Select Page

The Fitness of Women
to Become Citizens
from the Standpoint of Physical Development

February 15, 1898 — Marble Room, US Senate, Washington DC


Among the objections brought against the extension of suffrage to women, that of their physical unfitness to perform military duties is the most plausible, because in the popular mind there is an idea that the right of casting a ballot is in its final analysis dependent upon the ability to defend it with a bullet. . . .

It is by no means self-evident that women are naturally unfitted for fighting or are unwarlike in disposition. The traditions of Amazons and the conduct of savage women give room to believe that the instinct for war was primitively very much the same in both sexes. Though the earliest division of labor among savages known to us is that of assigning war and the chase to men, yet we have no reason to believe that this was done by way of privilege to women; but in the struggle for tribal supremacy that tribe must have ultimately survived and succeeded best which exposed its women the least. Polygamy, universal among primitive races, could in a degree sustain population against the ravages among men of continual warfare, but any large destruction of women must extinguish a tribe that suffered it. So those tribes which earliest engrafted among their customs the exclusion of women from war were the ones that finally survived. . . . 

Military genius among women has appeared in all ages and people, as in Deborah, Zenobia, Joan of Arc and our own Anna Ella Carroll. The prowess of women has often been conspicuous in besieged cities. Our early history of Indian warfare recounts many of their valiant deeds. It is well known that in the late war many women on both sides eluded the vigilance of recruiting officers, enlisted and fought bravely. Who knows how many of such women there might have been if their enlistment had been desired and stimulated by beat of drum and blare of trumpet and “all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war?” But no State can afford to accept military service from its women, for while a nation may live for ages without soldiers, it could exist but for a span without mothers. Since woman’s exemption from war is not an un-bought privilege, it is evident that in justice men have no superior rights as citizens on that account.

It is an equally fallacious idea that sound expediency demands that every ballot shall be defended by a bullet. The theory of representative government does not admit of any connection between military service and the right and duty of suffrage, even among men. It is trite to point out that the age required for military service begins at eighteen years, when a man is too young to vote, and ends at forty-five years, when he is usually in the prime of his usefulness as a citizen. Some very slight physical defects will incapacitate a man under the usual recruiting rules. Many lawyers, judges, physicians, ministers, merchants, editors, authors, legislators and Congressmen are exempt on the ground of physical incapacity. A citizen’s ability to help govern by voting is in no manner proportioned to ability to bear arms….

In the finest conception of government not only is there room for women to take part, but it can not be realized without help from them. Men alone possess only a half of human wisdom; women possess the other half of it, and a half that must always be somewhat different from men’s, because women must always see from a somewhat different point of view. The wisdom of men must be supplemented by that of women to discover the whole of governmental truth. Women’s help is equally indispensable in persuading society to love and obey law. This help is very largely given now, or civilization as we know it would be impossible. But the best interests of society demand that women’s present indirect and half-conscious influence shall be strengthened by the right of suffrage, so that their sense of duty to government may be stimulated by a clear perception of the connection which exists between power and responsibility.



Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. IV (Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press, 1902), p. 310.