Women's Suffrage: The Opposition Grows Grimmer

by Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler
Last of All Suffrage Conventions
The Struggle for the Thirty-Sixth State

The Opposition Grows Grimmer

No observer accustomed to judge popular opinion could have failed to recognize by March, 1920, that the fifty years' war for woman suffrage was won and that no opposition could now do more than delay the final triumph. That women would vote was already an accepted fact. Suffragists from all parts of the country reported this acceptance. yet the directors of the campaign knew that although the war for woman suffrage was won, the fighting would go on and on, and that in all probability the bitterest conflict of the half century was scheduled for somewhere between the close of the last national suffrage convention and the proclamation of the Federal Suffrage Amendment by the federal Secretary of State.

It will be recalled that mention has been made of the fact that during the Chicago convention four State Legislatures ratified, those of New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico. One of these, New Jersey, served to emphasize for suffragists the mounting intensity of the opposition.

In August, 1919, Mr. James Nugent, the Democratic “boss“ in the State, had declared himself a candidate for the New Jersey governorship and was quite frank in giving his reasons for so doing. he said: “The only reason that I got into this campaign as a candidate for the gubernatorial honors was that the State needed at least one man with the courage to stand four square against prohibition and woman suffrage.“ He was defeated at the primaries September 23, 1919.

The “bosses“ of both political parties were avowedly anti-suffragists and, with the liquor interests, worked openly against the Amendment. To co-operate with the National Suffrage Association's New Jersey auxiliary a Men's Suffrage Council was organized which contained the names of leading Democrats and Republicans. They united in the demand for political recognition of women. Everett Colby was chairman and the honorary chairmen were Governor-elect Edward I. Edwards, United States Senators Joseph S. Frelinghuysen and Walter E. Edge. The list of vice-chairmen included legislators, judges and other public officials, editors, lawyers, business and professional men from both major political parties and from all parts of the State.

When the Legislature convened in 1920, the resolution for ratification was the first measure introduced. A public hearing was held February 2, and the Senate ratified that same day. The opposition then concentrated its efforts upon the Assembly. Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer had written to all the Democratic members urging support. By the evening of February 9, when ratification was to be voted on in the Assembly, it was clear that the stage was set by the opposition for an all-night “filibuster.“ Hugh Barrett of Essex, Nugent's special representative, led the opposition by making one motion after another, which, one by one, after a hot fight and much talking, were defeated. Outside, in the corridor, was Nugent himself, constantly sending messages to his representatives. Suffragists were there too, helping to steady their friends and firm in the determination to get the vote that night. For five hours the filibuster went on without abatement. Then the opposition gave up the fight and the resolution was passed.

In Idaho and Arizona, both full suffrage States, there was no delay in ratification once the special session was called. Governor D. W. Davis called the Legislature of Idaho February 11. The call requested the legislators not to take the full amount to which they were entitled but to confine the appropriation to an amount equivalent to their actual expenses only. The call further stipulated that no legislation should be considered other than ratification. The session came at the time of the meeting of the Republican State Committee and that of the Executive Committee of the Idaho Republican Press. Dr. Emma F. A. Drake, the only woman member of the House, introduced the resolution. The action there was unanimous but in the Senate there were six opposing votes, three Republicans and three Democrats.

Governor Campbell of Arizona, though not enthusiastic over calling a special session, because the majority in House and Senate were Democrats while he was a Republican, had, on August, 1919, at Flagstaff, promised the envoys sent out by the National Suffrage Association that he would call one if the women would poll the Legislature in order to learn if it would ratify and if the men would waive their per diem. He suggested the first week in November, 1919, but it was four months later, at noon February 12, 1920, when the first special session and the fourth State Legislature of Arizona ratified.

Attached to the House Bill were the names of the four women members-Mrs. Nellie Haywood, Mrs. Rosa McKay, Mrs. Westover and Mrs. O'Neill. There was little eloquence but much dispatch and the resolution went promptly to the Senate, which adopted the ratifying resolution at 9:15 P.M.

In New Mexico, owing to the large Mexican population, there was doubt from the first whether the Amendment could be ratified. Governor C. A. Lazzarola was opposed to ratification but as a Republican agreed to support it. In the Legislature the Democrats had worked for ratification and a poll of their members, taken immediately in both Houses, showed 20 out of 26 in favor.

At the Governors' conference in Salt Lake City the year before, the envoys of the National American Woman Suffrage Association had been assured by Governor Lazzarola that, although he was not for the Federal Suffrage Amendment, Republican support would be forthcoming and the Amendment would be ratified. It so happened that a Soldiers' and Sailors' Act, passed by the Governor's insistence at the last session, was faultily drawn and a special session was necessary to re-enact the measure.

The Legislature met in special session February 16, 1920. There was a determined effort on the part of one member, Dan Padillo of Albuquerque, to submit a referendum on the amendment to the voters of the State. Immediately the entire city protested-suffragists, prohibitionists, Y.W.C.A. and many men's organizations-until Padillo declared that he would vote for immediate ratification, which he did. The five “no“ votes in the Senate and eight of the ten opposed in the House were Republicans.

