This scholarly investigation of female antisuffragists offers a portrait more complex and more interesting than the...


SPLINTERED SISTERHOOD: Gender and Class in the Campaign Against Woman Suffrage

This scholarly investigation of female antisuffragists offers a portrait more complex and more interesting than the reticent-lady image that was endorsed by the anti's themselves. Although, as Marshall (Sociology/Univ. of Texas, Austin) cautiously notes, her ideas on female antisuffrage are ""highly speculative,"" her speculations are convincing indeed. Beginning in the 1870s and continuing even after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, antisuffrage served the ""gendered class interests"" of its members, notably the upper-class founders, who already possessed excellent, albeit informal, access to power via family connections. Not merely a front for men, it was a dynamic movement that changed its attitudes and tactics over time, and was effective enough that suffragists reformulated their own arguments to counter those of their opponents. Perhaps most remarkably, antisuffragists did all this while arguing the impropriety of women's participation in politics. (As Mary Kilbreth, one of the die-hard antisuffragists who hung on after 1920, said, she ""object[ed] to women in politics--and to myself as much as anyone else."") Throughout, Marshall seems to be making an honest effort to have the information she has uncovered shape her conclusions, and not the other way around. For example, she explores the kinship patterns of some of the movement's founders to undermine ""the myth of the isolated antisuffragist."" Examining the movement's rhetoric, she finds differences between men's and women's styles (generally, men were more threatening and women more deferential), and discovers that the rhetoric changed over time, gravitating toward new scientific arguments to support the old idea of separate spheres. Looking beyond the movement's leadership, she notes that ""an antisuffrage vote tended to be an antireform vote"" and suggests that different groups--say, urban elites and rural workers--may have had entirely different reasons for voting identically. Finally, she notes similarities between today's effective public antifeminists and their petticoated predecessors. A valuable addition to work in the areas of women's history, conservatism, and the Progressive Era.

Pub Date: July 1, 1997


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997