The New Political Democracy

Women in Public Affairs

The social legislation enacted in response

to the spirit of reform vitally affected women in the home and in

industry and was promoted by their organizations. Where they did not

lead, they were affiliated with movements for social improvement. No

cause escaped their attention; no year passed without widening the range

of their interests. They served on committees that inquired into

problems of the day; they appeared before legislative assemblies to

advocate remedies for the evils they discovered. By 1912 they were a

force to be reckoned with in national politics. In nine states complete

and equal suffrage had been established, and a widespread campaign for a

national suffrage amendment was in full swing. On every hand lay

evidences that their sphere had been broadened to include public

affairs. This was the culmination of forces that had long been


A New Emphasis in History

A movement so deeply affecting important

interests could not fail to find a place in time in the written record

of human progress. History often began as a chronicle of kings and

queens, knights and ladies, written partly to amuse and partly to

instruct the classes that appeared in its pages. With the growth of

commerce, parliaments, and international relations, politics and

diplomacy were added to such chronicles of royal and princely doings.

After the rise of democracy, industry, and organized labor, the

transactions of everyday life were deemed worthy of a place in the pages

of history. In each case history was rewritten and the past rediscovered

in the light of the new age. So it will be with the rise and growth of

women's political power. The history of their labor, their education,

their status in society, their influence on the course of events will be

explored and given its place in the general record.

It will be a history of change. The superior position which women enjoy

in America to-day is the result of a slow evolution from an almost

rightless condition in colonial times. The founders of America brought

with them the English common law. Under that law, a married woman's

personal property--jewels, money, furniture, and the like--became her

husband's property; the management of her lands passed into his control.

Even the wages she earned, if she worked for some one else, belonged to

him. Custom, if not law, prescribed that women should not take part in

town meetings or enter into public discussions of religious questions.

Indeed it is a far cry from the banishment of Anne Hutchinson from

Massachusetts in 1637, for daring to dispute with the church fathers, to

the political conventions of 1920 in which women sat as delegates, made

nominating speeches, and served on committees. In the contrast between

these two scenes may be measured the change in the privileges of women

since the landing of the Pilgrims. The account of this progress is a

narrative of individual effort on the part of women, of organizations

among them, of generous aid from sympathetic men in the long agitation

for the removal of civil and political disabilities. It is in part also

a narrative of irresistible economic change which drew women into

industry, created a leisure class, gave women wages and incomes, and

therewith economic independence.


Protests of Colonial Women

The republican spirit which produced

American independence was of slow and steady growth. It did not spring

up full-armed in a single night. It was, on the contrary, nourished

during a long period of time by fireside discussions as well as by

debates in the public forum. Women shared that fireside sifting of

political principles and passed on the findings of that scrutiny in

letters to their friends, newspaper articles, and every form of written

word. How widespread was this potent, though not spectacular force, is

revealed in the collections of women's letters, articles, songs, dramas,

and satirical "skits" on English rule that have come down to us. In this

search into the reasons of government, some women began to take thought

about laws that excluded them from the ballot. Two women at least left

their protests on record. Abigail, the ingenious and witty wife of John

Adams, wrote to her husband, in March, 1776, that women objected "to all

arbitrary power whether of state or males" and demanded political

privileges in the new order then being created. Hannah Lee Corbin, the

sister of "Lighthorse" Harry Lee, protested to her brother against the

taxation of women without representation.

The Stir among European Women

Ferment in America, in the case of

women as of men, was quickened by events in Europe. In 1792, Mary

Wollstonecraft published in England the Vindication of the Rights of

Women--a book that was destined to serve the cause of liberty among

women as the writings of Locke and Paine had served that of men. The

specific grievances which stirred English women were men's invasion of

women's industries, such as spinning and weaving; the denial of equal

educational opportunities; and political disabilities. In France also

the great Revolution raised questionings about the status of women. The

rights of "citizenesses" as well as the rights of "citizens" were

examined by the boldest thinkers. This in turn reacted upon women in the

United States.

Leadership in America

The origins of the American woman movement are

to be found in the writings of a few early intellectual leaders. During

the first decades of the nineteenth century, books, articles, and

pamphlets about women came in increasing numbers from the press. Lydia

Maria Child wrote a history of women; Margaret Fuller made a critical

examination of the status of women in her time; and Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet

supplemented the older histories by showing what an important part women

had played in the American Revolution.

