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[Detail] Suffragettes procession after release from prison.

Prominent Americans and Woman Suffrage

Prominent Americans lined up on both sides of the suffrage issue. Suffragists used the words of respected individuals—some historic figures—to promote their cause, as evidenced in the program for the annual convention of the New York Woman Suffrage Association held in 1910. Look through the program and identify the people who are quoted in the program. Make a chart that shows each person’s name, any background information you have or can locate about him or her, and the quotation presented in the program. Which quotation would you hypothesize was most powerful to readers at that time? Explain your answer.

Of course, many of the leaders of the campaign for women’s suffrage became well-known in their roles as advocates for women’s rights—Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to name a few. Choose one of the leaders and search the collection for documents by or about that person. Imagine that you are preparing the program for a women’s suffrage convention in 1910.   Select three quotes from the leader you have researched that you think would be especially good quotations to include in the program. Explain why each quote is inspiring or meaningful to you.

A number of prominent political leaders joined with anti-suffrage women’s organizations.  Elihu Root, a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1894 and later to serve in the cabinets of President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, addressed remarks to the Convention in opposition to woman suffrage, arguing that the extension of suffrage would be a detriment to women.  The New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage reprinted the speech some 14 years later.  Read Root’s speech in opposition to proposals placed before the convention to grant woman suffrage

…Mr. President, I have said that I thought suffrage would be a loss for women.  I think so because suffrage implies not merely the casting of the ballot, the gentle and peaceful fall of the snow-flake, but suffrage, if it means anything, means entering upon the field of political life, and politics is modified war.  In politics there is a struggle, strife, contention, bitterness, heart-burning, excitement, agitation, everything which is adverse to the true character of woman.  Woman rules to-day by the sweet and noble influences of her character.  Put woman into the arena of conflict and she abandons these great weapons which control the world, and she takes into her hands, feeble and nerveless for strife, weapons with which she is unfamiliar and which she is unable to wield.  Woman in strife becomes hard, harsh, unlovable, repulsive; as far removed from the gentle creature to whom we all owe allegiance and to whom we confess submission, as the heaven is removed from the earth.

From “Address, Hon. Elihu Root before New York Constitutional Convention, 1894” (pages 2-3)


Julia Ward Howe responded to the republication of Elihu Root’s anti-suffrage speech in a letter to the editor published in the New York Times (March 20, 1909) in which she quoted social reformer Jane Addams at length.

  • What basic argument did Root present in his address to the New York Convention?
  • Why did this argument appeal to the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage?
  • What arguments did Julia Ward Howe use to counter Root’s statements in opposition to woman suffrage

The Remonstrance, a quarterly publication of the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, reprinted a letter by Theodore Roosevelt (November 10, 1908) to Lyman Abbott.  Abbott read the letter as part of a speech in opposition to Woman Suffrage.

WASHINGTON, November 10, 1908.

My dear Dr. Abbott, -Personally I believe in woman's suffrage, but I am not an enthusiastic advocate of it, because I do not regard it as a very important matter. I am unable to see that there has been any special improvement in the position of women in those states in the West that have adopted woman's suffrage, as compared with those states adjoining them that have not adopted it. I do not think that giving the women suffrage will produce any marked improvement in the condition of women. I do not believe that it will produce any of the evils feared, and I am very certain that when women as a whole take any special interest in the matter they will have suffrage if they desire it.

But at present I think most of them are lukewarm; I find some actively for it, and some actively against it. I am, for the reasons above given, rather what you would regard as lukewarm or tepid in my support of it because, while I believe in it, I do not regard it as of very much importance. I believe that man and woman should stand on an equality of right, but I do not believe that equality of right means identity of functions; and I am more and more convinced that the great field, the indispensable field, for the usefulness of woman is as the mother of the family.

It is her work in the household, in the home, her work in bearing and rearing the children, which is more important than any man's work, and it is the work which should be normally the woman's special work, just as normally the man's work should be that of the breadwinner, the supporter of the home, and, if necessary, the soldier who will fight for the home. There are exceptions as regards both man and woman; but the full and perfect life, the life of highest happiness and of highest usefulness to the state, is the life of the man and woman who are husband and wife, who live in the partnership of love and duty, the one earning enough to keep the home, the other managing the home and the children.

Sincerely yours,

From   The Remonstrance"

  • Why did President Roosevelt consider himself lukewarm on the suffrage issue?
  • In what ways did the letter appeal to the proponents of the anti-suffrage movement?
  • What were the benefits and costs of a politician’s taking a firm stand on the woman’s suffrage issue? 
  • How would you evaluate Roosevelt’s position from the Abbott letter?
  • What might account for a change in position by 1912, when Roosevelt ran for the presidency as a “Bull Moose” candidate?