When Women Couldn’t Vote

When Women Couldn’t Vote January 14, 2015

Monday was the 100th anniversary of the last time Congress voted to deny women the right to vote. Rebecca Ruiz has an article looking at the debate that took place in the House that day and some of the rhetoric will no doubt sound quite familiar. We still hear its echoes today.

On that day suffragists lined the galleries as a 10-hour debate in the House of Representatives unfolded, according to an account in The New York Times. Opponents stood firmly on the dark side of history, making claims about a woman’s role that would end a politician’s career today.

“Mr. Speaker, I am opposed to woman suffrage, but I am not opposed to woman,” said Rep. Edwin Y. Webb, a North Carolina Democrat. “I am unwilling, as a southern man, to force upon her any burden which will distract this loving potentate from her sacred, God-imposed duties. I am unwilling to force her into the vortex of politics, where her sensitiveness and her modesty will often be offended.”

Some Congressmen were less tactful. “The women of this smart Capital are beautiful,” said Ohio Democrat Rep. Stanley Bowdle, “indeed, their beauty is positively disturbing to business, but they are not interested in politics…” Bowdle, whose “lovely, loyal wife” and “beautiful, devoted sister” had pleaded the case for suffrage, conducted his own social experiment to reach this judgment. He counted the number of women he observed reading newspapers on street cars over several days and found the number lacking.

“It is thus evident that women generally are not interested in politics — for which the saints be forever praised — for I do not like to think of the day when papa’s purse will be called upon to contribute to two opposing wigwams,” he said. “One is plenty.”…

Opponents of suffrage felt that a woman’s patriotic contribution should be limited to her role as a groomer of sons.

“I still adhere to the old-fashioned belief that the hand that rocks the cradle wields a better and a stronger influence upon the Nation than the hand that writes the ballot,” said Texas Democratic Congressman Martin Dies. “A nation that has good mothers to mold the boys will never want for good men to make the ballots.”

More quotes from the debate:

“Women; have they a mission? Yes; it is to rule in the world of love and affection—in the home. It is not to rule in the State. They have a function to perform which precludes the latter sort of rule. Man is king of this universe; woman is queen. The queen rules when the king is dead, or becomes a mollycoddle, and the American man is not that yet.” [Applause] — REP. STANLEY BOWDLE (D-OHIO), JAN. 12, 1915

Were it not for shattering an ideal, were it not for dethroning her from that high pedestal upon which we are accustomed to place her, and dragging her down to the level of us beastly men, I believe I might even today be willing to vote for universal woman suffrage. — REP. CHARLES CARTER (D-OKLA.), JAN. 12, 1915

The great cry is that woman should be allowed to vote in order to protect themselves. Against what? Do men oppress them? Do we act toward them as though they were not American citizens or entitled to the protection of our laws? On the contrary, we show them every consideration, provide for their safety, and protect their interest always and everywhere. If, therefore, they could vote, they could not improve their condition, but might place themselves in a position that men would not be as tolerant and patient and chivalrous toward them as they are now. — REP. WILLIAM MULKEY, (D-ALA.), JAN. 12, 1915

The sad and pathetic thing is that there are men today, like Jesse Lee Peterson and Vox Day (Theodore Beale) who still make these same arguments and still want to deny women the right to vote. I would call them scum, but that would be an insult to scum.

And that first quote, saying he’s against letting women vote but is not anti-woman, sounds particularly familiar. How often do we hear that today?

“I want to deny gays the right to get married, but I’m not anti-gay.”

“I want to prevent women from controlling their own lives and reproduction, but I’m not anti-woman.”

Yes you are, actually.

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