I recall hearing (in History class) that when women were campaigning to get the vote, some (powerful?) people suggested that if women were given the right to vote, you might as well give the vote to cows or other animals.

Is this true? If so, who said/implied it? When did they say it? Is there an original source for this?

  • 3
    "I recall hearing (in History class)" - note: don't believe everything you hear in History class....
    – user2590
    Aug 21, 2013 at 6:56
  • If a professor said it, they'd better have references. If another student said, it, ditto, or it's hearsay. Feb 15, 2018 at 16:23

3 Answers 3


The only remotely related quote I could find was:

A discussion of the rights of animals would be regarded with far more complacency by many of what are called the wise and the good of our land, than would be a discussion of the rights of woman.

(Frederick Douglass in the North Star, 1848)

It could be that his words were transformed into the statement you heard.

  • Agreed, that's about the only statement I have seen. Here is one place to view the statement - npg.si.edu/col/seneca/senfalls1.htm
    – MichaelF
    Oct 14, 2011 at 16:48
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    And Douglass was speaking for another disenfranchised group, black slaves.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 16, 2011 at 13:04

Closest I'm finding is a quote by Henry A. Wise Wood, referred to as a civic leader. Quoting Votes For Women: Woman Suffrage Movement by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler:

Women not only pointed out that women would cease to be womanly, but that male supporters of suffrage ("strong, masculine personalities") were inexplicably seeking to "demasculinize" government by diluting "with the qualities of the cow, the qualities of the bull upon which all the herd's safety must depend ..."

There's a similar account in Women and War by Jean Bethke Elshtain.

I can't access the book notes from either reference in Google books, but both references seem to offer a citation for the quote.

Edit 1: Digging a little deeper, it's not entirely clear to me who the quote's author was exactly. Wikipedia references a Henry Alexander Wise Wood and a Henry Wise Wood living at around the same time. The latter seems to have been more politically active. But neither of their entries references anything related to women suffrage debates.

Edit 2: Lars Borsten led me to the precise reference via his comment. The quote appears in the debate over the 19th amendment (p.12 in the doc). It's from Mr Henry A Wise Wood, then President of the Aero Club of America.

Aside: I can't resist throwing in this Gustave Le Bon quote in passing. He was one of the fathers of social psychology and an influential figure at the time. It perfectly illustrates the rampant sexism that prevailed in those days:

"There are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women... recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution, and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without doubt there exist some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity as for example, a gorilla with two heads; consequently, we may neglect them entirely." -- Gustave Le Bon, in a "Revue d'Anthropologie", 2nd Series, Vol. 2, 1879.

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    I found this: "During World War I, Henry A. Wise Wood, president of the Aero Club of America, told the House Committee on Woman Suffrage that giving women the vote would mean “the dilution with the qualities of the cow, of the qualities of the bull upon which all the herd's safety must depend.” The source for this is library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/… Feb 15, 2018 at 11:16
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    @LarsBosteen: Nice find, thanks! It led me to the primary source doc. Feb 15, 2018 at 11:45
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    @DenisdeBernady Love the Le Bon quote - thanks for that! :)
    – TheHonRose
    Feb 15, 2018 at 12:53

There do not appear to be any quotations by anyone specifically saying 'giving women the vote would be like giving cows the vote' although that does not mean that no one did. These words (or very similar) have been used together on a number of occasions, though.

As it is not uncommon for people / sources to be misquoted or misinterpreted (see 6 Famous Literary Quotes Everyone Uses Exactly Wrong and List of Misquotations), misunderstanding may be the root of this ‘quote’ comparing women and cows in voting.

In addition to the Frederick Douglas quote cited by Wladimir Palanthe, the idea of someone saying something along the lines of ‘giving votes to women would be like giving votes to cows’ may possibly stem from one of the following:

  1. In Comic Relief: Nietzsche's Gay Science, Kathleen Higgins quotes Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) thus:

    By raining themselves higher, as “woman in herself,” as the “higher woman,” as a female “idealist,” they want to lower the level of the general rank of women; and there is no surer means for that than higher education, slacks, and political voting – cattle rights.

    Higgins notes that this has been taken to mean (wrongly, in her view) that “women’s votes are discounted by the reference to cattle” by the writer and academic Carol Diethe, so it is not inconcievable that others misinterpreted Nietzsche as comparing women to cows on the topic of voting.

  1. Another possible misrepresentation could stem from this postcard using an adapted Edward Lear limerick published by Suffrage Atelier in 1913, a publication which campaigned for women’s suffrage. The postcard “refers to parliamentary procrastination in relation to the introduction of a female suffrage bill.” but without reading the text very carefully, an entirely different meaning is quite possible (and the anti-suffrage movement also produced many postcards).

    Suffrage postcard

    image from: https://suffragepostcards.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

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