April 21, 1913: Suffrage Debates Continue As Legislators, Religious Figures Speak Out

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


This certainly has been a newsworthy day for woman suffrage!

The main event was in Washington, DC, where many Senators and Representatives from States in which women already vote argued in favor of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment at hearings before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

George Chamberlain, Governor of Oregon from 1903 to 1909, and a Democratic Senator from that State since 1909
George Chamberlain, Governor of Oregon from 1903 to 1909, and a Democratic Senator from that State since 1909

Senator George Chamberlain, Democrat of Oregon, where women won the vote in a suffrage referendum on November 5th, said: “I expect to see conditions in my State bettered, if they can be bettered, now that women have a vote. I expect Oregon to teach a lesson to the ‘effete East’ in legislation for the good of her citizens. The women are instinctively on the side of moral right.”

Harry Lane, Oregon’s other Democratic Senator, declared: “Woman is the full partner of man through life. I am a physician, and I give my testimony to this fact. If I had it my way I would give the women of this country the ballot on a silver salver [tray] with apologies for giving it so late.” He noted that in his battles against the liquor interests women had always given him great support. Republican Representative Burton French said that in his State of Idaho, where women have had the vote since 1896, women vote in the same numbers as men, thus showing that women do want the vote.

Meanwhile, Alva Belmont is preparing to go to the upcoming International Woman Suffrage Conference in Budapest, which opens June 15th. She said today that on her journey she will stop in Britain to see the Pankhursts, and learn something of their militant methods. Though she hopes New York State will pass a suffrage referendum in 1915, Tammany Hall Democrats are unfriendly, and liquor interests are very strong, so if the effort is unsuccessful, she believes it will then be time to use English-style tactics. “It is not pleasant to go out and smash windows,” she said. “You wouldn’t like it and I would not like to, but it is the only thing to be done.”

On a more peaceful note, she said that she is collecting the statements of anti-suffragists, will put them in a book some day, “and they will not be proud of them” when equal suffrage is taken for granted as simple, basic justice.

Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore may have given Belmont an entry for her book today. Though he emphasized that the Catholic Church itself is strictly neutral on the issue of woman suffrage, Gibbons said that in his own personal view, a woman is:

 … the queen of the domestic kingdom, and her proper sphere is the home. If she were to embark on the ocean of political life, it is very much to be feared that her dignity would be impaired, if not jeopardized … As soon as women seek to enter the arena of politics they may expect to be soiled by its dust. And the grace and charm inherent in woman would be very seriously impaired by her rude contact with men in political life.

The wife who absents herself from her home invariably neglects her children and causes her husband to suffer by her absence … Although women may not now exercise suffrage, the finest among them are voting by proxy. Their power is incalculable. We cannot exaggerate the influence of a good woman on the men of her circle. What would be the value to our national life of votes obtained by the raging tactics that disgrace the name of womanhood?

Unfortunately, the male voters of Michigan seem to feel the same way as the Maryland Cardinal. The results of the April 7th suffrage referendum have now been fully tallied, and it has gone down to defeat. It had been hoped that the rural counties which had adopted alcohol prohibition would also be supportive enough of woman suffrage to offset the votes in big cities where saloons still operate freely and the liquor industry has great power. But unlike California in 1911, where farm, ranch and small-town votes saved the day, this time there was no difference between the country and city vote, and the measure went down by a margin of about 100,000.

So, “equal suffrage” still remains a phenomenon exclusive to the West. But with November’s victory in Oregon, all West Coast women now have the vote, and the newly-enfranchised women of Kansas have brought equality to within 240 miles of the Mississippi River. Once that barrier is breached, many new States in the East can be won, because the way suffrage has spread throughout nine Western states is by winning campaigns in States next to those where women already vote, and residents can see that it benefits, not harms, their neighbors.

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