Partial Voting Rights for Women
During the 1870s several states and territories under US jurisdiction began to consider limited voting rights for women. These areas recognized women’s involvement with school boards and other local issues and began to allow them to cast votes in board elections, referenda, and tax issues related to education. Several states had referendum votes on women’s suffrage, none of which passed, though the legislatures provided the limited voting rights for issues which were somewhat condescendingly considered part of women’s normal societal role.
Several minor successes in obtaining limited voting rights were struck down by state courts, arguing that the state constitutions did not establish conditions for different classes of voters. As the states and territories wrestled with the issues, the House of Representatives and the Senate began to yield to the pressure from women’s rights advocates and social reformers. The women’s rights movement developed a strong ally in the growing temperance movement, and many of the leading suffragists were also strong supporters of the temperance movement, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone.
In 1878 an amendment was introduced in the Senate which would allow women the right to vote, thus superseding all existing state and local laws. The amendment was tabled and both houses of Congress took up the topic by establishing committees to hear testimony four years later. In 1884 the subject of women’s suffrage was debated on the House floor, though no vote was forthcoming. In 1886 the Senate rejected the women’s suffrage amendment by a large majority. Meanwhile the Washington Territory passed an ordinance which granted women there full voting rights. It would be struck down in 1887 by the Supreme Court.
The standard arguments against women voting were adopted by the Anti-Suffragist Movement. The Anti-Suffragist Movement contained both men and women, though many of its smaller organizations were of women only, concerned about the damage being done to families by the suffragists. They supported the idea that women involved in politics would bring disruption to the family, that it was against the laws of nature for women to take an active role in the affairs which were the purview of men, and most women were poorly informed on affairs of law and business and would thus be unable to vote intelligently.
As the suffragist movement gained momentum in state capitals and in Washington so did the activities of the Anti-Suffragists, which reached its peak in the decade before World War I. One of its prominent leaders, Josephine Dodge, wrote, “The life of the average woman is not so ordered as to give her first hand knowledge of those things which are the essentials of sound government”. The Temperance Unions and women’s rights groups accused Dodge and many of the Anti-Suffragist groups of being in the pay of large alcohol business interests, determined to head off the growing push for Prohibition in the United States.