The World Movement
for Woman Suffrage
June 13, 1911 — Sixth Convention, International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Stockholm, Sweden
In the debate upon the Woman Suffrage Bill in the Swedish Parliament, a few weeks ago, a University Professor said, in a tone of eloquent finality: “The Woman Suffrage movement has reached and passed its climax; the suffrage wave is now rapidly receding.” To those who heard the tone of voice and saw the manner with which he spoke, there was no room for doubt that he believed what he said. “Men believe for the most part that which they wish,” wrote Julius Caesar. With patronising air, more droll than he could know, the gentleman added: “We have permitted this movement to come this far, but we shall allow it to go no further.” Thus another fly resting upon the proverbial wheel of progress has commanded it to turn no more. This man engages our attention because he is a representative of a type to be found in all our lands: wise men on the wrong side of a great question — modern Joshuas who command the sun to stand still and believe that it will obey.
Long centuries before the birth of Darwin an old-time Hindoo wrote: “I stand on a river’s bank. I know not from whence the waters come or whither they go. So deep and silent is its current that I know not whether it flows north or south; all is mystery to me; but when I climb yon summit the river becomes a silver thread weaving its length in and out among the hills and over the plains. I see it all from its source in yonder mountains to its outlet in yonder sea. There is no more mystery.” So these university professors buried in school books, these near-sighted politicians, fail to note the meaning of passing events. To them, the woman movement is an inexplicable mystery, an irritating excrescence upon the harmonious development of society. But to us, standing upon the summit of international union, where we may observe every manifestation of this movement in all parts of the world, there is no mystery. From its source, ages ago, amid the protests which we now know barbaric women must have made against the cruel wrongs done their sex, we clearly trace the course of this movement through the centuries, moving slowly but majestically onward, gathering momentum with each century, each generation; until just before us lies the golden sea of woman’s full liberty. Others may theories about the woman movement but to us has been vouchsafed positive knowledge. Once, this movement represented the scattered and disconnected protests of individual women. In that period women as a whole were blinded by ignorance, because society denied them education; they were compelled to silence, for society forbade them to speak. They struggled against their wrongs singly and alone, for society forbade them to organise; they dwelt in poverty, for the law denied them the control of property and even the collection of wages. Under such conditions of sexual serfdom, what wonder that their cries for justice were stifled, and that their protests never reached the ears of the men who wrote the history of those times? Happily those days are past; and out of that, incoherent and seemingly futile agitation, which extended over many centuries, there has emerged a present-day movement possessing a clear understanding and a definite, positive purpose.
This modern movement demands political rights for women. It demands a direct influence for women upon the legislation which concerns the common welfare of all the people. It recognises the vote as the only dignified and honourable means of securing recognition of their needs and aspirations.
It pins its faith to the fact that in the long run man is logical. There may be a generation, or even a century, between premise and conclusion, but when the premise is once stated clearly and truthfully, the conclusion follows as certainly as the night the day. Our premise has been stated. The world has jeered at it, stormed at it, debated it; and now what is its attitude toward it? In the secret councils of every political party and every Parliament in the civilised world, this question is recognised as a problem which sooner or later must be solved; and the discussion is no longer upon the justice of our claims, but how to avert final action. Our opponents may not recognise this fact, but we who have watched the progress of this movement for many years, we who are familiar with every symptom of change, have seen the opposing forces abandon, one by one, each and every defence, until nothing remains but pitiable pleas for postponement. Such developments are not signs of a receding wave.
To follow up the advantages already won, there is today an army of women, united, patient, invincible. In every land there are trained pens in the hands of women, eloquence and wit on women’s lips to defend their common cause. More, there is an allied army of broad-minded, fearless, unyielding men who champion our reform. The powers of opposition, armed as they are with outworn tradition and sickly sentiment only, are as certain to surrender to these irresistible forces as is the sun to rise tomorrow.
