May 10, 2015

When Motherhood is the Message

by Ann Lewis, May 10, 2015

The Suffrage Movement had a political problem: How do you persuade men to open the vote to women? Women were supposed to be the “angel in the house” – more virtuous and ladylike– so how do you argue that they should be part of the political system? Our Suffrage Foremothers had a brilliant solution; they turned the image of women as mothers from a reason to keep women out of politics – to a big reason why they deserved to be in it. And they used both words and images to deliver this message in popular culture. These messages evoked women in traditional roles –and then showed how voting would enable them to do more for themselves and their families. “She’s Good Enough to be Your Baby’s Mother, And She’s Good Enough to Vote with You”, a suffrage inspired song, is my idea of the perfect political message: clear, memorable – and irrefutable.  It’s also somewhat irrelevant, but that has never stopped a campaign.


“Have You Ever Thought Why Your Mother, Wife, Sister and Daughter Are Not Allowed to Vote?” asked the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association. They addressed men, as protectors of the women in their families, to think again of what those women deserve. (That appeal to men on behalf of their daughters is every bit as powerful today.)


“The Mother is responsible for her children’s health,” said the Massachusetts Political Equality Union – “BUT if the air is laden with infection, with tuberculosis and other diseases, she cannot protect her children.” Only the voters who choose city officials can do that. Not only was voting not in conflict with motherhood – voting would enable women to be even better mothers.


With examples like these, Suffrage leaders built growing support from women and men. They may not have had the advice of today’s political consultants, but these women recognized the importance of smart political strategy – and the power of a winning message.

The Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection is now part of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum “Circle of Suffrage.” We need your help to tell the story, to complete the circle, and to contribute more details to the history of women’s voting rights and the thousands of women who worked together toward a more inclusive democracy. Please follow our posts on the Sewall-Belmont Facebook and Twitter pages and join the circle by posting images from your collections, including original photographs, artifacts, documents, scrapbooks, artwork, or so many other treasures. Share your story and grow the conversation.