Today in 1915: Women Overwhelmingly Support Suffrage in New Jersey, But Can’t Vote for It

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


October 17, 1915: Just two more days remain until the men of New Jersey vote on woman suffrage, and if women could vote, it would win in a landslide, judging by the numbers enrolled in pro-suffrage and anti-suffrage organizations in the State.

According to figures made public today, there are 75,000 members of the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey, and 25,000 in the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. The New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage has a membership of only 25,000.

When asked if this four-to-one ratio was an indication that suffrage enjoyed great support from the women of New Jersey, an official of the anti-suffrage group said: “It might be an indication if the suffragists followed our rule and enrolled only women of voting age. But they will accept infants in cradles as members in order to swell their numbers.”

Promoting suffrage in New Jersey on the Asbury Park Boardwalk.
Promoting suffrage in New Jersey on the Asbury Park Boardwalk.

Since there are probably a little under 750,000 women of voting age in New Jersey, it means that if we presume that the vast majority of suffrage group members actually are adults, then one in eight is not only pro-suffrage, but concerned enough about it to become an active member of a suffrage organization, versus one in thirty who is actively opposed.

Since today was a Sunday, most suffrage speeches in all four States with upcoming suffrage referenda were spoken from the pulpit, rather than on street corners. Three-time Democratic Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan spoke at Grace Methodist Church in New York City, but though campaigning for the New York State suffrage referendum on November 2nd, he mentioned the New Jersey vote coming up on Tuesday, and why it’s important that women should be able to vote on all major issues. He told the church members:

You have had a recent convert to the cause of woman suffrage. I see that the President has recently announced that he will vote for woman suffrage at the New Jersey election. I have believed that women should have the vote, but if there was only one question on which they could vote I would say that should be the question of peace or war.

Bryan condemned “propagandists,” “preparedness societies,” and “jingoes” for trying to drag us into the war in Europe, and noted that: “If the jingoes in this country are able to scare us into preparing, although they cannot name a country which might attack us, would not the jingoes in some other country be able to scare that country by pointing us out and saying that we were preparing against it?”

Though today was much closer to a traditional “day of rest” than most in this campaign, tomorrow will be the busiest so far. Three hundred and fifty-two suffrage speakers and campaign workers will be making their final pleas to voters. One meeting will be called to order at 6 a.m. by Mildred Taylor, and will continue for 24 hours, until just before the polls open on Tuesday. It will be conducted at the roving suffrage van and shop now stationed at Military Park in Newark. That location gets more pedestrian traffic than any other place in the State.

Meanwhile, in another New York church this morning, anti-suffragist Rev. Cyrus Townsend Brady was preaching that equality for women would bring
about the downfall of civilization:

What will be the ultimate result of this woman movement? We will have no more families, no more mothers, no more society, marriage will be a failure, for if it exists at all it will be a condition in which the husband will be one man and the wife another. The field for the practice of the highest virtues, the home, will be eliminated. The social purity of mankind will be undermined, prostitution will flourish, as it always does when marriage is neglected, and the result will be ruin.

Brady feels that “the perfection of the family is woman’s task,” and that “her struggle has been for a monogamous marriage” and “her triumph, while not yet complete,” will succeed if she will “continue her struggle on the legitimate lines marked out for her by successes of the past.” He thinks that voting, like decision-making in a marriage, is a male, not a female function, and “so I say deliberately that the so-called woman movement is an attempt to escape the function of woman, a revolt against the fact that woman is not a man, an attempt to enter the field of effort in which man’s powers are properly exercised. It is a rising against nature.”

But it’s Rev. Brady who is fighting against nature, because the desire to be free and equal is inherent in all people. It is now being manifested in an unprecedented way as women enter many fields from which they were previously excluded – and one State at a time, even gain entrance to the voting booth.

Hopefully there will be one more suffrage State on Tuesday, and three more after that on November 2nd. The elaborate, massive parades that have become annual events, and the fact that almost half the States in which women have full suffrage have been won in just the past three years shows a powerful trend in its favor. Though more suffrage campaigns are lost than won, the gains still mount up, as no State in the post-Seneca Falls era has revoked woman suffrage after granting it. This steady progress insures that regardless of the outcome of any specific election, nationwide woman suffrage is about “when” it’s to be achieved, and not “if.” The only question now is over which tactics will work best, and how much time and effort will be needed to win.

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