Guest Author - Linda Sue Grimes
In some U. S. western states in 1912, women were allowed to vote. But no state east of the Mississippi River granted suffrage to women. The Republican candidate William Howard Taft and the Democrat candidate Woodrow Wilson did not support the vote for women nationally.
The Republican Party, however, had come out in favor of women’s suffrage in 1896, but the issue did not receive significant attention to become a reality. Theodore Roosevelt broke with the Republican Party for the 1912 election and started the Bull Moose Party. It is said that the name comes from Roosevelt claiming that he felt “fit as a bull moose.”
This party opened itself to women as no party had done before; therefore, it was this third party, which did not have staying power, which was, nevertheless, responsible for the eventual vote for women in 1920.
As leader of the Bull Moose Party, Theodore Roosevelt encouraged women to participate actively in the campaign. The party’s national convention was held in Chicago in August of 1912, and many women served as delegates and in other prominent positions.
Kansas newspaper editor William White described these women as “our own kind,” because they were mostly professional women. Some were doctors and lawyers; some were teachers and college professors. Others were social movement leaders and “rich young girls” who had joined the settlement movement.
Firsts for women
Jane Addams seconded the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt at the national convention. One of the “rich young girls” mentioned by White, Addams had been involved with the famous Hull House of Chicago—a “settlement house” that offered food and temporary shelter to the poor and homeless.
Jane Addams, thus, became the first women to speak at a national political convention. Helen J. Scott of Washington is considered to be the first woman to cast a vote for president. Six states, including Washington and California had granted suffrage to women.
In 1913, it was rare for a woman to hold any significant position in any political party, but the Bull Moose Party selected Frances Kellor to serve in its research department. Kellor, a well-respected social worker, also helped secure witnesses for congressional hearings.
Jane Addams also was selected to become a member of the executive committee of the national party, and Mrs. K. Fairbank became a member of the finance committee for the national party. Alice Carpenter continued the work for women suffrage and worked for labor issue for the national party.
The Bull Moose Party did not remain a strong presence nor did its founder win the election for which it was founded, but it will remain an important party for women because of the part it played in winning for women the right to vote.
Theodore Roosevelt Association