United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Suffrage: Issues and Individuals

views updated



[This text has been suppressed due to author restricti ons]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


SOURCE: Weatherford, Doris. "The Hour Not Yet, 1871 to 1888." In A History of the American Suffragist Movement, pp. 127-54. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1998.

In the following essay, Weatherford combines a detailed overview of how suffragists worked at the statewide levelin the 1870s and 1880s to secure the right for women to vote, along with a discussion of how the movement began to unite with European organizations in order to gain global acceptance.

At their Chestnut Street headquarters for the Philadelphia centennial, the National Woman Suffrage Association kept "an immense autograph book" for visitors. Greetings "from the old world and the new" in it showed that the women's movement increasingly was going global. Some international links had been part of the movement from the beginning: Scottish Francis Wright had set the example in the 1840s, while German Mathilde Anneke and French Jeanne de Hericourt followed up by speaking to women's rights conventions in the 1850s and 1860s. After the Civil War, two feminist pioneers, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Ernestine Rose, returned to their family roots in Britain and helped to spread the equal rights gospel there. For different reasons, African-American Sarah Remond returned to the United States only briefly after the Civil War; disappointed with the reality of black life in the United States, she lived out the rest of her life in Italy.

The first attempt at globalizing the women's movement came in 1871, when Julia Ward Howe and Caroline Severance, both officials of the American Woman Suffrage Association, called a women's conference on international understanding and peace. Although most people did not know it, Howe had a long list of literary credentials before she became famous for the Civil War's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." That militaristic song, however, clashed with her own liberal views,1 and this fame motivated Howe to work for peace. Along with Severance, she helped organize a Woman's Peace Conference in London, and she assumed the American presidency of the new Woman's International Peace Association. Some of the foreign women who signed the 1876 autograph book in Philadelphia probably had read Howe's Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World (1870) and were part of her loose network, but no one properly followed-up on this in the 1870s.

Another organization that began in the 1870s also would become international, but the Women's Christian Temperance Union had its greatest effect in the United States. Its beginnings were less consciously planned than most organizations: in the winter of 1873-1874, women in small midwestern towns began singing and praying outside of saloons, hoping to embarrass their men into spending less time and money there. The next year, Annie Wittenmyer, an Iowan who learned organizing skills in the Civil War's Sanitary Commission, linked these gentle protesters together into the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). They met for the first time in Cleveland, and within a few years, the WCTU—which, unlike the women's rights movement, was endorsed by most ministers—would have 25,000 members, far exceeding the older suffrage associations.

The link between the temperance and suffrage movements, of course, was long and close. Although Amelia Bloomer's The Lily became known as the first feminist journal, she had founded it to advocate temperance (and her association with dress reform was accidental). Susan B. Anthony also initially worked as a temperance lecturer, and the refusal of men in the movement to allow her to speak at conventions was an important factor in her decision to prioritize women's rights. Countless other women who were involved in the temperance movement back in the 1830s and 1840s saw this goal coming to fruition in the post-Civil War years, and the move from temperance work to suffrage work was a natural evolution for tens of thousands.

The increase in the social and political activity of women meant an expansion of organizations. Until this time, the average woman belonged to virtually no groups; even church-based ones often were considered unacceptable if they were run by female officers. The endless round of meetings that seemed so commonplace for the women's rights leadership was still an unknown activity for most women—but finally, 30 or 40 years after the travel and speaking taboos had been broken by the exceptional, mainstream women began to emulate them. The 1870s and 1880s saw an explosion of organization-building, especially in the North, which came to be called the club movement.

This movement's best-known pioneers were the Boston-based New England Woman's Club and New York City's Sorosis, both of which began in 1868. Loosely defined, these groups were either "study clubs" that aimed to give women educational and literary access or they were "civic clubs" that aimed to improve their communities with libraries, kindergartens, parks, and playgrounds. Most clubs were stepping stones toward full emancipation and usually did not endorse suffrage, but suffragists almost invariably found them to be helpful campaign tools. Someone within, say, the Peoria Woman's Club or the Portland Woman's Club would step forward to assist Lucy Stone or Susan B. Anthony when they came to Illinois or Oregon.

Julia Ward Howe, the first president of the American Woman Suffrage Association, was particularly active in the club movement. This cross-fertilization of groups was more typical of the American association, which tended to meet women where they were intellectually and only gently prod them into greater politicization. That was not the style of the National, whose leaders were more impatient with the temporizers. To a fairly large extent during the 1870s and 1880s, the American association reached out to mainstream women and men across the country through its Woman's Journal and its popular writers and lecturers—Howe, Stone, Livermore, Stowe, and others. Meanwhile, the National concentrated on political action, especially in Washington, where they became adept at lobbying the nation's most powerful men.

Susan B. Anthony headquartered herself at the Riggs Hotel in Washington, D.C., where the owners hosted her without charge partly because they believed in her cause and partly because she attracted other guests. In 1878, at the request of the National association, Senator A. A. Sargent of California introduced a slightly reworded version of the Sixteenth Amendment: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." This would be the lobbying target until its language finally was adopted by Congress in 1919. It came to be known as the "Susan B. Anthony Amendment," as other topics used up numbers 16, 17, and 18 before the "Sixteenth Amendment" finally passed. Senator Sargent became a hero to the women as year after year, he unsuccessfully pushed for adoption.

Literally millions of petitions would support the amendment—but at the same time, women also spoke against it from the beginning. In the same 1878 congressional session that Isabella Beecher Hooker and Dr. Clemence Lozier2 led the lobbying for the National Woman Suffrage Association, Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, the well-pensioned recent widow of a Navy admiral and leader of the Anti-Suffrage Association, testified against the Sixteenth Amendment. Her objections, she said:

are based upon that which in all Christian nations must be recognized as the higher law, the fundamental law upon which Christian society … must rest.… When women ask for a distinct political life, a separate vote, they forget or willingly ignore the higher law, whose logic may be condensed: Marriage is a sacred unity.… Each family is represented through its head.…The new doctrine … may be defined: Marriage is a mere compact, and means diversity. Each family, therefore, must have a separate individual representation, out of which arises … division and discord.

Dahlgren's supporters, although privileged enough that they were permitted unusual access to congressional chambers, remained few. Many more testified in favor of the Sixteenth Amendment, and they came year after year. This amendment and the city of Washington became the focus of the National association: its annual meetings were held there in January because, as Anthony said, "Congress is then in session, the Supreme Court sitting, and … [it is] the season for official receptions, where one meets foreign diplomats.…Washington is the modern Rome to which all roads lead."

In 1880, however, the National emulated the American and took its show on the road. The suffragists held mass meetings in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois—where they met in Chicago during the Republican Party's convention. It was an excellent networking opportunity, and the women even had an unusual rallying point when the Arkansas delegation to the Republican convention came prepared with this resolution: "Resolved, That we pledge ourselves to secure to women the exercise of their right to vote." It was a happy surprise, for not only was this resolution proposed by southern men, but also its wording assumed the applicability of the Fifteenth Amendment—women had a right to vote, and the party merely was asked to enforce it. Not surprisingly, however, the resolution was referred to a convention committee, where arguments by Belva Lockwood and Susan B. Anthony failed to move it forward.

The National also sent representation to the convention of the Greenback Party, a party aimed at improving the economy by ending the gold standard, which limited the circulation of paper dollars. Although a suffrage resolution was presented by a female delegate, it was not even spoken to in committee. "Women were better treated by the Democrats at Cincinnati," according to Anthony, "than by the Republicans at Chicago." The Democrats gave the suffragists seats "just to the back of the regular delegates" and even a room "was placed at their disposal." Although the final outcome was the same, Anthony was pleased that the resolution committee placed no time limit on the women's appeals, even though adjournment waited until two in the morning.

Not surprisingly, the new Prohibition Party, which was formed in 1872, was the most welcoming to women. Even if they did not grant women the sort of full participation that Rev. Antoinette Brown and others had desired so long ago, the party's founders had old and strong philosophical links to the suffrage movement. In adopting the word "prohibition," the new party exhibited greater candor about their old goal, for their objective actually was the same as the "temperance" of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other, older groups. None of the so-called temperance organizations had ever truly promoted the temperate use of alcohol and other addictives; instead, they wanted to enact legal bans or "prohibition" of alcohol.

The fledgling party in Massachusetts reached out to women when it first began by inviting them to participate in the 1876 party caucuses and, most surprisingly, its primary. Although it proved to be a one-time experiment and made little long-term difference, this unusual opportunity to vote in a party election did give some women a taste of political action. One recalled a decade later, in the 1886 volume of the History of Woman Suffrage, the "terror" of casting her first vote:

It was thought to be a rash act for a woman to appear at the polls in company with men. Some attempt was made to deter them from their purpose, and stories of pipes and tobacco and probable insults were told.…

The women learned several things during this campaign. One was that weak parties are no more to be trusted than strong ones; and another, that men grant but little until the ballot is placed in the hands of those who make the demand. They learned also how political caucuses and conventions are managed.

Like the official suffrage organizations, the Prohibition Party would never grow very large compared with other parties, but unlike the suffragists, its men could vote—and they would provide a bloc just large enough to force the major parties to pay heed to them. In the presidential election of 1884, for instance, the Democratic nominee received approximately 4,875,000 votes, while the Republican won 4,852,000. Had even a portion of the 150,000 that went to the Prohibition candidate gone to the Republican instead, he would have won. The party demonstrated that, although it was small, it could be crucial—and women were assumed to be a part of it, for the era's politicos took it as a given that if women could vote, they would vote for Prohibitionist candidates.

The result was that some Prohibitionist men encouraged female political participation—as in the Massachusetts experiment—but only tentatively and for limited purposes. Most male Prohibitionists were so fundamentally conservative that they could not bring themselves to wholeheartedly support this change in the status quo, even if it would mean at least a doubling of their political power. Generally unwilling to concede the injustice of excluding women from voting, they were more likely to push for the "half-loaf" (or more accurately, a slice or two), allowing women to vote in municipal elections on liquor questions only. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, better-traveled and more sophisticated than many suffragists, did not completely share the usual temperance views—but even she was so accustomed to this political alliance that she never straightforwardly challenged her sisters on it. Instead, she was scornful of male Prohibitionists who opposed suffrage: "What people might drink," she said, seemed to them "a subject of greater importance than a fundamental principle of human rights."

