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After the adoption of the Federal Suffrage Amendment in 1920, women encountered major difficulties in carrying their agenda into the established political parties. This was especially true in the Republican party in New York, where political leaders were deeply hostile to that agenda. Women faced a difficult choice after the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment: should they continue their activism in separate women's organizations, or join men in partisan politics? These choices were complicated by the fact that women's organizations had generated a substantial social agenda of progressive legislation that neither the Democratic nor Republican party was likely to implement without further pressure from women.
To understand the difficulties women activists encountered when attempting to work within the established political parties after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment; to explore the conflicts between suffrage and anti-suffrage women; to understand the efforts to defeat the reelection campaigns of Senator James Wadsworth from New York in 1920 and 1926 as part of larger challenges facing suffragists after obtaining the vote.
Begin by reading the memorial from Alice Wadsworth of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to Charles E. Fuller, 11 December 1917. What arguments did Wadsworth use against the Federal Suffrage Amendment? How did she associate the proposed amendment with anti-Americanism?
Continue to explore the conflicts between suffragists and anti-suffragists by reading "Women Call Upon Wadsworth to Quit," 23 November 1919, and "Republican Women Criticise Miss Hay," 8 December 1919. Discuss the following questions: Why did the League of Women Voters oppose Wadsworth's reelection? What was Mary Garrett Hay's role in the effort to defeat Wadsworth in the Republican primary? Why were Hay's activities threatening to the Republican party?
Read "A Teapot in a Tempest," 5 February 1921. How did New York governor Nathan Miller and suffrage activist Carrie Chapman Catt differ in their attitudes toward "nonpartisanship?" How does this 1921 debate still speak to issues in American politics today?
Six years later, Senator Wadsworth was finally defeated in his next reelection campaign. Explore the mobilization of women to defeat Wadsworth in 1926 by reading "Women Will Seek Wadsworth Defeat," 20 September 1926, "Keeps Out of Senate Fight," 21 September 1926, and "Miss Hay Hits Wadsworth," 9 November 1926. How had the position of the League of Women Voters changed since 1920? What do you think may have accounted for that change? How did Hay's position now differ from the official position of the League of Women Voters?
Three-page paper assignment: Read Carrie Chapman Catt, "A Teapot in a Tempest," The Woman Citizen, 5 February 1921, and Mary G. Kilbreth, "The New Anti-Feminist Campaign," The Woman Patriot, 15 June 1921. Compare and contrast the viewpoints expressed by the authors in the two publications toward woman suffrage and women's political activism.
For Further Exploration:
To explore further the activities of New York suffragists in the campaign for a federal suffrage amendment, see "What Lobbying Tactics Did Suffragists Use to Obtain Congressional Approval Of a Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, 1917-1920?" also on this website.