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Who Was Most Opposed To Women’s Suffrage?

Who Was Most Opposed To Women’s Suffrage?


Elizabeth Cady Stanton before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections. New York Daily Graphic, January 16, 1878, p. 501

In men’s eyes, military service was the hallmark of manliness, eventually leading to political power, another pinnacle. As Civil War veterans faded from society, the rite of passage that was serving in a war was not an option for the new generation, prompting an identity crisis occurring alongside the radical changes being made in women’s suffrage. Because this radically changed gender roles, men swiftly retaliated to keep their monopoly in American politics. 

The enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment caused American men to go into a frenzy. Fearing the repercussions of something so conducive to their manhood, politics, becoming invaded by the American feminine. Victorian gender ideals of the 19th century divided men and women into two groups: women being in the home, “dedicating themselves to raising the next generation of vigorous heroes,” while men ruled the political scene. The introduction of women’s influence into politics, something so closely tied to manhood, became taken almost as a direct threat to their masculinity and societal norms.

Theodore Roosevelt’s rhetoric of American manliness perpetuated the idea of shunning femininity.
Theodore Roosevelt as Badlands hunter in 1885. New York studio photo.

Roosevelt created the image of the rough-around-the-edges, adventurous, independent Western man, one who “shuns women, searches for the ultimate adventure in order to avoid sex, marriage.”

Roosevelt standing next to the elephant he shot on safari

The introduction of a feminine influence was seen as almost toxic, unsettling not only men, but some women as well. Some used the argument that men were more level-headed and circumspective. While society of the day understood women to be “‘more tyrannical and self-absorbed than men.’”

The fear of politics becoming feminized was so great because the current qualifications to be politically influential were to be white, male, and educated. And feminization would make these qualifications obsolete.

The systemic control masculinity held over politics was quite obvious. As “policy-makers tried to legitimize their policies by presenting them as conducive to manhood,”. Women’s voices would now become heard by policymakers, introducing yet another change to how politics in America operated. People felt “when manhood was no longer valued as the basis for full citizenship and political leadership, the nation would succumb to exterior threats or crumble from within.”

As a result, making the newfound political clout women held to become feared. 

Jingoes, nationalists who favor a bellicose foreign policy, took these implications of a crumbling nation seriously, and suggested that going to war was the only way to secure American manhood. As the number of Civil War veterans decreased. The next generation of Americans became one that had not fought in a war, something almost every generation of American men before them had. Military service was a hallmark of masculinity, and a prerequisite to understanding and enacting politics virtuously.

The sunken Maine in Havana harbor

After the Maine exploded and sank, American press placed blame on Spain without solid proof. President McKinley was adamant in his efforts to avoid war, much to the public’s dismay, as in their eyes, it was dishonorable to not fight back if attacked. In the press, he was torn apart for his paucity of manliness, something his successor, Teddy Roosevelt commented on, saying he had “‘no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.”

He became called a “‘mother’s boy’” in the press due to his attempts at arbitration. Another jab at femininity. As jingoists said that “arbitration would feminize male honor.”

McKinley’s reason for avoiding war was taken from a diplomatic standpoint, not the bellicose that wanted to reinforce manliness in American politics.

Though publication of a U.S. Navy investigation report would take a month. This Washington D.C. newspaper was among those asserting within one day that the explosion was not accidental.…

McKinley’s act of arbitration became not only seen as feeble, but unchivalrous. In 1895, when Cuba recommenced their struggle for independence. Americans saw this as the perfect opportunity to step in. And give their men experience in war. The jingoes were on the prowl for an opportunity for war. And one of their manly values, chivalry, was a factor in the Cuba-Spain conflict. After a brutal Spanish general “turned fertile fields into desolate wastelands and overcrowded towns into pestilential prisons,”

American sympathy was peaking for the Cubans. This introduced the chivalric tale of America sweeping in to save this small country of oppressed people from the Spaniards.

The U.S. publicly had a more personal reason to enter the conflict, to avenge the loss of the Maine.
American cartoon, published in 1898: “Remember the Maine! And Don’t Forget the Starving Cubans!”

Jingoes linked the Maine sinking to Spain, even though no proof ever surfaced. As this news was popularized amongst Americans, the country had two options: “the choice was now fighting or dishonor.” Both the jingoes and American society at large wanted this war, which can be proved by the fact that the armed forces had to turn away volunteers due to the sheer number of men wanting to go to war. The war ended quickly, not with America liberating Cuba, but occupying the country. This made it clear where the U.S.’s intentions lay, not for the independence of Cuba, but its own self-interest to rally manhood in America. The need for validation in masculinity was so great that men felt they needed to “prove their courage and martial capacity in death-defying and, in some cases, deadly acts,” such as engaging in an unnecessary war to boost male morale at home. 

Men’s need to prove their masculinity to themselves and to society in the nineteenth century showcase the fears of having their subordinates accumulate political influence. In the late 19thcentury, the newfangled influence of women in American politics prompted retaliatory action from men in order to maintain their hold in politics and society. The Nineteenth Amendment gave a voice to American women, granting a once oppressed group a stake in society. Men did not know how to co-exist in a political sphere with women. Especially with whom they had for so long viewed as subordinates, prompting an identity crisis. This crisis prompted intervention in two wars, and occupation of Cuba. These wars and occupations became a way to deflect public attention from other women’s issues to the war cause. Preventing progress in women’s rights.

Who Was Most Opposed To Women’s Suffrage?

Written by Simran Cheema

Who Was Most Opposed To Women’s Suffrage?