Claims of the Black Woman
May 12, 1869 — Annual Meeting, Equal Rights Association, Steinway Hall, New York City
Mrs. President and Ladies: I deem it the duty of every earnest woman to express herself in regard to the XVth Amendment to our Federal Constitution. I feel deeply the humiliation and insult that is offered to the women of the United States in this Amendment, and have always publicly protested against its passage. During a recent tour through the Eastern States I became still more (if that were possible) firmly fixed in my convictions. Its advocates are unwilling to have it publicly discussed, showing that they know there is an element of weakness in it which will not bear a thorough investigation.
While feeling entirely willing that the black man shall have all the rights to which he is justly entitled, I consider the claims of the black woman of paramount importance. I have had opportunities of seeing and knowing the condition of both sexes, and will bear my testimony, that the black women are, and always have been, in a far worse condition than the men. As a class, they are better, and more intelligent than the men, yet they have been subjected to greater brutalities, while compelled to perform exactly the same labor as men toiling by their side in the fields, just as hard burdens imposed upon them, just as severe punishments decreed to them, with the added cares of maternity and household work, with their children taken from them and sold into bondage, suffering a thousandfold more than any man could suffer. Then, too, the laws for women in the Southern States, both married and single, degrade them still further. The black men, as a class, are very tyrannical in their families; they have learned the lesson of brute force but too well, and as the marriage law allows the husband entire control over his wife’s earnings and her children, she is in worse bondage than before; because in many cases the task of providing for helpless children and an idle, lazy, husband, is imposed on the patient wife and mother; and, with this sudden elevation to citizenship, which the mass of stupid, ignorant negroes look upon as entitling them to great honor, I regard the future state of the negro woman, without the ballot in her hand, as deplorable. And what is said of the ignorant black man can as truthfully be said of the ignorant white man; they all regard woman as an inferior being. She is their helpless, household slave. He is her ruler, her law-giver, her conscience, her judge and jury, and the prisoner at the bar has no appeal. This XVth Amendment thrusts all women still further down in the scale of degradation, and I consider it neither praiseworthy nor magnanimous for women to assert that they are willing to hold their claims in abeyance, until all shades and types of men have the franchise. It is admitting a false principle, which all women, who are loyal to truth and justice, should immediately reject. For over twenty-five years, the advocates of woman suffrage have been trying to bring this vital question before the country. They have accomplished herculean tasks and still it is up-hill work. Shall they, after battling so long with ignorance, prejudice and unreasoning customs, stand quietly back and obsequiously say they are willing that the floodgates shall be opened and a still greater mass of ignorance, vice and degradation let in to overpower their little army, and set this question back for a century? Their solemn duty to future generations forbids such a compromise.
The advocates of the XVth Amendment tell us we ought to accept the half loaf when we can not get the whole. I do not see that woman gets any part of the loaf, not even a crumb that falls from the rich man’s table. It may appear very magnanimous for men, who have never known the degradation of being thrust down in the scale of humanity by reason of their sex, to urge these yielding measures upon women, they can not and do not know our feelings on the subject, and I regard it as neither just nor generous to eternally compel women to yield on all questions (no matter how humiliating), simply because they are women.
The Anti-Slavery party declares that with the adoption of the XVth Amendment their work is done. Have they, then been battling for over thirty years for a fraction of a principle? If so, then the XVth Amendment is a fitting capstone to their labors. Were the earnest women who fought and endured so heroically with them, but tools in the hands of the leaders, to place “manhood suffrage” on the highest pinnacle of the temple dedicated to Truth and Justice? And are they now to bow down, and worship in abject submission this factional part of a principle, that has hitherto proclaimed itself, as knowing neither bond nor free, male nor female, but one perfect humanity?
The XV. Amendment virtually says that every intelligent, virtuous woman is the inferior of every ignorant man, no matter how low he may be sunk in the scale of morality, and every instinct of my being rises to refute such doctrine, and God speaking within me says, No! eternally No!
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. II, eds. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Mathilda Joslyn Gage, (Rochester, NY: Charles Mann Printing Co.) 1881, pp. 387-388.