Frederick Douglass's Women
Ida B. Wells, Part Three
During her two tours of
, 1893 and 1894, and
all the years thereafter to 1920 when women received the right to vote, Ida
Wells had to battle white temperance and suffragist leaders who insisted upon including
in their organizations racist Southern women. Great Britain
Many leaders refused to advocate for the ending of lynching. … protecting white women’s virtue was often the excuse used to justify the brutal act. In the white imagination, black men’s insatiable sexuality was a threat to white women’s purity … After the passing of the 15th Amendment, Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, the first woman to serve in the Senate, pushed this dangerous message: “I do not want to see a negro man walk to the polls and vote on who should handle my tax money, while I myself cannot vote at all,” she said. “When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue — if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts — then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary” (Dionne 3).
Other leaders accepted Southern white women into their organizations out of expediency. Getting the vote for women was more important than opposing lynching.
Many in the women’s suffrage movement resented the fact that the 15th Amendment had granted the black man the right to vote but not the white woman. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Women Suffrage Association, argued: ““You have put the ballot in the hands of your black men, thus making them political superiors of white women. Never before in the history of the world have men made former slaves the political masters of their former mistresses” (Dionne 5)!
During her 1893 and 1894 tours, Wells waged war against “one of the most formidable American leaders within the movement to gain women the vote, or suffrage: Frances E. Willard, national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Throughout much of the 1800s, the women's alcohol temperance movement was a powerful force in the greater push toward women's suffrage. … To Willard, giving women the right to vote was the only way to rid the
of evils of intemperance. … She was even
willing to court white Southern women, at the expense of blacks, even though
her parents had been abolitionists. "'Better whiskey and more of it' is
the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs," Willard said in an 1890
interview with the New York Voice.
"The safety of [white] women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a
thousand localities." Wells was
incensed. Willard “‘unhesitatingly
slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are
hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive,’ Wells said in her autobiography, Crusade for Justice” (Fields-White 1). U.S.
Wells took Willard on during her second tour of
“Willard was in England
as the guest of Lady Henry Somerset, head of the British temperance movement.
Both women were invited to speak before British temperance advocates on May 9,
Wells came to the lecture armed with a copy of the 1890 interview with the
Voice that echoed such racist
thinking. Willard had told the publication that the local tavern "is the
Negro's center of power ... the colored race multiplies like the locusts of New York ." Egypt
When asked her opinion of Willard, Wells chose to read the interview. With Willard at her side and little time to actually speak, Wells asked the audience how influential white women could continue to turn a blind eye to the white mobs who threatened black lives. Afterward, she was able to get a British journal, the Fraternity, to reprint Willard's interview.
Lady Somerset was so enraged by Wells' commentary that she demanded that the Fraternity article not be printed, or Wells would never be heard in
again. The article was published anyway. Lady Somerset also sent a telegram to
black abolitionist Frederick Douglass demanding that he publicly reprimand
Wells. Douglass didn't give in to Lady Somerset's demands (yet Wells later
sadly noted in a letter to Douglass that he did little to fully support her
overseas campaign). Britain
Lady Somerset and Willard were not done. Pushing to publicly embarrass Wells in the press, the pair arranged for another Willard interview with the Westminster Gazette, a
newspaper. This time it was conducted by London ,
who gave Willard a platform for her version. Somerset
Willard talked about her family background and expressed concern for the plight of blacks. But she also stated that "the best people I knew in the South" had told her black people were threatening the safety of white women and children. She continued, "It is not fair that a plantation Negro who can neither read or write should be entrusted with the ballot."
publications — including the Memphis Commercial — weighed in with statements against Wells' character. The Commercial examined her career, painting "the
saddle-colored Sapphira" from U.S. Holly
Springs, , as a harlot. The newspaper also
stated that Wells was pushing her "foul and slanderous" outbursts on
the British. Miss.
Even so, the media campaign didn't stop Wells. She lectured to audiences in
was invited to dinner in Parliament; and before she headed home, helped
Londoners establish the
Anti-Lynching Committee. Forming this group was a clear victory for Wells in
the anti-lynching crusade. It comprised some of the most influential editors,
ministers, college professors and members of Parliament. To Wells' surprise,
Lady Somerset joined the committee, and Willard was among the Americans who
also signed on (Fields-White 4-5). London
Another crusader for women’s suffrage that placed expediency above justice for black Americans was Susan B. Anthony.
A chapter in her [Wells’s] autobiography describes her work with suffragist Susan B. Anthony. On most issues the two women agreed about both goals and tactics. But at one point, Anthony explained to Wells-Barnett [Wells’s married name] why she had not invited Frederick Douglass to address the Equal Suffrage Association in Atlanta, and why she did not support the foundation of a colored branch of the association: that she "did not want anything to get in the way of bringing southern white women into our suffrage association." Anthony asked Wells-Barnett if she was wrong. "I answered uncompromisingly yes, for I felt that although she may have made gains for suffrage, she had also confirmed white women in their attitude of segregation," … (Bane 1).
Before she joined the campaign for woman suffrage, Anthony was a temperance activist in
, where she was a teacher
at a girls’ school. As a Quaker, she believed that drinking alcohol was a sin;
moreover, she believed that (male) drunkenness was particularly hurtful to the
innocent women and children who suffered from the poverty and violence it
caused. However, Anthony found that few politicians took her anti-liquor
crusade seriously, both because she was a woman and because she was advocating
on behalf of a “women’s issue.” Women needed the vote, she concluded, so that
they could make certain that the government kept women’s interests in mind. Rochester,
Though Anthony was dedicated to the abolitionist cause and genuinely believed that African-American men and women deserved the right to vote, after the Civil War ended she refused to support any suffrage amendments to the Constitution unless they granted the franchise to women as well as men (Williams 1).
Bane, Mary Jo. ““First Things: Ida Wells-Barnett.”
Magazine. Summer 2004. Web. <http://bcm.bc.edu/issues/summer_2004/c21_wellsbarnett.html>. Boston College
Dionne, Evette. “Women's Suffrage Leaders Left Out Black Women.” News and Politics. August 18, 2017. Web. <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/womens-suffrage-leaders-left-out-black-women>.
Fields-White, Monee. “The Root: How Racism Tainted Women's Suffrage.” Opinion Hosted by NPR. March 25, 2011. Web. <https://www.npr.org/2011/03/25/134849480/the-root-how-racism-tainted-womens-suffrage>.
Willaims, Yohuru. “Women Who Fought for the Vote.” History. Web. <https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/women-who-fought-for-the-vote>.