Give Us a Square Deal
November 30, 1913 — Columbia Theater, National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Washington DC
When we went to Albany to ask for votes one member of the Legislature told us that a woman’s place was at home. Another said he had too much respect and admiration for women to see them at the polls. Another went back to Ancient Rome and told a story about Cornelia and her jewels — her children. Yet in the laundries women were working seventeen and eighteen hours a day, standing over heavy machines for $3 and $3.50 a week. Six dollars a week is the average wage of working women in the United States. How can a woman live an honorable life on such a sum? Is it any wonder that so many of our little sisters are in the gutter? When we strike for more pay we are clubbed by the police and by thugs hired by our employers, and in the courts our word is not taken and we are sent to prison. This is the respect and admiration shown to working girls in practice. I want to tell you about Cornelia as we find her case today. The agent of the Child Labor Society made an investigation in the tenements and found mothers with their small children sitting and standing around them — standing when they were too small to see the top of the table otherwise. They were working by a kerosene lamp and breathing its odor and they were all making artificial forget-me-nots. It takes 1,620 pieces of material to make a gross of forget-me-nots and the profit is only a few cents.
Four years ago 30,000 shirtwaist girls went on strike and when we went to Mayor McClellan to ask permission for them to have a parade he said: “Thirty thousand women are of no account to me.” If they had been 30,000 women with votes would he have said that? We have in New York 14,000 women over sixty-five years old who must work or starve. What is done with them when their bones give out and they cannot work any more? The police gather them up and you may then see in jail, scrubbing hard, rough concrete floors that make their knees bleed — women who have committed no crime but being old and poor. Don’t take my word for it but send a committee to Blackwell’s Island or the Tombs and see for yourselves. We have a few Old Ladies’ Homes but with most of them it would take a piece of red tape as long as from here to New York to get in. Give us a square deal so that we may take care of ourselves.
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol V, 1900-1920, ed. Ida Husted Harper (National American Woman Suffrage Association) 1922, pp. 365.