Address by the President
of the National American Woman Suffrage Association
June 15, 1913 — IWSA Conference, The Academy of Music, Budapest, Hungary
The period which has elapsed since the last Congress has been one of phenomenal growth for our movement. When the organisation of the Alliance was completed in 1904, it was decided that national woman suffrage associations only should be admitted to membership. Its founders foresaw a difficulty, and met it at the outset by freeing the new organisation from the embarrassments which beset international diplomacy and defined a nation as a country which possesses the independent right to enfranchise its women. At that time eight such nations had woman suffrage associations. Now, nine years later, with the exception of the Spanish American Republics, there are in the entire world only seven constitutionally organised independent nations without an organised woman suffrage movement. Only three of these are in Europe– namely, Greece, Spain, and the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. The remaining four are the Negro Republic of Liberia in Western Africa, Turkey and Persia, which are not well established self-governing nations, and Japan, which is still more autocratic than democratic. To-morrow we shall admit to membership the National Chinese Woman Suffrage Association, and the standard of the Alliance will then be set upon five continents. Twenty-five nations and two additional countries without full national rights will be counted in its membership. Organised groups also exist on many islands of the seas, among them being Java, Sumatra, the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands. Truly this is a good record for our Alliance, which has been at work only nine years. Like Alexander the Great, we shall soon be looking for other worlds to conquer! Borrowing the familiar boast of the British Empire, we may with truth say that the sun never sets on the Woman Suffrage Alliance. The North Star and the Southern Cross alike cast their benignant rays upon woman suffrage activities. Last winter, when perpetual darkness shrouded the Land of the Midnight Sun, women wrapped in furs, above the Polar Circle, might have been seen gliding over snow-covered roads in sledges drawn by reindeer on their way to suffrage meetings, from whence petitions went up to the Parliament at Stockholm asking a voter’s share in the Swedish Government. There is something thrillingly exalting in the fact that at the same moment other women, in the midsummer of the Southern hemisphere, protected by fans and umbrellas, and riding in ” rickshas” were doing the same thing under the fierce rays of a tropical sun; and petitions poured into Pretoria asking suffrage for the women of the Union of South Africa, from every State and city of that vast country.
Since our last Congress not one sign has appeared the entire world around to indicate reaction. Not a backward step has been taken. On the contrary, a thousand revelations give certain, unchallenged promise that victory for our great cause lies just ahead. To the uninitiated these signs may sound prosaic, but they thrill those who understand with the joy of coming victory. It is reported of every land that there are more meetings, larger audiences, more speakers, more writers, more money, more influential advocates, more space in the press, more favourable editorials, more earnest supporters in Parliaments, more members, more and better organization, and, best of all, more consecration–all unfailing signs of the growing power of a great movement.
For a century the thought of the civilised world has been making ready for this time, and now upon the wall of progress the handwriting has been chiselled large and clear: “Governments take heed, woman suffrage is bound to come, when are you going to act?”
Probably there is no more certain indication of the status of our movement to-day than the attitude of Governments when they read that handwriting. When movements are new and weak, Parliaments laugh at them; when they are in their educational stages, Parliaments meet them with silent contempt; when they are ripe and ready to become law, Parliaments evade responsibility. Our movement has reached the last stage. The history of the past two years has demonstrated that fact beyond the shadow of a doubt. Parliaments have stopped laughing at woman suffrage, and politicians have begun to dodge! It is the inevitable premonition of coming victory.
Statesmen, be it remembered, are men who serve their country and great causes regardless of consequences to themselves; politicians are men who serve their parties and themselves regardless of consequences to their country or great causes. The twentieth century has produced a far larger crop of politicians than statesmen, and it is the politicians who are creating the delay.
During the past winter woman suffrage Bills have been considered by seventeen national Parliaments, four Parliaments of countries without full national rights, and in the legislative bodies of twenty-nine States. Honest friends and honest foes the cause has had everywhere, with a true statesman here and there to defend it; but the “whips” of political parties have controlled the situation, and women wait.
There is nothing in this world so nearly like another thing as one politician is like another–whether he comes from Sweden or Hungary, Russia or Portugal, Great Britain or China. In consequence there is no history so much like another history as that of a suffrage Bill in one Parliament is like that of another Parliament. The certain evidence that the present status of our movement is that which immediately precedes success is that it has required political jugglery, shrewd Parliamentary tactics, conspiracies, with now and then a downright contemptible political trick, to prevent favourable action. How amusing is it to see men plot and contrive to keep from doing a thing to-day which they know they must do to-morrow! There have been no defeats, but there have been disappointments in the outcome of the campaigns of Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.
