Forceful Females

The argument that only the coarsest of women would exercise the right to vote persisted for several years. In fact, those who opposed suffrage for women asserted that participation in politics at any level would corrupt modest and moral women.

Black velvet bonnet

Black velvet bonnet with black feathers, beaded decoration, and velvet ribbon ties. Circa 1885. MCHS object 1982-133-0001. One can imagine Susan B. Anthony wearing this bonnet, which fits the description in the Alton Telegraph article of the same time period.

And yet, by the mid-1880s even the Alton Telegraph took notice of the “forceful females” leading the fight for equal suffrage. A correspondent to the March 1884 Women’s Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C., described them as “neither old nor ugly, but fat, fair and forty, with a mission and courage to execute it.”

Susan B. Anthony presided over the convention “in a well-fitting and well-made black dress, with ruffles at the sleeves and of lace at the throat … and a bonnet more striking for the value of the materials that for any striking display.” (Alton Telegraph, March 31, 1884)

The correspondent also noted that most of the suffragists in attendance didn’t wear bangs, even though bangs were in vogue.

Josephine Gillespie and Phoebe Montgomery

Edwardsville women Josephine Gillespie (left) and Phoebe Montgomery (right) sporting fashionable 1880s bangs. MCHS photographs.