From the Virginia Battle Front
By M. E. Pidgeon
When the Virginia House of Delegates refused to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment on Lincoln‘s Birthday, February 12, were the suffragists cast down? Not they. They telegraphed at once to the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association that they were pushing a bill for presidential suffrage which was on the Senate’s calendar for Monday, February 16. Thus they ran true to form; for suffragists have never said die once in their seventy years’ fight.
“In a sector of the south-eastern battlefront, the full quota of men failed to go over the top. This will not affect the final victory. The south-western, western, and north-western lines are moving forward”, said Miss Adele Clark, chairman of the Virginia Ratification Committee, the night after the Senate had rejected the Amendment by a vote of 24 to 10.
At the opening of the session, January 14, it was evident that opponents, fearing honest discussion, were bent on rushing action. Mrs. B. B. Valentine, president of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, had been for several months conducting a campaign throughout the state carried on by her organizers and the women of Virginia. She now recalled the organizers to act on the ratification committee which immediately became active in Richmond. These were Miss Adele Clark, chairman; Mrs. Kate Langley Bosher, acting president of the Richmond Equal Suffrage League; advisory members, Mrs. Frank L. Jobson, Miss Nora Houston, and Miss Mary Elizabeth Pidgeon, assisted in their work by Miss Josephine Miller of Arkansas, our real woman voter, who came into the state during the last weeks of the campaign.
Before the Governor had even sent the Amendment to the Senate, its opponent, Col. Leedy, also an opponent of the administration at Washington, had introduced a rejection resolution couched in the same obnoxious terms he had used in August. By urgent advice of his leaders in the House, Col. Leedy, in order to secure co-patrons, finally omitted from the resolution some of its most offensive adjectives.
In the House, Ozlin‘s rejection resolution came to the fore, and was referred to the Federal Relations Committee. To champion the cause of womanhood at the public hearing of this committee, came many of Virginia’s foremost citizens: From the east, Mr. Allan Jones of Newport News, member of the State Democratic Committee; from Hanover, Mr. Rosewell Page, Second Auditor of the state of Virginia, and a brother of Hon. Thomas Nelson Page; from historic Stafford county, birthplace of Madison, Hon. Thomas Lomax Hunter, now in the House; from the south-west, Hon. Howard Cecil Gilmer, who fought for us valiantly in the August session, and whose Congressional District Democratic Committee endorsed ratification in January; from conservative old Salem in Roanoke county, Mr. J. B. Saul, chairman of his County Democratic Committee; from the Valley of Virginia, ex-Senator Keezel, a long time friend, himself like a towering peak of the Alleghenies; Dr. Lyan G. Tyler, ex-president of William and Mary, the oldest college in America, the first man in Virginia who ever spoke publicly at a suffrage convention.
The women who exemplified by their speeches at this hearing the broad vision and nobility of Virginia’s womanhood were: Mrs. B. B. Valentine, president, and Mrs. John H. Lewis, vice-presidnt of the Equal Suffrage League; and Dr. Kate Waller Barrett of Alexandria, head of the Florence Crittenden Mission, State D. A. R. Regent, and one of the women chosen by the President to represent America in the International Council.
Among the telegrams and messages sent for this hearing were those from Lady Nancy Astor, M. P. of England a Virginia girl, whose brother now sits in the House; Dr. John Preston McConnell, president of East Radford Normal School; Dr. J. A. Burrus, president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute; Mr. Joseph Turner, superintendent of Hollins College; Mr. Joseph Crupper, chairman Republican State Committee; Mrs. M. M. Caldwell, chairman Virginia Republican Woman’s Committee; Hon. John Garlend Pollard, former Attorney-General; Mr. Robert Gilliam, Mayor of Petersburg; T. W. Mayo of Westmoreland; Rev. E. B. Meredith of Scottsville.
The federal Relations Committee reported Ozlin’s rejection resolution favorably. On the floor, Hon. Lindsay Gordon of Louisa, substituted a ratification resolution, and Hon. Harry Rew of Accomac, a substitute to refer ratification to the people. The whole was disposed of by a vote of 55 to 39 when the referendum resolution carried January 27, supported by splendid speeches from the following delegates: Gordon of Louisa, Willis of Roanoke, Williams of Fairfax, Hunter of Stafford, all former patrons; by R. A. Anderson of Smyth, Republican floor leader; by W. J. Story, by Wilcox of Richmond, Snead of Chesterfield, and Rogers, who were proud to support Virginia womanhood.
