Address at Exeter Hall
January 9, 1893 — Exeter Hall, London, England
Most of us have in the course of our life looked with wondering and delighted gaze upon the “Happy Family” of Barnum. If we are not a happy family here tonight and nothing to pay in order to see it, then I should like to know where you would go to find one? Can you shoe me an audience, that among forty-six different philanthropic guilds represented upon its platform, has the Vegetarians on one side balanced by the Butchers’ Total Abstinence Society on the other?
As you have been talking to me, my generous brothers and sisters, I have said to myself “For the first time in my life I am glad that I did not vote in America within the last two years, for I might have been led to vote in favour of the McKinley Tariff, and how sheepish I should feel now.” As I looked round I felt the sense of a great home circle in your good hearts and kindly hand-clasps. It reminded me of the principle that Benjamin Franklin enunciated on a certain important occasion when he observed: “I tell you, my friends, we have got to all hang together or we shall all hang separately” — and you will bear me witness that we do hang together and you are proud of use because we do. I do not know that I was ever more pleased than I am tonight that I can trace my undiluted ancestry back nine generations to an honest yeoman of Kent.
“Brave hearts fro Severn and from Clyde and from the banks of Shannon” I come to you from the Mississippi valley, and in that “Whispering “Corn of which my beloved friend and our great leader has spoke, I used to sit on my little four-legged wooden cricket [stool] hidden away that nobody should know, reading out of poets and philosophers things that caused me to believe more than I knew, and I do it yet. I do not know, Brother Raper, that Prohibition will capture old England, and salt it down with the “inviolate sea” as a boundary — but I believe it will; I do not know that the strong hand of labour will ever grasp the helm of state — but I believe it will; I do not know that the double standard in the habitudes of life for men and women will be exchanged for a white life for two on the part of the Anglo-Saxon race — but I believe they will. The welcome of their presence and their power is to be the touchstone.
When I come back here seventeen years hence, I shall be hale and hearty and seventy-two years of age, please notice — I have long had a notion in my head that I would speak right out and tell my age every time I had the chance, because I thought there was a sort of superstition that women did not like to tell their ages and we want to shin away all the superstitions that we can. It is said that gratitude is a lively expectation of favours to come, but I have had so many favours tonight that I can never again be grateful under that definition. Some philosopher has said that the Gods approve the depth and not the tumult of the soul, and so amid all your generous tokens and expressions of kindness and goodwill, I have tried to hold myself as steady as I could, but it ahs not been a very easy task.
I have pictured in my mind three children — the three that I knew best — standing in an old weather-beaten barn away by the Rock River of a Sunday when the circuit rider did not come around — (brother Mark Guy Pearse understands that.) It was a misty, moisty morning and cloudy was the weather — (a little like London on occasion!) — and in this lonesome barn door stood three children — I was in the middle, my brother Oliver on one side, and my younger sister Mary on the other, and I remember saying in a sort of peevish voice (for I was the feeble one and the slight one that they thought would never live to grow up): “Do you think that we shall ever go anywhere or see anybody, or be anything?” and my generous hearted brother Oliver, who has made me always a friend of men, because he was my ideal man, said “Don’t you mid, Frank, you just behave yourself the best you can, and I should not wonder if you came to something yet.” He was always patting me on the shoulder, always helping me along. We read the same books: we share the same sports, and all of a sudden all unnoticed he seemed to cross a sort of invisible line — I do not know where it was, but the almanac said that according to the reckoning he was twenty-one. The day after that came that great assize in my country when they were to vote for or against John C. Fremont, the “pathfinder” through the woods, who was, we hoped, to lead us in the anti-slavery victory, and my brother Oliver put on his best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and went in the old farm wagon with father, who was in favour of free speech, free soil, free labour and free men — and the two of the jogged off to the polls.
Standing by the window, and simple country lassie, not a big strong minded, and altogether ignorant of the world, I felt something hurt me in my throat, and then I turned to my little sister Mary who stood beside me, and said “Don’t you think we ought to go with them? Don’t you think it would be better for the country?” I thought that women ought to have the ballot when I used to pay the hard-earned taxes on my mothers cottage home, but I never said it to anybody in public, I had not courage, but when it came to this great thought that women might help the temperance cause by combining their ballots with those of good men, then I could hesitate no longer. For the sake of the mothers who in the cradle’s shadow kneel tonight beside their infant sons, I have the courage to speak out, and I know that whenever these words have been spoken by the lips of men and women in dead earnest, that the great heart of humanity has been comforted and tens of thousands have said “That is the larger hope.”
I am sorry Father Nugent is not here, but I was glad the Canon thundered. Whey the name of Wilberforce has been shut up in my heart since ever I had a heart. For in my dear old home we were anti-slavery people from the beginning. All my kinfolk, Brother Horton, were educated in t hat tremendously radical institution Oberlin College, founded by Congregationalists thirty years before any other discovered that for educational purposes it made no difference whether a person had a dark or a light complexion, whether a person were boy or girl, youth or maiden. These snug round boxes on the top of everybody’s head were all Finney and Mahan took account of at Oberlin.
