A very modern-looking Columbia, dressed in a becoming flapper style, adorns the cover of Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on October 2, 1920. Her message? “Don’t Forget! Columbia has her eye on You and expects You to vote for the Good of the Nation” (Columbia being the traditional female personification of the United States).
Her message had special meaning, given that women had gained the right to vote just months earlier, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified on August 26. Women were about to cast ballots in a presidential election for the very first time, the fruit of an epic political struggle that American women began way back in 1848.
Over the decades, myriad arguments had been advanced both for and against women’s suffrage. Some opponents to suffrage argued that political participation would degrade the female sex; others worried it would quickly lead to a government by females. And of course it was argued that woman suffrage was contrary to the vision of the Founders, as laid out in the Constitution. Americans of the Progressive era understood that the female vote would inevitably alter the dynamics of American politics–they just didn’t know how.
Suffragists responded partly by arguing that women would have a civilizing effect on political life, an attitude that Leslie’s get-out-the-vote appeal was eager to prove. As it turned out, newly enfranchised women voted in far smaller numbers than did men. Not until 1980 would the size of the female vote exceed that of males. Even today, it’s unclear how the female vote as such will influence the outcome of the current campaign.
Cast your vote for the good of the nation this Super Tuesday.
Image: Drawing by [William] Haskell Coffin
from this source.
Great research ! You mentioned that the female vote didn’t exceed the male vote until 1980 but do you know when they were relatively close ?
I don’t really; my understanding is that it took decades for voting to become a habit among women once they had earned the right. But once they attained parity with men around 1980, they have voted at higher rates and in greater numbers than their male counterparts.
In 1920, the winning candidate was Warren G. Harding, who rose to power by being a joiner and letting political bosses direct his career. His administration was plagued with scandal (though he kept his sense of humor: ” My . . . friends . . . they’re the ones keeping me walking the floors nights.”) He died of an apparent heart attack after 2 years in office.