In Iceland the Bill was neither defeated nor tricked. It was involved with other measures and honourably postponed. In order to make partial reparation to the women for their disappointment, the Government made an appropriation to defray the expenses of two delegates from Iceland to Budapest to explain just how it happened. Iceland is a very small country, but no braver, more democratic people does the world know. I bid its delegates take back the message that the Government of Iceland has set an example worthy of imitation by the largest and proudest Governments of the earth.
The Parliament of Norway has been the only one to pass the suffrage measure–the removal of the tax qualification for the Parliamentary suffrage of women. At every Congress of the Alliance, the delegates from that sturdily democratic country have come bearing the news of some fresh victory. This time it comes with the satisfying news that its task is now completed. Two hundred and fifty thousand women have been added to the list of enfranchised women, and universal suffrage for both sexes has been established. More, these apostles of woman’s freedom come bearing the further good tidings of much helpful forward legislation accomplished as the direct result of women’s votes. Two heroic leaders of the movement, to whose devoted and intelligent guidance much of the success of the woman’s movement is due, have come to Budapest as official delegates of the Norwegian Government. All hail, brave and victorious Norway!
The largest gains for the past two years have been in the United States. Five States and the territory of Alaska have followed the example of the four former suffrage States, and have enfranchised their women. Two millions of women in the United States are now entitled to vote at all elections, and are eligible to all offices, including that of President of the United States.[note]
Although these American States are the newest and most thinly populated in the United States, the victory is far more significant than most people realise. The territory covered by these nine States, excluding Alaska, is one-third that of the whole United States, and more than two and a half times as great as that of the original American Colonies. Each suffrage State is considerably larger than the so-called “Empire State” of New York, and several are twice as large. If France, Germany, Great Britain, Austria, and Hungary could be set down in the middle of this territory, there would be enough territory left uncovered to equal the kingdom of Italy. The population now is about eight millions. The resources are extremely varied and valuable.
I have dwelt upon the size and resources of these States for two reasons. First, I wish every delegate to realise that whatever fate the changing destiny of races and nations may bring to the North American Continent in the centuries to come, this vast section is bound to take a conspicuous place in history; and that, whatever comes, woman suffrage is securely established there for all time. Second, I want each delegate to know that this Great West is a guarantee of ultimate woman suffrage for all the North American Continent. It is a notable fact that the last eight States extended the suffrage as the direct result of the beneficent operation of woman suffrage in contiguous States. Each new victory has been an endorsement of the experiment already tested and proved. These nine States will now collectively exert the same influence on the remainder of the United States, and also upon their neighbouring nations.
Since the last Congress your President, accompanied by Dr. Aletta Jacobs, President of the National Suffrage Association of The Netherlands, has made a tour around the world, the object being to learn, if possible, what position the women of Asia occupy in the new upward movements of that Continent. The work we did may be briefly summed up: We held public meetings in many of the towns and cities of four continents, of four great islands, and on the ships of three oceans. We had innumerable private conferences, and had representatives of all the great races and nationalities in our audiences. The tangible results of our trip are that we are connected with correspondents representing the most advanced development of the woman’s movement in Egypt, Palestine, India, Burmah, China, Japan, Sumatra, Java, and the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands, and also in Turkey and Persia, which we did not visit. As to the effect upon the movement in the countries visited, we shall claim little more than that we have blazed a trail which we may point out to other women willing to carry the inspiration and sympathy of our movement to the women of Asia. They, knowing the way, will be able to accomplish much more than did we. It is our earnest hope that other women, comprehending the unity of the women’s cause, will be led to carry our greetings to the women of Asia, who just now need the encouragement which Western women, emancipated from the most severe mandates of tradition, can give in practical advice to these women, who for many years must continue to struggle under conditions which obtained in our Western world some generations ago.
It is conceded by all those familiar with Oriental conditions that there has been no example in all history when such enormous and portentous changes have taken place in so brief a time as those now in progress in Asia. Upon that vast continent, containing twice the population of Europe, and half that of the entire world, civilisations so unchanging that they have been regarded by the West as veritable fossils, have suddenly stirred with new and modern life. Worn-out customs are being cast aside like old garments, and new standards of thought more in keeping with modern enlightenment are being boldly adopted. The present result is a curious and bewildering confusion of the old and the new, the East and the West, with all the puzzling odds and ends of a transition period.
