17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History

Trista - October 5, 2018

One of the surprising outcomes of the 2016 presidential election is a force that is deeply rooted in America and refuses to leave: anti-feminism. Despite the repeated complaints of sexual misconduct and other forms of misogyny by Donald Trump, many women chose to vote for him. Why? Because some of these women believe that their place was at home, and Donald Trump seemed to be the man to restore the traditional family values that America has been disregarding ever since the rise of feminism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

What these women don’t realize is that their right to vote for Donald Trump in the first place was hard-won by early feminists; in fact, the overcome for suffrage was one of the first major victories of the feminist movement in the United States. Below are some of the real yet bizarre justifications that many people — both men and women — used to deprive women of the right to vote.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
A suffrage poster. The Development of Women’s Rights

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Pin advocating women’s suffrage. Cincinnati Museum Center

1. Women Would Merely Double Their Husbands’ Votes

This argument, which was published in anti-suffrage propaganda, relied on the underlying logic of mathematics. After all, if something proves to be as simple as basic arithmetic, then how could it not be true? Well, if the underlying assumptions that you are making are incorrect, then the “basic arithmetic” won’t ever add up.

One of those incorrect assumptions is that women will vote in the same way as their husbands. After all, as we have previously seen, men always voted in ways that would befit their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters! If the men would so lovingly vote in such a fashion, then it only stands to reason that the women would vote in the same way. As a result, these men would functionally be given two votes. Not too many men agreed with this reasoning on a practical level. After all, if they did, they would be quite keen to push for women’s suffrage, as this would double (or triple or quadruple, depending on how many women were in their families) their voting power!

As modern politicians know, they must court the women’s vote, as it often does differ from the men’s vote. Issues that relate to gender equality, like equal pay for equal work and policies that protect women from sexual harassment, tend to be of more concern for women than they are for men. It is not automatically given just because the men in their lives feel a certain way about different issues.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
A polling place in Brisbane, Queensland. Wikimedia

2. The Voting Booth Is No Place For Women

Voting booths in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were reportedly places of common, indecent behavior. Unlike today, when people can go in privately and cast their ballot in secret, they were more akin to public forums that could turn into free-for-alls akin to bar brawls. They were indeed no place for decent, kind, upright, virtuous women, especially not when the men engaging in said brawls were putting their women on such a high pedestal.

Of course, some suffragettes were keen enough to notice that the men who engaged in indecent, mundane behavior at the polls were the same men that they had to live with every day of the year. Some other suffragettes noted that if men were so emotional and sensitive as to engage in fights in the public forum and voting booth, the places where democracy and decency should be upheld, then women, not men, should be the ones voting in the first place.

The notion that women shouldn’t subject themselves to the hardships of the voting booth, of course, is a play on the idea that women should content themselves with staying at home. Perhaps the men were getting into fights as a cover to keep the polls as a men’s club and keep the women out.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
National American Women Suffrage Association 1913 Washington DC. Wikimedia

3. Women Don’t Want to Vote

The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was a real thing. It started in London in 1908 and was, as its name suggested, organized in adamant opposition to women gaining the right to vote, especially in national elections. Anti-suffragette societies also existed across the Atlantic, in the United States. While one might expect that these societies were primarily composed of men, there were actually many women were actively participated in them.

The suffragette activists had an easy time dismissing the arguments against suffrage that were put forth by men. What they had a hard time doing was doing away with the arguments that were put forth by women. When men say that women don’t want to vote, women suffragettes can quickly step in and say, “Oh yes, we do!” However, when women say that they don’t want to vote? They put these suffragettes into a real bind.

Some of these arguments claimed that women had their own individual work to do — namely, concern themselves with hearth and home — and that a cornerstone of civilization as we know it lies in the division of tasks between men and women.

Ultimately, the anti-suffragette and suffragette movements proved to be interrelated, and close analyses of the suffragette victories can be, at least indirectly, traced to the derailing efforts of the anti-suffragette women.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Sojourner Truth, 19th-century women’s rights activist. Biography

4. Women’s Suffrage Would Be Costly But Provide Little Benefit

When making any decision for an organization, a standard tool to use is called cost-benefit analysis. What a cost-benefit analysis essentially does is it forecasts the predicted outcomes of a particular event and weighs them against the cost of the said event. For example, if a grocery store manager wants to buy 100 crates of oranges at $10 each, and he anticipates that they will sell for $20 each, then he should proceed with the purchase because the benefit outweighs the cost. He stands to profit significantly from the decision.

