Laughable excuses for denying women the vote
in keeping with this month’s theme (it’s women, in case it was not apparent enough), i have come across some interesting views concerning why women were denied the vote.
i can laugh at these rather odd reasons now, but i imagine, had i been around back then, i would have taken up the cause and probably would have been locked up for a very long time.
the british house of commons debated the question of “votes for women” no less than 18 times between 1870 and 1904.
in canada, our Parliament was not far behind; heated debates in the spring of 1918 made for some very interesting reading.
case in point - giving the women the right to vote was deemed “too unladylike”: “dear mothers and afflicted sisters, have you considered the implications of your vote, of entering into ‘the foul vapours’ of politics? We are more concerned about placing a wedding ring on her finger than putting a ballot in her hand,” railed lucien Pacaud, MP from Quebec and future high commissioner to britain.
Women were “too delicate”: charles Fournier, a liberal MP from bellechase, Que., rose in the house to proclaim “the reward offered the women of canada by the Prime Minister (borden) will become the instrument of their torture and the cause of their downfall,” he warned. “it will injure women physically.”
Women were “too weak”: the illustrious MP Fournier continued his argument stating “who shall say that at all times they (women) will be equal to the excitements of caucus rows, campaign slanders, briberies, inflammable speeches, torch parades and balloting on stormy days?”
Jean-Joseph denis, a liberal from Joliette added: “the physiology of woman, the anatomy of woman, reveals that she is in this world for the purpose of love and motherhood and not for the purpose of political strife.”
Women were “too ignorant”: MPs argued that women should not be allowed to vote because they knew nothing of science, trade, commerce, finance, the military (even though many of them were stationed overseas during the First World War, acting as nurses, ambulance drivers and clerical help) and the law. Some felt that an education test for women would be warranted (but somehow, not for men, who, i think we can agree, are not all accomplished scholars).
Voting would prove to be “too much of a distraction”: Joseph emile d’anjou, the MP for rimouski believed a “Woman’s place is not at political rallies, on election committees or in the polling booth. the ideal spot for woman is the family fireside. isn’t she, in all truth, the angel of the hearth?”
Some people believed that voting privileges for women would distract them from their roles as mothers and wives, and that they would abandon their domestic duties. Some MPs argued that women’s suffrage was a hobby for “idle society women” and that the ordinary wife did not care for such ideas (i am holding my tongue).
Giving women the right to vote would be “too redundant” (this is by far my favorite!): Some Members of Parliament truly believed to give “women those rights is not necessary because when men cast their ballots, they have women’s interests at heart” (forgive me, but hahahahahahaha).
Marie-Joseph demers, a liberal lawyer representing St. John’s-iberville argued they should “consider the social position of women in the state. everywhere they are tendered respect, admiration, attention; in a word, they are idealized. this admiration is extended to them because we all recognize their sublime mission; that is to say, the moral and intellectual development of our children. i believe that it is a dangerous experiment to take them away from our homes.” (egads!)
Other reasons included “too ungodly” (it went against the laws of nature and the bible); women were “too vulnerable” (the reasoning is a bit tortured as suffrage would mean women would be men’s equal and no longer would need a man’s protection – she would be too weak on her own to defend herself, ergo she would become depressed); and one last reason, the grand-maman of them all – women are “too unstable” (politics would over-excite women resulting in nervous breakdowns).
thank the powers that be that John burnham, a unionist (conservative and liberal) lawyer representing Peterborough West, rose in the house to add his piece: “Mr. chairman, he would be a poor man who would not say something on behalf of women at this crisis.
“We have heard enough about their being idealized; they are so idealized and etherealized that they seem to be utterly useless and to have no rights. let women alone; let them speak for themselves. Pray, who gave men authority and dominion over them? Who put the destiny of women in their hands? Who made them the judge? they say one minute that women are such superlatively fine beings, and the next they presume to say what they shall do. they put the harness on women; they bind them. if women choose to have children and choose to bring them up, that is their own business. if women do not want to vote, they need not do so. if they do wish to vote, let them.”
the house struggled with the proposed act and the original wording provided. in light of the strong opposition to the proposal, Prime Minister borden compromised and promised that women voters would have to meet the same eligibility requirements as men (i.e. property rights). the idea was deemed acceptable and the act to confer the electoral Franchise upon Women received royal assent on May 24, 1918. amen.
Some people were very worried that women might actually get the right to vote. This anti-suffrage sign was posted by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in London, England in 1913.