Dora Marsden and the Wrath of Antis

The second decade of the 2000s marks a near century of near-universal woman suffrage. But there was a time when woman suffrage was not universal, or universally desired. Some opposed woman suffrage because it went too far, others because it didn’t go far enough. Ellen Key and A. J. George were among the former, Dora Marsden among the latter.

Ellen Key (1849 – 1926) “[was never] opposed to woman suffrage, but only to the suffragists’ method of twisting it to fresh oppression of individual women and of woman’s own nature” according to Ellen Key: Her Life and Her Work by Louise Hamilton Nyström (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1913). In Love and Ethics (New York: B. W. Huebsch 1911) Key wrote…

[It] must still be insisted that the gains to society is nothing if millions of women do the work that men could do better, and evade or fulfill but poorly the greater tasks of life and happiness, the creation of men and the creation of souls. To fulfill these tasks properly women require the same rights as men, and until they have obtained these rights “feminism” has still all its work before it. But in proportion as woman acquire the right of suffrage, using this word not merely in its narrow political sense, but in all senses, the right of choice or selection in general – in proportion as they acquire this right they must learn to use it in the field of life. They must learn to know that their power is greatest in those provinces in which “imponderable” values are created, values which cannot be reduced to figures and yet are the solve values capable of transforming humanity.

Mrs. Andrew J. George of Brookline, Massachusetts addressed the United States Senate in opposition to woman suffrage on April 19, 1913. She also wrote several anti-suffrage pamphlets.

The quote from Dora in the second set of articles below comes from The Freewoman for November 23 1911 (Volume 1, Issue 1). The essay was called “The Bondwoman,” which I take to mean the opposite of ‘the freewoman’ (which in turn was not at all the same as being a suffragist, a suffragette or a feminist).

Anti-suffrage in the news a century ago…

Wrath of Antis is Stirred by Charges that They Use Questionable Tactics. Suffrage Foes to Keep Up Vitriolic Attacks

Cincinnati Enquirer of June 1 1914

Because the New England women’s suffrage Association and it’s forty-seventh annual meeting accused of the anti-suffragist of “the tactics of the polecat went badly frightened,” the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage is up in arms.

The end his report to the New England suffer just passed a resolution at their meetings, saying: “these are questionable tactics.”

The antis reported that the New England suffragists passed a resolution at their meeting, saying: “We denounce as a gross slander the charge of the anti-suffragist that equal suffrage means loose morals; and we protest especially against their attributes into prominent women’s statements which those women have been physically disclaimed.”

In commenting on this, Mrs. George, the leading platform speaker among the antis, says: “This is perhaps the most extraordinary resolution ever adopted by a public assemblage. Is this ‘woodsy’ metaphor a foretaste of the amenities in which political women will deal? These suffragists should not condemn their opponents, but should hasten to withdraw from the suffrage platform those who are preaching feminism. The resolution resolutions [sic?] should be aimed at the suffragist-feminists who are giving daily evidence of the tendency of the younger suffragists to work for ‘the social revolution’ promised by Mrs. Harper Cooley. A New York daily under date of May 26 quotes the Secretary of the National Suffrage Association as defining feminism as the rebellion against being ticketed and treated as somebody’s female relative. If this rebellion does not involve a social revolution what does it promise?

“Ellen Key and Dora Marsden are not antisuffragists in the sense that they oppose woman suffrage. They look upon woman suffrage as a part of this social revolution. Ellen Key pleads for the woman only as the mother of the child. Dora Marsden says, ‘The cult of the suffragists takes its stand upon the weakness and dejectedness of the conditions of women. The free woman’s concern is to see to it that she shall be in a position to bear children if she wants them, without soliciting assistance from any man, wherever he may be.’

“The feminists are the logical suffragists, who have the intellectual honesty to declare that you cannot change everything and leave everything unchanged, who seek the ‘social revolution’ and acknowledge the means by which they will bring it about, and these means include, although they may stop at such woman suffrage.”

And from the Atlanta Constitution of May 31 1914 (the Houston Post of July 18 1914 repeats the second paragraph):

There is a danger that, in the minds of the few people, there may exist to some confusion as to the relation between the so-called “feminist movement” and equal suffrage. The latter has always repudiated any connection therewith. As one of the distinguished leaders in national suffrage works said: “I do not know what this feminist movement is and I do not believe anyone else does.”

Ellen Key and Dora Marsden are two of the most conspicuous feminists of the world. Both are anti-suffragists. Ellen Key has never announced yourself the suffragist. Dora Marsden was, however, an active member of Mrs. Pankhurst association, the Women’s Social and Political Union. When she left the organization she wrote a frank article in The Freewoman – a magazine of which she was one of the editors – on the futility of the women’s suffrage movement. Since then, she has become an anarchist. These facts would seem to disprove the contention of certain anti-suffragists that suffragist and feminist are synonymous terms.

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Filed under 1845-1945, Dora Marsden, Historical Work, Trevor Blake