"Woman Suffrage Must Be Non-Partisan": Article by Susan B. Anthony, 1 August 1896
As published in the
Selected Papers, Volume 6
© 2013 Rutgers State University of New Jersey
San Francisco, August 1 .
Los Angeles, Cal., July 31.—The different woman suffrage committees of Southern California, it is understood, are planning to do some very effective campaign work in behalf of the eleventh amendment by forming allied women's clubs to the old parties. The plan, it is argued, will be perfectly consistent, owing to the fact that the Republicans, Populists and Prohibitionists all put a woman-suffrage plank in their State platforms, and that while the Democracy refused this, many of the delegates from this end of the State favored it and are staunch supporters of the movement. It is considered "good politics" to work in connection with instead of independent of the present organized political parties.1
The plan of action proposed in the above item from Los Angeles in yesterday's Call would be most disastrous to the woman's suffrage amendment.2 Every one must see that for a part of the suffrage women to thus ally themselves with the Republican party, another portion with the Democratic party, another with the Populist, another with the Prohibition, another with the Nationalist, and yet another with the Socialist Labor party, would be to divide and distract public thought from women as suffragists to women as Republicans, Populists, etc. To do this may be "good politics," for the different political parties, but it would surely be very "bad politics" for amendment No. XI. It doesn't need a prophet to see that "allied clubs to the old parties" will turn the thought of the women themselves to proselyting for members to their respective political party clubs instead of each and every one holding herself non-partisan, or better all–partisan, pleading with every man of every party to stamp "yes" at amendment No. XI, not for the purpose of insuring success to his party at the coming election, or to win the good will of the women of the State for future partisan ends, but instead, pleading with every one to thus vote that he may help to secure to all the women of California who can "read the constitution in the English language" their citizen's right to vote to help the political party of their choice in all elections in the good times to come.3
Of course each of the political parties, old and new, would be glad of the help of the women throughout this fall campaign, but who can fail to see that the women who should join one alliance would thereby lose their influence with the men of each of the other parties. They would at once be adjudged partisans, working for the interest of the party with which or to which they were allied. Women of California, you cannot keep the good will and win the good votes of all the good men of all the good parties of the State by allying yourselves with one or the other or all of them! You must stand as disfranchised citizens—outlaws—shut out of "the body politic," humble suppliants, veriest beggars at the feet of all men of all parties alike.
The vote of the humblest man of the humblest party is of equal value to that of the proudest millionaire of the largest party. And every woman must see that if a vast majority of the women of the State should, under the Los Angeles plan, ally themselves to either one of the parties, the men of all the others might well take alarm lest their party's chances of success would be vastly lessened if women were allowed to vote and so from mere party interest, be influenced to stamp "no" at amendment No. XI.
It is very clear to every student of politics that what is "good politics" for political parties is "mighty poor politics" for a reform measure dependent upon the votes of the members of all parties. It will be time enough for the women of California to enroll themselves as Republicans, Democrats, Populists, etc., after they have the right to vote secured to them by the elimination of the word "male" from the suffrage clause of the constitution. And to work most efficiently to get the right to become a voting member of one or another of the parties of the State women must now hold themselves aloof from affiliation with each and all of them.
The State Suffrage Campaign Committee has settled upon a wise plan of campaign, and the women of every county should advise with it, by letter or by calling at the headquarters, 564 Emporium building, this City.4 A good plan well executed is sure to bring victory. To this end it is to be hoped that the women of every one of the fifty–seven counties will hold themselves all–partisan and act in harmony with the State Central Committee.
Susan B. Anthony
San Francisco Call, 2 August 1896.
Prepared for the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 6, An Awful Hush, 1895 to 1906, ed. Ann D. Gordon (New Brunswick, N.J., 2013). ©Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
1 The entire article from the San Francisco Call, 1 August 1896, is reproduced. It is not obvious what triggered the report, though daily news of organizing in the Los Angeles area appeared in the city's Herald. (Los Angeles Herald, 28 July, 3 August 1896.)
2 Susan B. Anthony "was startled this A.M." by the item in the Call. "Wrote a protest—tried to get Call to put it in as an Editorial," she continued in her diary, "but Mr Boyce refused—so it went in over my name—& he promised to send its substance off by Associated Press." Recalling the partisan strife among woman suffragists in Kansas in 1894, she concluded, "It will beat the dogs if we are to have The Kansas Kilkenny cats played over here in California—suffrage forces joining the political parties!!!" Kilkenny cats fight so hard they eat each other up. (Susan B. Anthony diary, 1, 2 August 1986, in Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon, eds., Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, microfilm edition, reel 34, frame 877.)
3 In 1894, Californians amended their state constitution to further restrict male suffrage (the constitution already barring natives of China from the franchise) with an educational qualification. The amendment stated that "no person who shall not be able to read the Constitution in the English language and write his name, shall ever exercise the privilege of an elector in this State." Had the woman suffrage amendment been ratified in 1896, the same restrictions on qualifying to vote would have applied. (California Const. of 1879, art. II, sec. 1, as amended 6 November 1894.)
4 The Parrott Building was known also as the Emporium.