We’ve come to THE week of this year-long suffrage celebration, which has unfortunately been overshadowed by other events! But I think we should all stop and recognize the anniversary, coming up on the 18th, of the constitutional ratification of the 19th amendment 100 years ago. Since the 1970s, Womens Equality Day has been commemorated on August 26, the day that the ratification was certified, but a century ago, everyone realized that the Tennessee vote on the 18th was the big moment: the suffragists themselves, the newspapers, and even the anti-suffragists! The photograph of Alice Paul extending the flag of 36 stars from a balcony, symbolizing the realization of the two-thirds majority, while her colleagues jump with joy (well I like to think they were jumping) below, captures this moment perfectly.
Library of Congress
I wanted to ascertain, and feel the local reaction to the ratification, so I checked out as many local papers as I could. We’re handicapped with 20th century history when it comes to newspaper coverage as the Salem Evening News is available only on microfilm and our public library has been closed since the pandemic, so I have relied primarily on Boston papers which covered the region. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of little anecdotal reactions, but here’s the slightly-bigger picture: rapid registrations, bells chiming out, a big celebratory evening at Faneuil Hall, and a Boston parade, of course. After celebration came deliberation: as the pundits tried to assess the impact of all these new voters on the upcoming election.
The aftermath of August 18, 1920: headlines and editorials in the Boston Post and Boston Daily Globe, August 19 (I didn’t realize the Ponzi Scheme was in the news at this time!), primaries were coming up, so there was an immediate focus on registration, big victory celebration at Faneuil Hall on the 23rd; supposedly there was a national bell-ringing event on the 28th (?), the last Woman Suffrage Association parade in September; a straw poll in October and Mrs. Almira C. Griswold’s registration made NATIONAL headlines on September 11-13, 1920.
For this #salemsuffragesaturday, a look at the contest between Massachusetts suffragists and anti-suffragists at the turn of the last century, with particular reference to the Massachusetts suffrage referendum of 1915. Though Massachusetts had (and still has) a well-deserved reputation for progressiveness, it was (and still is) a very traditional state, and has the distinction of producing one of the earliest and strongest anti-suffrage organizations in the later nineteenth century: the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, founded in 1895 (on the foundation of an earlier association, established right after the notable school suffrage victories in 1880). Like their opposition, the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, the Anti-Suffragists had a central office in Boston, and branch committees throughout the state, including Salem. By 1915, their periodical, The Remonstrance against Woman Suffrage, claimed to represent the views of anti-suffragists around the country as well as the over 33, 000 Massachusetts members in 423 municipalities and 130 branch committees. They rallied all of their resources and members to defeat suffrage in the 1915 referendum, thus winning a significant battle but not, ultimately (and fortunately!) the war.
One has to do some real historical reorientation to understand the anti-suffragist position, as it is contrary to everything we believe now. As professed by both men and even more stridently by women, it centers on the family within the home, the natural domain of women, and where they were empowered to make their most important contributions to society. In order for society to function in an effective way, separate spheres for men and women must be maintained: public affairs for men; domestic life for women—and domestic life was perceived as the “higher” sphere. Suffrage would impose civic responsibilities on women which they did not seek or need: as you can see from The Remonstrance above, the message was that the vote was being imposed on women by a radical minority of their gender. It gets a bit more complicated (and confusing!) when you consider that many Anti-Suffragists were active club and society members, striving for moral, educational, and social reforms outside the home: one would think that their various missions would be aided by suffrage, but somehow this was not the belief. When I look at the list of Salem women who were members of the city’s anti-suffrage committee, I recognize familiar names of active women: Mrs. Edward C. Battis, Miss Sarah E. Hunt, Mrs. S.E. Peabody, Mrs. John Pickering, Miss P.M. Waldo, Mrs. William Rantoul, Miss Anna L. Warren and Miss Ellen Laight. I also realize that these women who lived right next to women who were notable Suffragists, so there must have been some interesting neighborhood discussions! More specifically and alarmingly, the Anti-Suffragists expressed their fears that votes for women would lead to discord in the existing marriage relation, which would tend to the infinite detriment of children, and increase the alarming prevalence of divorce throughout the land, and made associations between suffrage and socialism, Mormonism, and pro-German sentiments during World War I.
The Anti-Suffragists wrote and distributed flyers and pledge cards, published their newspaper, and held rallies and other public events, just like the Suffragists, although their meetings were clearly less numerous and less open: the committee’s records, among the digital collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, reveal an apparent desire to control the interplay and messaging of public events. They adopted the red rose as their symbol from the beginning—a contrast with the suffragists’ yellow sunflowers and roses—but utilized it with increasing intensity from 1914 on, in their initiatives aimed at the defeat of the 1915 referendum. As Election Day of 1915 approached—and particularly the big Suffrage Parade planned for October 16— the efforts of the Anti-Suffragists became more focused and more public, with a big showdown on Parade Day, when over 100,000 red roses draped individuals and structures lining the street as the Suffragist marchers, wearing yellow banners and/or roses, walked by.