Ultimately, whatever slim support for suffrage that male Prohibitionists offered was infinitely less important to women than was the opposition of the liquor industry and all of its powerful allies. Over and over again, women would lose suffrage elections because men were convinced that if women voted, the saloons would dry up. Especially in the West, this belief was devastating to the suffrage movement: already in the Kansas and Colorado referenda—long before the existence of a formal Prohibition Party—suffragists could see the negative effect when men went from the saloon to the polls and back again.

Even in the East, the prohibitionist views that many women held hurt the suffrage cause, and again the problem would grow worse instead of better with time. This was because the movement came of age at the same time that millions of immigrants began changing the national demographics. Prior to the 1840s, when the women's movement began, the United States had been almost wholly filled with Protestant descendants of British colonists. The Irish potato famine and revolutions in Europe began to change all that in the 1840s, as increasing numbers of foreigners began to arrive—many of them Catholic and most of them accustomed to the daily use of alcohol.

The Civil War and its aftermath slowed down immigration briefly, but by the 1880s and 1890s, millions were arriving every year. They came from southern and eastern Europe, from cultures very different from the British, Scandinavian, and German immigrants of the past. Few were Protestant; most were Catholic or Jewish. Virtually all considered a glass of wine to be a routine part of a meal. They were absolutely perplexed by prohibition, and as soon as they could obtain citizenship, their men would vote against it. Add to this the fact that most immigrant men were deeply conservative in their view of women,3 and a continual clash between these men and the suffragists becomes a foregone conclusion.

The clash was apparent long before the major wave of immigration and far from the cities usually associated with immigrants. Already in the 1867 Kansas campaign, the immigrant/prohibition factor hurt women. "The Germans in their Conventions," reported The History of Woman Suffrage, passed a resolution against liquor restrictions, which they linked directly to women: "In suffrage for women they saw rigid Sunday laws and the suppression of their beer gardens."4 The Irish to whom George Train had appealed in that campaign also were fearful that if American women could vote they would force an end to their ancient pub habits, and so these men, too, voted against suffrage.

The innate conservatism of both Irish and German Catholics on women's roles was reinforced by church officials. During their 1877 campaign, for example, Colorado leaders Mary G. Campbell and Katherine G. Patterson wrote that the Denver bishop "preached a series of sermons … in which he fulminated all the thunders of apostolic and papal revelation against women who wanted to vote." Like other clergy, he predicted that female political participation would lead directly to the destruction of marriages and homes. Campbell and Patterson, who like most suffragists were happily married, took particular offense at this attack by an unmarried man whose understanding of women and of family relationships was clearly limited:

The class of women wanting suffrage are battalions of old maids disappointed in love—women separated from their husbands or divorced by men from their sacred obligations.…Who will take charge of those young children (if they consent to have any) while mothers as surgeons are operating.…No kind husband will refuse to nurse the baby on Sunday … in order to let his wife attend church; but even then, as it is not his natural duty, he will soon be tired of it and perhaps get impatient waiting for the mother, chiefly when the baby is crying.

Suffragists returned the antipathy they felt from most foreign-born men with language that would embarrass most Americans today. For instance, while presiding over meetings dedicated to civil rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton used "ignorant" as an axiomatic adjective for foreigner, and she unabashedly told a story denigrating Irishmen whose only consolation for their wretched lives was that they could vote while educated women could not. She joined Susan B. Anthony in recording without embarrassment that, in their last meeting with Horace Greeley, they had referred to foreign-born men as "Patrick, Hans, and Yung Fung." This kind of language was not limited to women of the National association: Julia Ward Howe, the first president of the American, had complained in an 1869 article on suffrage that "the Irish or German savage, after three years' cleansing, is admitted" to the voter rolls. Male liberals were capable of the same language and of even worse reasoning. The literary giant Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, refused to support suffrage because enfranchising women would include the Irish women who invariably worked as servants in middle-class Boston homes—and Hannah, he said, already had enough power at the breakfast table.

Eastern urbanites were not the only xenophobes. In the 1870 debate on enfranchising women in the Colorado territory, women there had lamented—but nevertheless accepted—legislative objections that if "our intelligent women" were allowed to vote, then the government would be forced to extend the same right to "the poor, degraded Chinese women who might reach our shores5—and what then would become of our proud, Caucasian civilization?" That most of these immigrants were men who might already vote seemed unnoteworthy—to say nothing of the fact that xenophobic American women could join their men to easily outvote foreigners of both genders. As in the case of black women and the Fifteenth Amendment, the burden of ethnicity was apparently so great that Anglo-Saxon suffragists were unable even to consider an alliance with immigrant women. Instead of joining with these most oppressed groups, most suffragists preferred to blame their own delay on the public's association of them with these minorities. They allowed decades to pass while politicians used black women in the South and immigrant women in the North as their excuse for the disenfranchisement of all women.

In 1871, two years after she formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. Anthony traveled to the still-wild country of Oregon. Abigail Scott Duniway organized Anthony's West Coast lecture tour in return for "one-half the gross proceeds," which she needed to support her disabled husband and six children. Duniway, who also published the increasingly successful New Northwest, founded the Oregon Equal Rights Society in 1870—the same year in which her Wyoming and Utah neighbors first voted and the same year in which the first legislative effort for suffrage began in Colorado.

Mary G. Campbell and Katherine G. Patterson, sisters who wrote Colorado's 1886 report for the History of Woman Suffrage, did a beautiful job of describing their land's early history:

In 1848, while those immortal women … [met] in Seneca Falls … Colorado, unnamed and un-thought of, was still asleep with her head above the clouds.…In 1858, when the Ninth National Convention of Women … was in session in New York, there were only three white women in the now rich and beautiful city of Denver. Still another ten years of wild border life … and Colorado was organized into a territory with a population of 5,000 women and 25,000 men.

Campbell and Patterson astutely pointed out that women's best opportunity to obtain legal rights was in the territorial stage, for life during such a regency-type government gave men some experience with living in a woman's world. Men chafed at their loss of democratic rights in territories, where governors were appointed instead of elected and Washington second-guessed every action of the embryonic government. Men who felt they knew best what should be done in their home area instead had to wait for federal approval, and a taxpaying man "could no more enforce his opinion … by a vote than could the most intelligent woman." All of a sudden, these men understood what women were talking about.

Thus, at Colorado's fifth territorial legislative assembly in 1870, frontier men again showed more openness than those in the ossified East. Prompted by his "beautiful, accomplished, and gracefully aggressive wife," Gov. Edward McCook sent the assembly a message:

It has been said that no great reform was ever made without passing through three stages ridicule, argument, and adoption. It rests with you to say whether Colorado will accept this reform in its first stage, as our sister territory of Wyoming has done, or in the last; whether she will be a leader or a follower; for the logic of a progressive civilization leads to the inevitable result of universal suffrage.

Colorado's legislative majority that year was "unexpectedly Democratic, and almost as unexpected was the favor shown by the Democratic members." This partisan picture was so much the opposite of what had been expected that the vote for women came to be "characterized by the opposing Republicans as 'the great Democratic reform.'" But not quite enough Democrats fell into the column, and the proposal lost by one vote in the upper chamber. The House rushed to reinforce the loss with a two-thirds margin.

As they had elsewhere, women regrouped and carried on. Talk turned to achieving statehood during the centennial year of 1876, and that became the next target. On what turned out to be a bitterly cold January night in 1876, "a large and eager audience" filled Denver's spacious Unity Church long before the scheduled time. "The Rev. Mrs. Wilkes" of Colorado Springs, who opened the meeting, pointed out that women owned a third of the taxable property in that city, but had no voice in a recent election when men turned down a water system—despite pollution that endangered public health. Lucy Stone sent an encouraging letter to the group, as did Wyoming's Gov. John M. Thayer, who declared "woman suffrage in that territory to have been beneficial."6

The women once again gathered thousands of petitions, and the next month the constitutional convention for the new state took up the question. With a large number of women watching, "some of the gentlemen celebrated the occasion by an unusual spruceness of attire, and others by being sober enough to attend to business." After voting down both full suffrage and partial suffrage for school elections, the men7 put the question on the fall ballot and—ten years after the suffragists' defeat in Kansas—another referendum attracted national attention.

Apparently unaware of the strain between them, Dr. Alida C. Avery, who led the Colorado effort, invited both Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony; both came, along with Henry Blackwell. Colorado women, however, deemed two Pennsylvanians, Philadelphia's Leila Patridge and Pittsburgh's Matilda Hindman, as their most effective campaigners. None were good enough, however, and women were soundly rebuffed in the fall: about 10,000 of the male electorate voted for suffrage, while 20,000 opposed it. Mrs. H. S. Mendenhall wrote an excellent analysis of her experience canvassing at the polls:

The day led me to several general conclusions.…(1)Married men will vote for suffrage if their wives appreciate its importance. (2) Men without family ties, and especially if they have associated with a bad class of women, will vote against it. (3) Boys who have just reached [adult-hood] will vote against it more uniformly than any other class of men. We were treated with the utmost respect by all except [young men] … destitute of experience, and big with their own importance.… I have been to-day tempted to believe that no one is fitted to exercise the American franchise under twenty-five years of age.…

The main objection which I heard repeatedly … was women do not want to vote.…Men were continually saying that their wives told them not to vote for woman suffrage.

That no one would drag these conservative wives to the polls and force them to vote against their will, of course, was rarely pointed out. The movement might have met with greater success if it had stressed this point: that it was neither just nor logical to deprive all women of the vote because some professed not to want it. Instead, the leadership concentrated on convincing all women that they should want political rights—heedless of the fact that most women (like most men) were simply too absorbed with their personal lives and problems to care very much about remote issues or candidacies. Given the burdens of most women's lives, it was not surprising that they found it easier to say they did not want to vote.

