Forming the Woman’s Party
April 9, 1916 — Congressional Union Convention, Cameron House, Washington DC
This is the third time we have called together the members of our Advisory Council and our state and national officers to lay before them a new project. The first time was at Newport when we proposed a campaign against all Democratic candidates for Congress in the Suffrage States. The second time was a year ago in New York when we proposed to convert the Congressional Union into a national organization with branches in the different States. Today we want to lay another plan before you for your consideration — that is the organization of a political Party of women voters who can go into this next election, if it is necessary to go into it, as an independent Party.
I think we are all agreed on certain essential points. First — from what source our opposition comes. We are agreed that it comes from the Administration. We do not have to prove that. Second — we are agreed as to where our power lies—that is in the Suffrage States. Third — we are agreed as to the political situation. We know that the two Parties are about equal, that both want to win. We know that the Suffrage States are doubtful States and that every one of those States is wanted by the political Parties. We know that many of the elections will be close. The State of Nevada was won by only forty votes in the last Senatorial election. In Utah it was a week before the campaign was decided. In Colorado, the same. Going back over a period of twenty years it would have been necessary to have changed only nine per cent of the total vote cast in the presidential elections in order to have thrown the election to the other Party. This gives us a position of wonderful power, a position that we have never held before and that we cannot hope to hold again for at least four years, and which we may not hold then.
We have been working for two years to effect an organization in the Suffrage States and have finally completed such an organization. Our last branch was formed about ten days ago in the State of Washington. We now have to demonstrate to the Administration, to the majority Party in Congress, that the organization in the Suffrage States does exist and that it is a power to be feared. There are many months still remaining, probably, before Congress will adjourn. If in these months we can build up so strong an organization there that it really will be dangerous to oppose it, and if we can show Congress that we have such an organization, then we will have the matter in our hands.
We have sent a request to our branches in the East to select one or more representative women who will go out to the West and make a personal appeal to the women voters to stand by us even more loyally than they have before — to form a stronger organization than has ever before existed.
Today we must consider what concrete plan we shall ask these envoys who go out to the West to propose to the voting women. I do not think it will do very much good to go through the voting States and simply strengthen our Suffrage organizations. That will not be enough to terrify the men in Congress. Suffrage organizations, unfortunately, have come to stand for feebleness of action and supineness of spirit. What I want to propose is that when we go to these women voters we ask them to begin to organize an independent political Party that will be ready for the elections in November. They may not have to go into these elections. If they prepare diligently enough for the elections they won’t have to go into them. The threat will be enough. We want to propose to you that we ask the women voters to come together in Chicago at the time that the Progressives and Republicans meet there in June, to decide how they will use these four million votes that women have, in the next election.
Now, if women who are Republicans simply help the Republican Party, and if women who are Democrats help the Democratic Party, women’s votes will not count for much. But if the political Parties see before them a group of independent women voters who are standing together to use their vote to promote Suffrage, it will make Suffrage an issue — the women voters at once become a group which counts; whose votes are wanted. The Parties will inevitably have to go to the women voters if the latter stand aloof and do not go to the existing political Parties. The political Parties will have to offer them the thing which will win their votes. To count in an election you do not have to be the biggest Party; you have to be simply an independent Party that will stand for one object and that cannot be diverted from that object.
Four years ago there was launched a new Party, the Progressive Party. It really did, I suppose, decide the last Presidential election. We can be the same determining factor in this coming election. And if we can make Congress realize that we can be the determining factor, we won’t have to go into the election at all.
What I would like to propose, in short, is that we go to the women voters and ask them to hold a convention in Chicago the first week in June, and that we spend these next two months in preparation. We could not have a better opportunity for preparation than this trip of the envoys through every one of the Suffrage States, calling the women together to meet in Chicago, the place where the eyes of the whole country will be turned in June.
We want very much to know what you think about this plan and whether you will help us in carrying it through. It is not an easy thing to launch a new Party and have it stand competition with the Republican and Democratic Parties. If we undertake it, we must make it a success. We must make it worthy to stand beside these great Parties. That is the biggest task that we have ever dreamed of since we started the Congressional Union.
Source: The Story of the Woman’s Party, by Inez Haynes Irwin, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company), 1921, pp. 149-151.