One argument against women’s suffrage fell along the same lines as the cost-benefit analysis and said that the cost would far outweigh any benefit that would be provided. Think of all that will be involved in allowing women to the polls. Public opinion will have to be shifted so that society enables them to get to the polls in the first place. Elections will have to be redesigned to allow women to participate safely. Women will have to be educated because men thought they could not make intelligent decisions at the voting booth otherwise. All of these things and plenty more add up to a significant cost to society.

Benefits of this thinking include double the population now being educated. Furthermore, social issues that mainly concern women, like domestic abuse and unfair wages, would come to the forefront of political discourse. The advantages have far outweighed any costs.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Mabel Vernon Speaking at Suffrage Rally, May, 1916. United States Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

5. Women Don’t Need to Vote Because Men Will Always Vote With Their Interests in Mind

When is the last time that someone assumed that he or she knew what you wanted and turned out to be wildly wrong? Maybe the person was so confident of what you wanted as a Christmas or birthday present and extravagantly got you a gift that was downright repulsive. In fact, it seemed to be tailor-made for the person who gave it to you and didn’t seem to bear any of your interests at all.

One common argument that suffragettes faced was that their husbands, sons, and other male relatives were voting with their best interests in mind. They believed that they were giving lavish gifts to their wives, mothers, sisters, and other female friends, not realizing that these women wanted something else entirely. They also didn’t know that the “gifts” that they were giving were more in the men’s favor and showed little concern for women.

Surprisingly, this argument wasn’t only touted by the men who claimed that they were voting in women’s best interests. Many anti-suffragette groups, which were run by women, also used this argument.

However, as it turns out, what women wanted wasn’t for the men in their lives to represent them well in politics. What women wanted was the opportunity to express themselves by voting.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Justice Demands the Vote 1909. Wikimedia Commons

6. Women’s High-Strung Emotions Will Cause Them to Vote Poorly

Women today are routinely passed up for positions in traditionally male-dominated fields. They compose a pathetically small number of Fortune 500 CEOs and continue to face great difficulty when running for public office. One of the favorite reasons men give for passing up women: They are too emotional. Their emotions will get in the way of making rational decisions, and pretty soon, the entire organization will fall apart.

An article from The Washington Post points out this perspective that a man presented at a town meeting in Albany, New York in the nineteenth century:

“A woman’s brain involves emotion rather than intellect; and whilst this feature fits her admirably as a creature burdened with the preservation and happiness of the human species, it painfully disqualifies her for the sterner duties to be performed by the intellectual faculties. Never mind the fact that history is riddled with brilliant female strategists who navigated their nations into some of their most glorious ages.” The quote is from “A Suffragette’s Work Is Never Done” by Ross Coggins, The Washington Post, August 21, 1994.

Never mind that plenty of men, especially men in positions of power and prestige, have proven themselves to be driven by emotion, sometimes much more than their female counterparts. Consider Donald Trump’s emotional rantings on Twitter or all of the high-profile men who disregarded rational thought and the rule of law when engaging in sexual misconduct towards women. The problem may not be that women are emotional but rather that they are expected to be more sensitive; therefore, when men are passionate, they get away with questionable behavior.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Suffrage parade, March 3, 1913. National Photo Company

7. If Women Were Granted Suffrage, They Would Talk More

If women were deprived of the right to vote, the common belief was that they would remain at home and do most of their talking, chatting, and gossiping in their knitting circles at home with their female friends. If they chose to discuss politics, it would be in a way that was domestic and had little bearings on the men who actually ran (or thought that they ran) public life.

According to this line of reasoning, if women were given the right to vote and became politically active, those knitting-circle conversations would move to town hall meetings. Men would be forced to listen to women talk about politics, something that they clearly knew nothing about at all. After all, what could women possibly know about matters of war, affairs of the state, or how to cure society’s woes? Moreover, these men heard enough of their wives’ chatter and idle gossip at home. They certainly didn’t want to be embarrassed by the women’s antics in public!

The implication here is, of course, that women should stay at home and care for their husbands, who would go out and do the dirty work of participating in politics, sitting in town hall meetings, running for public office, and the like.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Mrs. W.L. Prendergast, Mrs. W.L. Colt, Doris Stevens, Alice Paul 1915. Library of Congress

8. Patriotic Women Should Focus on Raising Sons

Texas Democratic Congressman Martin Dies said: “I still adhere to the old-fashioned belief that the hand that rocks the cradle wields a better and a stronger influence upon the Nation than the hand that writes the ballot. A nation that has good mothers to mold the boys will never want for good men to make the ballots.”

Unfortunately, this self-assured, composed, arrogant congressman made some pretty ludicrous errors of logic in his statement. The first is, of course, that the son will always vote in the best interest of the mother. No, the son will probably vote in the best interest of the son and convince himself that he is doing so in the best interest of his mother.

