Municipal Suffrage for Women 2
We come before you to-day, not to argue the general question of the right of suffrage, which has been ably argued for centuries, not to show its righteous connection with the payment of taxes, which was settled by our fathers a hundred years ago, not even for the full extension of suffrage to the only class of citizens in the community now deprived of it, but for the recognition of the right of more than one-half of the citizens of Massachusetts to the exercise of choice and decision in affairs most closely concerning their own immediate welfare, ¾ in the regulation of towns and cities ¾ I ask to-day for municipal suffrage for women.
First, let us see for whom we are asking this recognition. I believe in the gradual development of the human race through ages of history and education. Through these long periods, numberless institutions have been valuable and have helped mankind forward, which in later times became hindrance and obstruction. Such are patriarchal and tribal governments, Absolute Monarchy, Feudal Institutions, Established Church governments, and the like. Even the hated institution of Slavery, which we had to destroy at such fearful cost, may once have been a blessing when it redeemed the captive from death.
I will not attempt to trace the development of woman in her relation to man, though I doubt not it could be shown how every phase of it had been necessitated by other circumstances of the time, from the barbaric cruelties of the savage, or the debasing licentiousness of the harem, to the glittering mockery of feudal exaltation, and the worship of the knights-errant.
I am not here to plead for the widows of India, who find no solace for their woes but suicide, and feel that the swift death of the funeral pyre from which the English government has rescued them is illy exchanged for a life of constant reproach and shame in which they have no right which any man is bound to respect. God knows I could plead for them with bleeding heart and weeping eyes if their fate lay in your hands, but it does not.
Who are the women who come to you asking for recognition of the simplest political rights? I am not asking you to weigh their brains or measure their muscles, but to look at the position they hold and the work they are actually doing in the State. 7,727 of them are teaching in your public schools. You ask of them to educate your boys to be worthy citizens of the commonwealth and you deny to them the only adequate training for such an office, ¾ the actual knowledge of the duties of citizens and a sense of responsibility in regard to them. To forbid the professors of your medical colleges any acquaintance with hospitals or sick-rooms, or any responsible practice, would be wisdom like this. One of the members of your school board is a woman, yet that woman, thoroughly competent to this situation, has no vote, except for school committee, in her own city. Ninety-eight other women are serving on school boards in your towns. You have declared women to be eligible to the office of school committee, and your own secretary of education reports that you make them superintendents in prisons, and yet you deny them a vote in regard to the simplest matters of town and city government. The woman physician may see her families sickening and dying of typhoid and diphtheria, without having a vote upon the question of the drainage of the town or its water supply. In Boston is a hospital and asylum whose board of directors is more than half women, and whose internal and medical management is entirely in their hands, ¾ the estate and patients. You put a woman on your Board of Health and Charity without even being sure that she is a “person;” but when she goes back to her own town on town-meeting day she is quite sure of her position, for she may send her coachman or ploughboy to represent her views on the management of these practical measures, but she may not go herself. She cannot shut up the liquor-saloon which may catch him on the way and change the vote which is to represent her.
Yes, gentlemen, it is for the educated, intelligent, philanthropic women of Massachusetts that I plead, that they should be recognized as an active force in their own immediate community, capable of sharing in the councils of the town and of giving the fruits of their thought and life to its service. Monarchical England has acknowledged this right in the case of householders throughout her vast dominion, and the Mohammedan woman of India may ride to the polls in her curtained palanquin and deposit her vote, which the free woman of Massachusetts, who has gone down to the battle-fields to tend the wounded soldier, cannot walk to the neighboring school-house on the arm of her husband or son, to express her choice in regard to measures which involve the happiness and morality and very life of the children whom God has given to her charge. This is the aspect of the question to-day, and the objections raised to this measure have changed with the position of affairs. We hear little now of the objection that women have not time to vote, or cannot go to the polls. Any one who has watched a line of purchasers of concert tickets, or applicants for the Lowell Institute, sees the folly of such objections. We hear little of the “angel” argument that women are too fine for the coarse, rough work of the world, and should be shielded in hot-houses, where not even the wind of heaven should visit them too roughly. Whoever has worked side by side with women in Sanitary Commissions, and Freedmen’s Schools, and Prison Boards, has seen them go fearlessly into Police Courts to secure the protection of families, or into foul wards of hospitals to save human lives, knows that this is not the type of American women in Massachusetts, however it may be the lady of romance and chivalry. Your women on the boards of charities, in benevolent institutions, in churches, in their daily round of work, may spend health and strength and life in mitigating the effects of evil; but when the question is on removing causes, they have no vote. All this experience, all the wisdom gained in this work, is lost to the towns except in its indirect influence.
Source: Woman’s Journal.