Common 19th-Century Arguments Against Women's Suffrage, Neatly Refuted

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 12 2014 10:00 AM

Common 19th-Century Arguments Against Women's Suffrage, Neatly Refuted

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This pamphlet, entered in the Records of the House of Representatives in 1866, runs through often-heard objections to women’s suffrage, striking down each.

The document lets us see which anti-suffrage arguments were commonly advanced, 18 years after activists at the Seneca Falls Convention first asked for the franchise. According to the author of the pamphlet, people arguing against suffrage would say that women were too precious to be risked at polling stations or corrupted by politics. Opponents tended to fret over the effects of suffrage on the household, or argue that women were too silly or too different from men to vote.


There’s quite a bit of humor in the pamphlet, as the author pokes fun at men who bloviate in town meeting and complain to their wives of the difficulty of their work. Despite their foolishness, “every man has a right to express his own folly at the ballot-box, if he will,” the author writes. “Why not every woman too?” The very foundations of democracy depended upon it.

This appears to be an early version of a later pamphlet written by minister and activist Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Higginson worked for suffrage, temperance, and abolitionist causes. (He also carried on a longtime correspondence with Emily Dickinson.)

In 1882, Higginson published a better-developed version of these arguments in a book, Common Sense About Women, which is dedicated to his daughter Margaret. You can read it on the Internet Archive.


National Archives


National Archives



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The Secret Service’s Big Problems Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Oct. 2 2014 12:10 PM Women of America, Here Are the Cities Where You Can Find Marriageable Men
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
Oct. 2 2014 11:34 AM Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Putting teenage girls on trial may finally be too much for the Supreme Court.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 12:04 PM The Audio Book Club Debates Gone Girl, the Novel
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:41 AM Dropbox Recruiting Video Features Puppets and Data Privacy
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?