Broader Fields to Survey
February 11, 1869 — Library Hall, Chicago Woman Suffrage Association, Chicago IL
Mrs. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is impossible for me to continue in my seat after so kind and cordial a call from this house, and I thank you for the pleasant and friendly feeling you have shown. I have but a word to say. I had gone out of the room, not because of the discussion, but because it was too warm and the atmosphere so stifling, when I was recalled by hearing something to this effect: “That there had not been a single logical argument used on this platform in behalf of woman suffrage; that woman is abundantly represented by some man of her family; that when a woman lifts herself up in opposition against her husband, she lifts herself up, if I properly and rightly understood the declaration, against God; that the inspired assertion is that the husband is the head of the wife.” Oh! but Mr. Collier forgot to say the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. In my observation, and it has not been a limited one, though I confess I am not an unprejudiced observer, I have never yet discovered a man who is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Furthermore, he announces that these women, being represented by men, if they lift themselves up in opposition to their husbands, lose that womanly and feminine element which is so admirable and pure and beautiful, and nothing can preserve them from the contamination of politics. Woman is to lift herself against God if she lifts herself against her husband, and woman is abundantly represented by this same husband, or by some man in her own family. There are a multitude of women who have no husbands. There are a multitude of women who never will have any husbands. There are a great many women who have no men in their own households to represent them, either for their wrongs or their rights. Mr. Collier, I suppose, however, is talking about women who have husbands.
He says the woman loses her purity, her delicacy, her feminine attributes when she lifts her voice and sentiments against the man whose name she bears. We will say, then, look across these western prairies to Utah. If the women there dare to say to the congress of the United States, “Amend this constitution that we women of Utah can have one husband, and that the husband can take but one wife”; if these women demand decency in the marriage relation, demand justice for themselves, demand purity, they are lifting themselves against the laws of womanhood and the laws of God. Every woman represented by her husband is to lose her purity, her delicacy, her refinement, if she dares to lift her hand against him and his will. You have here, within the limits of your State of Illinois, 100,000 drunkards. Every woman who dares to lift her hand, cry out with her voice, “Give me the ballot that may offset the votes of these drunkards at the polls and save my children from starvation and myself from being put into the workhouse” — this woman is lifting herself against the laws of God and womanhood. That is not all! Last summer this question of prohibition was being tested in Massachusetts by votes. I went from town to town— my engagements taking me all over the State at that time — and said my say upon this question of woman suffrage. In whatever city or town I went, women, bowed down with grief, who desired to preserve their womanhood, their persons from blows and abuse, their sons from going to gambling hells and rum shops, their girls from being sent to houses of abomination, came to me and said: “Anna Dickinson, if you are a woman, speak and use your influence for our cause.” Women who have drunken husbands, whether they lived in Beacon street or at the North End, whether they lived in luxury or poverty, said: “For the sake of womanhood, for the sake of motherhood, for the sake of all things good and true in the world, lift up our hands and voices, through yourself, to protest against these men whose names we bear.” Ah! that Mr. Collier could have seen these drunkards’ wives, standing with tears streaming down their cheeks, and begging for power, begging for the ballot to save their homes, and themselves, and their children. Do you tell this audience — do you tell any mother or daughter here this afternoon, that she protests against the purity of womanhood, and lifts her powers against the laws of God? Pardon me for taking this much of your time. I will simply add a thought. This is the cause of purity. This is the cause which is to strengthen young girls, which is to give them self-reliance and self-respect. This is the thing that is to put these girls on their feet; say to them “you are an independent being; you are to earn the clothes that cover you,” and this will allow them to walk with steady feet through rough places. This thing which is to give these women such power, certainly will be strengthening to them by making them independent and self-reliant. The ballot is to save womanhood and save purity, which he says is in danger — the feminine element of dependence and weakness and tenderness, of clinging helplessness, which he so much adores. Let justice be done. Give us the ballot. Here is the power to defend yourself when your rights are assailed; when your home is entered. Here is the authority to tell the spoiler to stand back; when our sons are being brought up to wickedness and our daughters to lives of shame, here is the power in the mother’s hand which says these children shall be taken from the wrong place and put in the right one. For the rights of mothers I plead. Let us allow, from one end of this country to the other, every man and woman, black and white, to go to the polls to defend their own rights and the rights of their homes.
The Rev. Robert Laird Collier said he would to God that every woman in America had such a heart and such a voice for woman’s rights. But sympathy was one thing and logic was another. If he thought the ballot in the hand of woman would cure the wrongs she speaks of, he would favor female suffrage, but he was firmly convinced that it would only aggravate their wrongs. He could not fight Anna Dickinson.