We must clasp hands with Catholics if we would win this temperance battle. We had no end of Catholics on our old farm perhaps that is where I learnt not to be afraid of them. I presume we had a hundred different ones during the time we were living in the country, and I want to tell you a story of one of them named Mike [Tullay]. I taught him to read and write; he was a good-hearted young fellow who came over at twenty-three years of age, very lonesome and very eager to learn. After many years of absence, when I had gone into the temperance work and had a few silver threads on my forehead, I got a letter fro Mike, not with much care taken as to punctuation, and there were some slips in the grammar and I being a school ma’am could have touched up the spelling a little. But I will tell you what was in this epistle. He wrote after well-night thirty years: “I have got a good wife and a big far of my own, my boys are going to school, I shall send them to college and the girl too. I went to the polls this last autumn because I was a-thinking that you had not got a vote to bless yourself with. I left the Democratic Party and voted the Prohibition ticket in your name, and I thought I’d write and tell you.” So you will imagine that I thought pretty well of that Catholic to say the least. Last year I attended the Catholic Total Abstinence Society, and was received just as warmly and kindly as I have been here tonight. About the creed I did not think as they did, nor did they on all subjects agree with me, but we thought just alike concerning total abstinence and prohibition. And the beauty of this gathering tonight where so many are represented, is that we have had the wit to shut off certain parts of our brain just as a photographer puts his screens here and there and shuts off the light from the plate.
On a green hill far away was the great scene of history where, on a wide-armed cross, was lifted up that Figure whose radiant love shining out through all the generations since, has brought me and you together; given us our blessed temperance reform; is lifting Labour to his throne of power; has made men so mild that they are willing to let women share the world along with them.
And that reminds me that I wanted to speak a word about the gentle Czar. Have you heard of him? — the gentle Czar? This one of whom I speak had at one time absolute power. He dwelt in his own world, woman was his vassal altogether; she could not help herself, and had not wit enough perhaps to want to do so. But behold the Czar said, “Since woman has a brain, it is God’s token that she should sit down with her brother at the banquet of Minerva.” So you invited us to school and then we came tripping along like singing birds after a thunder storm. No vote except that of this hydra-headed Czar ever opened a school for women to get their brains nurtured and cultured. I read that in Edinburgh [which classic city I hope to visit in a week or two,] the trustees had by order of this Czar, invited women to join the College of Arts, and instead of the young men being crusty about it they were received with loud huzzas. In my own country, in some of the states and towns, the women have the municipal ballot; they have it under restriction in England. Who gave it to them? The gentle Czar. The Barons at Runnymede had to force their charter [Magna Carta] from King John, but the baronesses of this age have but to say: “Would not you like us to come and help?” and the gentle Czar extends his scepter, when lo, the doors are opened wide.
So I have no quarrel with men, and I have two reasons for thinking that they have been full of wisdom in letting us into the kingdom — for we want a fair division of the world into two equal parts. Please take notice, an undivided half is what the women want; they do not want to go off and set up for themselves and take their half, but to let it remain for evermore an undivided half. I believe men have let us into the kingdom because they have had six thousand years of experience, and consider themselves tolerably capable of taking care of number one. In the second place I think that they are all well assured in their own spirits that nobody living is quite so much interested to do them justice, and to look after them in a very motherly way as these very women folk!
There is between us but on great river of blood, one great batter of brain — our interest are for ever indivisible, for every woman that I ever knew was some man’s daughter and every man I ever saw was some woman’s son, and most of the men that I have been associated with in Christian work were “mother’s boys.” That is the best kind of boy, whether he belongs to the children of a larger growth or whether he is still in the bewildered period of the first and second decades. I believe that the bogies and the scare-crows that some folks have set up saying these ogres would make war between men and women are fast being consigned to the very last ditch of conservatism. We are not a big frightened here tonight, are we? All of you that are not frightened, you my brothers with a basso-profundo voice, or a tenor it may be, who are not frightened because women are coming into the kingdom, just sing out “no.” I do not dare to take the voice of the women yet because they have not been sufficiently tested, but if I had them in a Temperance Convention by themselves you may be sure I would.
It is the thought and hope of the temperance reformer that by means of orgnanisation those who are down will get up. We call it in America the “combine.” Do you have that expression, the “combine,” in England? We do not mean anything good by it in my country. The ”combine” of “coal barons” as we call them that will not allow any ore coal to be mined than in sufficient to keep the price up whether our noses are blue and the tips of our fingers are cold or not. The “Combine” means a great monopoly, but we have found out at last that it is a game that two can play at and we believe that combination is the watchword of the hour for the labour movement, the temperance movement and the women’s movement, the three parts of a tremendous whole. We believe that there is just one company that will never go into bankruptcy; would not you be glad to know what that is? We believe there is just one firm that will never make an assignment, one firm that will never go out of business, and it is the firm of “W.U. and C.” [We, Us & Company] I pin my faith to that firm’s sleeve and to no other.
