Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
Caroline Fairfield Corbin started the Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Woman Suffrage in 1897. Corbin originally supported woman suffrage but then later, realizing it was full of false ideals, rejected it and fought to stop it. She wrote a series of pamphlets and booklets that clearly lay out the anti-suffragist philosophy.
Corbin was fervently anti-socialist and she, like many other anti-suffragists, viewed suffragism as a tenet of socialism. In 1901 she wrote that socialism had “taken a decided hold upon the intellectual life of the Nation,” and that industrial and political emancipation of women is “part and parcel of all complete Socialistic schemes.” She makes a case for the suffragist cause in the U.S. growing out of an intellectual climate sympathetic with the revolutionary climate in Europe. Corbin recognized that not all suffragists were socialists, but she was adamant that suffragism’s roots were grounded in socialism and that many of its leaders were socialist in their thinking:
Its advocacy of equal industrial rights, its determined attempts to obliterate all differences between the sexes in matters of education and employment, and its frantic setting up of the standards of independence between men and women, in place of that mutual dependence upon each other which is the only possible status in the marriage relation, and the corner stone of the home, all distinctly identify it with its Communistic source.
In a 1908 pamphlet she reminds the reader that 1848, the year of the Seneca Falls convention, was the same year as “the attempted socialistic revolution in Europe…”
“Absolute ‘equality’ of all human beings is all that will satisfy the socialistic requirements. It was from this sentiment, so widely diffused in Europe in the middle of the last century, that the woman-suffrage movement in America took rise,” she wrote.
Corbin, like the other antis quoted in Part 1 of this post, saw woman’s most important work as the work done in the home, especially shaping the morality and character of future generations. Socialism, however, seeks to remove woman from the home to the neglect of her family; the state then takes over to educate her children according to the ideology of the state. This has the effect of destroying family bonds and religious belief and ultimately, destroys society so a new society can rise up in its place. Destroying the traditional role of woman as keeper of the home is key to the socialist dream. Corbin and similarly conservative-minded antis recognized that woman suffrage fit well into the socialist scheme.
As was discussed in the post The Total Anti-Feminist, there is much to be found in the writings of the suffragists to back up Corbin’s views. They rebelled against orthodox Christianity, talked about the state taking over parent’s role in educating their children, and spoke of women as a class, not as a sex, that must rise up against its oppressors for a new, better society to form.
One of the most prominent anti-suffragists was Helen Kendrick Johnson, author of the anti-suffrage book Woman and the Republic, published in 1897. In Woman and the Republic, Johnson takes the suffragists to task and shows in scholarly detail that many of their claims are fraudulent. For example, suffragists claimed, as do feminist historians, that the woman suffrage movement was a logical outgrowth of the anti-slavery movement. What is glossed over is the dissension that suffragists caused in the abolitionist movement by insisting on pairing the two causes. This was what led to the early split in the suffragist movement, and where the famous utterance, “This is the Negro’s hour,” comes from. The suffrage movement actually hindered the anti-slavery movement by imposing upon it an agenda of women’s rights.
Johnson illustrates that the considerable progress for women in legal status and educational and professional opportunities happened independently of suffragist agitation. She lays out for the reader that women distinguished themselves throughout the 19th century during the civil war and in major philanthropic and reform efforts. Suffragism, she explains, was not the cause of the good that women were doing in society. Further, suffragists worked to the detriment of true progress for women because they were advocates for relaxing divorce laws, attacked the complementary roles within traditional marriage and worked to displace woman from her well-founded role as wife and mother.
How absolute is that dividing line between woman’s progress and woman suffrage, we may realize when we consider what the result would be if we could know to-morrow, beyond a peradventure, that woman never would vote in the Unites States. Not one of her charities, great or small, would be crippled. Not a woman’s college would close its doors. Not a profession would withhold its diploma from her; not a trade its recompense. Not a single just law would be repealed, or a bad one framed, as a consequence. Not a good book would be forfeited. Not a family would be less secure of domestic happiness. Not a single hope would die which points to a time when our cities will all be like those of the prophet’s vision, “first pure and then peaceable”.
In Woman and the Republic, Johnson critiques in detail the main texts of the suffragists—the Declaration of Sentiments and the History of Woman Suffrage, as well as The Woman’s Bible.
In her critique of the Declaration of Sentiments Johnson includes the suffragist account of creating the Declaration as told in the History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony:
“The reports of Peace, Temperance, and Anti-Slavery conventions were examined, but all like seemed too tame and pacific for the inaugurations of a rebellion such as the world had never before seen. We knew women had wrongs, but how to state them was the difficulty, and this was increased from the fact that we ourselves were fortunately organized and conditioned. … After much delay, one of the circle took up the Declaration of 1776, and read it aloud with spirit and emphasis, and it was at once decided to adopt the historic document, with some slight changes. Knowing that women must have more to complain of than men under any circumstances possibly could, and seeing the Fathers had eighteen grievance, a protracted search was made through statute books, church usages, and the customs of society to find that exact number.”
Johnson then writes:
In such solemnly puerile fashion did they work out a travesty on one of the most august utterances ever penned. A young man who was present remarked: “Your grievances must be grievous indeed when you are obliged to go to books in order to find them out.” He might have added, “And they must be false indeed when you have to found most of your charges on dead-letter statutes and outgrown usages and customs.”
She further points out:
The first count in the suffrage indictment against all men, but especially against those of the American Republic, reads as follows: “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The Fathers made no claim or suggestion that the suffrage was an inalienable right, or a right at all. Not only is there nothing to intimate that voting was a natural right, but from that day to this it has been the theory and the practice of our Government to control the suffrage.
Johnson goes on to discuss that voting is a granted not a natural right. She is in good company in that respect. Edmund Burke wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France: “…and as to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society.” Johnson also makes the connection between suffragism and socialism and details the links. She includes this little-known quote from Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
At a meeting of the Woman’s Council held in Washington, in 1888, Mrs. Stanton said: “I have often said to men of the present day that the next generation of women will not stand arguing with you as patiently as we have for half a century. The organization of labor all over the country are holding out their hands to women. The time is not far distant when, if men do not do justice to women, the women will strike hands with labor, with socialists, with anarchists, and you will have scenes of the Revolution of France acted over again in this republic.”
One wonders if Stanton was aware of what “scenes of the Revolution of France” looked like. (During the 10 month Reign of Terror 16,000 innocent people were guillotined, though this statistic doesn’t begin to describe the insanity of the bloodshed.)
In the History the suffragists praise the thinking and work of Frances Wright, the Scottish-born socialist. The History cites the lectures of Frances Wright in America in the first part of the 19th century as one of the three preceding causes for the demand of equal political rights for women in America. She is described as a person of “extraordinary powers of mind” in the History. Wright started a highly unsuccessful utopian socialist community, Nashoba, near Memphis. She also co-founded the Free Inquirer, a socialist newspaper, with Robert Dale Owen (son of Robert Owen, father of “Owenism” and founder of another unsuccessful utopian socialist community, New Harmony, in Indiana). Both Owen and Wright were anti-Christian, and advocates of birth control, easy divorce, “free love,” and of course, woman’s emancipation.
Johnson tears apart the document that, for feminist historians, is considered the official history of the woman suffrage movement in the U.S. Anyone interested in the history of suffragism or feminism in the U.S. should take into account Johnson’s Woman and the Republic, lest we allow historical truth to be left out and forgotten. Returning to the central theme in the anti’s philosophy—the preservation of the family and the home—here is one last quote from Woman and the Republic from the chapter titled “Woman Suffrage and the Home”: “…some of the Suffrage leaders have uttered this dictum: ‘The isolated household is responsible for a large share of woman’s ignorance and degradation.’ If this declaration does not mean that the Suffrage movement aims to tear down the individual home, it means nothing.”
Today, the home and the family have been torn down. As the later anti-feminists of the 1990s up to now have emphatically stated, feminism has led to “societal distress” and the “tangles of pathology that so many of our families have become…” (F. Carolyn Graglia, Domestic Tranquility). When Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly, authors of The Flipside of Feminism, write that “we can’t blame everything on feminists,” they mean that we can blame feminists for a lot. Anti-feminists cite feminism as a major contributing factor to what is known as the breakdown of the family.
Even the most stubborn traditional-minded conservative knows we cannot march back in time to a better time—we must move forward. We will likely never return to a time when women are not enfranchised. However, examining the ideology of the woman suffrage movement and the anti’s response to it is a useful exercise for understanding how we got to this point in society—where women use abortion as birth control while aggressively pursuing their own self-fulfillment, and where men have been belittled to the point of being deemed unnecessary (see Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men” in The Atlantic, June/August 2010) or thought of as “idiots” as a study recently published in the British Medical Journal found.
Some questions that come to mind during such an examination are, for example: Does women’s dignity and freedom depend on political enfranchisement, as the suffragists suggested? Are women happier and better off as a result of woman suffrage? Has women leaving their “separate sphere” and becoming involved in politics led women to abandon their femininity and their families? Has women’s involvement in partisan politics had a purifying effect on politics as the suffragists suggested would happen upon women getting the vote? And, the big question: Has government, society, the family, women, men, and children benefitted as a result of woman suffrage? And, a related question to end with: Was the suffrage movement a cause for the true good of men and women, or was it simply a key goal of the feminist movement whose ultimate purpose was “complete social revolution?”