Secondary Source

Women’s Magazines and the Suffrage Movement: Did They Help or Hinder the Cause?

"Women's Magazines and the Suffrage Movement: Did They Help or Hinder the Cause?" Nancy Burkhalter. Journal of American Culture, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 1996, pp. 13-24.

Era: Post-Suffrage Era | Media: Academic Paper, Magazines

The Wiley Online Library has direct access to the article for payment, including a free preview of the first page. Questia offers this preview of the article’s introduction (as well as related resources):

Twenty-six million American women were granted the right to vote on August 20, 1920, after 72 years of struggle (see Table 1). The outcome of the movement remained uncertain until Tennessee ratified the Nineteenth Amendment only three months before the 1920 presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James Cox.

Ideological opposition to the bill was manifest and formidable. The theological argument, for instance, asserted that “…God had ordained men and women to perform different functions in the state as well as in the home….” Next, the biological argument, used by people who needed pseudoscientific evidence, assumed that women were the weaker sex and could not undertake the physically arduous task of voting. Last, the psychological argument contended that femininity was associated with emotionalism and illogicality, “traits that were inconsistent with the proper exercise of suffrage” (Kraditor 15-18).

Numerous powerful and organized groups that aligned themselves with anti-suffragists availed themselves of these arguments, including the anti-prohibitionists (or “wets”), the Democratically controlled Southern states and business interests.

Anti-prohibitionists saw that suffrage implied prohibition. They did not so much dread suffrage as the fact that it “could only hasten the advent of prohibition, and they marshaled every counterforce at their disposal [to defeat the amendment]” (Kobler 145). To counteract their force, early in the suffrage movement the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) realized they shared many members and consequently coalesced against the “wet” interests.

As late as 1916, none of the Southern states had endorsed the woman suffrage by constitutional amendment, even though the Republican and Progressive parties had done so. Degler said that the South’s reluctance came from “the fear that woman suffrage would reopen the race question.” True, the Fifteenth Amendment had granted all men the right to vote, including black men, but, Degler continued, “Many feared that the kind of coercion and violence that had been routinely used against black males who tried to vote or otherwise upset the political status quo would not be as easily or as effectively invoked against black women” (Degler 340-1).

Business interests opposed the measure because they feared women would demand too many reforms in the work place, which would hurt profits. It was not an unfounded fear: The number of working women had steadily increased, and by World War I, they became an economic force to be reckoned with.

With so many powerful groups militating against suffrage, it would appear that women’s magazines had their work cut out for them in fighting the battle for equality. However, two of the most popular women’s magazines, Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, did not choose to accept that mission. For the most part, they ignored the issues. Articles that did pertain did not actively support or even discuss the amendment until it had become a “fait accompli.” In general, articles perpetuated the ideologies that historically had detained and fought against the passage of suffrage.

In contrast to women’s magazines, general opinion magazines discussed issues, presented different sides of the controversy and, in general, favored woman suffrage. Being purveyors of, among other topics, political opinion, these magazines wrote much about President Wilson’s pro-suffrage stance. He praised women for their heroic part in World War I and vigorously lobbied in their favor in speeches and letters to congressmen. “Much of the morale of this country and of the world will repose in our sincere adherence to democratic principles,” Wilson said in a letter to a senator. Passage of the amendment would be “an essential psychological element in the conduct of the war for democracy” (“The War and Votes for Women” 33-34) …

DOI: 10.1111/j.1542-734X.1996.1902_13.x


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