Petition from the Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party of New York drafted and gathered more than three dozen signatures for a petition to the US Senate. The petition mentioned the fact that the country was, at the time, mired in the tremendous crisis that was World War I. For the Senate to turn its attention away from this conflict and address ratification of a constitutional amendment on suffrage, the petition reads, would amount to an unnecessary distraction for the country’s men. The signatories urged the Senate not to take up debate on a constitutional amendment, particularly when so many men were unable to join the debate because they were fighting overseas.

Summary Overview

The Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party of New York drafted and gathered more than three dozen signatures for a petition to the US Senate. The petition mentioned the fact that the country was, at the time, mired in the tremendous crisis that was World War I. For the Senate to turn its attention away from this conflict and address ratification of a constitutional amendment on suffrage, the petition reads, would amount to an unnecessary distraction for the country’s men. The signatories urged the Senate not to take up debate on a constitutional amendment, particularly when so many men were unable to join the debate because they were fighting overseas.

Defining Moment

The push for women’s equality and, in particular, for women’s suffrage, was born in the early to mid-nineteenth century as part of the temperance movement. Prior to the Civil War, suffrage icons including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began organizing a national campaign for women’s rights, including an unsuccessful push for women to be included in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the latter of which was already controversial for granting suffrage to freed slaves. After the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement again gathered momentum, but it fractured into two groups: those who pushed for a constitutional amendment and those–like Lucy Stone–who advocated for a state-level approach to the issue. Anthony and Stanton both died early in the twentieth century, but one of the most enduring products of their work–the National American Woman Suffrage Association–gained traction with bolstered membership and a renewed push for federal legislative changes and an amendment to the US Constitution.

The suffragists were not alone, however. Acting as a counterbalance was a growing women’s anti-suffrage movement. Organizations such as the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Party of New York–one of the first states to adopt suffrage, doing so in 1917–launched propaganda campaigns that argued most women were not concerned with suffrage, preferring to live in harmony and balance with men rather than “in competition” with them. One of the main elements separating the anti-suffragists from the suffragists was the fact that the former considered themselves women first, with a great many responsibilities. Anti-suffragists argued that to assume the additional responsibilities of participating in the political realm–which many believed to be a motivating factor for suffragists–only stifled women’s role in society. There is no method by which a “mud-stained reputation” may be cleaned, read one anti-suffrage pamphlet.

During this period of activism, war broke out in Europe. The collective American attention was diverted from domestic issues to foreign matters–specifically, whether the United States should enter the war. With New York and other states adopting suffrage during wartime, the suffrage movement turned its attention to Congress. The Women’s Anti-Suffrage Party of New York, in an effort to halt this push, drafted a petition to the US Senate, where such an amendment would originate, asking the members to forgo any debate on suffrage at least until the war came to an end.

Document Analysis

The petition introduced by the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Party echoes themes that the anti-suffrage movement had invoked long before the start of World War I. The petition’s authors took issue with the fact that suffrage activists looked to advance the cause to the national stage during a time of conflict. Doing so, the petition reads, would require a response from every voter in every voting precinct in the United States–a campaign that would distract the nation from issues of higher priority. Furthermore, any suffrage campaign would undermine the focus of the millions of Americans overseas by changing the country’s political structure without their input, the petition argues.

The petition criticizes the suffrage movement’s timing. The fact that activists, like National American Woman Suffrage Association president Carrie Chapman Catt wished to make suffrage an issue worthy of debate during wartime was particularly unconscionable to the petition’s signatories. After all, they wrote, it was not simply a campaign that would require debate in the Senate–every state in the nation would need to take up ratification if Congress approved the proposed amendment. This issue would require full examination by a wide range of interested parties, education for the uninformed voters, protests, and events as part of a comprehensive campaign in virtually every voting district in the country.

In reality, the petition states, the country is in a precarious position that demands the attention and focus of both the government and the people. By commanding the active commentary of the voting electorate and every level of government, the “campaign” for women’s suffrage only serves as an unwelcome distraction. After all, what was being proposed–a change to the nation’s most important legal document–represented what the petition’s authors termed a “radical change in our government.”

The American people, according to the petition, should not be forced to redirect their attention and energy at this time of great “peril.” In fact, the authors wrote, the mere fact that an enormous percentage of American men were overseas should be enough to table the issue. Meanwhile, the men at home should also be spared from what amounted to “harassment,” the petition’s authors said.

The position taken by the anti-suffrage activists in this petition demonstrates a philosophy in which women and men retain their traditional roles in society. Despite the fact that this issue would only serve the interests of American women, the anti-suffragists believed that such a change would dramatically change the nation’s political landscape, forcing men to take up an analysis and generate an opinion of the proposed amendment. The petition argues that, given the war, it would be ill-advised for the Senate to give the amendment life at this point.

Essential Themes

The petition presented to the US Senate by the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Party of New York is representative of some of the foundations of the anti-suffrage philosophy. Women who disagreed with such figures as Anthony, Stanton, and Catt believed that women had their own duties and responsibilities and should not seek to add to them by getting involved in political issues. Furthermore, men–who traditionally handled matters of politics and governance–were justifiably focused on the war–as either observers at home or participants on the battlefields of Europe–and did not need to redirect their attention to such a national campaign, the petition states.

The petition reminds the Senate that a suffrage amendment to the Constitution required a complex, nationwide political endeavor that would take place in not only the US Capitol but also in state capitols, city halls, and in every voting precinct. The petition takes issue with the fact that suffragists pushed this cause to the fore of American public discourse, even connecting it with the war. Rather, anti-suffragists argued, such a campaign would only serve as an unnecessary distraction.

The Senate, according to the petition, stood in the way of allowing this campaign to take shape. The petition’s authors reminded senators of the fact that millions of American men were not even in the country, having been sent to the battlefields of Europe. However, the petition does not attempt to convince senators to reject the idea of women’s suffrage wholesale. In fact, the petition’s authors wrote from one of several states in which suffrage had been passed, an indication that the country was moving toward acceptance of the movement. Rather, it appealed to the Senate to avoid passage of the amendment at that particular time.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Barkhorn, Eleanor. “‘Vote No on Women’s Suffrage’: Bizarre Reasons for Not Letting Women Vote.” Atlantic. Atlantic Monthly Group, 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
  • Benjamin, Anne M. G. A History of the Anti-Suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895 to 1920: Women against Equality. Lewiston: Mellen, 1991. Print.
  • Cholmeley, Robert Francis. The Women’s Anti-Suffrage Movement. London: Natl. Union of Women’s Suffrage Soc., 1908. Print.
  • Goodier, Susan. No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2013. Print.
  • Ruthsdotter, Mary. “Years of Hope, Years of Struggle.” University of Maryland–Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Natl. Women’s Hist. Project, 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.
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