The most ridiculous historical arguments denying women the right to vote

Updated 8:03 AM ET, Thu August 26, 2021

Today, women being able to vote is a given. A no-brainer. A natural, non-negotiable insurance of a Constitution designed to provide equality for all people. But before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, ensuring all women the right to vote*, people invented all sorts of reasons why they didn't belong at the polls. (*Assuming you weren't Black or disabled.)

Women were seen as somehow too fragile and too powerful at the same time, liable to burst into hysterics or upend the entire family unit just by casting a ballot. Here are a few examples of these arguments, from the absurd to the downright depressing.

Argument: Eve ate the apple which made women unequal to men and, sorry, voting won't change that
Some of the most common arguments against a woman's right to vote centered on religion, which tied into ideas about the family unit, relationships between men and women and, as Justin D. Fulton, a pastor of the Union Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts put it, "nature and common sense." His 1869 pamphlet, "Woman as God Made Her," not only incorporates traditional arguments from scripture, but also features this bold take:
"If we give to woman the ballot, shall the equality which woman lost, when she ate of the forbidden fruit, be restored, and shall she be made again the equal of man?"
Unsurprisingly, his conclusion is ... no.

Argument: Women don't actually want to vote, they just think it would be fun to try
Sadly, men weren't the only ones to rail against women's suffrage. There were plenty of women who insisted they didn't want the right to vote, and occasionally, the push for voting rights was dismissed by some as a fashionable cause du jour that women would simply pick up and later abandon, like a fancy hat. That viewpoint is on display in this cartoon, published by the New York Press, in which fairly common arguments for women's equality are cast as some questionable fashion choice -- as a passerby asks, "I wonder if it's really becoming?"

Argument: Women could cancel out their husbands' votes
Some anti-suffrage material mixed in political arguments with household tips to, as the Jewish Women's Archive writes, "convince ordinary women that the right to vote was unnecessary." In fact, to them it wasn't just unnecessary. It could actually blot out the power of men!
This pamphlet, published by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage encourages women to vote (lol) "no" on women's suffrage because, among other things, married women can "only double or annul their husband's votes." And if that wasn't bad enough, "in some states more voting women than voting men will place the Government under petticoat rule."
That term is, of course, a derogatory reference to a government dominated by women.

Argument: Voting won't help women cook and clean, so what's the point?
More household tips! Another pamphlet from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage makes the household tip-to-anti-suffrage connection even more obvious. Observe these helpful hints, any of which would make a beautiful cross-stitch sampler:
"You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout. A handful of potash and some boiling water is quicker and cheaper."
"Why vote for pure food laws, when your husband does that, while you can purify your ice-box with saleratus water?"
"Butter on a fresh burn takes out the sting. But what removes the sting of political defeat?"
Checkmate, suffragists.

Argument: Voting will lead women away from love and children and toward loneliness and anxiety
Enough of the "slippery slope" argument. What about the "stairs of doom" argument? This cartoon drawn by Laura E. Foster around 1912 features a roller coaster of highs and lows for a woman pursuing the vote.
At the bottom is love, marriage, children and home, which are all fine. But then things get dark, and the children are left behind as she ascends to ambition, social achievement, admiration, and then, suddenly, flattery and disappointment on her way to suffrage.
But alas, the fated journey has not yet ended. Once the vote is secured, she keeps ascending to strife, anxiety and loneliness, pausing to tear her gaze away from the laurels of fame toward the precious children she left behind about a dozen steps before.