To gain a clear idea of the woman’s movement in the midst of this confusion is no easy task. There are, however, a few central facts, of which we shall do well not to lose sight.
(1.) The women of the Orient have never been the satisfied, contented sex the world has believed them. Authors, European and Oriental, have declared that the women of this or that Eastern nation were the happiest in the world. Men said so, and we believed them. It was never true. Behind the purdah in India, in the harems of Mohammedanism, behind veils and barred doors and closed sedan chairs, there has been rebellion in the hearts of women all down the centuries. There, compelled to inactivity, they have been waiting, waiting for a liberator. Like captive birds many have beaten their wings in despair against the unyielding walls of their cages; but now and then a bar gave way, a woman escaped, and whenever she did she made her protest.
We spoke with many women all over the East who had never heard of a woman’s movement, yet isolated and alone they had thought out the entire programme of woman’s emancipation, not excluding the vote. We heard them repeat the steps of the necessary evolution to freedom, now with eyes blazing with indignation, now illumined with hope. I left such women with the feeling that I had been in the presence of God. Verily a spirit above and beyond our finite selves has gone forth to all the women of the earth calling upon them to arise, to burst the shackles of tradition, and to demand the freedom which is the just heritage of every human being. This is no evidence of a sudden awakening. Instead the star of hope has dimly lighted the way of these women of the East through all the dark centuries. In this twentieth century, as a reflex effect of the common movement of these nationalities and races, that star has become a Great Light.
(2.) Out of sight and hearing, these secluded women have wielded a far greater influence upon their nations than we have been led to believe. They are doing much to keep the spirit of the present-day movements alive. Whoever attempts to estimate the force and meaning of the awakening East without reckoning upon the influence of women will fall far short of truth. Whatever Western nation attempts to rule the East: without taking women into account is sure to meet defeat from an enemy its agents have never seen.
(3.) Men may honestly believe that women should be cloistered and veiled, silent, and subject; but when a national interest arises which needs aid, all through the ages, such men, black, brown, white, or yellow, have forgotten their reasons, and become not only willing but anxious that women should come out of the cloister, take off their veils, break their silence, and cease their servility. At such times they encourage women to plunge their nimble fingers into the nation’s fire and to bring out the roasting chestnuts of the nation’s liberty. These men then take the chestnuts, and send the women back to the cloisters and veils, the silence and servility. Just now Asiatic men, not a whit more selfish than Western men have been and will be, are beginning to desire a taste of those chestnuts, and all the surveillance is weakening in consequence. Women are organising, speaking, working. It is our business to encourage these women to demand their share of the chestnuts when they have been won. It is now a crucial time, when our Western help may give impetus and permanence to the movement of Eastern women, and when delay may mean a much longer continued oppression of women.
The main fact to understand is that there is a serious woman’s movement in Asia. It is true that it is in an unorganised, incipient stage. So was our Western movement a hundred years ago.
The ignorance, apathy, and hopelessness of the masses of women in Asia are appalling; but on many a hill top the beacon lights of the reformer are aflame, never to be extinguished.
There are native women physicians in many countries, a woman lawyer in India, women’s papers in India, Burmah, and China; many well-educated women in all lands, and a greater demand for girls’ schools than any authority is able to provide. They vote, too, upon the same terms as men in tho municipal government of Rangoon, in Bombay, and other Indian cities; nor must we forget that nine Chinese women have served a term in the Assembly of the great Province of Kwantung, of which Canton is the capital.
