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Testimony to Congress

February 13, 1900  — Marble Room, US Senate, Committee on Woman Suffrage, Washington DC


Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, when it was sought to settle the political status of the negro by the fourteenth amendment the word “male” was for the first time introduced in the Federal Constitution. The combined wisdom of Congress could not open the door wide enough to let the black man into the political fold without putting up a bar to keep women out. Charles Sumner, who had come most in contact with the petition work, said he spent sleepless nights over it, and wrote 19 pages of foolscap to try to get around it, but it could not be done.

The woman suffragists at once remonstrated against this proposition, and sent out forms for a petition that the resolution might be amended by striking out the word “male.” Before the session was over they had secured and presented 10,000 names. The Republican leaders could not controvert claims based on the same line of argument by which they sought to confer suffrage upon the negro, but they said: “You are right, but you must wait. This is the negro’s hour.”

The first vote on the question of woman suffrage took place the following session, in December, 1866. A bill being before the Senate to amend the franchise law of the District of Columbia so as to allow colored men to vote, Senator Cowan, of Pennsylvania, moved to amend by striking out the word “male.” The debate lasted three days, and is of great historic importance as being the first time this question was discussed in so grave a body. Mr. Cowan said he was not afraid of negro suffrage if female suffrage went hand in hand with it.

In the arguments of the opposition he found, he said, only “the same ancient footprints, the same things that satisfied men thousands of years ago and which never did satisfy any woman that I know of.” Mr. Wilson, of Massachusetts, afterwards Vice-President of the United States, opposed the amendment, as did a number of others favorable to woman suffrage but who wished to keep the questions of negro and woman suffrage entirely separate. He, however, made an eloquent speech for the principle involved, saying that every year had confirmed his conviction that our legislation would be more humane, more for liberty, more for a higher civilization, if women permitted to vote.

Mr. Gratz Brown, of Missouri, in taking issue with the claim that suffrage is a concession and not a principle, used this sublime language: “Whenever you establish that doctrine; whenever you crystallize that idea in the public mind of this country, you ring the death knell of American liberties.”

Senator Buckalew, of Pennsylvania, was a true prophet in saying: “This is not the last we shall hear of this subject. It will come to us again, and I am persuaded that one reason why it will come again is that the arguments against the proposed extension of suffrage have been inadequate; they have been based upon grounds which will not endure debate.”

After three days’ discussion 9 Senators voted for the bill and 37 against it. Among the latter were some who wanted woman suffrage, but wanted negro suffrage more and therefore would not jeopardize the bill. Those who wanted woman suffrage just as much as they wanted negro suffrage, and perhaps more, were: Senators Anthony of Rhode Island, Brown of Missouri, Foster of Connecticut, Nesmith of Oregon, Patterson of New Hampshire, Buckalew and Crown of Pennsylvania, Riddle of Delaware, and Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio.

In the House the same question was brought up by Mr. Noell of Missouri and without debate it stood 49 yeas, 74 nays.

When it was found that the fourteenth amendment did not sufficiently protect the negro, a fifteenth amendment was introduced in the Senate by Mr. Pomeroy of Kansas, and in the House by Mr. George W. Julian of Indiana, in December, 1868. As framed at first it made citizenship the basis of suffrage, and would have made women legal voters. This failed and the amendment, as it now stands, was passed in 1870.

In December, 1868, a bill to enable women to vote in the District of Columbia was introduced in the Senate by Mr. Wilson and in the House by Mr. Julian.

The next move was by Mr. Julian to try extend the suffrage to women in the Territories, and this was almost simultaneous with the legislative enactment of woman’s suffrage in the Territory of Wyoming in 1869.

On March 15, 1869, Mr. Julian submitted a joint resolution for a sixteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution, prohibiting the States from disfranchising citizens because of sex. Worded a little differently, this amendment has been introduced in every succeeding Congress.

Addresses on behalf of the rights of women citizen were sent to Congress in 1866 and 1867, and hearings before Congressional committees began with the first Washington convention, thirty-one years ago. In January, 1870, Mrs, Stanton, Miss Anthony, Paulina Wright Davis, Charlotte B. Wilbour, and Madame [Matilda Francisca]  Arneke spoke before committees for the bill enfranchising the women of the District of [Columbia.