These are the things we know. That others may share the faith that is ours, permit me to repeat a few familiar facts. A call for the first International Conference was issued nine years ago, and it was held in the City of Washington. At that time the Woman Suffrage agitation had resulted in nationally organised movements in five countries only. In chronological order of organisation these were: The United States, Great Britain, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands. Two years later, in 1904, the organisation of the Alliance was completed in Berlin, and associations in Canada, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden were ready to join. These nine associations comprised the world’s organised movement, and there was small prospect of immediate further extensions. Today, seven years later, however, our Alliance counts 24 auxiliary national: associations, and correspondence groups in two additional countries. Are these evidences of a wave rapidly receding? It would be more in accordance with facts should we adopt the proud boast of the British Empire, and say that the sun now never sets upon Woman Suffrage activities. More, the subscribing membership in the world has increased seven times in the past seven years, and it has doubled since the London Congress. Even in Great Britain, where the opposition declared at that time very confidently that the campaign had reached its climax, the National Union, our auxiliary, has tripled its individual membership, tripled its auxiliary societies, and doubled its funds since then. A similar increase of members and funds has come to the two militant groups, and twelve independent suffrage societies have been organised in that country. The membership and campaign funds have likewise tripled in the United States, and every president of an auxiliary national society has reported increase in numbers, funds, and activity. This army of Suffragists is augmented by new and enthusiastic converts every month and every week. We welcome to this Congress fraternal delegates from men’s leagues of five countries, four of which have been organised within the past two years. The movement grows everywhere by surprising leaps and bounds. Two things are certain: first, Woman Suffrage is not a receding wave — it is a mighty incoming tide which is sweeping all before it; second, no human power, no university professor, no Parliament, no Government, can stay its coming. It is a step in the evolution of society, and the eternal verities are behind it.
Those unfamiliar with our work may ask, what does this great body of men and women do? They do everything which human ingenuity can devise and human endurance carry out, to set this big, indifferent world to thinking. When John Stuart Mill made his famous speech in the British Parliament, in 1867, he said: ”I admit that one practical argument is wanting in the case of women: they do not hold great meetings in Hyde Park nor demonstrations at Islington”; and the Parliament roared with amusement at the droll idea of women doing such things. But John Bull and Uncle Sam, and all the rest of the brotherhood of lawmakers, are slow and stubborn. They have scorned the reasonable appeals of women and have spurned their signed petitions. So demonstrations of numbers and earnestness of demand had to be made in some other form. In consequence, Hyde Park has witnessed many a demonstration for Woman Suffrage, one being larger than any other in the history of England, and on Saturday of this week a procession longer than any which has yet upheld the standard of an aspiring cause will pass through the streets of London. There are no examples among men in their long struggle to secure suffrage rights of such devotion, self-denial, and compelling earnestness as has been shown by the British women. I believe more money has been contributed, more workers enlisted, more meetings held, more demonstrations made in Great Britain alone in behalf of Woman Suffrage than in the entire world’s movement for man suffrage. Certainly the man suffrage movement never brought forth such originality of campaign methods, such superb organisation, such masterly alertness. Yet it is said in all countries that women do not want to vote. It is to be devoutly hoped that the obstinacy of no other Government will drive women to such waste of time, energy, and money, to such sacrifice and suffering, as has that of Great Britain.
Nor are demonstrations and unusual activities confined to Great Britain. Two thousand women swarmed to the Parliament of Canada last winter, thousands flocked to the Legislatures of the various capitals in the United States. A procession of the best womanhood in New York a few weeks ago marched through that city’s streets in protest against legislative treatment. Sweden has filled the great Circus building in Stockholm to overflowing. Hungary, Germany, France, “demonstrate,” and in my opinion no campaign is moved by more self-sacrificing devotion, more passionate fervor, than that in Bohemia. Teachers and other trained women workers are holding meetings night after night, willingly carrying this burden in addition to their daily work that the women of Bohemia may be free. In our combined countries many thousands upon thousands of meetings are held every year, and millions of pages of leaflets are distributed, carrying our plea for justice into the remotest corners of the globe.
There are doubtless hard encounters ahead, but there are now educated women’s brains ready to solve every campaign problem. There are hands willing to undertake every wearisome task; yea, and women’s lives ready for any sacrifice. It is because they know the unanswerable logic behind our demands and the irresistible force of our growing army that Suffragists throughout the world repeat in unison those thrilling words of the American leader, Susan B. Anthony, ”Failure is impossible.”
It is not the growing strength of our campaign forces alone which has filled us with this splendid optimism; there are actual gains which in themselves should tell the world that the goal of this movement is near. 0f the nine associations uniting to form this Alliance in 1904, eight have secured a permanent change in the law, which is a step nearer the political suffrage. Of the 24 nations represented in this Congress the women of 15 have won more political rights than they had seven years ago. These gains vary all the way from the repeal of the law which forbade women to form political organisations in Germany; ecclesiastical suffrage in Switzerland, suffrage in Trade Councils in France, Italy, and Belgium, up to municipal suffrage in Denmark, and political suffrage and eligibility in Australia, Finland, Norway, and the State of Washington.
