A Divided Republic
December 26, 1885 – one of a series of Saturday afternoon lectures
The Forty-ninth Congress adjourned without enfranchising the women of the Republic, and many State legislatures, where pleas were made for justice, refused to listen to the supplicants. The women of the nation grew more and more indignant over the denial of equality. Great conventions were held and monster mass meetings took place all over the land. But although men had been declaring that so soon as women wanted to vote they would be allowed to, they still continued to assert in the face of all those efforts that only a few agitators were making the demand. An enormous petition was sent to the Fiftieth Congress containing the signatures of twenty millions of women praying for suffrage, and still Senator Edmunds and Senator Vest insisted that the best women would not vote if they could.
Matters actually began to grow worse for women. The more honors they carried off at College the less they were allowed to hold places of public trust or given equal pay for equal work. Taxes of oppressive magnitude were imposed on them, for a new idea had seized the masculine brains of the country. They wanted to fortify our seacoast. The women protested in vain; they said they did not want war, that they never would permit war, and that all difficulties with foreign nations, if any arose, should lie settled by arbitration.
The men paid no attention whatever to their protests, but went right on levying heavy taxes and imposing a high tariff on foreign goods, and spending the money in monstrous forts and bristling cannon that looked out over the wide waters of the Atlantic in useless menace.
Drunkenness, too, increased in the land. It is true that sometimes women were able to procure the passage of some laws to restrain the sale of liquors, but the enactments were always dead letters; the men would not enforce the laws they themselves had made, and mothers saw their sons led away and their families broken up, and still no man heeded their protests.
The murmurs of discontent among women grew louder and deeper, and a grand national council was called.
Now the great leader among women in this time was Volumnia, a matron of noble appearance, whose guidance the women gladly followed. When the great council met at Washington every State was represented by the foremost women of the day, and all were eager for some radical action that should force the men of the nation to give them a voice in the laws.
All were assembled, and the great hall filled to its utmost limit by eager delegates, when Volumnia arose to speak.
“Women of America,” she said, “we have borne enough!” We have appealed to the men to set us free. They have refused. We have protested against the imposition of taxes. They have increased them. We have implored them to protect our homes from the curse of intemperance. They have passed prohibition laws on one day, and permitted saloons to be opened the next. We are tired of argument, entreaty and persuasion. Patience is no longer becoming in the women of America. The time for action has come.”
And this vast assemblage of women, stirred to the utmost, shouted, “ACTION!”
“I have a proposal to make to you,” she continued, “the result of long study and consultation with the profoundest female minds of the country. It is this: — “
“Within the limits of this so-called Republic there is one spot where the women are free. I mean in Washington Territory, that great State that has been refused admission to the Union, solely because women there are voters. I have communicated with the leading women of that region; some of them are here to speak for themselves, and others are here from the sister Territory of Wyoming. With their approval and aid I propose that all the women of the United States leave the East, where ancient customs oppress us and where old fogyism prevails, and emigrate in a body to the free West, the lofty heights of the mountains and the broad slopes on the coast of the majestic Pacific.”
Wild and tumultuous applause followed this proposal, which was at once enthusiastically adopted by the assembled multitude, who after a few days of discussion as to the means to carry out these designs dispersed to their homes to make preparations for the greatest exodus of modern times.
In the early spring all arrangements were complete, and then was seen a wonderful sight. Women leaving their homes all over the land, and marching by night and by day in great armies, westward. All the means of conveyance were crowded. The railroads were loaded with women, the boats on the great lakes were thronged with them. The Northern and Central Pacific railroads ran immense extra trains to convey the women to their new homes.
It must not be supposed that their departure took place without protest on the part of the men. Some of them were greatly dismayed when they heard that wife and daughters were going away, and essayed remonstrance but the women had borne so much so long that they were inexorable – not always without a pang, however.
Volumnia had long been a widow, and therefore owed allegiance to no man; but she had a young daughter named Rose, who was as pretty as she was accomplished, and who cherished a fondness for a young man who admired her.
