilson beginning in 1913. The presence of women assembled in the White House to make political demands signified a new daring and seriousness in the movement. Dozens of CU deputations to Wilson over four years represented a broad cross-section of American women that included delegations of working women, college women, CU members, New Jersey women (Wilson's home state), and women from all of the states.37 In June of 1914, for instance, five hundred members of the General Federation of Women's Clubs marched to the White House, where spokes-woman Rheta Childe Dorr futilely pressed Wilson to support the federal suffrage amendment.38

These deputations were treated as rude and bothersome by both the president and the press.39 "The President of the United States is not to be bothered or made a defendant," the New York Times wrote of Dorr's defiant tone.40 "From [the headlines] it might have been supposed that an Army of Amazons was going to brandish a hatchet over his head," the Woman's Journal reported of newspaper coverage about a 1913 deputation.41 The press seemed annoyed simply by the women's belief that they were entitled to a hearing from the president. Even when a group of Pennsylvania women waited in vain for days to see Wilson in 1915, the press blasted them for "heckling" him.42 Such rebuffs began edging Alice Paul closer to more confrontational tactics, which culminated in the picketing of the White House in 1917.

Yet highly visible assemblies of women worked some effect upon Washington. One sign of the growing influence of NAWSA was an unprecedented appearance by three members of the Cabinet at a prosuffrage reception hosted by Senator LaFollette in 1913.43 And in 1915, Wilson and his daughter hosted a White House reception for suffragists during the 1915 NAWSA convention. "You ladies have a pretty strong clasp," he said upon shaking hands with Anna Howard Shaw. "Yes," she replied. "We hang on."44 Wilson went to Atlantic City the following September to address the NAWSA convention.45 A visit from the president of the United States to a female convention signaled a significant shift in suffrage sentiment. Wilson's appearance also underscored the centrality of conventions to the suffrage movement.


Suffrage conventions formed the heart of the movement and epitomized the power of association. Suffrage conventions helped women discover a shared ideology and work toward social change to reflect that ideology. Conventions imbued the suffrage movement with a group identity that affected both participants and observers and created the "spark of life" deemed the key ingredient by sociologist Jo Freeman in the making of a social movement.46

The first spark was ignited in 1848 at the Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, where the radical Declaration of Sentiments contained the first formal call for woman suffrage. National woman's rights conventions held annually from 1850 to 1861 (except 1857) continued in that radical vein. Delegates cheered Lucy Stone when she exhorted members of the 1851 convention, "Instead of asking, 'Give us this, or give us that,' let us just get up and take it." The next year she urged convention delegates to refuse to pay taxes: "One such resistance, by the agitation that would grow out of it, will do more to settle this question of rights, than all the Conventions in the world." Woman's rights conventions helped legitimize the movement and the demand for the vote, because suffrage resolutions became routine calls at these gatherings that were dutifully (if derisively) reported by the press. Conventions thus provided an important forum for articulating suffrage demands. When conventions resumed after the Civil War in 1866, the annual suffrage resolution for the first time demanded a federal constitutional amendment granting women the vote because "it is the crowning right of citizenship; it is dignity, protection and power; it is civil and political life."47

Conventions fulfilled several key functions for suffragists that demonstrated the instrumentality of the right to associate. They were the forum at which suffragists could gain confidence and skills as they hammered out policy, devised strategies, approved resolutions, gained publicity, raised funds, and elected officers. Less tangible but vital services included exposing members to new ideas, reaffirming old ideals, and lending the movement a sense of sorority, history, continuity, and progress. One attendee of NAWSA's 1916 convention remarked upon how the gatherings linked women: "The union of generations is shown by second, third, sometimes fourth generations of women seeing each other with new sight and new friendship because they are all working together for what they believe to be good and beautiful and to be greatly desired."48

Suffragists blossomed as they became more practiced in the art of the large public meeting. Conventioneers in the 1910s exuded a confidence in the public sphere practically unheard of in the previous century as a result of women's immense strides into traditional male turf, which included universities, factories, offices, and the professions as well as the streets.49 Suffrage conventions contributed to and benefited from the trend of women moving into the public sphere. The Woman's Journal praised the "psychological impression" as "victors and conquerors" that suffragists made when groups of conventioneers wearing yellow badges bustled along Manhattan streets during the 1911 NAWSA convention.50 The newspaper's choice of language indicated how suffragists were shedding their passivity.

By the mid-1910s, women began to feel absolutely cocky about their potential. One self-congratulatory NAWSA delegate said of the Atlantic City convention in 1916: "The great assembly represented the best of American womanhood: women of ability, women of education, women of achievement were gathered together in a spirit of consecration and determination." The contrast between that spirited gathering in 1916 and NAWSA conventions just a decade earlier prompted one veteran to exclaim, "How times have changed!"51 Signs that more change lay ahead arose the next year, when the first female member of Congress, suffragist Jeannette Rankin of Montana, addressed the convention.

Conventions nurtured the political skills responsible for that progress. "Not Used to Voting?" is how a newspaper headlined a report that confusion clouded the election of NAWSA officers in Minneapolis at the turn of the century.52 But by 1916, NAWSA women wielded considerable prowess in parliamentary procedure, staging a three-cornered debate after which they approved a major policy shift to focus on a federal amendment.53 The press in the 1910s praised both the efficiency and idealism of women's conventions. "Their meeting was positively the most intelligent gathering in Chicago," the New Republic wrote after the formation of the Woman's Party of Western Voters in 1916.54 The New York Post said NAWSA managed its Atlantic City convention in 1916 twice as well as the major political parties and pointed to how suffrage conventions in themselves molded good citizens: "[Suffrage conventioneers] have gained poise, a knowledge of public speaking, experience in Parliamentary procedure, and training in executive management, besides demonstrating their ability to debate clearly, logically and right to the point."55

Such analyses were in stark contrast to the sexist stereotypes that had dominated press reports a decade earlier. A press notice of the 1905 convention noted of the week-long proceedings, "It must be borne in mind that it is a woman's affair, and there will be much talking."56 Women complained to editors in 1906 that what the press termed an "argument" by men became a "plain fuss" when indulged in by women.57 By the 1910s, more women journalists were covering suffrage and the tone of coverage changed. "In questions of dull procedure they are petty," said an article in McClure's Magazine coauthored by a suffragist. "In manners of humanity they are enormously big."58 Suffragists were dependent upon such magazines and newspapers to cast their movement in a positive light.

Newspapers played a key role in disseminating suffrage convention news, and they began to accord more respect to suffrage conventions as the century progressed. The Woman's Journal noted that the press gave the 1908 convention in Buffalo "full and unusually respectful reports."59 By 1918, newspapers in forty-four states had covered the annual NAWSA convention. The Woman Citizen estimated coverage added up to more than half a million words.60 Speeches and resolutions made news, and convention planners scheduled special events to get even more publicity.61 Suffragists recognized that publicity was their lifeline.