Among our delegates we count women members of Parliament from Finland, a proxy member from Norway, a factory inspector from each of these two countries, and several town councillors from different countries; and to none of these positions were women eligible seven years ago. There are victories, too, quite outside our own line of activities.
A new organisation has arisen in Portugal which has conducted its campaign in novel fashion. Observing that the new constitution did not forbid the vote to women, Carolina Angelo, a doctor of medicine, applied for registration as a voter, and when denied appealed her case to the highest Court. The judge, Dr. Affonso Costa, sustained her demand, and one woman in that country possesses the same political rights as men. This lady has just cast her first vote. She was accompanied by ten ladies and was received with respectful applause by all the men present. This movement developed out of an organisation composed of 1,000 women members whose work was to further the cause of republicanism in Portugal. The suffrage organisation is small and new, but the President of the Republic and three members of the Cabinet are favourable to a further extension of political rights to women, and the new workers are confident of favourable action by the Parliament. It would be curious indeed if the women of Portugal, without a struggle, should be crowned with the political power so long withheld from the long-suffering women of other lands. But justice, like the physical forces of nature, always moves on by the “paths of least resistance,” and therefore it is the unexpected which happens. It is with especially affectionate and tender cordiality that we welcome this newly organised and already victorious group into our Alliance. With pride and gratitude we have ordered a Portuguese flag to be added to our international collection, and hope to number Portuguese women in our future Congresses.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, by the new constitution of February 20th, 1910, authorised by the Austrian and Hungarian Empire, four classes of men may qualify to vote. The first is composed of landowners who pay a tax of 140 crowns on their estate, and widows and spinsters are included in this class. They vote by proxy only, but that is a mere detail. The first election took place in May, 1910. Seventy-eight women voted, seventy-six being Mohammedans, one Servian, one Roman Catholic. When it is remembered that this Mohammedan land has so far forgotten the injunctions of the Koran as to extend this small portion of justice to women, this achievement, though seemingly unimportant, becomes a very significant straw which unmistakably shows the way the wind is blowing in this twentieth century.
As the direct result of our organised movement there has been an important triumph to celebrate at each International Congress. The most significant gain of the past year comes from the United States. In point of wealth, population, and political influence, Washington is the most important American State yet won. It will be remembered that in the United States Woman Suffrage must be secured by the vote of a majority of the men voters in each State. The question in Washington was carried by a vote of three to one. The most gratifying factor in this victory was the common testimony that this remarkable vote was due to the influence of men and women who had formerly lived in one of the adjoining suffrage States, notably Idaho and Wyoming, and who met the theoretical opposition advanced upon every side with facts and figures drawn from experience.
Undoubtedly the five full suffrage States of the United States seem .insignificant gains to people of other lands. It is true these States are new and the population small. So new are they that when I was a child the greater part of the territory covered by these States was indicated on my geography map as “The Great American Desert.” But a generation has wrought wonderful changes. Modern irrigation has transformed the desert into fertile land, and its delicious fruits have found their way into the markets of the world. Bread made from its grain may be eaten upon the tables of any land. Its mines send gold and silver to the mints of the world; its mountains supply semi-precious stones to all countries; its coal and iron give thousands of factories work and enterprise. Masts from the great forests of Washington are found upon all seas, and a network of railways covers the territory and carries its vast produce to the ocean, where one of the largest and deepest harbours in the world receives it. All the elements which in other lands have contributed to the upbuilding of cities and the support of great populations are to be found there. Even now the total number of voting women in these sparsely settled States is half the number of women who would receive the Parliamentary vote by the Conciliation Bill in Great Britain! The territory of these five States is equal to that of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and half of the Netherlands. So unlimited are its resources that time will surely bring a population as large as that found in these older countries. Remember that the vote is guaranteed to all those generations of unborn women, and realise that these victories are of mighty significance.
It is impossible to think of that far-off future without bringing to mind an antipodal empire, that island continent, our best beloved suffrage achievement—Australia. Old monarchies may scoff at its newness, but look to its future. Its territory is nearly as large as that of all Europe; its resources are as varied and rich. Mankind, ever restless, and ever seeking fresh fields with easier undertakings in its struggle for existence, will not fail to supply a population as large. Asia held the cradle of civilisation; Europe was the teacher and guide of its youth; but its manhood is here. It looks no longer to Europe alone for guidance. The newest developments come from new lands, where traditions and long-established custom have least influence. As Europe supplanted Asia, so it is not only possible, but quite probable, that Australia, with its new democracy, its equality of rights, its youthful virility, its willingness to experiment, may yet supplant Europe as the leader of civilisation. Look to the future, and remember that over these new lands ”the glad spirit of human liberty” will rest for centuries to come; and be convinced that our victories already won are colossal with meaning.
