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Suffrage and Spanish Flu
Linda Hixon
September 27, 2018

On September 27, 1918, the local Suffrage club decided to hold a sale of “fruit, vegetables and war-time cooking” at the home of Mrs. Arthur Foster. Their timing couldn’t have been worse. The Milford Daily News noted that Bancroft Memorial Library was closed that week “on account of the grip epidemic.” In fact, the arrival of Spanish flu in Hopedale was causing several disruptions. The “no school signal” had sounded out of fear of the flu spreading to the children, and the Red Cross headquarters were closed “on account of the epidemic of grip.” Already, 400 employees were ill at the Draper plant. The first death in town, a Draper worker named Walter James Morton, died that very day. The Hopedale Sewing Circle did not meet in October of 1918 because of the pandemic.

The Sewing Circle record was mum on the group’s suffrage views in these last years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. But in December, 1914, they had been thanked by the “Public Interest League” for their Red Cross work aiding war refugees in Europe. This may have been the Massachusetts Public Interests League of Anti-Suffragists, who published a flyer in September, 1918, questioning whether supporting woman suffrage should be considered “Pro-German.” “To weaken the countries of her enemies through Socialism and Woman Suffrage is Germany’s cleverest device,” the pamphlet reads, adding that Germany “had great hopes that it will work in England, and she is doing her best to give it a trial in America.”

The Hopedale women never mention this league again, but like most Unitarian women they may have been torn when it came to women having the right to vote. The line, it appears, seems to have been drawn by age and social status. “WHY are the opponents of Woman Suffrage almost entirely the women of wealth, privilege and leisure, women who all their lives have been protected by the care of some man, father, brother, husband, from harsh contact with the world as it exists, whilst the great majority of self-supporting women ask for enfranchisement?” A young writer who only gave her initials as K.W. asked that question in a 1912 publication by the Unitarian Advance Association. She was reacting to a push-back against a pro-suffrage stance taken by the American Unitarian Association that year. “What are Unitarians good for if they have not gained an instinct for the alleviation of human wrong,” she asked.

The Hopedale women attended local meetings of the American Unitarian Association and the “Alliance Conference of Unitarian and other Liberal Women” several times. “Our thorough liberalism by character appeals to a large number,” Ida Remington noted in the record in September, 1916. But whether they were ambivalent about their own citizenship rights or attended Mrs. Foster’s suffrage food sale is a question yet to be answered. These Sewing Circle members were probably of many minds on the subject.