Suffragists became adept at orchestrating their gatherings to coincide with the major political party conventions or other events where press and public would already be on hand. The gavel for the first Woman Voters Convention sponsored by the Congressional Union, for instance, sounded with the opening of the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. "It is doubtful if any assembly of women called together in this country ever reached such a high intellectual level in its personnel," the Washington Post editorialized. "[It] marks an epoch in the history of the country of more than passing importance."62

Suffragists became more attentive to the press and sophisticated about currying its favor. As early as 1906 NAWSA conventions urged local suffrage clubs to work more closely with the mainstream press, and a 1913 session discussed the importance of publicity.63 A 1917 convention resolution even thanked the press.64 Both NAWSA and the National Woman's Party, founded in 1917, operated large press departments that were leaders in the emerging field of public relations. By 1919, NAWSA's National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company had produced fifty million pieces of literature in the five years of its existence.65

Suffrage organizations also kept members apprised of convention proceedings through their own newspapers. Innumerable accounts in the Woman's Journal found conventions conducted weekly in every corner of the nation, and they appeared to be the main, if not sole, undertaking of many organizations.66 The suffrage newspapers themselves promoted associational ties by keeping suffragists informed of each other's activities and heartening readers that women elsewhere shared the same values.

Resolutions proved to be an easily digestible item for the press, and passing resolutions proved the most tangible way conventioneers could deliver their message to the public. The scope of convention resolutions over the years showed that the suffragists' agenda extended beyond merely obtaining the vote. In 1913, NAWSA's resolutions included a call for world peace, denunciation of white slavery, excoriation of child labor, and commendation of political economics studies by the General Federation of Women's Clubs.67 But suffrage resolutions predominated. In 1915, the Congressional Union staged simultaneous conventions in 212 congressional districts that churned out hundreds of resolutions backing the federal amendment that the women then delivered to their representatives.68

Besides passing resolutions, conventions expended much energy upon conducting most of the particular organizations' business. Mundane chores such as the election of officers or revising the group's constitution took up some time.69 More important, members debated policies that often were decided far from them but that carried serious consequences for local work. At the NWP's 1917 convention, for instance, a discussion on the controversial White House picketing concluded that it had achieved its intended effect of drawing attention to the federal amendment.70

Fund raising was another crucial piece of convention business. Associations raised most of their annual budget by pledges made at conventions. In 1913, NAWSA started its own invaluable publishing company by selling more than eleven thousand dollars in shares at ten dollars apiece in less than four minutes during its New York convention.71 The NWP collected fifty-one thousand dollars at its inaugural convention.72 Convention fervor so inspired at least one teacher at NAWSA's 1914 convention in Nashville that she wrote a novel in her spare time, published it at her own expense, traveled and sold it while giving speeches in the South, and gave the proceeds to NAWSA.73State groups also raised considerable sums at conventions, such as the $8,693 that the New York State Suffrage Association collected in 1913.74 Because all of its members were under one roof and usually flushed with the success of the movement's progress, real or imaginary, conventions proved invaluable for organizations to solicit funds to carry out their suffrage work during the remainder of the year.

The most important business NAWSA leaders ever conducted occurred after Carrie Chapman Catt unveiled her secret "winning plan" in 1916 at a preconvention meeting of state association leaders. The plan was pivotal because it called for dropping the states' rights approach to the amendment.75 After agreeing to switch to campaigning for a federal amendment, NAWSA delegates immediately pledged $818,000 toward its $1-million goal for the new campaign.76 Conventioneers who approved the plan cheered Catt's most famous speech, "The Crisis," which ended on a militant note: "Will to be free. Demand the vote. Women Arise!"77

Conventions helped instill this sense of female destiny by making space on every program for celebrations of suffrage history. Celebrating a common history created a group identity. "The Spirit of 1848" was the topic of a convention speech in Buffalo in 1908, and eighty-two-year-old Eugenia Farmer read a paper titled "A Voice from the Civil War" at Minnesota's 1917 convention.78 New Hampshire's state convention in 1913 feted the sole survivor of its first meeting of sixty women forty-five years earlier, and the oldest speaker at a 1913 "Octogenarian Suffrage Meeting" in Oregon was ninety-seven years old.79 NAWSA, in fact, moved its conventions from winter to early fall beginning in 1908 so that older members could avoid travel in winter (another reason was so that conventions would not interfere with spring housecleaning).80 The presence of these suffrage relics seemed not to remind the women of the apparent futility of their cause. Fittingly, a lunch honoring the pioneers at NAWSA's 1920 victory convention in Chicago enabled them to finally celebrate the fruits of their lives' work.81 Both NAWSA and the NWP scheduled their 1920 conventions celebrating passage of the suffrage amendment in 1919 on the centennial of Anthony's birth on 15 February 1820, suffragists' favorite holiday.82 Annual Anthony birthday celebrations ranged from teas to a special Susan B. Anthony Day on the White House suffrage picket line featuring banners that quoted her. Suffragists' reverence for their history satisfied more than nostalgia; it placed their current actions in the context of making history. Possessing a history helped them envision the possibility of a future. Conventions helped them work toward that future by offering a forum for new ideas and techniques.

Conventions sowed, spread, and tested new ideas and campaign techniques. Newly enfranchised women voters from Idaho in 1897 told NAWSA conventioneers how to organize in precincts to conduct door-to-door canvasses to educate voters, a technique to which many later attributed the success of the 1917 suffrage referendum in New York state.83 Kentuckian Laura Clay introduced her highly successful idea of recruiting through parlor meetings at the 1904 convention.84 The 1908 NAWSA convention vetoed conducting a controversial open-air, or soapbox, meeting, but 1910 conventioneers hit the Washington, D.C., streets after a how-to workshop on soapbox speaking.85

A look at the 1911 NAWSA convention program shows the explosion of new campaign ideas. Susan FitzGerald illustrated the new open-air propaganda techniques with one of the latest advances in technology, a lantern slide show.86 "Three of the most renowned women in the world"—NAWSA president Anna Howard Shaw, Hull House founder Jane Addams, and Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of Britain's militant suffragettes—shared a dais.87 Talks in 1911 included "The Working Woman's Interest in the Ballot," "What Woman Suffrage Means to College Women," and "The Effect of Suffrage Work Upon Women Themselves."88

NAWSA's rank and file heard a variety of important speakers. Subjects included a 1912 address on the evils of white slavery and a critique of child labor in cotton mills in 1914.89 Russian-born Socialist Rose Winslow spoke in 1913 along with laundry worker Margaret Hinchey, whose working-class experience was far removed from that of NAWSA's mostly middle-class membership. "They bring vital, vivid arguments that carry weight and conviction," the Journal reported.90 Elizabeth Robbins, president of the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), in 1916 was among four experts in the social sciences who argued suffrage would help mothers, child laborers, working women, and public morality.91 A 1917 panel featured French and British women discussing their war work, and a debate by Americans that same year asked, "Should We Work for Woman Suffrage in Wartime?"92 Booths stacked with pamphlets and books provided much more information on suffrage campaigning.93

