Are Women a Menace? The Nation, 2/9/21

Document 9: "Are Women a Menace?" The Nation, 9 February 1921, p. 198.

Introduction

Viewing the confrontation between the Republican party and the League of Women Voters from the political left, the Nation magazine noted that the League had "placed itself squarely behind a program of change that included many measures not to be found in the Republican or the Democratic book of common prayer." The Nation concluded that the Governor opposed "the specific social welfare program of the League," which included "measures for the protection of maternity and infants. . . measures that represent, not radicalism, to be sure, but enlightened liberalism." The author thought that women have "certain jobs to do that will never be done through the direct initiative of the political parties," and that women "must force the attention of all the political parties upon its program and must be ready to threaten and punish and support."

Are Women a Menace?

From the beginning the League of Women Voters in both its State and its national organization set out to be a "good" organization-good, that is, in the sense that the American Federation of Labor is good, or that the National Woman’s Party is not good. It determined to be nonpartisan as a body, and partisan as individuals; to initiate and support measures of reform through the medium of the regularly constituted political parties; to avoid even the appearance of a "woman’s party." It believed in tried and true methods of procuring untried and from the conservative point of view, dubious changes in society. And although many of its members are good Republicans and deserving Democrats, the League of Women Voters placed itself squarely behind a program of change that included many measures not to be found in the Republican or the Democratic book of common prayer. So far, at least, women in politics appear able to support a gentle heresy without fearing the near approach of excommunication. But just as a new bishop may suddenly decree an end to all heresies in his diocese, so a new governor may frown on the undeserving in the political ranks. And Governor Miller has, with a frankness that deserves admiration, frowned all over the heresies of the New York State League of Women Voters and firmly excommunicated the League itself. At the annual State convention of the League, the Governor delivered an address in which he called it "a menace to our institutions" and used other words that should have a tonic effect on its membership.

Governor Miller’s attack fell into two parts. He declared himself against all organizations outside of the regular political parties which seek to exert political power; and he opposed the specific social welfare program of the League of Women Voters. It is fair to entertain certain suspicions of a public official who opposes on general governmental principles the existence of an organization and then adds that he doesn’t like its program. One is forced to wonder whether Governor Miller will oppose with equal vigor, as partisan and dangerous, such extra-party associations as the National Security League, or the National Association of Manufacturers; or, in New York, the Union League Club, which is certainly not a political party, but is admittedly political in its purposes, and partisan. We have not heard that Governor Miller has notified the Union League Club that good government and Republicanism would be better served if its members should disband.

But the League of women Voters does not stand for the same principles as the Union League Club. It has never financed an investigation of bolshevism; it has never let an Archibald Stevenson loose in the land. Instead it has supported measures for the protection of maternity and infants, for direct citizenship for women, for equal obligations in jury duty for men and women, for measures that represent, not radicalism, to be sure, but enlightened liberalism and a desire for larger opportunities for women. The League of Women Voters, nationally and in the States, has pursued its objects by the methods that other organizations commonly use-by circulating literature, by enlisting the women’s clubs, by speaking and lobbying. Dominated for the most part by those women who were classed as "moderates" in the suffrage fight, the League has never gone in for more militant activities; it has shunned spectacular tactics and has refused to be drawn to the support of any party or driven to the formation of a party of women. Its members have, it is true, flung their organized power against certain individual candidates whose record looked too black, and by doing so they have allowed an entering wedge of more militant activity.

Will they not need go further? It is manifest that the women should not and can not form a separate political party. Women who agree on social welfare programs and equal citizenship rights may well disagree on the tariff and the League of Nations. But women have, unfortunately, certain jobs to do that will never be done through the direct initiative of the political parties. Until the citizenship laws are changed; until maternity is protected and compensated; until illegitimacy is abolished and the care of all babies assured; until birth control is legalized-until these questions and a dozen more are attended to, there must be a vigorous, nonpartisan organization of women. By his fearful opposition, Governor Miller has only emphasized the need. But such an organization must not be too squeamishly nonpartisan. It must force the attention of all the political parties upon its program and must be ready to threaten and punish and support. It will discover presently that as its power grows it will be met with the whole force of intrenched reaction. Governor Miller opposed the League of Women Voters not because he is "against the women," but because he is against change. Reactionism such as his is a well-rounded philosophy; the progressivism of the women will tend to become well-rounded, too, if it survives, and their tactics will have to equal in vigor the methods that will be used against them.

In the middle of this month the National Woman’s Party will meet at Washington to decide what its future shall be. Temperamentally it is opposed to the tactics of the League of Women Voters. Hardened by years of persecution and militant opposition, the Woman’s Party looks askance at an organization which protests its impartiality and exercises too much politeness. As a matter of fact, however, the two organizations stand for much the same program; they are the Right and Left of the political feminist movement. The League of Women Voters has got a headstart as a working organization, and with every fight it makes, every time a public official condemns it, the League is likely to become more resolved in its purpose, more radical in its methods. The Woman’s Party, on the other hand, has equal political experience and organizing ability, and an amazing command of the columns of the American Press. This ability to dominate popular imagination is useful in any public cause; and the leaders of the National Woman’s Party are strategists enough to see that it should not be overdone. The organized women of the country should get together on a strong program of women’s rights-which are nothing but human rights. They should stick together on that issue even though on other questions they fly as far apart as Republicans and Socialists. They would do well to study the tactics of the Nonpartisan League, which has made its innocuous name a symbol of enormous significance. Farmers may split on the tariff or blue Sunday laws-but they stand together on the question of farmers’ rights! The women should do the same for theirs even though they may find life difficult within the fold of the old parties.

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