The thirty-third ratification followed one week later. It was that of Oklahoma. At the Governors' conference at Salt Lake City in August, 1919, J. B. A. Robertson, Governor of Oklahoma, gave the great expense and the fear of untimely legislation as his reasons for not calling a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, but he pledged that if the women could get the legislators to waive their per diem he would call the session at once. He added, however, “I do not think it can be done, as the women do not care enough.“ Thereafter he gave a telling exhibition of a chief executive dodging women who cared enough.

In September Miss Aloysius Larch-Miller, secretary of the Oklahoma Ratification Committee, assisted by a representative of the National Suffrage Association, secured signed pledges from a majority of the legislators that they would attend, serve without pay, consider no other legislation and vote for ratification. When these were presented, the Governor's answer was a refusal to answer. Several weeks later he addressed the State Federation of Women's Clubs at Edmond and again offered the same excuses-expense and State political problems. Meantime, the Republican State Organization, through the Republican National Committeeman, James A. McGraw, had offered to pay the expenses of the Republican legislators who could not pay their own. The Governor answered that by saying that the States which did not have the suffrage should assume the burden of ratifying the Suffrage Amendment.

In January, 1920, the Democratic State Central Committee called county conventions to select delegates to the Democratic State Convention. Many of these county conventions passed resolutions asking the Governor to call the session. Although she had been confined to her room for several days with influenza, Miss Larch-Miller attended the convention of her county-Pottawatomie-and spoke for the resolution in opposition to Attorney-General S. P. Freeling, one of the ablest orators of the State and also the strongest opponent of woman suffrage in Oklahoma. Her enthusiasm and eloquence carried the day for suffrage. The resolution was adopted. For her the price was her life. The exertion proved too heavy a tax and in two days she paid the supreme sacrifice for the cause she had served.

Interviewed again, the Governor said his action would depend on the action of his party convention. In the meantime Senator Robert L. Owen, who had a long record for woman suffrage, had become a candidate for Vice-President of the United States. Democratic women from many States had wired him to know why his State had not taken action on the Federal Suffrage Amendment, reminding him that he was the only candidate for Vice-President whose State had not ratified. At the Democratic State Convention at Muskogee, February 5, Governor Robertson finally agreed that, because of his interest in the candidacy of Senator Owen, he would call the session. This he did for February 23. A majority of the legislators were pledged to ratify, the governor sent a favorable message and there was a telegram from President Wilson to the Speaker of the House: “May I not take the liberty of expressing my earnest hope that Oklahoma will join the other suffrage States in ratifying the Federal Suffrage Amendment, thus demonstrating anew its sense of justice and retaining its place as a leader in Democracy.“

In opposition was the activity of Attorney-General Freeling, who used the State's Rights argument to influence some members, but the sacrifice of Miss Larch-Miller, coupled with the fact that Oklahoma was a suffrage State, overwhelmed all opposition. The resolution to ratify was passed February 27, 1920. Then Attorney-General Freeling added one more chapter to his record against suffrage by immediately starting the circulation of a petition to refer this action to the voters. The decision of the United States Supreme Court that there could be no referenda on federal amendments ended this effort.

Governor John J. Cornwell of West Virginia, a Democrat, was known to favor ratification. A letter from the National Suffrage Association in December, 1919, brought word from him that as soon as there was a court decision on the public utilities question, which was to be voted upon with the Suffrage Amendment, the call would be issued. The Democratic Governor called his Republican Legislature in special session Friday, February 27, 1920.

President Wilson wired members of the Senate as follows: “May I not urge upon you the importance to the whole country of the prompt ratification of the Suffrage Amendment and express the hope that you will find it possible to lend your aid to this end.“ The Democratic and Republican National Committees urged ratification, The State's delegation in Congress used its influence and the Governor's message was in favor. The outlook was promising, when opposition broke from two unexpected sources, due to the contest over the Governorship and to influences from outside the State. The Maryland Legislature sent a committee to urge rejection of the amendment. They arrived February 28, Senator George Arnold Frick and Representatives Willis R. Jones and Daniel P. Joseph, who said they had come to say that “West Virginia had no right to help put something over that was not wanted by other States.“ Two other members, Ellis R. Crimes and Senator Charles H. Gibson, came independently as former West Virginians, to say that the entire Legislature of Maryland was not opposed to ratification and that they believed “West Virginia capable of settling her own affairs without interference from Maryland.“