Ideas were disseminated not only at NAWSA's annual meeting but also at hundreds of smaller conventions organized by the many state and city suffrage leagues. Attendees of Pennsylvania suffragists' forty-fifth annual gathering in 1913 came away full of new ideas, such as raising money by setting up suffrage stores or selling suffrage stamps. They even inspected a model of a county fair suffrage booth.94 Conventions were the "most spectacular function" of Tennessee's suffrage association, according to historian A. Elizabeth Taylor. "New converts were won at conventions, and confirmed suffragists returned home with renewed enthusiasm."95

Exposure to new speakers and ideas expanded suffragists' horizons while validating their own work and beliefs. The exposure showed women the progress being made in other parts of the nation and helped them develop campaigns in their communities. The dissemination of ideas and beliefs accelerated after Kentucky suffrage leader Laura Clay in 1895 persuaded NAWSA to convene outside of Washington. NAWSA met in seventeen other cities, from Portland, Oregon, to Atlanta, Georgia.96

Perhaps the most critical feature of conventions was the sorority they provided suffragists. Meeting in large numbers fortified women who often fought lonely battles in small towns, where they were isolated and perhaps considered eccentric. Dinners and receptions always followed floor business. Songs and skits held a place on every program. In 1911, Inez Milholland enacted a sketch called "If Women Voted," and two other women delivered suffrage monologues.97 Inez's sister Vida Milholland sang a "Women's Marseillaise" at the NWP's inaugural meeting in Chicago in 1917.98 The "Susan B. Anthony" pageant debuted during the CU's convention in Washington in 1915.99 Special events such as Men's Night and College Night lent the proceedings thematic unity.100

One of the most sentimental convention tributes occurred when Catt succeeded Shaw as NAWSA president in December 1915. Each of the more than five hundred delegates passed by and threw a rose on the platform where Shaw sat before presenting her with a gift of thirty thousand dollars and a wreath of gold leaves. "Men say we are too emotional to vote," said Shaw, visibly moved, "but I am very sure that when we compare our emotions in political conventions with the kind they show in theirs, I prefer ours."101

Despite this sense of sorority, NAWSA conventions were no sea of tranquillity. Another important convention function was debating policy and strategy, and it sometimes seemed as many suffrage factions existed as there were suffragists. Suffrage conventions often were fractious gatherings that mirrored the many ideological and regional factions within the movement. "The Convention was chaotic from the start," wrote Maud Wood Park in 1912, complaining about several disputes over policy and personnel at the Philadelphia gathering.102 The perennially upbeat Woman's Journal saw a silver lining in discord: "Even the marked differences of opinion in the Convention were encouraging," it stated in 1913, "as they showed that the delegates thought for themselves and had convictions of their own."103

Discord also had a dark side. Conventions became the battlefield for key decisions regarding racial issues. As suffrage historian Aileen Kraditor observed, white suffragists equated the capacity to exercise political liberty with Anglo-Saxon ancestry.104 White suffragists' relations with black suffragists were fraught with contradictions and the racism that pervaded the era. The ostracism African American women experienced was one manifestation of the role privilege played in the suffrage movement. The mostly white, middle-class suffrage movement often did not work for equality for all women. A look at the record shows twentieth-century movement leaders invariably placed race loyalty above gender solidarity.105 "Even the more radical suffragists appealed to racist attitudes to win support for woman suffrage," said historian Kay Sloan.106 Northern white suffragists found it easier to practice racial tolerance in the abstract.107 Susan B. Anthony, for instance, declined in the name of "expediency" to help African American women form a local branch of NAWSA in Atlanta.108 Historian Paula Giddings has characterized white suffragists' attitude toward their African American counterparts as one of "patronizing arrogance."109

Black women generally were excluded from the decision-making body of NAWSA and were not recognized as a group to be included in general deliberations.110 Adella Hunt Logan, a former assistant principal of the Tuskegee Institute and lifelong member of NAWSA, for instance, was not allowed to attend suffrage conventions in the South.111 Suffrage newspapers advised southern readers on how white supremacy could be maintained despite woman suffrage.112 To appease the South and its powerful politicians, NAWSA officially embarked upon a policy of racial discrimination at the 1903 NAWSA convention, when members implicitly endorsed white supremacy by passing a resolution endorsing a states' rights approach.113 In addition to sanctioning racism, the states' rights policy derailed the movement by axing the more expeditious campaign for a federal constitutional amendment. Even long after ditching the states' rights approach, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt in 1919 asked Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women, to encourage the black National Association of the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs to withdraw its application for admission to NAWSA because she feared the pending federal amendment would lose southern support if NAWSA accepted the black clubs. "White women simply were willing to let black women go down the proverbial drain to get the vote for themselves," observed Giddings.114

Ironically, NAWSA welcomed prominent African American speakers even as it rejected African American members. Terrell addressed several NAWSA conventions beginning in 1898 and delivered a tribute to Frederick Douglass at the sixtieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention in 1908.115Crisis editor W. E. B. Du Bois also addressed NAWSA conventions several times.116 More typical was the condescending snub Anthony handed Hunt Logan when the Atlanta University graduate asked to address the 1897 NAWSA convention. Anthony replied that an appearance by an "inferior speaker" would hurt both Logan's race and the suffrage movement.117

Despite such rebuffs from white groups, African Americans worked for woman suffrage because they saw the vote as integral to racial uplift.118 Perhaps because their heritage of slavery and segregation made them especially sensitive to the need for political power, southern women led the black suffrage movement. The most influential black suffrage leaders—Terrell, Hunt Logan, Mary Ann Shadd Carey, Ida Wells-Barnett, and Frances Harper—all were natives of the South. Long before most of their white southern peers worked for the vote, southern black women worked for suffrage in nineteenth-century organizations such as the Phillis Wheatley Club of New Orleans. As late at 1908, the Woman's Journal's only subscribers in Alabama were African American women or organizations.119

Many of the myriad African American women's organizations in every corner of the nation supported suffrage—temperance unions, church organizations, fraternal societies, and women's clubs.120 Many African American suffragists found sorority in the largest and most influential African American women's club, the forty-thousand-member NACW, which included a large suffrage department.121 Shadd Carey had organized the first African American organization devoted solely to woman suffrage, the Colored Woman's Progressive Franchise Association in Washington, D.C., in 1880. In the twentieth century, African American journalist Ida Wells-Barnett formed the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago in 1913, and at least twenty black women suffrage organizations or groups existed by the mid-1910s.122

Other Suffrage Assemblies

Conventions, delegations, and mass meetings were integral to giving shape and form to the suffrage movement. They all, however, mirrored traditionally male forms of political assembly. As the movement began to coalesce, a wide range of innovative suffrage assemblies surfaced in new shapes. What set them apart from the initial suffrage assemblies was that they usually bore a distinctively feminine touch, indicating a burgeoning sense of self and confidence in their sponsors. A "banner meeting" of the New York Woman Suffrage Party to celebrate its new headquarters included singing, recitations, and a social half-hour.123 New York suffragists sponsored a "Hop-ping for Suffrage" contest.124 The Women's Political Union sponsored a "Votes for Women" ball at which women from the United Garment Workers Union mingled with society matrons.125 Suffrage swimming races and potato sack races enlivened an open-air campaign across Long Island.126 Determined to win recruits, suffragists in the 1910s went all out to imbue their assemblies with conviviality. Some suffragists touted their social political style as evidence of women's political superiority. "We began to dance about our cause at great balls," said suffrage leader Harriot Stanton Blatch of the New York campaign. "Men's idea was different. They could not ask for the vote for village constables without getting into a brawl over it. Their democracy grew by riots, revolutions, wars. Women conquered in peace and quiet, with some fun."127


IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born to slaves in Holly Springs, Missouri, on July 16, 1862, six months before the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. She attended Shaw University (later renamed Rust College), a school established for freedmen after the Civil War. As the eldest child, Wells-Barnett assumed the care of her younger siblings following the death of their parents in the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. She taught school for a time in Holly Springs, and later moved to Memphis, Tennessee. In 1884, she sued the Chesapeake, Ohio, and Southwestern Railroad after she was physically removed from a train for refusing to move from the whites-only "ladies" car (for which she had purchased a ticket) to the segregated, blacks-only coach. Wells-Barnett wrote about deplorable conditions in local black schools in a Memphis newspaper, and was subsequently fired from her teaching job. After the office of her employer, Free Speech, was destroyed following her stories on the evils of lynching, fear for her safety forced Wells-Barnett to leave Memphis. She moved to New York City. In her two published accounts of lynching practices, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892) and A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, 1892-1893-1894 (1895), she indicts the hypocrisy of American whites who used any pretext, such as trumped-up rape charges and miscegenation laws, to justify the murder of American blacks. She also lectured in Europe, raising international awareness of lynching practices in the American South. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895, and devoted several years to motherhood. She later returned to her equal rights activism, and founded the first women's suffrage club for black women. Toward the end of the 1920s she began her autobiography, which her daughter, Alfreda Duster, published posthumously in 1970 as Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. An edited version of The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells was published in 1995.

Suffrage assemblies also attempted to meet the special needs of women. A baby rest tent at a Tennessee chatauqua provided free baby care. "In this way the first impression of our cause received by many a tired mother was that it meant to help her," noted one of the organizers. Suffrage baby shows in upstate New York attracted mothers to talks about children's health care. In Nashville, suffragists operated a sewing room in winter for unemployed women.128 These assemblies seemed more earnest than simply an attempt by suffragists to prove citizenship and domesticity were not mutually exclusive. Even as critics heaped criticism upon suffragists for their "unwomanliness," suffragists celebrated feminine skills.

The work of the New York Woman Suffrage Party in the 1910s demonstrated the breadth of assemblies sponsored by suffrage organizations. The "What is Going On" column in the Woman Voter newsletter listed twenty-three suffrage activities in the boroughs in a month. The East Side Equal Rights League, for instance, offered programs for its numerous immigrant residents every day of the week: on Tuesday, a social gathering; Wednesday, a suffrage history lecture; Thursday, physical culture and dancing; Friday, a class for young women; Saturday, a discussion of current events; and Sunday, a concert and dance.129 The hallmarks of suffrage gatherings were their creativity and sensitivity to the need or desire to imbue them with a sense of community.

Suffragists frequently found community in the traditionally feminine venue of preparing and sharing food. Sharing meals gave women emotional sustenance. While canvassing for petition signatures in 1913, Syracuse women eased that lonely, frustrating task with a picnic supper at a solicitor's home at the start of their evening, returning at nine o'clock to compare notes.130 Tennessee suffragists added a regional flair by sponsoring suffrage barbecues.131 A suffrage banquet proved the highlight of the anniversary celebration of the Woman's Era Club, an African American woman's club in Boston.132 The Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association suffrage store lured visitors with colorful window displays; once inside, they found petition forms and literature alongside the tea and cakes, and speakers discussed suffrage daily at noon.133 Later, the "Sunflower Lunch" room of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government served up suffrage sorority along with sandwiches, as did the "Grated Door" at the NWP's headquarters in Washington, D.C.134

Teatime proved a congenial assembly for marshaling ideas or recruiting members, partly because the parlor was a safe, familiar gathering place for women just beginning to consider joining the movement. At age 104, suffragist Sylvie Thegson reminisced about conducting parlor meetings: "You had these little afternoon gatherings of women, maybe six or eight women. You had a cup of tea. A little social gathering. While we were drinking tea, I gave a little talk and they asked questions about what was going on.… It was a lot better, I thought at the time, than to have a lecture. Because a lot of them wouldn't go to a lecture."135

The militant NWP probably sponsored more teas than pickets as well as a Christmas card party, dance, and ball.136 New York City suffragists and the female reporters who covered them became close after gathering daily for years to trade news over tea at suffrage headquarters.137 No matter what form they took, suffrage assemblies always included opportunity for restorative sorority.

Suffrage Novelties

One way women showed their association with suffrage even when alone was to buy, display, or wear the many novelties spawned by the movement. Pins, sashes, and other regalia served as icons that expressed more powerfully than words a woman's support for suffrage. "Wearing the Suffrage badge implies courage and enthusiasm when the cause is unpopular," wrote Alice Park of California, who collected 178 pins. "It is one of the easy ways to advertise votes for women among strangers."138 Souvenir seekers could find many more whimsical items that announced their support for votes for women at suffrage stores that opened their doors in cities. Novelties included suffrage soap, crackers, pin cushions, umbrellas, notepaper, gold-edged china stamped with "Votes for Women," jugs, and a doll wearing a suffrage-yellow sash and hat.139 The Woman Suffrage Cook-Book featured seven hundred recipes; the College Suffrage Calendar contained a suffrage quote for every day of the year; a Chicago club's postcard displayed a girl clad in yellow; a suffrage jigsaw puzzle targeted children, and the Women's Political Union's purple, green, and white playing cards cost twenty-five cents. "A good suffragist will hardly play bridge without her own cards," said the New York Times.140 NAWSA sold music sheets for the many suffrage songs that also united women, such as "For Women," sung to the tune of "Dixie," and the "Suffrage Song" to the tune of "America."141 A Pennsylvania woman showed her colors by planting a suffrage garden filled, of course, with yellow flowers.142

The feminine cast of many suffrage articles and activities masked the revolutionary nature of the social movement that spawned them. The suffrage movement threatened many men and women who feared women's entrance into politics would upend the social order. Suffrage baby tents and suffrage cookbooks could help divert opposition by their link to mothering and the home, but less domestically endowed assemblies provoked outright antagonism.

