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Woman Suffrage
Is a Potent Agency 
in Public Reforms

July 7, 1887 — 9th Annual Convention, Kentucky Association of Colored Teachers, St. James Methodist Church, Danville KY


Mr. President, — Ladies and Gentlemen:

It affords me great pleasure to present to you this evening, my views on this important question. The atmosphere in which I live is not a very healthy one in favor of woman suffrage; and for that reason I had seen only one side of the question, but now, that I am able to see both sides, I am convicted of my error, and fastly, am converted to truth and justice. Humanity is composed of peculiarities of character and talents.

In woman as much so as in man. One person takes to letters, another to mechanics, one to philanthropy, another to money, because impelled thereto by strong innate proclivities.

Poets are born not educated. Blind Tom is a musical prodigy though a born fool. From my early youth I was a strong advocate of human rights; as I grew older and more decided steps were taken in this direction, I was talked of as a strong minded woman, not knowing the import I argued against the term, always saying however, that I favored human rights, not woman’s rights. Now to the noble women, who read my article on “Higher Education of Woman” published in the Louisville Courant last fall, I wish to retract, so much as was said to deprive them of the liberty to follow freely their own natural gifts, and the reluctant recognition of the right to do whatever they can do well. Wherever there is a gift, there is a prophecy pointing to its use, and a silent command of God to use it. The possession of a gift is a charter conveying to the possessor permission to use it. It was both unjust and inconsistent to tell women to prepare themselves to rear talented children and then to close up the way by which the girls could use natural gifts. Women inherit all the natural gifts that men do. Each has something of the other’s gifts, and each has a superiority of its own over the other. The fundamental principle of woman suffrage is, “That every human being has a right to mark out his or her own destiny, subject only to those restraints of society which are applied to all alike.” I now throw away the old ignorant prejudices, which I am ashamed to have ever held, and stand here this evening, fearlessly, defending woman suffrage, as a potent agency in public reforms. In all history, the ruling classes are cruel to the subordinate classes. Woman was of the subordinate class. She was relegated to the realm of ignorance and servitude. Given in marriage, bartered, or sold as a thing of merchandise.

Under the old Roman law, the husband controlled her property and earnings. He had the power of life and death over her, and she could invoke no law against him. She had no power over her children, and was in general thought to have no soul. Many of to-day defend the old Roman custom. They never think a woman too weak to do all the drudgery, and even to do extreme heavy work, but when it comes to giving her protection of the law, over her children and her property, there is a strong fight against it. God’s thought of woman changed matters, and the great change has been going on ever since.

He appointed Huldah to be a prophet and Deborah to be a warrior judge and prophet, just as he appointed men at other times. This equality was a feature of the Messiah’s reign of truth and justice. At Nazareth Jesus said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those that are bruised.”

The advocates of the subjection of women have studiously avoided Christ and made much of Paul. Jesus speaks of women as fellow workers in Christ, and gives as much praise to them.

There is no intimation that a woman ever spoke a word against him.

Men were in power and took for themselves the license of lust, and applied the law of purity to women, the acknowledged weaker vessel.

Jesus made chastity equally binding on both. (Matt. V. 28.) When a band of men with the arrogance of those who have the law in their own hands, brought a physically helpless woman to Jesus, saying that she had been guilty of sin, (but they had never been). He put them to flight by applying the law of justice, said He: “He that is without since among you, let him first cast a s tone at her.” Apply that law to-day, and there will not be such a cry to save women from falling. This strong rebuke was new to the world, and bad men immediately turned against Jesus, because He hated their lusts, and evil deeds. Christ inaugurated the reform and its progress has been the long continued efforts in Europe and America to rid the statute books of laws, made in the sole interests of men, and denying to wives and mothers their just rights.

There must be men of honor among you here this evening, who are ashamed that women bear equality with men, the support of their families; in many instances working harder, better, and of longer duration, and yet receive smaller compensation for their labor, only because they are women.

Christ gave the gold rule — “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” Would you like to be treated that way? Then you opposers of this needed reform, come down from your high perches of superiority and give to woman what is justly hers. Follow that golden rule, and you will vitalize every humane movement while the world stands.

The humane question is stirring women’s hearts, and breaking down their prejudices. Man alone, is not the true fruit of the human race and man only a blossom, good to give him a start, then perishing, to let him swell to full proportion.

It is power made skillful by exercise that makes both men and women richer in domestic life. Whatever makes woman a better thinker, a larger minded actor, a deep thoughted observer, a more potent writer or teacher makes her just so much a better wife or mother. No one is better for being ignorant, no one is a better companion for being weak and helpless.

Our homes demand great heads. Man thinks from the physical and passional stand-point, this gives him power and outward victory. Woman thinks from the standpoint of affection and moral sentiment, and this gives her purity and rectitude. The union of the two, will make the perfect one.

Public sentiment gives much praise to Mesdames Jno. A. Logan, Horace Mann, Wendel Phillips, and other great women, for the success of their husbands in public life.

They were not men who closeted their wives, thereby losing the benefit of their rich minds to combine with what may have been deficient in their own. I would not rob woman of her nature. Her sphere is that of woman, not of man.

Experience has shown, that as woman is made to be worth more to society at large, and in public interests, she becomes richer at home and is capable of building it better. She is richer in all household excellences.

In the engagement of her sphere she has forsaken no duty of home, and lost no grace of tenderness and love.