Anna Dickinson: I certainly do not intend to fight Mr. Collier. I believe I have the name of not being a belligerent woman. Mr. Collier says sympathy is one thing and logic is another. Very true! I did not speak of the 40,000 women in the State of Massachusetts who are wives of drunkards, as a matter which shall appeal to your sympathies, or move your tears. Mr. Collier says that these women are to find their rights by influence at home.
Mr. Collier: That is what I mean.
Miss Dickinson: That they are to do it by womanly and feminine love, and I tell him that is the duty of this same feminine element which is so admirable and adorable. I have seen men on your street corners, as I have seen men on the street corners of every city of America, with bloated faces, with mangled forms, and eyes blackened by the horrible vice and orgies carried on in their dens of iniquity and drunkenness and sin. I have seen men with not a semblance of humanity in their form or in their face, and not a sentiment of manhood in their souls. I have seen these men made absolute masters of wives and children; men who reel to their homes night after night to beat some helpless child; to beat some helpless woman. A woman was beaten here in Chicago the other day until there was scarcely a trace of the woman’s face left, and scarcely a trace of the woman’s form remaining. Mr. Collier tells me, then, that these women whose husbands reel home at 12, 1, 2, 3 o’clock at night, to demolish the furniture, beat the children, and destroy their wives’ peace and lives—that these women are to find their rights by influence, by argument, by tenderness. These brutes who deserve the gallows if any human being can deserve anything so atrocious in these days — are these women, their wives, to find their safety, their security for themselves and their children, by influence, through argument and tenderness, or love, when nothing can influence save drink? The law gives man the power to say, “I will have drink; I will put this into my mouth.” If the ballot were given to women they would vote against drunkenness. It is not sentiment, it is logic, if there be any logic in votes and in a home saved.
The Rev. R. L. Collier, in reply to Miss Dickinson, quoted a story from an English author of a drunkard who was reclaimed by a daughter’s love and devotion. He never wanted to hear a woman say that law could accomplish what love could not.
Miss Dickinson: I only want to ask Mr. Collier a question, and it is this: Whether he does not think that man would have been a great deal better off if this woman’s vote could have offset his vote, and the rum thereby prevented from being sold at the outset?
Mr. Collier: I wish to say that law never yet cured crime; that men are not our only drunkards. Women are drunkards as well as men.
Miss Dickinson: It is not so, in anything like the same proportion; a drunken woman is a rare sight.
Mr. Collier: I wish to say that intemperance can never be cured by law.
Miss Dickinson: Very well. You tell me that there are woman in the land who are drunkards. Doubtless there are. Then I stand here as a woman to entreat, to beseech, to pray against this sin. For the sake of these drunken woman, I ask the ballot to drag them back from the rum-shops and shut their doors. God forbid that I should underrate the power of love; that I should discard tenderness. Let us have entreaty, let us have prayers, and let us have the ballot, to eradicate this evil. Mr. Collier says he is full of sympathy, and intimates that women should stand here and elevate love above law. So long as a man can be influenced by love, well and good. When a man has sunk to the point where he beats his wife and children, and burns the house over them, reduces his family to starvation to get this accursed drink; when a man has sunk to such a level, is woman to stand still and entreat? Is this all woman is to do? No! She is to have the power added that will drag the firebrand out of his hand, and when sense and reason return, when the fire is extinguished, then, I say, let us have the power of love to interfere. I think keeping a man out of sin is better than trying to drag him out afterward by love.
Mr. Collier said he was placed in a false position of prominence because, unfortunately, he was the only gentleman on the platform who entertained serious convictions on the negative side of the subject. The only question was, would the ballot cure these wrongs? If so, he would like to hear the reasons, philosophical and logical, set forth. The appeals that had been made to the convention were illogical and sympathetic. He believed the persecutors of women were women. Fashion and the prejudice in the minds of women had been the barriers to their own elevation. That the ballot in the hands of women would cure these evils he denied.
Miss Dickinson: Mr. Collier says, “The worst enemies of women are women”; that the worst opponents of this measure are fashion, dress and idleness. I confess there are no bitterer opponents or enemies of this measure than women. On that very ground I assert that the ballot will prove woman’s best friend. If woman has something else to think about than simply to please men, something else than the splendor of her diamonds, or the magnificence of her carriage, you may be sure, with broader fields to survey, it would be a good thing for her. If women could earn their bread and buy the houses over their heads, in honorable and lucrative avocations; if they stood in the eye of the law men’s equals, there would be better work, more hopeful hearts, more Christian magnanimity, and less petty selfishness and meanness than, I confess with sorrow and tears, are found among women to-day.
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 3, pp. 567-569.