Women’s involvement in politics first began with their activism in social reform movements. Society believed that women were superior in morality so it was within their gender sphere to change the world for the better. These women advocated to change policy concerning liquor sells, child labor laws, and women labor laws. While social reform was part of the female sphere, “political parties were historically part of the male/public sphere.” Therefore, women were not allowed within political parties. Furthermore, many of these institutions that women sought to change to make society more moral supported the different main political parties. “Associated with reform movements such as temperance, cleaning up government, social welfare reform, third parties including the Prohibition Party, the Populists, and the Progressive gave women leadership positions on party committees, allowed them to serve as delegates to party conventions, and even supported their candidacies for office on their tickets” (57). Major parties did not like the reform movements that many women supported. “Reformers wanted to clean up politics and take away power from the political machines by promoting secret ballots and direct democracy measures, such as the initiative and referendum, by which voters could get issues onto the ballot without going through the legislature and the political parties” (57). Major parties were worried that if they supported women’s suffrage, then bills and policies would be passed the they did not actually agree with.
“Given the centrality of the political parties in the life of the male citizen, it is not surprising that the major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, opposed suffrage and any role for women in the parties beyond the supporting role of helping canvas for candidates and mobilize voters” (57). Since the major political parties did not want to support suffrage, women find support within third parties. Women supported third parties because to the dedication to reform policies and because the parties supported women’s suffrage. The third parties “hoped that the mobilization of women as a new voting block could help them build the majority coalition that would lead them to become a major force in American politics” (57).
In the twentieth century, the Republican party came around to supporting the women’s rights agenda and even supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Although Democrats were not huge supporters of women’s rights, laws such as the “Equal Pay Act of 1963, the addition of sex to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972” were passed with bipartisan support. By the 1970s, voter realigned themselves within the political parties—feminists with the Democrat Party and social conservatives with the Republican Party. Democrats have sought to gain more diversity within the party which includes women. However, party lines are not set firmly, and the “alliance of both feminists and social conservatives with the parties remains uneasy and both groups have periodically threatened to abandon the party in favor of forming a third party committed to their cause or have threatened to demobilize or mobilize their followers behind the other candidates” (66).
In the 2016 election, many expected women from all walks of life to vote for Hillary Clinton due to her support of women’s issues and Trump’s blatant sexism. However, this was not the case. A surprising 53% of white women, from all walks of life, voted for Donald Trump. Although a majority of colored women voted for Hillary Clinton, it was not enough to secure her the presidency. Therefore, it is evident, now more than ever, that women do not vote for a particular party and that women’s votes do matter to political parties.
Julie Dolan, Melissa Deckman, and Michele L. Swers. “Women in Social Movements, Interest Groups, and the Political Parties,” in Women and Politics, (Pearson, 2007), 11-69.