Today in Feminist History: Teddy Roosevelt Endorses Women’s Suffrage! (June 12, 1912)

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 12, 1912: Teddy Roosevelt has just endorsed women’s suffrage!

And better yet, he plans to work at the Republican National Convention in Chicago next week to get a suffrage plank in the party’s platform.

Until today, he had been unwilling to make a definitive statement of his views on the subject. When pressed by Maud Malone at a recent campaign stop, the former President would only say that if there could be some sort of referendum in which women could express their views, he would favor women’s suffrage if a majority wanted it.

But according to long-time suffrage advocate Judge Ben Lindsey of Colorado, who visited Roosevelt today at Sagamore Hill, near Oyster Bay, Long Island, he now fully endorses equal suffrage as a result of the work women voters have done in the Western States to promote good government:

“Colonel Roosevelt told me that he was convinced by this record that woman suffrage would be of advantage to our country … and that he had definitely decided to incorporate a suffrage plank in the platform.”

This statement has now been confirmed by Roosevelt himself.

Having so popular a figure as Colonel Roosevelt in support of women’s suffrage is a major coup in and of itself. But should he become the Republican nominee for President, then be elected in November, it would mean having someone in the Oval Office who could use the Presidency’s considerable visibility and influence—what he has referred to as a “Bully Pulpit”—to help bring attention to our cause, and to hopefully influence some key legislators, as well as rank-and-file voters in many closely contested state suffrage referenda.

Though politics is always unpredictable, Colonel Roosevelt will be going to the convention with an especially strong claim on the nomination. For the first time, some of the delegates will have been chosen by rank-and-file members of the party in “primaries” instead of State conventions that are tightly controlled by party leaders. Of the 13 States that held primaries, Roosevelt won nine—eight by large margins—for 290 delegates.

“Fighting Bob” LaFollette won two States and 36 delegates, with incumbent President William Howard Taft also winning two States, and 124 delegates. The number needed to win the nomination is 540.

But delegates in the other 35 States were chosen in the traditional manner by State conventions, and the Taft-controlled Republican National Committee will rule on all disputes, including those over delegates. Since no one appears to have the majority needed for nomination, the outcome is far from certain. This should make for quite a battle, and the rhetoric is already escalating. Roosevelt has described Taft as a “puzzlewit” and Taft has referred to Roosevelt as a “honeyfugler.”

All suffragists should celebrate the conversion to our cause of this prestigious American who has served as president, vice president, Governor of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and, of course, as a Colonel in the “Rough Riders”during the Spanish-American War.

No matter how the battle for the Republican nomination turns out, or who is elected on November 5, suffrage has just made a substantial advance.


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.