Founding Feminists: October 18, 1915

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


The most ambitious campaign ever attempted by the woman suffrage movement is coming to a close in the first of the four States that will approve or reject “Votes for Women” referenda over the next 15 days.

Tomorrow the male voters of New Jersey will decide whether months of intense suffrage work was persuasive enough, and if their State will become the first one East of the Mississippi in which women have equal suffrage, or whether they will deal a major setback to the movement just when it needs a boost to help with the other three referenda coming up on November 2nd.

Today’s activities started off early, with Mildred Taylor and her “Victory Van” parked at Military Square in Newark at 6 a.m. The speeches then began, accompanied by large amounts of literature being distributed on New Jersey’s busiest corner, and this will continue right up until the opening of the polls tomorrow. “Dawn and daybreak will find us on the firing line. After the polls open, our case will be in the hands of the men of New Jersey, and I think they will give us a square deal,” said Taylor. In addition to the usual arguments about the basic justice of equal suffrage, she added one more, which seemed to sway the men in the crowd better than most:

I’ll tell you another reason why you men in the East ought to vote for woman suffrage. With representation in the Republican National Convention based on the vote for Congressmen, the great Eastern States of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania would have twice the say they now have in the nomination of a President if they give women the ballot.

Suffrage workers putting up signs in Asbury Park earlier this year, advertising Dr. Anna Howard Shaw's speech to a meeting of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association at the Long Branch Casino on August 26th.
Suffrage workers putting up signs in Asbury Park earlier this year, advertising Dr. Anna Howard Shaw’s speech to a meeting of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association at the Long Branch Casino on August 26th.

Taylor was definitely not alone in her efforts, as nearly 400 speakers addressed crowds around the State today. The final day’s effort also saw about 100,000 leaflets distributed in and around factories to counteract an anti-suffrage flyer implying that woman suffrage in Colorado was a failure from labor’s point of view.

Though there are campaigns throughout the State, six counties will pretty much determine the result, so most of the effort is being concentrated there. Essex County is conceded to the “antis” due to the vigorous opposition of the local political boss, James R. Nugent, but every vote will still be fought for. However, there’s optimism on Passaic County. “There will be a big vote tomorrow, and both Paterson and Passaic County will give a large majority for the suffrage amendment,” according to Dr. Mary Cummins, President of the Paterson branch of the Women’s Political Union. Hudson County is too close to predict. In Union County, suffragists hope to squeak by if there’s a large turnout, but if there isn’t, the referendum could fail by a 3 to 2 margin. In Bergen and Camden Counties, both sides are confident of victory, though political leaders say it’s going to be close.

Suffrage and anti-suffrage groups are both expecting a big win, according to their latest statements. Many suffragists are of the opinion that President Wilson’s recent announcement that he will vote for the suffrage referendum here in his home State has begun a shift that will result in victory. Mrs. E. F. Feickert, President of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association said:

We will carry New Jersey by a 25,000 majority. Of this majority 15,000 will come from the populous Northern counties and 10,000 from the rural counties in Southern New Jersey. These figures are based on our canvass of voters throughout the State, on the friendly spirit shown by the street crowds everywhere, and on the fact that there is practically no opposition to woman suffrage, except from James R. Nugent of Essex County and his followers and a few organized business men, the nature of whose business makes them afraid of women’s votes.

Anti-suffragists were equally certain:

Woman suffrage will be defeated in New Jersey by a large majority. We base our confidence in the outcome of substantial data,” said Mrs. Edward Yarde Breese of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Their campaign manager, Clara Vezin, said: “I predict victory for the anti-suffragists when the question is put to the voters tomorrow.

Suffragists are taking no chances on a loss due to voter fraud, and will have five thousand poll-watchers ready for duty tomorrow morning. The ballots in this special election will not be numbered, so extra care will be taken to be sure that only valid votes are cast. In addition to the many women who will volunteer for duty tomorrow, and the nearly 400 regular campaign workers who will switch from literature distribution and speaking to poll-watching at that time, there will also be poll-watchers supplied by the Men’s Woman Suffrage Committee of One Hundred, headed by Everett Colby. A reward of $100 was offered by that committee tonight to anyone who can prove voter fraud, should it occur.

It’s probably a good thing that there is so much work to do today. It doesn’t leave anyone with much free time to worry about tomorrow’s outcome. It’s not just about one State – important as this one is. It’s also about who’s going to have momentum going into the November 2nd referenda in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. This has been an all-out campaign, so there can be no excuses made on that account. Now it’s time to see how the first part of this four-act drama turns out when the polls close at 7 p.m. tomorrow, all the speculation ends, and the (male) voters of New Jersey actually speak for themselves.

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