In December, 1870, Victoria C. Woodhull sent a memorial to Congress praying for the passage of such laws as might be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the right vested by the Constitution in the citizens of the United States without regard to sex. This was presented in the Senate by Mr. Harris and in the house by Mr. Julian. The memorial was referred to the Judiciary Committees, which appointed a hearing for Mrs. Woodhull on January 11, 1871. An opportunity was also given to Isabella Beecher Hooker ad Hon. A. G. Riddle to address the committee, the  latter making a legal argument on the right of women to vote under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments.

Judge Bingham, on behalf of the majority, reported adversely on January 30, and on February 1 a favorable minority report was made by Mr. Loughridge and Benjamin F. Butler. In this report it was maintained that the right of women to vote was embodied by ancient precedents in the common law of England. Decisions of our Supreme Court were cited to show that elective franchise is a right fundamental to citizenship. This right is also recognized by the first clause of the fifteenth amendment, which says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged,” et. Here is stated, first, the existence of a right. What right! The right to vote. Whose right! The right of citizens of the United States. And this right the State are forbidden to deny or abridge. The denial of the power to abridge a right recognizes the existence of that right. The report extended over 34 closely printed pages and covers the whole question of the constitutionality of woman’s right to vote as citizen of the United States.

In view of this new phase of the movement and the impetus resulting from the hearing, it was decided to appoint as a committee for Congressional work during the session Isabella Beecher Hooker, Josephine S. Griffing, Mrs. M. B. Bowen, Miss Anthony, Paulina Wright Davis, and Ruth C. Dennison, of Washington. The chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor (Mr. Arnell, of Tennessee) tendered the use of his room as headquarters. Later this was exchanged for the larger room used by the House Committees on Agriculture and Manufacturers, whose chairmen (General Smith and Mr. Wilson) generously proffered the use of it. Here books were opened for signatures, literature was distributed, petitions sent all over the country, and conferences were held. This was indeed a woman suffrage committee room.

On the closing day of Congress Mrs. Hooker, on behalf of the committee, thanked the members who had rendered signal service to the suffrage cause. To Mr. Arnell double thanks were due, not only because he was the first to admit women to the Capitol as citizens having any right there in the use of public buildings, but because he had secured the passage of a bill to give to employees of the Government equal pay for same work without distinction of sex. Mr. Arnell replied that he welcomed the committee as the advance guard of American women.

Judge Loughridge strongly urged the women to continue to appeal to Congress rather than the courts, for, he said, “ Courts are generally in the rear rank,” which the suffragists found to be true in the suits which they subsequently brought.

Mr. Julian closed his response with this immortal sentiment: “Who will venture to judge the future by any political almanac of bygone times! I can only say with old Thomas Carlyle, “One strong thing I find here below — the just thing, the true thing, and no man or party is strong enough to stay the grand march of events through which the hand of God is visibly guiding the Republic to universal liberty, and through that to enduring prosperity and peace.”

During this session Mr. Julian again made an effort to have the word “male” stricken out of the suffrage clause in a bill that had been introduced to provide for the better government of the District of Columbia, Mr. Cook, of Illinois, moved the previous question, thus cutting off debate. But Mr. Julian called for the ayes and noes, thus obtaining a test vote, which stood 55 for and 117 against.

Under date of January 21, 1871, Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood and Drs. Caroline B. Winslow and Susan A. Edson had memorialized both Senate and House on behalf of this bill, and on July 14 of the same year Mrs. Lockwood appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, making an able argument in support of the woman suffrage bills and presenting a large petition for their passage.

In January, 1872, an attempt was made to get a hearing before the Senate and House in defense of the suffrage measures. The request was in the Senate referred to the Judiciary Committee, which replied through its chairman, Lyman Trumbull, that this would not be consistent with the rules of the Senate, but that the committee would give the memorialists a hearing on the following Friday.

At that time four of the strongest men in the Senate — Mr. Trumbull, of Illinois; Mr. Conkling, of New York; Mr. Frelinghuysen, of New Jersey, and Matt, Carpenter, of Wisconsin — listened to a masterly constitutional argument by Mrs. Hooker and Mr. Stanton. The latter urged that 5 it should not be taken for granted that the Revolutionary heroes, after a struggle with despotism, studied how to use their new-found freedom for the purpose of robbing women of their inalienable rights. Women were voting at the time that Constitution was written, and if the framers of that document had not wanted women to vote they would have said so. “It is not safe,” Mrs. Stanton said, “to leave the intentions of the Pilgrim fathers or of the Heavenly Father wholly to masculine interpretation.”