These are the achievements of our cause reached within the past seven years. From history we may turn to prophecy, and ask what are the prospects of our cause? In: Great Britain, the United States, and the four Scandinavian countries further extensions of suffrage to women are sure to come soon. It is not easy to make prophecy concerning the outcome of the Woman Suffrage campaigns on the Continent. Certain it is that the victories which are near in England and Scandinavia will greatly accelerate the rate of progress there, and since the surprising developments in Portugal, prophecy becomes impossible.
As all the world knows, an obstinate and recalcitrant Government alone stands between the women of Great Britain and their enfranchisement. A campaign which will always be conspicuous among the world’s movements for human rights for its surpassing fervor, sacrifice, and originality has been maintained without a pause. Ninety towns and county councils, including the chief cities of Great Britain, have petitioned Parliament to pass the Bill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin appearing at the bar of the House of Commons to present the petition in person. Three hundred thousand men during the late elections petitioned Parliament to the same end, and complete evidence has been presented that there is a tremendous public sentiment demanding Parliamentary action. The chief men of Australia and New Zealand have sent their strongest and unreserved approval of the results of Woman Suffrage in their respective countries. The Parliament of Australia has cabled its endorsement to the British Parliament, and now Australian and New Zealand women voters are organising to aid their English sisters. The Government evidently nurses a forlorn hope that by delay it may tire out the workers and destroy the force of the campaign. It little comprehends the virility of the movement. When a just cause reaches its flood-tide, as ours has done in that country, whatever stands in the way must fall before its overwhelming power. Political parties, governments, constitutions must yield to the inevitable or take the consequences of ruin. Which horn of the dilemma the English Government will choose is the only question remaining. Woman Suffrage in Great Britain is inevitable.
In the United States five Legislatures have submitted the question to the voters, and we await the result. One decision will be given this year in October, the others next year.
In Iceland, one Parliament has already passed an amendment to the national constitution, and it now only awaits the action of the next Parliament to become law. In Denmark, there are two suffrage organisations whose combined membership make the suffrage organisation of that country, in proportion to population, the largest in the world. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Parliament, and speaking with many men representing all the political parties. The Premier, the speakers of both Chambers, the leaders of parties, and many others, assured me that the Parliamentary vote for women would not be long delayed. It requires three year to amend the constitution in Denmark, and the question is confused with other problems, and we must therefore be patient. The women have voted wisely and well; they are serving with dignity and public spirit in town councils; they are doing womanly and intelligent political work, and the evidence presented by the actual experiment has destroyed nearly all the serious opposition. The final step cannot in reason be long delayed.
It was my pleasure also to visit Norway. I wish every doubting Thomas could see what I saw in Norway. More than all else, I wish the Parliaments of all nations could pay that country a visit. One feels the difference between the enfranchised and unenfranchised countries rather in the spirit of things than in tangible form. That sex antagonism which everywhere exists, whether we like to admit it or not, is gone, and in its place has come a comradeship on a high moral plane. It seems like the peace and relief of mind which is always manifest after the satisfactory adjustment of an irritating difference of opinion. The men have been just to the women, and they are proud of their act; the women have had justice done, and they are grateful. In this state of mutual good feeling, the men promise that they will remove the tax qualification and make the suffrage universal for women as it is for men. The Prime Minister assured me that the four political parties differed widely on many questions, but they were quite of one mind in their approval of Woman Suffrage. Norway presents an ideal example of Woman Suffrage in practice, and it is an achievement of which we may boast with no reservation of doubt. Two hundred and ten women sit in its town and county councils and three hundred and seventy-nine serve as alternates for councillors. Everywhere, women as officers, as jurors, as voters are patriotically and intelligently working for the public welfare of their country in dignified and womanly fashion.
