Supporting the Lost Cause and Women’s Rights

While reading Dixie’s Daughters by Karen L. Cox, she discusses briefly the role of women suffragists within the UDC, but at the same time eludes that many women were involved in the suffragist movement in chapter three, “Rise of the UDC.”[1] Not having much knowledge regarding feminism in the South after the Civil War, I decided to commit myself to finding out just how involved women of the South were in obtaining the right to vote, while upholding their Lost Cause ideology. In the Journal of Southern History, the article “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement of the South,” by Kenneth Johnson gives a brief history of the role southern women played.

Southern women faced greater challenges in obtaining equal rights than their northern counterparts and had to approach it with even greater tact. In order to appeal to the southern men and maintain their Lost Cause crusade, southern women had to circumvent ways around a federal amendment. The Lost Cause was still very much in motion during 1912-1913, when women became more involved in their rights.[2]

The women of the South had to devise a plan that would placate their male politicians and simultaneously ensure their equality. There were two ways to obtain this: one join the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) on a federal level or two create a new association that upheld states’ rights and obtain their equality at a state level.[3] Southerner Kate Gordon, would take the lead in creating a new organization known as the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC) their ultimate objective was to, “’to obtain the enfranchisement of the women of the Southern States principally through the medium of state legislation and to promote the cause of suffrage throughout the United States’”.[4]

With two leading women’s rights organizations tensions began to rise between the NAWSA and SSWSC. The NAWSA or northern women’s suffragist organization believed that there were other ways to obtain equal rights (not through states’ rights) for women in the South. Kate Gordon now president of the SSWSC disagreed, even suggesting that the NAWSA was trying to promote reconstruction instead of women’s rights. In addition members of the SSWSC wanted to disenfranchise blacks.[5] Not all women of the South were part of the SSWSC, another party existed, known as the moderate southern suffragists, these women were members of the NAWSA.[6]

In keeping with the white supremacy reign of the South the women of the SSWSC had to ensure that while they promoted equal rights for women they did not condone equality for blacks. According to Cole, “Miss Gordon asserted that intelligent white women should be able to use the same means to protect themselves from colored women as the southern men used to protect themselves from colored men.”[7] This was part of the rhetoric in addition to maintaining states’ rights over federal control that the SSWSC hoped would appeal to democrat politicians in the South.

The SSWSC, especially in the beginning maintained a large membership but it became clear to many women that the SSWSC while honorable in maintaining the Lost Cause was not going to acquire equal rights. The democratic politicians had turned their back on the women who so valiantly restored their masculinity. In the end the SSWSC’s relentless pursuit to gain women’s equality through state’s rights, lack of support from democratic politicians, desire to disenfranchise blacks, and lack of members subsequently dismantled the organization. States’ rightists still carried on their devotion to the obtaining women’s rights without giving up the principles of the Lost Cause but they too in the end were defeated when the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920.

[1] Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (New Perspectives On the History of the South) (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 33.

[2] Kenneth R. Johnson, “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement in the South,” The Journal of Southern History 38, no. 3 (1972), 369 (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Johnson, 370.

[4] Johnson, 371.

[5] Johnson, 372.

[6] Johnson, 373.

[7] Johnson, 374.

  1. In reference to citation #7, can you imagine if white women of the South came together to create their own KKK? I wonder what tactics of terror they would use to keep the order of white supremacy among women?
    I also think it’s interesting that Southern suffragists continued to use the argument of states’ rights to achieve their goals. I wonder why these Southern women went about tackling their suffrage this way. I wonder if Southern women looked at how western territories were gaining admittance into statehood, and their success by giving the right to vote to women, they were encouraged to seek the right to vote at the state level first?

  2. jadams08 said:

    It’s hard to imagine why the women in groups like the UDC did not make a huge push towards the suffragist movement for women. It seems they were taking action and getting involved in the public sphere that was male dominated, so why stop? Why would they not keep going? I get the whole traditionalist idea they idealized but at the same time it seems hypocrital to be so pushy and active and not want to fight for their rights. Maybe women of the South did not want to push farther, maybe they were okay with what they had achieved after the Civil War. I’m not sure, but I did like the points you brought up and it made me really think about myself on a personal level and if I would have been a part of the suffragist movement or been passive and traditional. Oh another day and another time…..

  3. bktitus17 said:

    I really enjoyed your post. It brings up a lot of good information about women in the South that tried to gain suffrage. Did the SSWSC allow African American women into their organization? I would think not, but I don’t want to assume either. It would make sense though that they wouldn’t want African Americans in the organization given the fact that they were promoting white supremacy. In that case, it is no surprise to me that they failed because it is next to impossible to advocate for suffrage for one minority, that of women, yet advocate for disenfranchisement for a different minority, that of African Americans. Even more so, the still hostile views of Reconciliation during the era of Reconstruction could not have helped women suffrage as a whole either. It is a great detail to point out that the southern women formed their own organization anyways to separate themselves from the northern group.

    I also wonder if the United Daughters of the Confederacy kind of dug a hole for themselves in their efforts post-Civil War. It would make sense that an organization that is basically living for white men are seen as just that, women living for white men. Despite the fact that they were in essence doing it all themselves, the memorials, campaigns, and public involvement, does not relinquish the fact of why they were doing it…for the men. It would have made so much more sense for all of the women to come together, but given the different organizations and their recent pasts, it does not surprise me at all that Southern suffrage never really took off as an adament organization demanding for equality.

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