By Nancy Heywood, Collections Services
A few years from now, in 2020, the United States will recognize the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women’s voting rights across the country. Although some states and territories had granted women the right to vote in the last half of the nineteenth century (including many in the western part of the country), full suffrage for U.S. women took a long time. Many organizations pushed forward referenda at the state and national level. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in Congress in 1878 but stalled. The 19th Amendment stating that no U.S. citizen shall be denied the right to vote “on account of sex” was similar to the 15th Amendment that granted African American men the right to vote. The 19th Amendment passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918, and by the U.S. Senate in 1919, was ratified by enough states by 20 August 1920 to be adopted.
During the time when so many were working hard to gain voting rights for women, there were also those working against this movement. One such organization was based in Massachusetts (and has one of the longest names of any institution whose records are held within the Massachusetts Historical Society): the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.
The records of this organization are now fully digitized and available on the web, thanks to a grant provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
All pages of this manuscript collection have been digitized and they are presented as sequences of pages linked to the folders listed on the collection guide. Website users may explore any or all administrative records, committee meeting minutes, typescripts of lectures and reports, and various printed items including by-laws, and printed lists of standing committee members from all over the state.
The records date from 1894 to1920. The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was formally founded in 1895, but stemmed from a committee formed in 1882. The Association actively recruited members, opposed legislation that would have granted voting rights to women in Massachusetts, and also held events and lectures promoting their cause.
Women working so actively against voting rights for women seems curious and perhaps even incongruous. Some of the reasoning and context for their motivation is found within the organization’s own records. Within the Loose papers, Legislative history section, there is a typescript document of a speech given at a hearing before committee on constitutional amendments in Feb. 1905 which states four reasons for opposing woman suffrage: many women in Massachusetts don’t petition for it, Massachusetts wouldn’t benefit from it; it is a “most inopportune” time to change the Constitution, and suffrage hasn’t proven to be beneficial elsewhere.
Additional resources (beyond the organizational records) also provide perspectives on the context for anti-suffrage work:
The historian Francis Parkman (1823-1893) summarized the perspective of some within a pamphlet, Some of the Reasons Against Woman Suffrage [Boston?: s.n., 1883?] by stating it would be too burdensome for women because women are delicate and not as robust as men. Parkman also advocates the position that women voting could potentially be disruptive to “civil harmony” if women were too sentimental or if women from different classes turned against each other and ended up being more “vehement” than men on opposite sides of an issue (page 13). This pamphlet is available online from Harvard Library.
The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women published a newsletter, The Remonstrance. One sample issue, from January 1908, is available as a digital presentation. An article on the first two pages covers various reasons against woman suffrage including the argument that not all women want the right to vote as evidenced by the fact that very few women who are eligible to vote in school committee elections actually do so. Opponents also disputed the argument that voting rights would result in improving the condition of women because women already had an indirect influence on public affairs from their position of “moral influence.” Page 4 of the newsletter offers a synopsis of “Recent Defeats of Woman Suffrage” in various states.