Testimony Before the
US House of Representatives
March 13, 1912 — US House Committee on the Judiciary, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, in presenting our arguments for your consideration in regard to these amendments to the Constitution, we would like first to draw your attention to the fact that women have suffrage already, to a very large extent, in the United States. More than a million women will be eligible to vote for President of the United States next November. More than half a million in addition have the municipal franchise. In fact, the remaining women of America are almost the only English-speaking women in the world who are deprived of the municipal franchise. In England women vote upon all civic matters, and all of the women in the English colonies also vote upon municipal affairs. The women in the north, particularly Finland, Sweden, and Norway, have the full franchise; and America, so far from being in the lead in the universal application of the principle that every adult is entitled to the ballot, is fast falling behind the rest of the world. A hundred years ago we occupied an advanced position in regard to the extension of the franchise; at the present moment we are quite behind in this belief that every adult is entitled to representation in his own governmental affairs.
As I have been engaged for a good many years in various philanthropic undertakings, perhaps you will permit me, for only a few moments, to speak from my experience. A good many women with whom I have been associated have initiated and carried forward philanthropic enterprises, which were later taken over by the city, and thereupon the women have been shut out from the opportunity to do the self-same work which they have done up to that time. In Chicago the women for many years supported school nurses who took care of the children, both made them comfortable and kept them from truancy. When the nurses were taken over by the health department of the city the same women who had given them their support and management were shut out from doing anything more in that direction. And I think Chicago will bear me out when I say that the nurses are not now doing as good work as they did before.
I could also use the illustration of the probation officers in Chicago who are attached to the juvenile court. For a number of years [page 2] women selected and supported these probation officers. Later, when the same officers, paid the same salary, were taken over by the county and paid from the county funds, the women who had had to do with the initiation and beginning of the probation system, and with the primary and early management of the officers, had no more to do with them. At the present moment the juvenile court in Chicago has fallen behind its former position in the juvenile courts of the world. I think the fair-minded men of Chicago will admit that it was a disaster for the juvenile court when the women were disqualified, by their lack of the franchise, to care for it.
The juvenile court has to do largely with delinquent and dependent children, and I think there is no doubt that on the whole women can deal with such cases better than men, because their natural interests lie in that direction. I could give you many other examples.
The establishment of a sanitarium for the care of tubercular patients in Chicago was begun by some philanthropic women, and later on, when these also were put under the care of the city, these women were shut out, save as they were permitted to do some work through the courtesy of the officials. Sometimes the officials are very courteous to them and glad to have their assistance; sometimes they quite resent the suggestions offered them, claiming it is “up to” them to take care of the city affairs, and that women are only interfering when they try to help.
So, it seems fair to say, if women are to keep on with the work which they have done since the beginning of the world — to continue with their humanitarian efforts which are so rapidly being taken over into the Government, whether wisely or not is not for me to say, and which, when thus taken over by the Government, are often not properly administrated, that the women themselves will have to have the franchise.
The franchise is only a little bit of mechanism which enables the voter to say how much money shall be appropriated from the taxes, of which women pay so large a part. When a woman votes, she votes in an Australian ballot box, very carefully guarded from roughness, and it seems to us only fair to the State activities which are so largely humanitarian that women should have this opportunity.
I am going to introduce, Mr. Chairman, women who will represent different points of view in regard to suffrage for women, a matter which seems to us so important.
Perhaps no class of women in the entire community need the ballot so much as the working women. I am sure you are conversant with the splendid series of reports being issued by the Federal Department of Commerce and Labor upon the condition of women and children wage earners in the United States, in which this is being demonstrated. You will be glad to hear, I am sure, from Miss Leonora O’Reilly, of New York, who has done so much to improve the condition of working women. It gives me very much pleasure to introduce Miss O’Reilly, who will speak to you for ten minutes.
Source: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, March 13, 1912 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office), 1912), pp. 7-8.