Suffrage and the Working Woman
January 1, 1871 — San Francisco CA
I come tonight . . . as a representative of the working women. I lay down my doctrine that the first step for the alleviation of their oppression is to secure them pecuniary independence. Alexander Hamilton said 100 years ago “take my right over my subsistence and you possess absolute power over my moral being.” That is applicable to the working women of the present day. Others possess the right over their subsistence. What is the cause of this? I will tell you. It is because of a false theory having been in the minds of the human family for ages that woman is born to be supported by man and to accept such circumstances as he chooses to accord to her. She not like him is not allowed to control her own circumstances. The pride of every man is that he is free to carve out his own destiny. A woman has no such pride.
A little circumstance happened at this hall last night which illustrates this. A mother and daughter came to the ticker office to purchase tickets, when they were confronted by a man who exclaimed, “Didn’t I forbid you to come here to-night?” He had a heavy cane in his hand which he flourished over them, and finally drove them away from the hall.
I appeal to you men. If you were under such control of another man would you not consider it an absolute slavery? But you say that man was a brute. Suppose he is a brute, he is no more of a brute than the law permits him to be.
But to go back. Is it true that women are supported by men? If I was to go home with you all tonight, I should find ample proof of falsity. I should find among your homes many who support themselves. Then if I should go into your manufactories . . . I should find hundreds and thousands who support themselves by the industry of their own hands. In Boston there are 10,000 women engaged in shoemaking. You say these are extreme cases. So they are, but it is in these large cities that the hardship and wrong is most apparent. . . .
If you will take the stand with me on the main thoroughfares of New York, on the Bowery, at the ferries, you will see troops and troops of women going to their daily work. There are not quite so many as there are men, but the men think it is not disreputable to work. Not so with woman. If she makes an effort to support herself, she always makes an effort to support herself, she always makes an effort to conceal it. The young girl has her satchel as though going to the depot, or has her books as though going to school.
Some years ago we had a Woman’s Benevolent Society in New York and appointed a committee to visit all over the city among the poor. The committee visited among others a family of rag pickers. . . . In one little garret was a mother and five little children. The committee appealed to the mother to allow them to put her in a way to support her children and send them to school. They pleaded with her for some time without avail and finally she straightened herself up and exclaimed, “No indeed, ladies. I’ll have you to understand my husband is a gentleman and no gentleman allows his wife to go out to work.”
That society is wrong which looks on labor as being any more degrading to woman than to man.
It was no more ridiculous for the rag picker’s wife to scout the idea of going to work out than it is for the daughter of a well-to-do farmer to scout the idea of supporting herself. . . .
I am proud of San Francisco that she is an exception to the rule, and that she has raised a women to the position of Principal of one of the cosmopolitan schools with a full salary of $1,200 a year. But if tomorrow the same model girl, whom I have just referred to, were to marry a banker and live a life of idleness, with horses, carriages, and house finely furnished, able to take her trip to Europe and with all the advantages wealth could purchase, though her husband were a drunkard, a libertine and a vile and depraved wretch, the woman would never again receive pity. Now we want this rule changed.
The first result of this false theory is this: no woman is even educated to work. Sons are educated while daughters are allowed to grow more adornments, and when the hour of necessity comes, then comes cruelty in the extreme. The woman has to skill her hands for labor, and has to compete with men who have been skilled from boyhood; and not only this but when she has attained ability to compete with them and to do just as well in every respect she is placed at work, if at all, on half pay. Society dooms her always to a subordinate position, as and inferior. . . .
Nowhere can woman hold head offices and the reason is this, politicians can’t afford to give an office to one who can’t pay back in votes. If in New York the women could decide the fate of elections, don’t you think they could afford to make women County Clerks or Surrogate Clerks or even Surrogate Judges? Said a Surrogate Judge to me, “Miss Anthony, I was almost converted by your lecture last night. I have one son and one daughter. The son is at college.” I asked him, “Is your son possessed of the requisite ability to place him in your position.” “No,” he replied; “he will spend his days in a garret daubing paints on a canvass. But my daughter has a splendid legal mind, and understands already much of my duties. What a pity she was not a boy!” Only think, a brain wasted because it happens to be a woman’s. For this reason one half the brain in the world remain undeveloped. How will we remedy this? Give woman an equal chance to compete with men, educate her and surround her with the same legal advantages. Every one knows that the great stimulus for activity is to be paid for in having that activity recognized by promotion.
How will the ballot cure the evil? You tell me the ballot is not going to alleviate this. I will tell you now it is going to alleviate it. Never have the disenfranchised classes had equal chances with the enfranchised. What is the difference between the working classes of the United Stated and Europe? Simply that, here the workman has the ballot and there he has not. Here, if he has the brains or energy, his chances are quite equal with the son of the millionaire. That is American Republicanism – the ballot in the hand of every man. [Applause] . . . See how it works. Take the St. Crispins for example. . . . Well these three hundred St. Crispins strike against a reduction of wages, and not only they, but twenty other St. Crispin Societies, and not only they but other workmen. Now, suppose the New York World denounced those men, and the Democratic party manifested prejudice, not only those 300 men would vote against the party but all the other societies: the hod carriers, brick layers, the masons,, the carpenters and the tailors would vote solidly against the party which opposed them. And that party would go to the wall.
