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8.6: Women’s Suffrage

Created by: CK-12

The section below includes documents from the women’s suffrage movement, both for and against. The Declaration of Sentiments, from 1848, is the first classic statement from the American Women’s Rights movement. The following two documents are texts from anti-suffragists. The set concludes with a photograph of a participant in a pro-suffrage rally. As you examine these documents, attempt to determine why some people supported the Women’s Suffrage movement while others opposed it.

The Declaration of Sentiments

Source: The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two American activists in the movement to abolish slavery organized the first conference to address Women's rights and issues in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women 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.... Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance (loyalty) to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government....

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations (taking away power) on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise (right to vote).

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He becomes, in marriage, for all intents and purposes, her master--the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer punishment.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of religion, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has given to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies (crimes) which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of insignificant in man.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, --in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document created? By whom?
  2. Contextualization: What else was happening at this time? How would you expect people to react to the Declaration of Sentiments?
  3. Close Reading: What other document is the Declaration of Sentiments modeled upon? Cite specific words and phrases that are similar between the two documents.
  4. Close Reading: Why might the authors of the Declaration of Sentiments have chosen to model their writing on this other document?

Molly Elliot Seawell, The Ladies’ Battle

Source: Excerpt from Molly Elliot Seawell’s The Ladies’ Battle, published in 1911. Seawell was an anti-suffragist from Virginia.

It has often been pointed out that women should not pass laws on matters of war and peace, since no woman can do military duty. But this point applies to other issues, too. No woman can have any practical knowledge of shipping and navigation, of the work of train-men on railways, of mining, or of many other subjects of the highest importance. Their legislation, therefore, would not be intelligent, and the laws they devised to help sailors, trainmen, miners, etc., might be highly offensive to the very people they tried to help. If sailors and miners refused to obey the laws, who would have to enforce them? The men!

The entire execution of the law would be in the hands of men, backed up by irresponsible voters (women) who could not lift a finger to catch or punish a criminal. And if all the dangers and difficulties of executing the law lay upon men, what right have women to make the law?

Also, there seems to be a close relationship between suffrage and divorce. Political differences in families, between brothers, for example, who vote on differing sides, do not promote harmony. How much more inharmonious must be political differences between a husband and wife, each of whom has a vote which may be used as a weapon against the other? What is likely to be the state of that family, when the husband votes one ticket, and the wife votes another?

Vocabulary

Devised
designed
Executing
carrying out
Inharmonious
unpleasant

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who created this document? When?
  2. Contextualization: What else was happening at this time?
  3. Contextualization: Consider the date of this document, compared to the date of the Declaration of Sentiments and the dates of the abolition movement. How would you expect people reading this document in 1911 to react?
  4. Close Reading: What is Seawell’s argument? What words and evidence does she use to support her argument? Cite specific quotations.

Anti-Suffrage Newspaper in New York

Source: Article from an anti-suffrage newspaper, The Woman’s Protest Against Woman’s Suffrage, published in New York by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, in October 1912.

The Suffragists’ ideal is a kitchen-less house. The Suffragist keeps writing and speaking about pots and pans, and denounces housekeeping as degrading. The Suffragists teach women to revolt against the daily task of tending child and house, and we sadly see the results in the nation’s poor health and lowered physique. It is the Suffragist theory that women’s sphere in life should be the same as the man’s. Is it not clear how this hideous feminism is sapping our vitality as a nation? Is it too much to say that it lies at the root of half the sickness and disease in our country?

There are many wealthy women who support Suffragism, and who do a very dangerous thing in preaching to working women that housework is degrading. As long as a working woman keeps her home clean and well tended, she enjoys the high regard of her neighbors. Yet, now the more weak-minded have been influenced by the Suffragists’ snobbish preaching. Such feminism is destroying our national character and warping the natural impulses and beliefs that make a woman’s life such a beautiful work of art.

Vocabulary

Degrading
lowering one’s character
Sphere
area of influence
Sapping
draining
Vitality
energy
Warping
twisting out of shape

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? By whom? What do you predict the document will say?
  2. Close Reading: According to this document, why did anti-suffragists oppose suffrage? Cite specific passages.

Rep. John A. Moon Speech

Source: Representative John A. Moon of Tennessee, speech in House of Representatives, January 10, 1918, on the issue of the woman suffrage amendment.

It has been insisted that the real purpose of this amendment is to deprive the Southern States of representation in part in Congress....

In those Southern States where the colored population outnumbers the white, to double the number of ignorant voters by giving the colored woman the right to vote would produce a condition that would be absolutely intolerable. We owe something to the wishes and the sentiments of the people of our sister States struggling to maintain law and order and white supremacy....

We are engaged now in a great foreign war. It is not the proper time to change the whole electoral system... Patriotism, in my judgment, forbids the injection of this issue into national politics at this time.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? By whom? What do you predict the document will say?
  2. Close Reading: According to this document, why did anti-suffragists oppose suffrage? Cite specific passages.

Kaiser Wilson Poster

Source: Photograph of Suffragist Virginia Arnold posing with banner at a 1917 protest organized by the National Woman’s Party.(Figure below).

Kaiser Wilson

Have you forgotten Your Sympathy With The Poor Germans Because They Were Not Self-Governed?

20,000,000

American Woman Are Not Self-Governed.

Take the Beam

Out Of Your Own Eye.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who created this sign? When? Who took the photograph?
  2. Contextualization: What else was going on in the world at this time?
  3. Close Reading: Who is the sign maker calling “Kaiser Wilson?” What is the sign maker’s argument? How would the words on the sign make an American in 1917 feel?
  4. Close Reading: Do you recognize the allusion made in the last sentence on the sign? Would a person living in 1917 be likely to recognize it? Would this be effective in persuading people to support suffrage?

Section Questions:

  1. Corroboration: Considering all of the documents in this section, why did some people oppose suffrage?

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