For over a century Americans debated whether women should vote. They wondered: was voting compatible with women’s traditional domestic work? If women participated in politics, would men continue as heads of the family? Would women remain virtuous and “feminine” or would they start to look and act like men?
In Massachusetts, suffragists were especially powerful. In 1850, Worcester hosted the first national women’s rights convention. Later, Lucy Stone led the nation’s largest suffrage organization and edited the longest-running women’s rights newspaper from her Park Street office. In 1895, fellow Bostonian Josephine Ruffin founded one of the first national groups to advocate for the rights of women of color.
Local anti-suffragists proved influential too. Their arguments against extending the vote to women dominated legislative debates and newspaper articles. In 1895, Massachusetts men and women formed the nation’s first organized anti-suffrage association.
This online presentation highlights the fight over a woman’s right to vote in Massachusetts by illustrating the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. Women at the polls might seem unremarkable today; but these contentious campaigns prove that suffragists had to work hard to persuade men to vote to share the ballot. These century-old arguments formed the foundations for today’s debates about gender and politics.
Please note: This online presentation was derived from an exhibition, "Can She Do It?": Massachusetts Debates A Woman's Right to Vote, which was on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society between 26 April 2019 and 21 September 2019. This website does not show everything that was part of the exhibition.