Historic election votes returned on November 6, 1918
On November, 6, 1918, New Orleanians woke up to the news that a ballot initiative to give women the vote had been defeated. The women and men that had fought tirelessly and fearlessly for women’s rights were devastated to hear the news, but they knew this would not be the end of their battle.
The fight for women’s suffrage was no easy feat, especially in the South, where a woman’s place was the home; she had no voice in important political matters.The statewide election on November 5, 1918 challenged this idea. The campaign for women’s suffrage was spearheaded by the Woman’s Suffrage Party and the Portia Club, the group responsible for first advocating women’s suffrage (Gilley 289).
Noteworthy players in New Orleans for women’s suffrage during this time included Mrs. W.S. Holmes, the chairwoman of the Woman’s Suffrage Party (“Suffrage Loses City”), and Kate Gordon, a member of the Portia Club and corresponding secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in addition to the leader of the campaign for the entire state of Louisiana between 1904 and 1913 (Gilley 289-291).
When these women, along with the help of a handful of supportive men, succeeded in bringing the decision to ballot an extraordinarily low turnout doomed the effort. (“Suffrage Loses City”).
Newspapers documented that few voters actually came to vote, about fifty to sixty percent of the normal turnout came, and the absence of women was noted at the polls. In fact, the Times-Picayune declared that it seemed that women had no interest in this historical election, although suffragists did roll up throughout the day asking how the election was proceeding (“Suffrage Loses City”). The critical results were documented in the newspapers the next day; on November 6,1918, it was determined that women had still not earned the right to vote. What stands out about this election, however, was the fact that some men were willing to give women the vote.
For instance, Robert Ewing, a Democratic National Committeeman, advocated for women’s suffrage to his fellow lieutenants, and the men of the Tenth Ward voted in favor of women’s suffrage, one of the only wards to do so (“Suffrage Loses City”). Additionally, Mayor Martin Behrman requested that women be allowed in the booth when the results of the election were being counted as a way to allow them to plead their cases, a small yet substantial victory for the suffragists and their supporters (“Suffrage Loses City”).
When Mrs. W.S. Holmes was informed that women could still not vote, her reply was that, although she was upset that the men of New Orleans had refused to see women as equals in the political eye, New Orleans and Louisiana were simply obstacles on the way to the federal government, where she and her group would continue to fight for national women’s suffrage (“Suffrage Loses City”). This small yet important election demonstrated that, although women did not earn the right to vote in this 1918 election, there were in fact men supporters that stood by and helped their effort. Additionally, this historic election demonstrated the determination and bravery these women had in their cause and their refusal to be discouraged.
Gilley, B. H. “Kate Gordon and Louisiana Woman Suffrage.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 24, no. 3 (1983): 289–306.
“Suffrage Loses City By Majority Of About 9000 Moderately Heavy Vote Is Polled, and Two.” Times-Picayune, November 6, 1918.