*Many Populists and
Progressives were women, although they tended to focus on particular
issues. Many opposed child labour, many supported temperance, and
most of them wanted the right to vote.
*The temperance movement had existed since the early 1800s, and
although many men supported it, some of its most outspoken advocates
were women. Why might temperance be a women’s issue? (alcoholic
husbands might be abusive, absent, or unemployed (and thus unable to
support their families).
*In 1873 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded to oppose
all alcohol use (but also to oppose tobacco and other drugs,
prostitution, bad conditions for the poor, and other social
*Francis Willard, a teacher at a women’s college, became president in
1879 and held that position for 19 years. Matilda Carse joined
the WCTU when her son was killed by a drunken wagon driver, and she
built a publishing business for the Union and found other ways to raise
money for the organisation. The WTCU still exists today.
*One of the most dramatic members of the WTCU was Carrie Nation.
Her first husband had been an alcoholic who died young, but her second
husband was a minister. She was a big woman (about 6 feet tall)
and a strong one, calling herself ‘a bulldog running along at the feet
of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like,’ and what He didn’t like was
alcohol. She owned a hatchet, and would burst into saloons, run
out the patrons, and start chopping up the bar with her hatchet.
Although she did most of her work in Kansas, she also attacked bars in
Kansas City, Missouri until a judge banned her from the state.
She also made lecture tours throughout the country where she sold
*Eventually the temperance movement convinced many states and counties
to limit or outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol, and in 1919 the
XVIII Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed the manufacture and
sale of alcohol throughout the United States, although it was repealed
by the XXI Amendment in 1933.
*Just as the anti-slavery movement had helped women gain experienced in
forming large activist organisation, the temperance movement also
helped prepare women for the struggle for suffrage.
*Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman
Suffrage Association in 1869, and worked for women’s suffrage the rest
of their lives, although by the time they died (1906 and 1902), only
four states allowed women to vote. Wyoming Territory had been the
first place in the US to allow women to vote in 1869.
*By 1900, though, more women were going to college (perhaps one-third
of all college students were women), more were working, and more
middle-class women (who did not need to work) felt that they were the
more moral sex, and that only women’s votes could clean up the cities
and that they had a right to vote because public issues reached into
people’s homes (of which women were in charge). Read the quote on
*In 1900, Mary Chapman Catt was elected president of the National
American Woman Suffrage Association. Her plan was for some women
to write to their congressmen while others used referenda to try to get
local laws passed. She particularly tried to get wealthy,
well-educated women who had free time and the speaking and writing
skills needed to form a successful campaign. These suffrage
supporters were called suffragettes, and many were arrested and jailed
for protesting in public.
*Some women were opposed to the suffragettes, fearing that their
efforts were taking them away from their homes, their families, and
from other charity work that was more important. They even feared
that it would make women less feminine and expose them to all the
ugliness of politics.
*The fact that many of the suffragettes who were jailed were treated
badly or chose to go on hunger strikes upset many people, and the fact
that during World War I many women went to work while the nation’s men
were overseas, contributed to a growing sympathy for the women’s
*In June 1919, Congress passed the XIX Amendment, giving women the
right to vote in all elections nationwide. 36 states had to
ratify it before it became part of the Constitution. By March,
1920, 35 states had done so, and Tennessee was considering it.
*This was tough. Governor Albert H. Roberts supported suffrage,
and wanted to call the legislature to session to vote on it.
Technically, though, the State constitution said that no legislature
could vote on an amendment until another election had been held since
the amendment was made available for voting—thus allowing the next
election to be a sort of referendum on the amendment. However,
some of Robert’s advisors insisted that he could call a special session
of the legislature anyway, and when President Wilson, who had finally
decided to support women’s suffrage, asked him to, he did.
*On 9 August 1920, the fighting began. Some anti-suffrage state
senators were so obnoxious to their opponents that it hurt their own
side of the argument, losing them public sympathy. The state
senate approved suffrage by a 25 to 4 vote on 13 August, which put it
all up to the House of Representatives.
*Seth Walker, Speaker of the House, had pledged to support suffrage,
but at the last minute changed his mind, and put all his effort into
beating it, both in debate and through parliamentary manœuvers and
technicalities. Finally, the vote was scheduled for 18 August,
and it seemed that there would be enough votes to defeat the measure.
Suffrage supporters were told that all they could do was pray.
*The first vote was simply to table the resolution approving the
amendment, letting it die without ever being voted on. To
everyone’s surprise, it tied, 48 to 48, and thus did not pass.
Someone who had pledged to vote to table the resolution had changed his
*The legislature then voted on the amendment itself, and it passed 49
to 47. Harry Burn, an East Tennessee Republican and, at 24, the
youngest member of the House, had gotten a telegram from his mother the
night before, saying ‘Don't forget to be a good boy,’ and telling him
to vote for suffrage, and although he had voted to table it, when it
actually came to a vote on the amendment itself, he followed his
mother’s advice. At this point, Seth Walker changed his vote to
favour the amendment, so that it officially passed with 50 votes, the
number traditionally expected for constitutional issues.
*Harry Burn hired a bodyguard when he got back home, but his district
re-elected him anyway.
*Women’s suffrage was now the law of the land throughout the United
States thanks to the State of Tennessee, and women cast their votes in
1920, overwhelmingly electing the (supposedly) handsome Warren G.
Harding. This alone proved that women would not necessarily elect
the better man.