By Karen Bravo

When we recognize the women who fought so courageously for 70+ years to win women the right to vote, we need to also recognize the women and men who fought against it.

In the late 1800’s as the suffragist movement was gaining strength those opposed to giving women the right to vote were taking notice.  Anti-suffrage views were springing up through publications like the magazine, The Anti-Suffragists, and cartoons depicting the degradation and abuse of woman suffragists were seen in newspapers and flyers throughout the country.  The creation of organizations like The New York Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage Women, and the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage were gaining momentum, and it is believed that by 1916 they had as many as 350,000 members.

But, what were their reasons for opposing women’s right to vote, and have those reasons changed since the signing of the 19th Amendment?  When you compare them to today’s arguments against ratifying the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) you’ll find not much has changed at all.  The words may have changed, but the intent is still the same — keep women pretty and dutiful, in every way.

The following essay was taken from, Anti-Suffrage Essays by Massachusetts Women,The Project Gutenberg; Copyright, 1916 by J.A. Haien. You can read more essays here:


images courtesy of Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.


            To me the chief reason why political duties should not be imposed on women is the effect that this preliminary dip into politics, this struggle for votes-for-women, is having on the women themselves. It is surely not making them any more lovely, or pleasant in their lives. They grow bitter, aggressive, and antagonistic, liking the excitement of campaigning and finding their natural, proper duties “flat, stale, and unprofitable.”

            Speaking from platforms and being constantly in the public eye, does not improve women. We anti-suffragists have taken part in a political campaign to keep ourselves out of politics for the rest of our lives, and to keep our daughters out of politics, but we know that in a proper division of duty we have better work to do along civic, sanitary, and philanthropic lines, and in our homes, than to be, as our Western sisters are, out campaigning for candidates, and engaged in struggles for political supremacy.

            Anyone may gauge the bitterness of the recent campaign if he remembers the abuse heaped on the anti-suffragists by the President of the National Suffrage Association; and we must judge every movement by its leaders. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, at a hearing before the Senate Committee at Washington, said:

            “We are not afraid of the body of women who are going up and down the land opposing suffrage. They are just enough in number so that by holding out their skirts they can make a screen for the men operating dens of vice and iniquity and prostitution to hide behind.”

            In an interview printed in the New York Sun, Dr. Shaw referred to the anti-suffrage leaders as “vultures looking for carrion.”

            As important a person as Dean Thomas, of Bryn Mawr College, in an appeal for funds for the National American Woman Suffrage Association in February, 1913, said:

            “The ballot for women is the greatest of all the modern reforms. We urge those who are today contributing to other causes to withdraw or curtail their contributions until the ballot for woman is secured.” This seems to us anti-suffragists extremely narrow, as we know that woman suffrage is not a reform, but an experiment in legislation only.

            In a public resolution passed by the New England Women’s Suffrage Association at its forty-seventh annual meeting, the anti-suffragists were referred to as using “pole-cat” tactics—why, we do not know. These are only a few of the many evidences of the bitterness of feeling in this political campaign.

            The whole ideal of womanhood seems to be changing. The wife of an editor of our most important New England magazine said to me:

            “What use is it for you to oppose the suffrage movement, when it is only the first step in this larger movement for the emancipation of women that is sweeping over the world?” And I said: “Then we will do our best to stop the first step,” for I remembered the doctrines of the suffrage leaders preached from their platforms. Mrs. Ida Husted Harper has said: “There is not a single forward step of woman that has not been blocked by the words ‘wifehood’ and ‘motherhood’.”

            Dean Thomas, in an address to women at Mount Holyoke College, is quoted in Mr. Martin’s book, The Unrest of Women, as saying: “Women may have spent half a lifetime in fitting themselves for a scholar’s work, and then may be asked to choose between it and marriage. No one can estimate the number of women who remain unmarried in revolt before such a horrible alternative.”

            Dr. Stanton Coit is reported as saying from a suffrage platform: “Wifehood has all the characteristics of slavery—work without wage; no specified hours; no right to change employers.”

            We find constantly the evil influence that this first step of suffrage is having on the young women of our day; and, to me, the gist of the whole matter seems summed up in a paragraph from a pamphlet written by Mr. Joseph Pyle:

            “With Christianity there came into the world a new example and a new thought. To woman’s whole nature appealed that life of self-sacrifice, of love, and of willing service that has created a new Heaven and a new earth. From the foot of the Cross there arose and went out into the world a womanhood that did not demand, or claim, or threaten, or arrogate; a womanhood renouncing, yielding, loving, and, therefore, conquering. For twenty centuries that has been the law of woman’s life. It is sneered at and rejected today by the clamorous, but it has made of woman what we now find her. You see it in your mothers, your daughters, your wives. Do you wish to have that ideal changed? Woman has become to man not only a companion, but an inspiration. Out of the crucible of the centuries has come what we not only love but adore; before which, in certain hours, we bow with a reverence that links us unconsciously with the Divine. It is Christian civilization that is in the balance.”

Mrs. Thomas Allen

Member of the Woman's Municipal League

Alice Ranney Allen (1862-1949), wife of Thomas Allen; member of the Woman’s Municipal League, in which she was the organizer of the Department of Streets and Alleys; member of the Woman’s Education Association; reader of the Committee on Selection of Fiction for Libraries; Chairman of Boston Committee on the work of District Nursing in the mountains of North Carolina; a well-known speaker against woman suffrage.