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Debates Over Suffrage

This slideshow contains 16 items
1
Suffrage Referendum League of Maine calendar, 1917

Suffrage Referendum League of Maine calendar, 1917

Item 5502 info
Maine Historical Society

The struggle for woman suffrage in Maine began rather quietly in 1854 but eventually was characterized by heated debates, with strong leaders and powerful groups on both sides of the argument.


2
Lucy Stone, Henry B. Blackwell, 1916

Lucy Stone, Henry B. Blackwell, 1916

Item 5491 info
Maine Historical Society

Maine's pro-suffrage efforts began with visits from some of the celebrated suffragists of the day.

Susan B. Anthony spoke in Bangor in 1854. Lucy Stone followed in 1855, giving speeches on equal rights for women in both Augusta and Cornish.

That same year, women in Portland started a women's rights society, but their efforts were soon eclipsed by the movement to end slavery.

These earliest efforts were not forgotten, and the struggle for women's voting rights resumed after the Civil War.

More than 1,000 people attended the founding meeting of the pro-suffrage group Maine Woman Suffrage Association in Augusta in 1873.


3
Suffrage cartoon, ca. 1917

Suffrage cartoon, ca. 1917

Item 5490 info
Maine Historical Society

At the turn of the twentieth century, Maine suffragists were repeatedly defeated by a strong opposition in both the community and in the Legislature.

In 1872, for instance, the Maine Legislature rejected a bill for woman suffrage, and in the following years continued to vote down all other suffrage bills, including those limiting women's right to vote to municipal elections.


4
Woman suffrage postcard, ca. 1917

Woman suffrage postcard, ca. 1917

Item 5477 info
Maine Historical Society

Early suffragists in Maine had to find solid arguments to convince their neighbors that votes for women would benefit everyone.

Images like this postcard illustrated the idea that women were the real experts on food, children and household management, and therefore the most qualified people to be voting on important policy decisions in these areas.

The suffrage movement easily won the support of many temperance leaders who assumed women would support temperance and therefore saw woman suffrage as a way to promote temperance laws.


5
Men's Equal Suffrage League of Maine brochure

Men's Equal Suffrage League of Maine brochure

Item 5468 info
Maine Historical Society

Men often were strong supporters of woman suffrage in Maine. In 1914, the first meeting of the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Maine was held at a Portland hotel.

Robert Treat Whitehouse, a former U.S. district attorney and spouse of active suffragist Florence Brooks Whitehouse, served as first president of the League.


6
Anti-suffrage stamps, 1918

Anti-suffrage stamps, 1918

Item 5470 info
Maine Historical Society

Groups opposed to suffrage for women grew stronger during this period as well. Women as well as men joined these groups.


7
Bylaws, Maine Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women, 1914

Bylaws, Maine Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women, 1914

Item 5475 info
Maine Historical Society

The Maine Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women began in Portland in 1913. It gained nearly 2,000 new female members between 1913 and 1917.

These women were most often from an elite class and often believed in a Victorian "cult of womanhood," including separate spheres for men and women and the sanctity of the home.

A number of suffrage supporters also were from the elite class and similarly believed in separate spheres for men and women, but still thought that within that sphere, women should vote.


8
Anti woman suffrage booklet, ca. 1915

Anti woman suffrage booklet, ca. 1915

Item 5473 info
Maine Historical Society

A Maine Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women publication noted:

"Opponents of suffrage believe that political life with its antagonisms, its jealousies, its excitements, its strivings would be inimical to the repose of life, which is essential to woman's nature if she would bring to her task that poise of nervous and physical strength which insures the best development of the race which she bears."


9
Pro woman suffrage political cartoon, 1918

Pro woman suffrage political cartoon, 1918

Item 5472 info
Maine Historical Society

Many upper-class women in Maine, however, believed in woman suffrage and worked for its passage.

For instance, Deborah Knox Livingston, wife of a Bangor minister, had been involved in the temperance movement and became a strong leader in Bangor and statewide.

