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Cornelia’s Jewels

April 22, 1912 — Protest against anti-suffrage legislators, Wage Earners’ League and the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League, Cooper Union, New York City


At the hearing in Albany before the Senate last month the Senator from the Thirteenth Assembly District said:
“Woman is designed to be the mother; that is the field for her. Like Cornelia, the Roman mother, when she was visited by her friends and one of them was displaying the handsome jewels that she wore, and when she had proudly finished displaying the jewels, she turned to Cornelia and said ‘Where are your jewels?’ Cornelia called her two lovely boys and, turning to them, said, ‘These are my jewels.”
Can you imagine a Senator who is supposed to be up-to-date, and to represent the people, to make the laws to protect Cornelia, having to go back to ancient Roman history to try and find an argument who women of the present day should not be enfranchised. I wish the Senator from the Thirteenth Assembly district would come with me for a few minutes and visit the modern Cornelia and her jewels, to three rooms within a few minutes walk from here, where we find Cornelia, a descendant of the Roman mother. One of the rooms is lighted by two windows, one is totally dark, and the kitchen where the work is done is lighted only by an air-shaft, and the tiny lamp that burns before the statue of the Madonna is the only bright spot in that room. The family consists of the mother and her eight children, all under 14 years of age. The mother is obliged to support the family by sewing pants and the children are obliged to help her. Seven cents is the price paid, and the united efforts of Cornelia and her eight jewels cannot finish more than seven pairs a day. Cornelia, with a yellow handkerchief around her head cannot life her strained and weary eyes long enough from the work to nod a welcome and the children push their needles through the cloth more persistently, they have no time to talk to visitors.
We go on a little further and we find another Cornelia, her three jewels making violets at three cents a gross, 144 violets for three cents and by working until midnight they can make the grand sum of 60 cents. Again, we go on and we find these jewels of the tenement working making feathers, knitting, 237 knots to an inch for 5 cents; an 18-inch feather that takes two days to make brings these jewels of the tenement 80 or 90 cents. We go on a little further and we find jewels again working on corset covers, running in two rows of ribbon and sewing on three buttons for half a cent a corset cover.
And what about the children of the textile mills, who leave their homes before daylight in the morning and do not return to them until after dark, standing in the mills for long and continuous hours in the vile atmosphere with their nerves strung up to the highest tension. And how, then, do we find the modern Cornelia? — operating a sewing machine with a child at her breast, working to keep her “jewels” from starvation and the poorhouse. Sacred motherhood. What a farce! What do these children know of green fields and sunshine? What do they know of laughter and song? They have never had a chance; they have been handicapped from the beginning of life. To go forth stunted in body and mind, perhaps for a few years, until their weary bodies are worn out and they just go out and cease to be, having known nothing of joy or happiness, and yet the modern Cornelia loves her jewels with a s great a love as the Roman mother but she is powerless to save them from the Juggernaut of the present economic system. She has had no chance to make laws that would protect her and them Men legislating as a class for women and children as a class, have done exactly what every other ruling class has done since the history of the world began — they have discriminated against the class that has no legal voice.
How do you like the picture? Oh, you makers of the laws and conditions under which Cornelia and her jewels win a living at the present time! I would never have had to go back to Roman history for these facts, they are happening in New York right here and now. If women had the ballot, they would have helped to make laws that would have protected Cornelia and her jewels. They would have been able to pass the 54-hour bill without the canner exemption, in spite of big business. Yea, and if necessary they would have saved women and children from disease. Not only that, but they would see to it that the laws were enforced which would give them far more than all this sickening sentiment about motherhood and the home.
We workingwomen cannot help wondering when we hear all this gush about the home, how many of us would have a home if we did not go out from the home and work for it. If the Senator from the Thirteenth Assembly district had continued the story he would have told you of Cornelia’s jewels, Tiberius and Caius, who were living and fighting for the common people, and in trying to get back for the people the lands which had been stolen from them, they were killed by the Senators and their allies of that generation.
I do not want to be governor of the State. I do not want to be a policeman, nor an Assemblyman, nor yet a Senator, but I do want the ballot to be able to register my protest against the conditions that are killing and maiming “Cornelias’ jewels” of the present day.



Source: Life and Labor: A Monthly Magazine, June 1912, (Chicago: National Women’s Trade Unions League), 1912, pp. 190-191.