Founding Feminists: October 30, 1915

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


The last Saturday before Election Day is traditionally a time of frenzied activity, and today was no exception as New York suffragists expressed confidence about victory on Tuesday while working around the clock to attain it.

From elevated stages to down in the subways, “Votes for Women” advocates seemed to be everywhere, as did the color of “suffrage yellow.”

The twenty-four and twenty-six hour street corner speechmaking marathons in Times Square and Columbus Circle have successfully concluded, and the enthusiasm and eloquence of the speakers were the same regardless of whether the audience was someone pausing briefly while on their milk delivery rounds at dawn, or a large throng when the streets were crowded with those on their way to or from a restaurant or theater.

The suffrage orators at these marathons usually could be found in threes, assigned two hour shifts. One was an experienced veteran acting as a kind of chaperone as well as a senior speaker, accompanied by two younger suffrage speakers. It was estimated that at the 24-hour rally almost 20,000 stayed long enough to listen to the principal arguments being made. Attendance and enthusiasm was also high at the “Yellow Rally,” a concert in Madison Square this evening accompanied by speeches giving many persuasive reasons to vote “yes” on Tuesday made between the musical selections.

New volunteers are still coming in to the Woman Suffrage Party’s headquarters asking for work to do on Tuesday. Since there are already enough poll-watchers to staff every polling place in the city, the new recruits will be assigned electioneering duties, and stand the legally required 100 feet from the polls to answer any questions and give out sample ballots to voters. The official poll-watchers inside will be well-qualified, because the Party has been giving formal, mandatory training sessions for them since April.

One thousand women were in the Hotel Astor today at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton centennial luncheon, pledging themselves to victory. Then, as the event ended, they quickly rushed back to the various campaign offices to work to fulfill their pledges. Stanton was born on November 12, 1815, and it is hoped that women in her home State of New York may have the ballot by the time it would have been her 100th birthday. Harriot Stanton Blatch, head of the Women’s Political Union, and daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton said:

Our race is nearly run. Now, as we are approaching November 2nd and victory, we may well look back for 100 years and realize how, step by step, we have built up the organization of today. We have done this, too, of ourselves, for unlike every other disenfranchised class, we have not had one great group of men to fight our battles for us. With the exception of the aid of a few brilliant men, we have all these years been fighting our battle unaided.

The busy, but neat, shipping room of the New York Woman Suffrage Association, where vast amounts of literature have been sent out Statewide during this campaign.

There was a lively debate this morning at Carnegie Hall, with Katharine Houghton Hepburn, President of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association and Alice Hill Chittenden, of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage doing most of the speaking. Among the best comebacks was one made by Hepburn, who said that if the “antis” really believed that there was great dissatisfaction with woman suffrage in the West among both men and women, they should be busy out there trying to get the women of those States to vote to disenfranchise themselves.

Carnegie Hall was filled again this evening, but by anti-suffragists, as they held their final big rally. James M. Beck, former Assistant Attorney General of the U.S., called woman suffrage “the most disastrous and absolutely irreparable experiment in the history of our Government” and said that if New York were to approve it on Tuesday, it would make State government such a farce that “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” should be written on the portals of the State Capitol. A number of suffragists were in the audience, not to disrupt, but to see if there were any new arguments being made that needed to be refuted in the closing days of the campaign.

But Carnegie Hall’s anti-suffrage speakers kept to the traditional arguments about how most women don’t want to have the vote “forced on them,” and that woman suffrage would destroy the family and society. In one rather fanciful example, Colonel John P. Irish said that even though “only 20%” of women in California had registered to vote since winning the ballot in 1911, there had been a “300% increase” in juvenile delinquency. He claimed that this was because mothers were neglecting their family duties to become involved in politics and therefore “the human chicks are left to the hawk while the hen is up on the fence trying to crow like a rooster.” He failed to give any evidence for either of the percentages he used in his premise, and both are disputed by suffragists.

Former President Roosevelt has reaffirmed his support in writing for the suffrage amendment, and in doing so noted four Queens who were excellent rulers: Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth of England, Catherine of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria. “If a woman is deemed fit to be the head of a mighty monarchy, surely no adequate reason can be advanced against allowing her to exercise the rights of sovereignty in a democracy,” he observed.

Making sure that everyone on the streets would get the “Votes for Women” message was not enough today. Over 100 “Lap Board” women, about half of them teachers, boarded the subway at the Seventy-second Street Station, and took the message underground. The placards, printed in black ink on a yellow background, and about half a square yard in size, were quite favorably received by the riders, and a good antidote to the anti-suffrage ads that appear in the subway stations. Pro-suffrage ads were barred by Ward & Gow, the company that posts subway ads.

Though the vast majority of those speaking for the established political parties in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are of the opinion that the suffrage referenda in each of their States will be defeated, suffragists are undaunted and looking forward to Tuesday night’s results. Election predictions are always uncertain, but here is no doubt being expressed by anyone at any suffrage headquarters tonight that the pro-suffrage side is running an all-out, honorable, and highly effective campaign, and that many more people support suffrage today than just a few months ago. So, victory is approaching, the only question is whether it’s going to be this time around or the next.

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