Miss Anthony reminded the committee that by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments the question of suffrage for men had been lifted above State control. Therefore women turned to Congress praying first that the word “male” should not be inserted in the fourteenth amendment, then for the insertion of “sex” in the fifteenth amendment, so that it might read that the States should not abridge the right of suffrage on account of race, color, sex, etc., but they were told to wait until the negro was cared for. Then when they came asking protection under the new guarantees
of the Constitution they were told their only plan was to wait until Congress should adopt an amendment to make null and void the word “male” in the fourteenth and supply the want of the word “sex” in the sixteenth amendment.

In the House, on January 24, 1872, General Butler introduced a suffrage petition containing the names of 35,000 women asking for protection in their right to vote.

The next hearing was given by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1874 to Mrs. Sara A. Spencer, Miss Frances Ellen Burr, Miss Phoebe W. Couzins, and Mr. Francis Miller, in connection with 600 women of the District, asking for legislation enabling them to vote.

On May 28, 1874, when the bill to establish the Territory of Pembina was pending in the Senate, Mr. A. A. Sargent, of California, moved to amend it so that women could not be disfranchised. He supported his motion with an earnest speech, in which he reminded the Senate that women voting and holding office in Wyoming had rescued that Territory from a state of comparative lawlessness and made it one of the most orderly in the Union. Those speaking for the measure were Senators Sargent, Stewart, Morton, Carpenter, Ferry, and Anthony; those against were Senators Boreman, Merriman, Morrill of Maine, Edmunds, and Bayard. The vote stood 19 to 27; this was a gain of 10
votes over that of eight years previous.

The arguments for the measure were long and able. Matt Carpenter, of Wisconsin, said: “I believe it is not one of woman’s rights, but one of man’s rights that the franchise should be extended to woman.”

The question being taken by yeas and nays, resulted as follows:

Yeas — Messrs. Anthony, Chandler, Carpenter, Conover, Ferry, of Michigan, Flannagan, Gilbert, Harvey, Mitchell, Morton, Patterson Pratt, Sargent, Sprague, Stewart, Tipton, Washburn, West, and Windom — 19.

Nay  — Messrs. Allison, Bayard, Boreman, Boutwell, Buckingham, Clayton, Conkling, Cooper, Davis, Edmunds, Frelinghuysen, Hager, Hamilton, of Maryland, Hitchcock, Jones, Kelly, McCreery, Merrimon, Morrill, of Vermont, Norwood, Ramsey, Ransom, Saulslbury, Scott, Sherman, Wadleigh, and Wright — 27.

The centennial year was ushered in with a memorial to Congress from this association asking to
have women made voters in the District. 6. This was presented in the Senate by Hon. A. A Sargent and in the House by Hon. S. S. Cox, of New York. Mr. Banks in supporting it recalled the fact that it was one hundred years ago that day that Abigail Adams had written to her husband at that time in the Continental Convention, asking him to give women the power to protect their own rights and predicting a general revolution if justice was denied them.

A hearing was granted in this connection to Matilda Joslyn Gage, Rev. Olympia Brown, Belva A. Lockwood, and Phoebe W. Couzens:

The Supreme Court having, by its final decision in the case of Virginia L. Minor, in 1875, made hopeless all attempts to secure the protection of women in their citizen’s rights under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, the policy of asking for a sixteenth amendment was vigorously resumed in 1877. Mrs. Sara A. Spencer, chairman of work with Congress, received the petitions, and in one day placed 10,000 from 23 States in the hands of the respective members from those States. At the special request of the chairman, Senator Morton, of Indiana, the petitions were sent to the Committee on Privileges and Elections although heretofore they had been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

In 1878 another effort was made to get a hearing before Congress itself. Mr. Sargent in the Senate and Mr. Kelley in the House offered the request that the motion be granted. It was voted down in the Senate by 31 nays to 13 yeas. The champions of the resolution were Senators Sargent, Anthony, Burnside, and Davis; those speaking against it were Senators Edmunds, Thurman, and Conkling. Those voting for it were Senators Anthony, Bruce, Burnside, Cameron of Wisconsin, Davis, Ferry, Hoar, Matthews, Mitchell, Rollins, Sargent, Saunders, and Teller. In the House Mr. Kelly’s request to offer the resolution could not be entertained because Mr. Crittenden of Missouri objected. This refusal to grant women an opportunity to plead for their own freedom was more noticeable from the fact that the floor of the House was shortly after to Charles Stuart Parnell, that he might plead the cause of oppressed Ireland.

A hearing before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections was, however, given to 12 women, representing States from Maine to Oregon, in favor of the amendment. Two hearings were given by the House committee in January, and the Committee on Privileges and Elections gave another hearing to Mrs. Isabella Beecher Hooker on February 22.

