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Anti-suffragists in the US in 1911.

Anti-suffragism was a political movement composed of both men and women that began in the late 19th century in order to campaign against women's suffrage in Great Britain and the United States. It was closely associated with "domestic feminism," the belief that women had the right to complete freedom within the home. In the United States, these activists were often referred to as "remonstrants" or "antis".

Anti-suffragism in Great Britain[edit]

The Women's National Anti-Suffrage League (1907–1918) was established in London on 21 July 1908. Its aims were to oppose women being granted the vote in British parliamentary elections, although it did support their having votes in local government elections. It was founded at a time when there was a resurgence of support for the women's suffrage movement.

The Women's National Anti-Suffrage League, publisher of the Anti-Suffrage Review, submitted a petition to Parliament in 1907 with 87,500 names, but it was rejected by the Petitions Committee of Parliament as "informal".[1]

An Anti-suffrage correspondence had taken place in the pages of The Times through 1906–1907, with further calls for leadership of the anti-suffrage movement being placed in The Spectator in February 1908. Possibly as early as 1907, a letter was circulated to announce the creation of a National Women's Anti-Suffrage Association and inviting recipients to become a member of the Central Organising Committee or a member. It was issued under the names of thirty peeresses who would become prominent anti-suffragists, as well as a number of peers and MPs. However, the first meeting of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League only took place the following year on 21 July, at the Westminster Palace Hotel with Lady Jersey in the Chair. Seventeen persons were nominated to the central committee at this meeting, including Mrs Humphrey Ward in the chair of the Literary Committee and Gertrude Bell as secretary. Other members were Mrs Frederic Harrison, Miss Lonsdale, Violet Markham, Miss Beatrice Chamberlain and Hilaire Belloc MP.

The League's aims were to oppose women being granted the parliamentary franchise, though it did support their having votes in local and municipal elections. It published the Anti-Suffrage Review from December 1908 until 1918. It gathered 337,018 signatures on an anti-suffrage petition and founded the first local branch in Hawkenhurst in Kent. The first London branch was established in South Kensington under the auspices of Mary, Countess of Ilchester. Soon after, in May 1910, a Scottish branch was organised into the Scottish National Anti-Suffrage League by the Duchess of Montrose. By December of that year, there were 26 branches or sub-branches in the country, a total which grew to 82 by April 1909, and 104 in July 1910. It was announced that 2000 subscriptions had been received by December, 1908, rising to 9000 in July, 1909.

In 1910, the group amalgamated with the Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage to form the National League for Opposing Women's Suffrage with Lord Cromer as president and Lady Jersey as Vice-President. The merger was in effect a takeover, as the president of the former organisation, Lord Cromer, becoming president of the new one.[2] In 1912 Lord Curzon and Lord Weardale became joint presidents. The organisation continued its activities and the publication of the Anti-Suffrage Review until 1918 when both came to an end as women's suffrage was granted.

Anti-suffragism in the United States[edit]

A political cartoon in Harper's lampoons the anti-suffrage movement (1907).

Early backing for the anti-suffrage movement[edit]

The anti-suffrage movement began in the United States after the Massachusetts State legislature introduced a proposal to promote female voting rights.[3] Two hundred women opposed this initiative as they did not want women to gain full citizenship.[4] Though nothing became of this proposal, its introduction mobilized the suffrage movement on both sides.

In 1871, a petition to the United States Congress was published by nineteen women in Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine in opposition to votes for women, the first instance of the mobilization from anti-suffrage women.[5]

In 1895, the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women (MAOFESW) was created and is noted to be the first effort of the anti-suffragists to institutionalize their cause.[6]

Reasons for suffrage opposition[edit]

There were three main concerns that drove the anti-suffrage argument. First, anti-suffragists felt that giving women the right to vote would threaten the family institution.[7] Second, they saw women's suffrage as in opposition to God's will.[8] Third, they thought that women could not handle the responsibility of voting because they lacked knowledge of that beyond the domestic sphere and they feared government would be weakened by introducing this ill-informed electorate.[9]