The Struggle for Education

Along with criticism, there was carried

on a constructive struggle for better educational facilities for women

who had been from the beginning excluded from every college in the

country. In this long battle, Emma Willard and Mary Lyon led the way;

the former founded a seminary at Troy, New York; and the latter made the

beginnings of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Oberlin College in

Ohio, established in 1833, opened its doors to girls and from it were

graduated young students to lead in the woman movement. Sarah J. Hale,

who in 1827 became the editor of a "Ladies' Magazine," published in

Boston, conducted a campaign for equal educational opportunities which

helped to bear fruit in the founding of Vassar College shortly after the

Civil War.

The Desire to Effect Reforms

As they came to study their own history

and their own part in civilization, women naturally became deeply

interested in all the controversies going on around them. The temperance

question made a special appeal to them and they organized to demand the

right to be heard on it. In 1846 the "Daughters of Temperance" formed a

secret society favoring prohibition. They dared to criticize the

churches for their indifference and were so bold as to ask that

drunkenness be made a ground for divorce.

The slavery issue even more than temperance called women into public

life. The Grimke sisters of South Carolina emancipated their bondmen,

and one of these sisters, exiled from Charleston for her "Appeal to the

Christian Women of the South," went North to work against the slavery

system. In 1837 the National Women's Anti-Slavery Convention met in New

York; seventy-one women delegates represented eight states. Three years

later eight American women, five of them in Quaker costume, attended the

World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, much to the horror of the men,

who promptly excluded them from the sessions on the ground that it was

not fitting for women to take part in such meetings.

In other spheres of activity, especially social service, women steadily

enlarged their interest. Nothing human did they consider alien to them.

They inveighed against cruel criminal laws and unsanitary prisons. They

organized poor relief and led in private philanthropy. Dorothea Dix

directed the movement that induced the New York legislature to establish

in 1845 a separate asylum for the criminal insane. In the same year

Sarah G. Bagley organized the Lowell Female Reform Association for the

purpose of reducing the long hours of labor for women, safeguarding "the

constitutions of future generations." Mrs. Eliza Woodson Farnham, matron

in Sing Sing penitentiary, was known throughout the nation for her

social work, especially prison reform. Wherever there were misery and

suffering, women were preparing programs of relief.

Freedom of Speech for Women

In the advancement of their causes, of

whatever kind, women of necessity had to make public appeals and take

part in open meetings. Here they encountered difficulties. The

appearance of women on the platform was new and strange. Naturally it

was widely resented. Antoinette Brown, although she had credentials as a

delegate, was driven off the platform of a temperance convention in New

York City simply because she was a woman. James Russell Lowell, editor

of the "Atlantic Monthly," declined a poem from Julia Ward Howe on the

theory that no woman could write a poem; but he added on second thought

that he might consider an article in prose. Nathaniel Hawthorne,

another editor, even objected to something in prose because to him "all

ink-stained women were equally detestable." To the natural resentment

against their intrusion into new fields was added that aroused by their

ideas and methods. As temperance reformers, they criticized in a caustic

manner those who would not accept their opinions. As opponents of

slavery they were especially bitter. One of their conventions, held at

Philadelphia in 1833, passed a resolution calling on all women to leave

those churches that would not condemn every form of human bondage. This

stirred against them many of the clergy who, accustomed to having women

sit silent during services, were in no mood to treat such a revolt

leniently. Then came the last straw. Women decided that they would

preach--out of the pulpit first, and finally in it.

Women in Industry

The period of this ferment was also the age of the

industrial revolution in America, the rise of the factory system, and

the growth of mill towns. The labor of women was transferred from the

homes to the factories. Then arose many questions: the hours of labor,

the sanitary conditions of the mills, the pressure of foreign

immigration on native labor, the wages of women as compared with those

of men, and the right of married women to their own earnings. Labor

organizations sprang up among working women. The mill girls of Lowell,

Massachusetts, mainly the daughters of New England farmers, published a

magazine, "The Lowell Offering." So excellent were their writings that

the French statesman, Thiers, carried a copy of their paper into the

Chamber of Deputies to show what working women could achieve in a

republic. As women were now admittedly earning their own way in the

world by their own labor, they began to talk of their "economic


The World Shaken by Revolution

Such was the quickening of women's

minds in 1848 when the world was startled once more by a revolution in

France which spread to Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and Italy.