In 1874 a referendum was held in Michigan, where it was again the governor's wife who inspired him and the legislature to place the question on the ballot. Once more, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton went out to campaign. Michigan's report in the History of Woman Suffrage replicated the hopefulness of the Kansas referendum, with the same sad result:

Everything that could be done … was done; meetings held and tracts … scattered in the most obscure settlements; inspiring songs sung, earnest prayers offered, the press vigilant in its appeals, and on election day women everywhere at the polls, persuading voters to cast their ballots for temperance, moral purity, and good order, to be secured by giving the right of suffrage to their mothers, wives, and daughters. But the sun went down, the polls were closed, and in the early dawn of the next morning the women of Michigan learned that their status … had not been advanced by one iota.

The next big state referendum was Colorado's disappointing 1877 campaign. Nebraska followed five years later. The American association held its 1882 convention in Omaha early in September; perhaps because the monthly Woman's Journal announced the American's plans, the National also held a convention there later in the month. According to Nebraska's report in the History of Woman Suffrage, Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Hannah Tracy Cutler "remained for some weeks … and were warmly received." Perhaps the most diligent worker of all was Margaret W. Campbell of Massachusetts: although she never developed the publicity-seeking personality that creates fame, by the time that the third volume of the History of Woman Suffrage was published in 1886, Campbell had represented the American association in 20 different states and territories. Well-experienced in midwestern statewide referenda by now, the women went through the same campaign trails and trials as before, and with the same result:

As the canvass progressed, it was comical to note how shy the politicians [became] to those they had promised assistance.…Towards the close of the campaign, it became evident that the saloon element was determined to defeat the amendment. The Brewers Association sent out its orders to every saloon; bills posted in conspicuous places by friends of the amendment mysteriously disappeared;…and the greatest pain was taken to excite the antagonism of foreigners by representing to them that woman suffrage meant prohibition.8 On the other hand, temperance advocates were by no means a unit for support.

They lost 50,693 to 25,756, although few believed that was the true count. Elections then were unlike modern ones in that voters—many of whom were illiterate or only semiliterate—did not actually mark their ballots, but instead deposited preprinted "tickets" with slates of party-endorsed candidates.9 In this election, the Nebraska women said, "many tickets were fraudulently printed … tickets that contained no mention of the [women's] amendment were counted against it" and even those that used "the abbreviated form, 'For the Amendment' were counted against it." Worse, this would be just one of many future elections controlled by the liquor industry.

Although Indiana had formed one of the first suffrage associations and although Amanda Way addressed its legislature back in 1860, it, too, defeated the suffragists in 1882. Women had lost a legislative vote (51 to 22) in 1877, and they decided to try a different approach in 1882: they worked to influence men to elect candidates to the legislature who were pledged to suffrage. They campaigned for a year; the leaders, who worked with both the National and the American associations, were May Wright Sewall and Helen M. Gougar.

"Large numbers of societies were organized and many meetings held," according to Sewall. The women "sought every opportunity to reach the ears of the people," even including the campgrounds of religious revivalists. They went to "Sunday-school conventions, teacher associations, agricultural fairs, picnics and assemblies of every name." Even some politicians noticed their unusual ability and, "for the first time in the history of Indiana, women were employed by party managers to address political meetings and advocate the election of candidates." Meanwhile, however, "the animosity of the liquor league was aroused, and this powerful association threw itself against" the women's candidates. Another election, and another innovative political strategy, went down to defeat.

After so much disappointment, the next year brought hope. In the first victory since 1870, women in the Washington territory won full voting rights in 1883. Abigail Scott Duniway went up from Oregon on the big day and with "trembling hands," recorded each legislator's vote. When the victory was clear, she rushed to the telegraph office, "my feet seeming to tread the air," and notified her "jubilant and faithful" sons, who took the front page of her Portland-based New Northwest off the press to add the news. "A bloodless battle had been fought and won," she said, "and the enemy, asleep in carnal security, had surrendered unaware."

When the "freed women of Washington" began to vote and serve on juries, "the lawbreaking elements," according to Duniway, "speedily escaped to Oregon." Although Oregon women "had carefully districted and organized the State, sparing neither labor nor money in providing 'Yes' tickets for all parties and all candidates," it was clear as soon as the polls opened that the opposition was equally well organized. "Multitudes of legal voters who are rarely seen in daylight" turned up at the polls, while "railroad gangs were driven to the polls like sheep and voted against us in battalions."10 Not surprisingly, the women lost 28,176 to 11,223.

Even the Washington victory turned out to be a heartbreaker. Just four years later, the Supreme Court struck down the territorial law that enfranchised them, and from 1887 to 1910, Washington women, too, would languish without the vote. The case once again demonstrated that the era's courts were much harsher to women than was its average man. While the Supreme Court ruled against women on the Fifteenth Amendment and again in this Washington case, ordinary men in several western states voted to fully enfranchise women. Even in certain eastern elections, women were winning some limited voting rights, but the nation's highest court repeatedly ruled against half of its citizens.



Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in the United States—in 1872, when women did not even have the right to vote. Woodhull's family, the Claflins, ran a traveling medicine show, complete with miracle cures and fortune tellers. Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, forged a partnership and claimed to be clairvoyant. At age fifteen Victoria's father married her to a kind but alcoholic doctor, Canning Woodhull. They had two children and divorced in 1866, though Victoria supported him and their children financially throughout her life. She married Colonel James Harvey Blood in 1868, the same year that she and her sister moved to New York City and charmed railroad promoter Cornelius Vanderbilt. Though Tennessee refused his marriage proposal, the sisters did accept his financial advice and funds to open their own stock brokerage house, and soon enjoyed wealth and a lively social life. With their good looks, spirited personalities and unusual talents, the sisters attracted publicity and many admirers and supporters. They entertained radical intellectuals in their salon and founded a newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, in 1870. Through the paper they and their friends championed free love, equal rights for women, birth control, and socialism. The Weekly also engaged in muckraking, exposing injustices and hypocrisies.

Woodhull also enjoyed fame as a popular lecturer, demonstrator and public speaker. She contributed enthusiastically to the women's suffrage movement, but many of the movement's other supporters were uncomfortable with the support of such a controversial woman. Woodhull announced her bid for the United States Presidency in a letter to the New York Herald. She was thirty-two, and her running mate was Frederick Douglass. Woodhull was defeated, but her speeches in favor of women's suffrage before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871 helped sway many adversaries to her cause.

Nor would Washington women be the only ones to have the vote and then lose it. Utah's enfranchisement of women continued to be controversial, even with suffragists, because of polygamy. Despite the favorable attitudes of many in the Women's Christian Temperance Union toward suffrage, the WCTU gathered 250,000 petition signatures requesting Congress to rescind the voting rights of Utah women.11 Their object was to help nonMormons outvote Mormons by eliminating the women's votes. The petitions had their effect and in 1887, at the same time that it outlawed polygamy, Congress rescinded the right of Utah women to vote.

Emmeline B. Wells, a Utah lobbyist who had successfully defended both polygamy and suffrage, was not present when Congress did this and she immediately organized a state suffrage association to regain the vote. Through their mutual lobbying, Wells had become good friends with Susan B. Anthony and other leaders; in 1874 she was already a vice-president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. It was another case in which the National and American associations differed: although the American would not go so far as to oppose Utah women the way the WCTU did, their leaders did not maintain friendships with Mormons either. Even the National did not rally in Wells's absence, for most suffragists feared that public association of polygamy with their cause would be harmful. Thus, when Congress rescinded Utah women's votes, no one spoke in opposition.

The WCTU also displayed its political muscle in Kansas that year: in addition to the school suffrage they had enjoyed since 1861, Kansas women also won the right to vote in municipal elections in 1887. This was much more significant that it may appear, for a community's decision to be "wet" or "dry"—to allow alcohol sales or ban them—is usually made in a municipal election. The WCTU even was active in municipal elections in the South, where suffrage organizations remained unwelcome. In this same year, a Tampa election on alcohol sales was strongly influenced by WCTU women. They served free food and lemonade at the polls and of more than a thousand ballots cast, the nonvoting women lost by just 25 votes. Foreigners were a factor in this election, too, for the alcohol issue was raised after large numbers of Spanish, Italian, and Cuban immigrants were recruited to work in the city's cigar factories. These men were not about to forego their daily wine and beer, and many Anglo men voted with them out of fear of losing their labor.

So many campaigns of such diverse natures—from municipal and state elections to efforts targeting Congress, the courts, the parties, constitutional conventions, and state legislatures—were taking place in so many areas of the country, with so many people involved, that simply keeping track of them began to be nearly impossible. In 1884 women were defeated in the first of several referenda in Oregon; this election also marked the first national visibility of antisuffrage women. About 20 wealthy Massachusetts women, not satisfied with sending "remonstrances" against suffrage to their own legislature, also sent money to oppose their Oregon sisters.

Just south of Oregon, women in California were akin to eastern women in that they supported national organizations while dawdling at home. Although they had the West's oldest suffrage association, formed in 1869, and although Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited in 1871, progress there was exceptionally slow in comparison with other western states. Ellen Clarke Sargent, who was married to U.S. Senator A. A. Sargent, saw that her husband remained the chief sponsor of the Sixteenth Amendment, but the Sargents' leadership was in their Washington context, not in California. In 1873, women became eligible to hold school offices, but not to vote in them, and unlike other midwestern and western states, California had little to report in the 1886 volume of the History of Woman Suffrage.

The only exception was something that most suffragists did not want to acknowledge, for few supported the 1884 presidential campaign of attorney Belva Lockwood. Although she was an easterner, most of Lockwood's support for her National Equal Rights Party came from the West, and its vice-presidential nominee was Marietta L. B. Stowe of San Francisco. Like Victoria Woodhull in 1872, Lockwood did not expect to be a credible candidate, but she had a method to her madness: her Equal Rights Party hoped to elect one member of the electoral college that formally chooses the president and thereby "become the entering wedge." Even that modest goal was not achieved, however, as she won some 4,000 votes in five states—out of 10 million cast. Not deterred, Lockwood repeated her campaign in 1884. This time the Equal Rights Party met in Iowa, but the midwestern attention made no difference in the fall, when the results were even more disappointing than in 1880. As they had with Woodhull, the leadership of both national associations lamented Lockwood's ambition and audacity, but her response was reasonable enough. She pointed out that Queen Victoria was successfully reigning over a vast empire and responded to critics of her 1884 presidential campaign: "We shall never have equal rights until we take them, nor respect until we command it."