No one can visit the Orient without recognising the obvious fact that religion occupies a far more influential place in the life and thought of the people than with us. Perhaps this is not strange, since all the great religions of the world had their origin in Asia; and it is probably natural that these indigenous religions should have become immovably entrenched in the land of their birth. All customs contributing to the subjection of Oriental women have had an element of religion in them, and by popular belief have been the command of the gods. The surest and healthiest sign of a better time for women is therefore found in the fact that the heads of the great religions are beginning to explain. As leaders of Christianity a generation ago, under “the higher criticism” movement, publicly repudiated the misinterpretation of the Christian Scripture concerning women, which had been accepted for centuries, and sought a loop-hole through which they might pass from under the blighting edicts of St. Paul; and as the most enlightened Jewish Rabbis are now pointing to the fact that the Oriental status of women in the Jewish Scripture has no place in these modem times; so Brahminism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, the great religions of Asia, are alike repudiating the seclusion and oppression of Eastern women as no part of their dogma. All declare that the Mohammedans alone are responsible for it. Under the banner of the Crescent war was waged everywhere, they say, until no woman’s life or virtue was secure, and they were driven to seek safety behind the walls of their homes. What had been a necessity in time became established custom, and no one asked its origin. With all these religions disclaiming responsibility for the subjected position of women, and all bestirring themselves to right past wrongs, it is left for the Mohammedans to defend themselves against the charge which all the others lay at their door. And they are doing it! A Princess of Turkey has made a careful study of the Koran, and is an acknowledged scholar in Arabic. She has declared that she finds nothing which demands a secluded life for women. A Princess of Egypt has taken up her weapons, and over her own signature in the public vernacular press has contended for women’s liberty in such emphatic terms that all Egypt knows her views; and now a society of Mohammedan women has been organised in Cairo to work towards the emancipation of their sex.
But far more important than this agitation of women, even though the leaders may be royal princesses, are the new virile positive sects which have arisen within the older religions. One of these is Theosophy. It is making great gains in India, and wherever it goes is holding aloft the torch of woman’s emancipation.
In the school for teachers at Madras, and its schools for Hindu boys and girls at Benares, and for Buddhist boys in Ceylon, some truly wonderful things are being accomplished. Twelve hundred orthodox Hindu boys in Benares are learning their old philosophy with a modern application. Among other things, they are being taught that the freedom of women is consistent with their faith, and they are setting out to correct the age-long wrong endured by the women of India. Thirty of these boys, without pay or reward, while they are themselves in school, are conducting schools for little girls, and this I thought the most significant thing I learned in India. In Bombay, too, we found men lawyers, doctors, and teachers, who were Theosophists, without pay, teaching in an overcrowded girls’ school. I do not profess to understand or to endorse Theosophy. Those Hindus who do not like it say it is Buddhism, and the Buddhists, who do not approve it, say it is Hinduism. Whatever may be one’s personal opinion of Theosophy, the true feminist must feel a sense of gratitude to Mrs. Besant, who has established these Eastern schools.
The Bramah Samaj, a great Hindu sect in India, is pledged to equality of rights for men and women, and is so consistent that an almost equal percentage of its own men and women followers are educated. It is an active force for the abolition of caste, the elevation of women, the extension of education, and the unification of the entire Indian people. It has schools and newspapers, devoted leaders with sane and noble ideals which, were there no other influences at work, would in time revive and reinvigorate the peoples of India. Its women are free from Purdah, as the custom of seclusion is called. One, Miss Kumudini Mitra, a beautiful, high-souled young woman, who was expected to come to this Congress, edits a paper for women, and leads the movement in Bengal for women’s education.
The Parsees, a sect which fled from Persia to escape Mohammedan control, educate their women and grant them every liberty of the Western world. One of their women, Miss Sorabji, has not only studied law, but is permitted to practise by the British Government, which denies this privilege to its own daughters at home.
The Maharanee of Baroda, a state north of Bombay, has written a book in which she appeals to the women of India to come forth and seek a more useful life, to encourage education, to take up employment for the common welfare. She has travelled much in Europe, and has studied the conservative efforts of European women, which she believes to be in accord with Indian thought. The picture of the unveiled Maharanee herself, in a preface to the book, is a bolder example to her countrywomen than those unfamiliar with Hindu custom can realise. All over India Hindu women have started and are maintaining schools for girls. They have organised many societies for the care of child widows, and various enterprises for the uplift of women. They have organised the Siva Sedan Sisterhood, composed of Hindu, Parsee, and Mohammedan women, the object being to break down the barriers of religious prejudice, and to enable women to meet upon the common ground of their common demand for relief from disabilities put upon them. All these uplifting influences are within the old religions of Asia, and quite apart from Christian teaching, which has likewise established schools all over Asia, and is preaching by example and precept improvement in the position of women.