I have reserved Sweden, the land of our hostesses, as the last country to be mentioned. Sweden has had a Saint Birgitti, a woman who was canonised because of her goodness and religious work. The guide books tell us that she was the first woman’s rights woman in the world, for she was outspoken and emphatic in her demand for Woman’s freedom. Later Fredrike Bremer, well known in all lands, advocated rights for women. She was a woman ahead of her times. Her last book, Herta, published in 1865, set forth the reforms she considered necessary in order to establish a correct and fair status for women. Many of these proposed changes have now been made, but so new were these ideas then that the book was received with a storm of disapproval. Her former admirers became critics, and her friends thought she had lost her balance of mind. Two weeks before her death she wrote a friend, “I have lost all my popularity, my countrymen no longer approve of me, my friends are lost, and I am deserted and alone; nevertheless I wrote that book in response to the highest duty I know, and I am glad I did it.” It is sad think of that wonderful woman dying in this enlightened land, with possibly no true companion of her great soul to understand the service she had rendered womankind, or the motive which inspired it. But her “prophecy of yesterday” has ”become the history of today.” Municipal or communal suffrage was granted to taxpaying widows and spinsters in 1862, undoubtedly as the result of her teaching. Later the Fredrike Bremer Association was organised, and cultivated education and independence among women. In 1899 two of its members petitioned the Parliament for an extension of suffrage rights, and when our first international conference was held in Washington, it sent a delegate. Measures concerning women were pending in Parliament, and it was determined to organise an association which should have Woman Suffrage as its sole purpose. That was in 1902, and from that date the movement has made amazing progress. The municipal suffrage has been extended to married women, and eligibility secured. Organisations exist in 170 towns, some of them north of the Polar Circle, and there is a paying membership of 12,000; 1,550 meetings have been held since the London Congress. A member of Parliament tells me it is the most thoroughly organised undertaking in Sweden. Does this history indicate a receding wave? Instead, from the days of St. Birgitti this movement has been marching forward certain victory. No country has made such progress in so short a time. Two political parties now boldly espouse the cause, and the third merely pleads that the times are not ripe for it. It requires three years to amend the constitution here, as it does in Denmark. The women are intelligent, sympathetic, alert and active; worthy descendants of Birgitti and Fredrike Bremer. They will not desert the cause, nor pause in their campaign. It is not difficult to predict the outcome.
The Suffrage Association is not the only force at work in Sweden for the desired end. It has an interesting ally in the many curious inconsistencies in the law which defines the status of women. These must appeal powerfully to the common sense of the people, and thus hasten the conversion of the country to political suffrage. I shall name a few.
Women may vote for town and county councils, and these bodies elect the Upper House of Parliament. Women therefore, have as much suffrage for the Upper House as most men, but they are accounted wholly unworthy by the House they help to elect to vote for members of the Lower House.
Women are eligible to municipal councils, and thirty-seven women are now serving as town councillors. Eleven women are members of Councils which have a direct vote for the Upper House, and these women, therefore, have a higher suffrage right than most men; but these same women may not vote at all for members of the Lower House.
A gifted woman who will speak at our Congress has secured the Nobel prize in recognition of her rare endowments. Her name and her quaint stories are known the world over. She may vote for a municipal or county councilor, but with all her genius Selma Lagerlöf is not permitted to vote for a member of Parliament.
The President of the Swedish Suffrage Association is a learned lady. By the ancient ceremony at Uppsala she has been crowned with a laurel wreath in acknowledgment of her wisdom. Yet with all her learning she is not considered by her Government intelligent enough to cast a vote for a member of Parliament.
In Sweden people possessed of a certain income may qualify to cast many votes, the highest number of votes allowable being forty. There are many women who have 40 votes in the municipal elections, and I have myself met several who started in life with nothing in their pockets, but who, by their own initiative and enterprise, have accumulated enough to entitle them to 40 votes. Yet these same women cannot cast one vote for Parliament. A Parliament which sees nothing amusing in these illogical discriminations has no sense of humour.
The Scandinavian peoples represent a race which does not forget that its ancestors were Vikings, who sailed the seas without chart or compass. There are modern Vikings in all these lands as fearlessly ready to solve modern problems as were those of old. It is unlikely that all the people were bold and courageous in those ancient times. There were undoubtedly pessimistic croakers who declared the ships would never return, that the men would be lost at sea, and that the enterprises were foolhardy and silly. It is the antitype of this class which we find in the university professor, but we recall that it is the Vikings who are remembered today.
