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

By Lorraine Gates Schuyler | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
No Longer Treated Lightly
Southern Legislators and
New Women Voters

In 1920, an aide to South Carolina's Governor Cooper wrote to one of his state's most prominent women for advice. He had received a request from an organization of women, and in contrast to years past, he was unsure how to respond. Letters from women's organizations had once been of no consequence. When women were enfranchised, however, such letters came to represent groups of constituents. Faced with the electoral uncertainties posed by woman suffrage that year, he confessed, “Letters from women's organizations, you know, can no longer be treated lightly!”1 In the years following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Democratic Party leaders throughout the South looked upon the demands of organized white women with a newfound respect. Faced with a large and unpredictable bloc of new voters at the polls, nervous Democrats worked furiously to bring the regions white women into the party fold. They addressed women's club meetings, targeted women directly in campaign literature, and moved the locations of polling places and party meetings to accommodate the ladies' sensibilities. They called on female political leaders for help in winning the votes of women, and they grumbled among themselves as election returns and the efforts of organized women demonstrated that white women's partisan loyalties would not be easily won. Perhaps most important, these Democratic men were forced to consider the political implications of policy choices that contradicted the expressed wishes of organized white women.

While Democratic political leaders in the South had long touted the influence of white women on the political process, white women recognized “the change of atmosphere in the politicians after [they] had got the vote.”2 As suffragists had anticipated, southern politicians responded to white women's new electoral power with unprecedented concern for their legislative priorities. Backedby the weight of their votes, white women in Georgia found “the

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