What Theosophy and other sects are doing for Hinduism, the Bahais are doing for Mohammedanism. Its founder, Abdul Baha, called the Bab, came some sixty years ago in Persia, but he and his followers were cruelly persecuted, and many were put to death. What makes this sect of peculiar interest to us is that among his early disciples was a rare and gifted soul, Kurret ul Aine. What fateful coincidence of dates it was, that while American women in 1848 were founding the beginning of an organised suffrage movement, this Persian woman tore her veil from her face, and declared rebellion against all the tenets of Islam which relegated women to a position of subjection. Her eloquence encouraged the timid, and women followed her example. The priests came to put difficult questions, but she knew her Koran better than they, and she made converts by the score. Her success was too great, the priests were alarmed, and they applied that world-old but vain check to the growth of truth–they put the teacher to death. A Bahai in Cairo told me that 20,000 men and women had given up their lives for this new faith, but it has followed the universal rule of truth under persecution, and has steadily marched on and on, until fully one-third of the people of Persia have espoused, it.
Doubtless the greatest influence of the Bahais has been upon Persia–there the memory of Kurret ul Aine is still fresh, for she kindled an undying hope in the hearts of the women of her country. Under the influence of the new movement schools for boys and girls were established over all Persia, and the idea of self-government was rapidly growing in the minds of the people. Women, freed for a time from traditional custom, agitated and organised and even spoke in public. Emancipation for women and self-government for Persia seemed not far distant. In the movement women had become a mighty and a recognised power. Vasel el Rayiaith, another Bahai, in recognition of their services, introduced a woman suffrage Bill in the Persian Parliament.
Five hundred women, led by Nouradojah Kahnom, a brave, intrepid heroine, and nine comrades, besought Parliament not to accept the ultimatum of Russia, and it was this group which appealed for aid to the women of England. It is a tragedy unspeakable that the splendid forward movements in Persia should have received a check through its recent difficulties. Now the women are prohibited from political work. Their organised groups are disbanded; their voices, eloquent a few months ago with their plea for liberty, have been silenced. One woman who dared to appear upon the street with a slight change in an outer garment was reprimanded by the police, and threatened with arrest if she appeared in it again. Dead reaction has settled over the scene where all was life and hope. Do not forget, women of the West, that this is a Mohammedan nation, and that a modern liberal element within that religion was slowly but surely lifting the people to enlightenment and self-respect. Do not forget that all this came to an untimely end through the interference of Western Christian nations.
The most picturesquely unique woman’s movement in Asia is that of China. For centuries Chinese women have been sold at an early age into wifehood, or concubinage, to husbands they had never seen. Many such women rode in the red sedan-chair of the marriage procession to the door of the husband’s house, and never again passed over the threshold until carried to their graves. Utterly illiterate, and trained to belief in the most absurd superstitions; accustomed to hear the most scathing ridicule of their sex as the opinion of the wisest philosophers and religious leaders of their land, their environment reduced them to the most abject dependence. With feet bound so that they could neither walk nor exercise, natural growth and health were impaired, and the dangers of maternity greatly increased. Among the poor, little girls were commonly sold into slavery, where they served master or mistress until the marriageable age, when they were sold again into wifehood or prostitution, with a comfortable profit to the first owner. The murder of female infants was common, and the sad lot of Chinese women seemed the most soul-deadening and pitiful in the world.
Yet, for reasons difficult to understand, they bear the reputation of always having been the most spirited women in Asia. A curious custom existed there, and whenever a woman reached the point when she could endure her life no longer, public opinion permitted her to seek a quiet spot and to pour out her wrath to her heart’s content. As there are not many quiet, spots in China, the roof of her own house or the banks of a river were favourite resorts. We saw a few of these exhibitions of women protesting against the inevitable. At first we thought them insane, not understanding what they said. We recognised a mighty flow of language, eloquent and indignant tones, and afterwards learned that they were merely “freeing their minds.” There were always many men who paused to listen, and we never saw one laugh at the women. I am inclined to think that this opportunity to let off restrained and accumulated rebellion has had a tendency to preserve the spirit of the women; and that the eloquent condemnation of every hampering custom of their lives, which these individual women had been pronouncing for centuries, has had a wholesome educational influence upon the men.
Behind the stone walls and barred doors of their homes there was more spirit and more rebellion than the world knew. So it happened that when a secret society was organised some twenty years ago, with the object of overturning the Manchu Government, and substituting a government which would be Chinese and at the same time more progressive, many of the women of China, to whom were offered equal rights in the deeds of risk and danger, became as ardent members as men.
