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Suffragette City : ‘We’re Fighting <i> for</i> Women,’ Insisted L.A.'s Foes of Voting Rights for Females

ABOUT NOW, both presidential candidates will be turning political handsprings to cultivate the women’s vote, or to reduce, as the Republicans call it, the “gender gap.”

Many may not know that the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920--years behind New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Sweden.

To their credit, California men voted for women’s suffrage on Oct. 10, 1911.

In today’s liberal climate, it is hard to believe the animosity and the ludicrous rationale of the campaign against the California amendment. It is all the more incredible that its most ferocious opponents were women.

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In an enlightening article in the spring issue of Southern California Quarterly, a publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, South Pasadena historian Jane Apostol recalls the history of that campaign in what today seem its comical details.

Apostol summarizes: “To give woman the vote, said some passionate opponents, would pull her from the pedestal where she belonged, rob her of her femininity, endanger her health, weaken her character and lead to the disintegration of society.”

Those dire forebodings were voiced in January of 1911 by Mary S. Caswell, founder and principal of Marlborough School for Girls, when she denounced the proposed amendment for an hour before an overflow audience in the State Senate chamber.

As president of the Southern California Assn. Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, Ms. Caswell argued that suffrage would “rob women of privileges they currently enjoyed and impose responsibilities they did not want.” She gave the committee the names of more than 1,000 women who shared her views.

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Despite Ms. Caswell’s heroic effort, the Senate voted for the amendment 35-5, the Assembly 66-12.

In the ensuing campaign, The Times opposed the amendment vigorously--or perhaps playfully would be a better word. Its editorials and cartoons treated the issue as if it were a joke.

It often lent its columns to anti-suffragist Dora Oliphant Coe, who warned that “in states where women do vote, they have, in the aggregate, become coarsened, have sold their votes and corrupted the body politic.”

Mrs. Coe also pointed out that suffrage would extend not only to “the intelligent, moral women,” but to the ditchdigger’s wife as well as the college graduate.

Perhaps the most calamitous consequence of all was pointed out by anti-suffragist Harriet Hunt, who warned that if a woman could vote for a legislator, a congressman or even a President, she could be a legislator, a congressman or even a President. “There seems to be no hope of a stopping point when once we get started on the dangerous doctrine of political equality.”

The Times editorialized poetically: “Woman has ‘rights,’ cares and burdens enough. The Times honors and respects the women of Los Angeles more than those who are trying to lure them from the mellow radiance of the home into the fierce glare of publicity. It would regret to see our maidens acting as members of caucuses and our wives leaving the babe to wait in the cradle while they crowded to the polling booth.”

In September, a group of prominent men burst into being on the front page of The Times as the Men’s League Opposed to Extension of Suffrage to Women. The Times called it “a sober and serious group of 50 of the most conservative and influential business and professional men of Los Angeles.”

One member, George S. Patton (father of the general), expressed the group’s position nobly: “We are not fighting women. We are fighting for women, fighting lest the efforts of an overenthusiastic minority should succeed in imposing useless burdens upon the women of our State.” The suffragists quickly dubbed Patton’s group the Chocolate Soldier Brigade.

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The amendment passed by 3,587 votes--about one vote per precinct.

Ironically, The Times soon was urging L.A. women voters to support its candidate for mayor against a Socialist who was anathema to the paper. The Times’ man won, and The Times conceded:

“The women of Los Angeles are well prepared for the ballot, and they proved yesterday how well they understand its power.”


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