In 1878 al bill to enable women lawyers to practice before the Supreme Court passed the House by a vote of 169 to 87, under the championship of Hon. John M. Glover, of Missouri, but was defeated in the Senate because reported adversely by Senator Edmunds. This was, however, passed in February of the following year, and a week later, March 3, 1879, Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.

In 1878 Senator Wadleigh made an adverse report for the Committee on Privileges and Elections, basing his action upon the small number of woman who had asked for the franchise, although at that very session petitions had been received signed by 70,000 and individual letters from 500 women asking to be relieved from political disabilities.

The minority of the committee gave the first favorable report the question received in the Senate. It was dated February 1, 1879, and 7 bore the distinguished names George F. Hoar of Massachusetts; John H. Mitchell, of Oregon, and Angus Cameron, of Wisconsin.

Two other points were gained in 1878. The memorial of Mrs. Stanton, Miss Anthony, and Mrs. Gage, asking for a sixteenth amendment, was read in open Senate.

Mrs. Emeline B. Wells and Mrs. Zena D. Young, of Utah, presented a memorial to Congress setting forth the injury done to Mormon women and children by the law of 1862, which had made 50,000 women outcasts and their children homeless. The result was a law legitimatizing the offspring of plural marriages prior to a certain date.

Miss Anthony, after her famous trial for voting in Rochester, appealed to Congress for remission of the fine which had been imposed on her. Her petition was presented by Senator Sargent January 12, 1874. Senator Edmunds, for the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted an adverse report, and Senator Matt. Carpenter made a comprehensive legal argument for the minority. The same was done in the House by Benjamin F. Butler when Mr. Tremaine, of the judiciary, reported unfavorably. Miss Anthony’s fine was never remitted and never paid, and thus it stands to this day. The fine imposed upon the inspectors of elections for receiving her vote was remitted by President Grant.

They who claim that women have only to express their desire for the ballot to receive it at the hands of willing men should take note of the petitions which have been thus far referred to. One more great effort was to be made in this line. By an early date in January, 1880, so many petitions had been received that in one week 47 Senators presented petitions signed by over 12,000 women. In the House unanimous consent could not be obtained, therefore 65 Representatives presented their petitions at the clerk’s desk.

In 1880 and 1881 the subject of a special committee in the Senate to look after matters pertaining to woman suffrage had been broached. In 1882 the committee, after the morning hour for eight days had been spent in the discussion of the question, was established in the Senate by a vote of 35 to 23.

A Select Committee on Woman Suffrage was established in the House the same year by a vote of 115 to 84. A lively debate on woman suffrage occurred the following year in connection with the motion by Mr. Warren Keifer, of Ohio, to reestablish it, which was supported by Mr. Belford, of Colorado. Later Mr. John D. White, of Kentucky, moved that the House have a standing committee on the subject. In an able speech supporting his motion he illustrated the disadvantage under which disfranchised woman rests by the case of Anna Ella Carroll, who, with political influence, he said, “would long ago have received every dollar advanced by her to save the nation, and her name would have been honored as Sherman’s and Grant’s.” The motion was lost, and matters relating to woman suffrage in the House have since, as before, gone to the Judiciary Committee.

At every Congress for the last thirty-two years hearings have been had before these committees, and the remarks have been printed and franked by the thousands and sent over the country. The value of this direct work with Congress lies chiefly in its reflex influence over the States. Every favorable report and speech being thus sent broad-cast over the nation is made impressive by the fact that this subject 8 has thus received dignified and courteous attention at the seat of government.

Reports by committees of Congress have been as follows:


1879. Committee on Privileges and Elections. Majority unfavorable; minority favorable.

1882. Woman Suffrage Committee. Majority favorable. Signed by Senators Lapham, Ferry, Blair, and

1884. Woman Suffrage Committee. Signed by Palmer, Blair, Lapham, and Anthony.

1886. Woman Suffrage Committee. Signed by Senators Blair, Palmer, Chace, and Bowen.

1888-1890. Woman Suffrage Committee. Signed by Senators Blair for the committee.

