Suffrage in the Champlain Valley: A Complex Movement

Women entered new political spheres in the 19th and early 20th centuries by advocating for social causes that were important to them, including abolition, temperance, and the fight for suffrage. These movements became linked with changing 19th century ideas about women’s roles in society. With the opening of the canal system in the mid-19th century, the Champlain Valley had a corridor for the exchange of new ideas about sex, gender, class, and race.

Many efforts led by women in the 19th century were touted as “Crusades,”  a term framed in Christian religiosity. There was the “crusade for women’s education,” “the temperance Crusade,” and the crusading iconography of Inez Milholland and Alice Paul’s 1913 procession in Washington, DC.

Woman’s Holy War. Grand charge on the enemy’s works. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Photograph. ca. 1874. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2003656595/.

The 19th century was marked by debates on the role of women in society. Women living in Quaker communities in the Champlain Valley exercised their agency of thought, speech, and action. While across the rest of the nation, ideas of “republican motherhood” elevated motherhood as core to American democracy. Some believed votes for women would “civilize” a corrupt political sphere, while others saw it as an improper space for the participation of the “gentle sex.”

The Temperance Movement became a popular and persuasive cause for women, who saw drinking as a threat to the domestic life over which they held claim. The temperance movement aimed first to persuade citizens to temper their alcohol consumption, but later turned to legislative efforts to halt the production or sale of “intoxicating liquors.”

“The Real Liquor Question” Temperance Flier. Vermont Anti-Saloon League, 1914. Vermont Historical Society.

Temperance societies, groups opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol, argued that intemperance was a threat to the Christian home. The temperance movement was often led by women and was characterized by strong connections to proper notions of family. Freedom from alcohol and abusive or neglectful men were major themes.

The Champlain Valley, far removed from the slaveholding southern states, overwhelmingly opposed slavery. But the perception of racial equality in the north was challenged after the Civil War, when the 15th amendment granted African American men the right to vote before white women. It created a rift in the suffrage movement between those who would not support the 15th amendment without a clause granting women the right to vote, and those who favored a gradual enfranchisement of the population through state-level organization. Apart from some very rare exceptions, women of color were mostly left out of the northern movement, including in the Champlain Valley.

This post is part of a series, Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley. Read the previous post here. This series will continues with: Vermont and the Fight for Suffrage

Famous abolitionist speaker Frederick Douglas was the only African American present at the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. He encouraged leaders like Anthony and Stanton to press not only for women’s rights but also for suffrage. He advocated the idea that, “Right is of no sex, truth is of no color.” After the Civil War, the suffrage movement split over the issue of racial equality and voting, leading to conflicts that continued into the 20th century. Douglass remained an important leader for both racial and gender equality throughout his life. However, he felt that the suffrage movement should be led by women themselves, which was unusual in the early years of the movement.

Conly, C. F, and G. K Warren, photographer. Frederick Douglass / C.F. Conly Photographer, 465 Washington St., Boston. [Between 1880 and 1890] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2018651422/.

This cartoon, which sets the 19th century women’s movement against images of Native American culture, questions ideas about modern “civilization” and progress while also romanticizing and stereotyping native peoples. Like African Americans, their role in the movement was often marginalized, especially in the Champlain Valley.

Keppler, Udo J., Artist. Savagery to “civilization” / Keppler ; drawn by Joseph Keppler. New York: Published by Puck Publishing Corporation, 295-309 Lafayette Street, 1914. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/97505624/.

The suffrage movement across the nation used novel strategies to argue for the enfranchisement of women. The “Mock Parliament” was a public spectacle in which a panel of women acted out granting men the right to vote, demonstrating the contradictions in the arguments against suffrage. This poster is for an Addison county show organized by Vermont temperance advocates and suffragists. The Bristol Harold, May 11, 1911 reports “The scene is laid in Montpelier in the year 2099, the women are in power and the men are appealing for the right to vote.”

“Public Hearing on the Man’s Suffrage Bill” Broadside Poster for Mock Parliament Show, 1911. Addison County Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

The text and images here are originally from a Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership traveling exhibit Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley, researched and written by Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. For more information about the traveling exhibit, contact CVNHP: https://champlainvalleynhp.org/.