The American association celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the first National Woman's Rights Convention with great fanfare, meeting again in Worcester as they had in 1850. They featured speeches by women who had spoken then, among them 70-year-old Abby Kelly Foster. She refused to spend her time reminiscing, but instead used the occasion to denounce the concept of partial suffrage. New Hampshire, New York, and other states recently had granted women the vote for school elections, and in Foster's own state of Massachusetts, "school suffrage" was also a hot issue. She deemed "half a vote" worse than none, but most women disagreed: indeed, according to the History of Woman Suffrage, Massachusetts's enactment of school suffrage was plotted "in the parlors of the New England Women's Club." It was motivated by the male electorate's failure to reelect Abby May and other women to the Boston school committee, and its legislative sponsors seemed to believe that women would prevent future losses of such public-spirited officeholders.

For whatever reason, Massachusetts women gained school suffrage in 1880—sort of. Partial suffrage, as Abby Kelly Foster foresaw, made the potential voter subject to the whim of local officials who empowered themselves to decide whether or not to grant ballots in these special cases. "The law," according to state suffrage official Harriet H. Robinson, "was very elastic and capable of many interpretations." Six years after the act passed, she counted at least 20 variants, as tax collectors and voter registrars "interpreted the law according to their individual opinion on the woman suffrage question." Some officials required that women pay the state and local poll taxes,12 ignoring the fact that women could not vote in those races. "In some towns," Robinson reported, women who tried to cast their legitimate school-election ballots were "treated with great indignity, as if they were doing an unlawful act."

Incidentally, while American versions of partial suffrage were defined by the type of election—school or municipal or, very rarely, party primary—partial suffrage overseas was more likely to vary by the type of voter. Defining voters by property ownership or by age or (in the case of women) by marital status was an effective way of keeping the vote securely in the hands of the upper class. In America, however, such blatant class distinction was not a political possibility. After politicians had allowed all men over 21 to vote regardless of taxpaying status or literacy, they could not expect to define women this way. Partial suffrage in America, therefore, was determined not by the status of the voter but by the type of election.13

School suffrage continued to be the measure of American progress through the next years. In 1874 Illinois gave a slight boost to women by allowing them to be elected without becoming electors: Illinois followed Boston's example and granted women the right to hold school offices—but not to vote for themselves. Michigan was more enlightened: although it had turned down full suffrage in 1874, it adopted the school version in 1875. Minnesota did the same in the same year—and, significantly, the new law was passed as a constitutional amendment voted on by the entire male electorate, rather than merely the legislature. Moreover, Minnesota men proved more enlightened than its women expected, for the measure passed by a wide margin: 24,340 to 19,468. The state suffrage association's carefully planned and successful strategy was to appear indifferent. Except for contacting the editor of St. Paul's Pioneer Press—who "had quite forgotten such an amendment had been proposed"—to write a few favorable pieces at the last minute, the women made "no effort to agitate the question, lest arousing opposition."

Suffragists were becoming astute politicians, but not quite astute enough for the Dakota Territory. In 1872 and another heartbreaker, the territorial legislature failed to enfranchise women by one vote—that of a man, W. W. Moody, who later changed his mind and became one of the suffragists' best supporters. The territory's position on school suffrage showed a similar change of mind: granted in 1879, it was repealed in 1883—except in 15 of the oldest and largest counties, which demonstrated once again the complex and whimsical nature of partial suffrage. But full suffrage was the object, so in this same year, Matilda Joslyn Gage went out to Dakota to work for inclusion of women in the new constitutions when the territory was divided into North Dakota and South Dakota.

Marietta Bones, who was the leader of the small movement in this sparsely populated area, addressed South Dakota's constitutional convention in Sioux Falls and initially was successful. She went to every meeting of the elections committee, and at the last, the men peppered her with questions—most of which revealed their fear of prohibition—for three hours. When the committee turned out to be tied on the suffrage question, the chairman voted yes. "After weeks of hard work I had reached the goal!" Bones wrote. "With eyes brim full of tears," she thanked the committee and left to spread the good news. The next morning, to her "utter surprise," the committee recommended to the full convention only that "women may vote at school elections." Bones was both humiliated and angry. "After all our work and pleading," she summarized, "they turned a deaf ear—worse they were dishonest!" Two years later, the legislature did better: both houses voted for full suffrage by healthy margins, but the governor vetoed the bill. Like so many others, Dakota women were discovering that their hour was not yet.

The hour would be even longer in coming to the South. Not surprisingly, its most western state, Texas, was the most activist. In an 1868 constitutional convention14 there, a committee of five men proposed granting the vote to "every person, without distinction of sex." Although the full convention did not go along with the committee on suffrage, Texas law was far more liberal than that of most other states. Sarah W. Hiatt, reporting to the National association in 1886, said that she had "never lived in a community where the women are more nearly abreast of men in all the activities of life." The 1885 legislature even passed a law "making it compulsory on the heads of all departments to give at least one-half of the clerical positions in their respective offices to women," something that was considered "a victory for the woman's rights party."

Texas's neighbor to the east, Arkansas, also considered enfranchising women at its 1868 constitutional convention, but only briefly. The proposal caused so much tumult that the meeting adjourned; the next day, the sponsor of the suffrage clause insisted on speaking. Miles L. Langley was from the state's delta country where slavery had prevailed, and yet he declared: "I have been robbed, shot, and imprisoned for advocating the rights of the slaves, and I [will] speak for the rights of women if I have to fight!" His speech, of course, met only "ridicule, sarcasm, and insult," and he concluded sadly, "the Democrats are my enemies because I assisted in emancipating the slaves. The Republicans have now become my opponents because … [of] women. And even the women themselves fail to sympathize with me."

Arkansas's neighbor to the south, Louisiana, also addressed the subject in a constitutional convention. In 1879, over 400 "influential" people signed a petition to allow taxpaying women to vote. They pointed to the favorable influence of women on male behavior at Wyoming's polls, and carefully presented a conservative image. A woman testifying before the convention was quick to "assure you we are not cherishing any ambitious ideas of political honors or emoluments for women." The petition's language was similarly couched: "Surely the convention would not ask these quiet house-mothers, who are not even remotely akin to professional agitators, to do such violence to their old-time precedents if the prospect of some reward were not encouraging and immediate." The only reward, however, was very limited: the convention allowed Louisiana women to hold school offices, but not to vote in these or any other elections.

In Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia, the era saw no legislative action at all. South Carolina was more successful: members of the American association managed to get a favorable committee report in 1872 for a constitutional amendment enfranchising "every person, male or female," but it never went beyond the committee. Kentucky women, led by women of the state's prominent Clay15 family, actually held their suffrage meetings "in the legislative hall" at Frankfort. Although members of the legislature were in the audience along with "the best classes of people," they took no genuine political action. Women in the border states of Tennessee and Maryland were even less active, while an 1881 constitutional amendment proposed to a legislative committee in Delaware was shot down with just two favorable votes. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Phoebe Couzins, and Belva Lockwood all had appeared before the Delaware legislature, and the two supportive votes they received made it clear that conservatism and prejudice were not traits confined to the Deep South.

Because partial suffrage was a question of state jurisdiction, and because the National association was dedicated to full suffrage, no half-measure for school or municipal suffrage was ever proposed to Congress. Instead, women concentrated on an amendment to the federal Constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court's 1874 Minorv. Happersett ruling on the Fifteenth Amendment. They met their first successes in the winter of 1881-1882, when Congress created a special joint committee "to look after the interests of women." It was not without debate, for some congressmen objected to creating any committee beyond the standing ones, while others objected to doing anything at all, but the measure passed 115 to 84 in the House and 35 to 23 in the Senate.

The National association, meeting as usual in Washington in January, went to testify to the new committee, but this time with an updated strategy: "Miss Anthony … in making the selection for the first hearing … [chose] some who were young, and all attractive … in order to disprove the allegation that 'it was always the same old set.'" Despite their inexperience, these women acquitted themselves well. One unnamed woman made a particular point of responding to southern congressmen who said their women did not wish to vote, and perhaps because of Anthony's "attractive" strategy, she succeeded well enough that "the member from Mississippi showed a great deal of interest and really became quite waked up." Senator Morgan from Alabama alleged that no woman from his state had "ever sent a petition … or letter to either house of Congress on this question"—but after the hearing, three wives of southern congressmen thanked the suffragists for saying what their husbands simply failed to hear when they said it.

This committee marked the movement's greatest congressional success thus far. A House committee had reported favorably on suffrage in 1871 and a Senate committee in 1879, but 1882 was the first time that the women received a favorable majority report in both houses. Senator Lapham proposed to the full Senate "an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to secure the right of suffrage to all citizens without regard to sex" on 5 June 1882.16 The Senate ordered a thousand extra copies because of the unusual interest, but summer drifted on and no floor vote was taken. In the fall, both congressmen and suffragists again hit the campaign trail for state elections, and the precedent was set for drift. Although committees continued to issue favorable reports, never in the nineteenth century did the full House cast a vote on the proposal to amend the Constitution.

The Senate did so just once. On 25 January 1887, for the first and only time, senators cast a roll call vote on amending the Constitution to enfranchise all American women. After "a long and earnest discussion" the women got just 16 affirmative votes; there were 34 votes against and 25 sentators who effectively voted against suffrage by failing to vote at all. They hypocritically abstained, hoping that because they had not voted against either side, they could appeal to both.

America led the world in questions of women's rights, but the European continent looked north to Britain as its model. English Harriet Hardy Taylor, publishing under the name of her companion, philosopher John Stuart Mill, had explicated the ideas of the first National Woman's Rights Convention in 1850, and the British suffrage movement thus predated that of other European countries. When Mill was elected to Parliament in 1865, English suffragists began to make their first political moves. The very next year, they experienced a quick victory: the great prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said in Parliament: "In a country governed by [Queen Victoria] … I do not see … on what reasons she [woman] has not a right to vote."

