Woman Suffrage. Which Way?
November 1, 1913 — Inaugural meeting, Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference, New Orleans LA
The time is past when there is any question as to whether or not we are to have woman suffrage. Already in eleven of our States and in twenty-eight countries it is in operation. The question before us now is, Which way do we prefer to have it come—State by State, as it has so far come, or all at one time by constitutional amendment?
The South has had some rather trying experiences with the vote being conferred upon its citizens by the latter method.
With that experience in mind the question now is: Is the South willing to delay so long, in this new movement in popular government, that it will again have the matter taken out of its own hands?
Is it not far better that the men (as well as the women) of the South recognize that a real Democracy is at hand? That a real (and the first) Republic is about to be born where government shall, in deed and in truth, rest upon the consent of the governed? Where there shall not be taxation without representation?
The South is famed for its chivalry, yet the men of eleven of our Western States have past them in this race for chivalry which is based upon justice. A chivalry which says to the women of their households: “We do not want to hold you in legal subjection. You must and shall have every legal and political right which we claim as ours. A country cannot be free with its mothers a subject class before the law, with half of its people political paupers, dependent upon the other half for justice. We want our commissions as law-makers to come from the homes as well as from the street and the office. We do not want the great principles of Democracy to be too small to extend to both sexes. Women stood by our sides and helped to conquer the wilderness. They bore the hardships as well as the men. We refuse to take for ourselves alone the best and highest results of the struggle-Liberty, Equa1it y, Fraternity.”
Is not that a far finer chivalry than is mere word-flattery?
Are you willing that the Western men outdo you, surpass the Southern men in justice, courtesy and respect for the women of their States? Have you Southern men less confidence to repose in the mothers who bore you, the wives who bear your children, the daughters of whom you are so proud, than have the men of Illinois, or California or Colorado? Are you willing that your women shall appeal in vain to you for citizenship, for self-government, and that they shall receive it at the hands of men more just than you—through Constitutional Amendment? Is it not far better that you put your own house in order? Will not this insure to you the gratitude, co-operation of the new citizens far more surely than the other way? I can assure you, that the Western women are almost as proud of their men for having given them the franchise without a serious struggle by them to secure it, as they are of their new dignity of citizenship itself.
These men never fail to express their belief and knowledge that it has worked good, and only good, to their States.
And you must remember that it is no longer an experiment in some of them.
In Colorado, the most populous of them, where the women have been voters for so long (20 years) a time as to make it beyond question a good test, a State where there are large cities and vast wealth, it is the universal testimony of the public men that the votes and the help of the women have been of inestimable value in bringing that State to the high civilization to which it has attained. These men have found the advice, the insight and the co-operation of the women of the State invaluable.
And it has done something even finer than this. It has made of those men and women real friends, real comrades. They respect each other. They trust each other in a better and finer sense. They realize that they are equally responsible for the defects of their government. The women are not resentful or petty in their judgments, holding the men to account for all the wrongs and mistakes and holding themselves as “judges after the fact,” without responsibility and without understanding of the needs, the difficulties and the possible remedies.
They work together for the things they want. If they find they have made a mistake they work together to correct it. This leaves no place for sex antagonism. It enlarges the outlook of the women. It makes them realize that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and that the governing of a city or a State is simply a larger home-making, for, after all, what is the State and city but your home?
The house you live in is only a small part of your home, just as the room you sleep in is a smaller part of that home—as the kitchen or the dining-room is your “home” but surely not all of it. No woman is doing all of her home-making if she keeps only her own room attractive. She is not a good homemaker if she thinks of nothing but her kitchen.
It is equally true of the city and the state. The woman has the homemaker’s instinct. What man ever makes a real home? He may pay for chairs and tables and cook-stoves, but the quality which transforms these things into a home (whether of high or low estate) is the woman’s part. She wants permanency, cleanliness, and order. She wants beauty and harmony of surroundings. The State needs these and the other qualities which women bring to their work. Men do not see, or, seeing, do not care much for many of the things which make for the higher civilization, the cleaner, more ordered life. Garbage cans in the street, raw meat hung in the dust, milk cans washed in polluted water, these things are the housekeeper’s problem. They appeal to women. Men are thinking of stocks, bonds, crops of cotton or grain—then the epidemic comes along, the typhoid gathers in a few loved ones, and some woman’s club comes forward and finds out that the water supply of the town is polluted.
But we must all understand that this “Feminist movement” is not local. It is world-wide. It began with the education of girls and it cannot and will not stop until woman stands as a human unit, even as her brother is a human unit.
Throughout history he has looked upon himself as the Unit and upon her as the cipher that stood back of him.
From his point of view, of itself, the cipher was valueless. In its relation to him only did it achieve value. It multiplied him tenfold.
If he chose to remove himself, she became once more the cipher.
If this condition was to remain, the first fatal blunder was made when women were allowed (not so long ago, either) to learn the alphabet.
And, after all, it has taken a very brief time, as history goes, to lift the women of the world, compared with the eons of time that it required to do the same thing for different classes of men.
Up to a few hundred years ago the masses of men were the pawns that Barons and Kings used to play with.
Men were the ciphers then, used by brute force and inherited rank to give fictitious value to the privileged men.
Those in power then, like some of them now, laughed at the idea of “the average man” having the same legal rights and political opportunities as were held by the privileged class of men.
They said it wasn’t his place. He was unfit for self-government. He would wreck the State.
Well, he changed the State, it is true, but he bettered it, and what was more important still, he bettered himself. He grew up to his new dignity and status of a human unit. Women will do the same.
There never was in all history so well prepared a new electorate in education and intelligence as the women of America.
We must remember that every struggle made by man for his own emancipation from bondage has worked for woman’s liberty, also. Every blow that was struck for his own human status helped to weaken the bonds on the woman who stood encouraging him in his upward struggle.
She has earned your help now.
It would be ingratitude, unspeakable, for man to refuse to her the help which she so faithfully gave to him. Never an argument used by man in the interest of his own liberty but applies with added force to women. Listen! Let me quote from three of your Democratic leaders of today. Then you shall say whether what they say is true, whether they meant what they said.
In a very remarkable article written recently by that distinguished Democrat, Mr. William Randolph Hearst, in speaking of the founders of this Nation, he said;
“On the one hand were the Democratic Republicans, who believed both in the letter and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, who were convinced that a new order of things was both advisable and advantageous; that the old established systems of government by a superior class were failures, and that the government by all the people was not only the most just and righteous, but the most practical and the most successful form of government that could be devised.”
Did he mean it? Government by all the people, and that there should be no class? And, then, are women people?
In speaking before a great patriotic body of women recently in Washington our silver-tongued Secretary of State, the Hon. William Jennings Bryan, used these words:
“We established an independent nation in order that men might enjoy a new kind of happiness and a new kind of dignity. That kind which a man has when he respects every other man’s and woman’s individuality as he respects his own; where he is not willing to draw distinctions between classes; where he is not willing to shut the door of privilege in the face of anyone.”
Again, he said before the same distinguished body of patriotic women, of whom I was one:
“The problems are different, but the principles are the same. Turn back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and apply the principles found in them to our modern questions.
“This spirit must lead you to work for the preservation to each individual of his inalienable rights and to keep this a Government of the people, for the people, by the people. Then, and then only, will you be true Daughters of the American Revolution.”
Now, are women individuals? Are they people? Did the Secretary of State really mean those words at their par value?
The arguments against woman suffrage are, in point of fact, simply arguments against self-government. They are the arguments which have been used by king to serf in all the ages past, with women now the disqualified unit or “lower class.”
If government is to rest upon suffrage at all—that is, upon the expressed will of anybody not a “king by divine right”—who is to decide that men are born with the divine right to vote, and that I am not?
When and how did they get the right and where and how did I lose it?
That always puzzles me. I can not remember when I lost it. If it is a divine right, what particular streak of divinity has been discovered in men that women lack?
If it is not a natural, inherent, human right, then they say it is a “conferred privilege.” Now, who conferred it? Where did they get it to confer?
Is not special privilege in government a wrong and an outrage against which people have been fighting since history began?
Again, I want to point a moral here, and so I am going to quote from President Wilson:
“As for other men setting up as a Providence over myself, I seriously object. I will not live under trustees if I can help it. If any part of our people want to be wards; if they want to have guardians put over them; if they want to be taken care of; if they want to be children patronized by the Government; why I am sorry, because it will sap the manhood of America.”
There never was a truer thing written than that. And it has already sapped the womanhood of America to such an extent that there are women willing to travel around the country telling other women that their place is at home; that they ought to stay inside of four walls, where guardians and trustees will keep them in perpetual tutelage, and take care of them like children.
These traveling ladies, who insist that woman’s place is the home, assert that this movement of ours is one of sex antagonism.
Was it “sex antagonism” that made President Wilson object to having guardians set over him? There isn’t even anything new about the cry of “stirring up sex antagonism.” It is the same old argument used against Thomas Jefferson and against every other man who has stood for real Democracy. It is the cry of Power against People. It is the argument of those who have, against those who have not the benefits which all must pay for. Absolutely the only change in it is that to-day they use the word “sex,” while in our father’s day they used “class antagonism” to cover the same old selfish abuse of Privilege.
Again, in a recent speech, President Wilson emphasized in the strongest possible words the fact that the sacred part of America’s heritage is her claim to be governed by the consent of all of her people.
He even went so far as to say that he “would like to believe that nowhere could a Government endure which is supported by anything but the consent of the governed.”
But, lest you think I have misquoted the President, I want to read his own words.
He was speaking of the great size of our country, then he said;
“But the extent of the American conquest is not what gives America distinction in the annals of the world. It is the professed purpose of the conquest, which was to see to it that every foot of that land should be the home of free, self-governed people, who should have no government whatever which did not rest upon the consent of the governed. I would like to believe that all this hemisphere is devoted to the same sacred purpose, and that nowhere can any Government endure which is stained by blood or supported by anything but the consent of the governed.” Pres. Wilson’s address, Swathmore College, Pa., Oct. 25, 1913. Washington Post.
In a recent book Senator John Sharp Williams has collected and commented upon the strongest and best writings and acts of the father of Democracy, Thomas Jefferson. There is hardly a page of the volume which is not, an unanswerable argument for woman suffrage. And this holds good in regard to the words of both Thomas Jefferson and Senator Williams.
It is quite possible that neither of these men realized that their words were quite as strong arguments for women and their liberty and self-government as they were for these same desirable things for men.
Possibly neither Thomas Jefferson nor Senator Williams so much as thought of one-half of all these “people” or “citizens” who must obey the laws when they propounded the “self-evident facts” about “inalienable rights,” “rights derived from God,” that could not be alienated even by their own consent, etc., etc. How did all these terms get to be the property of one-half of mankind? Rights are not masculine only, and Justice knows no sex.
Now, assuming that these and other distinguished Democrats (as well as Republicans and Progressives) said what they meant, assuming that they are sincere when they speak or write for the public (and I would not wish to be guilty of assuming anything else in their cases), I ask you in which way the South is going to meet this question State by State, controling the details itself, or by a National Constitutional Amendment?
The passage of such an amendment to the United States Constitution is no longer a remote contingency. In the Sixty-third Congress the following resolution was introduced in both the Senate and the House:
“RESOLVED by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article be proposed to the legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of the said legislatures, shall be valid as part of said Constitution, namely:
“Article—Section 1. 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.
“Section 2. Congress shall have power by appropriate legislation to enforce the provisions of this article.”
For the first time since 1892, the amendment was favorably reported to the Senate in 1913, and on March 19, 1914, it received a vote of 35 to 34 in favor, lacking only 11 votes of the necessary two-thirds majority. It was reported to the House by the Judiciary Committee without recommendation—the first time since 1894 that it has been reported out of committee in the House of Representatives. On January 12th, 1915, it received a vote of 174 in favor to 204 opposed—lacking 78 of the necessary two-thirds majority. In view of this showing of strength in Congress for a woman suffrage amendment, it behooves the Southern States to arouse themselves if they would secure that Southern women shall be enfranchised by the action of their own Southern men, and by amendment of their own State Constitutions.
Already there are over four million women in America who have the Presidential vote, who vote for their Senators and Representatives. What right have these four million to a higher and firmer citizenship than have the other women of the country? Why should a woman who lives in Colorado or California or Illinois be a citizen, and in South Carolina and Louisiana a voiceless, unconsidered cipher politically?
Why should she be a unit in one State and a cipher in another? Why is she capable of self-government and the dignity of liberty of conscience in Chicago or Denver or San Francisco, and incapable of, or without that dignity, in Charleston or New Orleans? Why can Western men trust the women of their States, and the Southern men not do so? Why are the women of one part of the country helpful in government and useless or dangerous in another part?
And in this connection I want to refer to one thing that is constantly brought up in arguments on this subject. That is whether or not women will better conditions when they vote; whether they will or will not vote for this or that “reform?”
I insist that you have no right to ask just what woman is going to do with her vote when she gets it.
That question is always based on two assumptions: First, that man has a right to dictate to her, to control her vote and make her vote the way he wants to; and the other is that she most likely is going to vote either like a knave or a fool, that she will be prone to use her vote with bad results.
Nobody assumes that attitude when extending the franchise to the young men as they become of age. Now, why should women be asked or required to prove that they are not going to vote unwisely? Are they more corrupt or more foolish than their 21-year-old sons?
There is just one other point which it might be well to consider from a Southerner’s outlook, in case the fundamental principle of self-government and human justice does not appeal to you when these standards of democracy are being applied to women.
It is this: You are doubtless aware that there is a strong movement on foot to make the representation of the States in Congress depend upon the number of voters, and not upon the population.
When that carries (and it has great and strong backing), the South will need the vote of every patriotic woman as well as man, unless she is willing to be swamped utterly and hopelessly.
It will be a trifle late to prepare for this situation after the move is effected.
“Now is the accepted time,” if the South is to hold its own in chivalry and justice towards its women—or yield these to the men of the West.
“Now is the accepted time,” if the South is to hold its own in national representation—or yield to the hoards of foreign-born voters of the East.
“Now is the accepted time” to gain the gratitude and respect of the Southern women and their loyal co-operation—or to throw these away by allowing the National Government to give them the dignity of citizenship which you refuse to them.
Woman suffrage is coming, in the South as elsewhere. It is almost here. The only question now is, which way?