This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
The movement toward women’s suffrage had many obstacles, including the formation of the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage (NAOWS), a group of women who believed that men only should have the right to vote, and the push for African Americans rights further angered the group.
Formed in New York in 1911, NAOWS was the most popular anti-suffrage organization in northeastern cities. The group had influential local chapters in many states, including Texas and Virginia.
Led by Josephine Dodge, the founder and president, the NAOWS believed that women’s suffrage would decrease women’s work in communities and affect societal reforms, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Active on a state and federal level, the group also established a newsletter, Woman’s Protest (reorganized as Woman Patriot in 1918), that was a bellwether of anti-suffrage opinion.
In 1918 the NAOWS moved its headquarters to D.C., where it operated until its disbandment following the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Encyclopedia Britannica noted.
Woman Patriot continued to be published through the 1920s, generally opposing the work of feminists and liberal women’s groups.
“When it comes to women not wanting women to vote, I have to think it is a case of self-hatred and low self-esteem,” Elizabeth June, a writer, producer and co-founder of SilverLox Films, told The Informer. “Since the United States of America has never had a female president, yet so many other countries have had female leaders, I tend to think it’s an American thing. It also does not surprise me that The National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage in 1911 was also further angered by Black people wanting to exercise the right to vote.”
For jazz vocalist Virginia Schenck, it’s hard to imagine that in 1911 and throughout the 1920s that there would be a group opposed to women having the right to vote.
“My grandmother, a schoolteacher and mother of two, was a suffragette in Philadelphia in the 1920s,” Schenck said. “While NAOWS supporters may have followed the thought that their husbands were voting on behalf of the family, I doubt seriously that this was the prevailing thought in my grandparents’ home.
“Not all families are unified on their voting record. I know my own family is a panoply of thought,” she said. “Another American hurdle remains to assist our non-English-speaking citizens and current immigrants with the right to vote. These challenges fueled my fire to voice myself through my music and recording of the song ‘Battle Cry.’”
Alexandra Allred, an adjunct professor in kinesiology who is working on a textbook on women’s sports that’s heavily linked to history and paying homage to early suffragists and abolitionists, said early women suffragists brought about a greater economy, human rights movement, stronger unity and national pride.
“Today, we see how the archaic belief system of a few bad people can and are reversing things, bringing about a division we’ve not seen since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pushed for social justice,” Allred said. “Just as suffragists and abolitionists faced fear-mongering, campaign-smearing tactics by those afraid of losing their standing in society, it is happening again.
“I see early suffragists and abolitionists as athletes,” she said. “Despite tremendous adversity, they had the determination, the stamina, the grit of the most hardened athlete.”