Address Before the
Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association, Albany NY
So much has been so well said on Woman Suffrage that I hesitate to speak to you on the familiar topic, but a new voice under new circumstances may sometimes give a new significance to old ideas, and at the present moment, when the forces demanding the suffrage for women are so active and so aggressive, we, whose convictions are opposed to any extension of the suffrage, should be ready to give reasons for our opinion and should be sure that we use the best methods for our defense.
These two aspects of our subject I wish you to consider with me this morning: First, What are the grounds of our opposition to the suffrage, and, Second, What methods should we use to protect ourselves and our yet uninterested sisters from the infliction of the great injustice.
At the outset let us understand that suffrage is not a right; it is an obligation. The ballot is not an expression of opinion; it is an act of the will. If suffrage were a natural right no restriction could be put upon it, every human being could demand it without qualification of age, intelligence or property; it only becomes a right when it becomes an obligation, and that is determined by circumstances. When our Fathers decided to take the government of the colonies from Great Britain they took upon themselves an obligation to organize and maintain the government, and suffrage is an adjunct of the government, it is not “merely dropping a paper in a box,” and they assumed the right to associate with them in the government such others as they deemed it wise to choose.
Unfortunately they did not, I think, sufficiently guard the obligation, and further action after the civil war increased the difficulties resulting from their error. Through this measurably unrestricted male suffrage serious complications have arisen which have been disastrous, especially in the South. The ignorant have been made the tool of the vicious, the weak have been oppressed by the strong, and progress in virtue and wisdom has been hampered if not halted in some of our Southern states.
Much effort has been made to remedy the evil, but it is not easy to take away the suffrage once given, and too often the men who have attempted to restrict it have been actuated by prejudice and greed, and have failed to secure a just regulation of the abused right, for, what has been imposed as an obligation has become a right, and ignorance always misinterprets its rights.
This experience should be a lesson to us. If suffrage is imposed on women, the vicious in our great cities, the ignorant, of whom the numbers in the black race and among the so-called poor whites in the South cannot be here reckoned, would be used by unscrupulous partisans for their own selfish ends, and the women of moral purpose and intelligence would be forced to turn aside from the tasks already pressing heavily upon them, not merely to drop a paper into a box, but to enter into a contest in party affiliations as undesirable as their labor would be futile. The number of vicious women — so registered — in the City of New York is variously estimated from thirty to sixty thousand and it has been recently claimed by a prominent suffragist that every one of these women, voluntarily giving themselves to vice, is an argument for woman suffrage, “sixty thousand arguments.” How can it be that sixty thousand acknowledged law breakers should become, by the use of the ballot, sixty thousand virtuous law makers? Educative the ballot may sometimes be, but how would it be reformatory?
The influence of woman should be felt in municipal affairs, but she can fulfill her duty there better without than with the ballot. Disentangled from party affiliations she can more efficiently labor for the best things; freed from the dust raised by party conflicts her vision will be clearer; untrammeled by party obligations she can choose her allies, and her influence on legislators will be greater because her motives can not be questioned. The fact that she does not vote is a strength to her, and, may I add, I believe that the men to whom we must look to settle this question for us, will the more thoughtfully and seriously consider it on our behalf because they realize that we are not asking anything for ourselves, nor for a class, but are concerned alone for the race as a whole, and think we need for all the purposes of good or power which we do not now possess.
Exemption from voting does not mean that woman does not have some power to change the things that are wrong. With the influence that she has she can do very much to change the unjust conditions under which “people are freezing, starving, sickening; girls are trying to live honestly on a dying wage, children are overworked so that men and women die of old age at thirty-five and war is going on here and there.” This is the graphic statement recently made of the evils which woman, the mother, has not only the right but the sacred duty to attack, and for it she has all the power necessary, she requires only the will to do it. And she is doing it bravely. I will not stop to name the groups of women who are at work to relieve those who are suffering from unjust conditions — the neglected children, the girls in factories and shops, the feeble driven to the wall by circumstance, the weak oppressed by the strong, the prisoners to be redeemed from their sin; and not only are these women striving to relieve the suffering from present unjust conditions but they are working to change the conditions. They seek prevention as well as cure. Tens of thousands of women in our state and as many in other states singly and in associations, are eagerly, wisely and efficiently working for the improvement of conditions which are unjust, and many unjust conditions have by their influence been removed. They have been vigorously doing things without thinking of the ballot and have accomplished more than they have taken time to recount.
If any of us are not having our share in this crusade let us at once find a place where our influence will be felt, to abolish child labor, to keep women from that labor that undermines their health so that they bring into the world children who will by the greed of selfish men and women — for women have their part in making the ill conditions — be put to work still further to deplete the equipment they have inherited.