We see the divine fact that civilization as it becomes Christianized will make increasing demands upon creation’s gentle half. Woman has steadily risen in the growth of civilization, her sphere is enlarged and she has grown better by just that enlargement it was predicted would unsex her. She has not only learned the alphabet, but has also learned the verbs, conjugations, and declensions of all the languages, ancient and modern. She has taken the first prize in mathematics, science and philosophy. She has taken degrees in law, medicine and theology. She is employed in the mills and manufactories. She is a stenographer, type writer, cashier, clerk, telegraph and telephone operator. She is in the trades and professions, indeed she can go almost anywhere she choses to go. She suffers all the wrong and impositions of the working man, and the addition of a still greater injustice, that a woman shall receive less wages than a man for the same amount and quality of work, simply because she is a woman.

Woman of the nineteenth century is not keeping silence in the church, home or society. The great foreign missionary work is chiefly upheld by woman. She is the first to teacher the gospel of the resurrection of Christ, to the heathen. She was the first to see our risen Savior.

With woman’s vote, the saloons all over the land that tempt boys to ruin, can be closed. The experiment has been tried in Kansas and was crowned with success.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny.” It is because woman is not like man, that she refuses to be represented by him in making laws to spend her tax money, and to judge her in court. If woman is the same as man then she has the same rights, if she is distinct from man then she has a right to the ballot to help make laws for her government. The only practical method of promoting temperance legislation is to unit in securing municipal suffrage to woman all over the land. The voting of woman will be the safety of men throughout the nation. If men are selected for office whose election depend as much upon the votes of woman as upon those of men, not one bad man will be put up where there are fifty now. The only thing that will help the world is that men shall do right. When woman begins to tell the bad men this, they say: “Mind your own business, as you are out of your sphere.” Well, she is minding her own business in her sphere. When woman becomes a voter, law makers will stop spending the public money for cigars and fine drinks. They will no longer vote upon questions of public interest in an insensible state of mind.

Drink destroys both body and soul. Bad men will receive their quietus the day woman is enfranchised. She is said to have tempted man from good, and it is her mission to restore him to his former state. In 1860, Henry Ward Beecher said, “The moment you bring into our public affairs woman’s influence, her stronger moral sentiment, her moral courage, and faith in all that is good, then will you have God’s foundation for moral purity and public peace. Then principles will not only be discussed but applied, and legislation will grow heroic.” Fred. Douglass said the noble work of woman in the anti-slavery movement caused him to believe her deprived of rights justly hers.

Wendell Phillips declared woman suffrage to be the most magnificent reform ever launched upon the world.

Charles Sumner said, “In the progress of human civilization, woman suffrage is sure to come. Justice and common sense must conquer in the long run.” The light is dawning and the time is fast approaching.

Among the unusual departures of woman, one young woman in the West is following the profession of civil engineer. A Cincinnati girl has been licensed as a stationery engineer, two women are steamboat captains and one has lately secured her license as pilot. A woman is mayor of Argona, Kan. Woman as school superintendents, notary publics, and deputy county officers has ceased to be a novelty. If she did not successfully fill these positions, charity would not retain her. One result of the qual rights agitation has been that woman is now employed in 222 of the 265 different occupations enumerated in the census of 1808. Previous to the reform movement the number of occupations was less than twenty. A humorous incident is told of the work of woman on the New York School Board. A janitor complained to one of the principals, saying that he had been employed there nineteen years, and no one had ever asked him to see the basement until meddlesome old Mrs. ___ came one day and said she wanted to make an examination, he added plaintively, “And that basement wasn’t in a fit condition for any one to see.”

Every material interest of human life demands that man and woman shall be united.

Whatever strength masculine element may have, it is deficient in moral refinement. Judge Fox said in a political speech at Lexington not long since, that the Republican and Democratic conventions were never known to observe such good order, as had been observed at the last ones, and they had been forced to it by the Prohibition party and woman’s influence in politics. Woman is appointed for the refinement of the race. The need of moral influence in the administration of political affairs is universally conceded.

Since the world began to refine, society has been woman’s function. She has carried refinement to the households, to the church to social life, to literature, to art, to everything, and lastly to government.

Hear from woman in Kansas. The ladies held a caucus, as none of the tickets in the field exactly suited them. They made up a ticket composed of the best men on the three tickets in the field. Their ticket was elected and the leading paper of the place says: “This election establishes the fact, that we have a new factor in politics that will determine every election in which there is a moral or religious issue.”

Garden City paper says: “The rum power made a great fight, but the ladies worked hard, the most influential ladies of the town giving their time to the work. The entire temperance ticket was elected.”

Topeka Commonwealth says: “A goodly number of ladies have gone to the polls and voted.”

We hear of no homes disrupted, of no insults being offered, of no unlady-like performance, of no verification of the hundred ills predicted by the croakers(?). The babies have been properly cared for, the meals have been furnished regularly, every household duty has been performed satisfactorily and the ceaseless sound of domestic cares goes on in its accustomed channel.

Langston Leader — The ladies voted in fine shape and showed their appreciation of their privilege.

Winchester Argus — Municipal suffrage for females in Kansas has resulted in much good at this election. The experiment has proved a success.

Independence Tribune — After all we don’t see, but that the women vote just as easily as the men, and moreso. With their ballots all ready to cast, they walk up to the voting places, announce their names, deposit their ballots and quietly walk away, leaving all unnecessary discussions on election day to the men.

Thus you see the right of suffrage was used by the best and most refined women. It is no more than going to the post office and dropping in a letter. Some argue that the polls are not decent places. As soon as woman suffrage is general they will be made decent for gentlemen as well as for ladies. So soon as the School Suffrages for women became the law in Mass., the Legislature passed without opposition, a statute to prohibit smoking and drinking at the polls. If politics are naturally corrupting, advise good men as well as good women not to vote.

No movement of any great importance has ever taken place in the world, in which woman has not taken a prominent part as a worker, — then most assuredly is Woman Suffrage a Potent Agency in Public Reforms.



Source: The American Catholic Tribune, (Cincinnati OH), July 22, 1887, p. 1.