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  • Voting for the DevilUnequal Partnerships in the Ohio Women's Suffrage Campaign of 1914
  • Jessica R. Pliley (bio)

In 1914 John Reilly of Columbus, Ohio, wrote to Progressive Party candidate for the United States Senate Arthur Garford voicing his concern about the party's endorsement of women's suffrage. Although Reilly admitted to signing one of the suffragist's petitions to get the issue of women's suffrage on the November ballot, he declared that he had no intention of voting for the women's suffrage amendment. He wrote that he would "vote for the devil on the Progressive ticket" but that he did "not like the women's suffrage end of it at all." Reilly's rejection of women's suffrage reflects the difficulty Columbus suffragists faced in their 1914 campaign for an amendment to the Ohio constitution. The state and national Progressive Party endorsed women's suffrage, even prominently including it on their 1914 platform, but clearly not all Progressive voters supported the idea. As Reilly demonstrates, not all purported allies were actually supporters of women's suffrage. This was the case in Franklin County, Ohio, where, despite vigorous campaigning, suffragists faced defeat in 1914.1

Social capital is an analytic metaphor that describes the important value of social networks and alliances to politics. It refers to "features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit." It points to the fact that groups can expand their political influence by using their social connections. Gaining [End Page 4] currency among sociologists and political scientists in the mid- to late 1990s, the theory of social capital seeks to make visible the importance of relationships between individual actors and groups of actors to the political process. Central to the study of social capital is the question of how social networks and relationships are converted into successful political action.2

In highlighting issues of trustworthiness and reciprocity, some social capital theorists, such as James Coleman and Robert Putnam, fail to remember Pierre Bourdieu's important insight that social capital is closely related to economic capital and indeed may be "convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital." Furthermore, social capital is intertwined with access to economic capital by virtue of the time and resources required to cultivate strong individual social relationships and membership in formal organizations.3

Recently a number of scholars have questioned the gender-blind assumptions the early literature on social capital often exhibited. These scholars call attention to the fact that organizations often reproduce gender inequalities and consequently, as Irene van Staveren has noted, "social capital is 'imbued with gender inequalities and gendered hierarchies.'" By looking at social capital through the lens of gender, it becomes clear that not all forms of social capital are created equal. Commenting on the inherent inequality of the social capital held by women's organizations, Virginia Sapiro writes: "If women's clubs and organizations are generally considered irrelevant to politics, or are not directly enough interconnected with the networks in which political leaders are embedded, there is relatively less politically relevant social capital to be gained by these organizations." This is particularly true for suffrage organizations that were at once trying to make alliances with male-dominated political organizations and to convince a male electorate of the righteousness of extending the franchise to women. Suffragists' organizational distance from the corridors of power colluded to undermine the efficiency of their social capital.4 [End Page 5]

The fundamental inequality between the social capital held by women's and men's organizations underscores another important point that at times the metaphor of social capital obscures. As James Coleman has argued, social capital, unlike economic capital at its most basic, is not directly exchangeable. The lack of portability of social capital accentuates another important feature: social capital's fundamental dependence on context. Access to resources, reciprocity of trust, and social connections are not enough to explain civic and political influence. The contexts that these activities occur within give meaning to the organizational activities of a given group. Furthermore, Michael W. Foley and Bob Edwards have argued that "the context dependant nature of social capital, moreover, means...