The kitchen and nursery are an important part of woman’s domain not to be despised but rather to be respected, but they are not the limits of her opportunities or her duties. When the babe leaves the nursery the mother’s work for him is but just the beginning. All his growing interests are hers; his plays, his school, his companions, his religion must be her daily increasing care. His protection is not now so easily provided for as it was. Bars at the windows, a fender before the nursery fire, a gate at the stairs — ah! would it could always be so simple to save him from disaster. But now how complicated her problem and, yet how inspiring thus to guard and guide that life for which she is jointly responsible so that there shall be a sound mind and a pure spirit in a sound body.
And as for the kitchen and what it represents, what woman is equal to it all? What greater problem could a woman desire? All that a college girl can get in her four year’s course is not sufficient for its demands in science and in art. Who has the training in power of adaption and in executive action which a well-regulated home calls for? Having ability for this she has ability for anything, and lacking power to manage a small kingdom she needs not ask for a larger.
It is said that woman needs the ballot to give expression to her opinion. I have said before it does not express an opinion, it asserts a will. The will may be in harmony with the opinion, and it may not. There may be no opinion back of the ballot. An opinion is the off-spring of reason, feeling affects the will. Crowds of voters at every important election are carried by the appeal to their feelings which govern their will or are carried by the force of another’s will. Women are more easily swerved by their emotions and would be more at the mercy of the will of others.
Fortunately women has not all the work to do either inside the home or out of it. Man has some capabilities and has proved that he can govern fairly well. In spite of great faults yet uncorrected, the advance in morals and intelligence during the last century has been unprecedented. This is unquestionably the best age and under manhood suffrage, with all the ill-conditions yet to be bettered, no country stands so free from abuses to-day as ours. And woman has much to thank her brother for. In spite of all the clamor for “equality” we have to thank him that we are still a “privileged” class, and the sarcastic toast, “Woman once our superiors now our equals,” is not yet applicable.
Men have saved women from themselves. In demanding exemption from governmental obligations we do not acknowledge our inferiority, we do insist that difference in sex — a fundamental fact which I assume without discussion — requires different conditions; we emphasize this difference but we emphatically deny that it implies inferiority on one side or the other, altho as woman’s share in life is finer and more delicate than man’s, if there is superiority on either side it is on her side. In specializing their duties she has the most to do with those that relate to the inner and higher life and he with those that relate to the outer and the grosser.
As one has well expressed it: “Man builds the scaffolding for the convenience and the protection of woman who builds the temple.” I am free to acknowledge that many men are my superiors, but I deny that man is the superior of woman. And woman should not admit inferiority by making man and man’s work her standard — not what man can do should be her aim but what woman can do. It was a great mistake of the past which thrust women into employments which should have been left to men, it has resulted in serious complications and evils which social scientists are now trying to unravel and to remedy. Our concern is to secure the best that can be for the race, man, woman, child equally. If we believed that best could be secured by unrestricted suffrage we should cheerfully accept the burden, but is our firm belief, founded on careful study of history interpreted by the best thought of the most unselfish thinkers, that no gain would be made and much evil would be incurred by any further extension of the suffrage, and especially by involving woman in governmental duties.
And now what course shall we take to protect ourselves and those yet without thought on the subject from the imposition of this evil? What shall be our methods? Reason not sentimentality should be our motto. It is easy to say that all things could be made right by the vote of women: we must show that this is a fallacy. We must by thought and study be prepared to use pen and voice and especially the press and our own carefully prepared literature to prove that our contention is right.
We must not be led into hysterical quarrelling with our opponents. If we are accused of unrighteous alliances let us refrain from making doubtful assertions in reply. Our temper must be calm, our statements guarded and our attitude dignified. The methods in detail must change from time to time, but the sprit need not change. When the “entering wedge” of a demand for the suffrage for tax paying women is presented, we must recognize that it is an entering wedge and combat it with vigor. Property qualification is not in harmony with our democratic government as would not be argued for by the women who have heretofore demanded that there should be no class distinction in relation to voting except as they intend it to be followed by the demand for full suffrage. This we must understand and meet.
We have every reason to be encouraged, but the encouragement should lead us to greater and more serious effort and not to inertia. The position of defence is never easy, and our duty requires patience that is not experience, it calls for readiness which is not aggressive, and vigorous expression of our views which must never be acrimonious. Assured that we are right we may pursue our way always with caution but certain of success.
Source: Pamphlets Printed and Distributed by the Women’s Anti-suffrage Association of the Third Judicial District of the State of New York, Albany, N.Y. 1905