The Woman's Party

Shock waves reverberated through the male political establishment when the Woman's Party of Western Voters organized in 1916. The Woman's Party convention marked the first time women organized their own political party, one of the most powerful forms of the right of association. By 1916, women were voting in thirteen states. Almost immediately, Republican and Progressive men also convening in Chicago came to curry the women's political favor, a "refreshing sight" in the view of the New Republic.143

Yet the specter of women forming their own political party sent chills up many men's spines. The New York Times castigated "the influence of sex for political blackmail." It feared the Woman's Party would rip apart the social fabric of the nation. "The Woman's Party has lighted a firebrand," an editorial warned.144 Indeed, the WP immediately began campaigning against all Democratic candidates in the Western states where women voted to protest the Democratic administration's failure to act on suffrage. Although relatively unsuccessful, the campaign enraged politicians as well as many suffragists, principally the leaders of NAWSA, who believed it counterproductive.145

Male fear of assemblies of independent women spiraled to near-hysterical heights when a prominent suffragist called upon New York City women to strike for one day in 1915 to show how essential women had become in the public sphere. Her theory was the city would grind to a halt if women abandoned their jobs in offices and factories or as teachers, nurses, servants, telephone operators, sales clerks, and settlement workers.146 Although representatives of the Woman's Trade Union League, social clubs, suffrage organizations, and settlement houses met to discuss the plan, it was abandoned because it drew so much ire. "A promise by everybody never to say again that woman's place is home would be a small price to pay for the escape from the effects of such a strike," the Times wrote.147 The over-reaction to the suggested strike revealed fear that chaos would occur if women rebelled against their assigned supportive roles in American society. It also acknowledged the potential power of women in association.

It is inconceivable that the woman's suffrage movement could have coalesced into any kind of political or social force without the right of association, the basic building block of a social or political movement. Until at least two people join forces to promote an idea, any effort to convert others to that idea or to effect change is no more than agitation by an individual. The more individuals who associate for a cause, the more significant the social movement, until it achieves critical mass. The associational ties that develop among followers as a movement grows increase individuals' devotion to a cause and their sense of possibilities for it. Associating with other women who shared their belief that they should vote reinforced suffragists' sense that they had been wronged by federal and state governments and that they had a right to demand a role in their government.

Suffrage associations in clubs, mass meetings, delegations, and conventions bore some fruit in the nineteenth century. A joint resolution for a federal suffrage amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878 and voted upon in 1887 in the Senate, where it fizzled, sixteen to thirty-four. By 1896, however, women were voting in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.148

Then suffrage hit a wall. The problem was that conventions preached only to the converted, so that contrary to their rebellious roots, conventions by the turn of the century had become staid, insular affairs populated by white-haired women and neglected by the press. Radcliffe College student Maud Wood Park was appalled when she discovered that the 1900 NAWSA convention consisted of roughly one hundred older women meeting in the basement of a church. The first speaker presented a state report in rhyme.149

Procedural minutiae dominated convention agendas. Prayers, welcoming speeches, and the reading of letters, for instance, filled most of the first night of the 1906 NAWSA convention in Baltimore, Maryland. The greeting from the state association president set the tone: "Conservative—what a sweet-sounding word—what an ark for the timid soul!"150 Reports from the states, a round of pleasant club receptions, and a "lively discussion" on whether to use the NAWSA label on its stationery nearly completed the program.151 The insular atmosphere of conventions ensured that they made a rather limited impact upon politicians and the public. Before conventions could resume their role as dynamic fulcrums for suffrage activism, suffragists had to discover the power of taking their message to the streets.

Near the end of the first decade of the new century, a new breed of suffragist emerged willing to take the movement from the safety of convention halls to the unpredictable streets. It was time to test a new facet of the right of assembly, a facet that planted suffragists in the rollicking public sphere.


