Today in Feminist History: What Type of Woman Opposes Suffrage? (April 5, 1913)

April 5, 1913: The issue of woman suffrage was debated for two lively hours at the City Club of New York today.

PHOTO: Women’s Political Union pin.

Harriot Stanton Blatch, president of the Women’s Political Union, was in favor and Mrs. John Martin, author of “Is Mankind Advancing?” in opposition.

Blatch made many arguments in favor of suffrage, one of which was that democracy needs the participation of all the people in order to succeed and that adding the female half of the population to the electorate will cure many of the ills the political system is currently experiencing:

“Democracy is a sort of mirror which tells us exactly where we have arrived. Bad government in this country means bad business and the advantage of a democracy is that we recognize that if the government is bad we have got to mend conditions through the people. We know at once that the trouble is a lack of intelligence on the part of the people, and we can set about at once to remedy it.”

Martin, of course, took the opposite view, even declaring that anti-suffrage was actually the “progressive” position.

She claimed that suffragists were attempting to invade the home, and if successful would harm civilization by distracting women from their natural and vital duty of raising the nation’s children in order to participate in an activity for which they are not naturally suited:

“It is because I am a progressive that I am opposed to suffrage for women. It is my belief that the suffragists are not progressive. Women who demand the right to vote are retrograding. They are selling their birthright for a mess of politics. The world is a complicated and delicate machine and the system which drives women out of the home into competition with men is simply wrecking that machine. The nation has some 35,000,000 of children to rear and it will take all the women of the nation to properly rear them. The most disastrous divorce that can happen is the divorce that means a separation of a mother and her children.

“The most curious thing about this cry for the vote is the fact that women who are asking for it don’t want it. To vote means that they will have to try and understand politics and the subject is not congenial to most women and they will never take any interest in it. Politics bores every woman to the marrow of her bones and there is no use for women to try and fool themselves that it is otherwise. To vote intelligently means that women will have to hobnob and women don’t know how to do that.”

Though recent actions by the British suffrage militants were among the few things not discussed in the debate, Blatch still had an opportunity to express her views on that controversy today.

Alice Edwards, wife of the Secretary of Scotland Yard and a younger sister of Harriot’s husband, William Henry Blatch, Jr., had asked Blatch to use her influence on Emmeline Pankhurst to get her to use only legal and nonviolent means to achieve the vote.

But as might be expected from the leader of the Women’s Political Union (whose name as well as its purple, white and green colors are derived from Pankhurst’s militant Women’s Social and Political Union) Blatch firmly rejected the request in her telegram of response to Edwards:

“I have no influence with Mrs. Pankhurst. If I had, could not use it in way you suggest. Beg you to redouble your efforts; wring withers of Government in every constitutional way, thus hastening victory. [Chancellor of the Exchequer] George must be impartial between inciter Sir Edward Carson [co-founder of the militant Ulster Volunteer Force fighting British rule over Northern Ireland] and inciter Emmeline Pankhurst.”

Though the debate over woman suffrage in the U.S. will go on, the strength of the pro-suffrage arguments and the absurdity of those used to oppose it at today’s gathering give a clear insight into what the eventual outcome will be.


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.