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JSPES, Vol. 42, No. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2017)
pp. 419–430

The Lost Context of ‘Women’s Suffrage’

Dwight D. Murphey

Wichita State University, retired

In this journal’s Spring 2017 issue, our article on “The Lost Context of ‘American Racism’” spoke to one of the issues most important to contemporary American thinking. Its importance lay in the fact that a prevailing lack of historical perspective about the role of race in American history has become the spearpoint for the alienated ideology toward the American past that has been taught to generations of American students. It is this failure of understanding that motivates the present-day excoriation not just of the Confederate South but of the Founding Fathers and indeed of most American history prior to the present day. With the present article, we hope similarly to explore the overlooked context of Women’s Suffrage. The historical myopia regarding it is not nearly as significant as that regarding race, because it has not been made a central feature of the sweeping anti-American ideology; but it is nevertheless worth pondering by anyone who cares to see historical movements in their context and free of the hype that so often surrounds them. The nearly universal perception has been that the nineteenth and early twentieth century movement for women’s suffrage in the United States was a lonely crusade against long odds that won because of the persistence and stridency of its proponents. To the contrary, we will see that the movement occurred concurrently with a vast expansion of popular participation throughout much of the world. Something that is little acknowledged is that most men did not have the vote in the United States, Britain and elsewhere until nearly the same time as women. The franchise was broadened for both within an epoch of democratization. Taken in its context, the drive for women’s suffrage was part of a much larger mosaic.