Women's History

Why women do not deserve the right to vote — according to a prominent 1914 anti-suffragist

Suffragists are just women who can’t get a man, according to this postcard. (Courtesy June Purvis/History Extra)

Just as support for women’s suffrage was on the rise by the 1910s, there were equally as vehement opponents to those expanded rights.

The anti-suffragist movement based its objections on several points that adhered strongly to the stability of civilization and the traditional roles of women.

On March 22, 1914, the anti-suffragist Grace Duffield Goodwin laid out several commandments for rejecting the right to vote in a column in the New York Tribune — and in listicle form, no less.

These points are derived from a 141-page treatise she penned entitled Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons which you can read at the Internet Archives. (One example from the book — Chapter One: The Ballot Is Not A Right)

On this Election Day 2014, I present to you her particular reasons against the right to vote. (Needless to say, her methodology is outdated and wrong.) You can read the entire column here.

I’ve interspersed her column with some of anti-suffragist cartoons and handbills of the day, both from America and England:


(Library of Congress)

1) “Because the basis of government is force, its stability rests upon its physical power to enforce its laws; therefore it is inexpedient to give the vote to woman. Immunity from service in executing the law would make most women irresponsible voters.” 

Women were not allowed to serve in juries or in the Armed Forces in 1914, and very few sought out roles in traditional law enforcement.  Goodwin’s thinking is that if women can’t actually enforce the laws, they should not be able to determine the laws.

2) “Because the suffrage is not a question of right or of justice, but of policy and expediency; and if there is no question of right or of justice, there is no case of woman suffrage.”

Goodwin echoes the feelings of many Americans back then that the right to vote and to elect leaders was not a fundamental right of Americans.  Keep in mind that just 125 years before her, many believed that only land-holding white educated men should have the right to vote.

3) “Because it is the demand of a minority of women, and the majority of women protest against it.”

And really, Goodwin argues, women don’t really want the vote anyway. Goodwin thankfully avoids mentioning many of the offensive characteristics suffragists supposedly possessed.

4) “Because it means simply doubling the vote, and especially the undesirable and corrupt vote, of our large cities.”

Voting procedures in America were already so distorted by corrupt political machines, adding voices to this mix would only make it worse.

Keep in mind that political machines were still greatly in control in most places in the United States, locally and nationally.

Swelling the numbers of voters would only give machines like Tammany Hall further opportunities to corrode the process. (As for the “undesirable” vote, I believe Mrs. Goodwin’s classism is shining through here.)

5) “Because the great advance of women in the last century — moral, intellectual and economic — has been made without the vote; which goes to prove that is it not needed for their further advancement along the same lines.”

Women can simply piggyback upon the decisions made by men on their ascent through professional circles. Many are already benefiting greatly from this adjacency. So why change anything?

6) “Because women now stand outside politics, and therefore are free to appeal to any party in matters of education, charity and reform.”

Mrs. Goodwin dances around a salient point here — the idea that being outside of politics allows somebody to get things done that would be impossible within the constraints of government. Of course, this isn’t a justification for simply women; today many choose the sidelines as a place to affect change.

7) “Because the ballot has not proved a cure-all for existing evils with men, and we find no reason to assume that it would be more effectual with women.”

She’s being accidentally radical here with the notion that because it’s so broken, why even bother participating in it? We all think a version of this every year we go to the polls. It’s the universal notion of my vote doesn’t matter. Mrs Goodwin uses it here as a justification of avoiding the process entirely.

New York anti-suffragists on a day trip up the Hudson River, May 30, 1913 [source]

8) “Because the women’s suffrage movement is a backward step in the progress of civilization, in that it seeks to efface natural differentiation of function, and to produce identity, not division, of labor.”

This gets to the fundamental argument of both anti-suffragists and anti-feminists — was it even appropriate for women to be given such a role, when nature has given them other responsibilities such as motherhood and nurturing?

A similar refrain echoes through many modern issues today including gay marriage. Creating laws which obviously go against what is so clearly and naturally delineated by the universe is simply dysfunctional and even dangerous.

9) “Because in Colorado [who had already gave women the right to vote in state elections] after a test of seventeen years the results show no gain in public or political morals over male suffrage states, and the necessary increase in the cost of election, which is already a huge burden upon the taxpayer is unjustified.”

This is another statement which echoes into our current state-vs federal debate of controversial laws.

I suspect many will express similar statements in a couple years over another revolutionary Colorado ruling — the legalization of marijuana.

Socialists win! Courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10) “Because our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability and are such as none but ourselves can perform. Our appreciation of their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to infringe upon our rights by imposing upon us those obligations which cannot be separated from suffrage, but which, as we think, cannot be performed by us without the sacrifices of the highest interests of our family and our society.”

“Our present duties” would include both the traditional basis of womanhood (including giving birth, raising children and creating a home) but also advanced societal roles in church and charity.

Mrs Goodwin believes these will be detrimentally obstructed if woman had to participate in the political sphere.

And once these roles are compromised, then the fabric of society suffers.

Courtesy Oregon Blue Book

11) “Because it is our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who represent us at the ballot box. Our fathers and our brothers love us; our husbands are our choice, and one with us; our sons are what WE MAKE THEM.

We are content that they represent us, in the cornfield, on the battlefield and at the ballot box, and we THEM in the schoolroom, at the fireside, and at the cradle, believing our representation even at the ballot box to be thus more full and impartial than it would be were the views of the few who wish suffrage adopted, contrary to the judgement of the many.

In essence, women are represented in government by those who raised them. They vote when they choose their husbands and instill their values into their children. To give a woman the right to vote would be redundant and only subjects their vote to corrupt forces.

12) “We believe that political equality will deprive us of special privileges hitherto accorded by law.”

The power that women possess in 1914 America is so unique and instrumental to the current operation of the country that to tinker with this mechanism will only take rights away from women in other spheres.

To equalize women with men in a voting booth will mean equalizing them in places where women have the upper hand.

 And we certainly don’t want to upset the apple cart or, in this case, the hen house: