New York Daily News Guest Columnist: Women’s Partners in Making History: The Men Who Help Power Progress

November 13, 2017


New York Tribune publisher Ogden Mills Reid, one of the men in the women's suffrage movement

New York Tribune publisher Ogden Mills Reid, one of the men in the women’s suffrage movement


Given all the really bad news lately about the behavior of far too many powerful men, try to imagine this:It’s the end of August 1917. Four of New York City’s wealthy power brokers and their wives head up to Saratoga Springs, but not to the racetrack. New York Tribune publisher Ogden Mills Reid; Frank A. Vanderlip, the president of what is now Citibank; financier James Lees Laidlaw, and stockbroker James Norman De Rapelye Whitehouse are delegates to an urgent three-day meeting toplan what a reporter for Reid’s paper called a “veritable crusade” for a “holy cause.”That cause was women’s right to vote in New York, secured 100 years ago this month by ballot referendum on Nov. 6, 1917.This happened because women organized and agitated for 70 long years, and also because in the 1910s, men like those in the Saratoga quartet recognized the value they could bring to this just cause. To aid the women, they gave time and money as part of an organized force of thousands across 35 states, the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage.That August in New York, victory was far from assured. A 1915 attempt to get the referendum passed had failed decisively.This time, with the country at war, burgeoning support gained in the intervening two years brought a victory margin of more than 90,000 votes. As of Jan. 1, 1918, New York dropped the word “male” from its Constitution and became the 14th state in the union to enfranchise women.Men like the “suffrage husbands” at Saratoga took their inspiration from the tireless activism of their equally formidable wives. Helen Rogers Reid, Narcissa Cox Vanderlip, Harriet Burton Laidlaw and Vira Boarman Whitehouse all were major leaders of the New York State campaign.

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.



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The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History.  See Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.

Upcoming Events: September 23: Bentson Dean’s Lecture, College of Arts and Science, New York University. October 17: Suffragents Panel, National Archives, Washington DC.  [2020] March 27 Ephemera Society of America, 40th annual conference, Old Greenwich CT. June 4-6Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),”  Université de Lausanne (Switzerland).

Happened 2019: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles.  March 13: The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public LibraryMarch 25:Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City. August 7:  Panel, “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court.” (page 40) AEJMC, Toronto. August 14: Webinar, National Park Service.