Women’s Suffrage: A Temperate Movement

By 1832, around 200 Temperance society clubs had been founded in Vermont alone. Temperance societies became a new social arena in which women could flex their political influence. The temperance movement was often a women-led movement; freedom from alcohol and abusive or neglectful men were major themes. The evolution toward Federal Prohibition is a facet of suffrage and the wider women’s movement in the 20th century. Even the ratification of the 19th Amendment in Vermont, granting women the right to vote, was tied to fears about Prohibition.

Above image: The Weston, VT chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1884. Courtesy Vermont Historical Society.

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The Women’s Christian Temperance Union

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Vermont was founded to advocate against alcohol. They embraced the suffrage movement in the 1880s partially on the belief that most women would vote for further prohibition of intoxicating liquors.

In 1888, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Vermont passed a series of “Resolutions Relating to Women’s Rights, Temperance, and Other Reforms.” In them, the lines are blurred between temperance as the main issue and all sorts of other issues related to the well-being of women, including tobacco use, universal kindergarten, and women’s suffrage.

A cooperative effort between the Vermont Women Suffrage Association and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union actually succeeded in granting tax-paying women the right to vote in municipal elections in the late 1880s and would continue to advance bills in every congressional session up to 1917.

Image: Woman’s Holy War. Grand charge on the enemy’s works. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Photograph. ca. 1874. Library of Congress.

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Ratifying the 19th Amendment in Vermont

Vermont could have been the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1919, but Percival Clement, Vermont’s governor at the time, refused to call the Legislature back into session to vote on the Amendment. A staunch anti-prohibitionist, Clement feared that enfranchising women would lead to a return to temperance in Vermont.

During his unsuccessful 1902 campaign for governor, Clement had framed prohibition as an issue of personal choice, not one to be legislated by the state. While he did not win the governorship in 1902, he did help turn the tide of public opinion against statewide prohibition. In a 1902 speech, Clement said, “The Prohibitionist, while he is not always able to control himself even in the matter of drinking intoxicating liquors, seeks to control his neighbor, not by precept and example, but by argument and moral suasion – that process is too slow to suit his ideas of progress, and besides sometimes his neighbor tells him to mind his own business – but the prohibitionist seems to think it is his business to attend to that of his neighbor …” Instead of making history, Vermont did not ratify the 19th Amendment until February of 1921.

Image: “High License-Local Option, Honest Politics,” Broadside. Boston, 1902. Courtesy Vermont Historical Society.

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Annette Parmelee

Women who got their start in temperance societies often moved on to advocate for women’s suffrage. Many women, specifically white American women, in the temperance and suffrage movements viewed both issues as being connected to their role in the home.

Annette W. Parmelee, one of Vermont’s primary suffrage organizers during the early 1900s, was also heavily involved in temperance and prohibition work. She gave speeches connecting the issues, arguing for federal prohibition and against alcohol as a medical treatment. Parmelee was trained as a nurse and a teacher. She became known stateside by writing forceful letters and giving impassioned speeches. With her pointed attacks through letters to the editor of “wet” newspapers across the state, the local press referred to her as the “Suffragette Hornet.”

Image: “Annette Parmelee” Broadside Poster. Randolph Suffrage Club, 1914. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

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