Anti-suffragists, such as Josephine Dodge, argued that giving women the right to vote would overburden them and undermine their privileged status.[10] They saw participation in the private sphere as essential to a woman's role and thought that giving them public duties would prevent them from fulfilling their primary responsibilities in the home. Anti-suffragists claimed that they represented the "silent majority" of America who did not want to enter the public sphere by gaining the right to vote.[11]

Anti-suffragism was not limited to conservative elements. The anarchist Emma Goldman opposed suffragism on the grounds that women were more inclined toward legal enforcement of morality (as in the Women's Christian Temperance Union), that it was a diversion from more important struggles, and that suffrage would ultimately not make a difference. She also said that activists ought to advocate revolution rather than seek greater privileges within an inherently unjust system.[12] Progressives criticized suffrage in the Utah Territory as a cynical Mormon ploy, resulting in the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

It was also cited that women had made reforms such as raising the age of consent without the vote and that gaining this right was therefore unnecessary and could even be harmful to further reform movements.[13] The thought was that women were able to influence the government because they were seen as political neutral and non-partisan and giving them the right to vote would strip them of this unique position.[14]

Emergence of anti-suffrage organizations[edit]

The New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage[edit]

The New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was founded in 1897, and by 1908 it had over 90 members.[15] It was active in producing pamphlets and publications explaining their views of women's suffrage, until the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed in 1920. A Geneva branch was founded in 1909.[16] The suffragists in New York often extended invitations to open discussion with the anti-suffragists.[17]

The New York association had its own magazine, first The Anti-Suffragist published by Mrs. William Winslow Crannell from July 1908 to April 1912.[18]

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS)[edit]

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was the first national organization of women who challenged the fight for women's suffrage.[10] Before the founding of this organization, there had been anti-suffrage efforts in many states but in 1911, these state associations assembled for an anti-suffrage convention in New York City and formed the NAOWS.[3] The association gained significant momentum between 1912 and 1916[19] and was operational in twenty-five states.[20] The NAOWS was said to have as many as 350,000 members.[10]

At itself start, the organization was run by Josephine Dodge and Minnie Bronson.[21] Alice Wadsworth, wife of James Wolcott Wadsworth Jr., assumed leadership of the association when it moved its headquarters from New York to Washington D.C. in 1917.[21]

The association produced The Woman's Protest, a newsletter that helped defeat close to forty woman suffrage referenda.[5]

Anti-suffragism after the nineteenth amendment[edit]

Once the nineteenth amendment was passed, the majority of women who opposed suffrage exercised this right.[22] They took the energy they were investing in the anti-suffrage movement and turned it towards supporting the platform of the Republican party.[22] In this way, they left the private sphere and entered the public sphere, one of the things that they were resisting in their anti-suffrage efforts.

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment also kickstarted a coalition of anti-suffragists who organized themselves into a political anti-feminist movement in order to "oppose expansion of social welfare programs, women's peace efforts, and to foster a political culture hostile to progressive female activists. This coalition effectively blended anti-feminism and anti-radicalism by embracing and utilizing the hysteria of the post-World War I Red Scare."[23]


