Tuesday, November 15, 2011

100 Years Ago Today: Suffering Suffrage

WOMEN DESTROY CREDIT / Oregon Official Says Suffrage Hurts Western Cities ran the headline in the New York Tribune of November 15, 1911. According to the article, the corporate counsel of the City of Portland, Oregon (Frank Salisbury Grant) had told the Major of Boston (John F. Fitzgerald[1]) that by granting women even limited suffrage western cities were doing damage to their credit ratings. According to Grant western cities that granted women partial suffrage had more difficulties raising "Eastern" capital than did similar western cities that accorded women no voting rights.

Of course, even if Grant's claim were true it still wouldn't be a good argument against giving women the vote else one is opening up the door to arguing for and against the rights of anyone[2] to vote purely on the basis of whether it would help or hinder the city in which they live to get credit. However Grant's was concerned about what was right he was concerned about what was good for business:
Especially are women juries in civil cases the cause of much concern to business men, according to Mr. Grant.[3] Their lack of training and complete absence of everything but feminine ideas concerning things they know nothing about lead many parties to civil suits to waive jury trials and rely upon a single judge's opinion, he declared.
Leaving aside the validity of either of his claims (that business men were more likely to waive jury trials in areas where women have been granted partial suffrage and that female civil juror voting patterns differ from those of male civil voting patterns) let us consider his claim that female jurors vote differently than do male jurors because "they know nothing." Perhaps female jurors were more cynical about the claims and arguments of the overwhelming male businesspersons who came before the court? Perhaps female jurors, knowing that they had little to no chance of ever opening or running a business suffer from fewer conflicts of interest in such cases than did male jurors. Perhaps female jurors were more inclined, given the socialization of the day, to think about what was right or wrong rather than what was profitable or good for business.

There is a tinge of real anger and concern in the statements of Grant. He, and many others, were becoming very concerned that sooner than later women across the United States would become fully enfranchised. That would not happen until the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment however women had been voting in some states and territories for decades. The areas that granted suffrage were not notably poorer or more badly organized than were the areas that denied women the vote.

Of course there was, even as Grant made these statements, a campaign going on in his home state to extend the franchise to women--which happened in 1912. Perhaps what Grant should really have been worried about is that his statements would be read by the men and women of Portland who would be voting in the next civic election.

[1] Maternal grandfather of John F(itzgerald) Kennedy.

[2] Even male, adult, white, American citizens.

[3] The rather "interesting" sentence construction is in the original.

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