Leave Well Enough Alone

Leave Well Enough Alone

Support for suffrage was not universal
in Connecticut, even among women. The Connecticut Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage had branches in 161 towns by 1915. In addition, the first president of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage in 1911 was Josephine Jewell Dodge, originally of Hartford. These women argued that no good would come from suffrage.

Anti-suffrage was based on the proposition that the family, not the individual, was the basis of the state and the American way of life. The identity of a woman’s interests with her husband’s and her legal loss of self-determination to him by marriage was so complete that women went publicly by their husband’s first names. This was true of anti-suffragists, like Mrs. Daniel A. (or Grace G.) Markham, head of the Connecticut Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. The pressure to stand with one’s husband was so strong that even suffragists followed convention, signaling to the public that while they wanted to vote, they did not wish to overturn the American family in the process. Wilton’s Grace Schenck, for example, was always Mrs. E.G.H. Schenck in newspaper articles – at least before 1920.

Because of women’s place in society, anti-suffragists believed that a wife’s political interests, unless she was seriously misguided, were identical with her husband’s. The likely result of suffrage would be unfair influence for families with many women. The risk, however, was that voting might lead women astray and tempt them into thinking as if they were independent and, therefore, against their family’s best interests.

Anti-suffragists also worried that too much equality would actually hurt women. Due to their alleged physical inferiority and psychological differences, women required special protections such as gender-specific labor laws. If women were legislated into equivalence with men, they might lose these special provisions. Some even theorized that women were physically unfit to vote. The mental energy required to participate in democracy would overtax their bodies, producing a breakdown in health and mental stability.

It wasn’t just women who were at risk from suffrage. Insulated from the world of politics and its corrupting influence, women were society’s bastions of morality. If they joined the fray, men and the nation at large would lose their guiding light.

Despite their differences, female anti-suffragists campaigned using many of the same tactics as suffragists. They submitted petitions to congressmen, presented evidence before legislative committees, gave speeches and hosted debates, carried banners and distributed leaflets, and held rose teas (substituting red roses for the suffragists’ yellow). They also used print media to great effect. Postcards, comic strips, and opinion pieces showed how suffrage would disrupt family life and society. Children would be neglected, food would disappear from the table, housework would suffer, and beleaguered men would be forced to take up the slack. Worse still, as women became more masculine in their mannerisms and activities, their husbands would lose their physical vigor and cease to be attracted to them.

Numerous politicians also fought against giving women the vote in the 1910s. One of the best known was Senator Frank B. Brandegee of Connecticut. Brandegee was consistently against what he viewed as federal overreach, particularly any legislation dictating to the states on progressive causes like prohibition, child-labor, and of course, suffrage. During World War I, his message was clear: “Instead of bleating around [Washington] about their saving democracy by forcing their way into caucuses and conventions, [women] had better go home and knit bandages and pick lint.” An additional fear that Brandegee shared with the entrenched political powers in Connecticut was that women, if enfranchised, would vote them out. Indeed, Brandegee very nearly lost his seat in the 1920 election, after the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association campaigned against him and urged even Republican voters to split their straight party tickets against him.

All postcard images courtesy of Virginia & Peter Benin.

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