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Women’s Suffrage and White Supremacy

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Frances Willard

This is from last year, but I just saw it so I am going to post about it anyway. Mallory Ortberg really presented the unfortunate issue of suffrage activists using white supremacy to press their case in the most effective way possible. Although given that it’s The Toast, Freddie DeBoer probably thinks it’s another example of feminists doing it wrong. Anyway:

Suffragette: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902 (Social activist, abolitionist, author)
Hooray: “The best protection any woman can have is courage.”
Wait, What: “What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?”

Suffragette: Laura Clay, 1849-1940 (Founder of Kentucky’s first suffrage group)
Hooray: “Religious intolerance just now is abroad in the land. It is an evil passion of the heart which dies hard…This campaign is a call to every true American of whatever party to stand firmly for the principle of religious freedom.”
Wait, What: “The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes.”

Suffragette: Frances Willard, 1839-1898 (Feminist lecturer, founder of the National Council of Women, anti-child abuse activist)
Hooray: “Politics is the place for woman.”
Wait, What: “Alien illiterates rule our cities today; the saloon is their palace, and the toddy stick their scepter. The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt.”

Suffragette: Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947 (Founder of the League of Women Voters)
Hooray: “”There is one thing mightier than kings and armies”–aye, than Congresses and political parties–“the power of an idea when its time has come to move.” The time for woman suffrage has come. The woman’s hour has struck. If parties prefer to postpone action longer and thus do battle with this idea, they challenge the inevitable. The idea will not perish; the party which opposes it may. Every delay, every trick, every political dishonesty from now on will antagonize the women of the land more and more, and when the party or parties which have so delayed woman suffrage finally let it come, their sincerity will be doubted and their appeal to the new voters will be met with suspicion.”
Wait, What: “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.”

All of this is pretty well known to historians, but really isn’t stressed that much in public conceptions of the suffrage movement. It’s not unknown, but it needs to be more known. Expressing it in this way, cheering for feminists of the past and then being horrified by the same feminists, is well done.

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