We Demand Equal Say
April 22, 1912 — Mass protest against anti-suffrage legislators, Wage Earners’ League and the College Equal Suffrage League, Cooper Union, New York City
[In response to the New York Senator who says: “Now there is nobody to whom I yield in respect and admiration and devotion to the sex.”]
We want man’s admiration but we do not think that is all there is to live for. Since economic conditions force us to fight our battle side by side with men in the industrial field, we do not see why we should not have the same privileges in the political field. Besides, we cannot play the simple idiot and worship men as heroes, as we are not angels, nor are they gods. We are simply in business together and as such we refuse to play the silent partner any longer. We demand equal say as to the conditions under which business shall be conducted.
The following are some of the objectives that men have against woman suffrage: First, that it would be too hard for woman to go out and cast her vote once a year, as she has too much hard work to do. To me it seems much harder to live under the laws which are made for us than it would be to go out once a year and help make laws for ourselves by putting a piece of paper into a ballot box. Another reason against woman suffrage is that equal say will enable the woman to get equal pay, and that equal pay is dangerous. Why? It would keep women from getting married. Well, then, if long miserable hours and starvation wages are the only weapons or encouragement men can use to induce marriage it is a very poor compliment to them, and in the name of a purer marriage we must have equal say as we have found from experience that men cannot get married alone.
There are a few more facts from the Shirt Waist strike I would like to impress upon you, the kind of facts that take place every day in this industrial world of ours. They will also give you an example of the kind of respect, admiration and devotion to our sex as shown by politicians when we fight for better conditions and a decent wage. The bosses hired thugs to break our ranks by creating riots, then making the police arrest the girls, and when they were brought before the judge, he showed his devotion by sending a sixteen-year-old girl, Rose Perr, to the workhouse for six days. And for what crime, on what evidence? Simply that a thug has accused her of violating the law while picketing. The word of the thug was taken in preference every time to the innocent girl’s. Then when a committee went to Mayor [George B.] McClellan to say that they represented 30,000 women on strike in the shirt waist industry, and that they protested against the injustice of the police, what answer did the Mayor give the committee? Simply that he could not be bothered with any striking shirt waist makers. Had that same committee represented 30,00 men with votes, you can bet that the committee would have received a different answer.
One year later, when the terrible disaster of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Factory occurred, where our bodies were burned by the wholesale, and when many jumped from the tenth floor and smashed rather than be roasted, these very same gentlemen that a year before had tried to break our ranks when we fought for a safer place to work in, wept tears over the crushed and roasted bodies on the side-walk. We do not want weeping when it is too late. What we want and ask for is a chance to live right now when we are here.
We can not, and must not, wait until our sisters that live in comforts get the votes for us. . . The ballot used as we mean to use it will abolish the burning and crushing of our bodies for the profit of a very few.
Source: Life and Labor: A Monthly Magazine, July 1912, (Chicago: National Women’s Trade Unions League) 1912, pp. 215-216.
Also: America’s Working Women, A Documentary History — 1600 to the Present. Eds. Rosalyn Baxandall, Linda Gordon, Susan Reverby. (New York: Vintage Books, Random House), 1976, pp. 216-217.