Today in 1915: Alice Paul Speaks Out on a Suffrage Defeat in New Jersey

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


October 20, 1915: Though the focus of most suffragists is now on upcoming referenda in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts on November 2nd, Alice Paul spoke out today about yesterday’s defeat of the suffrage referendum in her home State of New Jersey.

Since her goal and that of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage is adoption of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which would enfranchise women nationwide once passed by 2/3 of Congress and ratified by 3/4 of the State legislatures, Tuesday’s debacle only strengthens her belief that the days of campaigning for suffrage on a State-by-State basis should be over:

For more than sixty years women have been trying to win suffrage by the State referendum method, advocated by President Wilson. This has meant the expenditure of an enormous amount of energy, of time, and of money. Women are now beginning to feel that the State referendum campaigns in which the question of women’s political freedom is left in the hands of the most ignorant men voters in the State are too wasteful and indirect to be much longer continued.

They are turning to the national Government, asking enfranchisement by action of the United States Congress. We approach the next session of Congress full of hope that the leverage which the suffrage movement possesses in Congress as a result of the fact that one-fourth of the Senate, one-sixth of the House and one-fifth of the electoral vote for President now comes from suffrage States will mean the passage of the national suffrage amendment, thus doing away with costly and laborious State campaigns such as has just been unsuccessfully waged in New Jersey.

Of course, other organizations, such as the Women’s Political Union and the National American Woman Suffrage Association still support State referenda. Though N.A.W.S.A. president Rev. Anna Howard Shaw agreed that there should now be more emphasis on national suffrage, both her group and the W.P.U. are pressing ahead at full speed with their upcoming State campaigns. In fact, plans for an election night celebration at the W.P.U.’s “Suffrage Shop” on New York’s Fifth Avenue were in high gear today, as workers shrugged off yesterday’s setback and cheerfully looked 13 days ahead.

New York’s results will be different from those of New Jersey, in the opinion of Carrie Chapman Catt, among the most experienced of campaign workers: “We did not expect to win in New Jersey, for all the forces of wickedness were against the women. The whole campaign of the men was one of intimidation. I believe that the men of the political parties of New York have told the truth when they say they would not interfere with the vote in this State and I think we shall win.”

Campaign poster by Norman Jacobsen celebrating the courage and dedication of suffragists, and in support of a "Yes" vote in the upcoming referenda.
Campaign poster by Norman Jacobsen celebrating the courage and dedication of suffragists, and in support of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming referenda.

As to yesterday’s vote, one poll-watcher, Helena Hill Weed, said it was overtly corrupt. At her post in Newark from 6 a.m. until the ballot box was finally transferred to the Court House long after the polls had closed, she saw numerous violations of basic election laws, and even observed money changing hands. In regard to the influence of one political boss in particular, she said:

“We have absolutely tied up the women ‘antis’ with Jim Nugent’s party, though they have all along routinely denied it. We knew that Nugent had all through the campaign been distributing their anti-suffrage literature, but yesterday his men acted as watchers for the women.” (Some of his highest-ranking cronies were seen wearing badges of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage as they monitored the balloting.) Harriot Stanton Blatch, of the Women’s Political Union, also saw money being passed, as well as “repeating” voters, and has reported these violations to the authorities.

Unfortunately, New Jersey requires that five years must pass before a referendum may again be submitted to the voters. No one here wants to just sit around until 1920, so a campaign to get the State Legislature to immediately pass legislation similar to that of Illinois, enabling the State’s women to vote for President has now begun. Though full suffrage can only be achieved through a Statewide referendum, the State Legislature can enact “Presidential Suffrage” for women on its own, at any time, so it’s still possible that New Jersey women will be able to vote for President (though no other offices) in 1916.

Once the voting trend became clear last night, and the battle had been lost everywhere except Ocean County, suffrage forces were understandably disappointed, but never dispirited. Looking forward, rather than back, it was simply time to plan for the next fight. So a kick-off rally was scheduled for the next morning in the same Military Park location in Newark where the previous campaign had ended on Election Day following a 24-hour speech-making marathon.

Mina Van Winkle, Helen Hoy Greeley, and Helena Hill Weed were among the speakers who drew a large and enthusiastic audience today. According to Greeley: “This is only one battle, nothing more than the preliminary battle in the open between the suffragists and the interests that are against them … We are in the fight to stay. It is the opening of a campaign that will go on Winter, Summer, Spring and Autumn – go on until we win, by the grace of God.”

Suffrage workers in neighboring Pennsylvania are not dismayed by the New Jersey vote, so they’re still busily planning a street parade and demonstration for the night of Friday, the 22nd, when the “Women’s Liberty Bell” arrives in Philadelphia as part of its tour of the State. There were noon meetings at various locations around that city today, and ten meetings are being held simultaneously tonight along Broad Street by the Equal Franchise Society and the Woman Suffrage Party.

In the other two States with upcoming referenda, nine organizers and five salaried speakers who have helped to found 200 local suffrage clubs are active in Massachusetts, while New York suffragists are preparing for a massive suffrage parade on Saturday, the 23rd. So, 1915 may yet be a year of victory parties, only with three instead of four, and beginning on November 2nd instead of October 19th!

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