Mrs. A. Whitney Griswold, Mrs. Ella T. Grasso. Barbara Lifton, and Griswold V. Connecticut.
Anna Howard Shaw, a suffragist leader and the Director of the Committee of Women’s Defense in World War I, stated in 1920 that:
Despite the political progress for women accomplished by the 19th Amendment, women, especially young women, will face great difficulties that having the vote will not solve. You younger women will have a harder task than ours. You will want equality in business, and it will be even harder to get than the vote. You will have to fight for it as individuals and that will not get you far. Women will not unite, since you will be in competition with each other.
By the 1920s and ‘30s the unity that had existed among women no longer existed. Women’s rights leaders were still calling for unity, but there was very little response. Suffragist and other women’s rights activists discovered that their right to vote seemed to give women less political power, not more. In Connecticut this problem clearly existed, especially because women did not wish to form a united bloc of voters, and because the Democratic Party was not able to become a viable alternative to the Republicans. Early attempts to ratify the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, written by Connecticut woman Alice Paul, illustrate the problem. In Connecticut and around the country numerous conservative groups joined with many labor and even women’s organizations to oppose the ERA and work for more protective legislation for women. The general belief now ran that political and economic rights of women would be better advanced by government’s protective legislation than through complete equality with men in open competition.
Progress for women was quite gradual in Connecticut, and at times the appearance of progress in the political sphere of life was not progress at all. Women were entering government service in both bureaucratic and elective offices. By the late 1930s twenty percent of the federal bureaucracy were women. In Connecticut’s House of Representatives the percentage of women representatives was as follows:
1921 = 4 of 262, or 1.5%
1927 = 14 of 267, or 5.3%
1931 = 21 of 267, or 7.9%
1937 = 21 of 267, or 8.0%
1941 = 19 of 272, or 7.0%
1947 = 32 of 272, or 12.1%
1951 = 34 of 272, or 12.5%
1957 = 45 of 279, or 16.1%
1961 = 52 of 294, or 17.7%
1967 = 19 of 177, or 10.8%
1971 = 16 of 151, or 10.6%
1977 = 27 of 151, or 17.8%
World War II had a slight affect on the number of women participating in elective offices. Opportunities in industry improved for women as the armament and related industries began a new era of economic prosperity in Connecticut. Yet, through the second World War and into the 1950s little change occurred. Republican women made up most of the women state legislators during this period, and their view of politics was to support the status quo. A survey made at the end of the war in 1945 presents another view of this traditionalist attitude in Connecticut.
The average thinking American woman has a fairly modest, though as yet utopian, dream of the good life. It would be something like this: She would live in a comfortable, though not pretentious home, probably with a backyard grill, equipped by science to relieve her from drudgery and give her time for the subtler phases of homemaking. Her husband would have a secure and stable job in an economy that had a minimum of unemployment. He would probably work six hours per day, thus having time to help make the home a center of education and enjoyment.
By the late 1950s this image of the ideal, traditional woman was stated and refined hundreds, even thousands, of times in magazine articles, and over radio and television. However, an alternative picture of woman’s life was gradually developing in Connecticut and across the country.
While a few Connecticut women, such as Claire Boothe Luce and Chase Going Woodhouse, attained either national or state offices respectively, they were successful as individuals. Most were not open, outspoken, or active in support of women’s causes and rights. They were successful because they adapted to the male power structure, gaining and using the political support of men. Thus, from the 1920s through the 1950s, the words of Anna Howard Shaw rang true.
Historical progress, however, runs in cycles, and in the early 1960s a renewed women’s political consciousness experienced a renaissance. Women became involved increasingly in paid employment and became aware of political injustices and inequalities that needed to be redressed. Connecticut women became active in court actions, in writing the new state constitution, and running for elective office in response to the 1964 Supreme Court decision on “one man one vote.” Women now re-established the old belief of the turn of the century that direct political action and participation by women was the better and just way to improve society and attain equal status for women.
The 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, furthered women’s awareness that legislative assemblies and the courts were institutions that could begin to correct problems of sex discrimination. Connecticut women were initiating court cases, running for local, state, and federal offices, and joining in numerous political organizations, such as the Connecticut Women’s Political Caucus and the Connecticut chapters of the National Organization for Women. The Black civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests had been both a consciousness raising experience and a training ground for the development of political organization and tactics. By the early 1970s Connecticut women were increasingly ready to actively work within the political system to remedy their own conditions.
The following Connecticut women and court cases will illustrate some characteristics of the modern women’s political rights movement. You will be able to see the scope and depth that women’s political consciousness has achieved. In order to help your students appreciate the opinions of these participants, a series of brief background sketches is provided. Mary B. Griswold, referred to below as Mrs. A. Whitney Griswold, is the first participant mentioned and she earned a B. A. degree from Smith College. Ella T. Grasso is the second to be studied and she earned her B. A. degree from Mt. Holyoke College. Barbara Lifton is the third women studied in the political arena of Connecticut and she earned her law degree from the University of Connecticut.