1980 was the first year that equal numbers of men and women voted. Why were women reluctant to vote for 60 years? What took them so long to catch up with their male counterparts since they had finally won the franchise with the 19th amendment?

Because the census didn’t track voter turnout until the 1960’s the pace that women caught up isn’t known. A re-discovered study has been uncovered that gives further information, according to the Pew Institute:

The study …was published in 1924 by two researchers at the University of Chicago, Professor of Political Science Charles Edward Merriam, and Harold Foote Gosnell, then an instructor in the same department. Years before the fielding of the first statistically representative national opinion polls, the authors aimed through a carefully designed and deployed door-to-door survey to provide a “preliminary approach to the study of political motives.” Their target population was that one-half of the voting-age adults in Chicago who failed to cast a ballot in the mayoral election held on April 3, 1923.

2 of the major reasons women didn’t vote were:

1. Disbelief in women voting
2. Objections of the husband


Women’s suffrage was also the blame for prohibition. Most of what was wrong with the world as seen by people in the roaring 20’s was blamed on women having the right to vote. Many women also saw it as meddling in men’s business and definitely not ‘lady-like.’ General indifference was also cited as a reason for women not voting.

I once asked my grandmother who was 30 years old before she could vote if she had been a suffragette. She looked at me as though I had asked her if she had ever been a prostitute. She said ‘of course not.’ I asked for elaboration. She told me that my grandfather ‘was somebody’ and that it would have shamed him if she had been one of those women. This woman was not a shrinking violet. In fact, she generally was quite full of herself.

This entire subject is pretty much an enigma to me. Did men and women really see themselves in those different roles when it came to politics? Was politics really ‘men’s business’ back then? I guess we have come a long way, baby!

26 Thoughts to “Reluctant Suffragettes”

  1. “Did men and women really see themselves in those different roles when it came to politics? Was politics really ‘men’s business’ back then?”


    And many still believe it. When a woman is outspoken, she is often viewed as an unlady-like rebel who should be stifled. Women should “know their place,” after all.

    Since I’m grumpy this morning, I will spare you what I think of people who want to shut women up.

    When men or anyone else try to use the duct tape, women like me shout even louder.

    You’d think they would have learned that by now.

  2. Leslie Byrne

    Suffragettes is a derogatory term used by MSM since the 1800’s. People who fight for the rights of all are called Suffragists.

  3. Elena

    Hi Leslie,
    Thanks for joining the conversation! What is MSM? I am sure the title of this thread is not meant in a deragatory fashion. I had never known there was a difference!

  4. Some people don’t appreciate the word “suffragettes” because it sounds like some cutesy term for women stamping their feet to get in line to vote.

    But the real issue is documented in good ‘ole Wikipedia:

    –Suffragette is a term originally coined by the Daily Mail newspaper as a derogatory label for the more radical and militant members of the late-19th and early-20th century movement for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom, in particular members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). However, after former and then active members of the movement began to reclaim the word, the term became a label without negative connotations. It derives from the word “suffrage”, meaning the right to vote.

    Suffragist is a more general term for members of suffrage movements, whether radical or conservative, male or female. American campaigners preferred this more inclusive title, while those Americans hostile to women’s suffrage used “suffragette” as a pejorative, emphasizing its feminine “-ette” ending.[citation needed] In Britain, “suffragist” is generally used solely to identify members of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).–


  5. Moon-howler

    So is a word offensive if no one knows it is offensive? Who gets to tell the Pew Institute?

  6. LOL!

    Well, I doubt the League of Women Voters and other women’s rights groups appreciates the “suffragette” label.

    Maybe I will write to the Pew Institute. 🙂

  7. “appreciate” that is.

    I’m having subject/verb agreement problems today.

  8. Alanna

    MSM stands for Main Stream Media

  9. Witness Too

    In previous generations, men were often threatened by their wives having opinions of their own. This could manifest as anger, thus voting time could be a real source of anxiety in more conservative families. The potential for strife may have discouraged some women from voting, or having enough confidence in their own opinions to want to vote.

    Is that the real Leslie Byrne?


    If so, what a great addition!

  10. “Is that the real Leslie Byrne?”

    If so….how random, as my daughter would say.

  11. Poor Richard

    “Women are creatures of impulse and emotion and do not decide
    questions on the ground of reason as do men. They should not
    be asked to undertake responsibilities, duties and obligations
    they don’t understand or care for.”
    William Cremer
    (House of Commons
    April 25, 1906)

  12. TWINAD

    Poor Richard,


  13. Poor Richard

    Footnote – The Nineteenth Admendment was ratified August 18, 1920
    without the help of Virginia. In fact, the Commonwealth didn’t
    ratify it (a symbolic gesture at that point) until February 21, 1952.

  14. Moon-howler

    Poor Richard, now that it an interesting bit of trivia. Thanks!

