Making Their Bow to the Ladies
Southern Party Leaders and the
Fight for New Women Voters
It must have been quite a sight, in the summer and fall of 1920, as male candidates and party officials worked to woo new white women voters whom they had just recently denounced as “he-women” and supporters of “Negro Domination.”1 In mass mailings, in their stump speeches, and in their sudden solicitousness of advice from female leaders, the South s leading men pursued women voters in a new political ritual that visibly symbolized the transformations that woman suffrage had wrought. Of course, women had been active in party politics long before they had the right to vote.2 Even in the antebellum period they had embraced partisan identities, made public presentations of their support, and attended campaign rallies. Never before, however, had southern women been the voters being rallied. Faced with long lines of women registering to vote and the prospect of hundreds of thousands of new voters at the polls, southern politicians in the fall of 1920 confronted the most substantial change in southern politics since the Populist revolt of the late nineteenth century. And unlike the growing force of discontent that characterized Populism, woman suffrage transformed an incredibly stable political status quo to a great political contest in just a few short weeks, as more than a million new voters suddenly took to southern polls.
Although most of the South s political leaders had resisted woman suffrage to the bitter end, their public attitudes changed swiftly once they stood before women voters as candidates. As one Virginian noted, “We (the women) are the most popular people ever. The candidates all think they have always wanted the women to have the vote and have always worked hard to attain this end.”9 In North Carolina's Republican mountain district. Buncombe County Democratic leaders seemed unabashed by their election-eve aboutface as they welcomed women into the party: “Although I do not claim any credit for bringing you here, for I was against you,” one party stalwart an-