The wives of other men moved them to action, too, or it was their mothers, sisters, friends and lovers. Still more joined up because men like Vanderlip did, or to support a progressive cause.
The inventiveness and success of New York’s suffrage campaign, built on lavish parades, clever promotional gimmicks, and strategic and tactical finesse, spurred the momentum that finally moved Congress to approve the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By 1920, three-quarters of the states had ratified the measure and it became law.
In part because the men never sought credit, history has been slow to record their contribution, even though women thanked them often and in public, in real time.
James Laidlaw, as National Men’s League president, had platform honors at the New York victory celebration. He praised the women for their “hard steady grinding and good organization.” He also acknowledged what the movement had taught his legion of A-list lawyers, writers, publishers, scientists, clergy, attorneys and business leaders, men today’s young activists might call “allies.”
“We have learned,” he said, “to be auxiliaries.”
All of this should remind us that the flip-side of outrage or protest is a vision of what should exist in its stead. An important lesson of suffrage is that men’s support, both in and outside legislatures, is essential to correcting the gender inequalities that still fester. As Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, put it this summer, “Men have to endorse the project as much as women.”
Just as was true for suffrage, it will take men to free the Equal Rights Amendment from 94 years of limbo and make it law. Congress passed it in 1972, nearly half a century after its introduction in 1923. It remained three states short of the 38 states needed for ratification until last March, when Nevada, long past the 1982 deadline, renewed hope for the amendment’s advocates when it added its vote to the ratification list.
The amendment calls for equality of rights under the law that no state can deny or abridge on account of sex, and for Congress to legislate accordingly.
And yet it remains stuck, despite the growing number of women who now serve in the state legislatures, constituting nearly a quarter of all state lawmakers nationwide. Still, in no statehouse today do women form a voting majority, and even if they did, that would not, in and of itself, guarantee support.
That was true for suffrage, too. Women “antis” were prevalent all throughout that campaign.
So, to all men of good will and purpose: Along with this 100th anniversary of the right of women in New York, and the one coming up in 2020 to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment, how about a third momentous centennial celebration in 2023?
Kroeger is author of “The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote” and a professor at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.