  1. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 4th ed. (New York: Henry G. Langley, 1845), 1:209.
  2. Melvin Rishe, Note, "Freedom of Assembly," DePaul Law Review 15 (1966): 339.
  3. Abernathy, Right of Assembly, 173, 180, 187. The turning point came in Commonwealth v. Hunt, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court said it was not a conspiracy for workers to associate or use their association's strength to agitate for better working conditions. Ibid., 182.
  4. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 461 (1958). The U.S. Supreme Court implied freedom of assembly extended beyond a physical assemblage in DeJonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353 (1937). It found political associations protected under the First Amendment in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 237 (1957).
  5. The most raucous debates about rights of association have predictably involved controversial organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Communist Party, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the dawn of the civil rights movement. Rights of association generally end where criminal conspiracy begins, although the acceptability of a group's ideology has affected United States Supreme Court rulings. The Communist Party has fared particularly poorly in court battles over its members' rights of association. See Albertson v. Subversive Activities Control Board, 382 U.S. 70 (1965); Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109 (1959); Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957); and Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 464 (1951). In contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court has been quite protective of the right of civil rights supporters to freely associate. See NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958) (membership lists need not be publicized). The Court continued to allow states to compel disclosure of KKK membership lists because it was a terroristic organization, as established in Bryant v. Zimmerman, 278 U.S. 63 (1928).
  6. See Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), 276-83, 299-303.
  7. Lee, "Trampling Out the Vintage," 24.
  8. Meredith Tax, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), 32. For discussions of the women's club movement, see Karen Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1980); Paula Giddings, "'To Be a Woman Sublime': The Ideas of the National Black Women's Club Movement (to 1917)," in When and Where I Enter … The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, by Giddings (New York: William Morrow, 1984), 95-118; Gerda Lerner, "Early Community Work of Black Clubwomen," Journal of Negro History 59 (Apr. 1974): 158-67; Scott, Natural Allies; and Anne Firor Scott, "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Associations," Journal of Southern History 56 (Feb. 1990): 3-22.
  9. Matthews, Rise of Public Woman, 159.
  10. "Women's Clubs and Suffrage," Woman's Journal, 18 Oct. 1913, 332.
  11. Cott, Grounding of Modern Feminism, 30; and Ellen Carol DuBois, "Working Women, Class Relations, and Suffrage Militance: Harriot Stanton Blatch and the New York Woman Suffrage Movement, 1894-1909," Journal of American History 74 (1987): 35.
  12. Kraditor, Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 7. In comparison, 13,150 women belonged in 1893. Ibid.
  13. Beeton, Women Vote in the West, 110.
  14. "Parade Protest Arouses Senate," New York Times, 5 Mar. 1912, 8.
  15. Beeton, Women Vote in the West, 32. Mormon women employed the technique again (unsuccessfully) in 1886 to protest Congress' plans to repeal woman suffrage as part of its antipolygamy campaign. Ibid., 76.
  16. Cynthia Neverdon-Morton, Afro-American Women of the South and the Advancement of the Race, 1895-1925 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1989), 177.
  17. Katzenstein, Lifting the Curtain, 83; "Votes for Women at the Home Stretch," Reel 58, NAWSA Papers; and "New York's Victory Convention," Woman Citizen, 1 Dec. 1917, 12.
  18. Lerner, Grimké Sisters, 218, 222.
  19. Flexner, Century of Struggle, 86.
  20. Beeton, Women Vote in the West, 4.
  21. "One Hundred Earnest Suffragets [sic] March Streets to Home of State Senator Walters," Syracuse Journal, n.d., n.p., Reel 1, microfilm edition, Papers of Harriot Stanton Blatch, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (hereafter cited as HSB Papers).
  22. Grimes, Puritan Ethic, 80.
  23. Sterling, We Are Your Sisters, 412.
  24. Anne Firor Scott and Andrew Scott, One Half the People: the Fight for Woman Suffrage, (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1975), 97.
  25. Ibid., 103, 105.
  26. A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas, (Austin: Ellen C. Temple,1987), 119.
  27. "Two Speeches by Independent Women," Reel 1, HSB Papers.
  28. "Women in Albany in Ballot Battle," Progress, 25 Feb. 1909, 1. The WPU later sent women to watch the polls, which involved considerable bravery because it could involve challenging the credentials of some of the city's "burliest citizens," as one newspaper put it. Several observers were arrested in Hell's Kitchen in 1910, but charges of obstructing the election were dropped. "College Girl Challenges Bowery Voters," unidentified newspaper clipping; and "Magistrates Uphold Women Watchers," New York Evening Sun, 14 Sept. 1910, n.p., both in Reel 1, HSB Papers.
  29. "On to the Capitol, Suffragists Cry," unidentified newspaper clipping, Reel 64, NAWSA Papers; and "Pilgrimage to the Opening of the Maryland Legislature" Suffragist, 10 Jan. 1914, 7.
  30. "Record Broken in Illinois," Woman's Journal, 25 Apr. 1909, 65.
  31. Qtd. in "Broke All Records," Woman's Journal, 27 Jan. 1909, 34. Other newspapers also used war imagery to describe suffragist visits to legislatures. See "Suffrage Army Takes State Capitol in Silent Attack," New York Evening Mail; and "Women Storm Albany," New York Daily Tribune, both in Reel 1, HSB Papers.
  32. "Woman Suffrage Demonstration in Boston," Progress, Mar. 1909, 4.
  33. "The Great Boston Meeting," Progress, Apr. 1909, 1.
  34. "Woman Suffragists Storm Congress with Petitions for Votes, Filling Galleries and Overwhelming Proceedings with Applause," New York Herald, 19 Apr. 1910, 4.
  35. "Suffragists Storm National Capitol," New York Times, 19 Apr. 1910, 1.
  36. Mabel Vernon, "Speaker for Suffrage and Petitioner for Peace," interview by Amelia Fry, Suffragists Oral History Collection, Univ. of California, Berkeley, micro-fiche edition (Sanford, N.C.: Microfilm Corp. of America, 1980) (hereafter cited as Vernon interview), 68-69; and Inez Haynes Irwin, The Story of the Woman's Party, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1921), 183-86.
  37. Report of the Congressional Union, May 1913, Reel 87, National Woman's Party Papers: The Suffrage Years 1913-1920, microfilm edition, ed. Thomas Pardo. (Sanford, N.C.: Microfilm Corp. of America, 1979) (hereafter cited as NWP Papers: The Suffrage Years).
  38. "President Refuses Aid to Deputation," Suffragist, 27 June 1914, 3.
  39. "Heckling the President," Suffragist, 11 June 1914, 2.
  40. Qtd. in Irwin, Story of the Woman's Party, 64.
  41. "Polite to the President," Woman's Journal, 13 Dec. 1913, 396; and "President Will Favor Committee," Woman's Journal, 13 Dec. 1913, 393. The CU also sponsored mass meetings, lectures, receptions, tableaux, benefits, and teas. Irwin, Story of the Woman's Party, 46-47.
  42. "Heckling the President," Suffragist, 22 May 1915, 4.
  43. "President Will Favor Committee," Woman's Journal, 12 Dec. 1913, 393.
  44. "Mrs. Catt Elected National President," Woman's Journal, 25 Dec. 1915, 407. Wilson's daughter Margaret supported suffrage. "Margaret Wilson Out for Woman Suffrage," New York Tribune, 29 Apr. 1913, n.p., Reel 3, HSB Papers.
  45. "Speech of President Wilson at the 48th annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association," 8 Sept. 1916, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers.
  46. Freeman, Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies, 8.
  47. Proceedings of the Eleventh National Woman's Rights Convention, Church of the Puritans, New York City, 10 May 1866, 5, Reel 57, NAWSA Papers.
  48. "Convention Gave Spirit of Union," Woman's Journal, 1 Jan. 1916, 2.
  49. For discussions about women's progress in these sectors of the public sphere, see Susan Porter Benson, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890-1940 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1986); Blair, Clubwoman as Feminist; Estelle Freedman, "Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870-1930," Feminist Studies 5 (Fall 1979): 512-49; Martin, Sound of Our Own Voices; Kathy Preiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1986); Kathleen Kish Sklar, "Hull House in the 1890s: A Community of Women Reformers," Signs 10 (Summer 1985): 658-77; and Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1985).
  50. "Convention Comes to a Successful Close," Woman's Journal, 28 Oct. 1911, 337.
  51. "The National Convention," Woman Voter, Oct. 1916, 21.
  52. "Not Used to Voting?" unidentified newspaper clipping, Ida Porter Boyer Scrapbooks, Reel 63, NAWSA Papers.
  53. "The National Convention," Woman's Journal, 16 Sept. 1916, 300; and "Program of the National Convention," Woman's Journal, 26 Aug. 1916, 278.
