Today in Feminist History: Arguments in Favor of Women’s Suffrage (May 23, 1870)

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.

May 23, 1870: Victory for the woman suffrage movement surely cannot be far off, judging by the impressive assembly of speakers that gathered here in Boston this evening, and the enthusiastic response they received.

PHOTO: William Loyd Garrison

Though this is only the first of three public meetings at Tremont Temple by the 18-month-old New England Woman Suffrage Association, it is hard to imagine any better arguments in favor of equal suffrage could be forthcoming, nor should any more be needed to persuade even the movement’s most severe skeptics to embrace the justice and expediency of our cause.

The meeting was called to order by Julia Ward Howe, with the first order of business being the election of James Freeman Clarke as the group’s president. Clarke is of the opinion that it is time for women to work with men in all they do, and contrary to the dire predictions of opponents, it has been his experience that a close association between the sexes enhances the best characteristics of each.

Despite suffering from a bad cold, Howe returned to the podium again, and made a good point by arguing that the best and most delightful men, such as William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Ward Beecher, John Stuart Mill, and Wendell Phillips are with the women in their struggle.

The most powerful speech this evening was given by Mr. Garrison himself, who had not just one good reason why women should be able to vote, but twelve!

First, he noted that women have the same natural and inalienable rights, and the same common interests as men.

Second, they have as much concern in the establishment of justice, the insurance of domestic tranquility, in providing for the common welfare, and in securing the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity as men. 

Third, women are naturally as capable of understanding and determining what laws will be equitable and what measures effective to these ends as men.

Fourth, they have as strong a love of country and as exalted and pure a patriotism as men.

Fifth, women are taxed without representation and in various ways negatively affected by unjust legislation.

Sixth, they are subject to laws—even to the extent of capital punishment—which they have had no part in enacting, and to which their consent has never been given.

Seventh, women deprived of the ballot have no means of self-protection against legal and judicial injustice.

Eighth, with the ballot they will possess an equal share of political power, and thus be able to redress every wrong. 

Ninth, all caste legislation is oppressive. 

Tenth, a Government which excludes one-half of the population from all participation in its affairs is not a Government of the people.

Eleventh, to make sex a ground of exclusion from the possession and exercise of equal rights is as unjustifiable and tyrannical as it has been to make the color of one’s skin grounds for similar abuse.

And twelfth, to withhold the vote from women is to assign them to a state of guardianship through sheer usurpation and the strong arm of brute force, and consequently tends to injuriously affect the character, policy and destiny of a country, and to make a pure and just administration of government utterly impracticable.

Wendell Phillips has just ended the meeting with an appeal to the community’s sense of justice, and asked that women be given the power to protect themselves.

Though there is certainly a struggle ahead, the fact that women in the Territory of Wyoming won the ballot on December 10 of last year, and the women of Utah Territory did so on February 12 of this year is proof that arguments in favor of woman suffrage are now having an impact, and will one day prevail in every territory, and all 37 States as well!


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.