In the late 19th century, women known as antis began to organize against women who wanted the right to vote.
The antis viewed suffragists as angry killjoys who wanted to intrude on politics, the proper realm of men. They argued women didn’t need the vote because men could conduct government for both sexes. Further, they contended, the vote alone assssscouldn’t fix any injustice women suffered.
Maine native Kate Douglas Wiggin, who wrote Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, supported the antis. She told a group of women in 1912 she would have ‘woman strong enough to keep just a trifle in the background, for the limelight never makes anything grow.’
As extraordinary as it seems today, the antis got plenty of support from women.
Who Were The Antis?
Suffragists started their first national organization in 1869. It would take the antis another 42 years to form theirs. They called themselves the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, or NAOWS. They passed out pamphlets that preached, ‘you do not need a ballot to clean out your sink.’ One pamphlet included household hints such as cleaning ink spots with sour milk — along with advice to ‘not waste time, energy and money’ on voting.
Other anti-suffrage propaganda pictured men caring for babies and doing household chores while women went off to vote.
The antis had many reasons for opposing the vote. Some with wealth and social prestige feared the vote would dislodge them from their comfortable positions.
Others viewed the suffragists as dangerous radicals associated with birth control, free love and the labor movement.
Some women became antis because they feared electoral politics would erode their ability to do good works. The Progressive Era, for example, got its name from women who tried to solve social problems in clubs, hospitals and settlement houses. They supported prison reform, shorter work days, an end to child labor and improved sanitation and diet.
Josephine Jewell Dodge
Josephine Jewell Dodge had wealth and prestige, but she also spent several decades promoting day care centers for working mothers. Dodge was born in 1855 in Hartford to Marshall Jewell, a prominent Connecticut politician who headed the Republican National Committee. She married Arthur Murray Dodge, son of wealthy Congressman William E. Dodge, in 1875.
After rising to prominence for her activism, Josephine Jewell Dodge turned her attention to fighting woman’s suffrage. In 1911, members of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage elected her their first president.
As an anti, she faced accusations that she was a political cats’ paw. The suffragists, who mostly supported temperance, claimed she carried water for the liquor interests.
The suffragists, of course, met the same kind of allegation. The antis charged the suffragists fronted for corrupt male organizations like Tammany Hall.
Both sides used ridicule as a weapon. And as head of NAOWS, Josephine Jewell Dodge confronted the same kind of ridicule the suffragists endured.
In 1915, a newspaper reported the antis and the suffragists nearly rioted at a meeting before the National Democratic Committee in Washington, D.C. Josephine Jewell Dodge gave a speech that affronted the suffragists.
“Charges of bribery hurled against Mrs. Dodge met with tears, then a haughty rejoinder — altogether like a men’s political affair except for the smoke,” reported the Washington Herald.
A ‘Western woman’ shook a handful of suffrage leaflets ‘under the nose of the very dignified anti,’ reported the Herald. She shouted that Josephine Jewell Dodge received $75 for delivering her speech.
“Mrs. Dodge flushed angrily and tears filled her eyes,” reported the Herald. “Then she replied in her haughtiest manner:
“As a woman of independent means I not only have never received a cent for my services, but I have financed the work of many others.”
State Chapters of Antis
The antis, just as the suffragists had, began their organizing in Massachusetts, though much later than the suffragists.
In 1895, the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was founded by such Brahmins as Mrs. J. Eliot Cabot, Cornelia Baylis Lowell and Kate Gannett Wells. They attracted nearly 37,000 members by 1915 and had a headquarters on Boylston Street in Boston.
By 1910, the antis spread to other states, including Connecticut.
Mrs. Grace G. Markham, founded the Connecticut Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. It had branches in 161 cities and towns.
Mrs. Markham warned the ‘suffs’ had joined the Reds and wanted to incite class and race hatred.
The fight over woman’s suffrage divided many Connecticut communities, including a prominent artist colony.
In 1914, about 50 suffragists organized the Equal Franchise League in Old Lyme.
Two years earlier, 16 ladies, including art colony founder Florence Griswold, formed Old Lyme’s group of antis. Within a year the antis filled Town Hall for a speaker who denounced the suffragists. Alice Hill Chittendon explained ‘some of the undesirable results of equal suffrage already discovered.’
In January 1919, Mrs. Hermon Hubbard wrote a blistering letter to the New London Day, excoriating the newspaper for supporting the suffrage movement. She called it ‘the most radical and socialistic movement of the day.’ Six months later, she wrote a follow-up letter arguing women should stay home minding their children, ‘not running in the streets.’
New Hampshire Antis
How did antis respond in 1920 when Tennessee approved the 19th Amendment, reaching the threshold required to give women the vote?
Some antis refused to vote. But the diary of an Exeter, N.H., teenager shows a typical progression from anti to voter.
New Hampshire antis organized a state chapter of NAOWS, and Exeter formed its own chapter. Effie Tufts, an ardent anti, took her 16-year-old daughter Helen to hear two antis speak at Town Hall in 1913.
Helen reported in her diary that the meeting was ‘very good,’ and she had decided, “I’m an anti.”
In 1919, Helen’s father, state Sen. James Tufts, voted against the 19th Amendment .
“Father fought it, spoke etc, but N.H. passed the suffrage amendment 18 to 10,” wrote Helen Tufts. “Worse Luck!”
She changed her tune in 1920, when at 23 she could vote for the first time.
“Mrs. Illsley came at — and took Mother and me down to VOTE!!! My first X ever put on a ballot was for Father for State Senator.”
With thanks to the Exeter Historical Society and the Florence Griswold Museum. This story about the antis was updated in 2022.