This Old Injustice to Women
December 3, 1913 — US House of Representatives, Committee on Rules, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of this committee, the Supreme Court of the United States has acknowledged that women are citizens and the supreme court in Canada has acknowledged that we are people, and since the men of this Nation, in every part of it, are becoming really, dimly, in a somewhat subconscious state to realize that we do constitute a part of the human family, it seems fitting that we should give the United States Government an opportunity again to realize the principle upon which it is founded — that just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. It seems appropriate that we should allow the United States Government to make the amende honorable in this matter, and not leave it to the State governments.
When I was asked last year to speak before this committee I know it was not because anything that I might bring to your attention would be particularly pleasing or enlightening to the gentlemen of the committee, but because I represented a section that is not usually supposed to favor a constitutional amendment. Now, I think it may be valuable for me to state here that I believe a constitutional amendment granting suffrage to women would be of advantage to my State and also to the other Southern States, and so, to that end, we ask for a committee of this House to consider the question of woman’s suffrage, and we believe it of sufficient importance to the Nation to correct this glaring deficiency in the Constitution. We believe it sufficiently important to the men of this country, not alone to the women, but to the men, that there should be a special committee of the House to consider this subject.
The State of Kentucky has an honorable record in the matter of democracy. When we wrote our first constitution we threw off the traditions of Virginia. We did not believe citizenship should be dependent upon any accident of birth or inheritance of wealth or educational opportunity. We based suffrage on manhood alone, and the Western States who modeled their constitutions after ours fol lowed that precedent. In the same way, the men of my State when they wrote the first school law, in 1838, made the first step of any English-speaking people in the modern movement for the emancipa tion of women. Now, I have to assent that the men of my State are classing the women of my State, legally and politically, with idiots and criminals. They are now awakening to the fact, however, that in many ways they need the help of their women, and it is because I believe Kentucky and all the Southern States need tremendously the help of their women that I am empowered to plead with the United States Government to make it possible for them to give this help. We are looked upon somewhat contemptuously by the North ern States when we give the war as an excuse for any condition of the present day, but I think it may still be given as an excuse for the fact that in many ways we are a backwoods people. The war swept away our wealth — our whole economic system — and not only that, it left us with the burdens of war and the reconstruction period to bear. It also left us, some one has said in an inspired moment, to take care of two races out of the poverty of one. But the war also swept off the flower of our manhood. In my own State, Kentucky, you will remember that it believed in State rights, but believed even more in the preservation of the Union. My own people, since I have been referred to here, were typical of the other families of the State, in that they gave the best blood of their family in that war.
My great-grandfather, who was a war maker in his youth, who perhaps more than any other one man forced the War of 1812, and therefore, perhaps justly, had the somewhat difficult task of making peace, which was made before the news arrived of the battle of New Orleans, in the latter years of his life fought always for peace, and however we may reel about the compromise bill, however we may feel about the attitude which he took toward the Mexican War, we know what he did toward the preservation of the Union. Until the time that war was made he was a concrete factor in the maintaining of that Union. You know that the position that Kentucky took was a factor in the preservation of the Union. Prof. Taylor says, in his history, when he approaches this delicate subject of Kentucky’s neutrality, “There are States which it might be necessary to defend from the charge of cowardice. Kentucky is not one.” Kentucky gave her full quota to the armies of both sides in that war. The son of Henry Clay lost his life in the Mexican War, and the two sons of young Henry Clay lost their lives in the war between the two parts of the Union, one of them in the armies of the North and one in the armies of the South. Now, is it any excuse for the backwoods position of Kentucky or of any other of the Southern States? Is it any excuse for having the greatest percentage of illiteracy in the country? I think it is. I think it is an excuse, and I repeat it often to myself when I take the facts that are presented, when I take the statistics that are damning to Kentucky, the educational statistics that place Kentucky at the very bottom of every table. There is one table in which, taking our native-born white men, the voting population, we are third from the bottom of the list. When we throw in the children and women and negroes we come up considerably, but taking only our voting white men we are in this position in the table. When the census of 1900 came out a man from North Carolina was looking for his State upon the list, and he finally found that there was one State below him, the State of New Mexico. Until he made this discovery he had been greatly depressed, but after finding that there was one State below him he lifted up his head and said, ” Thank God for New Mexico.”
Kentucky could thank God for North Carolina, with her whites and blacks, and for New Mexico with her hybrid Spanish and Indian population. But while we were talking about granting the liberty of equal suffrage to women, New Mexico did it, and I feared then to see the table for 1910, and when I did see it I saw that we could no longer thank God for New Mexico, for there were only two States below us. We were in extreme danger of dropping off the column entirely. When we come to health statistics, we find that in the percentage of blindness to the population there are only three States below us. When we come to tuberculosis, we find that we rank ahead in relative prominence. I must say this, since we have gone into these vital statistics, and since we have decided to know our selves in order that we may improve conditions, our climate does not give us an excuse for this prominence in tuberculosis, and it is undoubtedly due to our own carelessness and ignorance and slothfulness.
Now, when our men have attempted to better conditions in our own State in many lines, we have tried to aid, even by the indirect means in our power. We women have tried to aid, side by side with our men, and the fact that our men have recognized that help is instanced by the passage of several recent laws. We have a law creating a State labor commission, with annual appropriations from the State revenue; a law creating a State commission on forestry, with annual appropriations from the State revenues; a law creating a tuberculosis commission. In all of these laws creating commissions which shall spend the public money of the State of Kentucky, the men of Kentucky have stated that these commissions shall consist of men and women.
Now, why? Simply because the men who wrote those laws, or who helped to write them and worked for them, realized that if the money was to be spent for the best good of Kentucky it must he spent by those most interested in the welfare of the State, and that those people were both men and women. This shows that her men are dimly conscious of the fact that if Kentucky is to right herself, is to assume her old prominence of leadership, if she is to be again the pioneer intellectually as she was geographically we must have not one-half of the people working for Kentucky, but all the people working together with a long and strong pull. And that is why I do not feel I am doing any injustice to the men of my State in asking this Federal amendment, in asking the help of the Congress of the United States. I believe that I am doing them a great favor — a favor which they themselves will appreciate.
Now, some years ago when we were working for our school-suffrage law, after we had worked for it at three sessions of the legislature and had at last gotten it past the house and up to the senate, only three days before adjournment a letter was sent to the members of the senate by the German-American Alliance, calling upon the men of Kentucky to protect the homes and womanhood of Kentucky, and saying that the German alliance believed that the home was the sphere for women. When we investigated we found that the German-American Alliance was the brewers’ alliance, with headquarters at Louisville, Ky. We wondered if these Germans had forgotten that the women of Kentucky came from the same strain as the men of Kentucky; that it was a protesting blood ; that it was a blood that had left its native shores and come to an alien land because it denied the right of any nation, through their government, to impose the burdens of government upon them without the rights of government, and our men in the legislature agreed with us that we should decide that our sphere followed our children into our schools.
So I believe that the men of Kentucky are going to decide that woman’s sphere follows her children out of school and wherever those children go. And I would suggest to the men of this committee, who I understand are southern men, that if they object to the suffrage for women being forced upon them by the United States Government, that there is still time in which they may go home and give it to their women in the States; and I suggest to the United States Government that if it prefers itself to right this old injustice to women, to take out of our Federal Constitution the glaring inconsistency that it now contains, and which must be done by Congress, or the State of Kentucky will have the bad manners of some of the western States and proceed to do this job for it.
Source: Committee on Rules, House of Representatives, Sixty-third Congress, Second Session, On Resolution Establishing a Committee on Woman Suffrage: December 3, 4 and 5, 1913.