Women's Work in the Campaign

American women had been active in partisan politics since the days of Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats, in the 1830s and 1840s. Though they could only vote for national offices in three states, they participated on all sides in 1896. The Prohibition Party had the highest percentage of women as convention delegates, stump speakers, and local candidates. Women also participated in the Silver Democratic, Populist, and Socialist Labor conventions.

In the Populist convention, Mary Lease was among the prominent "mid-roaders" who fought to prevent Bryan's nomination. For the first time, Republicans also sent a woman as "honorary delegate" to their national convention: Therese Jenkins of Wyoming, a state in which women could vote.

During the campaign, many women worked as stump speakers and formed dozens of local campaign clubs. In New York and Chicago, Republican women canvassed immigrant wards to urge wives and mothers to influence the votes of male relatives. The National Women's Republican Association, founded in 1888, mobilized for the campaign with lavish funding from Mark Hanna and the Republican National Committee. From their New York headquarters, the group wrote press releases, mailed pamphlets, and arranged speaking tours. NWRA president Judith Ellen Foster spent most of the campaign in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, where women had full suffrage.

Women who supported Bryan met this challenge with organizations of their own. A Women's Free Silver League emerged in Chicago, with branches in various parts of the West. Bryan made a point of addressing all-female audiences in Minneapolis, Duluth, and other cities. A number of women worked as stump speakers for Bryan, sometimes for little or no pay. Others formed marching clubs to participate in parades and rallies, as did Prohibitionist and Republican women's clubs in many cities and towns. Many nonpartisan women's clubs arranged lectures on such issues as currency, immigration, and Cuba; others arranged debates and held mock elections for their members.

Women's campaign activities may have actually hindered the cause of suffrage, because politicians saw that women had diverse loyalties and would not vote as a bloc. On the other hand, the 1896 contest proved that thousands of women were deeply interested in campaign issues and wanted to exercise a political voice. In the decade after the McKinley-Bryan contest women's role in the parties seems to have declined. Their involvement in a host of public causes grew, however, and in the Progressive Era "organized womanhood" became an increasing force in the nation's affairs.

See Mary E. Lease's speech in Cooper Union Hall, and Republican appeals to women on the currency question. See also the information on Ida McKinley and Mary Baird Bryan, whose "home lives" underwent intense scrutiny during the campaign.

See also the suffrage issue and the Campaign at Vassar College. The cartoons listed below do not include all the cartoons depicting women as, for example, a slave; the seductress Delilah; and an 'old lady on her new wheel' (all from the L.A. Times). Other cartoons portray men dressed as women (Denver New Road) for purposes of ridicule. Explore!

Cartoon Appeals to Women
4 April, Ram's Horn
11 September, St. Paul Pioneer Press
21 September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Women's Marching Club is becoming a feature of the Republican campaign in some localities. The Women's Republican Club of Warsaw, Pa., recently visited Major McKinley. The women marched at the head of a delegation of nine carloads of people. When Portage County (O.) sent a delegation of 1,600 to Canton the other day, three marching clubs, composed entirely of women, went along.
--Woman's Journal, October 17, 1896

To the Editor of the Globe:
I am a woman, but I would like to express my views to the voters of Boston through your paper. I wish I could vote this once; I never wanted to before.
I certainly would vote for W. J. Bryan. Do the poor want to be crushed for monopolists and hoggish corporations.
My son was killed in the slaughter pen of a corporation trying to own the earth, and the shyster who took it up for me worked for the benefit of corporations; he got something, I got nothing, for the loss of all I had in the world to look to.
I hope the people will vote for a man with a heart for the people.
We did not have armies of tramps in the past, as we do now. It is no wonder it breaks people's hearts to see the suffering there is for the many, while a few own the earth.
--"One Woman's Opinion," Boston Globe, 14 Septmeber 1896

