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The War on Suffrage

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“Nine little Suffergets,
Finding boys to hate,
One kisses Willie Jones,
And then there are Eight.”

Ten Little Suffergets tells the sad tale of ten little girls who lose their pro-suffrage leanings when they spy shiny objects like toys, men, and the Sandman. The 1915 picture book ends with the final baby suffragette cracking her baby doll’s head open. “And then there were none!” ends the book on a gleeful note.

The suffrage movement, both in America and England, involved angry debates about the ideals of womanhood, the power and purpose of government, and how much beer everyone should be drinking. The debate continued until the passing of the 1918 Representation of the People Act in Britain, and in the U.S. with the 19th Amendment in 1920. While often overlooked today, the anti-suffrage movement attacked the power-hungry, unnatural women (as they saw the suffragettes) with word and policy and pen and ink. Below are some of their biggest complaints about the suffragettes, and how they articulated their point of view.

Suffrage Isn’t Sexy

The suffrage movement was part of the larger debate known as “The Woman Question” in Victorian and Edwardian times, when people were discussing what a real woman looked like. Lisa Tickner, in The Spectacle of Women, explained how the sexual ideals of the time period in Britain affected the political policy.

“Anti-suffragists drew heavily on the Victorian ideology of ‘separate spheres’… Their use of it led to the claim that female enfranchisement would sexualize politics and unsex women, confusing the proper boundaries of masculine and feminine, public and private, domestic and political, by which the natural complementarity of a harmonious social order was maintained.”

In other words, letting women get a chance at the polls would destroy the society.

This attitude was reflected in the suffragette caricatures drawn in newspapers and magazines. According to Tickner, depictions of spinster suffragettes were normally slender in a time when curves were celebrated; their faces likewise were severe and gaunt, “the lines of disappointment etched deep by the illustrator’s pen.” The spinster suffragette’s clothes and physical appearance emphasize that she is a failed woman and wannabe man. The lady wants to vote because she couldn’t get a date.

I Am Woman Voter, Hear Me Roar!

Political participation didn't just make women unattractive, anti-suffragettes argued. It wasn’t natural behavior for women to get their hands dirty in politics. “The nature of most women is not attracted by the contentious spirit in which political warfare is conducted,” declared Dr. Ernest Bernbaum of Harvard in 1916.

Another Massachusetts woman, writing in 1916, expressed concerns on the effect of the suffrage movement on women’s character. Suffragism appeared overtly aggressive to many critics. “It is surely not making them any more lovely, or pleasant in their lives. They grow bitter, aggressive, and antagonistic, liking the excitement of campaigning and finding their natural, proper duties ‘flat, stale, and unprofitable.’"

Suffragism made women mean-spirited, many opponents believed, and the cartoons and caricatures they produced reflected this.

Babes and Booze

Beer divided and united the anti-suffragettes in the United States. In her book A Dangerous Class, Betty Stevens tells the story of beer-sellers who feared that women would vote for the prohibition of alcohol. They went and warned the husbands of suffragettes to get their wives off the campaign trail before the husbands lost their jobs.

Other anti-suffragettes, who were pro-temperance, published materials trying to prove that states with women voters sold more mugs of beer. “The only two states in the Union that adopted woman suffrage last year are known as the ‘wettest’ states in the country, Montana and Nevada,” stated one 1915 pamphlet from the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association. “These two states have more saloons to their population than any other state in the forty-eight.”

The government officially prohibited the sale of alcohol with the 18th amendment in January 1920. American women received the right to vote with the 19th amendment in August of the same year.

Women of the World, Don’t Unite

Still other anti-suffragettes believed woman’s suffrage didn’t make political sense, both for women and the nation as a whole. Grace Duffield Goodwin wrote Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons in 1912. She points out that women are exempted from political and legal responsibilities like serving in the army or sitting on juries. Many heavy responsibilities, like “providing for family,” paying debts and going to jail for minor crimes are spared the female sex. If a wife “engages in illegal business the law holds [the husband] responsible, and not her.” Why would women want to give up that kind of legal protection for equal voting rights?

Moreover, politically it didn’t make sense for women to vote when they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the voting requirements. Molly Seawell, writing in her 1913 treatise The Ladies’ Battle, said, “No electorate has ever existed, or ever can exist, which cannot execute its own laws.” Women were physically incapable of fighting their way to the polls, and could not serve in law enforcement. Seawell believed that if half the electorate was unable to enforce the laws, the government would become unstable in an unprecedented fashion.

A small minority believed that woman’s suffrage wouldn’t make government unstable enough. Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist in the early 20th century, thought that the established political systems were so oppressive that women should focus their energies on finding true liberation from the oppression of government, Church and societal expectations. “Are we to assume that the poison already inherent in politics will be decreased, if women were to enter the political arena?”

The Singing Defense

While the suffrage movement certainly inspired protest songs (left), the suffragettes were not mute in defending themselves and their beliefs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, known for her short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” wrote many songs for the suffrage movement. In “Females,” she compared the females of other animal species and finds that they were all equal to the male members. That is, except for one particular: homo sapiens.

“One female in the world we find
Telling a different tale.
It is the female of our race,
Who holds a parasitic place
Dependent on the male.”

Comic poetry was another outlet for suffragette retaliation. In Are Women People?: A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, Alice Duer Miller listed 12 common reasons for anti-suffragette belief. On the next page, she writes, “Reasons Women Should Not Have Pockets.” These reasons include:

1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did, they would have them.
3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
4. Because women are required to carry a great number of things without pockets as it is.

Responding to the claim that women would be placed in danger while visiting the polls, the author mimics an equal-opportunity anti-suffragist.

“You must not go to the polls, Willie,
Never go to the polls,
They’re dark and dreadful places
Where people lose their souls.”
* * * * *
"Well now, thank goodness that is over...," wrote Mary Ward, a member of the British anti-suffrage coalition writing after the movement failed in 1918. "Now the question is what the women will do with the vote."

Today there are 143 women elected to House of Commons, the greatest number in the history of the institution, and 90 women currently serving in the U.S. Congress. Some might argue those numbers are too low, but it turns out women weren't distracted by the puckered lips of Willie Jones after all.

Image Credits: CORBIS, Bryn Mawr College Library, Michael Nicholson/Corbis, CORBIS, Rykoff Collection/CORBIS, CORBIS, David J. & Janice L. Frent Collection/Corbis

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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