Working With Their Hands Tied
March 13, 1912 — Joint Committee of the Committee on Woman Suffrage and the Committee on the Judiciary, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I came here to-day to speak a few words for that fairest and dearest interest of women — the home. The arguments that are brought out against giving women the right to vote are very often led off by the statement “As the care of the home and the family is the great duty of women they should not be given a vote because it would interfere with their carrying on of this business which is primarily theirs,” and it is because I feel that not only would voting not interfere with women doing their business —carrying on that business — any more than voting interferes with men carrying on their business — their important business — but because I feel that women can not properly do the very business of caring for their homes and their families in these modern days and under our present conditions without the vote that I am here to urge with all the force that I can, all the force that we are permitted to use the cause of equal suffrage.
Perhaps in the earlier days of our country women were in a position to care for their homes and their families without touching directly political affairs, but anyone who gives the matter careful thought must realize that that is no longer possible, if only for the simple reason that politics are interfering with the home at every turn to day. Government has become such a different thing. The police and the military functions of government have been largely set to one side at least, and very much of the function of government to-day has become the care of the people of the country.
The Government is dictating to us in our very homes to-day so much of what we shall do for our homes and our children that we can no longer separate the private care of the home from the public care of the home. For instance, it is the Government that establishes the conditions of education for our children to-day; that says to-day at what age we may send our children to the schools, at what age we must send them to school, up to what age we must keep them in school, what hours their schooling shall cover, and what courses of study shall be included in their education. It is the Government to day that prescribes what sanitary conditions we shall maintain in our homes; what care we shall take in our homes concerning the contagious diseases that our own children may have.
It is the Government that touches upon every phase of our home life: that instructs the women in charge of the homes and the women that are responsible for the children at every turn as to how they shall do their work, and therefore it seems to me that it has become logically quite necessary that if women are to be anything but pup pets carrying out the orders of the Government, if they are to have any real vital responsibility for the home and are in any way to direct and mold the conditions of the home, they must have the power to influence the legislation and the Government action which touches upon the home in its every phase.
I suppose the primary responsibilities of the home would be said to be the preparing of the food, the supplying of food and clothing, and the physical care of the children. Now, in our early days a home did not have to concern itself with the outside world to any great extent. In our colonial days the home was a unit independent of society to a very large extent. The man and woman at the head of a family could, if they so wished, by their own efforts and that of their helpers, do all that was necessary to sustain the home. All the food supply could be raised: the wool and the flax could be raised; and the woman did spin and weave the cloth and make the garments, and she made the household linens and the blankets and the carpets, and she made the candles, and the man cut the wood, and they had their own independent water supply. Practically everything essential to the care of that family was under their own control. And in these times all those conditions are changed. To-day we look to others for all those things. Each of us does our little bit of specialized work, and we turn to others with the proceeds of our work and exchange it for the many things we need for the care of our homes.
The water supply is dependent upon public action, and the woman in charge of the home can no longer assure the purity of that water supply and the safety of the water as a drink for her family by her own care of the well and the bucket and the various utensils used. Whenever the water is impure to-day the only way that the difficulty may be remedied and the danger held off from our home is through the action of public officials, and she has no power to control the action of those officials.
The food supply in the old days, if she was careful, if she got her husband to take proper care of the farm and she gave proper care to the food, she knew was proper and clean for her children. To-day she buys food at the store, and we know only too well that she has very little assurance that it is either clean or pure or fresh. So to-day she can not guarantee to her children proper food, safe food for them to eat, unless she, with other responsible mothers of the community, lend the direct weight of their influence upon public affairs to help secure such legislation as to make the food supply proper and to secure such officials as will enforce the legislation when it has been passed. And what is true of the food supply and the water supply is true of every other part of her home duty.
The woman is held in the public mind still to be responsible for the wholesomeness of the home, for the health of her children, for their bringing up, for their citizenship, for the standards that are given them; and yet to-day, the dangers that threaten her children are dangers that come not inside the home, but outside the home; dangers that are the result of our general social and economic conditions — dangers that the woman to-day except in our six free States, have no power to influence; and it seems to me grossly unfair that the women should not only have the toil and the responsibility in their own minds for their children, but that they shall be held by the Republic as responsible for what comes to their families and what their children come to, and, at the same time, that they should not be given the means to directly work to change and modify the conditions which determine the welfare of those dependent upon them. They are working to-day with their hands tied. They are set to-day to do a task without any tools to do it with, and the task is the most important one that can be done and it is not merely of selfish interest to the women that it shall be done. It is of actual national importance that it shall be done and shall be done well, for the future of our country must rest upon the quality of our citizen ship and the quality of our citizenship must rest upon the possibility that lies in us as a people to improve the conditions that surround our children and to give to them a fair start in life — a fair start physically and mentally and morally, and it is because the woman is expected to do this that she must in fairness to herself, and in fair ness to the State, be given the tool with which it can be done; and it is because we consider that the vote is the tool with which public work is carried on, with which the welfare of the public is worked, that we ask for the vote in order better to do our work as women. Thank you.
Source: Woman Suffrage, Reports and Hearings Relative to Joint Resolutions Proposing Amendments to the Constitution of the United States Providing that the Right of Citizens of the United States to Vote Shall Not be Denied or Abridged by the United States or by Any State on Account of Sex (Washington: Government Printing Office) 1913, pp. 73-75.