Under the forms of organisation women are beginning to find out their power. The hand with its open fingers is rather an imbecile object, but if you bring it to a focus it is the emblem of man’s greatest personal power. And it is because of discovering this that we are forming these kindly groups of white ribboners the world around — because “it is easier taking hold of hands.” And we believe in the “do everything” policy. Some people have said that it is a “scatteration” policy, but I am willing to sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish under the working of the “do everything” policy. By this we mean what they did at the Battle of Boyne : “Whenever you see a head hit it.” Wherever the liquor traffic is entrenched there put in an appearance and send out the ammunition of the Gatling gun rattling its fires along the entire field. That has been our method from the beginning.
The liquor traffic is intrenched in the customs of society — go out after it then with the pledge of total abstinence for others’ sake. The liquor traffic is protected by the people’s ignorance — go after it into the Sunday schools and public schools with “Thus saith Nature, thus saith Reason, thus saith the Lord.” The liquor traffic is safeguarded by the law; go after it into legislature and parliament, and give them no rest for the sole of their feet till they give you a better law than you have yet achieved. But laws are made by men, not by abstractions, and men are elected by parties. Then do not be the least afraid, but go out among the parties and see which of them will take up your cause and then stick to that one. Parties are built up from units of humanity, and they need a stronger contingent of moral power. Let us then bring that contingent to the front; bring up the home guards and add them to the army.
There are two serpents, intemperance and impurity, that have enclosed and are struggling with the infant Hercules of Christian civilization. Let us strike at both, for purity and total abstinence must go together, the two must rise or fall together, and when we find that the Siamese twins of civilization are purity and abstinence, when we find that we must foster both, or each will die, then we shall have widened our course as God wants to see it widened.
As my friend W[illiam] T. Stead stood here just now it reminded me of the time when he came out of jail and they presented to him in Exeter Hall a Bible from the Y.M.C.A. I have ever since that time honoured the Hall more than I did before, thought I confess to you that I should have thought it the acme of my hopes even to be inside it, let alone be greeted as I have been tonight.
In this work of the “do everything” policy we do not employ committees. No committee was deputed to build the ark, for if one had been the ark would have been on the stocks till now. Mrs. Hannah Whitall-Smith, who sits on the platform beside me, said in her Quaker fashion something wonderfully true, in one of our conventions. I was appointing her on a committee when she rose, and with a sublime disregard of Parliamentary usage said, “If thee wants me to accomplish anything put me on a committee with two others, one of them a permanent invalid, and the other always out of town.” From that day on we have had a single woman responsible for a single work, and we have fifty district departments of work, in which our great-hearted women are engaged. This plan has been admirably carried out in the United States, in Australia and Canada, and I believe that it will be in England, as the British Women’s Temperance Association voted this classified method at its Council last spring.
I wish to thank you for the courtesy, kindness, and good will that you have shown to me and the cause I represent in England, and to say that after all you have done and said, I do not think even you, ingenious friends, could have thought out more to say and do in anybody’s honour than we Yankees showed to Lady Henry Somerset. She was welcomed n my land in a style that you here would call “royal.” We are a little afraid over there, you know, of the people that have titles to which they are born, and I being the daughter of the Puritans, was especially afraid, but I make a great exception in her case. I think she will do to “belong,” and she ahs conclude that I will do to “belong,” so with my ear friend and trusty helper, Anna Gordon, we go happily about our work singing the white ribbon song to any who will hear, “let us all belong,” because that is the key note to the “combine “ that is going to be the power in this great world of the firm of “W.U. and C.”
And now may I conclude with the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one!” May we have power to feel that there are but two words in the language of all the earth, and they are, God and Humanity. The old catechism said, “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him for ever. “ The blessed Christianity in action of our own day says, and I reverently repeat the words: “What is the chief end of God?” “To glorify man and enjoy him for ever. “ And it is the clear brains of man into which that light of God can shine of which my gifted brother Woolley spoke, that sacred “white light of truth.” Alcoholized brains are like coloured glass. We cannot transmit the light of the truth unless we are under the power of that holy habit — sobriety.
May every home that you love be the home of peace; may every life that you cherish escape the curse of drink; may every child that you left tonight when you came out to this great meeting grow up sweet, and pure, and true. May every man that has lent to us his attention at this hour belong to the great army of the gentle Czar who is willing to welcome women even to the throne of government.
“Strike, till the last armed foe expires,
Strike for your altars and your fires!
Strike for the green graves of your sires!
God and your native land!”
Source: Let Something Good Be Said: Speeches and Writings of Frances E. Willard, ed. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford and Amy R. Slagell. (Chicago: University Of Illinois Press, 2007), pp. 170-176.