Arguments in 1912 For and Against Woman Suffrage

​​​​​​Note: The following arguments were printed in the 1912 Oregon Vo​ters' Pamphlet​​.

​​​​1912 Initiative Argument in Favor of Oregon Woman Suffrage


Drawing of royal looking women: 1 on horse back with a trumpet and 2 standing behind her.
Proponents of woman suffrage used heroic illustrations to drive the movement to success. Shown here is the Official Program - Woman Suffrage Procession, Washington, D.C. March 3, 1913. Large image courtesy of Library of Congress​.
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To Every Liberty-Loving Voter of Oregon, Greeting:

The undersigned, representing as we believe the large majority of the women of Oregon, are happy to remind you that since we last appealed to you for your affirmative vote for the enfranchisement of one-half of the people, we have seen the elective franchise extended to all women on equal terms with men in our sister states of Washington and California.

We’ve come to you, believing that you will be glad to add Oregon to the constantly increasing number of equal suffrage states of the mighty West, thus making the Coast States a solid phalanx at the head of the great procession, and by increased representation giving our Coast more power to aid and protect her great and growing interests.
Suffrage is a duty that should be performed by every citizen of every state, otherwise Democracy is a failure; it is a duty that, if shirked, results in misgovernment, inequality, and injustice. Those who would evade this· responsibility, because it may entail labor, simply plead laziness. To call a government a democracy when half the population is barred from participation in governmental affairs is an absurdity.

The same arguments used in defense of depriving women of suffrage were used to keep the Romans enslaved, to keep the peasants of Europe in serfdom, to clog the progress of human liberty throughout the ages. The inequality of suffrage has been the basic principle that has ever oppressed humanity.

There is always an element that resents change. Many a serf fought to prevent freedom and many a slave opposed his own liberation. It should be the obligation of every individual irrespective of sex, whether householder or not, to have a voice in the making of our laws both civic and national. Liberty and responsibility for both sexes in public affairs will improve the quality by stimulating the study of government. Men and women can never be pitted against each other in government, because nature, which is higher than human law, has fitted them for companionship. They must help men in the uplifting of the world by making democracy and its consequent development, a realized dream.

The growth of public sentiment in favor of this movement all around Oregon has been, as you know, phenomenal.

Believing that our Beloved Oregon should and will prove that her progressive spirit is equal to that of the six equal suffrage states surrounding her, and add a seventh star to the galaxy of fully free states, we rest our case with you at the coming election. In the hope that we shall not be compelled again to make this expensive and laborious struggle for equality of rights as voters, we respectfully request you to vote "YES" for the EQUAL SUFFRAGE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT at the coming November election."

1912 Initiative Argument Against Oregon Woman Suffrage


Drawing of a little girl crying and dressing herself. Under the drawing it reads: Nobody Loves Me - Guess I'll be a Suffragette
Opponents of woman suffrage effectively employed imagery of a petulant little girl in this postcard. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)​
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To the Electors of Oregon:

Notwithstanding the repeated and emphatic defeat of woman suffrage amendments in Oregon, the proposition is again on the ballot. It was submitted to a vote in 1900 and beaten by a plurality of 2137; it was submitted again in 1906 and beaten by 10,173; it was submitted again in 1908 and beaten by 21,649; it was submitted again in 1910 and beaten by 23,795. Notwithstanding this repeated expression of the will of the people we note in the argument offered in support of this amendment a contention that those who favor it represent the large majority of the women of Oregon. We submit that this adverse vote rolled up again and again with increasing emphasis at each election is the best possible evidence that woman suffrage is not wanted in' Oregon, either by the women or by the men. The fact is that the agitation for woman suffrage is carried on by a small minority of the women of the State, who make up in activity what they lack in numbers. Let any man ask the women of his acquaintance, and particularly the women who are doing woman's work in the world, the women whom he most respects, and he can satisfy himself as to whether women want the right to vote.


It is true, as suggested in the argument in favor of this amendment, that woman suffrage has been adopted in Washington and in California. The result in Washington was brought about by a ballot title which did not advise the voters of the State of the purport and effect of the measure on which they were -voting. Woman suffrage went on the official ballot in Washington in November, 1910, under the following title:

"For the proposed amendment of Article VI of the Constitution relating to qualifications of voters within this State." 

There was a similar attempt to mislead the voters of Oregon by a false ballot title, but the attempt was exposed in the official pamphlet and by the press of the State, with the result that the amendment was defeated by the above quoted vote.​

In California the amendment providing for woman suffrage was voted on at a special election held on the 10th of October, 1911. The measure carried by the meagre plurality of 3587. The entire vote cast on this question at that election was only 246,487. This was only 63% of the vote cast in November, 1910, when a governor of California was elected. The woman suffrage amendment received 28,798 votes less than the Democratic candidate for governor received at that election and yet the Democratic candidate for governor was defeated by a plurality of 22,356. There is always an active and zealous minority in favor of woman suffrage and this minority can be trusted to get out and vote. The majority of the electors opposed to woman suffrage are less zealous on the subject and less certain to register their votes. We are confident that on a full vote the measure would have been beaten in California as it has been so often beaten in Oregon.


