Founding Feminists: September 10, 1920

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


The National Woman’s Party will battle on! Though originally created for the purpose of putting a woman suffrage amendment into the Constitution, there was a consensus among Executive Committee members today that the victorious end of that struggle 15 days ago will not automatically cause all discrimination and barriers against women to fall, so the N.W.P. must evolve from a”suffrage” organization with a single goal of enfranchising women, to a “feminist” organization whose goal is total equality. As Alice Paul explained:

It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and accustomed policy is not to ignore women. Men are chosen to fill high Government offices and the responsible, well-paid positions in industry. No comment was excited by the fact that no woman was a member of the Coal Commission, for instance, or the Railway Wage Board, in whose hands lay matters of vital concern to women as housekeepers and as workers. Unless women are prepared to fight politically they must be content to be ignored politically.

Though becoming an official political party with its own women candidates has been discussed, Abby Scott Baker indicated that most board members thought it would be better to continue doing what has been so successful for the party during the “Votes for Women” struggle. Therefore, the party will throw its influence and the power of women voters in favor of established party candidates who support its goals and use it against those who do not. She urged women to enter politics, but to beware of being relegated to the lowest rungs of the ladder.

You may be sure that it will be some time before they are allowed to speak up in meetings in the inner party councils. Politicians are bargain hunters, and they are not bidding very high for the women’s vote. If I have learned anything from my political experience, it is that the one thing politicians fear is a determined minority united on a program, and ready to throw its power to the group through which it can secure that program’s success. This is the policy through which the Woman’s Party won national suffrage within seven years. By following this policy, the Woman’s Party could win success for the larger problems still before women.

Alva Belmont, who hosted today’s gathering at her Long Island home, gave an example of a problem that winning suffrage did not solve, but using women’s votes as a political tool could fix. (This is not just an academic issue to her, because her daughter recently lost her American citizenship when she married the Duke of Marlborough in England.)

With such an active, fighting women’s group in the political field, it would be impossible for women to be deprived of their citizenship through marriage or to be given citizenship because of marriage. A woman should have the right of separate domicile, so that she can not be disenfranchised, as thousands of women now are because their residence is fixed by that of their husbands.

National Woman's Party members standing in front of their headquarters three months ago, with a banner that seems as relevant now as it did during the suffrage struggle. (Image marked for reuse in Google Images.)
National Woman’s Party members standing in front of their headquarters three months ago, with a banner that seems as relevant now as it did during the suffrage struggle. (Image marked for reuse in Google Images.)

The date of the upcoming National Woman’s Party convention is still uncertain, because there is still some “unfinished business” to deal with in regard to suffrage. Anti-suffragists have launched multiple legal offensives in the courts trying to invalidate ratification of the Susan B. Anthony (19th) Amendment, or at least block its implementation until after the Presidential election on November second.

The National Woman’s Party’s highest priority is making sure that women in all States can vote in the upcoming election, so they are helping fight the court suits as well as working for ratification in Connecticut. The major legal controversy involves the ratification process in Tennessee, which became the 36th and final State needed for ratification on August 18th. Eight days later, on August 26th, the Secretary of State issued his proclamation declaring that the Anthony Amendment was in the Constitution. But if Connecticut ratifies before the election, it would make Tennessee’s now-contested status irrelevant.

Fortunately, one major impediment to the National Woman’s Party’s ambitious plans has been dealt with. Dora Lewis announced at the Executive Committee meeting that the $ 12,000 debt run up during the final days of campaigning for ratification has been paid in full, thanks to vigorous efforts to collect on previous pledges, plus new contributions, the largest of which was $ 1,000 from Alva Belmont.

So, debt-free and with their initial task happily accomplished, the National Woman’s Party can now move on toward their new goal of total equality. With the votes of millions of newly-enfranchised women added to the party’s years of political experience, achievement of equal rights for women and men now seems possible in the not too distant future!

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