New women of the New South : the leaders of the woman suffrage movement in the Southern States

Spruill, Marjorie Julian, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Ross, Dorothy, Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia
O'Rourke, Timothy, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia

Despite the widespread opposition in the South to expansion of woman's role and hostility to the women's rights movement owing to its early association with the antislavery movement, an extensive suffrage movement emerged in the South in the 1890s. Its aristocratic leaders were committed to social reform in the tradition of noblesse oblige, and were frustrated by their political impotence as they tried to wrest humanitarian reforms from the politicians who dominated the New South. Quite radical for their culture in regard to women's rights, these women were committed to winning widespread reform of the laws affecting women and children and recognition of women as equal and independent under the law. But despite their indignation at the powerlessness and degradation implicit in their own disfranchised state, many supported and none challenged the movement to restore white supremacy that occurred simultaneously with the southern woman suffrage movement. Indeed, this vigorous southern suffrage movement, with the full support of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, emerged in the 1890s because suffragists from both South and North believed the South's "negro problem" could be the key to winning woman suffrage. From the 1890s until 1910, the argument that the enfranchisement of women (with qualifications that would in effect restrict the suffrage to white women) iv would restore white supremacy without the risks involved in disfranchising blacks was central to the strategy of southern suffragists. After 1910 the states' rights issue became all important in the debate over woman suffrage in the South as support for the federal suffrage amendment grew elsewhere in the nation. Differences of opinion over states' rights shattered the internal harmony which had characterized the southern suffrage movement as the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference, the NAWSA, and the National Woman's Party competed for the allegiance of southern suffragists. States' rights suffragists failed in their attempts to unify southern women in a regional movement eschewing the leadership of the NAWSA and exploiting the southern politicians' fear of the proposed Nineteenth Amendment. However, the conflict over strategy strained and severed long-standing friendships within the movement and contributed to the problems it faced within the South. .

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Suffragists -- Southern States, Women -- Suffrage -- Southern States -- History

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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