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The Emancipated Woman

May 1893 — World’s Congress of Representative Women, Chicago IL


I am going to call your attention to two great reasons why we ought to have the right to vote. The primary reason is because we ought to have industrial equality with men. What is the reason that so many women are asking for the privilege of the ballot? It has been said that no women except a few unhappy wives and disappointed old maids want to vote. Who, then, are the people that have been occupying the platforms of this Congress? What does political liberty mean for woman? It has been bitterly said that in the markets of the world there is nothing so cheap as womanhood, and it is literally true. Place that saying beside this other, that woman is to-day paid for her dishonor better than for anything else. Now we are asking for these privileges in order that the humblest and the highest workers may have equal pay with men for equal work. Not better, but the same. You ask, “What good will the ballot do?” We have in the State of New York thirty thousand women teachers, paid only about two-thirds as much as the men who work beside them, who are as good teachers, if not better than the men. Suppose these women were voters; they would then control every assembly district in the State. You will see then why these women want to have the right to vote.

One other point is that women ought to have equality before the law in all respects, and protection under it. There is an infamous law which still prevails through the length and breadth of the United States, with only a few exceptions, which gives the father the absolute control of the child. Now in New York, within a few weeks past, the law has been changed so that the father and the mother are joint guardians of the child. How long are we going to have the protection of this law? In 1860 a liberal law was passed, and it stood for more than eleven years on the statute books, and then an infamous legislator, for the benefit of a friend, had the law repealed, and for twenty years we had to endure that awful law. We have now had the law amended, but how long can we keep it? I tell you without the ballot, without the protection it gives, we are not secure in any right. The ballot is the foundation of political liberty.

On the dome of the Capitol of the United States there is the Statue of Liberty. All of you who have ever seen it recollect how she is represented. When that statue was to be designed a committee of Congress was appointed to determine upon the design, and upon that committee was Jefferson Davis, then a Senator of the United States. One of the members proposed to represent the Goddess of Liberty with an ordinary Phrygian cap. Jefferson Davis said, “No, that cap was worn by a slave; Liberty has always been free. Put upon her a helmet.” And that is the way that Liberty stands, helmeted, and with sword and shield. If women were made free to-day, the Phrygian cap would be appropriate, because we have so long been slaves. We hope the time will come when emancipated woman will stand with the helmet on her head, with the shield of purity on her arm, and the sword of truth in her hand.



Source: The World’s Congress of Representative Women, Vol 2., Ed. May Eliza Wright Sewall, (Chicago: Rand and McNally), 1894, pp. 1-90.