May 16, 1913: Suffragists Condemn Comments by NYC Mayor

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column. Each day, we dig in to a theoretical headline from women’s history from that day in years past.


Local suffragists expressed immediate and universal outrage today over some remarks made by New York City Mayor William Gaynor in a newspaper interview.

The interview actually started off on a quite positive note when he said: “Would I call myself a suffragist? In that I am perfectly willing, yes.” He then went even further and said he could understand the violent actions taken by some British suffragists. But like many public figures, he didn’t know when to stop talking, and went on to explain why he had sympathy for the actions of what he called “rather desperate” English suffragists. This exposed his true views on women in general, and suffragists in particular.

William Jay Gaynor, Mayor of New York since January 1, 1910
William Jay Gaynor, Mayor of New York since January 1, 1910

Apparently the Mayor feels that what makes women “militant” about seeking equal rights is the lack of a husband, and since there are “1,500,000 unmarried women” in England, he believes such desperation there is inevitable. As he put it, “as soon as every woman has a man the women will get peaceful… Is there any suffragette in the world who would not give up her principles for a nice man?” He said that the reason he did not fear such violence here was because “most of our woman suffragists are married.”

He then made things even worse by blaming women themselves for their failure to win suffrage, and showed that he does not take the suffrage movement seriously:

Do I think the men of this State are opposed to woman suffrage, or are in favor of it, or indifferent about it? I think the greatest number are in that mood that they just laugh and rub their stomachs and say that they are perfectly satisfied for the women to vote if they want to. But the trouble is that there are only a few women, apparently, who want to vote. Mark me, as soon as the majority of them want it they will get it.

There was quick and universal condemnation of Gaynor’s remarks by suffragists. Elizabeth Freeman, who drove the literature wagon during a recent suffrage hike from Newark, New Jersey, to Washington, D.C., and who has served time in English prisons for her suffrage work there, said:

The Mayor is talking through his hat when he says that all militant suffragettes need is a mere man. All they need is a vote! Most of the militant suffragette leaders in England, as a matter of fact – that is to say many of them – are very sweetly married women.

Freeman then recalled a recent debate here, in which the anti-suffragists implied that those who were committed to the cause of “Votes for Women” tended not to believe in marriage and motherhood. She then called for a survey of those on the platform, and it was discovered that the five women who argued against suffrage had three children between them, while four of the suffragists had a total of twelve children, Freeman being the only unmarried debater on the platform.

Harriot Stanton Blatch said English militance was not due to so many unmarried women, but political and economic conditions, and mentioned the names of many prominent English militants who are married.

Rheta Childe Dorr, author of “What Eight Million Women Want” said: “What an insult to women to say that any suffragette would give up her principles for a nice man. Lots of suffragettes who are chucking things in England are married women whose husbands are nice men, and many of these husbands have stood by them and been arrested with them.” She then noted: “Women don’t need men half as bad as men need women, anyway.”

With the suffrage movement enjoying unprecedented strength, as shown by massive pageants in Washington, D.C. on March 3rd and here in New York on May 3rd, it’s surprising to see anyone who holds elective office so unconcerned about offending a group that may soon constitute at least half the electorate. But suffragists – single, widowed, divorced or married, with or without children – have never been deterred by such old-fashioned views, or the condescending attitudes personified by the Mayor, and will simply use these insults as a spur to greater efforts, thus bringing the day of victory closer.

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