The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s

By Lorraine Gates Schuyler | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Best Weapon jo r Refo rm Women Lobbying with the Vote

On 16 October 1923, clubwomen from across Kentucky met in Louisville for a conference of state women's organizations. Before the assembled women, the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor stood for questioning. The state s League of Women Voters, Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Home Economics Association, Consumers League, Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Business and Professional Women, Girls' Friendly Society, Daughters of Isabella, and Social Hygiene Association were coordinating their work through a joint legislative council, and the issues that the gubernatorial candidates faced reflected the council's agenda The women asked pointed questions about the candidates' commitment to prohibition enforcement and adequate appropriations for the state's Board of Corrections and Charities. They asked the candidates to “pledge” their “utmost support” and “agree, if elected,” to advance the legislative agenda presented that day Just three weeksbefore election day, both of Kentucky's candidates for governor spent precious time campaigning— side by side—before a group of demanding women. They did not send surrogates, and they did not decline the women's invitation. When the men were done, the assembled women transcribed the candidates' responses for distribution to other women and for future reference.1

As this episode demonstrates, activist white women recognized that the Nineteenth Amendment marked an important turning point in southern politics. It changed not only who cast ballots but also who counted as a constituent. With their votes, women commanded the attention of political candidates, and they used that opportunity to make politicians respond to legislative demands. White women reformers, who had long lobbied the political leaders of their region in support of legislative reform, understood the way their position had changed as a result of enfranchisement, and they embraced the vote as a powerful new weapon in their persuasive arsenal. Immediately

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