Disraeli stuck with his quirkily announced position and, according to English suffragist Caroline Ashurst Biggs, "backed it up with his vote and personal influence for many succeeding years." Two petitions with more than 3,000 names on each followed-up this encouraging news, and the next year, suffrage associations were formed in London, Manchester, and the Scottish center of Edinburgh. In 1870 the Woman's Suffrage Journal was established in Manchester, the industrial city where the very first suffrage meeting had been held in 1868.

Things began to move much faster in the relatively homogeneous climate of Britain than they did in America, for it had none of the complexities—like prohibition, immigrants, former slaves, or tensions between territories and states—that American women faced. British Parliament first voted on suffrage two decades before the American Congress. Mills's 1867 proposal to substitute "person" for "man" in British voting law lost by 81 to 194, but he did not view this as a defeat: "We are all delighted," he wrote, for the vote was "far greater than anybody expected the first time."

After Mills was no longer in Parliament, the women's champion became Jacob Bright. He refused to let the issue die, bringing it up for a vote an amazing four times before 1874, when famous women such as Florence Nightingale and writer Harriet Martineau were among the 18,000 petitioners. Each new Parliament brought another test vote, and each time the margin was closer. Meanwhile, women won various forms of partial suffrage, including the right to vote in school elections and to hold school offices in 1870. Suffragists then targeted municipal elections: every time the men of a town or village went to the polls, they held a meeting and explained to women the local issues and candidates on which they had no voice. That this clever strategy was never emulated in the United States probably is explained by its quick, and therefore unnoticed, success: British women won the vote in municipal elections in 1882. Scottish women voted for the first time, since the earlier partial suffrage victories had applied only to English women.

Partial suffrage in its many complexities was clearly inadequate, and in the 1880s women began holding rallies and demonstrations for full enfranchisement. The first was in a Manchester union hall, as British suffragists—unlike their U.S. sisters—understood that working-class women were key to political success. This hall held 5,000 and, according to Biggs, on 3 February 1880 it was packed with "factory women, shop-keepers and hard toilers of every station [who] sat on the steps of the platform and stood in dense masses in every aisle and corner." The strategy was repeated in London and elsewhere, and by 1886, the British electorate had been expanded from 3 million men to 5 million men and women.

Although women's rights languished on the Continent, even there hope began to spring. The French writer known as George Sand17 had a tremendously liberating midcentury influence of France and the world, and the first international meeting on women's rights took place just two years after her 1876 death. Just as people flocked to Philadelphia for the American centennial fair in 1876, they came to Paris for a trade exposition in 1878, and the first International Woman's Rights Congress met there during July and August. It included representatives from Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Russia, and the United States; the French delegation included two senators and several other officeholders. Sixteen organizations sent delegations; from the United States, Julia Ward Howe and Mary Livermore represented the American suffrage association, while Chicago's Jane Graham Jones and Theodore Stanton spoke for the National association.

Like its Seneca Falls progenitor, the new "organization" did not bother with bylaws and similar formality, but instead plunged straight into the motivating issues. Those present divided their work load into the five categories of women's history, education, economics, moral issues, and legislative interests. The loose structure called for two permanent presidents, one of each gender; Frenchman Antide Martin, a Paris city council member, and Julia Ward Howe were chosen. By the last session of the congress, more representatives had come: the permanent committee that would carry on between meetings included not only the six nations listed above, but also Alsace-Lorraine, England, Germany, Holland, Poland, Rumania, and Sweden. Importantly for internal unity back home, the National association's Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony joined the American's Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone for the final banquet, and 200 people from at least 12 nations sat down together.

Five years later, on 16 November 1883, the women's movement made its first permanent move toward globalization. Women from France, Ireland, Scotland, and England met in Liverpool and honored Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who came to share their organizing experience. Like every other good meeting, they began by adopting a resolution: "Recognizing that union is strength and that the time has come when women all over the world should unite." They created committees and decided to follow up five years later, in 1888, when women would be celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention.

They did as planned, and five years later, their efforts paid off better than anyone could have ever expected: the women who gathered in Washington in 1888 represented 49 nations! Many of them were recruited by the Women's Christian Temperance Union and its amazingly successful feminist president, Frances Willard. The previous year, a call had gone out from a committee of seven headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, advocating the formation of an International Council of Women. "It is impossible to overestimate the far-reaching influence of such a Council," they said. "An interchange of opinions on the great questions now agitating the world will rouse women to new thought … and give them a realizing sense of the power of combination." They mailed 4,000 calls and spent $12,000 on planning for the council, much of it on printing. The 16-page program for the event was duplicated so often that a "low estimate" was 672,000 pages of printing.

The eight-day meeting, which involved far more speeches and resolutions than can be detailed, was an impressive beginning for a permanent body poised to deal with the widely varied status of women around the world. President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland visited the conference, and the speakers included women of color. The women decided that each nation would hold a national assembly every three years; and they would join together for international follow-up every five years. The platform that was adopted spoke to the range of educational and economic barriers women faced, as well as to the burdens of marital and family law. Unlike Seneca Falls, however, this platform stopped short of demanding the vote. Such an encompassing idea of equality was still too radical for most of the delegates.

They came from countries in which the very idea of democracy was still new: after all, only a little more than a century had passed since America created a model for governing without a monarch or other supreme authority. That model grew out of the ideas of the Enlightenment, and the words of two of its French philosophers helped prepare for feminist theory as an expansion of democratic theory. Montesquieu, on whose ideas much of the American constitution was based, presumably would not have approved of the exclusion of women from that constitution. "The powers of the sexes," he said in 1748, "would be equal if their education were too. Test women in the talents that have not been enfeebled by the way they have been educated, and we will then see if we are so strong." Voltaire, whose 1778 death occurred just after the American Revolution began, had even stronger words for his fellow men: "Women are capable of doing everything we do, with this single difference between them and us, that they are more amiable than we are."


  1. Howe had even considered divorce back when that was an almost impossible idea. Her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, was famous as an innovative educator of the deaf; although they shared abolitionist and other liberal views, Dr. Howe resented both his wife's early literary work and her late-in-life success.
  2. The current president of the National association, she graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1852, just a year after Lydia Fowler did. During the Civil War, Dr. Lozier began New York Medical College for Women, a successful institution that eventually trained hundreds of female physicians.
  3. For much more detail, see Doris Weatherford, Foreign and Female: Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930, rev. ed. (New York: Facts On File, 1995).
  4. Many midwestern Germans had come up the Mississippi from New Orleans in the pre-Civil War years. St. Louis was considered the headquarters of both Lutheran and Catholic Germans, and these Kansans were likely to have gone west from Missouri.
  5. Although the argument, of course, was specious, there were more Chinese in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states than might be expected. Relatively few were women, however; the vast majority were men imported to do dangerous mining and railroad construction in the mountains. Prejudice against them was so real that, in 1887, at least 40 Chinese were killed and some 600 driven from their homes in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
  6. One man who attended this meeting was "Rev. Mr. Wright, who preferred to be introduced as the nephew of Dr. Harriot K. Hunt of Boston."
  7. One of the convention delegates who supported the women was Agapita Vigil, a Mexican-American legislator from southern Colorado, who—like many of his constituents—spoke only Spanish. The legislature employed a translator for him and other lawmakers who did not speak English.
  8. Nebraska's foreign-born population was largely German, especially from the east (Prussia) and south (Bohemia).
  9. In Mary Olney Brown's 1870 test of women's right to vote in the Washington Territory, for example, the role of "tickets" as a way to manage votes was clear. While she attempted to vote, "a cart rattled up bearing a male citizen who was … drunk. This disgusting, drunken idiot was picked up out of the cart by two men, who put a ticket in his hand [and] carried him [to the polls].…His vote received, he was tumbled back into the cart."
  10. Men who worked on railroad construction were likely to be foreign born. Crews coming from the East frequently were Irish, while those based in the West were Chinese.
  11. The WCTU's lobbyist on this was Angela F. Newman of Nebraska. She also succeeded in getting Congress to appropriate tens of thousands of dollars during the next several years for a Salt Lake City rehabilitative center for women who wished to leave polygamous marriages. It probably was the first taxpayer funding for what was essentially a displaced homemaker program.
  12. Poll taxes existed in many states and localities as a way of excluding poor voters. In some places, those who owned property on which they paid taxes did not have to pay an additional poll tax; in other places, people had to pay both. In Massachusetts at this time, the poll tax averaged two dollars; later it was lowered to 50 cents. These taxes persisted especially in the South, as a way of excluding black voters, until an amendment to the federal Constitution finally banned them in 1964.
  13. One rare exception was in early twentieth-century Alabama, where an aristocratic governing class often behaved like Europeans. Kate Gordon of New Orleans reported at the 1902 National Suffrage Convention: "The clause which lived twenty-four hours in the Alabama Constitution, granting to tax-paying women owning $500 worth of property the suffrage on questions of bondage indebtedness, was killed by a disease particular to the genus homo known as chivalry."
  14. All Southern states rewrote their constitutions in the Reconstruction era.
  15. Henry Clay was a powerful U.S. senator and presidential candidate in the prewar era; Cassius Clay was an abolitionist founder of the Republican Party and ambassador to Russia.
  16. See appendix.
  17. That this was a pseudonym became well known during her lifetime. Her maiden name was Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin; called Aurore by her family, she was officially Baroness Dudevant after a disastrous marriage at 18. Divorce, of course, was impossible in France in 1831, when they permanently separated. Sand frequently dressed like a man, but also had numerous heterosexual relationships, including a long affair with composer Frederic Chopin.


SOURCE: Brammer, Leila R. "Matilda Joslyn Gage and Woman Suffrage." In Excluded from Suffrage History: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Nineteenth-Century American Feminist, pp. 55-65. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

In the following essay, Brammer describes the unwavering principle of natural rights underlying the suffrage work of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who, the critic argues, deserves to be remembered along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as one of the preeminent nineteenth-century advocates for women's rights.

