The Political Status of Woman
May 2, 1916 — Annual suffrage demonstration, City Auditorium, Business Woman’s Club, Chattanooga TN
The movement of the world is away from all the customs and teachings of the early ages, and so the political status of woman cannot be an exception to the rule. In the early days the family was self-supporting and independent of the rest of the community. They raised all food necessary for the family on their little farm — meats, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, butter, cheese — all the home products. The mother knew that the food was pure, clean and wholesome and such as she could afford to give her children. It is not so today. All these tings are under governmental control Much of the food is unclean and unwholesome and yet the mother is obliged to buy that food, taking risk or giving food that may bring sickness and disease to her family. The only way to control food supply is through legislation. It is the same with the water supply, which ca no longer e cared for by the head of the household. It is now a town city or state supply. It may be pure or impure. This question lies with the government. [T]herefore the mother heart, the home element, should be expressed in the government by giving a vote to the woman in the home.
We are told that politics is too corrupt for woman to enter as a voter. But does she not live under a government which is dominated by politics? If it is too corrupt to admit a woman as a voter, then politics are too corrupt to make and administer the laws which influence her life. Laws are enacted requiring individuals to be clean and upright, and yet the source of all this lawmaking, namely, the political world itself, is said to be unclean and unwholesome. If our government is built on moral law it should be clean enough for women to have a voice in it; and there are no better housecleaners than women, we certainly need them in politics.
There is no great cry on the part of men because of the contaminating influences which woman meets in the business and industrial world. They are not keeping her out of the various vocations of life because of the evils which she might encounters. Are not sweatshop conditions and overworked and underpaid evils far more destructive to the physical, mental and moral welfare of woman than any condition in which suffrage might place her?
Through the great economic and political changes of the past century the working woman of today is entitled to the same rights and privileges accorded the workingman in the political world. These changes have taken her from the home and have brought her into business and industrial life, where she has become more and more man’s equal and competitor, leaving behind those conditions which so long made her dependent upon him. This has not been of her own choosing. The invention of machinery by man has taken the work formerly done in the home, from the spinning and weaving, even down to baking and laundry-work, and masses it in great factories and shops. As a result the homes of today and a hundred years ago are very different. It is the reverse. He has appropriated to himself what was long supposed to be hers. When this is not the case she must at least do it upon man-made plans All this simply means that in developing this country men have consciously taken from the home its industrial life, and woman finds that what was formerly a work of love is now done under new and strange environments. It is strange that any thinking being should consider in the general evolution and progress of the world that woman alone should stand still. Industrial and economic conditions today are such that however much many of the 8,000,000 working women in the United States wanted to stay at home, they could not do so, because they are compelled to support themselves and others. The wage-earning girl or woman today has little chance beside her brother (except in the trade unions), although she performs the same amount of work, yet she cannot command the same wages, largely because she is not a recognized citizen. Every year conditions in the business and industrial world become more trying. Business methods, about which so much is said these days, means more exacting requirements and greater complexity in all work. Woman is expected to meet all these demands, and even to exceed men in matters of detail.
This experience in the outside world is educating her. She seems that she is forced to compete with men, who have full political rights, while she herself is a political nonentity. She often finds that she must protect herself against conditions which are more often political than economical, forcing upon her the conviction that she, too, is entitled to be a full-fledged voter. She sees that politics, business and industrial life are interrelated, and that since she is a factor in two, she should be granted the right and privilege of the third. She sees that being a political nonentity, she is at a disadvantage as a breadwinner. Think of the number of wage-earners in this country who are without political representation!
The working woman needs the ballot because there are economic conditions which can be solved by the ballot only. At present, laws are made without the woman’s viewpoint. We know that the ballot carries with it responsibilities. We know that the person who is discriminated against by law is always the poorest paid, therefore woman’s labor is cheap labor, and unjust discrimination against her as a wage-earner will continue until she becomes man’s equal politically.
The great bodies of organized labor have for many years indorsed woman suffrage, and have declared that work should be paid for not according to the sex of the worker, but the merits of the work. But the workingman knows that this will not be true so long as she is without power in politics. Therefore political enfranchisement is a matter of vital concern to the working woman.
A government of the people, for the people and by the people is only realized when every individual has equal share in administering such a government. Where one class governs without the consent of all there is no true democracy. It is this that led our government to give the colored man political enfranchisement. The same conditions which freed the negro have been freeing woman. The modern movement demands direct influence for women upon the legislation which concerns all people. It recognizes the vote as the only means of securing recognition of their needs. Two things are certain: First, woman suffrage is not a receding wave, it is a mighty incoming tide, which is sweeping all before it; second, no human power and no government can stay its coming.
Source: The Chattanooga News, May 3, 1916, p. 7.