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Penrose Library Blog

Presidential election 1916

On October 11, the Fivethirtyeight blog predicted starkly different outcomes of the 2016 US presidential election if only men voted versus if only women voted. This sparked many reactions, including the trending of the hashtag #repealthe19th on Twitter. It’s worth noting, though, that in fact some women in the United States had the right to vote before the 19th amendment to the Constitution became federal law on August 26, 1920. The presidential election of 1916 is an interesting case for the analysis of gender in voting trends. A 1916 article in the Ladies’ Home Journal presented the potential significance of the women’s vote:

“Four million women will have the privilege to vote for a President of the United States this year… These four million women represent twelve states, which cast ninety-one ballots in the electoral college which elects the President. As a President must receive two hundred and sixty-six electoral-college votes necessary to a choice, the twelve equal-suffrage states represent little more than one-third of the total necessary to a choice. At the last Presidential election, in 1912, just one-half, six, of the present total of states gave the privilege to women to vote, and those states cast only thirty-seven electoral votes… Some revealing results will come from women’s votes this year, and they will tell much as to how large a part of the women in the states where they can vote really care about it to the extent of actually voting.” [1]

The states where women could vote in 1916 were mostly in the West: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois (only in the presidential race, not for congressional races), Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. As the Ladies’ Home Journal quotation indicates, there was very strong interest nationwide in women’s votes. The sitting president Woodrow Wilson had opposed granting women suffrage on the federal level, although he had voiced support for it on a state-by-state basis in 1915 and 1916 and had ensured that the national Democratic platform endorsed woman suffrage. [2] His opponent, Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes, endorsed a national amendment for suffrage.

In the run-up to the 1916 election, a group of suffragists led by Alice Paul organized the National Woman’s Party, whose members would be enfranchised women, and whose goal was to promote a national amendment on suffrage. [3] In the spring of 1916, the campaign train (dubbed the “Suffrage Special,” the “Petticoat Special,” or the “Golden Special” for the wealth of the women who were working there) brought suffragists West to campaign for their issue. Supposedly the National Woman’s Party was independent, but the participation of many of its founders in earlier protests against the Democratic party for its dismissal of a federal amendment in favor of woman’s suffrage in 1914  meant that its goals were associated with Hughes and the Republican party.

women1916

The sun. (New York [N.Y.]), 12 Nov. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030431/1916-11-12/ed-1/seq-49/

Of the twelve suffrage states, only two went to Hughes (Illinois and Oregon), and women’s votes were viewed to have helped in Wilson’s victory in Kansas, and in other states including California. The 1916 election also saw the election of the first woman to Congress, Republican Jeannette Rankin, who represented Montana from 1917 to 1919. For those who like to play with statistics, there is an interactive map of the 1916 presidential results.

The outcomes of women’s votes in the 1916 presidential election were seen as surprising:

“On July 15, say, it would have been hard indeed to find a political prognosticator who would have believed the women’s votes would win for Wilson. It seems they did. Wilson was against the Anthony amendment; Hughes was for it; and the great organized women’s forces were determined to show their power by punishing Wilson. Instead, their women voters supported him.

There is basis for a mild suspicion that the ladies who run the suffrage movement from a New York headquarters have not quite grasped the idea that is lodged in the pretty heads of the ladies over on the other side of the country who actually have a vote, and are using it to suit themselves.” [4]

We’ll close with a 1916 post-election day editorial from the Tacoma Times.

Ornery Women

Women are contrary.

They’re so contrary, darn ’em, that if a candidate’s supporters tell stories against the other fellow and the stories turn out to be lies, they’re as likely as not to vote against the candidate whose supporters told the stories.

And unjust criticism is likely to swing their sympathies–and their votes–to the person criticised.

And if you try arguments–like that one about “democrats and Hard Times,” “Republicans and Prosperity,”–they go off by themselves and think and talk it over until they see through it and come back at you with “How about the hard times in Roosevelt’s administration?”

And if you try stampede methods, like sending a Golden Special all through the west to tell ‘em how to vote, they stampede in the other direction.

This thing of women’s voting is fierce! If it keeps up, it isn’t going to be possible to tell anything about a candidate but the truth; or criticise him except when he deserves it; or use money when your arguments give out; or do the voters’ thinking for them; or anything!

And what’ll become of the professional politicians and dust-throwers and mud-slingers then, eh?

They’ll be out of jobs, that’s what! And the country’ll have to get along without ’em; and serve it right, for letting women vote! [5]

Works Cited

[1] “How Many of the Four Million Will Vote?” Ladies Home Journal 33, no.4 (1916): 12, ProQuest Women’s Magazine Archive.

[2] Kendrick A. Clements and Eric A. Cheezum, Woodrow Wilson (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2003), 119.

[3] Christine A. Lunardini, From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910-1928 (New York and London: New York University Press, 1986), 88.

[4] “Surprises in the voting,” Washington times (Washington [D.C.]), 10 Nov. 1916: 8, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1916-11-10/ed-1/seq-8/.

[5] “Ornery Women,” editorial, Tacoma times (Tacoma, WA.), 10 Nov. 1916: 4, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1916-11-10/ed-1/seq-4/.