Women's National Silver League.
On September 18th, some earnest women in Chicago organized the National Silver League, and elected for president Mrs. W. H. Duncanson; corresponding secretary, Mrs. H. P. Huey.... The membership has steadily increased until now it numbers 150, several having joined from other counties in Illinois, and one each from Iowa and Indiana.
This league is not organized solely for work during the present campaign. Its object, up to November 3 at least is to promote the restoration of silver to its constitutional place as basic money on the same terms as gold, at the ratio of 16 to 1, and the election of William Jennings Bryan, for which it will work up to that date. But it is designed to continue the work of agitation and education in the interest of economic and industrial reform, and a government of the people, by the people, for the people, after the campaign is closed.
It is hoped that women everywhere will organize leagues and clubs for the same purpose, and become auxiliary to the national body. It is also desired that women everywhere should become members of the national league. For this it is only necessary to send your name and address and a dime to the corresponding secretary at the Clifton House, Chicago, Illinois, which is the headquarters.
--The Representative, October 14, 1896

[Nellie Grace Robinson]

Nellie Grace Robinson, a lawyer since her 1893 graduation from Cincinnati Law School, and stump speaker for Bryan in Cincinnati, Ohio; from the Salt Lake Tribune, 4 October. The paper reported that "she despises favors shown because she is a woman and wants male opponents to do their best."

Woman in the Electoral College.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. Nov. 6--For the first time in history a woman will vote as a member of the electoral college for a President of the United States. This woman is Mrs. Sarah Malloy of this city. She was requested to run on the Republican ticket and accepted.... Mrs. Malloy has lived in Wyoming since 1870. She is in full sympathy with the woman suffrage, which has been in vogue in Wyoming ever since she settled in it. She has served as a delegate to Republican county conventions, and has always done her duty. She never misses voting on election day.
While Mrs. Malloy takes extreme interest in politics, she is a good housewife and a kind mother. She has four children, the eldest a civil engineer 18 years old. Mr. Malloy is superintendent of the Union Pacific Railroad from Cheyenne to Ogden, a stretch of 500 miles. Many of his Democratic friends in the service of the road voted for the wife of their superior officer. Mrs. Malloy is being congratulated for the unique distinction thrust upon her. She will cast her electoral vote for Major McKinley.
--Woman's Exponent, 15 December

Silver Campaign Fund.

. . . Yesterday netted over $500 to the fund. . . . The women of Durango send $209 and suggest that they hope to hear from those of their sex in Denver, Pueblo, and other cities. They give with the spirit of loyalty and willingness characteristic of American women and deserve the highest credit because they give from meager means "all they have to give."
--Rocky Mountain News, 19 October 1896

[Women Campaigning]


Bryan Appears at the Minneapolis Lyceum Before 2,000.

Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 13--
Perhaps the most unique feature of Mr. Bryan's visit to Minneapolis was his address last night at the Lyceum Theatre to an audience made up exclusively of women and presided over by a woman. There were 2,000 women present and Mrs. Frank Valesh presided. When Mr. Bryan arrived about 1 o'clock the ladies arose en masse, waved their handkerchiefs and flags, clapped their hands and called his name--in fact did everything men might have done except give three cheers and a tiger. Mr. Bryan in opening said:
... I believe this is the first political meeting where a candidate has addressed his remarks to ladies entirely in the discussion of an economic question, and I offer no apology. On the contrary, I deem it not only a great privilege but a great honor. My experience teaches me that the mother and the wife are important parts of the family. (Applause.) In fact, I would rather have the wife on my side in the beginning of a campaign than the husband, if I could only have one. (Applause.) And I will tell you why. Because, if I have the wife I am almost sure to have the husband before the campaign is over and if I only have the husband I am never sure of him. (Laughter and applause.)
A lady who was canvassing down in Nebraska the other day gave utterances to one of the best things which I think this campaign has enjoyed. She was canvassing and called at our house to get some literature on the silver question to circulate as she went from place to place, and while there she said that she had a brother who was a gold man, without gold. (Laughter.) She said she could understand how a man could be a gold man who had gold, but she could only pity the gold man who was without gold. (Applause and laughter.)

