The New England Woman Suffrage Association’s 1898 annual meeting record provides justification for American women’s suffrage rights in the 19th century. The record was written under the circumstance in which the United States was prepared to fight against Spain in Cuba. Given that women lacked the right to vote at that time, many wanted to prove their right to full citizenship by backing the U.S. in the war with Spain. Simultaneously, American suffragists were trying to challenge the idea that military services should preclude voting rights. From the association’s resolution at their annual meeting, it is easy to see some points that the New England suffragists raised which were contradictory with their yearning for equality.
To begin, the suffragists were looking down on Cuban women despite their recognition that all people have the right to self-government. They explicitly claimed that “American women are better qualified for self-government by education than most of the Cubans” (66). This quote hinted that social Darwinism was still popular in the U.S. at the time. Many believed that the Anglo-Saxon race was superior to other races and held the stereotype that Cubans were less qualified for voting rights.
Yet, the word “sisters” appeared later in the record (66). It showed that these American suffragists were situating themselves in unity with Cuban women. On top of that, Cuban women were praised for their efforts of fighting against the Spanish, and even used as an example to show that women can fight like men to strengthen the demand for voting rights for American women (66). They explicitly said that “in extreme circumstances, women can and do fight” (66). This appears contradictory to the inferior image of the Cuban women mentioned above, but American imperialism is behind this resolution. While the U.S.suffragists believed that they were more capable and civilized, they were not hesitant to use Cubans’ work to justify their own fight for voting equality.