The archives of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 2WNA

The Library and Archives division of the Georgia Historical Society have a collection of broadsides from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage from 1917–1919. The documents appear to be printed by state affiliates of the national group. One of the documents was issued by The Men's Anti-Ratification League of Montgomery, Alabama.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elizabeth Robins, Way Stations (1913), p. 37
  2. ^ Roger Owen, Lord Cromer: Victorian Imperialist, Edwardian Proconsul, Oxford University Press (2004), page 376. ISBN 0-19-927966-7
  3. ^ a b Aslanian, Artour (2013). "The Use of Rhetoric in Anti-Suffrage and AntiFeminist Publications". LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University. 2: 2. 
  4. ^ Thomas Jabolonsky, “Female Opposition: The Anti Suffrage Campaign” as featured in Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited, ed. Jean Baker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 119.
  5. ^ a b Ritter, Gretchen (1998-06-01). "Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign against Woman Suffrage by Susan E. Marshall". Political Science Quarterly. 113 (2): 20. ISSN 1538-165X. doi:10.2307/2657874. 
  6. ^ Benjamin, Anne M. (1991). "A History of the Anti-suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895 to 1920: Women against Equality". Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press. 
  7. ^ Marilley, Suzanne M. (1996). Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 4. 
  8. ^ Kraditor, Aileen (1962). The ideas of the woman suffrage movement, 1890-1920. Columbia University Press. p. 15. 
  9. ^ Marshall, S. E. (1986-12-01). "In Defense of Separate Spheres: Class and Status Politics in the Antisuffrage Movement". Social Forces. 65 (2): 327–351. ISSN 0037-7732. doi:10.1093/sf/65.2.327. 
  10. ^ a b c Schreiber, Ronnee (2008). Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 19. 
  11. ^ Camhi, J. J. (2007). Women Against Women: American Antisuffragism, 1880–1920. Understanding Inequality: The Intersection of Race/Ethnicity, Class, and Gender, 225-239.
  12. ^ Emma Goldman. "Woman Suffrage Archived April 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.". Anarchism and Other Essays, 1911.
  13. ^ Goodier, S. (2013). No votes for women: the New York state anti-suffrage movement. University of Illinois Press.
  14. ^ Thurner, M. (1993). "Better citizens without the ballot": American antisuffrage women and their rationale during the Progressive era. Journal of Women's History, 5(1), 33-60.
  15. ^ New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage Thirteenth Annual Report, 1908
  16. ^ Against Suffrage, newspaper clipping, 1909
  17. ^ Mrs. Mackay's Campaign, newspaper clipping, 25 January 1910
  18. ^ "The Anti-Suffragist | American periodical". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-12-21. 
  19. ^ Marshall, Susan E. (1985-04-01). "Ladies Against Women: Mobilization Dilemmas of Antifeminist Movements". Social Problems. 32 (4): 348–362. ISSN 0037-7791. doi:10.2307/800757. 
  20. ^ Kim Nielsen, Un-American Womanhood: Antiradicalism, Antifeminism, and the First Red Scare, (2001), Introduction.
  21. ^ a b Maddux, Kristy (2005-02-21). "When Patriots Protest: The Anti-Suffrage Discursive Transformation of 1917". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 7 (3): 283–310. ISSN 1534-5238. doi:10.1353/rap.2005.0012. 
  22. ^ a b Goodier, S. (2007). The other woman's movement: Anti-suffrage activism in New York State, 1865--1932. State University Of New York At Albany.
  23. ^ Nielsen, Kim. "How Did Women Antifeminists Shape and Limit the Social Reform Movements of the 1920s?". State University of New York at Binghamton, 2004. (electronic resource).
  24. ^ "Georgia Historical Society". Retrieved 2012-12-13. 

Other sources[edit]

  • The Times, Wednesday, Jul 22, 1908; pg. 13; Issue 38705; col D
  • The Times, Thursday, Dec 08, 1910; pg. 9; Issue 39450; col E: "Woman Suffrage. The Anti-Suffrage Movement, A New Organization."

Further reading[edit]

  • Benjamin, Anne M. A History of the Anti-Suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895 to 1920: Women Against Equality. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0773494367
  • Jablonsky, Thomas J, "The Home, Heaven, and Mother Party: Female Anti-Suffragists in the United States, 1868–1920." Brooklyn: Carlson, 1994
  • Camhi, Jane Jerome. Women Against Women: American Anti-Suffragism, 1880–1920. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson Pub., 1994. ISBN 0-926019-65-1
  • Goodier, Susan. No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement (University of Illinois Press; 2013) 272 pages; argues that antis were not against women's rights, but saw the female domestic role as threatened by masculine political responsibilities.
  • Harrison, Brian Howard. Separate Spheres : The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain. London : Croom Helm, 1978.
  • Nielsen, Kim. How Did Women Antifeminists Shape and Limit the Social Reform Movements of the 1920s?. Binghamton, NY: State University of New York, 2004 (electronic resource).

Primary sources[edit]