In order to learn the whole truth concerning our movement I sent a questionnaire to all our presidents. Among the questions was this: “What are the indications that the woman movement is growing in your country?” Not one president of our 24 countries found signs of backward steps. Instead, such volume of evidence of onward progress were received that it is quite impossible to give any adequate idea of its far-reaching character. In a number of countries the entire code of laws affecting women are under revision, and liberal measures are proposed to take the places of the old. Denmark will take the oath of obedience out of the marriage ceremony. The Bishop of Iceland has supported a Bill to make women eligible to ecclesiastical offices, and declared St. Paul himself would have favoured the change were he here. In Silesia, where women landowners have the right of a proxy vote in the communal election, which, however, has not been usually exercised, nearly 2,000 women availed themselves of this privilege in the recent elections, to the amazement of the people. Unusual honours have been given women in all lands. Simultaneously women were elected presidents of the National Teachers’ Associations in Great Britain and the United States for the first time. Positions heretofore closed have opened their doors to women. Equal pay for equal work has been granted the 13,000 women teachers of New York City after a splendid campaign of several years. The Press is everywhere more friendly. Distinguished people are joining our ranks. The argument has changed ground, and the evidence is complete that women are no longer the forgotten sex. King George, in his accession speech, spoke of his wife as ”a helpmate in every endeavour for our people’s good.” It is believed that no other King in English history has thus publicly acknowledged his Queen Consort as sharing responsibility. I can only say that evidence is overwhelming that the walls of the opposition all along the line are falling down like those of Jericho of old before the blare of our suffrage trumpets.
Some may ask why we are not now content to wait for the processes of reason and evolution to bring the result we want. Why do we disturb ourselves to hasten progress? I answer, because we refuse to sit idly by while other women endure hideous wrongs. Women have suffered enough of martyrdom through the false position they have been forced to occupy for centuries past. We make our protest now hotly and impatiently, perhaps, for we would bequeath to those who come after us a fair chance in life. Modern economic conditions are pushing hundreds of thousands of women out of their homes into the labour market. Crowded into unskilled employments for want of proper training, they are buffeted about like a cork upon a sea. Everywhere paid less than men for equal work, everywhere discriminated against, they are utterly at the mercy of forces over which they have no control. Law-making bodies, understanding neither women nor the meaning of this woman’s invasion of modern industry, are attempting to regulate the wages, the hours, the conditions under which they shall work. Already serious wrong has been done many women because of this ill-advised legislation. Overwhelmed by the odds against them in this struggle for existence, thousands are driven to the streets. There they swell that horrid, unspeakably unclean peril of civilisation, prostitution — augmented by the White Slave Traffic and by the machinations of male parasites who live upon the earnings of women of and vice. Inaction is no longer pardonable. Prostitution is no longer a moral outcast to be mentioned with bated breath or treated as a subject too indelicate for discussion. It has become a problem actual with an entirely new significance, and demands immediate attention. It is now well known to be the breeding-ground of dangerous and insidious diseases which are surely and steadily deteriorating the race. They enter the palaces of kings and the hovels of the poor. Something must be done; the race must be preserved, while there is time. In accordance with modern discoveries concerning tuberculosis the nations have organized campaigns against it; we women, armed with ballots, must attack this far more serious foe. These wretched women, designed by nature for the sacrament of motherhood, have been told off by distorted, unnatural conditions and degraded into a class which is slowly destroying the race. We must be merciful, for they are the natural and inevitable consequences of centuries of false reasoning concerning women’s place in the world. We may, perhaps, draw the curtain of obscurity over those women who because of inherent evil have voluntarily sought this life, but investigation has proved that at least two-thirds of them have been driven to this last despairing effort to live by economic conditions. Upon these women we have no right to turn our backs. Their wrongs are our wrongs. Their existence is part of our problem. They have been created by the very injustices against which we protest.
It is the helpless cry of these lost women who are the victims of centuries of wrong; it is the unspoken plea of thousands of women now standing on the brink of similar ruin; it is the silent appeal of the army of women in all lands who in shops and factories are demanding fair living and working conditions; it is the need to turn the energies of more favoured women to public service; it is the demand for a complete revision of women’s legal, social, educational, and industrial status all along the line, which permits us no delay, no hesitation. The belief that we are defending the highest good of the mothers of our race and the ultimate welfare of society makes every sacrifice seem trivial, every duty a pleasure. The pressing need spurs us on, the certainty of victory gives us daily inspiration.
We have come upon a new time, which has brought new and strange problems. Old problems have assumed new significance. In the adjustment of the new order of things we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less. So
To the wrong that needs resistance,
To the right that needs assistance,
To the future in the distance
we give ourselves.
Source: International Woman Suffrage Alliance, (London: Women’s Printing Society, Ltd.) 1911, pp. 1-14.