Not Bound to Any Party
The Problem of Women Voters
in the Solid South
An absolute menace to Democratic supremacy.”1 That is how one white southerner described woman suffrage. Like the antisuffragists who warned that woman I suffrage was an affront to southern manhood and that votes for women would subvert traditional gender roles, this observer recognized the potential power of womens ballots to transform party politics in the New South. Even small numbers of black voters and dissident white voters had long terrified southern Democratic men, spurring disfranchisement in the first place. And the Nineteenth Amendment introduced not just a few but more than a million new voters to the polls.
As they eagerly embraced their new political status and worked feverishly to expand the voter rolls, newly enfranchised women not only undermined disfranchisement but also directly challenged the Democratic stranglehold in the region. On the eve of woman suffrage, white southern Democrats stood in command of a political system in which few men voted and even fewer men maintained any real influence in political life. Yet as these political elites well knew, with so few southerners voting, it would not take many disloyal votes to threaten Democratic supremacy in the region. For more than a decade, literacy tests, property requirements, poll taxes, and complicated registration and balloting procedures had prevented all but a small minority of southern men from casting ballots. Such tight control of the electorate had eliminated real partisan competition from nearly every corner of the South and depressed voter turnout even among those who could qualify for the franchise. After 1920, southern women worked to open up this closed system. As they brought new voters to the polls, these women threatened to revitalize not only partisan competition in the region but intraparty competition as well. With Democrats in many southern states