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How to Find Your Suffragist / Suffragette Ancestors: Were They Anti-Suffragists?

Use this guide to connect your ancestors, their neighborhoods, and/or the places you live now to a revolutionary social movement! Not just for genealogy, this guide can be used by anyone who wants to uncover "ordinary" people who changed the world.

Until the very end of the suffrage movement, your ancestors -- female as well as male -- were more likely to oppose votes for women than to support them.

Given that it took over 70 years of active struggle for women to win the right to vote, it's obvious that the majority of men (including most of our own male ancestors) were opposed to woman suffrage.

More surprising is that many women were also opposed to suffrage for their sex, and that a significant number of them actively campaigned against their own right to vote. By the 1890's, these "anti's", as they were called, even began to form their own organizations to oppose the vote. Could your ancestors have been involved with one of these "anti" organizations? 

 

 

Who Were the Women That Organized Against Suffrage?

If you can link one or more of your ancestors to the woman's anti-suffrage movement, consider it a badge of fortune: the female leaders of the U.S. anti-suffrage campaign were generally wealthy, privileged, upper-class women -- in short, the kind of women who were flourishing under the status quo and had incentives to preserve it. 

Although it's easy to scoff at these women now, historian Susan Goodier points out that most anti's were “earnest, intelligent, often educated and professional women who sincerely believed that women, and the nation-state, would suffer when women achieved political equality with men.” 

The "anti's" advanced a variety of arguments against suffrage, all based on the then-prevalent belief that men and women were fundamentally different and each had their own proper "sphere." Both women and men were anxious about upsetting the "natural" order and of losing their masculinity and femininity, respectively. Upper-class anti-suffragists of both sexes were also concerned that granting universal suffrage -- to immigrant and African-American voters, as well as educated, "well-bred" white women -- would dilute their own power. 

To appreciate these arguments in their own milieu, consider the reasons advanced for opposing the vote in the 1910's by the National Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage:

BECAUSE 90% of the women either do not want it, or do not care.

BECAUSE it means competition of women with men instead of co-operation.

BECAUSE 80% of the women eligible to vote are married and can only double or annul their husband's votes.

BECAUSE it can be of no benefit commensurate with the additional expense involved.

BECAUSE in some States more voting women than voting men will place the Government under petticoat rule.

BECAUSE it is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil which may occur.

Perhaps to make these arguments more "feminine," they were circulated in a pamphlet titled "Household Hints," which also included "cleaning tips" tips, such as "You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout" and "There is...no method known by which mud-stained reputation may be cleaned after bitter political campaigns."

Many immigrant and working-class women shared the concern that granting women the right to vote would upset tradition gender roles, and also opposed woman suffrage. But lacking the leisure and power of the organized "anti's," they were much less likely to actively participate in the anti-suffrage movement.

However grateful we may feel now that history was on the side of the suffragists, exploring the possibility that your female ancestors were anti-suffragists opens a provocative window on the past. And regardless of where your ancestors stood on the issue, it's interesting to evaluate the arguments that were advanced against a right that we all take for granted now -- arguments that have continued to reverberate in political discourse about women's rights and "proper" role down to the present day.

Use the information on the adjoining pages to explore the women who opposed suffrage in the areas where your ancestors lived; who knows what you'll find!

In New York, anti-suffragists first organized in 1894. At that time, suffragists were waging a wide-spread campaign (led by Susan Anthony) to amend the state constitution and extend voting rights to women within the state, which goaded anti-suffragists into action. The anti-suffragists collected 15,000 signatures of women opposing the amendment -- as compared to nearly 600,000 signatures in support of the amendment collected by New York suffragists.

The New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage

In New York, anti-suffragists first organized in 1894. At that time, suffragists were waging a wide-spread campaign (led by Susan Anthony) to amend the state constitution and extend voting rights to women within the state, which goaded anti-suffragists into action. The anti-suffragists collected 15,000 signatures of women opposing the amendment -- as compared to nearly 600,000 signatures in support of the amendment collected by New York suffragists.

Nonetheless, the amendment was defeated, and the New York anti-suffrage movement continued to grow in the following years. By April, 1895, a group of prominent New York City women had formed the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (originally known as the New York State Association Opposed to the Extension of the Suffrage).

