The woman who didn’t want women to vote

“Why force women to vote?” read the incendiary headline in the New-York Tribune in March 1913.

The question was posed in all seriousness by Josephine Jewell Dodge (left), the leader of a group headquartered at 35 West 39th Street called the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in today’s city opposing voting rights for women—rights that were granted in New York State in November 1917, a century ago this week.

But the suffrage movement that played out in marches and parades on Fifth Avenue (like this one in 1913, below) since the late 19th century had plenty of opposition—from other women.

Dodge and the other ladies of the NAOWS were hardly throwback reactionaries.

Born in 1855, Dodge came from a prominent family; her father had been the governor of Connecticut, and she was educated at Vassar, one of the few women’s colleges of the era.

Like other privileged women of her time, she devoted herself to social reform, funding and then founding several day nurseries in tenement districts where poor young children could go if their mothers had to work.

But as suffrage gained steam in the 1910s (and drove newspapers like the Brooklyn Eagle to run reader polls, as seen below), Dodge’s activism took a different direction. She joined a state anti-suffrage group before starting the NAOWS in 1911.

Why exactly was Dodge opposed to suffrage? Her thinking was that women would have more success as social reformers if they didn’t get mixed up in the dirty world of politics.

“As social leaders, many of these women were dedicated to philanthropy and promoting reform, but they achieved their results without entering the world of politics and didn’t feel as though they were working against their own self-interest,”states a Saturday Evening Post article on antis from 2016.

She also didn’t seem to believe women had the time to fully grasp politics.

“The life of the average woman is not so ordered as to give her first hand knowledge of those things which are the essentials of sound government,” Dodge said in 1915 speech in New Jersey.

“She is worthily employed in other departments of life, and the vote will not help her fulfill her obligations therein.”

Of course, six years after the NAOWS was founded, women did get the vote in New York. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting voting rights to all U.S. women.

The NAOWS hung in there with other anti-suffrage groups, hoping to fight the amendment, to no avail. Dodge had resigned from the NAOWS by that time, according to her 1928 obituary, for unknown reasons.

The Gilded Age in New York 1870-1910 has a lot more on the suffrage movement from a New York City vantage point.

[Top photo: New-York Tribune; second photo: NYPL; third image: NAOWS/Library of Congress; fourth image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1912; fifth image: LOC]

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6 Responses to “The woman who didn’t want women to vote”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    This is very funny. “Why force women to vote?” We have come a long way , girls!!! YOWZERS!!!!

  2. Tom B Says:

    She got one thing right with the fifth plank, “the attempt of a minority to force its will on the majority is contrary to the teachings of Democracy. Seems like this is happening all the time now. I can’t believe she was the majority on this suffrage issue. Very interesting piece of history. Thank you Ephemeral NY.

  3. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    For a comprehensive history of the Anti-Women’s Suffrage movement in NY State, read Susan Goodier’s magnificent “No Votes for Women – The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement” https://www.amazon.com/No-Votes-Women-Anti-Suffrage-Movement/dp/0252078985/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509970302&sr=8-1&keywords=no+votes+for+women+the+new+york+state+anti-suffrage+movement

  4. Hayat Says:

    This is very interesting – thank you Ephemeral.

    I was surprised by her reasoning. That she thought women were too busy in social movements – such as settlement houses – to be knowledgeable about politicians/politics.

    She probably changed her position on that later; since she disconnected from that group. Perhaps the reasons behind those who joined had shifted over the years – away from her original reasoning.

    Even now a lot of people vote for one party without bothering to ascertain politicians’ views.

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    I wonder what she’d think today?

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