Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Women in Massachusetts Elections Then and Now: What a Difference a Century Makes

Women's votes: from our house to the State House

If you don't keep up with the Massachusetts past, you at least learned this at the Amherst Educational Foundation Trivia Bee last week:

In 1879, Massachusetts made it legal for women to vote in school committee elections. In 1880, Louisa May Alcott was the first to register to vote in Concord. As Mass Moments recounts, "When the day came, a group of 20 women, "mostly with husbands, fathers or brothers" appeared, "all in good spirits and not in the least daunted by the awful deed about to be done." When the votes were cast, she later reported, "No bolt fell on our audacious heads, no earthquake shook the town." 

 Orchard House, home of the Alcott family in Concord from 1858 to 1877.
In the latter year, Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson joined her sister
Anna in a house on Main Street.
Postcard from the Valentine-Souvenir Co., NY (active 1914-1923)

Flash forward a generation: Still no votes for women in the larger electoral landscape.

On November 2, 1915, Massachusetts voters failed to pass a referendum that would have given women the ballot across the board. Oddest of all, as Mass Moments explains, some women played an active role in that defeat:
In spite of its leading role in the nineteenth-century woman's rights movement, Massachusetts was the first state to organize an association of women opposed to suffrage. Known as the "Antis," these women believed that they could be better, more effective citizens without the ballot. Many of the "Antis" were active in Progressive era causes; they feared that involvement in electoral politics would erode their influence. For over 30 years, they and their male allies succeeded in keeping Massachusetts women out of the voting booth. But ultimately they lost the fight. On this same day in 1920, Massachusetts women cast their votes in a federal election for the first time. 

Flash forward 99 years:

Today, on November 4, 2014, two women are contenders for the top positions in the state:  Martha Coakley for Governor, and Maura Healey for Attorney General.

Coakley was widely criticized for running a poor and ultimately unsuccessful Senate campaign against Scott Brown (who is today running for Senate in New Hampshire--got that?). Although listed in some polls as trailing opponent Charlie Baker, she insists she is "absolutely not" the underdog, claiming "This race is essentially tied."

The Boston Globe endorsed Baker for Governor and Healey for Attorney General. In western Masachusetts, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Berkshire Eagle endorsed both Coakley (1, 2) and Healey. (1, 2)

Update Tuesday afternoon: just heard Tom Bevan and Washington Bureau Chief Carl Cannon discussing Coakley and the Massachusetts election on "Real Clear Politics" (Sirius XM Satellite Radio):
Q: Should she be looking for a different line of work?
A: I don't think that will be up to her.
One of the hosts, speaking as an avowed Democrat, called her terrible campaigner lacking in warmth, and said he'd rather have a beer with Baker than lunch with Coakley. Ouch.

By tonight, we'll know what her career plans will or will not include.

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