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Harvard League for Woman Suffrage

In the fall of 1911 the issue of women’s suffrage roiled Harvard University. The Harvard League for Woman Suffrage proposed to bring the militant British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst to campus. The Harvard administration refused permission to have Pankhurst speak at the university’s 1000-seat Sanders Theater (inspiring the memorable Detroit Free Press headline “Is Harvard Afraid of Mrs. Pankhurst?”), which forced the event off campus to a dance hall on nearby Brattle Street. More than 1500 students showed up, far more than the hall could hold, but the lecture went off without a hitch. Harvard survived this close brush with suffrage militance and so did the Harvard League’s 52” x 38” banner.

The Harvard League for Woman Suffrage was one of many public declarations of support on the part of men in the last decade of the movement. The most influential was the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage founded in 1909 by a group of prominent New Yorkers who comprised a Who’s Who of the New York intellectual establishment. According to James Lees Laidlaw (himself married to prominent suffragist Harriet Burton Laidlaw), the activities of the Men’s League were intended “to give moral support to men and to give political support to women.” Members marched in suffrage parades, attended NAWSA conventions, lobbied in Albany, and spoke at public forums. Never expecting to take over leadership roles, men’s groups functioned as adjuncts to the women’s suffrage machine, a true role reversal from centuries of women serving as auxiliaries to men.