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

By Lorraine Gates Schuyler | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
To Hold the Lady Votes
Southern Politics Ten Years after Suffrage

In June 1930, the candidates for state office appeared before the voters in Edgefield, South Carolina. There, one of the office-seekers announced his support for women jurors. Just ten years before, “candidates would have preferred the guillotine to a suspicion that they favored” jury service for women. On that hot summer afternoon, however, the candidates announcement received little attention from the assembled voters, who were more focused on the issues of prohibition and taxes. In fact, only one unusual thing happened at the rally that day. In his speech to the crowd, another candidate “forgot the 'ladies,'” failing to acknowledge these important voters or to mention their concerns. The activist who recounted this event in the newspaper assured her readers that she “took note of it, and shall forget him when my time comes.”1

Ten years after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, southern politicians had grown accustomed to white women's participation in formal politics. They knew that they needed the votes of white women at election time, and they generally did not have to be reminded to pay attention to the concerns of these constituents. The candidate meetings that had been pioneered by newly enfranchised white women were no longer considered “novel stunts.”2 Candidates recognized the opportunity that these rallies offered, and office-seekers routinely pledged their support for issues of concern to women. Nevertheless, scholars have since concluded that the threat women voters posed to policy-makers was fleeting. According to historian Alan Lichtman, “By the late 1920s, male politicians surely realized that the female voter posed no threat to business as usual and need not be granted any special concessions,”5 “Putative leaders of the rank and file of American women,” Lichtman contended, “could not use the political clout of their sisters as a bargaining chip in support of their demands.”4 Over time, scholars have shifted the “blame” for the ultimate failure of women's policy demands.

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