Once more the people of the earth began to explore the principles of

democracy and expound human rights. Women, now better educated and more

"advanced" in their ideas, played a role of still greater importance in

that revolution. They led in agitations and uprisings. They suffered

from reaction and persecution. From their prison in France, two of them

who had been jailed for too much insistence on women's rights exchanged

greetings with American women who were raising the same issue here. By

this time the women had more supporters among the men. Horace Greeley,

editor of the New York Tribune, though he afterwards recanted, used

his powerful pen in their behalf. Anti-slavery leaders welcomed their

aid and repaid them by urging the enfranchisement of women.

The Woman's Rights Convention of 1848

The forces, moral and

intellectual, which had been stirring among women, crystallized a few

months after the outbreak of the European revolution in the first

Woman's Rights Convention in the history of America. It met at Seneca

Falls, New York, in 1848, on the call of Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Ann McClintock, three of them Quakers.

Accustomed to take part in church meetings with men, the Quakers

naturally suggested that men as well as women be invited to attend the

convention. Indeed, a man presided over the conference, for that

position seemed too presumptuous even for such stout advocates of

woman's rights.

The deliberations of the Seneca Falls convention resulted in a

Declaration of Rights modeled after the Declaration of Independence. For

example, the preamble began: "When in the course of human events it

becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among

the people of the earth a position different from that which they have

hitherto occupied...." So also it closed: "Such has been the patient

suffering of women under this government and such is now the necessity

which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are

entitled." Then followed the list of grievances, the same number which

had been exhibited to George III in 1776. Especially did they assail the

disabilities imposed upon them by the English common law imported into

America--the law which denied married women their property, their wages,

and their legal existence as separate persons. All these grievances they

recited to "a candid world." The remedies for the evils which they

endured were then set forth in detail. They demanded "equal rights" in

the colleges, trades, and professions; equal suffrage; the right to

share in all political offices, honors, and emoluments; the right to

complete equality in marriage, including equal guardianship of the

children; and for married women the right to own property, to keep

wages, to make contracts, to transact business, and to testify in the

courts of justice. In short, they declared women to be persons as men

are persons and entitled to all the rights and privileges of human

beings. Such was the clarion call which went forth to the world in

1848--to an amused and contemptuous world, it must be admitted--but to a

world fated to heed and obey.

The First Gains in Civil Liberty

The convention of 1848 did not make

political enfranchisement the leading issue. Rather did it emphasize the

civil disabilities of women which were most seriously under discussion

at the time. Indeed, the New York legislature of that very year, as the

result of a twelve years' agitation, passed the Married Woman's Property

Act setting aside the general principles of the English common law as

applied to women and giving them many of the "rights of man." California

and Wisconsin followed in 1850; Massachusetts in 1854; and Kansas in

1859. Other states soon fell into line. Women's earnings and

inheritances were at last their own in some states at least. In a little

while laws were passed granting women rights as equal guardians of their

children and permitting them to divorce their husbands on the grounds of

cruelty and drunkenness.

By degrees other steps were taken. The Woman's Medical College of

Pennsylvania was founded in 1850, and the Philadelphia School of Design

for Women three years later. In 1852 the American Women's Educational

Association was formed to initiate an agitation for enlarged

educational opportunities for women. Other colleges soon emulated the

example of Oberlin: the University of Utah in 1850; Hillsdale College in

Michigan in 1855; Baker University in Kansas in 1858; and the University

of Iowa in 1860. New trades and professions were opened to women and old

prejudices against their activities and demands slowly gave way.


The Beginnings of Organization

As women surmounted one obstacle

after another, the agitation for equal suffrage came to the front. If

any year is to be fixed as the date of its beginning, it may very well

be 1850, when the suffragists of Ohio urged the state constitutional

convention to confer the vote upon them. With apparent spontaneity there

were held in the same year state suffrage conferences in Indiana,

Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts; and connections were formed among the

leaders of these meetings. At the same time the first national suffrage

convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, on the call of

eighty-nine leading men and women representing six states. Accounts of

the convention were widely circulated in this country and abroad.