  54. Untitled, New Republic 7 (17 June 1916): 155.
  55. "Convention Was Argument Itself," Woman's Journal, 23 Sept. 1916, 306.
  56. "Suffragists in the Rose City," Morning (Portland) Oregonian, 28 June 1905, n.p., Ida Porter Boyer Scrapbooks, Reel 63, NAWSA Papers.
  57. "Editors Grilled by Suffragists," unidentified newspaper clipping, 10 Feb. 1906, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers.
  58. Wallace Irwin and Inez Milholland, "Two Million Women Vote," McClure's Magazine, Jan. 1913, 246-47. The authors repeated an exchange overheard at the convention to illustrate how the tenor of female conventions differed from male conventions: "The Chair: 'Do you mean to say the rule should apply to your State only?' The Delegate: 'My dear! I didn't say any such thing.'" Ibid., 251.
  59. "Buffalo Convention," Woman's Journal, 24 Oct. 1908, 169.
  60. "A Corner in Publicity," Woman Citizen, 2 Feb. 1918, 190.
  61. See "The State Convention," Woman Voter, Nov. 1913, 17.
  62. Program, Woman Voters' Convention, 14-16 Sept. 1915, Reel 140, National Woman's Party Papers, 1913-1974, microfilm edition (Glen Rock, N.J.: Microfilm Corp. of America, 1977-78) (hereafter cited as NWP Papers); and qtd. in "Assemble in Convention," Suffragist, 2 Oct. 1915, 6.
  63. "Parties Greet State Meeting," Woman's Journal, 8 Nov. 1913, 358; and "The National Convention," Woman's Journal, 16 Feb. 1906, 25.
  64. "What the 49th Annual Convention of the NAWSA Accomplished," Woman Citizen, 22 Dec. 1917, 68-69.
  65. "A Boon in Suffrage Literature," Woman Citizen, 12 Apr. 1919, 961. The NWP Press Department also sent news stories, feature articles and photographs to hundreds of newspapers across the nation. "The Woman's Party and the Press," Suffragist, 13 Sept. 1919, 7.
  66. See "Hold Convention in West Virginia," Woman's Journal, 8 Nov. 1913, 358; "Plan Convention for Wisconsin," Woman's Journal, 8 Nov. 1913, 358; "Hold Convention in Granite State," Woman's Journal, 20 Dec. 1913, 403; "Delegates Meet in Connecticut," Woman's Journal, 25 Oct. 1913, 342; "Twenty-three States Map Out Campaign," Woman's Journal, 13 Mar. 1915, 79; "Many States Hold Important Conventions," Woman's Journal, 20 Nov. 1915, 371; "Suffrage Work in the States," Woman's Journal, 16 Jan. 1915, 21; and "Across Country with Conventions," Woman Citizen, 1 Dec. 1917, 15.
  67. "The National Convention," Woman Voter, Jan. 1913, 17.
  68. "Will Petition Doubtful Congressmen," Woman's Journal, 18 Sept. 1915, 297.
  69. "Convention Broadens Suffrage Policies," Woman's Journal, 20 Nov. 1912, 377.
  70. "Conventions of the Woman's Party and Congressional Union," Suffragist, 10 Mar. 1917, 4-5.
  71. "Delegates Pledged to Fill Money Chest," Woman's Journal, 13 Dec. 1913, 394; and "President Will Favor Committee," Woman's Journal, 13 Dec. 1913, 393.
  72. "Conventions of the Woman's Party and Congressional Union," Suffragist, 10 Mar. 1917, 4-5.
  73. A. Elizabeth Taylor, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee (New York: Bookman Associates, 1957), 59.
  74. "New York Has Big Convention," Woman's Journal, 25 Oct. 1913, 342.
  75. Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Council of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers. Catt's "winning plan" called for mobilizing committees in each of the states to lobby for a federal amendment; it also selected a few key states where it was feasible to win suffrage before Congress passed a federal amendment. Flexner, Century of Struggle, 280-81.
  76. "Woman's Hour Strikes at Big National Convention," Woman's Journal, 16 Sept. 1916, 297.
  77. "Platform Adopted at the Forty-eighth Annual Convention," Reel 59, NAWSA Papers; "The Crisis," manuscript, 16, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers; and "The Crisis," Woman's Journal, 16 Sept. 1916, 299, 303.
  78. "Buffalo Convention," Woman's Journal, 24 Oct. 1908, 169; and "Across Country with the Conventions," Woman Citizen, 1 Dec. 1917, 15.
  79. "Hold Convention in Granite State," Woman's Journal, 20 Dec. 1913, 403; and undated press release, Reel 49, NAWSA Papers.
  80. "Suffragists Pick National Leaders," Chicago Evening Post, 18 Feb. 1907, n.p., in Ida Porter Boyer Scrapbooks, Reel 63, NAWSA Papers.
  81. Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923), 381.
  82. "Crowd at Suffrage Tea," New York Times, 10 Feb. 1915, 8; Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920), 72; "Special Convention Number," Woman Citizen, 14 Feb. 1920; and "Convention Issue," Suffragist, Jan.-Feb. 1920. After Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment, the NWP raised funds to commission busts in the Capitol of Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott, who helped Stanton organize the Seneca Falls convention. "A Women's National Memorial," Suffragist, Dec. 1920, 303.
  83. Beeton, Women Vote in the West, 133.
  84. Paul Fuller, Laura Clay and the Woman's Rights Movement (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1975), 84.
  85. "Convention News," Progress, Nov. 1908, 2; and "The National Convention," Progress, May 1910, 4.
  86. Program of forty-third annual NAWSA convention, Louisville, Kentucky, Reel 58, NAWSA Papers.
  87. "Convention Comes to a Successful Close," Woman's Journal, 28 Oct. 1911, 337.
  88. Program of forty-third annual NAWSA convention, Louisville, Kentucky, 1911, Reel 58, NAWSA Papers.
  89. Program of forty-fourth annual NAWSA convention, Philadelphia, 1912; and Taylor, Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, 66.
  90. Program of the forty-fifth annual NAWSA convention, Washington, D.C., 1913, Reel 58, NAWSA Papers; and "National Convention Strikes New Note," Woman's Journal, 6 Dec. 1913, 32.
  91. "A Remarkable Evening," Woman's Journal, 16 Sept. 1916, 300.
  92. "What the 49th Annual Convention of the NAWSA Accomplished," Woman Citizen, 22 Dec. 1917, 68-69.
  93. Program of forty-fourth annual NAWSA convention, Philadelphia, 1912, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers; and "A Boon in Suffrage Literature," Woman Citizen, 12 Apr. 1919, 961.
  94. "Parties Greet State Meeting," Woman's Journal, 8 Nov. 1913, 358.
  95. Taylor, Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, 58, 59.
  96. Fuller, Laura Clay, 74.
  97. Program of forty-third annual NAWSA convention, Louisville, Kentucky, 1911, Reel 58, NAWSA Papers; and "Rejoicing Suffragists Meet in National Convention," Woman's Journal, 21 Oct. 1911, 330.
  98. "Conventions of the Woman's Party and Congressional Union," Suffragist, 10 Mar. 1917, 4-5.
  99. Catt and Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics, 381; and "Pageant Closes Union Meeting," Woman's Journal, 18 Dec. 1915, 400.
  100. Program of the forty-fourth annual NAWSA convention, Philadelphia, 1912, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers.
  101. "Mrs. Catt Elected National President," Woman's Journal, 25 Dec. 1915, 408.
  102. Program of forty-fourth annual NAWSA convention, Philadelphia, 1912, Reel 59, NAWSA Papers.
  103. "After the Convention," Woman's Journal, 13 Dec. 1913, 397.
  104. Kraditor, Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 254.
  105. For a discussion of questions posed by the role privilege played in the suffrage movement, see Catherine Mitchell, "Historiography on the Woman's Rights Press," in Outsiders in 19th-Century Press History: Multi-cultural Perspectives, ed. Frankie Hutton and Barbara Straus Reed (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green Univ. Popular Press, 1995), 159-68.
  106. Kay Sloan, "Sexual Warfare in the Silent Cinema: Comedies and Melodramas of Woman Suffragism," American Quarterly 33 (1981): 429. A silent film produced by the Women's Political Union (successor to Blatch's Equality League of Self-Supporting Women), for instance, contained a scene in which a man asked, "My butler and my bootblack vote—why not my wife and daughter?" Ibid., 425.
  107. Suffragist newspaper, for instance, championed African Americans after the race riots in East St. Louis and described blacks and suffragists as comrades in their quest for equal rights. "Negro Unrest," Suffragist, 25 Aug. 1917, 3.
  108. Adele Logan Alexander, "How I Discovered My Grandmother …," Ms. 12 (Nov. 1983): 34.
  109. Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 162. For other discussions on racial discrimination in the suffrage movement, see also "Anti-Black Woman Suffrage Efforts," in Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, "Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage" (Ph.D. diss., Howard Univ., 1977), 277-311; Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, "Discrimination Against Afro-American Women in the Woman's Movement, 1830-1920," in The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images, ed. Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1978), 17-27; Beverly Guy-Sheftall, "Books, Brooms, Bibles, and Ballots: Black Women and the Public Sphere," in Guy-Sheftall, Daughters of Sorrow, 91-158; Aileen Kraditor, "The 'Southern Question,'" in Kraditor, Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 162-218; and Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, "Southern Suffragists and 'the Negro Problem,'" in New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, by Wheeler (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 100-132.

