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GOP Recalls Suffrage Days of Long Ago in Attempt to Lure Women

August 25, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A banner strung outside the GOP’s national headquarters proclaims, ``It Took a Republican Congress to Get the Vote for Women.″ And the party tells anyone who will listen: Susan B. Anthony, heroine of the suffrage movement, voted Republican.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the women’s vote on Saturday, the Grand Old Party dug up its past in hopes of impressing female voters, who as a group have leaned toward the Democrats in recent elections.

``I think they’ll like our history,″ said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Democrats aren’t impressed. Their retort: What have you done for women lately?

``The Republicans are reaching as far back as they can in order to gloss over the fact that the Republican Party today has nothing to offer women,″ said Diane Reis, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.

Women voters are a hot property. If women voted as a bloc, no national candidate could win without them.

Women have been more than half of all voters since the mid-’60s, partly because there are more women of voting age. And these days they also turn out at a higher rate.

Women don’t vote alike, of course. But since 1980 there has been a ``gender gap″: Women were slightly more likely to vote for Democrats, and men were more likely to vote for Republicans.

Women were crucial to President Clinton’s victory in 1992; Men were the key to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. In that congressional election, the Democrats won the votes of 53 percent of women but only 42 percent of men.

``Women voters are the balance of power for both parties,″ said Republican pollster Linda DiVall. ``Both parties have to do better in getting their share of the women voters.″

The GOP’s role in giving women the vote 75 years ago is probably ``a small plus″ at best, DiVall said.

Nevertheless, the Republican National Committee urged party members in every state to mark the anniversary with news conferences and celebrations reminding them that Republicans took the lead in women’s suffrage.

``In the public’s mind the Democrats have always carried the banner that they have been the party of women,″ said Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y. ``I think it’s unfair.″

History shows that men in both parties ridiculed women’s early calls for suffrage. And by the time the 19th Amendment was ratified seven decades later, both parties supported it.

In the meantime, many suffragists were Republicans, partly because the GOP embraced their other favorite movements _ the crusades to abolish slavery and prohibit the sale of alcohol.

The 19th Amendment didn’t receive the two-thirds vote needed in Congress until Republicans won control in 1918. But it was a Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, who called Congress into a special session for that vote.

And what about Susan B. Anthony, who died before women won the right to vote? She cast a ballot only once, in 1872, and was arrested for it. She voted for the Republican ticket.

``Later she would say over and over again that she would support any party that would put women’s enfranchisement on the plank,″ said Colleen Hurst, historian at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, N.Y. No party did in her lifetime.

But as soon as it seemed inevitable that women would win the vote, both parties were eager to count women on their side.

Just ask 95-year-old Ann Salsberg, who was working for a Republican state legislator in 1920. As soon as she got word that the 19th Amendment had been ratified, she rushed to the Camden, N.J., city hall to become the first local woman to register.

They weren’t ready for her. The all-male staff huddled together. What should they do? Finally, one said, ``Go on and let her register. She’ll be a good Republican.″

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