Suffrage for All?

September 17, 2010 in 1920s-30s, Social history

There are many pioneers of women’s suffrage. My question is, how progressive were these progressive thinkers?

One of the first trailblazers for women’s suffrage in Kentucky was Laura Clay.  Clay was not only a leader for women’s suffrage in the state of Kentucky, but throughout the entire south. She founded the Equal Rights Association in Fayette County in 1888 and went on to establish the association as one of the leading groups for suffrage in the country. Equal rights evoke a sense of freedom for all. This was not the case to Laura Clay, who was strictly defending the rights of white women. Having grown up in the south, this was the typical mindset of the time. For such a forward thinker, how could this be? The opposite can be said of Sophonisba Breckinridge, a born and bred Kentuckian, who later spent her life in Chicago. Sophonisba spent her life in Chicago dedicated to social reform for all. Not only is she remembered for her social work, but also for her membership in various women’s clubs and most notably the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. Could her more progressive thought come from her move to the north, where people were more likely to have been open minded towards these even more forward thinking thoughts.

It is amazing to see the two different degrees of progressivism and put them into prospective with time and geographical reference. Clay was such a pioneer for the white woman’s suffrage, but yet still did not believe in blacks being afforded these same rights, while Breckinridge was seeking rights for all. These two women show the varying degree of progressive thinking in the early suffrage movement.

1 response to Suffrage for All?

  1. I wrote an entry on Laura Clay as well and noticed the same thing you did: that although she was a staunch supporter of womens’ suffrage, she voted against the 19th Amendment to secure womens’ rights to vote.

    There is an interesting article written by Jane E. Schultz titled “States’ Rights or Women’s Rights?” that explains how white southern women opposed the initial 19th Amendment. Schultz goes on to cite such reasons as preservation of state sovreignty and the age old addage of behaving passively to the point of not taking a stand against a patriarchal system. Or, in other words, acting “lady-like.”

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