Document 9A: Letter from Emma Wold to Harriot Stanton Blatch, Washington D.C., 29 December 1920, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Papers, Library of Congress (Microfilm, reel 2, #528).
The National Woman's Party came under increasing pressure to address the concerns of African-American women and to invite Mary Talbert to address its upcoming Washington convention. Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a suffrage activist, joined Mary White Ovington and Florence Kelley in promoting Mary Talbert's cause. In the following letter, Emma Wold, one of the leaders of the Oregon College Equal Suffrage League and headquarters secretary of the NWP, explained why the party would not invite Mrs. Talbert to participate.
Wold argued, in both this letter and a subsequent one to Lucy Burns (see Document 9B), that it had been necessary to limit formal presentations "to organizations which have undertaken a definite legislative program for women." She then contradicted this line of reasoning by explaining why representatives of the Women's Peace Party and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom had been invited to speak. Why, one might ask, was a peace platform any more feminist than an anti-lynching program? Both could easily be framed in terms of women's commitment to preserving life. The main difference was that "some of our members have urged that we undertake a peace program." Still, Ovington, Kelley, and Blatch, longtime suffrage supporters, had urged on the NWP a special responsibility to defend the voting rights of African-American women, yet the leaders of the party did not see fit to address their concerns by inviting Mary Talbert to speak to the group. The leaders of the NWP were more responsive to certain concerns expressed by party supporters than others. Wold's letter has a certain disingenuousness--one senses that she protests a bit too much, and in so doing revealed the desire of NWP leaders to dodge a controversial issue that divided the supporters of woman suffrage.
National Woman's Party
National Headquarters, Lafayette Square
December 29, 1920
Mrs. Harriet [sic] Stanton Blatch,
Women's University Club,
106 East 52nd Street,
New York City
My dear Mrs. Blatch:
Your letter of the December 20th came to Miss Paul at a time when she was under the necessity of devoting all of her attention to letters regarding the speakers for the convention, and she tried in vain to answer your letter before going away for an absence of several days. She has asked me, therefore, to acknowledge its receipt and to explain why it does not seem possible to invite Mrs. Talbert to speak at the convention.
Many requests have come to us from various organizations for representation on the convention program. It has been necessary to limit the representation to organizations which have undertaken a definite legislative program for women. Only one afternoon of the convention will be given to the discussion of these programs. Among the organizations which have undertaken a more or less distinct feminist program are the National Consumers' League, the National Council of Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Business and Professional Women's League, and the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. The W.C.T.U. is taking up new questions of a somewhat feminist nature, and will have a speaker. The same is true of the D.A.R. Some of our members have urged that we undertake a peace program, so it has seemed wise to invite the Women's Peace Party and the Woman's International League [For Peace and Freedom] to send speakers. We need to hear from these organizations in order that we may not run the risk of duplicating their programs in case we adopt a future program for the National Woman's Party.
If there were an organization of colored women having a purpose similar to those of the organizations which have been named, that is, a feminist rather than a racial program, there would be a place for a representative from that organization in the session at which the work of woman's organizations is presented. As it is, the colored people will have to be represented by delegates who may speak from the floor.
You can see the necessity of limiting the opportunity for presenting their work to such organizations as have a program of a nature that we might undertake, else we should be swamped. We have already had to refuse a number of requests for representation at this session from organizations which have not undertaken a work that we are likely to consider as a future program for the Woman's Party.
I am sure you will realize that it is not indifference to the cause of colored people, but rather a recognition of the limitations of our program, that makes it unwise to extend to Mrs. Talbert a special invitation to speak at the convention.
Of course you will recognize that the work we are doing in securing the adoption of the Enforcement measure by Congress is one way of helping to meet the problem of colored woman's right to register and to vote. This measure we hope to get through the present session of Congress so that the right of women to an unhampered vote will be established, so far as the Federal authorities can establish it.
I hope that you have had a Happy Christmas season and that the New Year will be full of good things for you.
Very sincerely yours,
**[Handwritten note:] This is the reply to my letter urging the inclusion of Mrs. Talbert. It evades the point obviously, Whenever Miss Paul does not wish to face an issue, she always manages to be so busy or absent, so that she delegates the answer to a subordinate.
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