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Suffs vs Antis: The Long History of the Nineteenth Amendment (June 2020): Antis

by Duncan R. Jamieson


When Tennessee became the thirty-sixth and final state needed for ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve states remained (there being only forty-eight states in 1920) that had not ratified it. Their governments either refused to call a vote or vetoed the amendment outright. While it might seem obvious that governments controlled by men had little interest in sharing power, a significant portion of women opposed suffrage. Known as the “Antis,” they viewed the “Suffs” as afflicted with “the feminist fever.” While not all Antis belonged to the middle and upper classes, they did want to protect what they viewed as their gendered interests, which they believed, rightly or wrongly, would end with the right to vote. Mostly married to wealthy, influential men, these women used their leadership skills, honed through a variety of women’s clubs and organizations geared toward social reform such as temperance to argue their case. Though they railed against the idea that suffrage would force women into the dark and dirty world of political machinations, they used all available political strategies to avoid political engagement. Susan E. Marshall examines this dichotomy in Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign against Woman Suffrage.

Thomas Jablonsky uses the Antis catch phrase as his title in The Home, Heaven and Mother Party: Female Anti-Suffrage in the United States, 1868–1920 to explore the movement. As he elaborates, these were women who were comfortable in their separate sphere, centered on homemaking and motherhood. They formed the core of the Antis, believing that enfranchisement would destroy their preferred nineteenth-century world of homemaking, women’s clubs, charity organizations, and temperance societies. Their leaders belonged to the elite segment of society, married to men who dominated local, state, and national politics. Neither the wives nor their husbands supported any change in the status quo.

Jane Jerome Camhi, in Women against Women: American Anti-Suffragism, 1880–1920, addresses how inflaming the public with fear mongering, misinformation, and the threat of losing protected rights and privileges, combined with States’ Rights, led the anti-suffragist movement. States’ Rights was a particularly strong issue in the South, where politicians and activists feared the federal government’s encroachment. Feminism and suffrage began fifty years before the Antis coalesced in the 1890s, reaching their peak between 1895 and 1907. Generally urban, wealthy or at least comfortable, native-born, Republican, and Protestant, the Antis believed granting women the right to vote would be a disaster for both women and society. It is important to note that a similar constituency used the same tactics to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

Interestingly, despite much focus on the role of southern states in this debate, New York State also played a key role in opposing woman suffrage, as Susan Goodlier explains in No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-Suffrage Movement. The Antis supported “patriarchal domination,” but ultimately failed in their mission to uphold this vision as they did not mount as creative a campaign as the suffragists, who won the right to vote in the state in 1917. In those states that had already legislated woman’s suffrage, Antis were encouraged to be politically active to defeat the Nineteenth Amendment. Once passed, however, most Antis saw the value of the franchise and used it to achieve other goals.

Works Cited