Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question

Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question

Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question

Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question


The biographies of more than 800 women form the basis for Elna Green's study of the suffrage and the antisuffrage movements in the South. Green's comprehensive analysis highlights the effects that factors such as class background, marital status, educational level, and attitudes about race and gender roles had in inspiring the region's women to work in favor of, or in opposition to, their own enfranchisement.

Green sketches the ranks of both movements which included women and men, black and white and identifies the ways in which issues of class, race, and gender determined the composition of each side. Coming from a wide array of beliefs and backgrounds, Green argues, southern women approached enfranchisement with an equally varied set of strategies and ideologies. Each camp defined and redefined itself in opposition to the other. But neither was entirely homogeneous: issues such as states' rights and the enfranchisement of black women were so divisive as to give rise to competing organizations within each group. By focusing on the grassroots constituency of each side, Green provides insight into the whole of the suffrage debate.


Before another century has elapsed, the suffragist and her friend the anti, will have passed into history; the struggle for sex equality will have been won and the new generation will have new problems to confront it.

But when some historian writes of the present age of the women who helped lift humanity one step higher by lifting womanhood to a level of human equality, let the services of the antis, who furnished the antagonism on which all progress thrives, be fittingly commemorated.

-- Pattie Ruffner Jacobs, 1916

As an undergraduate doing a research paper on the suffrage movement in North Carolina, I was surprised to find that a woman surfaced as the most prominent leader of the antisuffragists in my home state. I had assumed that all women would naturally desire their own enfranchisement, and it had never occurred to me that women might actually organize to prevent the adoption of such a reform. (The obvious parallel, that Phyllis Schafley appeared almost nightly on the evening news as the most prominent opponent of the ERA, under consideration at the same time I wrote that seminar paper, seemed not to have occurred to me then.)

I remained intrigued by the paradox of female antifeminists and pursued that interest as a dissertation. I began with some very simple questions: who were these women who opposed their own enfranchisement, and why did they do so? But the search for answers led instead to more complicated questions: What social and economic class in the New South opposed the enfranchisement of women? What did the various interest groups that made up the antisuffrage coalition believe they had to fear from woman suffrage? Why did some educated middle-class white women organize against the Nineteenth Amendment while other educated middle-class white women organized in its behalf?

Having become convinced that antisuffragists in fact were not the same "educated middle-class white women" as the suffragists, I chose to use a comparative prosopography in order to identify and describe the economic and political interests involved in the antisuffrage movement. By comparing anti-

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