When she learned of the proposed exodus, this youth, whose name was Flavius, hurried to the railway station, reaching there a few moments before the departure of the train. The waitingroom was crowded with a great throng of women, but Rose was lingering near the door. Flavius seized her hand, drew her aside, and with eyes full of love and longing said:
“You surely will not go, Rose; stay and let us be married at once.”
Rose blushed, and for a moment trembled under his ardent gaze.
“Oh Flavius, if it could only be!” she whispered.
There was a stir in the crowd as someone announced that the train was ready. Rose started as if to go.
“Stay, love, stay! entreated Flavius.
She hesitated and raised her eyes; they were swimming with tears; “I cannot,” she said, “Honor before love,” — then she drew a little nearer – “But you can help to bring us back – obtain justice!”
She broke off abruptly as she heard her mother calling her name and hurried away.
Volumnia’s great co-worker was a certain lady called Cecilia, and to her also there was a trial in parting. Her father was elderly and infirm, and although possessed of ample means, he depended much on the companionship of his daughter. For a brief moment she hesitated to leave him; then she said sternly: “The Roman father sacrificed his child; Jeptha gave up his daughter at the call of his country; so will I leave my father for the demands of my sex and of humanity.”
Then despite all entreaties and expostulations and even threats, which the men at some points vainly tried, the women everyone departed, and after a few days, in all the great Atlantic seaboard, from the pine forests of Maine to the wave-washed Florida Keys, there was not a woman to be seen.
At first most of the men pretended that they were glad.
“We can go to the club whenever we like,” said a certain married man.
“And no one will find fault with us if we drop into a saloon,” added the other.
“Or say that tobacco is nasty stuff,” suggested a third.
Other individuals, too, were outspoken in regard to the relief they felt.
Dr. Hammond declared that the neurological conditions which afflicted women had always rendered them unfit for the companionship of intelligent men. Carl Schurz said that the whole thing was a matter of indifference to him. No one took any interest in the women question anyway.
John Boyle O’Reilly was relieved that no Irish woman would hereafter ask him hard questions as to what freedom really meant.
There was much rejoicing among the writers also.
Mr. Howells remarked that now he could describe New England girls just as he pleased and no one would find fault with him; and Mr. Henry James was certain that men would all buy the “Bostonians,” which proved so conclusively that no matter how much of a stick a man might be, it was far better for a woman to marry him than to follow even the most brilliant career.
On some points the rejoicing was open. The men in Massachusetts declared that they were well-rid of the women; there were too many of them anyhow. The members of the New York Legislature held a caucus, irrespective of party, and passed resolutions of congratulations that they would not be plagued with a woman’s suffrage bill.
And the Rev. Morgan Dix caused a solemn Te Deum of rejoicing to be sung in Trinity Church.
Meantime Volumnia and her hosts had swept across the Rocky Mountains and taken possession of the Pacific slope. Not Wyoming and Washington alone, but Idaho and Montana, and all the region between the two enfranchised territories.
By an arrangement previously made with the women who dwelt in these lands the men were sent eastward, and in all that wide expanse of territory there were only women to be seen.
Under these circumstances they made such laws as suited them. The Territorial legislature, consisting wholly of women, speedily passed bills giving women the right to vote. There was no need to pass prohibition measures, as the saloon-keepers had gone East. Peace and tranquility prevailed through all the borders of the feminine Republic. There were no policemen, for there was no disorder, but thrift, sobriety and decorum ruled, and the days passed in calm monotony.
Very different was the condition of affairs on the Eastern coast. The men for a while after the departure of the women went bravely about their vocations, many of them, as we have seen, pretending that they were glad that the women were gone. But presently signs of a change appeared. While the saloons did a roaring business the barber shops were deserted — men began to say there was no use in shaving as there were no women to see how they looked; the tailors also suffered, for the men grew careless in their dress; what was the use of fresh linen and gorgeous ties with never a pretty girl to smile at them? White shirts rapidly gave place to red and gray flannel ones; old hats were worn with calm indifference, even on Fifth Avenue, and after a time men went up and down to business unshaven, and slouchy.
