Voter Fraud: the Presidential Mock Trial and Election of 1904

Suffragettes demonstrate voting procedures at Polling Place, ca. 1917. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives

In November of 1904, Frances Hope Purdon (Barnard College class of 1905) addressed her peers: “Friends and fellow citizens of this great and glorious country, after observing politics for many years with calm and deliberate criticism, we have come to the conclusion that campaigns as conducted by men are run in a very inefficient manner.”  Purdon was speaking at an extremely serious mock presidential debate held before the election: political cartoons and pictures of Roosevelt and Parker were pasted to the walls, two parades were held, and now, different members of the Barnard classes would debate each other in the personas of Roosevelt and Taft to defend their positions.  Though American women were still 16 years away from participating in the popular vote, Barnardites were already sharpening their tongues for the inevitable arguments that come with political involvement.

With Elizabeth Warren crushing Scott Brown in the Massachussets Senate race last night, Tammy Baldwin’s election as the first openly gay Senator, and women now comprising one-fifth ( a ground-breaking, if pathetically low, proportion) of the Senate, reporters are dubbing 2012 the “new Year of the Woman” which–as any Barnard woman whether present activist or past suffragist would agree–is a disheartening, patronizing term.  Purdon didn’t participate in the mock debates because she knew that feminist efforts would culminate in a single year when successful political women would be hemmed in by newspaper jargon.  A woman in office should be an unremarkable thing.

We hope all of you voted yesterday, that you will continue to be politically involved, and that you keep in mind the Barnard women who stand behind you as they stood at the podiums in Barnard Hall in 1904: Dean Virginia Gildersleeve (more battleship than the S.S. Barnard) who opened the mock trials; Agnes Ernst, the famous suffragist who decried Roosevelt’s bully-for-you war hungry political tactics; and the undergraduate women who futilely cast their pretend votes in strong favor of Roosevelt.  Barnard forever, America forever, congratulations Mr. Obama, rah rah rah!

-Johana Godfrey, BC ’13