    White suffragists also treated Native American women contradictorily. On the one hand, they held up the example of matriarchy in Indian culture as an alternative to American patriarchy, but they resented being classified with "savages" in their disfranchised state. See Gail Landsman, "The 'Other' as Political Symbol: Images of Indians in the Woman Suffrage Movement," Ethnohistory 39 (Summer 1992): 247-84.

  110. Neverdon-Morton, Afro-American Women of the South, 203.
  111. Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 111.
  112. Southern suffragists maintained the white woman's vote would offset the large "undesirable" vote in the South. "Southern Suffragists Roused Over Slacker Vote," Woman Citizen, 12 Jan. 1918, 132. The National Woman's Party argued that poll taxes and literacy tests would continue to weed out undesirable voters of both races. "National Suffrage and the Race Problem," Suffragist, 14 Nov. 1914, 3.
  113. Terborg-Penn, "Discrimination Against Afro-American Women," 27.
  114. Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 161-63.
  115. Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World (Washington, D.C.: Ransdell, 1940; reprint, Salem, N.H.: Ayer, 1992), 145-46; and "Programme, Anniversary Celebration of the 1848 Woman's Rights Convention," Reel 1, HSB Papers; Wilson Jeremiah Moses, "Domestic Female Conservatism, Sex Roles, and Black Women's Clubs 1893-1896," in Black Women in American History: The Twentieth Century, vol. 3, ed. Darlene Clark Hine, et al. (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1990), 968.
  116. Guy-Sheftall, Daughters of Sorrow, 117. Du Bois dedicated several issues of the Crisis to woman suffrage. See issues for Sept. 1912, Aug. 1915, and Nov. 1917.
  117. Alexander, "How I Discovered My Grandmother," 36.
  118. Cott, Grounding of Modern Feminism, 31; and Terborg-Penn, "Afro-Americans in the Struggle," 287.
  119. Terborg-Penn, "Afro-Americans in the Struggle," 109, 126; and Alexander, "How I Discovered My Grandmother," 30.
  120. Terborg-Penn, "Afro-Americans in the Struggle," 184.
  121. Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 129.
  122. Alfreda Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970), xxviii; and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, "Discontented Black Feminists: Prelude and Postscript to the Passage of the Nineteenth Amendment," in Black Women in American History: The Twentieth Century, vol. 4, ed. Darlene Clark Hine (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1990), 1160.
  123. Woman Voter, Mar. 1917, 24.
  124. "Hopping for Suffrage," Woman Voter and Suffrage News, June 1915, 21.
  125. "Society Mingles with Girl Toilers at Suffrage Ball," New York American, 12 Jan. 1913, n.p., Reel 2, HSB Papers.
  126. "'Sunshade Race' and Other Novel Feats Attract Many Recruits at Shoreham," New York American, 20 July 1913, n.p.; and "Fair New York Girl Star of Suffrage Picnic," New York Tribune, 27 July 1913, n.p.; both in Reel 3, HSB Papers.
  127. Harriot Stanton Blatch and Alma Lutz, Challenging Years: The Memoirs of Harriot Stanton Blatch (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1940), 192.
  128. Taylor, Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, 54, 55; and "Suffragist Baby Shows," New York Times, 16 Oct. 1913, 1.
  129. "What Is Going On," Woman Voter, Apr. 1910, 6. See also the Woman Voter for Feb. 1901, 7; Mar. 1911, 3; Apr. 1912, 27; July 1913, 28; June 1914, 25; and Aug. 1915, 21.
  130. "The Humors of Canvassing," Woman Voter, Aug. 1913, 12.
  131. Taylor, Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, 52.
  132. Terborg-Penn, "Afro-Americans in the Struggle," 133.
  133. "The Suffrage Store," Woman's Journal, 29 May 1909, 86.
  134. "The Sunflower Lunch," Woman Citizen, 31 Aug. 1918, 272; and "An Impression of a Suffrage Tea Room," Suffragist, 21 Sept. 1918, 6.
  135. Sherna Gluck, ed., From Parlor to Prison: Five American Suffragists Talk About Their Lives, an Oral History (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), 45.
  136. "Parlor Meetings," Official Program, Woman Suffrage Procession, Washington, D.C., 3 Mar. 1913, Reel 49, NAWSA Papers; "Hospitality to Prevail in Old Cameron House," Washington Star, 27 Dec. 1916, n.p., in Reel 49, NAWSA Papers; and Invitation to Suffrage Ball, 21 Apr. 1914, Reel 149, NWP Papers.
  137. Journalists so missed the ritual that they created the New York Newspaper Women's Club to fill the void in the 1920s. Ishbel Ross, Ladies of the Press: The Story of Women in Journalism by an Insider (New York: Harper & Brothers 1936), 126.
  138. Alice Park, "Show Your Colors," Reel 49, NAWSA Papers.
  139. "Trinkets and Songs of the Suffragists," New York Times, 28 June 1914, sec. 5, p. 8; and "The Suffrage Doll," Woman's Journal, 9 Sept. 1911, 286.
  140. "Woman Suffrage Cook-Book," Woman's Journal, 24 July 1909, 1; "College Suffrage Calendar," Woman's Journal, 6 Nov. 1909, 177; "New Suffrage Post-Card," Woman's Journal, 9 Jan. 1909, 5; "Suffrage Game," Suffragist, 27 Dec. 1913, and "Trinkets and Songs of the Suffragists," New York Times, 28 June 1914, sec. 5, p. 8.
  141. Reel 95, NWP Papers: The Suffrage Years.
  142. "Suffrage Garden Grows Popular," Woman's Journal, 27 Mar. 1915, 102.
  143. Untitled, New Republic, 17 June 1916, 155.
  144. New York Times, 14 July 1916, 10.
  145. See "The Election Policy of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage," Reel 149, NWP Papers; Anna Howard Shaw to Cora Lewis, 23 Sept. 1914, Reel 33, NAWSA Papers; and Mary Ware Dennett to Ruth McCormick, 6 Jan. 1914, Reel 33, NAWSA Papers.
  146. "Novel Suffrage Stunts as Publicity Makers," New York Sun, 16 Feb. 1918, n.p., Reel 95, NWP Papers: The Suffrage Years.
  147. "City Tie-Up Gets New Backing," New York Times, 19 Aug. 1915, 9; and "An Appalling Strike Is Threatened," New York Times, 20 Aug. 1915, 10.
  148. For discussions of these state campaigns, see Beeton, Women Vote in the West; Eleanor Flexner, "First Victories in the West," in Flexner, Century of Struggle, 156-65; and Grimes, Puritan Ethic.
  149. Sharon Hartman Strom, "Leadership and Tactics in the American Woman Suffrage Movement: A New Perspective from Massachusetts," Journal of American History 62 (1975): 302. Maud Wood Park then founded the College Equal Suffrage League and went on to head the NAWSA Congressional Committee from 1917 through 1920. Ibid. See also Park's memoir, Front Door Lobby (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960).
  150. "The National Convention," Woman's Journal, 16 Feb. 1906, 25.
  151. Progress, Mar. 1906, 1-2.

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