Within the house there was also a market change. One of the first sources of rejoicing among men had been that now they would be rid of the slavery of dusters and brooms, and after the women were gone the houses were allowed to fall into confusion. As no one objected that the curtains would be ruined, the men smoked in drawing-room and parlor as well as study, and knocked the ashes from cigar or pipe on the carpet without fearing a remonstrance. At the end of some months affairs grew worse. The amount of liquor consumed was enormous, the policy force was doubled, and then was inefficient because it was impossible to find policemen who would not drink. Brawling was incessant; the men had become cross and sulky, and murderous rows were of constant occurrence. Burglaries and other violent crimes increased and the jails were over-crowded with inmates.
From the first the churches had been nearly empty, as there were no women to attend them, and after awhile they were all closed until the next Legislature ordered that they could be turned over to the State; after which some of them were used for sparring exhibitions, and others were turned into gambling saloons, for draw poker had become the fashionable game, and men having no longer any homes gathered every night at some place of amusement.
The theatres were obliged to change their attractions, and instead of comedies or operas, feats of strength were exhibited. The laws against prize-fighting were repealed, and slugging matches took place nightly; dog-fights and cocking-mains also were popular and the Madison Square Garden, once the scene of a moral “Wild-West,” was turned into an arena for bull-fights.
It was about this time that Henry Bergh, who had vainly protested against some of these things, was defeated for Congress by a man who had won distinction by catching five hundred life rats and putting them into a barrel in fifty minutes. Matters went rapidly from bad to worse after this. John L. Sullivan was elected President. The men were about to declare war against all the world, so as to have a chance to use their new fortifications, when Flavius, who had never ceased to long for Rose, called a secret council at the house of Cecilia’s father and proposed that a deputation should be sent with a flag of truce to the women. To his astonishment and delight the idea was received with wild enthusiasm, and he and the host were appointed a committee to lay the question before Congress.
On their appearance at the Capitol, Senate and House of Representatives were hastily assembled in joint session to receive them, and as they entered the hall the air rang with cries and cheers. It was with great difficulty that General Blair, who had been chosen to preside, could put the motion, which was carried with a wild hurrah of applause, and for many moments thereafter the noise and cheering continued; men hugged each other with delight; some tore off their coats to wave them in the air; many wept tears of joy – in short, the scene of enthusiasm exceeded that which is sometimes witnessed at a Presidential nominating convention when a favorite candidate has been selected.
In the fervor of delight which followed, all those who had ever opposed the women’s wishes fell into the deepest disfavor. It was proposed to expel from the Senate Edmunds and Ingalls and every other man who had voted against a woman suffrage bill. One member suggested that they be banished to the Dry Tortugas with the Rev. Morgan Dix as attendant chaplain.
Calmer counsels ultimately prevailed, as it was discovered that the worst offenders were now thoroughly penitent, and discussion followed as to what terms should be offered to the women to induce them to return. Everything was conceded, everything accepted, and a deputation of the foremost men was appointed to convey their propositions to the feminine Republic.
But when these reverend seigneurs started, they found that a vast array of volunteers were ready to accompany them, a throng that constantly increased as the news spread, and the trains moved westward, foremen left their farms, their counting-houses and their stores, at the joyful words, “We are going to bring back the women.”
Reforms in dress took place as if by magic, no man not properly attired was permitted to join the train. The barbers, who had all disappeared, most of them having become butchers, were rediscovered, and although rather out of practice, succeeded in putting heads and beards in presentable trim. Tobacco was positively forbidden, any man detected with even an odor of smoke in his garments was instantly sent to the rear. Alcoholic stimulants of all sorts were also strictly prohibited, and draw poker went suddenly out of fashion.
