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Are Women People? The suffragist poems of Alice Duer Miller

By Harriet Staff

Lili Loofbourow has unearthed some satirical poetry by suffragist Alice Duer Miller and presents it over on The Hairpin.

Miller studied astronomy and mathematics at Barnard (back in 1895), wrote screenplays, worked with The New Yorker, and wrote a book of poems called Are Women People?, which quickly became a popular suffragist catchphrase.

Most of her poems, which mocked the anti-suffragists, were originally published in The New York Tribune, a now defunct newspaper but once one of the leading publications in the country. Here’s a sample of her verse, called “O, That ‘Twere Possible,” which riffs on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name and was written in response to a 1915 New York Times editorial which claimed, “The grant of suffrage to women is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature. It runs counter to human reason, it flouts the teachings of experience and the admonitions of common sense.”

Oh, that ’twere possible
After those words inane
For me to read The Times
Ever again!

When I was wont to read it
In the early morning hours,
In a mood ‘twixt wrath and mirth,
I exclaimed: “Alas, Ye Powers,
These ideas are fainter, quainter
Than anything on earth!”

A paper’s laid before me.
Not thou, not like to thee.
Dear me, if it were possible
The Times should ever see
How very far the times have moved
(Spelt with a little “t”).

There are many more Miller poems at the jump, covering chivalry, feminism, and why women should study math. You can also find the whole collection on Project Gutenberg.

Loofbourow concludes that, “you will marvel, and then— THEN— you will decide that there’s nothing for it: the time has come to write singsongy poems about John Boehner’s stand on abortion, because nothing makes the opposition look as vacuous and morally bankrupt than putting their arguments in rhyme.”


Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.