1893. Woman Suffrage Committee. Signed by Senators Warren, Hoar, Allen, and Quay.

1884. Woman Suffrage Committee. Unfavorable. Minority by Senator Brown.

1888. Woman Suffrage Committee. Unfavorable. Minority by Senator Cockrell.

1896. Woman Suffrage Committee. Unfavorable. Minority only by Senators Call and George.


1883. House Select Committee Favorable report by Mr. White.

1884. House Judiciary Committee. Favorable, minority. Signed by Thomas Brackett Reed, of Maine.

1886. House Judiciary Committee. Signed by Ezra B. Taylor, of Ohio; W. P. Hepburn, of Iowa; L. B. Caswell, of Wisconsin, and A. A. Ranney, of Massachusetts.

1890. House Judiciary Committee. Favorable. Majority report. Ezra B. Taylor, chairman.

1994. House Judiciary Committee. Unfavorable. Signed by Mr. Goodnight.

In the reports of 1890, favorable alike from both committees, the sixteenth amendment was for the first time in good standing in both Houses of Congress.

On February 6, 1885, the bill for the sixteenth amendment was taken from the calendar to allow Senator Palmer to speak on it. The masterly argument made on this occasion has been distributed by the tens of thousands all over the country, and is still one of our best documents. In that Congress Senators Palmer, of Michigan; Bowen, of Colorado; Manderson, of Nebraska, and Pike, of New Hampshire, sat on seats a little raised at the extreme and of the Senate. This corner was dubbed Pike’s Peak. These Senators had agreed to vote together on various subjects, but Mr. Pike said they would have to count him out on woman suffrage. However, after Mr. Palmer’s speech, Mr. Pike was the first to congratulate him and to acknowledge himself converted. Henceforth Pike’s Peak was solid for woman suffrage.

The sixteenth amendment was for the last time the direct subject of debate in the Forty-ninth Congress, on December 8, 1886, and January 25, 1887, being advocated by Senators Blair, Dolph, and Hoar, and opposed by Senators Brown and Vest. On this occasion Mr. Blair had incorporated in his remarks and printed in the Record the arguments made by representatives of this association at the hearings of 1880 and 1884. The bill was defeated by a two-thirds vote.

But the question has come up at different times in various ways, showing the watchfulness of the woman-suffrage leaders and their determination to attack Congress at every point.

When the bill for the admission of Washington was pending, Mr. Hoar secured the signatures of 22 Republican Senators, asking the conference committee to provide that all persons who had enjoyed the right of suffrage under any act of the Territorial legislature should be allowed to vote for delegates to the constitutional convention and on the adoption of the constitution. This was for the benefit of the women citizens of Washington, who, having been voters, had been disfranchised by the courts. Although ably advocated by Mr. Hoar and Mr. Blair, this point could not gained.

In this same year (1889) General Manderson presented two bills in the Senate. One asked for an act of Congress protecting women in their right to vote for Representatives or Delegates to Congress; the other asked for an amendment of the enforcement act of 1870 by inserting the word “sex” before that of “color.”

The most important action on woman suffrage was in connection with the admission of Wyoming in 1890. Its admission was opposed nominally on the ground of it having woman suffrage in its constitution. For a long time the bill hung trembling in the balance. Judge Cary, the Wyoming Delegate, did not flinch in the least on the question, although it threatened to delay their statehood. The men of Wyoming telegraphed him to message that they would wait, if need be; that they would not go in as a State without their women. The final vote stood 139 for to 127 against, and in the Senate, after a two days’ similar discussion, by a vote of 29 for to 18 against.

The subject of Federal suffrage, was taken up in earnest in this association in 1892, appointing a special committee, with Mrs. Colby chairman, to push this phase of the question. Bills were introduced for it April, 1892, by Clarence D. Clark, of Wyoming, and in February, 1894, by Lafe Pence, of Colorado. Memorials asking for this measure were sent in from 87 organizations, including many thousands of people, and a hearing on this subject was given in February, 1894, to Mrs. Sarah Clay Bennett and Mrs. Colby by the Committee on Election of President and Vice-President. Since 1896 this work has been under the chairmanship of Mrs. Bennett, who continually lays before members of Congress memorials and arguments on this subject.

Everything that a disfranchised class could do has been done by women, and never in the long ages in which the love of freedom has been evolving in the human heart has there been such an effort by any other class of people as this here outlined. Surely it ought to win the respect and support of every man in this Republic who has a brain to understand the blessings of liberty and a heart to beat in sympathy with a struggle to obtain it.

While we will work in both State and nation to get such legislation as we may, and to educate public opinion as fast as we can, we will never concede that our right is not embodied in the document which says  “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 


Source: Hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage held in the marble room of the United States Senate on the 13th day of February,1900, at 10 o’clock a.m. (United States Congress Committee on Woman Suffrage, 1900).