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11.2.4 Belle Kearney speech excerpt (1903), from The History of Woman Suffrage

Text from a speech delivered by Belle Kearney at the National American Convention of 1903.
Anthony, Susan B., Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
1922
Book

Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. History of Woman Suffrage, 82-83. New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1922. https://archive.org/details/historyofwomansu05stanuoft/page/82.

Belle Kearney, a white suffragist from Mississippi, delivered this address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Convention in 1903. NAWSA was a national organization that had chapters and branches of suffragists all around the country, with members devoted to working for both a constitutional suffrage amendment and state-level suffrage amendments. This speech shows how some white suffragists connected race, Jim Crow, and voting rights at the turn of the twentieth century. What do you think is the meaning of the phrase, “The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained”? Who do you think Kearney is directing her argument toward? How does this speech help answer the question, Why did women want the right to vote, and how did they convince men to grant it to them?

Belle Kearney, a white suffragist from Mississippi, delivered this address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Convention in 1903. It is significant that this convention was held in New Orleans. It was tied to the development of a Southern white suffrage movement that previously had been quite weak. NAWSA accommodated Southern white suffragists and even approved their states’ rights approach to suffrage. Just a few years earlier, Susan B. Anthony asked Frederick Douglass not to attend the convention in Atlanta so as not to offend Southern white women. NAWSA was a national organization that at its formation in 1890 had largely excluded black members. It had chapters and branches of suffragists all around the country, with members devoted to working for both a constitutional suffrage amendment and state-level suffrage amendments. African American women suffragists resisted such race-based claims and formed their own suffrage organizations, as did Ida B. Wells in 1913 with the Alpha Suffrage Club. This speech shows how some white suffragists connected race, Jim Crow, and voting rights at the turn of the twentieth century. Students should be able to make connections between Jim Crow disenfranchisement laws, notions of racial hierarchy that were common in this era, and the progressive-era reformers. This context will be necessary for students to understand the meaning of the phrase, “The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained.” Ask students to infer who Kearney is directing her argument toward. Also, note that this source can provide students with an important and complicated piece of evidence to help them answer the question, Why did women want the right to vote, and how did they convince men to grant it to them?

82 History of Woman Suffrage
The National American Convention of 1903 83

”The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained, for upon unquestioned authority it is stated that in every southern State but one there are more educated women than all the illiterate voters, white and black, native and foreign, combined. As you probably know, of all the women in the South who can read and write, ten out of every eleven are white. When it comes to the proportion of property between the races, that of the white outweighs that of the black immeasurably. The South is slow to grasp the great fact that the enfranchisement of women would settle the race question in politics. The civilization of the North is threatened by the influx of foreigners with their imported customs ; by the greed of monopolistic wealth and the unrest among the working classes ; by the strength of the liquor traffic and encroachments upon religious belief. Some day the North will be compelled to look to the South for redemption from those evils on account of the purity of its Anglo-Saxon blood, the simplicity of its social and economic structure, the great advance in prohibitory law and the maintenance of the sanctity of its faith, which has been kept inviolate. Just as surely as the North will be forced to turn to the South for the nation’s salvation, just so surely will the South be compelled to look to its Anglo-Saxon women as the medium through which to retain the supremacy of the white race over the African” (82-83).