Overview

 

"The voting school here is memorable for one thing above all others, that is not the lessons taught, nor the politics learned. It is by no means the parliamentary law and usage daily urged upon the women, it is rather, and most abundantly, the amazing interest taken in the great new weapon of the future, now in the hand of woman, the vote, and this vote brings out, from little humble farms, woman of all ages and conditions, and, particularly, it brings out the old gray-haired women whom one would rather expect to see turning in at the Sewing Circle. As Mrs. Schoonmaker praised it in closing, ‘Our supreme effort must be to do for the world, as women voters, what we have done for the home.'" --Hazel Canning, writer for the Boston American, July 9, 1919.

 

Despite “very little newspaper publicity,” the Citizenship School, suggested by Mary I. Wood of Portsmouth and agreed upon by NHC President Ralph Hetzel, took place from the 8th-12th of July and was a tremendous success. About two-hundred women of all walks of life, from all over New Hampshire and beyond, attended the school to take part in the five-day instruction on how to best use their new voting rights. The women attending boarded at Smith Hall for $2.50 per day (about $38 as of 2021) or with local hosts. Each day would be marked by three, three-hour, sessions—interspersed were scheduled mealtimes, during which attendees were said to studiously “sit debating upon every phase of citizenship […] until far into the night” and even “dream citizenship”  (The Woman Citizen, 7/30/1919).

Schedule from pamphlet

According to several newspaper accounts, Mary I. Wood – the “dean of the school, a motherly looking, white-haired woman who smiled benignly upon her charges” (Boston Post 7/11/1919)— opened the first session with a speech outlining the importance of the female perspective in government, beginning as follows:

“If women voting means doubling the votes of men, our object is defeated. We must contribute strength and intelligence of our own. There can be no division upon strictly party lines. There must be an aim of good ideals, good men, good government.”

The sessions were not only invigorating, as per the above speech, but practical. Topics discussed during the Tuesday sessions included a survey of town and country government (taught by Nancy Schoonmaker), municipal problems (taught by Professor D. C. Babcock of New Hampshire College), and reconstruction problems after WWI (taught by Huntley N. Spaulding).  The women explored pressing issues of the day, such as the formation of the League of Nations, child labor, the age of consent, the problems of trying to balance work and motherhood, the need for public health services, the ways local police stations profited financially from emprisoning lawbreakers, and gerrymandering. The schedule even included a Republican Night and a Democratic Night, where leaders of the parties educated the women and advertised their respective platforms, "flirting" with them for their votes. The School was intentionally non-partisan yet it offered this information to the women to help them adopt a party of their choosing.  Nonetheless, Schoonmaker cautioned: "Split your ticket, girls. Find out the record of the man and vote accordingly" (Boston American, 7/9/1919). 

The gravity and thoroughness with which the women taught and were taught made quite the impression on some onlookers. A cartoonist and a reporter from an unspecified Boston newspaper were sent to the school on the first morning to produce an amusing story about a group of grown women going back to school—an absurd image to the people of 1919. However, in the afternoon they called the city editor to inform them that “there would be no funny story, the quality of thought was something they could not joke about” (CSM,  8/30/1919); "it would be making mockery of reverence" (ARR, 1921). As one writer recalled, "So those who came to ridicule remained to praise" (ARR, 1921).

The rest of the school’s days proceeded similarly in terms of not only the depth of session material, but also by introducing the women to the discord and debate of partisan politics.  An article in the Boston Post, written by Margaret A. Strickland, describes a string of heated partisan debates occurring during a session on the 10th. Guest speaker Robert C. Murchie, Chair of the NH Democratic party (who spoke along with Mrs. Antoinette Funk of Chicago) sparked the fire by naming the Democratic party the “forward looking” party of “labor” and the Republican party as that of “special privilege.”  In his appeal to them, Murchie referred to the women in attendance as a "high type of women, already cognizant of political issues of the day.” He welcomed them to the field of voters, “for voters you soon will be, but it is plainly apparent to me that you are in earnest about this matter of politics. The majority of women voters will come from the ranks of the wives and daughters of the laborers and today they are asking, not merely for leadership but for intelligent leadership, and they know what they want" (Boston Post 7/11/1919). Although the attending women were largely Democrats, the crowd was nonetheless one of mixed views (including anti-suffragists), and not all listeners took kindly to Murchie’s indirect accusations against the Republicans.  The Post describes that at one point, "it looked as if the fair sex would have to lay aside their knitting, tatting and crocheting to separate the political gladiators, but in every case, wiser counsels prevailed, and in most cases the agitated ones kissed and made up, instead of pulling one another's hair." Schoonmaker, ever-enthusiastic but perhaps not helping to cool the flames, reminded attendees to “remember that neither party is ever true to its party principles.”  Despite everything, Wood retained her calm head and stated: “this is the sort of thing we women need. We are learning now to think and disagree and still love each other.” According to the Boston American, all of the women were agreed that politicians should support an 8 hour work day, laws supporting the age of consent, and the Child Labor Law (7/9/1919). 

Although the School was not highly publicized in advance, once it was underway it was prominently featured in media. At least five Boston newspapers covered various aspects of it (Post, Christian Science Monitor, Herald, American, Globe). The School was on the front page of the Manchester Union every day of its operation, and on the front page of the Boston Herald for at least its first two days. The Union published in full the speech by Huntley Spaulding about Europe and its reconstruction following the Great War. Foster’s Daily Democrat described the events of most days in depth. The Boston Post recounted in great detail the political disputes that occurred when the Republican and Democratic representatives presented their parties' platforms. Afterwards, articles about the NH School appeared in at least South Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

"In mood of depest religion, hundreds of women who take their vote like their marriage vows, have spent four days at this little college among the hills, planning what they shall do with their vote. Here has not been the conclave of the ward politician, where tobacco reeked, and the near-beer was sighed against and decried. Here had been the motherly procession of white skirts and summer hats, up the hill to the lecture room, three times a day.  Baby carriages have been left outside, while a community nurse girl looked out after small Margaret or John. Buggies, again, with old Dobbin in the shaft, have brought mammas to school to learn how to vote. And, again, at night, father, in a high-powered automobile, has drawn up for another mamma."  --Boston American 7/12/1919

 

Schedule for school