Matilda Joslyn Gage's unwavering belief in liberty for all persons was grounded in her commitment to the United States Constitution. Based in natural rights, the Constitution upholds equality and liberty for all. The natural rights foundation is clearly illustrated in the memorable passage, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Joslyn Gage's arguments concerning woman's rights and woman suffrage are firmly rooted in this ideal. She believed and argued vehemently that all persons, including women, had been endowed with inalienable rights that the government was obligated to protect. As a result, underlying Matilda Joslyn Gage's arguments for woman's rights was the basic assumption that women have rights because they are persons and that the government's only function is the protection of those rights. As early as 1852, she argued:

We claim, as a natural right, the same privilege of acting as we think best, which is accorded the other half of mankind.… Although our country makes great profession in regard to general liberty, yet the right to particular liberty, natural equality, and personal independence, of two great portions of this country, is treated, from custom, with the greatest contempt; and color in one instance and sex in the other, are brought as reason why they should be so derided; and the mere mention of such natural rights is frowned upon, as tending to promote sedition and anarchy.

(p. 5)

This natural rights argument for woman's equal treatment extended logically to the ballot as a natural right and as a means of protecting other rights. The grounding of her suffrage arguments in natural rights is significant. Joslyn Gage did not argue out of need, out of benefit, nor out of deserving the vote; to her, the matter was clear-cut. Women were born, as were all people, with inalienable rights, including the right of self-government. However, Joslyn Gage also saw suffrage as a means for women to obtain equality and protect their rights.

Joslyn Gage's extension of woman's rights to the ballot is an argument that dates to the beginning of the woman's rights movement. The initial resolution crafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and presented at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention in 1848 was based in natural rights. Advocates saw suffrage at the time as the key to the advancement of women. However, women were more interested in other issues. In 1870 Cady Stanton observed, "Women respond to my divorce speech as they never did to suffrage. Oh how they flock to me with their sorrows" (Stanton & Blatch, 1922, p. 127). Later, as the demand for suffrage became more acceptable, women began to connect suffrage with other issues and argue that woman suffrage was necessary to secure protection for women, children, and the country. As Alice Kraditor (1965) wrote, "The woman suffrage movement had no official ideology. Its members and leaders held every conceivable view of current events and represented every philosophical position. Although they all agreed that women should have the right to vote, they disagreed on why they ought to have that right" (p. vii). Kraditor identifies two types of suffrage arguments: natural rights arguments based on women as equal to men as persons, and expediency arguments grounded in suffrage as a means for women to enact laws reflecting their unique nature (p. 44). Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (1983) contends that the conflicting views of women, which served as the foundations of these two different arguments for suffrage, resulted in a critical tension. Expediency arguments that claimed women's moral voice was needed in the political arena were directly opposed to natural rights arguments of women's equality. Further, Campbell indicates that the later subjugation of natural rights arguments by morality claims hindered the women's movement and made a second wave of feminism necessary (p. 103).

Although differing views on suffrage arguments were not the cause of the split between early suffrage workers into two organizations, each organization held its own distinct view. Kraditor classifies Lucy Stone's arguments as expedient because she did not argue from a natural rights perspective; rather, she saw the ballot as a means of self-protection for women, particularly as a way of strengthening rape laws and raising the age of consent (Kraditor, 1965, pp. 54-55). Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Joslyn Gage, and other members of the National did not disagree with using suffrage for political protection, but their arguments for suffrage were grounded in natural rights.

Slowly, natural rights became the less prominent argument for women in the movement as expediency arguments grew. New expediency arguments were the result of natural rights being questioned in the wake of the influx of immigrants into the country. As suffrage workers became more conservative, even less emphasis was placed on common humanity and more emphasis was placed on woman's unique capacity to provide a moral foundation for society (Kraditor, 1965, p. 44). They claimed women, particularly those in the middle class, were suited for suffrage because of their innate morality. Organizations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) grounded their suffrage arguments in expediency and morality. The spread of these arguments based on claims that women were distinct from men hurt natural rights claims that women and men were created equal. In addition, expediency arguments increased attacks on the suffrage of other groups, such as blacks, immigrants, and the poor.

Joslyn Gage was uncompromising in the consistency of her natural rights stance. Although she supported suffrage as a means of self-protection and linked it to specific changes, the basis of her argument always remained natural rights, and she never strayed from her firm conviction that all persons, regardless of sex, race, or class, shared the same natural rights. While Joslyn Gage unwaveringly saw natural rights as the grounds for suffrage, she did conceive that woman suffrage, once attained, could be used as a means to change the world.

Political Uses for Woman Suffrage

Joslyn Gage's view of suffrage as a means for women to demand and protect their rights was unlike expediency claims for suffrage. There were others who believed as she did, such as Cady Stanton, who argued that suffrage was the means to develop woman's full potential (Kraditor, 1965, p. 10). However, most who argued for suffrage as a means were aligned with the WCTU and other causes seeking to enfranchise women so they could vote for morality. Joslyn Gage and Cady Stanton shared an entirely different conception of the uses of suffrage. They did not see suffrage as a means to advance general moral or political issues but rather as a means for women to advance themselves. The underlying assumptions and the framing of the arguments differed as well. The potential use of suffrage was not a primary argument for Cady Stanton and Joslyn Gage but rather an added advantage of women gaining their natural rights. Joslyn Gage's work attempted to establish woman's natural right to suffrage and, then once gained, to use it to improve the condition of women. In all cases, her arguments based in the uses for suffrage were aimed at audiences of women; in fact, when arguing to Congress or other groups of men, Joslyn Gage made only natural rights arguments. Her focus on the uses of suffrage served as part of her consciousness-raising efforts in The National Citizen and Ballot Box.



Speaking before the National Woman's Rights Convention held in Syracuse, New York, in September of 1852, twenty-six-year-old Matilda Joslyn Gage let her strong feelings be known regarding the obsequious acceptance of male authority expected of women. An ardent advocate of reforms to gain women both educational and political equality, Gage dedicated much of her life to writing, editing, and speaking out on suffrage and other feminist issues. A founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, Gage contributed numerous articles to the pages of its journal, the Revolution. She joined NWSA's first advisory council and was elected secretary and vice president, becoming president in 1875. A year later, on Independence Day, she and Susan B. Anthony presented the "Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States" to the nation's vice president. Gage left the NWSA shortly thereafter but remained active in the organization as editor of its newsletter, National Citizen and Ballot Box, as well as serving as president of a local branch, the New York State Woman Suffrage Association.

Working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Anthony, Gage produced the first three parts of the four-volume History of Woman Suffrage, which was published from 1881 to 1886. Gage's contributions include the chapter "Woman, Church and State," the subject of the which informed Gage's later work arguing that the religious indoctrination received by women via organized Christianity perpetuated the social inferiority of women. Therefore, Gage declared, the teachings of the Church were a key obstacle to female equality. Gage founded the Woman's National Liberal Union in 1890 to further promote the dissolution of the socially accepted interrelationship between church and government. In 1893 she published an expansion of her work for History of Woman Suffrage entitled Woman, Church and State.

Joslyn Gage saw political rights as the most important rights, arguing that women "not possessing their political rights … are oppressed by society, by the church, by the laws, because political rights underlie all other rights" (Duty, December 1878, p. 2). Men professed to be representatives of the people, when fully one-half of the people did not have a vote. Joslyn Gage argued that this system could not continue because men could not be trusted to protect women. She contended: "Women are frequently asked if they cannot trust their interests in the hands of their husbands and fathers and brothers and sons. At first glance, woman would say yes,…but in the light of bitter experience, we emphatically answer No. There is no protection quite like self-protection; there is no power quite like the power a woman holds in her own hands" (1852-1880 [November 9, 1871]). Joslyn Gage was well aware of the injustices that had occurred at the hands of the government and which were not abated by men holding the ballot. Her entire woman's rights argument was built from that perspective. She saw a fundamental problem with assuming that men would protect women, stating that "woman, now, is the being who has no rights man is bound to respect" (His property, August 1878, p. 4). Certainly, if one is thought to have no rights, they cannot be protected. She pointed out that "[m]en make the laws not women. Men make all the child-stealing-fugitive-wife laws; those men who 'protect women;' those men who 'love, honor and respect' women; those men who 'take care' of women. Away with such protection.…Puta ballot in her hands and such laws will no longer be enacted" (Notes, December 1878, p. 3). Moreover, she asserted that those who voted were not interested in such protection or were incapable of making such judgments. She observed that, during an election, "[w]e shall once again see ignorant, degraded and drunken men exercise the rights of self-government at the ballot box … [while women look on] seeing the grave questions of importance to every individual in the community decided without their consent … defeated by masculine voters whose brains are muddled with rum" (The duty, October 1878, p. 1).

With the hope of relief from male voters eliminated, Joslyn Gage knew the only hope was woman suffrage, allowing women to protect themselves from unjust laws and customs. Her research into the oppression of women led her to exclaim, "She must be able to protect herself and she can only do this by having the ballot in her own hands" (Wadleigh's report, July 1878, p. 2). Joslyn Gage also believed that women would vote to protect other women, not just themselves, and, thus, exact protection for all women (From him, May 1878, p. 1). She saw numerous instances in which women could and, she believed, would make a difference for other women. Like Stone, Joslyn Gage argued that one case would be rape laws: "The practice of non-conviction or of pardoning such wretches if convicted, deserves the severest censure.… Could women but protect themselves by the ballot, we should see a very different state of affairs" (Drift, August 1878, p. 1). To Joslyn Gage, woman suffrage would not just correct a base injustice but would be the means to punish and prevent many, if not all, of the crimes against women, if the ballot was used by women to protect women. Although she hoped that protection and change for women would result from woman suffrage, she never crossed over to expediency claims of morality. Without exception, her arguments in support of woman suffrage were based entirely in natural rights.

Natural Rights Arguments

In her consistent support for natural rights, Joslyn Gage was unmatched. Unlike some of her colleagues, Joslyn Gage universally applied her natural rights arguments to all segments of society and never denied these rights to any group. Cady Stanton and Anthony had questioned the fitness of suffrage for blacks, immigrants, and the uneducated. In the Kansas Campaign in 1867, both made derogatory references to blacks and campaigned against granting them suffrage. In 1895, Cady Stanton wrote,

A rapidly increasing class of educated women demand the right of suffrage for their own protection, as well as for the best interests of the State; and they have a right to call a halt on any further enfranchisement of the ignorant classes, until the better element in society is fully recognized in the Government. Our rulers have no excuse for their fears of the ignorant and vicious classes of women. The have it in their power to extent the suffrage to the best class, on an educational qualification.

(p. 2)

Later in the same article, Stanton made a clear moral expediency claim for the ballot when she wrote, "And where can he look for this new, moral force, but in the education, elevation and emancipation of women—the mothers of the race?" (p. 2). These arguments against universal suffrage based in the morality of women became even more prominent in suffrage rhetoric after the merger of the National American, but Joslyn Gage always held firm to the egalitarian nature of rights. Of all those prominent in the suffrage movement, only the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw came close to matching Joslyn Gage's consistency, yet even she advanced arguments critical of suffrage for immigrants (Kraditor, 1965, pp. 52, 126).

Further, Joslyn Gage never argued that women deserved the ballot, that women could use it to support special causes, such as temperance, or that the states were the battleground. In this, she defined and never wavered from the principles of natural rights and the National Woman Suffrage Association. To her, the ballot was a national issue because it was the responsibility of the national government to protect the rights of all persons, including woman's natural right to the ballot. She delivered some of the most important speeches on natural rights, and it is in these speeches, where her arguments stemmed from constitutional law, that Joslyn Gage shows her most effective use of rhetorical strategies. Her fundamental belief in natural rights is clear from her Woman's Rights Catechism, published in 1871, and her first known woman's rights speech in 1852.

In a speech delivered for the first time at the National's Washington convention in 1873, Joslyn Gage articulated the basis for her arguments for suffrage on the national level. Her thesis was: "'State rights' has from the very commencement of the Government been the rock on which the ship of the nation has many times nearly foundered, and from which it is to-day in great danger. The one question of the hour is, Is the United States a Nation with full and complete National powers, or is it a mere thread upon which States are strung as are the beads upon a necklace?" (Stanton et al., 1985/1882, pp. 523-24). She traced the history of the federal government from the founding of the country and praised each step toward strengthening the federal government as a step toward a true nation and the true guarantee of rights. She observed, "State centralization is tyranny; National centralization is freedom. State centralization means special laws; National centralization means general laws. The continued habit of States to make laws for every part of their own boundaries brought to the surface the 'States rights' theory which precipitated upon us our civil war" (p. 528). Joslyn Gage argued that only the national government could protect the rights of its citizens and that it was its duty to do so. She emphasized that national citizenship was central to all rights and privileges. She said, "We are not first citizens of Rhode Island, or South Carolina, but if we belong to the nation at all, we are first parts of that Nation.… That every person born or naturalized in the Nation, must be borne in mind, for upon that depend the liberties of every man, woman and child in the Nation, black or white, native or foreign" (p. 526).

As the rights of citizenship in a representative democracy outlined in the Constitution fundamentally include the right to elect representatives, Joslyn Gage connected national citizenship directly to the vote. She stated, "This government does not stand to-day [sic] on free trade, or tariff, or the war-power, or its right to manage post-offices, or to coin money, or to make treaties. Not one of these singly, nor all collectively, form the governing power; it stands upon the right of every person governed by the Nation to share in the election of its rulers" (pp. 530-31). Further, Joslyn Gage saw the denial of rights to citizens as a significant issue that affected everyone. She observed, "The question of citizen suffrage is not a woman question alone, but it is a question of the rights of citizenship affecting every man in this wide land" (p. 532). She noted the implications, "If a S[t]ate has a right to deprive one class of citizens of its vote for one cause, it has a right to deprive any other class of its vote for any reason" (p. 530). In support of that claim, she offered evidence of Rhode Island's denial of suffrage to 10,000 naturalized citizens. In that case, Congress reported unfavorably on a petition to restore their rights. Joslyn Gage quickly pointed to the double standard, on one hand, not getting involved in suffrage in this case, and on the other, prosecuting Anthony for voting.

These inconsistencies in practice and the refusal of the federal government to become involved in securing a guaranteed right fundamental to citizenship, particularly refusing to protect the vital principle behind the Republic, greatly disturbed Joslyn Gage. Her commitment to the national government was not a strategy for obtaining the vote; she was committed to a strong, centralized government and believed it was the only security for all rights. She supported the direct election of the president, term limitation, limitations on official patronage, and apportioning senators based on population (p. 533). In every case, liberty was her central concern, and the federal government upholding the Constitution was the only protection.

She further developed this argument in her speeches in support of Anthony before her trial in 1873. In these speeches, she did not concern herself with centralization or the power of the states; instead, she argued completely from the Constitution. Her thesis, drawn directly from the Declaration of Independence, was that governments do not create rights but rather are created to protect rights. Underlying this argument and her attitude toward the powers of government were five principles. These principles were extremely important to her conception of government and, later, they were included in the National's Declaration of Woman's Rights. Joslyn Gage asserted these five original principles as:

First. The natural right of each individual to self-government.

Second. The exact equality of these rights.

Third. That these rights when not delegated by the individual, are retained by the individual.

Fourth. That no person can exercise these rights of others without delegated authority.

Fifth. That the non-use of these rights does not destroy them.

(1974/1873, p. 181)

Joslyn Gage believed that the idea of representative government was fundamental. She stated, "The great foundation and key stone alike of our Republican ideas, of our Constitution, is individual, personal representation" (p. 188). She then applied this fundamental principle of representative government to citizenship. She observed that, "In the United States, representation is based upon individual, personal rights—therefore, every person born in the United States—every person,—not every white person, not every male person, but every person is born with political rights" (p. 193). Women, of course, were people; they had been part of "the people" from the inception of the United States. Joslyn Gage stated: "At the time of framing this government women existed as well as men, women are part of the people; the people created the government" (p. 189). Indeed, women were governed. If the government derived its "just power from the consent of the governed," then the governed should vote. She then argued that women, most certainly, were among the governed—"they pay taxes, they are held amenable to laws, they are tried for crimes; they are fined, imprisoned, hung" (p. 180). She then turned to the idea behind the Revolution, taxation without representation, and argued that women were still living under an unjust government. The Constitution established that those governed must be represented; those who are taxed must have the right to vote.

Further, the prosecution of Anthony for illegal voting under a federal law proved that women were treated as citizens and that the general government had power over suffrage. "By its prosecution of Miss Anthony, the general government acknowledged her as a citizen of the United States, and what is much more, it acknowledged its own jurisdiction over the ballot—over the chief—… over the only political right of its citizens. This prosecution is an admission of the United States jurisdiction, instead of State jurisdiction" (p. 196). Although this argument alone is compelling, Joslyn Gage continued to build her case for women as citizens.

She advanced the inclusion of women in the Constitution. She pointed out that the Constitution itself, while not referring to women specifically, did not refer directly to men either. Women were entitled to and received the same rights as men to worship, speak, assemble, and so forth; therefore, women were included "equally with men in the intentions of the framers" (p. 192). She noted that originally only the Sixth amendment included the words "him" and "his" in referring to the right to a speedy, public trial by a jury of peers; however, "no one can be found wild enough to say women were not intended to be included in its benefits" (p. 192). Joslyn Gage reminded the audience that Anthony had already received protection under the amendment. The argument was effectively based in constitutional law, but carried with it a threat of a reversal possibly to deny women those rights that they had been guaranteed. Interestingly, during the trial when the judge directed the jury to find her guilty, Anthony was denied the right to a trial by a jury of her peers.

Despite the directed verdict and other legal maneuvers, Joslyn Gage had clearly established Anthony's citizenship. She summed up her argument:

The question brought up by this trial is not a woman's rights question, but a citizen's rights question. It is not denied that women are citizens,—it is not denied that Susan B. Anthony was born in the United States, and therefore a citizen of the United States.… It cannot be denied that she is a person,—one of the people,—there is not a word in the Constitution of the United States which militates against the recognition of woman as a person, as one of the people, as a citizen.

(p. 201)

Joslyn Gage's argument eliminated other options. Anthony's citizenship could not be denied and that she was governed and taxed could not be denied; therefore, she must be allowed to vote if the nation abided by its Constitution. The argument also performed another important task of redefining the issue. Joslyn Gage argued repeatedly that the issue was not about women, but about the rights of all citizens. If one could be denied, all were in jeopardy. In this way, Joslyn Gage made Anthony a representative, a test of liberty. She stated: "Miss Anthony is to-day [sic] the representative of liberty. In all ages of the world, and during all times, there have been epochs in which some one person took upon their own shoulders the hopes and the sorrows of the world, and in their own person, through many struggles bore them onward.… Such an epoch exists now, and such a person is Susan B. Anthony" (p. 205). Presenting Anthony as the enactment of liberty as provided in the Constitution was a very effective strategy, giving the public only one choice if they wanted to reaffirm republican principles. She argued, "If your decision is favorable to the defendant, you will sustain the constitution; if adverse, if you are blinded by prejudice; you will not decide against women alone, but against the United States as well" (p. 205). Her argument from constitutional law was compelling, but it is most effective in the way it provided the background for her to link Anthony and liberty.

At least partially, the judge's direction of the verdict was in response to the strength of the arguments advanced by Joslyn Gage and Anthony. In the courts, natural rights arguments were met with many questionable legal maneuvers and inconsistencies in argument. For example, in 1873, the federal government prosecuted Anthony for voting, but, in the 1874 Minor v. Happersett ruling, the Supreme Court found that voting was not the responsibility of the federal government. In the Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite granted that women were persons and citizens, but argued that voting was not one of the privileges of citizenship and that the United States had "no voters in the States of its own creation" (Stanton et al., 1985/1882, p. 738). As such, Virginia Minor fell under Missouri state law, which allowed only male suffrage. The inconsistencies in Waite's decision were an easy target for Joslyn Gage.

