The Opponents of Woman Suffrage

US Library of Congress.

US Library of Congress.

Wherever feminism reaps success or threatens the status quo, anti-feminist movements tend to arise (Chafetz and Dworkin, 37). Allied, as they often have been with other defenses of existing privilege, they can be powerful, as Genevieve LeBaron had indicated in her post here on anti-suffragists in the U.S. south. Suffrage campaigners everywhere faced determined opposition. Its threat always informed their choice of tactics and arguments. Steuter has noted that “during the period 1912-1916” in the United States, “21 state-level woman suffrage referenda came to a vote, and only six passed” (291). She also argues that “the fact that an anti-suffrage movement did not ever fully develop in Canada may have been due to the fact that the women who successfully lobbied for suffrage did not attempt to make a concerted attack on these values. Indeed, some historians have argued that the success of the suffrage movement in Canada was in large part due to its highly conservative nature”(292). Strong-Boag, however, has pointed to the authority of leading antifeminists in both French and English Canada in the same period. Men such as the humorist Stephen Leacock, McGill’s Professor of Medicine Andrew Macphail, and politician Henri Bourassa were members of the nation’s elite and their tirades found audiences. Historian Susan Mann Trofimenkoff has noted as well in her examination of one of French Canada’s leading cultural authorities, Lionel Groulx, the close association of conservative nationalism and resistance to women’s autonomy. In particular, some Catholic French Canadians associated women’s rights with the threat of secularism and modernism, which would undermine a supposedly providential mission in North America. Just as in France itself, such anti-feminists tried to portray the suffrage as foreign to the spirit of the nation (McMillan 221). In Germany and Austria, but elsewhere too, anti-suffrage arguments were also often associated with anti-Semitism (Bock 135). Neither women nor Jews were entirely fit members of the state.

While Canada had its female anti-feminists, they never wielded comparable authority to men such as Leacock, Macphail, Bourassa and Groulx. In the United Kingdom, anti-feminists were especially likely to found in the ranks of arch imperialists and were closely identified with conservative elite men such as Lord Nathaniel Curzon, one time Viceroy of India, but they also included a few high profile women such as novelist Mrs. Humphrey Ward. In Australia, an Anti-Suffrage League founded by women emerged early in the 20th century closely associated with the Conservative Party, manufacturing interests, and anti-socialist forces (Oldfield). Such anti-suffragists often argued that women had enough to do in their own homes and that the vote would destroy the essence of femininity, what American antis termed “a reform against nature” (Vacca), and lead to a political partisanship that would undermine women’s moral authority. Women also appeared among the anti-suffrage forces in Japan, where once again they were likely to be closely associated with conservative nationalism (Mackie 61) Not surprisingly, few such female antis dealt with the obvious contradictions between their own public role as opponents of the vote and the idealization of a domesticated womanhood. Ultimately, both female and male anti-feminists took for granted that their material and ideological interests depended on the defense of patriarchal privilege.


Resources & Further Reading

Bacchi, Carol Lee
1983 Liberation Deferred: The Ideas of the English-Canadian Suffragists 1877-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bock, Gisela. 2002. Women in European History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Bush, Julia. 2007. Women Against the Vote: Female anti-suffragism in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chafetz, Janet Saltzman and Anthony Gary Dworkin. 1987. “In the Face of Threat: Organized Antifeminism in Comparative Perspective.” Gender and Society. 1:1 March.33-60.

Conover, Pamela J., and Virginia Gray
1983 Feminism and the New Right Conflict Over the American Family. New York: Praeger.

Harrison, Brian. 1978. Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain. London: Croom Helm.

Klatch, Rebecca. 1988. Women of the New Right. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Joannou, Maroula. 2005. “Mary August Ward (Mrs. Humphry) and the Opposition to Women’s Suffrage,” Women’s History Review 13: 3 & 4 (2005): 561-580.

Mackie, Vera C. 2003. Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodime,nt and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McMillan, James F. 2000. France and Women, 189-1914: Gender Society and Politics. London: Routledge.

Marshall, Susan
1985 “Ladies Against Women: Mobilization Dilemmas of Anti-feminist Movements”. Social Problems 32: 348-62.

Marshall, Susan. 1991. “Who Speaks for American Women? The Future of Antifeminism.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. May. 50-62.

Oldfield, Audrey. Women Suffrage in Australia (Cambridge & N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Petchesky, Rosalind
1981 “Antiabortion, Antifeminism and the Rise of the New Right”. Feminist Studies 7: 206-46.

Steuter, Erin. 1992. “Women Against Feminism: An Examination of Feminist Social Movements and Anti-feminist Countermovements.” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. 29:3. 288-306.

Strong-Boag, Veronica. 1996. “Independent Women, Problematic Men: First and Second Wave Anti-Feminism in Canada from Goldwin Smith to Betty Steele, ” Histoire sociale/Social History 57. May. 1-22.

Trofimenkoff, Susan Mann. 1978. «Less femmes dans l’oeuvre de Groulx.» Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 32:3. 385-98.

Vacca, Carolyn S. 2004. A Reform Against nature: Woman Suffrage and the Rethinking of American Citizenship, 1840-1920. N.Y. Peter Lang.