Why the Laundry Workers
Need the Vote
February 4, 1914 — Equal Suffrage League, Hotel Astor, New York City
You ladies might think I had the nerve to go down to see the President. You might think when I said I was a laundry workman that the President would get together his dirty collars and cuffs to give me, but he did nothing of the kind. He didn’t give us the vote, but I think the 500 working women made a fine impression. I have great faith in the President. There were only 35 of us went in, but when he heard that the others were outside he wanted them all to come in and he had a warm, hearty handshake for every working woman.
When he listened to me he bowed his head and said yes, he knew. “I am in an embarrassing position,” he said, “my party” —
We don’t want him to get away from his party. We could help every true Dimicrat [sic] if the women voted. I’m not a bit discouraged, but we’ve got to push every man of them to the very pin of his collar. No one has a right to go up to Albany and make a pill for me to swallow whether I want to or not.
And I can’t see for the love of me why the antis follow the suffragists to the White House. That isn’t the home.
And they say the Irish women don’t want to vote. I’ll go down to Washington and I’ll tell them that the Irish do want the vote. I told an Irish woman that I met at a ball — I went to see the President, but I went to a ball, too — that they said we didn’t want the vote. They have a nerve to say the Irish women don’t want the vote. There’s a society for every County in Ireland and not an anti will get into one of them. We’ll have a procession march up Fifth Avenue with green banners with “Erin go Bragh” and “Votes for Women” on them.
We working women kept our our noses to the grindstone and we never read the papers, but when some of you ladies began to work for the vote we saw that there might be something in it. There are different religions, but there is one God and He is constantly driving one thing into our hearts and consciences and that’s justice. And all kinds of people say that the working woman doesn’t want the vote. Maybe I’m speaking to broad, but you’ll excuse me, I’m Irish.
I could tell you some things about the work of the women in the laundries that would put the hair of your head standing. . .
[Tell it,” said the women, and she told a little of the work in detail, something of the long hours, 15-18 at a stretch sometimes, their children taken from the day nurseries by friends and then roaming the streets until the mother came home late at night — many of them delicate and sick for lack of the mother’s care. She told of one worker anxious to get money to make a comfortable home for her baby, working until the day before it arrived, then going to the hospital room from which she and her baby were taken to the cemetery.]
We were allowed to stop work and go out in the street out of respect when they passed. But I would like to ask is that the protection we women are getting in the home?
The engineers got a raise of $2 the other day. They have a strong union and votes back of it. They did not have to strike. You never hear of the “Big Six” striking, but when the shirt waist girls strike they are arrested for asking other girls not to take their positions. We went to Mayor [George B.] McClellan at that time saying we represented 30,000 women.
“Thirty thousand women are nothing to me,” he answered. Would he have said that of 30,000 voters?
All I ask of the women is to think. If there was only one woman in the United States she should have the vote.
Source: The New York Times, February 5, 1914