Revisiting Suffrage

One hundred years later, an examination of 19th-century predictions.

One hundred years have now passed since both houses of Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

For a long time, both major parties were ready to grant the suffrage, should American women clearly ask it of them.  The question was never whether women were worthy of it.  It was rather what, if anything, the change would mean for men, women, family life, and the common good.

Men and women of letters, male and female reformers and religious leaders, ranged on both sides of the issue. The liberal Theodore Roosevelt, for example, was for suffrage, while Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, first woman architectural critic, was solidly against. A public debate over the matter took place in the pages of the August 1894 issue of The Century Magazine. Arguing against women’s suffrage was Rev. James Monroe Buckley, Methodist minister and editor of the influential weekly newspaper Christian Advocate. For suffrage was Senator George Frisbie Hoar (R-Mass.).

It’s worth looking closer at what these 19th century prophets predicted would result from suffrage, so that we can know them by their fruits, and use their insights to judge the modern results of suffrage. Voting is a mechanism, a tool, and so should be judged by the work it does: the nation and culture it produces. Only a fool continues to use a crooked T square. If the house falls,...

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