Laura Clay's "Time Protest": A Baptist Newspaper Editor's Warning

Joanna  Lile 's picture

For several weeks I have been looking forward to researching Kentucky’s religious leaders’ attitudes toward the suffrage movement, and this week I was able to begin one portion of my research at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN.  I began reading the Western Recorder, Kentucky’s Southern Baptist newspaper.  I was hoping that the paper would provide me with glimpses of church leaders’ as well as lay people’s attitudes toward the movement.  I initially expected to find support for woman suffrage, especially by the summer of 1919 when the Nineteenth Amendment passed both houses of Congress.  After all, Bill Sumners, a former archivist and expert on Southern Baptists’ social attitudes, has argued that many Baptist leaders, including some prominent newspaper editors, supported the 19th Amendment by 1919-1920, if not earlier.  But what about Kentucky? 

As editor of the Western Recorder, J.W. Porter would have been extremely influential in shaping the opinions of Baptists across the state.  And as it turns out, he was quite hostile to the Nineteenth Amendment.  In June 1919 he praised Laura Clay for recently severing her ties with the KERA over the organization’s support of the amendment.  He praised her firm support for states’ rights and also warned that “this [amendment] will probably revive, as nothing else could, the race question, and far-reaching results may follow.”  Porter referred to the amendment as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, perhaps to further draw attention to the possibility of the race issue being raised.  Anthony, he argued, had been “even more zealous in her advocacy for the social equality of the races” than for woman suffrage.  If the white women of Kentucky only recognized this fact, Porter believed, they might be persuaded to abandon their support for the amendment.  Porter gave no indication that he personally knew Clay, but called her a “distinguished friend” because he respected her “timely protest.”  In contrast, he chided pro-amendment southern women for allowing their “wild desire” for suffrage to prevent them from recognizing the danger posed to the social order and to white supremacy by this amendment.

Porter also predicted that Clay's exit from KERA and her opposition to the amendment would “cripple the woman suffrage movement, especially in the South.”  His statement says much about his perception of Clay’s influence and leadership- so great was it that the movement in the entire South might crumble without her.  Did he look forward to the possible dissolution of the entire suffrage movement?  Or, like Clay, did he merely oppose the idea of suffrage through constitutional amendment?  I’m looking forward to finding out if and when the Recorder ever supported ratification of the amendment.  In the meantime, I’m also hoping to find more letters and submissions from lay people- and hopefully women- on the suffrage issue. 

Resources:

Porter, J.W. “A Timely Protest.”  Western Recorder, June 19, 1919. 

Sumners, Bill.  “Southern Baptists and Women’s Right to Vote.”  Baptist History and  Heritage 12 (January, 1977): 45-51.

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