Now, you might think the American-based National Association OPPOSED to Woman Suffrage was run by a bunch of grumpy men who wanted to maintain their dominance over women. Sadly, this organisation was run by a woman, Mrs Josephine Marshall Jewell Dodge. Mrs Dodge had entered the political arena via the day nursery movement. Firstly, she sponsored the Virginia Day Nursery to care for children of working mothers in New York City’s East Side slums, then opened her own nursery in 1888. The Jewell Day Nursery’s main aim was not simply day care, but also to educate immigrant children in “American” values. From 1899, Mrs Dodge became increasingly active in opposition to woman suffrage, which she believed would jeopardize the non-partisan integrity of women rights reformers like herself. In December 1911, she organized (and was chosen president) of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. She also edited their newspaper, Woman’s Protest. She continued as president of the group until June,1917, when she resigned in order that the organization might shift its headquarters to Washington, D.C.
I believe Mrs Dodge’s heart was in the right place, even though she fought against women’s suffrage. Her concern was making sure working women had a safe place to care for and educate their children while they were at work. However, her belief that the suffrage movement undermined the day care movement was misguided. In a way, she was helping the movement by supporting a woman’s right to work, while at the same time opposing women be given a voice in government. As you can see from the pamphlet above, her organisation was somewhat confused about what it wanted to achieve.
In England, the Woman’s National Anti-Suffrage League was established in London in 1908, opposing women being granted the vote in the United Kingdom’s Parliamentary elections. However, the organisation did support women having the right to vote in local government elections.
The Arguments Against Women’s Suffrage (as listed by the WNASL)
Because women already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most local authorities. These bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children, workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman’s sphere. Parliament, however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war, which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman’s influence.
Because all government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.
Because women are not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not available for purposes of national and Imperial defence. All government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.
Because there is little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.
Because the acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to Parliament itself, and to all Government offices. It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War, and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar absurdities.
Because the United Kingdom is not an isolated state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies and also of dependencies. The effect of introducing a large female element into the Imperial electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes of these dependent millions.
Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.
Because Woman Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.
Because women have at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics of this country.
Because the physical nature of women unfits them for direct competition with men.
Grace Saxon Mills, writing in the years before 1914
I think my favourite comment is “Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.” Oh, the irony of that little sentence.