July 22, 1920: Suffragist Demand More Action from Harding

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


Over a hundred members of the National Woman’s Party met with Republican Presidential nominee Warren G. Harding today, and made it clear that the N.W.P. will not settle for mere words from the Senator, but will insist on deeds.

In fact, if he doesn’t do something meaningful to help the suffrage cause, Harding should probably just continue his “Front Porch Campaign,” because if he leaves his home he will be followed to all events by National Woman’s Party members, who will be pointing out his lack of commitment to winning “Votes for Women.” According to Alice Paul:

Suffragists can feel only dissatisfaction with Senator Harding’s refusal today in his reply to the Woman’s Party delegation, and in his acceptance speech, to take a positive stand for the carrying out of the suffrage plank in the Republican platform. The suffrage plank is the only one in the platform which Senator Harding and his party have the power to carry out without waiting until elected to national office, because of the fact that their party is already in control in several legislatures which have not yet acted on suffrage.

Vermont and Connecticut legislators appear to be especially eager to ratify, but their Republican governors have been refusing for months to call these legislatures back into session so they can vote on ratification. Paul continued:

If Senator Harding refuses to live up to the suffrage plank, and contents himself merely with ‘earnestly hoping’ and ‘sincerely desiring,’ how can he expect the country to take seriously the other planks in his platform? The National Woman’s Party will continue to demand that Senator Harding carry out his platform by securing a unanimous vote in support of ratification from the Republican delegation in the Tennessee Legislature when it meets next month. If Senator Haring will use his full power, as a leader of his party, in behalf of the enfranchisement of women, he can secure such a Republican vote in favor of ratification in Tennessee. Only by action and not by the expression of polite interest will women be satisfied.

Paul’s last comment may refer to a telegram Harding sent last night to Carrie Chapman Catt, in which he said he would “cordially recommend” that Republican legislators in Tennessee vote for suffrage if they asked his opinion.

Harding was very polite to today’s large Woman’s Party delegation, which marched down the streets of Marion, Ohio, to his home, dressed in white, bearing the N.W.P.’s purple, white and gold banners, and wearing similarly colorful sashes. A number of the group’s members spoke frankly to the Republican nominee. Louisine Havemeyer brought up a good point about the Republicans’ frequent boast that they have done more for suffrage than the Democrats:

True, the Republican Party has given us more States than the Democratic Party, but they had more States to draw upon, and I recommend your informing yourselves as to the number of Democrats who voted in these Republican States … This has been a seventy-year struggle between the men and women of this great country. Isn’t it time to end the struggle? Is it fair that a woman should make the flag and only the men should wave it?

Republican Presidential nominee Warren G. Harding speaks to a crowd of supporters gathered outside his home.
Republican Presidential nominee Warren G. Harding speaks to a crowd of supporters gathered outside his home.

Havemeyer then brought Republican Party icon Abraham Lincoln into the discussion, comparing his efforts for the 13th Amendment with those of present Republicans for the proposed 19th: “Fifty-six years ago Abraham Lincoln also wished to pass an amendment …. Did he say, ‘I have done enough,’ or ‘I will request some one,’ or ‘I will urge,’ … or ‘ladies, don’t bother me, I have done all I could.’ No. He said: ‘I need another State, and I am going to make one.’ And he did, and his amendment was ratified.”

Having now met with the Presidential nominees of both major parties, the Woman’s Party will expect them to do whatever is necessary to deliver Tennessee or North Carolina when those legislatures meet in less than three weeks to vote on approving the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment. The approval of either State would be the 36th and final one needed to put woman suffrage into the U.S. Constitution as the 19th Amendment. The vote is certain to be quite close, and the result is presently unpredictable, complicated by the fact that most legislators are scattered around their home States at their residences, often in quite remote areas, while others are on extended vacations in undisclosed locations.

The General Election is less than 15 weeks away. Registration deadlines have passed in at least two States where women cannot vote, and are rapidly approaching in many others where women will not be allowed to register unless the 19th Amendment passes. Pressure from the highest levels of each party on State legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina could make the difference between millions of women around the country voting for all offices and referenda on the ballot in November, or being barred from the polls until at least next year – and from voting for President until the 1924 election. No effort will be spared by suffrage forces to get that 36th State ratified, and an all-out drive by anti-suffragists to block any further ratifications it is equally inevitable. So, meaningful efforts by Republican Presidential nominee Senator Warren G. Harding and Democratic Presidential nominee Governor James Cox could be crucial to victory, and will be vigorously sought.

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