Meantime, in the feminine Republic matters moved on serenely, but it must be confessed a little slowly. The most absolute order prevailed; the homes were scrupulously tidy; the streets of the cities were always clean. The public money, which was no longer needed for the support of police officers and jails, was spent in the construction of schoolhouses and other beautiful public buildings. Artificers of all sorts had been found among the women, whose natural talents had heretofore been suppressed. Female architects designed houses with innumerable closets. Female contractors built them without developing a female Buddenseck, and female plumbers repaired pipes and presented only moderate bills.
But despite the calm and peaceful serenity that prevailed, it was not to be denied that life was rather dull. Women who would not admit it publicly, whispered to themselves that existence would be a little gayer if there were some men to talk to occasionally. Mothers longed in secret for news from their sons; wives dreamed of their husbands, and young girls sighed as they thought of lovers left at home.
Certain great advantages had undoubtedly flowed from the new order of things. Women thrown wholly on their own resources had grown self-reliant, their imposed outdoor lives had developed them physically. A complete revolution in dress had taken place; compressed waists had totally disappeared, and loose garments were invariably worn. For out-doors labors blouse waists, short skirts and long boots were in fashion; for home life graceful and flowing robes of Grecian design were worn. Common-sense shoes were universal. The schools under the care of feminine Boards of Education were brought to great perfection; the buildings, large and well-ventilated, offered ample accommodation, as over-crowding was not permitted. Individual character was carefully studied, and each child was trained to develop a special gift. Ethical instruction was daily given and children were rewarded for good conduct even more than for proficiency in study.
Music was carefully taught, and, undismayed by men, women wrote operas and oratorios. Free lectures were given on all branches of knowledge by scientific women who were supported by the State, and debating societies met nightly for the discussion of questions of public policy.
Still, despite all this the women, as we have seen, sent many a thought across the rocky barrier that separated them from the East, and under the leadership of Rose some of the younger ones had formed a league having for its object the opening of communication with husbands and brothers in the masculine Republic.
Thus matters stood when on a soft June morning word came to the capital from the sentinels on the watch-towers of the mountains, that a great horde of men was advancing up the South Pass. Now across this road, the most convenient to the outer world, there had been built a wall, in the center of which was a massive gate of silver, and at this point the masculine army had halted. The news of the arrival of the men occasioned great commotion, and a joyful host of women started forth to meet them, so that when Volumnia and the other dignitaries of the State reached the Pass, the heights above were filled with a great throng of women who, recognizing in the crowd below sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, were waving joyous greetings, which were answered by the men with every demonstration of delight.
By the order of Volumnia the great silver gate was opened, and the envoys were admitted. They were received in a tent of purple satin which had been quickly erected and their leader made haste to lay before the assembled women the terms they proposed.
If the women would only return to their homes the men promised that all wage-workers should have equal pay for equal work; that women should be equally eligible with men to all official positions; that the fortifications should be turned into school-houses; that the control of the sale of liquors should be in the hands of women, and that universal suffrage, without regard to sex, should be everywhere established.
When the women heard these words they raised a chorus that was caught up and re-echoed by the crowd outside. At this moment, Cecilia, who saw her father just behind the envoys, went forward to embrace him, and Flavius, taking advantage of the movement advanced to where Rose stood beside her mother. Clasping the blushing girl by the hand, he whispered:
“At last, love, at last.”
Wives rushes into their husbands’ arms; mothers kissed their sons; the men hurried up from the Pass, the women came down from the mountain; there were broken whispers and fervent prayers, sobs mingled with smiles, and bright eyes shone through tears, as loved ones separated by the stern call of duty were reunited.
After this there followed a mighty movement, in prairie and forest, by lakeside and river. Over all the land, homes were rebuilt, and society reconstructed. The divided States, now reunited, formed a Republic where all the people were in reality free.
Source: Printed in The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, (Fowler & Wells), February and March, 1887. Part 1, pp. 76-78. Part 2, pp. 139-142.
Also: Daring to Dream: Utopian Stores by United States Women: 1836 – 1919, Ed. Carol Farley Kessler, (Pandora Press) 1984.