The following blog post was written by Jenny Kalvaitis, an MA candidate in Public History at IUPUI. Her thesis analyzes the 1917 suffrage movement in Indianapolis.
How should a group of people ask for civil rights? Should they quietly, but methodically, demonstrate from within society’s expectations, or should they radically rebel, protest, and make headlines? Most movements for civil rights battle with this decision. The suffrage movement was no different. In the twentieth century two groups dominated the movement, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Although both groups fought for women’s right to vote, they used different arguments. NAWSA asked for the right to vote because of woman’s moral superiority while the NWP demanded suffrage based upon women’s equality to men.
A great example of this rivalry came in 1917. That spring the Indiana General Assembly granted women the right to vote in certain elections, and two court cases took those rights away in the fall. Hoosier women largely belonged to NAWSA; therefore, they asked for and defended their right to vote through conservative means. Also in 1917, the NWP made headlines for an ongoing picket of the White House in Washington D.C. Local women continually denounced the NWP’s tactics in the Indianapolis newspapers, but still the NWP’s ”unpatriotic” tactics were used to criticize Hoosier suffragists in the courtroom.
In February and March, Indiana Humanities is exploring the topic of “rivalry,” as part of its Spirit of Competition theme.