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.
September 9, 1912: If the Progressive Party is to win the White House in November, women must register and vote in great numbers, according to former – and hopefully future – President Theodore Roosevelt.
He was in Spokane today, urging women in Washington State to take full advantage of their right to cast a ballot in the upcoming Presidential election. He told 2,500 women gathered at the American Theater: “The suffrage having been given to you, it is not only your right but your duty to exercise it. You are false to your duty as citizens and women if you fail to register and vote.”
His speech was most timely, because today is the final day of registration for the November 5th General Election. Apparently his words were quite effective, because after the conclusion of the program, women crowded the places of registration much as they did right after winning full voting rights here two years ago. Several hundred women were seen standing in the registration line a block away from the theater soon after he finished the first of his two speeches to female audiences.
Colonel Roosevelt’s speeches were unique in two ways. He had never addressed an all-female audience before, and neither the Democratic nor the Republican candidate has made a speech to a similar audience. At first he was a bit hesitant, not quite sure what to say, but many years of campaigning coupled with his own excellent instincts soon took over, and before long it looked and sounded like a traditional Roosevelt rally. Following his introduction, and after shouts of “Hurrah for Teddy” subsided, he told why he and the newborn Progressive Party had earned women’s votes:
“One of the things that has given me peculiar pleasure is the fact that this is the first party that ever put forth a woman suffrage plank and then tried to live up to it. We have not only declared for woman suffrage, but have tried to live up to the declaration. At Chicago we had women delegates, not only from suffrage States, but from States that have been dragged along at the tail of the procession. We have them not only from Colorado and Washington, but from Massachusetts and New York. One of the memories of that convention that I shall always prize is that one of my seconders was a woman, Miss Jane Addams.”
He said that he wasn’t really a “convert” to woman suffrage because he had always supported it (though he favors winning it on a State-by-State basis and has not as yet endorsed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the Constitution) but that he had been changed from a passive suffragist to an active one by some of the women he’d met who were doing social reform work. He knows that suffrage would add to their power and respect. He also stated that rather than interfering with the home, suffrage will be good for it:
“I believe that it will tend toward an increasing number of ideal homes, an increase in the sense of co-partnership between the man and the woman, and make each think more of the rights of the other than of his or her own rights. Just as a man can do better work for others if he is a free man, so a woman can do better work for others if she is a free woman.”
The Progressive Party’s platform endorses “minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a ‘living wage’ in all industrial occupations,” so its Presidential nominee addressed that issue, and compared his views with those of one of his rivals, Democrat Woodrow Wilson:
“We have studied the conditions among girls and women in industry, and know the suffering, misery, crime, and vice that are produced by an income that is insufficient to enable the girl or woman to keep body and soul together in surroundings of ordinary decency.”
“Mr. Wilson’s fears that the employers of these women, if obliged to pay them a proper wage, would reduce all the other employees to that same minimum wage are groundless. The employers who now pay employees a starvation wage proves by that fact that they are paying all the employees the very least they can get them to take. The objection is one of the schoolroom, and will not have weight with those who know what life is.”
His loudest round of applause came when he told mothers in the audience that in regard to parenting: “Father has an easy time of it.” He then repeated his invitation to women to turn out on Election Day: “Bring your husbands and brothers along with you if you can; but if you can’t, come anyway.”
Sarah Flannigan, a local Roosevelt campaign worker gave a clue about why getting out the women’s vote is so crucial to Progressives:
“When I ask a woman how she is going to vote, she always looks a little surprised at the question, and then says in an astonished way, ‘Why for the Progressive ticket, of course.’ I am speaking now of mothers, and the more children they have, the more strongly they are for Roosevelt.”
The campaign train will now move on, but Col. Roosevelt will certainly have good memories of Spokane, and should be able to count on a substantial women’s vote here on November 5th, when he takes on New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson of the Democrats and incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft.
If the election is close, and Roosevelt’s win should be credited to the women’s vote in the six states where they have won the franchise, it could be as big a boost for the suffrage movement as for the Progressive Party. So hopefully, the women of California, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming will recognize their special responsibility and turn out at the polls in sufficient numbers to elect a Progressive President this year.
Of course, a win by the Progressive Party would be good for the entire country as well as women. Among its many pledges are the following:
“Believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex [the party] pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.”
“We pledge our party to legislation that will compel strict limitation of all campaign contributions and expenditures, and detailed publicity of both before as well as after primaries and elections.”
“A ‘living wage’ in all industrial occupations.”
“The prohibition of child labor.”
“The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use.”
“We favor the organization of the workers, men and women, as a means of protecting their interests and of promoting their progress.”
“The natural resources of the nation must be promptly developed and generously used to supply people’s needs, but we cannot safely allow them to be wasted, exploited, monopolized or controlled against the general good. We heartily favor the policy of conservation, and we pledge our party to protect the National forests without hindering their legitimate use for the benefit of all the people.”
“To dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
So, on to November, and perhaps a new day in politics under a Theodore Roosevelt / Hiram Johnson Administration, with enough Progressives in Congress and the State legislatures to enact the party’s platform into law!