Mr. Bryan then launched into a discussion of the money question on lines heretofore covered by him, saying the women of the land were as much interested as the men in the great questions at issue. The speech captivated the women.
--Raleigh News and Observer, 14 October 1896

Bryan made a speech at Minneapolis the other day "to women only," and last Sunday he addressed the Detroit newsboys. For a man so sadly in need of votes, he is wasting a good deal of time and energy on non-voters.
--Chicago Record, 20 October 1896

On last Friday evening Mrs. J. Ellen Foster addressed the people of Rock Springs on the issues that are attracting attention during the present campaign. The stage of the opera house was beautifully ornamented with the national colors, gold and silver, flowers and potted plants, the good work of Republican ladies who devoted most of the day to the decorations. Major Wm McKinley's picture was everywhere apparent, looking upon an audience that returned the gaze in admiration of the gallant soldier, the able statesman and the next president of the United States....

After the singing of a campaign song by the local Glee club, Mr. John H. Chiles, with a few well-chosen remarks, introduced the speaker, who at once entered into the work before her. We regret our limited space excludes a full report of her speech. It was a gem, which all present appreciated--clear, pointed and convincing. The lady said in part:

Gentlemen and Ladies: In the name of our comradship in Republican service, I thank you for this cordial greeting.

... For many weeks we have turned our thoughts from the ordinary duties of life to a consideration of questions of national welfare and governmental policy. We have, for the time, forgotten our little selves, except as each of us is one of the millions of this great republic. Whatever the determination of a majority of our people shall be on next Tuesday, we shall all be better men and women, better citizens, because of the splendid campaign now nearly over.

The campaign is a noble one, in that no personalities have obscured the principles involved. On the one hand the Republican party has nominated William McKinley, who stands for sound money, protection and reciprocity, and for the dignity of law and the supremacy of government in every spot the flag floats over. On the other hand, the opposition is led by Mr. Bryan, who stands for silver, free trade, for repudiation of individual and national financial obligations, and in its platform and campaign utterances appeals to class prejudice and seeks to arouse sectional animosities.

Every claim of the Republican party is sustained by the facts of history and by present conditions.... We will not adopt financial policies which have degraded the standing of all nations which have accepted them. We will maintain the existing gold standard, because in the financial as well as every other function of the nation's life, we have set up and we propose to maintain the highest American policy of protection. Protection defends the standards of agricultural and industrial independence which under popular government are two arms of American power.

We want the home market for the home product. We do not want foreign wool and foregin woolen rags, which displace the wool grown on our own farms and ranches. We belive our own raw material should be manufactured by our own people into the goods and the fabrics used and worn by our people.... We think it is economically wrong to pay $100,000,000 a year for sugar, when in Kansas and Nebraska and Utah are the soil and the climate for the growth and manufacture of American sugar.

We believe that in economics as well as in morals, charity begins at home.

We believe also that the unsound financial and trade policies set forth in the Chicago platform and advocated by Mr. Bryan are less harmful than are the disloyal doctrines taught and the sectional spirit engendered by the popocratic campaign.

Altgeld, of Illinois, sets up the treacherous doctrine that the general government is powerless to protect its own property and enforce its own laws except at the pleasure of the sovereign state. Tillman, of South Carolina, boasts that he comes from the home of secession, and that the issue of 1896 "is a sectional issue and will prevail," and Bryan and his party accept this exposition of their beliefs and purposes and ask the American people to hand over the government to their administration for the next four years! We shall soon hear the thunderous "No" of King Majority. In the solemn verdict of the state, Wyoming's voice shall be heard; her three electoral votes will represent the ideal commonwealth, because for the first time in the history of the republic a woman will cast her representative vote for the highest office in the gift of the people.

... Republican principles are the utterances of patriotism; our leader, William McKinley, is the embodiment of Americanism, and wears the white flower of a blameless life; is it any wonder women support such a party and such a man? Happy indeed are the women who have not only the brain and the heart, but the power to do it.
--Rock Springs Miner, November 2

The saying, "Many women, many minds," was never better illustrated than in the present campaign. Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton has come out for free silver; the editors of the WOMAN'S JOURNAL are strong Republicans; while Miss Susan B. Anthony advises women to keep clear of alliances with any political party until after they have the ballot.
--Woman's Journal, October 10, 1896


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College