Why is a woman to be treated differently? Woman suffrage will succeed, despite this miserable guerilla opposition.–Victoria Woodhull
LESSON #3: SETBACKS, ROADBLOCKS, AND OPPOSITION WILL TRY YOUR RESOLVE. NO MATTER WHAT THE OBSTACLE, LEAN ON THE SISTERHOOD FOR STRENGTH BUT KEEP GOING.
The better class of NEGROES THEMSELVES know they’re better off represented by able white men than they would be by designing politicians of their own race, just as a majority of women themselves feel they are better represented by the fathers of their children than they would be by politically ambitious office-seekers of their own sex.
The above appeared in the Tennessee newspaper, on the day of the final vote for ratifying. Tennessee was the 36th and final state needed to make the 19th Amendment law. The anti-suffs (mainly rich white women) were relentless not just with their arguments about their fears of Negro women getting the vote, but also blatantly schmoozed and flattered the all-male legislature to vote against the Amendment. Even though it was during Prohibition a bar was set up on the top floor of the hotel where the legislators in town for the special session were staying. There was drunkenness and debauchery leading up to the vote. The Suffragists had little recourse for this persuasion through liquor and other favors, since Suffragists are nearly always associated with the temperance movement. The Anti-Suffs were not beyond trickery either; they created phony telegrams telling legislators there was a family emergency and they must hurry home. This was so they would be absent when the vote was taken. To the end, there were no easy gains.
Twice the Suffrage movement was put on hold while the country fought first in the Civil War and then in WWI. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked for over 50 years to get this one sentence added to the Constitution: “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Both died well over a decade before it was ratified.
A less known cause for delay was the Suffragist’s association with Victoria Woodhull. A rich woman who made her own fortune on Wall Street, Woodhull offered financial support to the Suffrage movement which always was short on finances. She also published her own newspaper and could give press to the cause.Of course, Anthony and Stanton were lured in by her. She was a persuasive speaker and was the first woman allowed to speak before the Federal Judiciary Committee. She argued in 1870 that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. were citizens. The Constitution did not distinguish citizens by sex, therefore women should already have the right as citizens to vote. A few years later Anthony would use this argument to go to the polls and vote, but she was arrested for doing so.
Woodhull’s seemed at first like a great boon to the Suffrage movement, but then she started publishing ideas about “free love.” by which she meant the freedom to marry, divorce and bear children without social restriction or government interference. She also had the audacity to run for President in 1872 as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party before she even had the right to vote. This was too radical for the 1870s and suffragist membership drastically declined because of her radical views that just went too far for most Victorian women.
In her paper, she published a scandalous account of a preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and a married woman Elizabeth Tilton’s affair. This was also considered improper for the time and Woodhull was arrested for publishing these “obscenities” and sending them through the mail. Although it was never denied, Henry Ward Beecher was never held accountable and remained in his position. It is speculated that Woodhull set back the Suffrage movement 20 years by expressing her progressive views and publishing this scandal.
Finally, there is the simply arduous feat of making any amendment law. Amendments can be waylaid for years. When they are brought to Congress they must pass both the House and Senate with a 2/3rds majority. Then each state must vote on ratifying in the state’s House and Senate. 3/4ths of the states (36) must pass it before it is added to the Constitution.
Considering all these roadblocks and setbacks it is a wonder the Suffragist and Suffragettes didn’t throw in the towel. Thank goodness they didn’t and continued to pursue what in their hearts they knew was right and just. Now it is our turn to take up the torch of our persistent foresisters to finally pass the ERA and to overturn Citizen’s United. Only the people all working together, in the end, can amend our Constitution.
I ask the right to pursue happiness by having a voice in that government to which I am accountable.—Victoria Woodhull