    As for Mr. Cremer, I expect his attitude was shared by many. Actually, my husband’s old Aunt Ann once said something similar to me. He was shocked and knew he would spend the rest of his natural life paying for the words of his aunt with me.

    Oddly enough, this old gal had been single her entire life and had to fend for herself. Why she would say something was men’s business and for me to mind my own is beyond me.

  15. Moon-howler

    I grew up hearing and reading about the ‘suffragettes’ and was always proud of those women. I never felt the term ‘suffragette’ was offensive or demeaning, nor do my contemporaries I have asked about it.

  16. ShellyB

    The sentiment Poor Richard quoted has been so pervasive in our society that many women have internalized it. I remember Rush Limbaugh always used the word “femi-nazis” to describe feminists. There has always been such a backlash against women who expect equal pay, equal rights, equal voice, etc., as Susan Faludi wrote in her seminal book, “Backlash.”

    Some women don’t want the judgment and the scorn of society, and thus we sometimes accept notions that oppress us, like there is a stigma for women who believe in equality. That is how you get so many women who have a distaste for voting and for politics. They think they are winning points with men by pretending to be disinterested. Also, it’s out of laziness I think.

  17. Poor Richard

    A great story surrounds the vote in Tennessee, the 36th state
    needed to pass the 19th admendment. The legislators were locked
    in “War of the Roses” with pros wearing yellow ones in their lapel
    and those opposed red ones – and from counting them it appeared
    the admendment would fail that hot August 1920 day by one vote –
    not just in Tennessee, but in the whole country. (The supporters
    were running out of states it might pass – remember the ERA?).
    The deciding vote was made by the youngest legislator, Harry Burn,
    who sported a large red rose in his lapel, but a recent telegram
    from his mother, Febb Burn, asking his support for it in his pocket.
    When Harry switched and voted yes, he was chased from the chamber
    and had to escape out a third floor window and onto a ledge and hide
    in the attic of the State House, but history was changed.

  18. Moon-howler

    So politics were just as nasty back then. What a story!

    I don’t think women think like that nowadays, Shelly. The only doubt I had was when Hillary was running for president, I sometimes heard things that made me question if it really was 2008 or 1908.

  19. Poor Richard, thanks for the background and history. Interesting stuff!

    You know, I think women should have the right to be emotional without being judged unreasonable. Why is it considered illogical to express feelings?

    I hear a good many political men vehemently expressing their distaste for certain things. Should we kick them out of politics? Just wondering.

  20. DB

    Iremember stories that my grandfather told about his mother joining “the right to vote” movement. There were times that she was called to protest, and she took my grandfather and his younger sister along with her. Strangely enough, he remebered her dressing his sister and him up in “Indian” costumes prior to the protest. He could not remember why she did this, but he was excited to be an “Indian”. His mother was so involved in her duties toward the right to vote that one day, my grandfather recalled, his dad told her that her that she had to stop as it prevented her from getting dinner ready on time. I’m not sure what year this was, nor am I sure as to how long the movement went on. All I know was that my grandfather was a young boy, age 8 or so, and this puts his mother’s efforts somewhere around 1916. Did the movement go back that far? Or was it later?

  21. Poor Richard

    DH, “Around 1916” would have been when things were really
    heating up on the issue. (Not sure about the “Indian”
    costumes, but live Wild West shows were popular prior
    to WWI).

  22. Poor Richard

    “The young women of today – free to study, to speak, to write,
    to choose their occupation – should remember that every inch
    of this freedom was brought for them at a great price …
    the debt that each generation owes to the past, it must pay
    to the future.”
    Abigail Scott Dunaway

  23. Moon-howler

    I have often felt that way. So many younger women just take many of their rights for granted. Thanks for that quote, Poor Richard. (and you live up to your name almost daily. 🙂 )

    How long before the courts would have granted voting rights to women just as a civil rights issue?

    The fact that black men could technically vote 55 years before any woman of any ethnicity is just amazing.

    Something that all women of all races and nationality should keep in mind: Until they are able to control their own reproduction, they will never have full equality.

  24. @Posting As Pinko

    Posting As Pinko :
    “Did men and women really see themselves in those different roles when it came to politics? Was politics really ‘men’s business’ back then?”
    And many still believe it. When a woman is outspoken, she is often viewed as an unlady-like rebel who should be stifled. Women should “know their place,” after all.

    If “many still believe this,” they are fools. I’ve been VERY politically active since 1969, and I have always been taken seriously…and I have ALWAYS been outspoken. I’ve found that people are more likely to respect honest, straightforwardness than mealy-mouthed expedient rhetoric…and I can think of a few male politicians who could learn from that.

  25. Moon-howler

    AWC, unfortunately, some people do still feel this way. I always pinch myself to make sure it really is 2009.

  26. That’s what makes them fools, Moon-howler, and, unless they change, irrelevant to anyone but themselves. A name that comes to mind, and an excellent example…Jimmy Young. 😉

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