Founding Feminists: September 9, 1912

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


If the Progressive Party is to win the White House in November, women must register and vote in great numbers, according to former – and hopefully future – President Theodore Roosevelt. He was in Spokane today, urging women in Washington State to take full advantage of their right to cast a ballot in the upcoming General Election. He told 2,500 women gathered at the American Theater: “The suffrage having been given to you, it is not only your right but your duty to exercise it. You are false to your duty as citizens and as women if you fail to register and vote.”

His speech was most timely, because today is the final day of registration for the November 5th nationwide election. Apparently his words were quite effective, because after the conclusion of the program, women crowded the places of registration much as they did right after winning the vote here two years ago. Several hundred women were seen standing in the registration line a block away from the theater soon after the conclusion of the first of his two speeches today to female audiences.

Colonel Roosevelt’s speeches were unique in two ways. He had never addressed an all-female audience before, and neither the Democratic nor Republican Presidential candidates have yet made a speech to a similar audience. At first he was a bit hesitant, not quite sure what to say, but many years of campaigning coupled with his own excellent instincts soon took over, and before long it looked and sounded like a traditional Roosevelt rally. Following his introduction, and after shouts of “Hurrah for Teddy” subsided, he told why he and the newborn Progressive Party have earned women’s votes:

One of the things that has given me peculiar pleasure is the fact that this is the first party that ever put forth a woman suffrage plank and then tried to live up to it. We have not only declared for woman suffrage, but have tried to live up to the declaration. At Chicago we had women delegates, not only from the suffrage States, but from States that have been dragged along at the tail of the procession. We had them not only from Colorado and Washington, but from Massachusetts and New York. One of the memories of that convention that I shall always prize is the fact that one of my seconders was a woman, Miss Jane Addams.

He said he wasn’t really a “convert” to woman suffrage because he had always supported it, but that he had been changed from a passive suffragist to an active one by some of the women he’d met who were doing social reform work. He knew that suffrage would add to their power and respect. He also stated that rather than interfering with the home, suffrage will be good for it :

I believe that it will tend toward an increasing number of ideal homes, an increase in the sense of co-partnership between the man and the woman, and make each think more of the rights of the other than of his or her own rights. Just as a man can do better work for others if he is a free man, so a woman can do better work for others if she is a free woman.

via Wikimedia
via Wikimedia

The Progressive Party Platform endorses “minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a ‘living wage’ in all industrial occupations,” so its Presidential nominee addressed that issue, and compared his views with those of one of his rivals, Democrat Woodrow Wilson:

We have studied the conditions among girls and women in industry, and know the suffering, misery, crime, and vice that are produced by an income that is insufficient to enable the girl or woman to keep body and soul together in surroundings of ordinary decency.

Mr. Wilson’s fears that the employers of these women, if obliged to pay them a proper wage, would reduce all the other employes [sic] to that same minimum wage are groundless. The employers who now pay employes a starvation wage prove by that fact that they are paying all the employes the very least they can get them to take. The objection is one of the schoolroom, and will not have weight with those who know what life is.

His loudest rounds of applause came when he told the mothers in the audience that in regard to parenting, “father has an easy time of it,” and then he repeated his invitation to women to turn out on election day: “Bring your husbands and brothers along with you if you can; but if you can’t, come anyway.”

Sarah Flannigan, a local Roosevelt campaign worker gave a clue about why getting out the women’s vote is so crucial to Progressives : “When I ask a woman how she is going to vote, she always looks a little surprised at the question, and then says in an astonished way: ‘Why, for the Progressive ticket, of course.’ I am speaking now of mothers, and the more children they have the more strongly they are for Roosevelt.”

The campaign train will now move on, but Col. Roosevelt will certainly have good memories of Spokane, and should be able to count on substantial support from the women here on November 5th, when he takes on New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson of the Democrats and incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft.

If the election is close, and Roosevelt’s win should be credited to the women’s vote in the six States where they have won the franchise, it could be as big a boost for the suffrage movement as for the Progressive Party. So hopefully, the women of California, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming will recognize their special responsibility, and turn out at the polls in sufficient numbers to elect a Progressive, outspokenly pro-suffrage President this year!

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