This week, I’ve been doing some background research on a pro-suffrage parade that the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association organized in Boston on October 15, 1915. Here at the Massachusetts Historical Society we hold a leaflet distributed to the marchers which will be our object of the month in July (you’ll see a link here when it goes up!)
While feminism continues to be a controversial political movement these days, only rarely do you hear people voice the now radical-seeming notion that the world would be a better place if women did not have the right to elective franchise. Less than one hundred years ago, however, exactly the opposite was true: women who sought the vote were understood to be the radical troublemakers whose quest for elective franchise would bring disaster: divorce rates would rise, domestic life would become a shambles, and the twin threats of Mormonism and Socialism would converge and destroy modern civilization .
As the Massachusetts pro-suffage activists geared up for their parade, the “antis” (as they were known) geared up for a counter-protest. As the Boston Daily Globe reported the day before the parade
In their great “victory” parade tomorrow the Woman Suffragists of Massachusetts, who expect to march with 15,000 in line and 30 bands, must pass on their line of march no less than 100 houses decorated with red roses, the symbol of the antisuffragists, and with banners appealing to the men of the State to vote against votes for women.
Hovering about the line of March, like flying cavalry seeking an opening for flank attack on an enemy column, will be many motor cars decorated with red roses, some of them as large as cabbage heads and mounted on long staffs for stems.
In many hotels maids and matrons will sell red roses and with each will give away a red card bearing an argument against Woman Suffrage.
On the streets some hundreds of boys will sell red roses and give with each a similar card.
Among the crowds that are expected to witness the parade will be many hundreds, and it is hoped by the “antisuffs” many thousands, wearing red roses.
…This is the answer of the No Votes for Women workers among the gentler sex in Massachusetts to the suffragist bid for the ballot through a great parade.
It will constitute the only organized demonstration of the antisuffragists against their sisters of the opposite camp. No effort will be made to interrupt the parade in the smallest degree or to embarrass the paraders by any attacks, direct or indirect, except that silent protect of the blushing roses that is worn on each antisuffrage bosom, be it male or female.
I am struck by the tension in this journalist’s story between portraying the anti-suffrage activists as more demur and ladylike in their approach than “their sisters of the opposite camp” and the undercurrent of threat that surfaces in the martial imagery of the motorcars festooned with red roses “hovering about the line of March, like flying cavalry seeking an opening for flank attack on an enemy column.” Note how the anti-suffrage activists are described as both male and female while the suffrage activists (which included men as well as women, notably a contingent of Harvard students) are described as “woman suffragists” and “sisters.” “Maids and matrons” as well as small boys are said to be distributing protest flowers, which evokes a sense of broad cross-class participation, and the number of 15,000 marchers is contrasted with what is hoped to be 100,000 protestors (the number of roses prepared for distribution).
The referendum on woman suffrage was defeated by a 2-1 margin statewide on November 2nd that year and pro-suffrage activists turned their attention to the nation-wide struggle for the Susan B. Anthony constitutional amendment (to become the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919). Massachusetts was the eighth state to ratify the amendment, the state house of representatives voting by an 185 to 47 margin in support of women’s right to vote.
More to come soon with the July object of the month!
1. Massachusetts Anti-Suffrage Committee. The case against woman suffrage: the most important question on the ballot at the state election, November 2, 1915. Boston: The Committee, 1915.
2. “ANTIS PLAN SILENT DEMONSTRATION AT SUFFRAGE PARADE TOMORROW”
Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922); Oct 15, 1915;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Boston Globe (1872 – 1927)
3. Hanna points out that this makes the anti-suffrage activists sound like the female mosquito women in China Mieville’s novel The Scar (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002) who descend upon male beings and suck them dry of their vital fluids. “”Like a woman bent double and then bent again against the grain of her bones, crooked and knotted into a stance subtly wrong. Her neck twisted too far and hard, her long bony shoulders thrown back, her flesh worm-white and her huge eyes open very wide, utterly emaciated, her breasts empty skin rags, her arms outstretched like twists of wire. Her legs judder insanely fast as she runs until she falls forward but does not hit the ground, continues towards them, just above the earth, her arms and legs dangling ungainly and predatory as…wings open on her back and take her weight, giant mosquito wings, nacreous paddles shudder into motion with that sudden vibrato whine, moving so fast they cannot be seen, and the terrible woman seems borne towards them below a patch of unclear air” (p. 269).
4. image credit: Head of suffrage parade, Washington, D.C.