There is a suggestion in the argument presented by the advocates of this amendment that in the absence of woman suffrage democracy is a failure. No American woman with a proper pride in the history of her country would advance this contention. American democracy, with its century and a quarter of constitutional government, with its Washington and its Lincoln, with its security for personal rights, and its expansion of national power, is the most glorious success of the ages. Woman has had her part in all this, she has had her work to perform, and her burdens to bear. She has done her part in the home and not on the hustings, and her power for good is the greater because she has been content to be a woman and has not striven to be an imitation man.


Few women of our day have accomplished more than Miss Ida M. Tarbell. In an article in a recent magazine Miss Tarbell says:

A cartoon drawing of 4 women riding a steam roller with the word Progress printed on it. They are rolling over rocks that spell out the word Opposition.
Opponents of woman suffrage also faced powerful pro-suffrage ​imagery. Here a political cartoon shows four women driving a steam roller of progress from the West as they crush the opposition. The cartoon, which portrays woman suffrage as inevitable, appeared in Judge magazine in 1917. Image colorized for exhibit. (Courtesy of ​Library of Congress)
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"Human society may be likened to two great circles, one revolving within the other. In the inner rules the woman. Here she breeds and trains the material for the outer circle which exists only by and for her. That accident may throw her into this outer circle is of course true, but it is not her natural habitat, nor is she fitted by nature to live and circulate freely there. We underestimate, too, the kind of experience which is essential for intelligent citizenship in this outer circle. To know what is wise and needed there one should circulate in it. The man at his labor in the street, in the meeting places of men, learns unconsciously as a rule, the code, the meaning, the need of public affairs as woman learns those of private affairs. What it all amounts to is that the labor of the world is naturally divided between the two different beings that people the world. It is unfair to the woman that she be asked to do the work of the outer circle. The man can do that satisfactorily if she does her part, that is if she prepares him the material. Certainly, he can never come into the inner ​circle and do her work.”


"The idea that there is a kind of inequality for a woman in minding her own business and letting man do the same, comes from our confused and rather stupid notion of the meaning of equality. Popularly we have come to regard being alike as being equal. We prove equality by wearing the same kind of clothes, studying the same books, regardless of nature or capacity or future life. Insisting that women do the same things that men do may make the two exteriorly more alike – it does not make them more equal. Men and women are widely apart in functions and in possibilities. They cannot be made equal by exterior devices like trousers, ballots, the study of Greek. The effort to make them so is much more likely to make them unequal. One only comes to his highest power by following unconsciously and joyfully his own nature. You run the risk of destroying the capacity for equality when you attempt to make one human being like another human being."

All evidence proves that the adoption of woman suffrage brings into evidence the bold, obtrusive woman whose conduct cheapens the sex and deprives all women of a portion of the chivalry and respect which are their birthright.

Marie Corelli has well said: 

“If woman would impress man with an abiding sense of her moral and mental power and with the purity of her intellectual influence upon the time, she must begin to teach him in the nursery and school room and not at the polling booth."


In conclusion we, American women, citizens of the State of Oregon, protest against the proposal to impose the obligation of suffrage upon the women of this State, for the following, among other reasons:

  1.  Because suffrage is to be regarded not as a privilege to be enjoyed, but as a duty to be performed.
  2.  Because hitherto the women of this State have enjoyed exemption from this burdensome duty, and no adequate reason has been assigned for depriving them of that immunity.
  3.  Because conferring suffrage upon the women who claim it would impose suffrage upon the many women who neither desire it as a privilege nor regard it their duty to seek it.
  4.  Because the need of America, is not an increased quantity, but an improved quality, of the vote, and there is no adequate reason to believe that woman's suffrage by doubling the vote will improve its quality.
  5.  Because the household, not the individual, is the unit of the State, and the vast majority of women are represented by household suffrage.
  6.  Because the women not so represented suffer no practical injustice which giving the suffrage will remedy.
  7.  Because equality in character does not imply similarity in function, and the duties and life of men and women are divinely ordered to be different in the State, as in the home.
  8.  Because the energies of women are engrossed by their present duties and interests, from which men cannot relieve them, and it is better for the community that they devote their energies to the more efficient performance of their present work than divert them to new fields of activity.
  9.  Because political equality will deprive woman of special privileges hitherto accorded her by the law.
  10.  Because suffrage logically involves the holding of public office, including jury duty, and office-holding is inconsistent with the duties of most women.​"​

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