A vote was rushed through both Houses and stood, House, ayes, 46; nays, 41; Senate, ayes, 14; nays 14. A motion to reconsider in the Senate was lost on Wednesday by the same vote. In the meantime, Senator Jesse A. Bloch, who was in California, receiving tardy notice of the session, wired that he was in favor of ratification and asked for a pair. This was refused by the opposition with jeers. Secretary of State Houston G. Young immediately got into telephone communication with Senator Bloch and he agreed to make the race across the continent if suffrage members would hold the lines intact until his arrival. The situation was acute. A motion in the House to reconsider had been laid on the table and could be called up at any time. Many legislators wanted to go home and it was difficult to keep the necessary number of suffrage men on hand to defeat hostile attacks. The entire country watched and waited, the tie in the Senate held, and Senator Bloch sped across the country. The day he reached Chicago the opposition resorted to its most desperate expedient by producing a former Senator, A. R. Montgomery, who about eight months before had resigned, because he was leaving the State permanently. The Governor had accepted his resignation and he was living in Illinois. Arriving in Charleston, he demanded the return of his letter of resignation from the Governor, who refused it because of documentary evidence that Mr. Montgomery had given up his residence in West Virginia. But Mr. Montgomery appeared in the Senate that afternoon and attempted to vote. President Sinsel ruled that he was not a member. On an appeal from the ruling the vote was a tie and his case was referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. That committee sustained the President's ruling.

Upon his arrival in Chicago Senator Bloch was met by Mr. V. L. Highland, National Republican Committeeman from West Virginia and Captain Victor Heintz, in charge of the National Republican headquarters in Chicago. He was given the choice of completing his journey by airplane or by train. Senator Bloch chose the airplane; Mrs. Bloch chose the train; they came by train. The trip was made with a record-breaking speed and the Senator arrived on March 10, taking his seat in the Senate amid cheers from crowded galleries. Men who were sick have gone into Senate chambers and Assembly halls to cast their votes for suffrage. Those who saw Representative Mann of Illinois, Sims of Tennessee, Barnhart of Indiana and Crosser of Ohio come into the House of Representatives in Washington on that historic day, January 10, 1918, when the Federal Suffrage Amendment won its first great House victory, will never forget it. Similar sacrifices have been made at heavy personal expense in many a State capital. To the list of loyal men suffragists who have not only believed in suffrage but proved it was now added the name of Senator Bloch. A debate of several hours followed his appearance, each side fencing for the advantage. At six P. M. the vote was taken, ayes, 16; nays, 14; one opponent changing his vote when he saw that the resolution was going to pass without him.

After the Senate vote, a second vote was secured in the House by the opponents on the motion to reconsider. This resulted in a larger favorable majority than the first. On March 10 West Virginia completed ratification.

Thirty-four ratifications now; and ever more persistent grew the opposition as it saw that its time was short. On March 17 Joseph Holt Gaines and W. E. R. Byrne, counsel for the West Virginia Anti-Suffrage League, sent telegrams to the Governors of the States of Delaware, Connecticut, Vermont, Washington and North Carolina, which read: “We beg to inform you that the report that the proposed nineteenth amendment was ratified by the Legislature of West Virginia is not the fact, but on the contrary, the Legislature refused to ratify the amendment. The facts are that the Senate having refused to ratify, afterwards undertook, in violation of its own rules, to take action ratifying the amendment. That action, we claim, is absolutely void and we are taking legal steps to enjoin any official certification or promulgation to the effect that West Virginia is one of the States ratifying. We have taken the liberty of giving you this information, because there has been an effort to suppress the full facts with reference to West Virginia's action.“

While they were notifying these Governors that steps would be taken to prevent the certification of the West Virginia ratification, the certificate had already reached Washington, making West Virginia thirty-fourth in the ratification list received by the Secretary of State.

Although the Governor of Washington, Louis F. Hart, in August, 1919, telegraphed his pledge to call a special session to the Governors' conference and requested the other Governors to join with him, it was not until March 22, 1920, that the Legislature of Washington, last of the full suffrage States, met in special session and ratified the Federal Suffrage Amendment. The session was called to provide funds for the maintenance of State Schools. It was summoned after a conference with State regents and legislators who had supervision of appropriations for educational institutions, because of a crisis in finances which might result in closing the University of Washington, the State College at Pullman, and several State normal schools.

Both Houses met in joint session to hear the Governor's message. There was a tense expectation throughout the proceedings, since at any moment the wires might flash the news that Delaware, known to be meeting in special session, had ratified, in which case Washington would be the thirty-sixth State to ratify, and would put the final seal on the full enfranchisement of the women of the entire nation.

The ratifying resolution was introduced in the House by Representative Frances M. Haskell from Pierce County, who the year before had introduced the memorial to Congress for the passage of the Federal Suffrage Amendment. Rules were suspended and the resolution to ratify was adopted unanimously.

Twelve minutes after the resolution reached the Senate it had been passed by another unanimous vote.

Thirty-five States had now ratified. Many of them had done so only because of the unceasing, intensive ratification campaign waged by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Again and again the Association had had to work its way through State situations of extreme complication. Continually it had had to spur political leaders and political parties to further the struggle. Its representatives had had to fly from end to end of the country untiringly. It had to agitate and educate and placate. Steadily the work had grown harder. State by State, through all the later ratification, step by step, the opposition had grown grimmer. But the Association knew and the opposition knew that whatever had gone before, whatever success in the result, however hard the work, the real fight was now at hand. Everything else paled into insignificance before the opposition's final attitude.

Suffragists might have thirty-five ratifications till the crack of doom. But the thirty-sixth they should not have. That was the final attitude of the opposition.