Polarizing Political Issues: The Anti-Suffrage Rose

“The Anti-Suffrage Rose,” The New York Times, August 28, 1915; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

The following is a guest post from Senior Music Cataloging Specialist Laura Yust. Laura’s post marks the final blog post in our Women’s History Month series that highlights selections from the Music Division’s digital collection Woman’s Suffrage in Sheet Music.

The suffragists of the early 20th century faced organized opposition from the anti-suffragists, both men and women. The “antis,” as they were known, promoted their views at meetings and rallies with publications and speeches, and anti-suffrage songs. One of the better known and more attractively illustrated was a song titled “The Anti-Suffrage Rose,” with words and music by Phil Hanna. It was published in 1915 by the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association in Boston, and the cover features a beautiful, bright red rose in full bloom. In a self-referential move, it is also dedicated to the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Associations, presumably individual groups in other parts of the country. The New York Times of August 28, 1915 announced the availability of the song as sheet music and also in recorded form (see newspaper clipping at right).

“The Anti-Suffrage Rose” by Phil Hanna (1915). Call number M1665.W8 H. Music Division, Library of Congress.


Here are the words to the chorus, taken from the actual sheet music itself, which differ slightly from those quoted in the newspaper :

Red, red, anti-suffrage rose,

You’re the flow’r that’s best of all!

You’re better far, than jonquils are

We are going to prove it in the fall.

Sweetest flow’r in all the world,

Ev’rybody knows,

You’re the emblem of the anti-suffrage cause!

You lovely, red, red rose!




Opposition started in the late 19th century, based on reasons such as 1) most women do not want to vote; 2) women do not have the knowledge or time to educate themselves to make useful or informed voting decisions; 3) women as non-voters are uniquely non-partisan and voting will ruin their neutrality; 4) voting is an undesired duty, not a right; 5) the presence of women in politics will create chaos; 6) women are too soft-hearted to vote, govern, or participate in political or legal matters; 7) if women participate in the franchise, men will quit being chivalrous. None of these arguments appear in this particular song. Instead, it seems intended to provide encouragement and create enthusiasm and unity.

National Anti-Suffrage Association. Created 1911? Call number SSF – Women–Politics and Suffrage–191- [item] [P&P]. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

For women who ostensibly did not want to participate in politics, they devoted a lot of time and energy to what can only be called political activities: attending rallies, meetings, and conferences; organizing; giving speeches; and writing, publishing, and disseminating their views. The irony of this situation was obvious to one prominent anti-suffragist, Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge (Josephine Marshall Jewell Dodge (1855 -1928), leader in the day nursey movement in America and reluctant president of the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage, which she organized in her home in 1911. Mrs. Dodge participated only because she thought women’s suffrage was dangerous politically and socially, and she hoped her political work would be temporary.

We can hope that a rose cultivated in her honor might have been some reward for her exertions. The New York Times announced on April 6, 1915 that E.M. Bowe had propagated a beautiful new pink rose, naming it Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge in her honor, because the anti-suffragists had adopted the rose as the symbol of their movement. It seems many of the anti-suffragists adapted readily to voting once the 19th amendment passed and they had the opportunity (or duty) to vote.

If political issues of the 21st century seem contentious and polarizing, just remember the fight for women’s suffrage of 100 years ago. The book Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited features an essay by historian Thomas Jablonsky called “Female Opposition: the Anti-Suffrage Campaign.” Jablonsky describes demonstrations between suffragists and anti-suffragists (p. 121):

Wherever antisuffragists organized, they deluged legislatures, colleges, women’s clubs, granges, libraries, and the general public with thousands of pieces of literature. …The most daring of all antisuffragists came from New York, where the remonstrants took their cause to the meeting rooms of pro-suffrage clubs. Although they were met with heckling and laughter, the antis’ boldness demonstrated the political evolution occurring among these conservative women. In turn, anti-suffrage meetings were periodically disrupted by pro-franchise agitators, who asked embarrassing questions or applauded at the wrong times. Curbside evangelizing by suffragists even took place on the doorstep of the New York Anti-Suffrage Association. In retaliation, antisuffragists tore down pro-suffrage banners and posters. On one occasion, franchise supporters accused antis of dumping lemons, wet sponges, rolls of ticker tape, bags of water, and garbage pails on innocent suffrage supporters parading outside the anti-suffrage offices.

Like most issues that profoundly affect society, this one caused people to have strong reactions! From reading newspaper clippings of the day, there seems to have been at least a veneer of civility in most confrontations, the above encounter notwithstanding. Happily, I found evidence that reporters tried to present factual information about groups on both sides of the argument. Here is one such clipping, from the Miller National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911; Scrapbook 7 (1908-1909):

Carnegie Hall Mass Suffrage Meeting and Anti-Suffrage meeting compared. Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911; Scrapbook 7 (1908-1909). Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room, Library of Congress

There are rich troves of information about both anti-suffragists and suffragists in the collections of the Library of Congress, and the available online resources are a great way to get started bringing this history to life.

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