Today in Feminist History: Survey Shows Growing Support for Suffrage in the House

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

January 7, 1918: Today was a doubly good day for our cause!

A new survey of House members bodes well for the future of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, and a final analysis of votes from last November’s suffrage referendum in New York showed overwhelming support for “Votes for Women” from our soldiers, now bearing the hardest responsibility of citizenship in battles overseas.

Military-themed poster used in last year’s successful New York suffrage campaign.

This was the last day of hearings in the House on the suffrage amendment, and a canvass by pro-suffrage House members of their colleagues shows that support is growing, though there is still stubborn resistance by Southern segregationists due to the fact that the amendment is race-neutral, and enforceable by Congress, not the individual States. The House suffrage supporters have now divided the country into five zones, with a committee assigned to each to make sure that pro-suffrage House members are all present to vote when the time comes, and to keep lobbying anti-suffrage members to vote “yes.” The vote is expected to be close, so just a few “converts” could give the amendment the two-thirds vote it needs in both House and Senate and send it to the States, with ratification by three-quarters required to put woman suffrage in the Constitution.

In the final day of testimony, Senator Joseph Bailey, a Texas Democrat, argued against the amendment, stating that since women were incapable of performing three principal duties of citizenship—military service, law enforcement and jury service—they should not be able to enact laws that would apply to the men doing those duties. He also passed along a warning given by Henry Wise Wood, a former supporter of suffrage, who said that if women ever got the vote they would insist on holding Government offices, and even invade Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House, “unmanning” the Government and sapping the country’s military strength.

The hearings concluded after testimony from the National American Woman Suffrage Association in favor of suffrage and from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to the contrary.

In a development that shows how widespread support for suffrage has now become, the absentee votes of New York’s soldiers in the November 6, 1917 referendum have today been shown to have been nearly two to one in favor. Statewide 26,664 voted in favor of suffrage, with 15,760 against. In New York City, it was 17,428 for and 8,323 against, actually better than two to one. 

Though politics is always unpredictable, optimism is at unprecedented levels in regard to the vote in the House three days from now, but the battle will go on regardless of the outcome. 


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.