A review by Jo Freeman published in Vox
Pop, Vol. 17,
Issue 1, Summer 1998, p. 7.
Andersen, Kristi, After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral
Politics before the New Deal, University of Chicago Press, 1996,
paper, 191 pages
the 19th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution on August 26,
1920, expectations were high about what the doubling of the electorate
would accomplish. Because these expectations were not met, before the
decade ended woman suffrage was pronounced a failure. This book demolishes
that myth. Kristi Anderson carefully looks at what women did in the
1920s, and shows that 1) they did a lot, and 2) what they didn't do
was a result of circumstances beyond anyone's control coupled with
resistance from established institutions.
conceptualizes women's entry into the electorate as a negotiated
shift in the gendered boundaries of political space, one that varied
with time, place and circumstances, but which defined "what was expected
or acceptable male and female activity in the public sphere." (p.
15). Politics, she asserts, was transformed by women voters, but
it took longer and was more subtle than politicians expected or than
scholars have understood. This shift occurred at a time that parties
were declining in importance, largely due to the reforms of the Progressive
era. The impact of women and that of Progressivism was synergistic,
making it hard to isolate women's specific contribution.
Anderson's focus is on electoral politics, she does note that there
were policy changes. Some federal laws were passed in the 1920s directly
as a result of women's lobbying. More were passed in the states.
There was among women's organizations "a general consensus on a political
agenda which included protective legislation for women and children,
women's rights, consumer protection, and industrial health and safety
legislation" (p. 9), and major gains were made in attaining these
chapters are specifically concerned with women as voters, party workers,
and candidates and office holders. But her over overall theme is
change, and her conclusion is not only did the boundaries between
men and women change, but our understanding of politics itself. Women "helped
solidfy the movement from the partisan-structured politics of the
nineteenth century to the politics of advertising, interest groups,
and candidates that characterize the twentieth century." (p. 170).
the 19th Century, voting was a male ritual involving drinking and
rowdyness and some exhange of favors for votes. The presence of women
transformed voting into the obligation of a good citizen. This happened
regardless of how women voted, or which women voted. Thus attempts
to determine "the woman's vote" after suffrage, then and more recently,
miss the point.
polls, or separate counts (except for Illinois from 1914 through
1920), women's voting patterns can only be inferred from registration
figures and statistical analysis. These do not show clear trends,
but they do give some outlines. Women's turnout was lower than men's,
but not low enough to explain the general decline in voter turnout.
Nor was women's turnout consistent. Sometimes it was higher than
men's. Birth co-hort, ethnicity, and region all effected turnout.
just as important, Andersen argues, was organization. When women's
organizations and/or political parties made a particular effort to
bring women to the polls, their turnout increased. Initially, these
factors helped the Republicans more than the Democrats. Republican
women came from the socio-economic strata that were more likely to
vote. But in the election of 1928, one marked by a significant increase
in women voters, immigrant stock women began to enter the electorate
in significant numbers, and to vote Democratic. This didn't help
the Democratic Party win in 1928, but may have in 1932.
also believes that women voters did have an impact on "the shape
of the political agenda" because legislators had to take them into
account in their calculations of constituent interests. Because women
were perceived to be a distinct group who behaved differently than
men, it did not matter if there was no proof of that at the polls
-- in the days before random sample surveys no one knew exactly how
women voted anyway.
major political parties were a major arena for negotiating gender
boundaries. On the one hand the parties admitted women on an equal
basis to the National Committees, and to a lesser extent to the state
and local party committees. On the other hand, this was not done
without a struggle, and when women finally achieved their goal, they
discovered the men excluded them from meetings or otherwise ignored
the beginning of the decade suffragists and other important women
were invited by the parties to work within them. But when these leaders
proved too independent they were replaced by more compliant women.
By the late 1920s, "women's political influence within the parties
had declined", or at least women partisans believed it had declined.
Women, and men, debated whether women's unique perspective required
separate organization, or whether women should be assimilated and
amalgamated into the regular party organizations. This question was
never resolved, but throughout the 1920s, the "gendered boundaries
within the parties and party politics" were redrawn, and would not "be
subject to renegotiation until the 1970s" (p. 107).
sum up, the expansion of the electorate in the 1920s accelerated
several changes already in process. The scope of political concerns
as well as the nature of the participants shifted, and was never
the same again.