Founding Feminists: October 31, 1915

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


Despite the fact that it was Sunday, this was no day of rest for New York’s suffragists with Election Day coming up on Tuesday.

The offices of the Woman Suffrage Party, Empire State Campaign Committee and Women’s Political Union were open early, and crowded at all times. Even the W.P.U.’s little “Suffrage Shop” somehow managed to host a total of about 1,000 people at various times during the day, while the final poll-watching class was going on back at their headquarters. The “antis” will not have poll-watchers, because they do not believe women are “fitted or qualified” for such work.

At the office of the Woman Suffrage Party there was clearly a good deal of activity going on, but exactly what’s being planned is a secret, with no one willing to discuss this latest project. “Be silent – the enemy listens” was the word here today, and many regular volunteers were nowhere to be seen, but are said to be busily working at some undisclosed location.

Th battle of statistics continues, with Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the Empire State Campaign Committee, defending her claim that 1,000,000 of New York State’s women want suffrage, while Alice Hill Chittenden and Josephine Dodge of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage say that only 10% of the State’s women want the vote. According to Catt: “We have made no ‘wild guess,’ we have ‘framed up’ no false statement. We canvassed. We found our million women.” Catt’s organization has gone to a great deal of trouble to gather these statistics. Many communities have been canvassed house to house, and they have maintained booths at 98 county fairs, the State Fair, and numerous expositions.

Catt also noted that the “antis” have not changed their 10% estimate in ten years despite the phenomenal growth of suffrage sentiment in that time, as shown by the addition of seven States to the full-suffrage column in just the past five years. Suffrage parades didn’t even exist a decade ago, but the one on October 23rd was conceded by even the most vehemently anti-suffrage newspaper in the city to have been a stunning and massive spectacle. Even that turnout was not a complete reflection of suffrage sentiment because according to Catt: “Thousands of women did not possess the physical strength to stand waiting for hours and then walk two and a half miles. Many were obliged to work Saturday afternoon, and thousands more to remain home with their children.”

Carnegie Hall continues to be a focal point of the campaign, as the anti-suffrage rhetoric of last night was replaced by equally strong, but more eloquent oratory in favor of suffrage this evening. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise said, “The cause of equal suffrage is one additional symbol of the history of a great movement of the awakening, the revolt, the uprising of women against centuries of wrong and injustice, for repression and suppression are wrong and injustice.”

He also spoke to the issue of the current European war, and said that: “I do not say that wars will end when women have the vote, but I will essay the role of the prophet in this one instance and say that there is not going to be an end to war before the women have the vote.”

One side of a pro-suffrage card being used to sway Massachusetts voters.
One side of a pro-suffrage card being used to sway Massachusetts voters.

Rabbi Wise then went on to take his most radical stand yet, supporting a kind of “birth strike” if men continue to deny the ballot to women:

I can conceive that the time will come when women will say: ‘Either give us a share in the Government or else we will no longer be mothers. We will not give life to a child and a child to life; we will not bear sons unless we can assure ourselves that they will be permitted to live… In the face of this great calamity of war, how can men say that government could be made worse by the participation of women?

Enthusiasm for the cause has become so great that the police had to order a suffrage rally to quiet down because the singing of “America” was disturbing a church service being held by anti-suffragist Dr. Charles Parkhurst in the Madison Square Presbyterian Church. Once the service was over, the singing resumed, with a musical program that ran from “My Old Kentucky Home” to “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Margaret Foley addressed an audience of 2,000 in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall tonight. She admitted that this was an uphill struggle. She said that political bosses in her own city of Boston were “busy getting men out of jail so they will have their vote,” and U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and other powerful “Old Guard” politicians are working openly with the “antis.” She closed by saying: “We are not asking for any privileges. We are simply asking for justice. No more, no less.” She said that though all wrongs would not be righted if women won the vote, “the men must trust us; with their assistance we will win by the largest majority given woman suffrage by any State in the Union.” In Springfield, Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale addressed an audience of 1,000 on the subject of “Women and Democracy.”

Registration figures in all three States where suffrage referenda are on the ballot are unusually high, so interest in the election is great. That’s as it should be for such a momentous event, because nearly six million new voters could be added to the rolls if all the referenda pass. The number of women over the age of 21 in New York State is estimated at 2,757,521; in Pennsylvania there are 2,114,008, and in Massachusetts it’s 1,074,485, for a total of 5,946,014.

Though suffragists are expressing optimism, political leaders in each state are predicting defeat, so there are contingency plans. In Massachusetts the 1915 campaign will immediately shift into a 1916 campaign if necessary. It may take longer to get back on the ballot in New York because of the cumbersome procedure involved, and in Pennsylvania, the State Constitution requires that a failed amendment must wait five years before being re-submitted to the voters. But at the moment all efforts are concentrated on this year and the hope that no further campaigns will be needed in these three States.

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