Today in 1915: Suffragists Set Their Sights on Eastern States

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

FoundingFeministLogo-colorOctober 15, 1915: “New Jersey Next!”

That’s the motto of suffragists who are undertaking a bold gamble to expand “Votes for Women” out of the West and capture four big eastern states between October 19th and November 2nd.

Though women in Illinois have almost equal suffrage, and can vote for President and local offices, but not statewide officials, at present there is no state east of Kansas where women vote on the same basis as men. But confidence is now running so high that major campaigns are being waged in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. New Jersey will vote first, just four days from now. These four states contain one-fifth of the population of the United States, and could suddenly double the number of women voters, something not accomplished since California became a suffrage state four years ago.


New Jersey is unique, because women could vote here from 1776 until 1807, so long as they met the same property-owning qualifications as the male voters. There have been 4,000 outdoor and 500 indoor meetings held around the State arranged by four paid and thirty volunteer organizers of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. It works with three other groups in a coalition called the Cooperative Committee. The largest of the three other groups comprising the committee is the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey, with the Equal Franchise Society of New Jersey and the New Jersey Men’s League for Woman Suffrage contributing to the effort as well. Thus far, three million pieces of literature and four hundred thousand buttons have been distributed, so the campaign to re-enfranchise the State’s women has been a mighty effort.

Today both sides were quite active. A group of New York suffrage supporters took time out from the campaign in their home State to travel around this State in a horse-drawn wagon converted from delivering lunches into delivering literature to voters. The group was headed by Nora Blatch De Forest, daughter of Harriot Stanton Blatch, and granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was accompanied by journalist Rheta Childe Dorr, Florence Kelley, of the National Consumers’ League, and Alice Carpenter, Progressive Party activist.

Mina Van Winkle, President of the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey was back at her desk in Newark today, busy making sure there will be enough women poll-watchers to insure a reasonably honest election. She said: “If no underground influences get in their work on Tuesday we will win this election.”

Anti-suffrage forces are, of course, making strong last-minute efforts as well. Today a flyer by W. T. Hickey of Colorado was being distributed locally saying that suffrage in Colorado, where women won the vote in 1893, has been a failure, and that the women legislators there have not been able to bring any benefit to women, and even opposed so-called “protective” legislation restricting women’s hours of work.

The New Jersey State Federation of Labor, which in previous years has endorsed suffrage, did not do so this year. The active opposition of James Nugent, Essex County Democratic Chairman, is suspected of being behind the move, due to his close and friendly relations with the liquor lobby, which fears enactment of prohibition if women are enfranchised. Bartenders, waiters, brewers, bottle washers and cigar makers all formally came out opposed to suffrage through their unions just prior to the State Federation of Labor’s convention.

The “antis” are employing their best speakers now, as the campaign winds down to its final days, with the highest-ranking officers of anti-suffrage organizations in States such as New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts coming to New Jersey to make their case. Even the widow of the late Vice President Garrett Hobart (who served during McKinley’s first Administration) has been drawn into the battle, saying: “Please remember that I am one of the thousands of women in our State who do not want the vote and that I speak for them when I beg you to vote against woman suffrage. We need your vote to prevent what we believe to be a great injustice to us as well as a grave menace to our State.”

But suffragists have powerful speakers as well. William Jennings Bryan and Senator William E. Borah, Republican of Idaho, will be addressing huge meetings in Newark and Paterson tomorrow night, and these won’t be the last attempts to stir up the voters for suffrage. President Wilson has also issued a statement of support, saying on October 6th:

I intend to vote for woman suffrage in New Jersey because I believe that the time has come to extend the privilege and responsibility to the women of the State, but I shall vote, not as the leader of my party in the nation, but only upon my private conviction as a citizen of New Jersey, called upon by the Legislature of my State to express his conviction at the polls. I think that New Jersey will be greatly benefited by the change. My position with regard to the way in which this great question should be handled is well known. I believe that it should be settled by the States and not by the National Government and that in no circumstances should it be made a party question, and my view has grown stronger at every turn of the agitation.

Though the President is obviously not ready to endorse the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, and the four referenda would only enfranchise women in four of the forty-eight States, a successful result here on October 19th, then on November 2nd in the other three States, would increase the number of “equal suffrage” States to 15, and force the men in Congress from those States to give their female constituents the same attention and consideration as the male voters get now. This would clearly be a major boost for the Anthony Amendment, and bring the end of the struggle much closer. But first things first, so “New Jersey Next!”

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