Immediately upon the close of the session, about three thirty, suffragists who had all day crowded the gallery proceeded to the headquarters for that regular meeting. Plans were made there for the immediate establishment of a series of citizenship classes, to prepare the women so soon to be enfranchised for the exercise of their privilege.
The battlefront now shifted to the Senate, where, owing to illness from influenza of one of the chief suffrage proponents, Hon. G. Walter Mapp of Accomac, consideration had been postponed. On February 7th, the day finally set, procedure was similar to that in the House. Trinkle‘s ratification resolution and Gravatt’s referendum being respectively substituted for Leedy’s rejection. Upon the latter substitute, however, Leedy, in the coercive method so usual with anti’s, moved the pending question, and the referendum was voted down.
All day the battle raged on Trinkle’s ratification resolution, from ten to one, from two to six, from eight to eleven. Valiant men and true the immortal twelve (ten votes, two pairs), in Virginia’s Senate who were fearless enough to uphold her ancient democracy.
Senator Trinkle, of Wythe, in the south-west, the Ninth Congressional District, whose Democratic Committee had endorsed ratification, closed the affirmative speeches in a direct, forceful, and statesmanlike matter; Senator Corbitt of Portsmouth, whose voice is infrequently heard, honored our cause with a charming speech; Senator Mapp of Accomac on the eastern shore, although not yet thoroughly recovered from his illness, managed the tactical procedure well, and in an idealistic speech rendered high tribute to the purity and intelligence of women; young Senator Paul, Republican, of Rockingham in the Valley, first patron of a suffrage measure in the Virginia Senate, (1914), opened the debate, speaking in stirring terms of the courage and sacrifice of American women in France; Senator Layman of Craig, near West Virginia, testified to woman’s good influence in politics; Senator West of Nansemond in the south-east, spoke beautifully of the little daughter whose life his suffrage vote will protect; Senator Parsons, Republican, of Grayson, in the southwest, challenged the opponents to match the 32,000 signatures of Virginians petitioning for suffrage. Supporting the measure by vote were also Crockett, Haslinger and Profitt; and pairing for, Pen
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dleton, and Gravatt, who had fathered the fated referendum. Votes of ten to twenty-four respectively rejected ratifying and adopted rejecting.
The rejection resolution was sent to the House, referred to the Federal Relations Committee, which held a special meeting at once, and reported out the resolution with recommendation that it pass. It is now on the calendar.
Of what value to recount further details of the last suffrage defeat that will ever sadden the hearts of women who are to be enfranchised long before the terms of the present Virginia senators expire? That their own men refused them justice, that their own men dealt them a smarting blow despite the traditions of southern chivalry, this will always be a sorrowful page in history to Virginia women.
But concerning the men who fought the ratification, more than this. They ignored appeals from thousands of women throughout the Southland, from Alabama, from Mississippi, from Tennessee, from Florida and Arkansas and Georgia; from Kentucky and Maryland and North Carolina. To these telegraphed appeals the chivalrous senators of Virginia turned deaf ears. They, Democrats, ignored with contumely personal letters from the Chairman of their own party, Homer Cummings, and from A. Mitchell Palmer. They ignored every appeal of their own party, (all the Republicans voted for ratification in the Senate). They openly declared and asserted that so far as they were concerned their party could go to smash, that democracy could go down, that “it makes little difference in Virginia who has control of the government in Washington”, (Leedy).
They ignored the appeal of a former Virginia Congressman, Hon. C. C. Carlin, who had written to one of their number: “I favor giving the women of Virginia immediately the right to vote. Let’s give it to them ourselves. Let’s give it to them now.”
They ignored the counsel of the junior Senator from Virginia, Hon. Carter Glass, who wrote: “Even without constitutional suffrage the women have the right to vote in every pivotal state in the Union. Are we going to refuse or repel women votes merely because we did not want women to have the ballot?”
They openly scorned the head of their own party, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States and a world leader. They ignored over 32,000 Virginia petitioners, a number ten times greater than opponents could ever match.
They were content to fly in the face of all Virginian, all Southern, all national, traditions of democracy. And why? Senator Lee Trinkle has told us. Because “they have set their minds in defiance of justice and fair dealing. They didn’t get the pulse of the times.”