The original group quickly expanded to other parts of the state, establishing auxiliaries and branches in Brooklyn, Albany, Buffalo, Hudson, Mt. Vernon, Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, Westchester, Utica, and later, in Oneida and Cazenovia.

Initially, meetings were held in members' homes. The organizational headquarters were located in New York City, where, in October 1908, office space was secured in the Engineering Societies Building at 25 West 39th Street. By 1914, the organization claimed 30,000 members.

In 1908, the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage began publishing The Anti-Suffragist, a quarterly journal that aired the views of the anti-suffrage movement and reported on suffrage and anti-suffrage events. Publication ceased in 1912.

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage

In 1911, Josephine Jewell Dodge -- who at the time was serving as President of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- resigned to establish the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. The first meeting was held at Dodge's home at 563 Park Avenue; subsequently, the national organization shared the headquarters of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. The national organization also began publication of a journal, The Woman's Protest (later changed to The Woman Patriot). 

Other New York Anti-Suffrage Associations

  • National League for the Civic Education of Women -- 25 Madison Avenue
  • Anti-suffrage committees of the City Federation of Women’s clubs -- local branches in various cities, including New York City
  • The Guidon Club -- Rochester
  • National Society for Maintaining American Institutions

To learn more about the activities of these groups, including events that may have occurred in your ancestors' neighborhoods, use these names to search in newspaper databases and consult the other resources listed on the How to Learn More page.

Image credit: Library of Congress (photograph showing men looking at material posted in the window of the National Anti-Suffrage Association headquarters)

Massachusetts was the first state where anti-suffragists organized themselves. In the 1880s, a group of women opposed to suffrage joined together in what eventually became known as the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. Its primary function was to obtain signatures for "remonstrances" against "the imposition of any further political duties upon women." These "remonstrances" -- i.e., protests -- were circulated to offset the petitions of the suffragists. In 1890, this group began publishing a journal called The Remonstrance, the official organ of the anti-suffrage movement in Massachusetts.

At least 26 other states eventually formed their own anti-suffrage organization. Among the most active were the following:

  • Connecticut Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- with numerous local branches, including in New Canaan, New Haven, and Fairfield
  • Delaware branch of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- Mary Wilson Thomson, Emily Bissell
  • Georgia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women
  • Iowa Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Maryland Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Maine Committee Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Michigan Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Minnesota Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Woman Suffrage -- Mrs. Edmund Pennington
  • Nebraska Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- Mrs. E.P. Peck
  • New Hampshire Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- formed in Trenton
  • North Dakota Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Ohio Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- formed in 1902
  • Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage -- Mrs. Horace Brock
  • Rhode Island Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Vermont Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Virginia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
  • Wisconsin Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage 
  • Southern Women's Anti-Ratification League
  • Southern Women’s League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment

Use the resources identified on the How to Learn More page to see if there was an anti-suffragist organization active in the neighborhoods where your ancestors lived.

Image credit: Harper's Weekly, February 23, 1907 (W. A. Rogers cartoon showing anti-suffragists presenting a petition to New York senators Thomas Grady and John Raines).

Anti-Suffrage Publications

Like their pro-suffrage counterparts, anti-suffrage activists published journals and other material to advance their cause, recruit members, and keep supporters apprised of meetings and events. The following anti-suffrage journals and pamphlets are available at NYPL.

Cover of The Reply, May, 1913Journals
  • The Remonstrance (some issues available online through HathiTrust)
    • official publication of the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. 
    • iarticles discuss state and municipal suffrage defeats, efforts to rescind suffrage in the Western states, the radical politics of suffrage, class distinctions between the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, benefits of the woman’s place in home and the promotion of anti-feminism. 
  • The Woman Patriot [originally The Woman's Protest] (some issues available online through HathiTrust
    • articles describe the "antics" of the suffragists, the danger of suffrage to home, family and state and inroads made on American democracy by dangerous foreign influences from abroad. 
Pamphlets and other publications

Books and articles

The following books provide an overview of the woman anti-suffrage movement:

Archival Collections

Although most anti-suffrage organization papers have not survived, there are a few exceptions, including: