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Home and the Woman

March 12, 1914 — Equal Suffrage Association of Minneapolis, Minneapolis MN


The home, in the earlier sense of the term, has been pretty effectually removed from the woman by the wrecking hand of commercial progress. Just as rapidly as man perceived opportunities for profit in home vocations of women–these employments left the home and entered the factory, her labor has been literally snatched from her hands and the finished product returned to her. The woman has been freed from many responsibilities and burdens which once belonged to the household, and in consequence, her time and talents are largely liberated for other work. The woman, to follow up her clearly defined sphere of the home that was, will have to follow it into the canning factory, the packing house, the cotton and woolen mills, clothing factory, the up state dairy, the railroads that handle the dairy products, the candy factory, etc. She is responsible for the cleanliness of her house, responsible for the unwholesomeness of food, for the childrens’ health, for their morals, for their sense of truth and decency–for what they turn out to be. Bad plumbing, garbage collection, good roads, tuberculosis and other diseases, bad housing and sanitation are a few items of legislative housekeeping. She can keep her own rooms clean, but if her neighbors are allowed to live in filth what results? She can cook her food well, but if dealers are permitted to sell poor food, unclean milk, stale eggs–what are the results? The plumbing and refuse and garbage may be taken care of in her own home, but how can she protect her children from sickness and infection with unsanitary conditions in the neighborhood or section of the section?

Her house maybe protected to avoid fire dangers, but her children are often elsewhere, and so I may enumerate the familiar conditions of life over which housekeepers in her home has some authority and rights but in industry has no voice.

It has been said women are ignorant of the public questions. When we speak of the ignorance of women, their qualifications for the ballot, I am sure we all realize that the practical wisdom that comes out of the pressure of life is an educational force which comes not through colleges or text books, and who, better than the woman, knows that the cost of living advances more rapidly than the wage. Is this not a tariff problem in a most practical form? Who better knows the needs of the factory workers? Take the tenement house woman, constantly struggling to bring up her family in a dark tenement house, in the gutter, without play grounds; who better knows the cruel pressure of child labor. Are these not legislative problems? Woman in her municipal housekeeping thru visiting nurses and settlement house clubs is educating hundreds of the so-called ignorant women to the better appreciation of the great age in which we live and their political responsibilities which is home protection. The wives of labor union men are organized and have a keen knowledge of industrial questions. The ballot is a great source of education to men who have settled in America. Without question many men have used their ballot thru ignorance and pressure of political bosses, but the very use of that ballot has stimulated a new thought and interest in life and its responsibilities. We are bringing a far superior mass of intelligent women, to use the ballot because of their education brought to them because of club and philanthropic work, and the practical wisdom that comes with every day life. If man’s dignity and sense of importance and self respect are promoted by the ballot, why not add to the homekeeper’s sense of dignity, since she is the educator of the child, the future citizen. Should she not have a sense of authority and individuality?

We know the man is interested in his home and that he carries on this business for home comforts, but often the progressive man is alert to business interests and industry, that he will sacrifice humanity for the sake of financial gain. The women’s alert interest is home and the way in which business and industry affects the home and community, therefore, her presence at the polls will mean consideration and protection of home and community.

Men are responsible for the conditions under which our children live, but women are responsible for the results of these conditions. The man of America has needed the help of women always, has always had it at every national crisis. In colonial days the future nation depended upon the grit, endurance, and intelligence of women to give faith and courage to the men, they shared the dangers, trials and hardships and even had the muskets placed in their hands to help defend and preserve the home. Today we face menacing problems in the social world, vice, corruption, disease, poverty.

The real concern of humanity is Government. All the moral and social problems, preservation of health and safety, regulation of hours, condition of labor, guidance of competition, determination of wages, cure of poverty, which have been handled under the name of Charity, under the direction of women, are now creeping into the daily business of bureaus and legislatures. Women has not arrested the gaze of the world but she has been quietly working for the grandest problems of the age and race and what today have become public activities were begun by women in private philanthropy. She has been cultivating the wilderness and deserts, creating prosperity and happiness and culture to mankind and has aided materially in the securing of better lass in particular matters. The desire to perform useful work is innate in civilized man and woman. I want to remind you again of the mother work abroad in our great country when she established kindergartens and playgrounds, believing in play for children because she knew it meant fewer Juvenile Courts. The out door school for children for prevention of tuberculosis. The Juvenile Court work was first carried on in Chicago, largely by women and the probation officers paid by them. It was then taken over by the County authorities. The children’s Hospital Society established a clinic to find out how many children brought into Juvenile Court needed medical attention, it was found ninety percent needed medical care. Gradually the County took over the Medical clinic and paid the physician and nurse in charge. Chicago, was forced by women’s clubs to rid itself of the smoke which hung hideously over it and killed every tree planed in the heart of the city, not a blade of grass grew on the grounds of the art institute.

Philadelphia was forced to issue three million bonds for a water system. The women secured engineers who backed up their case with practical plans. Woman was present in San Francisco court fighting graft.

Maryland needed a garbage system. Women put it through.

Pennsylvania needed street sprinklers. They got them.

McGregor, Iowa, had untidy water front. Women tidied it.

In North Dakota, children have been given seeds to turn the main streets of their home towns into public gardens.

Fountains in Los Angeles giving 4,000 horses a drink per day, 28 bubbling fountains installed.

Rest rooms in villages for farmers’ wives in North Dakota, Illinois and Oklahoma, even coffee served by club women.

Detention home for girls in Utah.

Butcher shops forced to keep cuts of meat under glass.

Travelling libraries.

Sanitary drinking cups.

Medical Inspection.

Scholarship funds.

Banking of school childrens’ money.

Fourth of July sterilized into a safe and sane fourth.

Housekeeping bungalow for girls.

Beautifying of parks, improvements of highways. One club in California planted ten miles of highway trees, maintained and equipped 35 acres of park.

 Built a gateway to one park and a rose arbor of 140 feet.

Saved Calaveras Groves of big trees.

Built homes for needy sick.

Free beds in hospitals.

Maternity cottages, penny lunches for children. In California one club leased a tract of land for a long term and built cottages to rent to the poor for a small sum, soon a model village was built, with 20 acres for playgrounds, the rents were applied to keeping social workers to help the tenants and for general improvements, and so I might go on to citing the many achievements of motherly housekeeping of women in our land and curious as it may seem, while women foster and carry along these projects they cease to have a part in directing, when taken over by public officials who often manage badly without the mother of the scheme. The need of citizenship of women is obvious. If her indirect influence can mean so much, surely we need her direct influence. If her philanthropy is not considered unwomanly, surely her direct influence in public affairs is not more unwomanly, and she should have the power to enforce her opinion, and do the work of her choice, in the most effective way. Since these philanthropic ventures have been taken more or less into public control there should be a joint responsibility where men and women can give their best and highest service to uplift the race. It is necessary for civilization to advance. Women must be mothers with a full knowledge of genuine life, she must arm the young with wise virtue and lead them into the world of experience and not pass their education over to some one else who knows life.

In the growth of industries, trade and profession we have been accustomed to seeing men take the most prominent part. He has reached out in every direction and his muscular power has led to this greater development. It has been said women will cease to charm, cheer, etc. when given the ballot, it is absurd to suppose that woman will change her sphere in life by reason of increased opportunity to enlarge and enoble the sphere in which nature has placed her. Woman has met this doctrine before when fighting for higher and broader sphere of knowledge and action. We all know that the woman who deals with care and sincerity in the questions that lighten burdens and adjust equity of humanity is a nobler and stronger woman than the woman of idleness. A woman will always be distinctly different from man. Every kind of labor has two sides, one side is particularly adapted to the faculties of men and the other side is particularly adapted to the faculties of women. For instance architecture depending upon relation of space and form, holds little inducement for women, yet the interior decoration is congenial occupation on account of her exquisite sense of color, etc. and thus we will find women reaching out in many directions where sympathy and taste and idealism is needed. Some one has said to order her back to the home is like ordering the cab driver who has been displaced by the taxicab chauffeur, back to the stage coach, to compete with the railroad.

