Oklahoma women, calling themselves antisuffragists or "antis," organized in opposition to women's suffrage in 1918 and established the Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage Association, also known as the Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage League or the Oklahoma Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Until then, organized antisuffrage activity in Oklahoma had remained sporadic and actually unnecessary because members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention of 1906 had voted against women's suffrage. Consequently, Article 3 of the Oklahoma Constitution defined electors as male citizens over twenty-one years of age.
In 1911 several state antisuffrage associations merged, creating the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) headquartered in New York City. The association recruited supporters "[by educating] the public in the belief that women can be more useful to the community without the ballot than if affiliated with and influenced by party politics." Active between 1912 and 1918, the organization, consisting of state association representatives, sent speakers, funds, and literature to campaigning states. By 1916 the NAOWS coordinated the activities of twenty-five state organizations.
After World War I suffragists accelerated their demand for the right to vote as a more receptive attitude toward women's suffrage grew nationwide and in Oklahoma. The formation of additional antisuffrage state associations became necessary, and in 1918 the NAOWS sent Sarah C. White to Oklahoma to speak against suffrage and establish an organization. Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage Association officers included Sallie Sturgeon of Oklahoma City, president, Alice Robertson of Muskogee, vice president, and Maybelle Stuard of Oklahoma City, press chair and speaker. Meldia Constantin served as treasurer, and her husband's business, the Constantin Refining Company in Tulsa, provided the association with unlimited funds. Other committee members included Laura Greer of Tulsa, Ruth Fluarty of Pawnee, and Jessie E. Moore of Oklahoma City.
Antisuffrage members alleged that the right to vote would not solve the problems of women and society. They opposed suffrage primarily because of their belief in the "cult of true womanhood" (piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness) and in the separate sphere of the home. The apolitical association served to educate and to legitimize activism within the traditional female domain. Members rarely coordinated efforts to elect antisuffrage candidates to state or federal offices or to form coalitions for political issues. Only on occasion would an antisuffragist speak in public. Rather, they campaigned at country fairs by distributing bulletins while offering advice on such womanly subjects as first aid. Considered the "Heaven, Home and Mother crowd," they held teas, fund-raising balls, and luncheons at hotels and women's colleges, as opposed to the noisy parading, picketing, and public speaking promoted by suffragists. The "antis," wearing their emblem of pink or red roses, campaigned quietly by circulating antisuffrage literature in the state legislative gallery.
Sallie Sturgeon published a weekly magazine, The Oklahoma Lady, which included antisuffrage commentary, while Alice Robertson actively distributed literature. The NAOWS published pamphlets and the official journal, The Woman's Protest, which the Oklahoma organization distributed as well. Published monthly, The Woman's Protest documented state associations' activities, evaluated strategies, and presented extensive arguments against franchising women.
Antisuffragists described themselves as positive, quiet, genteel, and dignified. However, in 1918 suffragists accused the Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage Association of being "backed by the breweries and anti-prohibitionists [who] are paid fat salaries to work up feelings against this movement." Members of both groups hurled charges and countercharges, resulting in an interesting lawsuit.
On November 5, 1918, the passage of State Question 97 franchising Oklahoma women brought defeat to the Oklahoma Anti-Suffrage Association, and the final death blow came when Oklahoma ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on February 28, 1920.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Anne Myra Goodman Benjamin, A History of the Anti-Suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895-1920 (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991). Bernice Norman Crockett, "No Job For a Woman," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 61 (Summer 1983). Louise Boyd James, "Woman's Suffrage, Oklahoma Style, 1890-1918," in Women in Oklahoma: A Century of Change, ed. Melvena Thurman (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1982). Catherine Mambretti, "The Burden of the Ballot: The Women's Anti-Suffragist Movement," American Heritage 30 (December 1978). Elizabeth Cady Stanton, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, Vols. 5-6 (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881-1922). James R. Wright, Jr., "The Assiduous Wedge: Woman Suffrage and the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 51 (Winter 1973-74).
Tally D. Fugate
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