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.
July 22, 1920: Over a hundred members of the National Woman’s Party met with Republican Presidential nominee Warren G. Harding today, and made it clear that the N.W.P. will not settle for mere words of support for woman suffrage from the Ohio Senator, but will insist on deeds.
In fact, if he doesn’t do something meaningful to help the cause, Harding should probably just continue his “Front Porch Campaign,” because if he leaves his home he will be followed to all events by National Woman’s Party members. They will be pointing out his lack of commitment to his party’s recently passed platform plank which calls on Republican State legislatures which have not ratified the suffrage amendment to do so. According to Alice Paul:
“Suffragists can feel only dissatisfaction with Senator Harding’s refusal today in his reply to the Woman’s Party delegation, and in his acceptance speech, to take a positive stand for the carrying out of the suffrage plank in the Republican platform. The suffrage plank is the only one in the platform which Senator Harding and his party have the power to carry out without waiting until elected to national office, because of the fact that their party is already in control in several legislatures which have not yet acted on suffrage.”
Vermont and Connecticut legislators appear to be especially eager to ratify, but for months their Republican governors have been refusing to call these legislatures back into session so that they can vote on ratification. Paul continued:
“If Senator Harding refuses to live up to the suffrage plank, and contents himself merely with ‘earnestly hoping’ and ‘sincerely desiring,’ how can he expect the country to take seriously other planks in his platform? The National Woman’s Party will continue to demand that Senator Harding carry out his platform by securing a unanimous vote in support of ratification from the Republican delegation in the Tennessee Legislature when it meets next month. If Senator Harding will use his full power, as a leader of his party, in behalf of the enfranchisement of women, he can secure such a Republican vote in favor of ratification in Tennessee. Only by action and not by the expression of polite interest will women be satisfied.”
Paul’s last comment refers to some of Harding’s recent statements, and a telegram he sent last night to Carrie Chapman Catt, in which he said he would “cordially recommend” that Republican legislators in Tennessee vote for suffrage if they asked his opinion.
Harding was very polite to today’s large National Woman’s Party delegation, which marched down the streets of Marion, Ohio, to his home. They were dressed in white, bearing the N.W.P.’s purple, white and gold banners, and wearing similarly colorful sashes. A number of the group’s members spoke frankly to the Republican nominee. Louisine Havemeyer brought up a good point about the Republicans’ frequent – and quite accurate – boast that they have done far more for suffrage than the Democrats:
“True, the Republican Party has given us more States than the Democratic Party, but they had more States to draw upon, and I recommend your informing yourselves as to the number of Democrats who voted in these Republican States … This has been a seventy-year struggle between the men and women of this great country. Isn’t it time to end the struggle? Is it fair that a woman should make the flag and only men should wave it?”
Havemeyer then brought a traditional Republican icon into the discussion, using his efforts for the 13th Amendment as a model modern Republicans should copy for the proposed 19th Amendment:
“Fifty-six years ago Abraham Lincoln also wished to pass an amendment … Did he say, ‘I have done enough,’ or ‘I will request some one,’ or ‘I will urge,’ .. or ‘Ladies don’t bother me, I have done all I could.’ No, he said: ‘I need another State and I am going to make one.’ And he did, and his amendment was ratified.”
Having now met with the Presidential nominees of both parties, the National Woman’s Party will expect them to do whatever is necessary to deliver Tennessee or North Carolina, whose legislatures meet in less than three weeks to vote on ratifying the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment. The approval of either State would be the 36th and final one needed to put a ban on sex discrimination at the polls in the U.S. Constitution as the 19th Amendment. The vote is certain to be quite close, and the result is presently unpredictable, complicated by the fact that most legislators are scattered around their home States at their residences, often in quite remote areas, while others are on extended vacations in undisclosed locations.
The nationwide General Election is less than 15 weeks away. Registration deadlines have already passed in at least two States where women cannot vote or register to vote, and more deadlines are rapidly approaching in many other States where women will not be allowed to register to vote until the 19th Amendment is ratified. Pressure from the highest levels of each party on State legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina could make the difference between millions of women around the country voting for all offices and referenda on the ballot in November, or being barred from the polls until at least next year – and not voting for President until the 1924 election.
No efforts will be spared by our forces to get that 36th State ratified, and an all-out drive by our opponents to block any further ratifications is equally inevitable. So, meaningful efforts by the Republican Presidential nominee, Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding, and the Democratic Presidential nominee, Ohio Governor James Cox, could be crucial to victory, and will be vigorously demanded.