The second is that he disregards women who give birth to and raise daughters. Plenty of couples have four, five, six, or more daughters and no sons. I suppose that women who give birth to daughters must not be patriotic, whether they believed they were or not. That news might be devastating if they should find out.

The third is that he distinguishes between the hand that rocks the cradle and the hand that writes the ballot, with the implicit assumption that the same hand cannot do both. Fortunately, several generations of voting women have proved that they can. This quote comes from Congressional Record: The Proceedings and Debates, 1915.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Women’s Suffrage Parade in New York City, May 6, 1912. Harris & Ewing/Wikimedia Commons

9. Women Already Have Everything That They Need

Congressman William Mulkey testified to the United States Congress in 1915, the year that women were granted suffrage, that “The great cry is that woman should be allowed to vote to protect themselves. Against what? Do men oppress them? Do we act toward them as though they were not American citizens or entitled to the protection of our laws? On the contrary, we show them every consideration, provide for their safety, and protect their interest always and everywhere.” This quote comes from Congressional Record: The Proceedings and Debates, 1915.

After all, men were always voting with the best interests of women in mind. Beyond that, they were working outside the home so that they could provide their wives with shelter, food, and everything that they needed. In turn, they were able to do what they wanted to do (or were supposed to want to do): remain at home and raise their children. As a result, women should feel indebted to men, by principle, for meeting all of their needs and wants.

What men (and women) who used this argument didn’t realize is that they were refusing to grant what women wanted: equal participation as citizens by giving them the right to vote.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Another women’s suffrage poster. The Development of Women’s Rights

10. Instead of Cooperating With Men, Women Would Be Competing With Them

Yes, this argument was a real one. It was published in a 1910 pamphlet that advocated against granting women the right to vote. At its heart lies the fallacy that women and men are innately and inherently in cooperation with one another, a myth that was already debunked with the idea that men always vote in the best interests of women. This logic is further challenged by the fact that in fighting for the right to vote against men who didn’t want them to have it, women and men were not cooperating with each other! They were neck deep in competition, and this competition was over a political matter. Oh, to be a man on the losing side of history.

The concern was that if this nonsense about women gaining suffrage didn’t die out and die out quickly, then women and men would begin to contend with each other, publicly and on political matters, on more and more topics. Instead of agreeing that women should remain at home and men cooperating by working and “taking care” of their wives, they might start to contest even this notion and want to start working! Heaven forbid that one day, women might want to join the military and also run for public office. Women and men might find themselves in a fierce competition should that occur.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Suffrage flyer. MHS Collections, Missouri History Museum

11. If Women Vote, The Human Race Will End

The logic behind this statement actually makes sense, at least theoretically: If women get involved in politics and begin voting, they will get all kinds of ideas in their heads about working outside of the home and doing other things that are in the man’s realm of responsibility. Meanwhile, the things that are the woman’s responsibility such as having children and raising them will become neglected to the point that humanity will cease to exist.

Someone who held to the aforementioned sentiment might agree with the statement that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. However, plenty of women have proven that they can work outside the home and have meaningful careers while raising their families. Additionally, plenty of men have stepped up and realized that they also have responsibilities in procreating and raising children. So from a theoretical perspective, this idea breaks down when you stop and realize that a woman’s role does lie outside of the home.

However, the proof is in the pudding on this one: over a century after women earned the right to vote, humanity is still kicking along. American women are having fewer children, but by and large, they are paying more attention to their children, while having careers and providing them with an unprecedented quality of life.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Some of the picket line of Nov. 10, 1917. George Grantham Bain/Wikimedia Commons

12. Women Are Too High-Class and Sensitive To Participate In Politics

Some kind, caring, sensitive gentlemen fully believed that women were too high-class for banal and mundane politics; political participation and suffrage would not only not benefit them but would cause them to consort with immodest groups.

Charles Carter, a congressman from Oklahoma, told Congress, “Were it not for shattering an ideal, were it not for dethroning her from that high pedestal upon which we are accustomed to place her, and dragging her down to the level of us beastly men, I believe I might even today be willing to vote for universal woman suffrage.”

I’m not sure what “high pedestal” Congressman Carter was referring to; perhaps he had imagined a scenario in which he knew what was best for not only the women in his life but also for all women around the country. By treating them how he thought they should be addressed, rather than asking them how they want to be treated, he could easily imagine himself a savior to the female gender.

