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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 http://www.jstor.org/stable/2206099 (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Johnson, 370.

[4] Johnson, 371.

[5] Johnson, 372.

[6] Johnson, 373.

[7] Johnson, 374.