Saturday, February 18, 2017

V.M. Branner reports: the 1897 suffragist convention

Susan B. Anthony

I've written before about Lucas County's pioneer suffragists, the Branner sisters --- Victoria (Branner) Dewey and Virginia M. Branner

One of the 1897 highlights for the women, and other members of the Lucas County chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was that nationwide organization's annual congress, or convention, held at Central Christian Church in Des Moines on Jan. 26-29.

That's Susan B. Anthony at the top here --- keynote speaker during the convention.

This was the organization's 29th annual convention and the first held in the "West," which Iowa still was considered to be a part of during the final decade of the 19th century.


Iowa woman had gained the right during 1894 to vote on "yes" or "no" issues during local elections, but universal suffrage was a goal that would remain elusive until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally was ratified. 

But there was no way in 1897 of predicting that long refusal of Iowa men to share the vote, so the convention was greeted with considerable optimism.

Chariton newspapermen were firm supporters of the equal suffrage movement during the 1890s even though many of their readers were not. Working with Virginia Branner, The Herald created a regular "Equal Suffrage Department" with Virginia as the principal scribe. 

State Sen. Harvey L. Byers, a Belinda boy then representing both Lucas and Wayne counties at the Capitol, also was a firm supporter and had been instrumental in inviting delegates to address lawmakers in the Senate chamber during the convention.

The following report of the convention, written by Virginia, was published in the "Equal Suffrage Department" of The Herald on Feb. 11, 1897, as "Notes from the National American Suffrage Convention which met in Des Moines last week." You'll note that Virginia had a sharp wit, alluding to tactics employed by prominent males on previous occasions to avoid suffragist gatherings and referencing one of the more outlandish arguments against universal suffrage. She was not a person to be meddled with.

Mrs. Maria Noble, Miss Grace Bonnett and Mrs. V. M. Branner were the members representing the Lucas county society, that attended the convention, and they were justly proud of their Senator, Mr. (Harvey L.) Byers, who has always stood for justice and fair play for women. The hospitable people of Des Moines were doubly warm in their welcome to the convention in order to compensate as far as possible for the icy reception the clerk of the weather had prepared for them.

The convention was a most successful one, and the audiences all the time were very large, and crowded almost to suffocation in the evenings. Many people stood up for two hours during the evening meetings. These were of great interest, some of the best speakers in the country being present. The Governor was not unexpectedly called out of town, the Mayor did not have to attend to important duties elsewhere, the ministers were not conducting revival meetings, but all were on hand to do honor to the noble woman who has labored so long and faithfully for the enfranchisement of her sex, Miss Susan B. Anthony. The Governor welcomed the convention on behalf of the state, Rev. Mr. Frisbie and Rev. Mr. Breeden spoke for the churches, and Mr. Macomber represented the Woman's Club of Des Moines in a very  pleasing and brilliant address.

President Gates, of Iowa College, a staunch suffragist, in his able speech to the convention, presented a new and startling theory that had lately been urged against Equal Suffrage --- new to him, he said, and probably new to everyone else. It was advanced by a "legal male mind" of his acquaintance, and in all sincerity! It was to the effect that if women mingled in politics much more and got to voting as the men do, "early and often," they would become emotional and hysterical, would deteriorate to that extent that future generations would become skinny, red-haired, freckle faced, sharp nosed, and be so altogether unlovable that none of them would be able to get married, and the race would die out. A great deal of logic in that objection, about as much as is usually advanced by the remonstrants.

The reception by Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell at Terrace Hill was a brilliant affair, and the reception by the  Woman's Club at the Club rooms was very enjoyable, and the crowning feature was the reception by the Senate, and the hearing by our best speakers on Equal Suffrage in the crowded Senate chamber. Senators Kilburn, Rowen and Byers conveyed the invitation to the convention, which accepted with thanks, and for an hour, through Miss Anthony, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Colby, Mrs. Catt and others, represented the claims of Equal Suffragists to the attentive audience. The State Librarian also extended an invitation to the convention to visit the State Library, which was accepted.

Altogether the convention felt quite satisfied with Des Moines and its generous people.

No comments: