Voting NO on Women’s Suffrage

Women have not always had the legal right to vote in America.  On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified granting women the right to vote. This milestone in women’s history was the result of decades of sustained action: protests, political organizing, direct confrontations and debates with people who felt women needed no further rights. Suffragists were ostracized, fired from jobs, beaten, arrested and imprisoned – all because they dared to strive for the right to vote.

For the supporters of women’s suffrage gaining the vote was a matter of life or death. Women were subject to the will and mistreatment of their husbands, both financially and physically within the home. Husbands had complete legal authority over their wives and could abuse them with no fear of consequences. Any woman attempting to leave a marriage faced the loss of custody of their children and destitution. The workplace was no better; women faced sexual harassment, abuse, terrible working conditions and lower wages than their male counterparts with little to no legal recourse. Women were also barred from many professions completely. The vote meant access to the political power needed to reshape laws and gain equal treatment and dignity as human beings.

When it came to the issue of women’s suffrage, New York was a state at war within itself.  Major activists on both sides of the issue held meetings, published articles, and attempted to sway public opinion.

The anti-suffragists claimed that giving women the vote would move them too far away from their primary duty of running the home. They fully agreed with the notion that a “woman’s place” was in the home, although they did concede that women should contribute their time and talents to educational, charitable, religious and moral organizations.  These endeavors did not require the vote, nor included politics.

Charles S. Fairchild, husband of Helen Lincklaen, was a politician and served under President Cleveland as the Secretary of the Treasury. Fairchild was the fourth owner of the estate which would later become Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia N.Y. and a staunch supporter of anti-suffrage. He was an active local leader in the effort to prevent women from gaining the vote. The collections of Lorenzo include many anti-suffrage items, such as, printed speeches, several issues of The Woman Patriot, a button which reads: “VOTE NO ON WOMAN SUFFRAGE”, anti-suffrage pennants, and books and handbills with titles like Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons and The Menace of Women’s Suffrage in New York State—some with hand written personal inscriptions by the authors.

Fairchild was not alone in his views within the town of Cazenovia. Many prominent individuals, both men and women, considered themselves avid supporters of the anti-suffrage cause. The Cazenovia Anti-Suffrage Society was very active and held regular meetings to support their cause and raise funds. Many anti-suffrage groups were organized by women; and the majority of these organizers were members of the upper class with husbands in prominent positions in business and politics.

From our modern day perspective it may be difficult to imagine why so many women supported the anti-suffrage cause. But the popular view of society in the early 1900s holds many of the answers. Life was cleanly divided into two halves, the domestic realm and the public world. Men were believed to be ideally suited by their nature to be masters of public life. Aggression and a competitive spirit were seen as traits best suited to politics, finance and war. Women were the converse, the peacemakers, the orchestrators of a happy family, the creators of cleanliness and order within the home. These views were not only popular but for many unquestionably true.  Suffragists challenged this world view directly with the assertion that women were equal citizens and deserved the right to vote.

The first organized effort to seek the vote for women in New York began in 1846 when a small group of women in Clayton NY petitioned the state government asking for “equal, and civil and political rights with men.” It took nearly 75 years to shift public opinion away from these historic, engrained views towards a more equitable society.


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