Heaven forbid that a woman’s modesty and sensitivities might be offended if she should stray into the vortex of politics. Perhaps men of that day (and of today, as well) might need to consider the possibility of behaving decently and in such a way that women don’t need to feel offended around them.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
“We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller was made as an inspirational image to boost worker morale known as Rosie the Riveter. Wikipedia

13. Ballots Aren’t Necessary For Cleaning Sink Drains

Yes, this was a real argument for denying women the right to vote. After all, they were put on God’s green earth for one purpose and one purpose only: to take care of their husbands, children, and home. The right to vote was not just immoral, evil, and unethical; it just wasn’t necessary. Women did not need to vote, as all of their duties could easily be performed at home. Anything done outside the home might, heaven forbid, detract from their domestic chores.

I’m sure that the current and the next generation of men, who were shipped off to fight in World War I and World War II, were grateful for the women who could vote and work outside the home. As Rosie the Riveter showed, the strength of women in the public sphere was heavily relied on in holding the nation together while so many young men were overseas fighting. Good thing that the suffragettes had already paved the way for women to begin moving into essential positions.

After all, cleaning sink drains isn’t a necessary skill when your nation needs you to be building fighter planes.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Official portrait of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Wikipedia

14. Women’s Suffrage Defies the Natural Order

This argument brings us around full circle, back to the “anti-feminism” surrounding the followers of Trump. Many people did not vote for Hillary Clinton, not because they didn’t agree with her policies, but because they just believed that there was a natural order, created by God, and according to that natural order, women need to remain at home. Hillary had violated that natural law; after all, her husband was known to have affairs and some believed he would have been faithful if she had been a good wife. Along with this same thinking, people feel Donald Trump should be supported, entirely regardless of his misogyny and emotional impulsivity, because men belong in politics and women belong at home.

Sadly, the concept of the “natural order” is one that generations of suffragettes and women’s rights advocates will have to fight in the future. It is one argument that will not go away. It finds its basis in different theologies that advocate patriarchy, in social theories that insist on the primacy of men, and even in biological sciences. The battle continues, not for the right to vote, but for the right for women to have equal rights, both at home and in the public sphere.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women’s suffrage activist. Wikipedia

15. “Petticoat Rule” Will Dominate The Government

In the year 1910, when suffragettes were beginning to win the fight for the vote, Baroness Orczy, the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, wrote a book entitled Petticoat Government. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Petticoat Government was about the French Revolution, the abuses of the aristocracy, and the ordinary people. Rather than critiquing the guillotine, however, it looked at the massive influence that Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of King Louis XV, held over the French government. This critique of women in government — written by a woman — did not concern the dealings of an elected official but rather someone that many considered to be a prostitute.

One concern about giving women the right to vote was that the government would fall under “petticoat rule,” meaning that it would come to be run entirely by women. Considering that women were not viewed as being competent in their own right but instead were expected to stand beside their husbands, this ideal was seen quite negatively. Today, though, there are entire cities that are run exclusively by women, and some countries are contemplating what the repercussions of a solely female government might be.

Perhaps there is something to this argument, after all. Also, maybe a “petticoat government” wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

17 of the Craziest Reasons for Denying Women’s Suffrage Throughout History
Public relations portrait of Susan B. Anthony as used in the History of Woman Suffrage by Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Volume I, published in 1881. Wikipedia

16. The Evil Women May Incur Is Worse Than The Good They Already Have

Like plenty of the previous arguments given against women’s suffrage, this one contains several rather obvious false assumptions. The first false assumption is that the government, as it currently existed, was excellent. However, the era of the women’s suffrage movement came to be known as “the gilded age,” because though it looked clean and pleasant on the outside, the government was rife with corruption, infighting, and greed. Trusts and monopolies had become even more powerful than the government, and the progress of building the American railroad was destroying the environment. The men’s government, which did not allow women to vote, was sorely lacking in morality and foresight for the future.

The second false assumption is that evil will be the result of women getting the right to vote. There would not only be uneducated, emotional women finding themselves exposed and torn apart at the voting booths, but the very fabric of society — concerning the separate roles of men and women — would be torn asunder. The result could only be complete social decay.

However, what did women voting bring about? Social progress and reform, leading up to the rights of African Americans to vote and today fighting against gender discrimination and harassment.


Where Did We Find Our Stuff? Here Are Our Sources!

“The Anti-Suffrage Movement” by Julia Blush, from The British Library online collections. March 5, 2018.

“Women’s Suffrage: 10 Reasons Why Men Opposed Votes For Women” by Francesca Gillett. BBC News, April 29, 2018.

Congressional Record: The Proceedings and Debates, 1915.

“A Suffragette’s Work Is Never Done” by Ross Coggins, The Washington Post, August 21, 1994.