The History of the Woman s Suffrage Movement in Louisiana

Author:Armantine M. Smith
Position::Member, Louisiana State Bar Association; J.D

I. The Origin Of The Woman's Movement In Louisiana A. The Beginning of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Louisiana B. Women's Rights and Obligations under Louisiana Law in 1879 1. The Rights and Obligations of Husband and Wife 2. The Dowry 3. The Paraphernal Property 4. The Community of Acquets and Gains 5. Relief from Legal Disabilities C. The Formative Years of the Woman's Suffrage Movement 1.... (see full summary)


Member, Louisiana State Bar Association; J.D., Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, 1998; LL.M. (International and Comparative Law), Georgetown University Law Center, 2000; Master of Laws (General), Georgetown Law Center, 2001. The author gratefully wishes to thank Prof. Richard Chused, Georgetown Law Center, for his insightful critique of an earlier version of this article.

The woman's suffrage movement began in the North in 1848 with the first Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucritia Mott, and Mary Ann McClintock, the participants approved a Declaration of Sentiments with a plea for suffrage. Others, such as Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, also joined the movement.1 For the next twenty years, the ladies fought diligently for woman's suffrage throughout the United States. After the Civil War, however, the suffragists split over the Fifteenth Amendment. Lucy Stone and the American Equal Rights Association supported the amendment, but Anthony and Stanton refused to support it if women were not included.2 After the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, strategic preferences led to further divisions. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to continue promoting a federal amendment for woman's suffrage.3 Lucy Stone organized the American Suffrage Association to support a state by state campaign. In 1890, the two associations joined to form the National American Woman's Suffrage Association. Anthony's amendment, first introduced in Congress in 1878, was re-introduced every succeeding year until its passage in 1920.4

This article traces the development of the suffrage movement in Louisiana from its inception to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment that granted women suffrage. Section I explores the origin of the woman's movement in Louisiana. Specifically, this section examines the beginning of the woman's suffrage movement in Louisiana in Part A, the rights and obligations under Louisiana law in 1879 in Part B, and the formative years of the woman's suffrage movement in Part C. Section II examines woman's suffrage in Louisiana: the next generation. This section specifically addresses suffrage activities in Louisiana after the turn of the century in Part A, the Southern Woman Suffrage Conference and the splintering of the suffrage movement in Part B, and the defeat of woman's suffrage in Louisiana in Part C.

I The Origin Of The Woman's Movement In Louisiana

Most early suffragists were from the North and West. In the South, however, there were barriers to the suffrage movement as the idealized image of the southern lady lingered long after the Civil War. Because white southern men were passionately devoted to preserving southern civilization and society, the cult of chivalry that permeated upper class elites made it very difficult to develop strong suffrage organizations.5 For white southern men, men and women had different roles because of their natures and responsibilities. Women, excluded from political and public life, were the guardians of southern virtue.6 Southern white women had the responsibility of instilling southern culture in future generations. Thus, they played a critical role in preserving the values of "the Lost Cause," the preservation of antebellum Southern society.7

The social organization in the South also posed a barrier to woman's suffrage. George Fitzhugh championed the cause of slaveholder society. He described the social order in the antebellum South by pointing to what he considered to be the social and economic advantages of a slave system compared to those of free enterprise. Fitzhugh wrote,

The success of the Southern farming is a striking instance of the value of the association of capital and laborers . . . The dissociation of labor and disintegration of society, which liberty and free competition occasion, is especially injurious to poorer classes; for besides the labor necessary to support the family, the poor man is burdened with the care of finding a home, and procuring employment, and attending to all domestic wants and concerns. Slavery relieves our slaves of these cares altogether and slavery is a form, and the very best form, of socialism.8

Fitzhugh, like many southerners, believed that slavery was actually advantageous to the slave. He viewed the results of slavery to be preferable to those obtained by a free society. According to Fitzhugh:

The association of labor properly carried out under a common head or ruler, would render labor more efficient, relieve the laborer of many of the cares of household affairs, and protect and support him in sickness and old age, besides preventing the too great reduction of wages by redundancy of labor and free competition. Slavery attains all these results. What else will?9

George Fitzhugh saw slavery as a form of protection for workers under the maxim "love thy neighbor as thyself." To him, the great truth at the foundation of all society was "that every man has property in his fellow-man."10 Rather than viewing slave society as a means of protecting the power and wealth of a few male landowners, Fitzhugh described slave society as a form of socialism "intended to protect the weak, the poor and the ignorant."11

Women in slave society were the subjects of the family government with the master as the ruler. Fitzhugh explained,

[S]laves, wives, and children have no other government; they do not come directly in contact with the institutions and rulers of the state. But the family government, from its nature, has ever been despotic. The relations between the parent or master and his family subjects are too various, minute, and delicate, to be arranged, defined, and enforced by law. God has in his mercy and wisdom provided a better check, to temper and direct the power of the master of the family . . . He has extended the broad panoply of domestic affection over them all . . . .12

In his description Fitzhugh explained the order of society in which the husband and master exercised autonomy and authority over his wife, children, and slaves. As the lord and master of the family government he functioned in large measure separate from the law. He was the intermediate ruler between the state and family unit. Domestic affection that emanated from God directed the master's control and reign. Fitzhugh considered this social hierarchy to be the will of God. According to Fitzhugh, "God . . . instituted slavery from the first, as he instituted marriage and parental authority . . . Wife and children, although not free, are relieved from care and anxiety, supported and protected, and their situation is as happy and desirable as that of the husband and parent."13 Supposedly in slaveholder society both black and white women were treated with kindness and humanity.14 This romanticized version of slaveholder society sustained the customs and traditions that oppressed black persons and subjugated women.

Moreover, in slaveholder society, women only had the right to protection with the concomitant duty to obey the husband. If she stepped out of her prescribed role, she was subject to abuse and ridicule. Fitzhugh described woman's proper sphere:

So long as she is nervous, fickle, capricious, delicate, diffident and dependent, man will worship and adore her . . . In truth, woman, like children, has but one right, and that is the right to protection. The right to protection involves the obligation to obey. A husband, a lord and master, whom she should love, honor and obey, nature designed for every woman . . . If she be obedient, she is in little danger of mal- treatment; if she stands upon her rights, is coarse and masculine, man loathes and despises her, and ends by abusing her . . . The men of the South take care of the women of the South . . . The generous sentiments of slaveholders are sufficient guarantee of the rights of woman.15

Thus, the men in the South prescribed and protected the rights of women according to their own sentiments. If a woman ventured beyond her sphere of obedience and service to her master and asserted her rights, she was an outcast from the rigidly-ordered male- dominated society.

The cornerstone of southern society was white supremacy, which white men attempted to restore and preserve after the Civil War through state sovereignty.16 For southern men, reconstruction after the Civil War brought unwelcome political, social, and economic changes by granting citizenship rights to the freed slaves. The white men, who considered themselves the natural leaders, were disfranchised for their participation in the war. They lost control over black persons. Society seemed in chaos. White men believed that the war was the height of Southern virtue in defense of a just society. Therefore, they attempted to preserve their superior civilization by reestablishing their domination over the former slaves.17 This resulted in the disfranchisement and segregation of black persons by law in the South.

The Southern white men considered the woman's rights movement a product of an inferior Northern culture. They equated the suffrage movement with abolitionism. To them, the same women promoted the...

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