English women,--for instance, Harriet Martineau,--sent words of

appreciation for the work thus inaugurated. It inspired a leading

article in the "Westminster Review," which deeply interested the

distinguished economist, John Stuart Mill. Soon he was the champion of

woman suffrage in the British Parliament and the author of a powerful

tract The Subjection of Women, widely read throughout the

English-speaking world. Thus do world movements grow. Strange to relate

the women of England were enfranchised before the adoption of the

federal suffrage amendment in America.

The national suffrage convention of 1850 was followed by an

extraordinary outburst of agitation. Pamphlets streamed from the press.

Petitions to legislative bodies were drafted, signed, and presented.

There were addresses by favorite orators like Garrison, Phillips, and

Curtis, and lectures and poems by men like Emerson, Longfellow, and

Whittier. In 1853 the first suffrage paper was founded by the wife of a

member of Congress from Rhode Island. By this time the last barrier to

white manhood suffrage in the North had been swept away and the woman's

movement was gaining momentum every year.

The Suffrage Movement Checked by the Civil War

Advocates of woman

suffrage believed themselves on the high road to success when the Civil

War engaged the energies and labors of the nation. Northern women became

absorbed in the struggle to preserve the union. They held no suffrage

conventions for five years. They transformed their associations into

Loyalty Leagues. They banded together to buy only domestic goods when

foreign imports threatened to ruin American markets. They rolled up

monster petitions in favor of the emancipation of slaves. In hospitals,

in military prisons, in agriculture, and in industry they bore their

full share of responsibility. Even when the New York legislature took

advantage of their unguarded moments and repealed the law giving the

mother equal rights with the father in the guardianship of children,

they refused to lay aside war work for agitation. As in all other wars,

their devotion was unstinted and their sacrifices equal to the

necessities of the hour.

The Federal Suffrage Amendment

Their plans and activities, when the

war closed, were shaped by events beyond their control. The emancipation

of the slaves and their proposed enfranchisement made prominent the

question of a national suffrage for the first time in our history.

Friends of the colored man insisted that his civil liberties would not

be safe unless he was granted the right to vote. The woman suffragists

very pertinently asked why the same principle did not apply to women.

The answer which they received was negative. The fourteenth amendment to

the federal Constitution, adopted in 1868, definitely put women aside by

limiting the scope of its application, so far as the suffrage was

concerned, to the male sex. In making manhood suffrage national,

however, it nationalized the issue.

This was the signal for the advocates of woman suffrage. In March, 1869,

their proposed amendment was introduced in Congress by George W. Julian

of Indiana. It provided that no citizen should be deprived of the vote

on account of sex, following the language of the fifteenth amendment

which forbade disfranchisement on account of race. Support for the

amendment, coming from many directions, led the suffragists to believe

that their case was hopeful. In their platform of 1872, for example, the

Republicans praised the women for their loyal devotion to freedom,

welcomed them to spheres of wider usefulness, and declared that the

demand of any class of citizens for additional rights deserved

"respectful consideration."

Experience soon demonstrated, however, that praise was not the ballot.

Indeed the suffragists already had realized that a tedious contest lay

before them. They had revived in 1866 their regular national convention.

They gave the name of "The Revolution" to their paper, edited by

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They formed a national

suffrage association and organized annual pilgrimages to Congress to

present their claims. Such activities bore some results. Many eminent

congressmen were converted to their cause and presented it ably to their

colleagues of both chambers. Still the subject was ridiculed by the

newspapers and looked upon as freakish by the masses.

The State Campaigns

Discouraged by the outcome of the national

campaign, suffragists turned to the voters of the individual states and

sought the ballot at their hands. Gains by this process were painfully

slow. Wyoming, it is true, while still a territory, granted suffrage to

women in 1869 and continued it on becoming a state twenty years later,

in spite of strong protests in Congress. In 1893 Colorado established

complete political equality. In Utah, the third suffrage state, the

cause suffered many vicissitudes. Women were enfranchised by the

territorial legislature; they were deprived of the ballot by Congress in

1887; finally in 1896 on the admission of Utah to the union they

recovered their former rights. During the same year, 1896, Idaho

conferred equal suffrage upon the women. This was the last suffrage

victory for more than a decade.