Anthony referred to Joslyn Gage's argument on the Minor Decision as her "most brilliant"; indeed, it was very thorough and cogent. Her main contention was that the United States had created at least eight classes of voters, and in great detail, she showed how each class had gained its vote and how the United States protected it. She summed up her argument as follows:

Thus at the time of Chief-Justice Waite's decision asserting National want of power over the ballot, and declaring the United States possessed no voters in the States (where else would it have them?), the country already possessed eight classes of voters, or persons whose right to the ballot was in some form under the control or sanction of the United States. The black man, the amnestied man, the naturalized man, the foreigner honorably discharged from the Union army, voters for the lower House of Congress, voters for Presidential electors, pardoned civil and military criminals. Further research may bring still other classes to light.

(Stanton et al., 1985/1882, p. 744)

She also argued that it was the United States that had prosecuted Anthony not the State; if, indeed, it was not a question for the United States, her trial was void, and her vote should be counted. Joslyn Gage had thoroughly declared the decision of the Supreme Court invalid in that it was based on an interpretation of the Constitution and an interpretation of the laws that she, a woman, had proven false. She concluded, "She [Anthony] asks for nothing outside the power of the United States, she ask for nothing outside the duty of the United States to secure. Politicians may as well look this fact squarely in the face … for in just so far as they ignore and forget the women of the country, in just so far will they themselves be ignored and forgotten by future generations" (p. 748). Her argument and appeal for justice was powerful, but she also included some other important arguments concerning woman suffrage.

She took up the issue that Congress was trying to take away woman suffrage in Utah and Wyoming, arguing that, according to Waite, it was not a question of the national government. But, she went further to argue that women in Wyoming had used the ballot well. First, she answered charges that women in Wyoming did not deserve the ballot because they were not using it. She responded: "I care very little … one way or the other, as long as her right to vote is not interfered with. It will be time to require all women to vote when we have such a law for men; until then let each voter refrain from voting at his or her own option; it is not the vital question" (p. 745). From there, she detailed the impact women voters had on the territory, including the equalization of salaries for men and women teachers. She noted, "[P]olitical power always benefits the parties holding it" (p. 746). Voting also allowed women to sit on juries, and Joslyn Gage contended that juries including women frightened criminals so much that they left the territory (p. 745). But the right to sit on juries had been taken away by the U.S. Marshall, which Joslyn Gage condemned for denying woman's political rights and her industrial rights. She argued: "It is a well-known fact that some women earned their first industrial dollar by sitting in the jury box. And whatever interferes with woman's industrial rights helps to send her down to those depths where want of bread has forced so many women; into the gutters of shame.… Every infringement of a person's political rights, touches a hundred other rights adversely" (p. 746). As always for Joslyn Gage, these issues came back to personal liberty and attainment of equal rights for women in every sphere. She made similar arguments regarding woman suffrage to the Joint Congressional Committee on the District of Columbia in 1876.

At the Joint Congressional Committee hearing, Joslyn Gage argued from her usual basis of natural rights and the principles of government, but, in response to claims that women did not desire suffrage, she advanced a rather strong statement showing that women did want to vote. She noted that 7,000 women in the District of Columbia had signed a petition indicating their desire to vote, and they were supported in their efforts by thousands of women across the country. Indeed, claimed Joslyn Gage, men of the District had not demanded the ballot. She concluded, "The men of this District who quietly remain disenfranchised have the spirit of slaves, and if asking for the ballot is any proof of fitness for its use, then the women who do ask for it here prove themselves in this respect superior to men, more alive to the interests of this District, and better fitted to administer the Government" (1876, p. 3). Although she argued from the desires of women, her argument was based in natural rights. She stated: "The freedom of this country is only half won. The women of today have less freedom than our fathers of the Revolution, for they were permitted local self-government,…while women have no share in local, state, or general government. All the arguments ever used against extending suffrage to women have been used against granting rights to common men" (p. 5). Again, Joslyn Gage developed the link between sex and class and argued that natural rights had no preferences; they extended to all people.

Joslyn Gage continued her arguments for suffrage monthly in The National Citizen and Ballot Box. As the name makes clear, the prime concern of the paper was woman suffrage, but to Joslyn Gage, suffrage was inextricably linked to woman's rights. Her arguments for suffrage in the paper continued to be based in natural rights. She stated in the prospectus, "Suffrage is a citizen's right and should be protected by National law, and that while States may recognize suffrage, they should have no power to abolish it" (May 1878, p. 1). In 1878, before the Joint Congressional Committee on Privileges and Elections, she argued, "But as proud as is this name of American citizen; it brings with it only shame and humiliation to one-half the nation. Woman has no part nor lot in the matter. The pride of citizenship is not for her, for woman is still a political slave.…Woman equally with man has natural rights; woman equally with man is a responsible being" (Stanton et al., 1985/1886, p. 93).

Without the ballot, the only power women possessed was the right to protest. Joslyn Gage encouraged women to continue to use that right in the effort to have their other rights recognized. She wrote to the women of Dakota Territory, "Every injustice under which she suffers, as wife, mother, woman, child, in property and in person, is due to the fact that she is not recognized as man's political equal—and her only power is that of protest" (Stanton et al., 1985/1886, p. 664). To that end, she instructed and advocated women's use of petitions as their only recognized political right contending that "men will not be convinced women desire their rights unless they thus demand them. Petition! Petition!! Petition!!!" (Petition!, December 1878, p. 2). Despite their petitions, numbering tens of thousands in many instances, all their efforts were denied. Joslyn Gage argued that the petitions showed women's desire to vote and proved time and time again that, when given the opportunity, women voted, and in greater numbers than men. She gave an example of women in the Dakota Territory who traveled miles through a blizzard to cast their ballots, yet in Massachusetts during a governor's election, only one-third of the men voted (Stanton et al., 1985/1886, p. 668).

In her arguments on suffrage, Joslyn Gage remained consistent in her focus on women's natural rights as people. Her arguments were well researched, detailed, and cogent for her audiences of Congressmen and the public; however, in each case, these arguments were ignored. At one point late in her life, Cady Stanton speaks of how angered she was to have her arguments for suffrage rejected by a group of smug young men (1971/1898, p. 309). Later, she said, "I cannot work in the old ruts any longer. I have said all I have to say on the subject of suffrage" (Gurko, 1974, p. 282). There is some evidence that Joslyn Gage shared this sentiment.

Throughout her life, Joslyn Gage continued to argue actively for suffrage, but, by 1878, she had turned her thoughts to the larger, underlying issues. That judges, lawyers, and other men ignored fine legal arguments while making inconsistent arguments of their own pointed to a larger problem. She began to investigate and theorize about the roots of woman's oppression. She determined that it was not just the law, that it was not just the state, but the church as well, and that collusion between the church and state was at the center of all woman's oppression. She concluded that woman's oppression was a function of patriarchy, a system that was particularly vicious because it induced women to participate in their own oppression.

Although she never denied the importance of suffrage, Joslyn Gage's work turned to educating women about this system of oppression. She realized that while women were controlled by this system, the ballot would make little difference. Women would continue as they were, participating in their own oppression. These were the reasons that she feared Frances Willard and the WCTU so much and was so upset by the merger of the National with the American. Perhaps she had determined that if women received the ballot under those conditions, nothing would change. Thus, exposing patriarchy and educating people to the dangers of it became central to her plan of freeing women from this system of controls, and at the heart of her argument was the institution of the church.

Works Cited

Campbell, K. K. (1983). Femininity and feminism: To be or not to be a woman. Communication Quarterly, 31, 101-108.

Gage, M. J. (1852-1880). Scrapbook of writings. In the Matilda Joslyn Gage Papers (MC 377, File 46), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Gage, M. E. J. (1852). Speech of Mrs. M. E. J. Gage at the woman's rights convention, held at Syracuse, Sept. 1852. Women's rights tracts, (No. 7). In History of Women Microfilm Collection (1975), 942. New Haven, CT: Research Publications.

Gage, M. J. (1871). Woman's rights catechism. In the Matilda Joslyn Gage Papers (MC 377, File 46), Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Gage, M. J. (1876). Arguments before the Committee on the District of Columbia of the U.S. House of Representatives upon the Centennial Woman Suffrage Memorial of the women citizens of this nation. Washington, D.C.: Gibson Brothers. In History of Women Microfilm Collection (1975), 946. New Haven, CT: Research Publications.

Gage, M. J. (1878, May). Drift of thought. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 1.

Gage, M. J. (1878, May). From him that hath not, shall be taken away that which he hath. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 1.

Gage, M. J. (1878, July). Wadleigh's report. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 2.

Gage, M. J. (1878, August). His property. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 4.

Gage, M. J. (1878, October). The duty of the hour. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 1.

Gage, M. J. (1878, December). Duty of the minority. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 2.

Gage, M. J. (1878, December). Notes and items. The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 3.

Gage, M. J. (1878, December). Petition! Petition!! Petition!!! The National Citizen and Ballot Box, p. 2.

Gage, M. J. (1974). The United States on trial; not Susan B. Anthony. In An account of the proceeding on the trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the charge of illegal voting, at the Presidential election in November 1872. New York: Arno Press. (Original work published 1873.)

Gurko, M. (1974). The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The birth of the woman's rights movement. New York: Macmillan.

Kraditor, A. S. (1965). The ideas of the woman suffrage movement, 1890-1920. New York: Columbia University Press.

Stanton, E. C. (1895, February 14). Educated suffrage. The Independent, pp. 1-2.

Stanton, E. C. (1971). Eighty years and more: Reminiscences 1815-1897. New York: Schocken Books. (Original work published 1898.)

Stanton, E. C., Anthony, S. B., & Gage, M. J. (Eds.). (1985). History of woman suffrage (Vol. 2). Salem, NH: Ayer Company. (Original work published 1882.)

Stanton, E. C., Anthony, S. B., & Gage, M. J. (Eds.). (1985). History of woman suffrage (Vol. 3). Salem, NH: Ayer Company. (Original work published 1886.)

Stanton, T., & Blatch, H. S. (Eds.). (1922). Elizabeth Cady Stanton as revealed in her letters, diary, and reminiscences (Vol. 2). New York: Harper.

About this article

United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Suffrage: Issues and Individuals

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


United States Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century: Suffrage: Issues and Individuals