And a few weeks later, a terrible defeat at the polls for Massachusetts Suffragists: with nearly 65% of Massachusetts men voting against universal suffrage. Salem’s return mirrored that of the Commonwealth. Both the Suffragists and the Anti-Suffragists continued their efforts, with the former focusing on the national campaign and a constitutional amendment. Massachusetts became the eighth state to ratify the 19th amendment in June of 1919, and it became law in August of 1920 when Tennessee’s legislature ratified it by one surprising vote: that of first-term representative Harry T. Burn, wearing a red rose on his lapel, who voted “aye” upon the very personal plea of his mother.
Image sources: Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection; Library of Congress (The Anti-Suffrage Rose); Schlesinger Library, Harvard (Margaret Foley with “the RoseStands for Chivalry sign); Bryn Mawr College Suffrage Ephemera Collection(yellow banner and flower). Newspaper clippings: Boston Globe, 1914-1915.
I always tell my students that history is not necessarily linear: movements and ideas move forward and then fall back and “progress”, however you choose to define it, is always a result of struggle. The struggle for women’s suffrage is a case in point, played out on a national stage as well as a local one. I’ve had to piece together the history of the Salem Suffrage movement from a variety of sources, as the records for its main organization have disappeared, but I think I have it down now, and it was definitely characterized by fits and starts. The connection between the abolition and suffrage movements before the Civil War is very clear: while a petition calling for universal suffrage was submitted to the Massachusetts legislature in 1850 by a group of active Salem reformers, both women and men, abolition was the higher priority during the following decade and the suffrage initiative remained on hold during the Civil War and its aftermath. The debate over the 15th Amendment caused a schism in the national suffrage movement, with some leaders (Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) opposing the enfranchisement of black men before women had achieved the vote and others (Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone) favoring a more incremental approach to suffrage with the enfranchisement of black men as a first step. This split resulted in the formation of two associations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) of Anthony and Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone, as well as a cascade of regional, state, and local associations. Supporters of suffrage in Salem, both women and men, were firmly in the Stone camp, and we can follow their efforts through Stone’s weekly newspaper, the Woman’s Journal. Even though the 1870s started with division, there was also an air of optimism in the air: women in Wyoming and Utah won the vote in 1869 and 1870, so why couldn’t reformist Massachusetts be next?
Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library.
The Woman’s Journal reports that yearly conventions were held in Salem, generally at the Lyceum, along with regular meetings of the Salem Woman Suffrage Club, which included woman and men and were clearly as much social occasions as strategy sessions. The editors of the Journal seem to have favored an approach that was not only incremental but “pleasant”, as the account of the 1874 convention (below) illustrates: much praise for the food and flowers, and an observation that “other clubs may take a lesson from this of Salem, which draws members by pleasant means—clergymen, lawyers, judges, editors and not least in influence, women. What remains to do now is the steady and continuous circulation of tracts as a means of enlightenment, and with the light will come the end”. Yet there were several women in Salem who made it clear that tea parties and the dissemination of pamphlets was not enough, writing letters to the editor that expressed the general opinion that while the Salem club was popular, it wasn’t actually doing anything: such expressions seem to be coming from those women who were also involved in other causes like temperance, settlement, and the “moral education” of “fallen women”. As was the case before the Civil War, suffrage was interwoven with other calls for reform.
But maybe the “pleasant” approach was working. In 1879 the Massachusetts legislature passed a “school suffrage” bill, enabling Massachusetts women the right to vote in school committee elections. This definitely seems like a big step forward, but apparently it was an action that represented the traditional belief that education matters were within the realm of female expertise more than any desire to move towards universal suffrage on the part of Massachusetts legislators. Nevertheless, Salem women offered up four female candidates and really turned out at the polls in December of 1879, with the result that all four women were elected to the Salem School Board, the highest number in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reported that there was “great activity at the polls” with “undertain” results on Election night (December 9), but on the next day the election of the four women was confirmed.
Boston Globe headline, December 9, 1879; Library of Congress.
And suddenly there was a brand new School Committee in Salem! The four women elected were Mrs. Mary G. Ward of Federal Street, a noted activist for suffrage and temperance in the city, Dr. Sarah E. Sherman, who I believe was Salem’s first female physician, Emma B. Lowd, very active in veterans’ affairs as an officer in the National Woman’s Relief Corps Committee, and Mrs. Lurana N. Almy, the wife (and partner, really) of James. F. Almy, the founder of Salem’s famed Almy’s, Bigelow and Washburn store. Unfortunately Mrs. Almy died before she could take up her seat on the committee, but the other three women served for several years, paving the way for more women members. The ground-breaking year of 1879 was capped off by the submission of a suffrage amendment petition to the U.S. Congress by the Salem Woman Suffrage Committee, signed by the men who could vote in one column and the women who could not in another.
Salem School Committee Annual Report, 1880; Official Souvenir Program of the 24th National Encampment, Boston, MA, 1890……also the Eighth Annual Convention of the Woman’s Relief Corps;“Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Women’s Suffrage,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed February 21, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1683.
But two (or three or four or five) steps forward were followed by several steps back. In typical contrary Massachusetts fashion, the multi-layered suffrage movement provoked a counter-movement in the form of the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, established in 1895 and with a Salem branch headed by Miss Anna L. Warner and Miss Ellen B. Laight. Two Massachusetts suffrage referendums were soundly defeated—in 1895 and 1915—before the Commonwealth ratified the 19th Amendment on June 25, 1919.