The new industrial system forces her to deal directly with more kinds of people, puts her into contact with varied phases of life, socializes her. We need moral and social health. We do not expect that women when given the ballot will support the universe, that men will shift all responsibilities upon her any more than we expect her to be an emptiness today. We aim at a benevolent assimilation, to raise and increase, the inward relationship between the sexes. Meanwhile we are trying to remove the misunderstanding. We do not regard as unfeminine the great women of history, yet their actions exhibit all the resolution and courage of a masculine temperament. Nor do we regard as unmanly the loving resignation, gentleness and self sacrifice by which many of the saints of Christian legend evince a distinctly feminine disposition. It is evident that in the higher ranks of personal perfection, the ordinary physosexual categories are no longer applicable. We are proud of our sex, claim equal opportunities with men in all walks of life and endeavor, equal freedom, equal justice, equal fair play, equal pay for work honestly accomplished, equal citizenship. As parents we offer equal chances in life, equal help, equal indulgence to our boys and girls, just a little readjustment and men will be the gainers rather than loosers [sic] in the new relationship between sexes. The capability women have shown in higher education, their achievements in the business world, their capacity for organization, executive power, have been a revelation. It has influenced man’s moral nature, his ideas of temperance and chastity, justice, and his relation to society. Is there any reason to believe that she would not influence for good in politics where higher qualities are now lacking? Woman’s work in America has become a permanent influence through the hundred national organizations and the thousands of local clubs and societies, though she herself stands in the bank ground. She has to spend her valuable time running after politicians begging them for their considerate attention upon the bills, which vitally concern her home and community, when, by the ballot, in a few moments, she could assert her knowledge and will regarding the laws which govern her interests and protect her home more than by any other possible influence. She should use her time contributing valuable services to the general upbuilding and strengthening of the Government.

The modern woman, from her public housekeeping experience, has learned something of the strain and stress of outside life. She realizes the worry and friction of man’s daily routine, she exacts less demands less because she understands. The inborn sympathy of women will always be there at all times for his real need and distress, and the greater the knowledge the more tender that sympathy. Was there ever a man that did not admire the loyalty of his wife and her fight for a cause that was dear to him? Why should he admire less when she is fighting against the ever encroaching inroads into the private and personal life. Factory problems must be solved by men and women together. The future rests upon the virtues and the welfare of women to produce and mould the future. She must reconstruct the domestic economics.

The new woman is the old woman under new conditions. She is a daughter still of mother and father and four grand-parents and inherits qualities from both sides.

Women no longer cultivate timidity. They do not exaggerate their natural delicacy, they do not ape physical helplessness. Women acknowledge having full completement of organs and appetites.

Women have assimilated knowledge which have though several centuries been called scholarship and have achieved culture. Women are earning their own living, providing for aged parents, invalid sisters, educating members of their family. Is such a woman occupying the position of provider out in the business world, out of her sphere because through necessity and self respect she must work? Should not the business manager whether in her home or in her shop protect her business and her sanctum against the over zealous business world. And is not the product of the home of as great importance as the product of industry?

Women of today read the news that affect the social, the economic and political life of the nation, comment upon it and venture to reflect. Some women even offer advice and assistance–few ask permission to participate, not only in production and distribution as well as consumption, but also in the regulation of those activities which they share.

Why have the conditions changed? A couple of generations ago our forefathers saw no reason for educating boys and girls separately, they allowed them to get the same fruit from the same tree of knowledge. The world is full of trained intelligent women. Just as this multitude of educated women have poured out of our institutions, mechanical labor saving inventions have become so great, as to stimulate the systemization and specialization of labor. This takes woman’s former activities away from home. A greater democracy arises. A changed conception of the theory of Govt. Govt. is protection, protection is woman’s great inheritance.

It has been a delightful and interesting era to note the quick growth, development and evolution of the average woman–a woman who has not been born and bred and fostered in such an atmosphere. We have all seen, during our activities, women whom we have been accustomed to look upon as rather idle, silly, having no practical quality, show splendid gift of initiative, and valuable power of organization and administration, waiting to be of use and benefit to the community. It means something because it takes courage, self reliance, self sacrifice, indifference to scorn and ridicule. But the home survives, and woman is set free to follow many inventions. Through her has come development, progress and where she has entered public life she has purified it and in private life her increased knowledge has purified it and in private life her increased knowledge has promoted comfort, order, precision and superior motherhood. Husband has more of his wife’s time, sympathy and intellectual companionship. Why should the home suffer because its head is a trained intelligence, acquainted with the laws of health, the art of home building and often able to add to its income.

Probably a similar outcry was made a couple of generations ago, when all household occupations which kept women to menial tasks began to be taken up by machinery, and it was declared then that the home was threatened through laziness–now by the opposite. We many rest assured that so long as time shall last whenever two congenial people meet, they will unite in the old sweet way which is ever new and there they will pause and there will be a home. The home will continue, children will come, more beautiful, better born and better trained, when women have developed to their highest and their best, the home as it will be in the future need not worry us, the changes are silent and gradual.



Source: Carrie Fosseen, Speech to the Equal Suffrage Association of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 12 March 1914, Miscellaneous Folder, Carrie Fosseen Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 9 pp.