Today in Feminist History: Rival Suffrage Groups Meet in Chicago (June 5, 1916)

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.

June 5, 1916: An exciting week and a half of activity began today as members of two rival suffrage organizations arrived in Chicago.

PHOTO: Anne Martin (far left) and Sara Bard Field (far right) pose behind the “Great Demand” banner of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which reads: “We demand an amendment to the United States Constitution enfranchising women.”

Both are planning on heavily lobbying the Republicans at their national convention here this week, then doing the same with Democrats at their convention in St. Louis from June 14th to 16th, with the goal of getting both parties to include a woman suffrage plank in their platforms.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association and the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage are working hard to win the vote for women in all States, but are taking different paths to achieve their mutual goal. Probably the most obvious difference between the two approaches can be seen by the fact that one task of Alice Paul’s Congressional Union over the next few days will be to organize a new political party made up entirely of women.

Now that women vote in 11 of the 48 States—seven of them won in just the past 6 years—they can become a meaningful force in politics. As keynote speaker Maud Younger noted when the Congressional Union’s convention kicked off this morning:

“With the formation of the Woman’s Party a new force marches on the political field, a new cry rings out in the national campaign. For the first time in a Presidential election the voting women are a factor to be reckoned with. The Woman’s Party has no candidates, and but one plank, the enfranchisement of the women of America through Federal amendment. There is no higher service for which we can use our votes. With enough women in each State organized to hold the balance of power, the women voters may determine the Presidency of the United States.”

Anne Martin summarized the party’s purpose:

“The object of our party is not to create sex antagonism. It has no fantastic vision of sex solidarity. It is simply an organization of the 4,000,000 voting women in the suffrage States who place equal suffrage before the interests of any political party.”

Alva Belmont, who arrived here today from New York, is not only a strong supporter of the new party, but quite optimistic about the future of women’s rights in general:

“I am sure that the Susan B. Anthony Amendment will be passed within the next year. Before that great goal is reached the women of New York City will have placed New York among the suffrage States. The women of that city have been making great headway, and immediate access is bound to be the result of their wonderful fight … A new woman’s world is about to be created. From this day forward this history of the woman movement throughout the world will be one of emancipation and entrance into the council of nations.”

Not wanting to be eclipsed by their younger and more militant rivals, the National American Woman Suffrage Association has some big plans as well. Day after tomorrow it will hold a big march down Michigan Avenue as a way of pressuring the Republican Convention to adopt a woman suffrage plank. Once the Republican Convention closes on the 10th, everyone will be trekking South to St. Louis to lobby Democrats for a suffrage plank when that party’s convention opens on the 14th.

Getting both parties on record as favoring nationwide woman suffrage could be of great help in regard to upcoming State referenda and in getting Congress to pass the Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment to the Constitution and then sending it to the States for ratification, so every possible effort will be made by all suffrage supporters at both conventions.


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.