As propagandists, they manifested great gifts. Many were renowned for their eloquence and successful organisation. When the time came to take more definite steps they formed “Dare to Die” clubs, and secretly carried arms and ammunition from Japan to Canton; they went all over the country as messengers to bear important and secret orders, and when the revolution broke out, before its time, they demanded the privilege of performing the last service for the cause of Chinese liberty, and enrolled as soldiers. They were armed and drilled by trained generals, but were officered by women. Girls in mission schools and daughters of revolutionary fathers ran away to join the general movement. Already several young women had been put to death by the Manchu Government as the result of suspicion that they were involved in a conspiracy against the Government. Their fate stimulated instead of checking the patriotic motives of these spirited women. They were encamped together, but they were never called into active service. Impatient at this delay many rushed into the lines and threw bombs into the enemy’s ranks, and many were killed and lie buried upon the battlefield. How many of these women soldiers there were no one seemed to know definitely. There was no time for orderly records. Some said there must have been between three or four thousand of them. None knew how many had been killed, but it is known that there were a considerable number. Many women who possessed a little patrimony of their own put it all in the treasury of the Revolution. The leaders of the movement generously acknowledge the debt they owe these women, and admit that they have earned the right to demand a share in the new liberty of China.
The Manchus, as a tardy concession to the growing liberal sentiment, granted Legislative Assemblies to each Province. When the Revolution closed, elections for new members of these Assemblies were ordered, and during the transition each Province was permitted to conduct these elections according to its own rules. The Revolutionists of the great Province of Kwantung decided to reserve ten seats in their Assembly for women, and to permit women to elect them. Universal suffrage was temporarily established, men voting for the men members, and women for the women members. As a matter of fact, few, if any, men or women outside the Revolutionary Society voted. The ten women were elected. One, a young Christian, resigned. It was our understanding that the others were Confucianists. They were women of mature years and educated. Some were teachers, and several were the wives of prominent merchants of Canton. We had the privilege of seeing these women sitting in the Assembly, and of talking, by means of interpreters, with several of them. We found them dignified, self-respecting, intelligent women, with an abiding faith in the new China and the coming emancipation of Chinese women.
No other Province seems to have even considered giving women a vote in these first elections. Canton had been the seat of propaganda for the Revolutionists. It was the home city of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, its founder and chief promoter. It had also received the most effective proof that women were not satisfied with their lot. It was in this province that secret societies of young women had been organised in increasing numbers. These young women pledged themselves to end their lives rather than to surrender to marriage with a man they had never seen. Their membership was unsuspected, and was never revealed until the suicide took place. Hundreds of young women had suicided in response to these vows. Protest can go no further, and apparently it had had an effect upon the Revolutionists of the Province.
After the elections to the Provincial Assemblies took place, a National Convention was held at Nanking for the purpose of establishing a provisional constitution. The women appeared in considerable numbers to present their claim for a share in the new Republic. They received the usual concession–that is, a resolution from the Convention acknowledging their services and the theoretical belief in woman suffrage, but with the further declaration that the women were not yet ready! That resolution shows that in some things the East is a faithful follower of Western example!
There is yet another chance for woman suffrage in China, as a permanent constitution must be adopted if the Republic lives. Meanwhile the women, who a few months ago were bold members of the “Dare to Die” clubs, have turned aside from their campaign, and are giving their entire attention to the problem of education with a devotion and a self-sacrifice that must inspire the admiration of all who know them. Each and every one has become a volunteer teacher of a girls’ school. We found these women of China intelligent, well-balanced, and determined. Their comprehension of the woman’s movement was sane and normal. They are organised as women are everywhere organised, and work in exactly the same way that Western women work. I have every confidence in the permanence and the ultimate success of the woman’s movement in China. Their great, need at this time, as they themselves declared to us in every town we visited, and as they now write, is a university for women. There is no advanced institution of learning in that country where they may go. Heretofore those desiring an advanced education have been obliged to go to Tokio. To study there they must learn a new language. They want the opportunity to study medicine, and some of them desire to study law. The new Republic is moneyless. Its first endeavours in the field of education must be the establishment of common schools, and it is not likely that the Government will be able to build such a university for many years to come. Is it impossible for the West to supply this need?
