April 30, 1915: New York Senator Remains Opposed to Suffrage Following Meeting with Movement Leaders

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


There was a quite frustrating and somewhat heated exchange of views this afternoon in Washington, D.C., as Inez Milholland Boissevain, Doris Stevens, and several other members of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage met with Senator James O’Gorman, Democrat of New York.

Despite their best arguments on behalf of the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, the Senator still remains opposed, saying: “I will not vote for this or any other women suffrage amendment.”

Inez Milholland Boissevain
Inez Milholland Boissevain

At one point in the debate, O’Gorman actually asked: “Aren’t you women going to hastily?” Noting that the Anthony Amendment had first been introduced into Congress in 1878, one woman retorted: “Too quickly? After 40 years?” She was immediately seconded by Boissevain, who asked: “Can freedom come too quickly?” The Senator then insisted that women already had a good deal of influence and don’t need the vote. As the laughter died down, someone said: “It is too late to say anything like that to us now!”

The Senator was reminded that there are already a number of States in which women can vote, and it as only a question of time until they would be powerful enough to force the issue nationwide. He replied that there are only 8 million people in all eleven suffrage States, not much more than the population of New York City, and that in one suffrage State there were more square miles than people. “What is good for Utah and Colorado may not be good for New York,” he cautioned.

Mary Prendergast noted how unfair and illogical is was that the President must listen to women in States where they can vote, while freely ignoring those in the rest of the nation. Then the difficulty and indignity of the burden women face in winning the vote was brought up by her as well:

Our country ought to be too big and magnanimous to stand by and see the flower of its womanhood spending itself in this hard struggle to which it has consecrated itself and which it is determined never to relinquish until it is won, when with one single act of justice it can place its women, who have never failed it in time of need, in a position of dignity which they surely merit and which they will always cherish.

Doris Stevens added: “The slow, tedious process of converting the male electorate of half the country is a task that we feel is too wasteful. It is too humiliating and unjust, and that is the reason we women have come to Congress in such numbers the last two years to ask for a Federal Amendment.”

But O’Gorman took a “States’ Rights” stance, and said: “States that want woman suffrage can bestow it now as freely and effectively as the Federal Government could if the Federal Constitution were amended for that purpose. The sole purpose of the proposed amendment seems to be to force woman suffrage on the States that are opposed to it.” But his early and enthusiastic support for recently passed Constitutional amendments such as the 16th, which provides for a national income tax, and the 17th, which mandates direct election of Senators by the voters, would seem to call into question his reluctance to amend the Constitution.

Eventually the meeting ended with both sides unmoved, and equally committed to their respective stands. Doris Stevens made the best of it: “Well, he has declared himself clearly. That was what we wanted and it was worth coming for.”

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