Katherine Reed Balentine, the daughter of noted politician Thomas Brackett Reed, led the Maine Woman Suffrage Association in 1916 and 1917.

Florence Brooks Whitehouse of Portland was the founder and chair of the Maine branch of the National Woman's Party and a frequent speaker in Maine and elsewhere on behalf of suffrage.

She endured the scathing comments of other society women and became a "radical" suffragist, protesting both in Maine and in Washington.


10
Suffrage lecture announcement, Belfast, ca. 1915

Suffrage lecture announcement, Belfast, ca. 1915

Item 1151 info
Maine Historical Society

Many of Maine's most active suffragists first learned about the movement through informational meetings held throughout the state, such as the one advertised in this broadside.


11
Florence Brooks Whitehouse speech poster, 1916

Florence Brooks Whitehouse speech poster, 1916

Item 5474 info
Maine Historical Society

At the beginning of the twentieth century the suffrage movement was reinvigorated and the equal suffrage question soon became one of the mostly widely discussed topics in communities around Maine.

Organizations regularly hosted discussions and debates and both sides distributed leaflets at Grange meetings, Rotary Club gatherings, agriculture fairs, and other public events.


12
Equal suffrage contest political cartoon, ca. 1917

Equal suffrage contest political cartoon, ca. 1917

Item 5469 info
Maine Historical Society

By 1915, both the State Grange and the Women's Christian Temperance Union had endorsed suffrage.

Suffragists sponsored several street demonstrations in Portland, including a gathering of over 2,000 in Congress Square.

During the demonstrations and on other occasions, suffrage booths could be found in all of Portland's large stores.

Ocean Park in Old Orchard Beach held an annual Suffrage Day beginning in 1900.

Suffrage clubs were active in Portland, Rockland, Saco, Waterville, Bangor, Farmington and in other towns across the state.


13
Woman suffrage political cartoon, 1916

Woman suffrage political cartoon, 1916

Item 5492 info
Maine Historical Society

Efforts to win woman suffrage included lobbying to amend the federal constitution as well as state constitutions.

After many years of lobbying, Maine women finally were successful in 1917 in securing a referendum vote to amend the state constitution to allow full suffrage for women.

However, World War I started in April 1917, hampering efforts to organize support for the suffrage referendum.

In addition, because of animosity between the National Women's Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, women were not supposed to be members of both groups, which limited the ability of some supporters to actively promote the Maine referendum.

Therefore, women who disagreed with the policy formed the Equal Suffrage Referendum League and appointed Florence Brooks Whitehouse, a supporter of the National Women's Party, as chair.

The Maine Suffrage Amendment was defeated by a vote of 40,000-20,000. Only men could vote in the election.


14
Signing of Woman Suffrage Proclamation, 1917

Signing of Woman Suffrage Proclamation, 1917

Item 5471 info
Maine Historical Society

In the spring of 1919, the federal amendment enfranchising women passed the U.S. House and Senate and was sent to the states for ratification.

Senator Guy Gannett of Augusta, on behalf of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association, introduced a bill to give Maine women the right to vote in presidential elections. It passed, but the anti suffrage movement got enough petitions signed to send it to referendum, as had occurred in 1917.


15
Suffrage cartoon, ca. 1915

Suffrage cartoon, ca. 1915

Item 5476 info
Maine Historical Society

Pro suffragists feared the bill would be defeated at referendum before the state Legislature had a chance to ratify the federal amendment, even though the pro suffrage forces had enough votes in the legislature.

Gov. Milliken, who was pro suffrage, convened a special session of the Legislature on November 4 to ratify the federal amendment before the referendum vote took place.

Maine became the third New England state to ratify the federal amendment.

The referendum vote was still held and the bill giving Maine women the right to vote in presidential elections was affirmed.


16
The Torch Bearer, 1916

The Torch Bearer, 1916

Item 5501 info
Maine Historical Society

This cover, which displays a banner saying "Women's Suffrage," was produced in 1916 as part of the booklet "The Torch Bearer," written by Agnes E. Ryan.


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