Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

1915 was a good year for Rome and Floyd County. Cotton was still king and was rated as the best in the state and maybe the south. It was being shipped to markets across the globe. Railroads were shipping tons of freight, not only from cotton, but from the many foundries in Rome. Europe was at war, and the United States had a taken a neutral position and was selling to both sides. The economy was booming. Lindale Mill couldn’t make enough cloth. Anchor Duck was swamped trying to fill orders for tenting and tarpaulins for the various armies. Rome had recovered quite well from what was called the Civil War. Technological improvements were being invented almost daily. Electricity was taking over the lifestyle of the manufacturing base. Life was good. But there was one segment of society that wasn’t very happy at all. There was probably more than one, but one wouldn’t stop yelling about it.

“Equal suffrage for women is not new, friend husband,” wrote Miss Madelyn J.S. Wyly in the Rome Tribune-Herald on Jan. 31, 1915, “it is just your knowledge of it that is recent.” She was a talented writer and was president of the Rome Woman Suffrage Association, at whose meetings she presided over a membership of 250 ladies united by a common determination to win their rightful place in the world of civic and political affairs. In a bi-weekly column called “Woman Suffrage” she pointed out particular instances to support her convictions. She would write that the women of Massachusetts had voted for 90 years until the U.S. Congress disenfranchised them in 1807, and that widows in Sweden enjoyed municipal equality as early as 1869; plus women in Scotland, Ireland and other countries exercised the privilege of balloting.

In 1915, women had gained the right to vote in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, California, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada, and seven more states had ratified a suffrage amendment.

But Georgia, along with other southern and eastern states, had stubbornly resisted the pressure of feminist organizations.

But Miss Wyly had the press and continued to write.

“In Georgia, a man may will away his minor children without the consent of the mother… and in some states all of a woman’s property is transferred to her husband upon marriage.”

In 1915, she stated, “only four states had enacted eight-hour work days for women, though 25 states had enacted such laws for men. Washington State actually passed a minimum weekly wage for women office workers. They established a 10 dollar minimum. Other states paid as little as they could get away with. And other callings beside office workers are being investigated. The matter might have been considered by the Georgia Legislature, since employers pay women as little as they will stand for.”

January 1915 was a crucial time for the equal rights movement. It was supported by the Women’s Club of Rome (chartered in March 1896 by 25 prominent ladies of the community including Mrs. Hallie Rounsaville, Mrs. Anne Gillespie Johnson, Mrs. Beulah Shropshire Mosley, Miss Martha Berry, Mrs. Jennie Elliott Printup and Mrs. A. Holmes Cheney) and the Nibelung Study Club, the militant Rome Women’s Suffrage Association. The discussion of equal rights for women never stopped. They maintained a steady pressure for recognition of its aims and ideas.

Jointly owned by Col. J. Lindsey Johnson, Wilson Hardy and Jack D. McCartney, the Rome Tribune-Herald gave ample space to the suffrage campaign, perhaps because Mrs. Johnson was co-editor during the absence of the Colonel, who was in the Philippines as a Census Bureau Representative and died there in 1915. She saw that the paper gave the movement proper coverage.

Many prominent men, especially the opponents of the whiskey interests, supported the suffrage movement. The Rome Tribune-Herald reported on Jan. 3, “A brilliant assembly of representatives, men and women filled the parlors of the Third Avenue Hotel in response to invitations issued by the Rome Women’s Suffrage Association to a New Year’s Tea. Young girls in yellow gowns (the Association’s colors) served punch on the balcony; the Reverend T.A. Osborne sang, and attorney L.A. Dean spoke briefly in turn with John C. Foster and First National Bank President John H. Reynolds. Mrs. H.H. Shackleford read a ‘peace paper’ dealing with the threat of a World War.”

The women’s organization also took a strong stand on the sale and consumption of alcohol, and as a consequence, the powerful liquor lobbies were bitterly opposed to any legislation that would allow women to vote against their interests. And there were other women who weren’t in agreement with such legislation either. Mrs. Minnie Sabin Cooper, from another state, penned many editorials against legislation that would ruin the status of women in the home she said.

A delegation of nearly a hundred women from Rome visited President Woodrow Wilson to ask his support of the current equal rights legislation. He repeated his stance, that the question should be resolved by the states according to their individual preferences.

Several of the Rome women’s organizations banded together to publish a special suffrage edition of the Women’s Magazine. This magazine was edited and published by Mrs. Beulah Shropshire Moseley (who also edited the Rome Georgian, founded in 1897). And in an issue that was numbered volume 2, No. 11, she dropped a bomb on those that would deprive women equal rights.

“In the dark ages,” she wrote, “a council of seventy-four men dignitaries was called to decide the issue of whether women had souls. Following a long and serious debate, ballots were taken, and by a majority of one vote… souls were granted to women. Had the rule of the United States Senate been in operation, requiring a two-thirds majority… the providing of souls for women would have met a crushing defeat, and who knows what its status would be today… I say before you this day, that woman has every right to the only weapon of free government, the ballot.”

Those arguments seem strange to us a mere 100 years later, but believe me, those battle lines were real… Ladies, some women before you put everything they had on the line for you to be able to participate in elections. Please, don’t let them down…

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com