Today in Feminist History: Give Us Suffrage or We’ll “Smash Windows” (April 21, 1913)

April 21, 1913: As befits this new and revitalized era for the woman suffrage movement, it’s been a newsworthy day.

PHOTO: George Chamberlain, Democratic Governor of Oregon from 1903 to 1909, and a United States Senator from that State since 1909, who spoke eloquently for our cause before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage today.

The main event was in Washington, D.C., site of last month’s massive suffrage parade and pageant.

Today, many Senators and Representatives from states in which women already vote argued in favor of the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment at hearings before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

Senator George Chamberlain, Democrat of Oregon, where women won the vote in a Statewide referendum of the male voters on November 5th. said:

“I expect to see conditions in my State bettered, if they can be bettered, now that women have a vote. I expect Oregon to teach a lesson to the ‘effete East’ in legislation for the good of her citizens. The women are instinctively on the side of moral right.”

Dr. Harry Lane, Oregon’s other Democratic Senator, declared:

“Woman is the full partner of man throughout life. I am a physician, and I give my testimony to this fact. If I had it my way I would give the women of this country the ballot on a silver salver with apologies for giving it so late.”

He noted that in his fight against the liquor interests, women had always given him great support. Republican Representative Burton French said that in the State of Idaho, where women have had the vote since 1896, women vote in the same numbers as men, thus showing that women do want the vote.

Meanwhile, Alva Belmont is preparing to go to the upcoming International Woman Suffrage Conference in Budapest, which opens June 15th. She said today that on her journey she will stop in Britain to see the Pankhursts and learn something of their militant methods.

Though she hopes New York State will pass a suffrage referendum in 1915, Tammany Hall Democrats are unfriendly, and liquor interests are very strong, so if the effort is unsuccessful, she believes it will then be time to use English-style tactics:

“It is not pleasant to go out and smash windows. You wouldn’t like it and I would not like to, but it is the only thing to be done.”

On a more peaceful note, Belmont said that she is collecting the statements of anti-suffragists, will put them in a book some day, “and they will not be proud of them” when equal suffrage is taken for granted, and seen as simple, basic justice.

Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore may have given Belmont an entry for her book today. Though he emphasized that the Catholic Church itself is strictly neutral on the issue of woman suffrage, Gibbons said that in his own personal view, a woman is:

” … the queen of the domestic kingdom, and her proper sphere is the home. If she were to embark on the ocean of political life, it is very much to be feared that her dignity would be impaired if not jeopardized … As soon as women seek to enter the arena of politics they may expect to be soiled by its dust. And the grace and charm inherent in woman would be very seriously impaired by her rude contact with men in political life.

“The wife who absents herself from her home invariably neglects her children and causes her husband to suffer by her absence … Although women may not now exercise suffrage, the finest among them are voting by proxy. Their power is incalculable. We cannot exaggerate the influence of a good woman on the men of her circle. What would be the value to our national life of votes obtained by the raging tactics that disgrace the name of womanhood?”

Unfortunately, most of the male voters of Michigan seem to feel the same way as the Maryland Cardinal. The results of the April 7th suffrage referendum have now been fully tallied, and it has gone down to defeat. It had been hoped that the rural counties which had adopted alcohol prohibition would also be supportive enough of woman suffrage to offset the votes in big cities where saloons still operate freely and the liquor industry has great power, which it uses to oppose suffrage.

But unlike California in 1911, where farm, ranch and small town voters saved the day, this time there was no difference between the country and city vote, so the measure went down by a vote of 264,882 against (61%) to 168,738 in favor (39%).

So, “equal suffrage” still remains a phenomenon exclusive to the West. But with November’s victory in Oregon added to those in Washington (1910) and California (1911), all West Coast women now have the vote, and the newly-enfranchised women of Kansas have brought full suffrage to within 240 miles of the Mississippi River.

Once that barrier is breached, many new States in the East can be won, because the way suffrage has generally spread throughout nine Western States was by winning campaigns in States next to those where women already vote, and residents can see that it benefits, not harms, their neighbors.


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.