When the 19th Amendment went into effect 95 years ago today, The Nation was already looking ahead to the deeper implications of women’s suffrage. “What Will They Do With The Vote?” asked a piece by Stella Crossley Daljord. The answer has implications for the state of American politics today, almost a century after the extension of suffrage to women.
One of the most important results of the long suffrage fight just ended is the education in the fundamentals of American social life that thousands of women have received. We have learned as much, perhaps more, in seeking the vote as we shall learn for a long time in using it. For nothing has brought so many women of different classes together on a common working basis as suffrage. True, the women who work long hours and the poor with large families have had little time for the active suffrage work done by those with some margin of leisure; but in the campaigns, with their widely conducted house-to-house canvass, we have come to know each other as we could not otherwise, and have had our eyes opened to the economic struggle in these United States. We have learned to throw to the winds the things we have been told and to reason first hand from our own observations. It is likely, therefore, that a large share of the energy formerly in suffrage work will be redirected into the channels of the labor movement. This is particularly true of the younger suffrage worker. Not so long ago, after her feminist baptism of fire, she was convinced that the ills chiefly afflicting the community were the gross inequalities of women. These adjusted, she believed, with women having a voice in government, that wars would be avoided, social evils remedied and the world generally a fitter place to live in.
But after campaigning in cities, small towns, and outlying rural districts, she begins to have grave doubts about the feminist program as a panacea for social ills, or even for the ills of women. She begins to see that perhaps the feminist program of readjustment should be but a part of a larger, more embracing program of economic readjustment. Just “Votes for Women” may not amount to much, but the votes of women cast intelligently in the struggle against the present sick economic order may make considerable difference….
It is likely that many suffrage workers will turn the energies, released from suffrage work, into reform work of a mild sort; but among the younger ones many of marked ability, genius for organization, and political acumen, especially in the “militant group,” will plunge deeply into the economic movement. Many of them, in the States where suffrage exists, have done so already and more will follow. Most of them are by nature rebels. And the influence they may wield with their large following of new voters, will be considerable.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.