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Educated Suffrage

1902 — 34th National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention, First Presbyterian Church, Washington DC


Read by Clara Colby


The proposition to demand of immigrants a reading and writing qualification on landing strikes me as arbitrary and equally detrimental to our mutual interests. The danger is not in their landing and living in this country but in their speedy appearance at the ballot-box, there becoming an impoverished and ignorant balance of power in the hands of wily politicians. While we should not allow our country to be a dumping-ground for the refuse population of the old world, still we should welcome all hardy, common-sense laborers here, as we have plenty of room and work for them. . . .

The one demand I would make for this class is that they should not become a part of our ruling power until they can read and write the English language intelligently and understand the principles of republican government. . . .

To prevent the thousands of immigrants daily landing on our shores from marching from the steerage to the polls the national Government should prohibit the States from allowing them to vote in less than five years and not then unless the applicant can read and write the English language. . . .

To this end, Congress should enact a law for “educated suffrage” for our native-born as well as foreign rulers, alike ignorant of ourinstitutions. With free schools and compulsory education, no one has an excuse for not understanding the language of the country. As women are governed by a “male aristocracy” we are doubly interested in having our rulers able at least to read and write. The popular objection to woman suffrage is that it would “double the ignorant vote.” The patent answer to this is, abolish the ignorant vote. Our legislators have this power in their own hands. There have been various restrictions in the past for men. We are willing to abide by the same for women, provided the insurmountable qualification of sex be forever removed. . . .

Surely, when we compel all classes to learn to read and write and thus open to themselves the door of knowledge not by force but by the promise of a privilege all intelligent citizens enjoy, we are benefactors, not tyrants. To stimulate them to climb the first rounds of the ladder that they may reach the divine heights where they shall be as gods, knowing good and evil, by withholding the citizen’s right to vote for a few years will be a blessing to them as well as to the State. . . .