The Suffrage Cause in Congress

In the midst of the meager gains

among the states there were occasional flurries of hope for immediate

action on the federal amendment. Between 1878 and 1896 the Senate

committee reported the suffrage resolution by a favorable majority on

five different occasions. During the same period, however, there were

nine unfavorable reports and only once did the subject reach the point

of a general debate. At no time could anything like the required

two-thirds vote be obtained.

The Changing Status of Women

While the suffrage movement was

lagging, the activities of women in other directions were steadily

multiplying. College after college--Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley,

to mention a few--was founded to give them the advantages of higher

education. Other institutions, especially the state universities of the

West, opened their doors to women, and women were received into the

professions of law and medicine. By the rapid growth of public high

schools in which girls enjoyed the same rights as boys, education was

extended still more widely. The number of women teachers increased by

leaps and bounds.

Meanwhile women were entering nearly every branch of industry and

business. How many of them worked at gainful occupations before 1870 we

do not know; but from that year forward we have the records of the

census. Between 1870 and 1900 the proportion of women in the professions

rose from less than two per cent to more than ten per cent; in trade and

transportation from 24.8 per cent to 43.2 per cent; and in manufacturing

from 13 to 19 per cent. In 1910, there were over 8,000,000 women

gainfully employed as compared with 30,000,000 men. When, during the war

on Germany, the government established the principle of equal pay for

equal work and gave official recognition to the value of their services

in industry, it was discovered how far women had traveled along the road

forecast by the leaders of 1848.

The Club Movement among Women

All over the country women's societies

and clubs were started to advance this or that reform or merely to study

literature, art, and science. In time these women's organizations of all

kinds were federated into city, state, and national associations and

drawn into the consideration of public questions. Under the leadership

of Frances Willard they made temperance reform a vital issue. They took

an interest in legislation pertaining to prisons, pure food, public

health, and municipal government, among other things. At their sessions

and conferences local, state, and national issues were discussed until

finally, it seems, everything led to the quest of the franchise. By

solemn resolution in 1914 the National Federation of Women's Clubs,

representing nearly two million club women, formally endorsed woman

suffrage. In the same year the National Education Association, speaking

for the public school teachers of the land, added its seal of approval.

State and National Action

Again the suffrage movement was in full

swing in the states. Washington in 1910, California in 1911, Oregon,

Kansas, and Arizona in 1912, Nevada and Montana in 1914 by popular vote

enfranchised their women. Illinois in 1913 conferred upon them the right

to vote for President of the United States. The time had arrived for a

new movement. A number of younger suffragists sought to use the votes of

women in the equal suffrage states to compel one or both of the national

political parties to endorse and carry through Congress the federal

suffrage amendment. Pressure then came upon Congress from every

direction: from the suffragists who made a straight appeal on the

grounds of justice; and from the suffragists who besought the women of

the West to vote against candidates for President, who would not approve

the federal amendment. In 1916, for the first time, a leading

presidential candidate, Mr. Charles E. Hughes, speaking for the

Republicans, endorsed the federal amendment and a distinguished

ex-President, Roosevelt, exerted a powerful influence to keep it an

issue in the campaign.

National Enfranchisement

After that, events moved rapidly. The great

state of New York adopted equal suffrage in 1917. Oklahoma, South

Dakota, and Michigan swung into line the following year; several other

states, by legislative action, gave women the right to vote for

President. In the meantime the suffrage battle at Washington grew

intense. Appeals and petitions poured in upon Congress and the

President. Militant suffragists held daily demonstrations in Washington.

On September 30, 1918, President Wilson, who, two years before, had

opposed federal action and endorsed suffrage by state adoption only,

went before Congress and urged the passage of the suffrage amendment to

the Constitution. In June, 1919, the requisite two-thirds vote was

secured; the resolution was carried and transmitted to the states for

ratification. On August 28, 1920, the thirty-sixth state, Tennessee,

approved the amendment, making three-fourths of the states as required

by the Constitution. Thus woman suffrage became the law of the land. A

new political democracy had been created. The age of agitation was

closed and the epoch of responsible citizenship opened.