No political party can hope for success and oppose the interests of the working class. You can all see that neither of the great parties dated to put a plank in the platform directly opposed. Both wrote a paragraph on finance, but nobody knew what it meant. They did this not because of a desire to do justice to the workingwomen, but simply because of the power of the working men to do them harm. . . .
Now what do women want? Simply the same ballot. In this city, they, the women hat and cap makers, 2,000 of them, made a strike and held out three weeks, but finally they were forced to yield. Their employers said “Take that or nothing,” and although “that” was almost “nothing” they had to take it or starve. Until two weeks ago I nee r heard of a successful strike among women. I’ll tell you why this was successful. The employers of the Daughters of ST. Crispin at Baltimore undertook to cut their wages down, and the Daughters struck. They were about to be defeated when the men St. Crispins came to the rescue and said to the employers, “If you don’t accede we will strike,” and they carried their point. How happened the workmen to do this? Because they are beginning to see that as long as women work, the capitalists are able to use them to undermine the workmen. . . .
In ’68 the collar laundry women organized into a trades union. Their wages had once been but from $6 to $8 per week, but they gradually got them raised to $11 to $21 per week. You may all say that this is very good wages and so it was, compared with what they had been getting, but they thought they were poorly paid in proportion to the profits of their employers, and struck for an advance. Their employers said they must put a stop to this. Give women an inch and they will take an ell. The women called the men trades unions into counsel. The men said, “Now is your time to make a strike; you are organized and your employers will come to terms.” So one May morning in ’69 the 1,000 women threw down their work. For three long months these women held out. They exhausted all their money. From all over the United States trade unions sent money to help them; not a single paper advocated their cause, and they had to yield.
Not long ago I met the President of the organization and asked her “If you were men you would have won?”
“O yes,” she said, “the men always win when they strike.”
“What was the cause of your defeat?” She said; “I guess it was the newspapers. They said if the women were not satisfied, they had better get married.”
“What made the newspapers oppose you?”
“I guess our employers paid them money.”
“I think $10,000.” I asked her if the five hundred collar workers had votes, would the newspapers dared to have opposed them? She said they would not. When the men strike, the employers try to bribe the newspapers in just the same way, but the newspapers dare not sell. The political editor of a party paper puts the votes in one scale and the cash in the other, and the cash knocks the beam every time. Simply because those five hundred women were helpless and powerless and represented the whole half of a country who were helpless and powerless, they failed. . . .
Now let me give you an example for teachers. In a certain city in the East, the women teachers petitioned for an advance of salary. The School Board finding it necessary to retrench, instead of advancing their salaries deducted from the salaries of the women intermediate teachers $25 a month. They did not dare to reduce the salaries of the male teachers because they had votes.
I have a sister somewhat younger than I who has been in those schools for twenty years. Suppose six or seven women were members of the Board, do you believe the Board would have failed to receive that petition? . . .
A few years ago in this house a colored woman would not have been allowed a seat. Now the negro is enfranchised and what is the result? We see the black man walk the streets as proud as any man, simply because he has the ballot. Now black men are mayors of cities, legislators and office holders. Nobody dares to vent his spleen on negroes today.
We always invite the mayor and governor to our conventions, but they always have important business which keeps them from attending. The negro invites them and they come. Two years ago they did not. . . . Today the conservative Republicans bid the negro good morning, and even the Democrats look wistfully at him.
I visited last year the Legislature of Tennessee. I inquired, “Who is that negro member?” I was answered that it was the honorable gentleman of Lynchburg, and that is the honorable gentleman of Hampton County, and that is the honorable gentleman of somewhere else. There were 20 of them. They did not occupy the black man’s corner. They were seated with the white members. One black member was sitting on the same cushion on which sat his master three or four years ago.
I though it would be nice to ask this Legislative body to attend my lecture; and when I extended my invitation, a gentleman asked that the courtesy of the Legislature be extended to me, and that I be allowed the use of the Legislative Hall. This called for forth derisive laughter. The question was put on a suspension of the rules and was lost by a vote of 18 to 38. For the benefit of Democracy, I will state that the negroes voted in favor of the suspension. A man stood near, who, from his appearance, might have been a slave-driver, and he launched our in tirade of oaths and ended with, “If that had been a damned nigger who wanted the House, he could have had it.” And so he could. . . . I believe that women have now the legal right to vote, and I believe that they should go to the polls and deposit their ballot, and if refused carry the officers and inspectors before the Supreme Court.
When we get the ballot those men who now think we are angels just before the election will actually see our wings cropping out.
You say the women and the negro are not parallel cases. The negro was a down trodden race, but for the women there is no such necessity for they are lovely and beloved, and the men will guard them from evil. I suppose they will guard their own wives and daughters and mothers and sisters, but is every man as careful to guard another man’s wife, daughter, mother, and sister? It is not a question of safety to women in general. It is simply “Is she my property?” . . . You women who have kind brothers and husband and sons, I ask you to join with us in this movement so that woman can protect herself.
Source: DuBois, Ellen, and Lerner, Gerda, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. (NY: Schocken Books, Inc. )1987, pp.139–145.