The freest women in Asia are the Burmese. In that land rights for men and women are practically equal. The influence of the matriarchate, which was once common to the entire Malay race, is seen in the fact that the women own their own property, and most of them are engaged in business and carry their own pocket-books. The only political privilege accorded to men of this nation is in the municipal governments. In Rangoon there has been a governing municipality for thirty years, and during that time women have had a vote upon the same terms as men.
The women of Japan are more advanced than other women of Asia in the matter of education. Many of them are highly educated, and there are many schools for girls. There is a sympathy with the Western suffrage movement, but the women there feel that it is not yet time to demand the vote for themselves, as only a limited number of men have yet been accorded that privilege, and the National Parliament has not been permitted to exercise a large degree of independence. The woman’s movement, however, is developing rapidly, and little by little the old barriers which limited the lives of women are being demolished.
Into the desperate Asiatic battle of transition from the old-established order to the new Unknown, the West both consciously and unconsciously is forcing its ideas. Under one’s very eyes the economic transition, which has taken a century in the West, is being accomplished in years. Women are deserting the distaff and home-loom and responding to the temptation of wages which Western manufacturers offer in the effort to secure cheap labour. In great buildings filled with buzzing, whirring machinery, floor after floor are filled with young women, who are driven the pace of Western labour at cotton and silk looms, and in the making of cigars. Here there are no child labour laws, and babies scarcely out of arms are at work in the hot, greasy-smelling rooms. Here laws set no time limit, and fourteen hours is considered a fair day, and is regarded as a Western standard of Christian justice. Eastern avarice has been stirred by Western example, and many an Eastern master has learned to play the game of the sacrifice of the life and health of employees for his own profit as unscrupulously as any of his Christian mentors. Western nations engaged in the rivalries of international politics have planted the seat of their activities in Asia, and are believed to be actuated by no nobler motive than the exploitation of the East for the selfish benefit of the West. Suspicion, already an over-exaggerated quality of many of these people, is aroused towards everything Western. Saddest and most terribly tragic of all these influences, the “Slave Traffic”– white, brown, and yellow–has received a tremendous impetus through the demand of Western men living in the East. Slavers–Christian, Jew, Mohammedan, Confucian, Shintoist –ply their common trade with ceaseless activity, and girls by the thousands are annually sacrificed upon the altar of the common lust of East and West. The condition is indescribable, almost unbelievable. The so-called Heathen East and the so-called Christian West have met in the commitment of a common crime against the race. This unspeakable barbarism, so out of place in the twentieth century, would never have existed had not the men of the world, regardless of race, colour, or religion, united in the preachment of doctrines concerning women, wickedly false in every particular, and enforced those teachings by physical force. No solution of this problem is there except the vote in the hands of Western women.
The East is East and West is West,
And ne’er shall this twain meet,
is Kipling’s familiar verse; but the women of East and West have a common cause, a solidarity of interest. Their common enemy is the tradition whose roots creep back into primitive times, and their common liberation lies in their common rebellion against every influence which robs them of that liberty.
The women of the Western world are escaping from the thraldom of the centuries. Their souls have been exalted by the breath of freedom, and afar off they have seen the Great Promise of their emancipation and the consequent more effective service to their children and the race. Everywhere in our Western world they are straining hard at the bonds which hold them in tutelage to worn-out custom, and here and there they have burst them wide asunder. The liberation of Western women is certain; a little more agitation, a little more struggle, a little more enlightenment, and it will come.
Out of the richness of our own freedom must we give aid to these sisters of ours in Asia. When I review the slow, tragic struggle upward of the women of the West, I am over-whelmed with the awfulness of the task these Eastern women have assumed. There is no escape for them. They must follow the vision in their souls, as we have done and as other women before us have done.
My heart yearns to give them aid and comfort. I would that we could strengthen them for the coming struggle. I would that we could put a protecting arm around these heroic women and save them from the cruel blows they are certain to receive. Alas! we can only help them to help themselves. Every Western victory will give them encouragement and inspiration, for our victories are their victories, and their defeats are our defeats. We must hold our standard so high aloft that every woman in the world may see it; we must cry our faith from the house-tops, that every woman may hear it. For every woman of every tribe and nation, every race and continent, now under the heel of oppression, we must demand deliverance.
Source: Carrie Chapman Catt, “President’s Address,” 15 June 1913, at the IWSA conference in Budapest, in The International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Report of Seventh Congress, Budapest, Hungary, June 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 1913 (Manchester, England: Percy Brothers), 1913), pp. 84-98.