Statement Before the
US Senate Select Committee
On Woman Suffrage
December 3, 1908 — US Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage, Washington DC
Gentlemen, you compose a committee, the last of 71 on the list, appointed and selected to discuss, consider, and report the matters referred to you, pertaining to the subject and object of your committee, “woman suffrage,” which you are supposed by your appointment not only to favor but thoroughly understand; a question that has been agitated before the country, and before the honorable body which you have the honor to represent, for the last half a century, and a question involving, according to the last United States Census, the welfare of something more than one-half of the people of the United States. I think I speak advisedly when I call women “people,” but it has been frequently asserted on the floor of the Senate that they are not citizens, and the minute they are so adjudged they will be entitled to the ballot under the fourteenth article of the amendments to the Constitution.
It is a little anomalous that this article should have been adopted, and the educated, cultured women of the United States left out. The right to the ballot, the right to a voice in the matter of who shall rule over them, and how they shall be taxed has ever been considered as the crowning glory of men since the adoption of the Constitution. Women have, in addition to this, an earnest desire and interest as to how their homes and children shall be protected and their persons and property preserved.
This committee, gentlemen, next to the smallest on the list in point of numbers (the Committee on Indian Affairs has 11 Senators, the Committee on Indian Depredations has 9, and the Committee on the Five Civilized Tribes has 5, with that renowned fighter, Benjamin R. Tillman, at their head; 25 in all) is the most important committee on the list, and carries within its deliberations the most momentous question, involving the welfare of the United States and the perpetuity of the Government: justice, liberty, and equal rights.
We come to you, gentlemen, as the English people appealed to King John of England, when they wrung from him that famous Bill of Rights, the Magna Charta, that formed not only the foundation or bulwark of English liberty, but which the colonists of this country insisted on embodying into our own laws and bills of rights when, with toil, privation, bravery, and blood, they settled this country, by landing in inhospitable, rock-bound New England, and undertook to make its soil productive.
The chairman of this committee and Senator Burkett are strangers to me, but from the position of the first and the State which the latter represents we must consider them both favorable to the matters before them to-day, while the eloquence, the liberality, the broadmindedness, and the favorableness of Senator Albert J. Beveridge, not only on this but on every great question, must place him among the foremost statesmen of his time. As for Senator Johnston, I met him on his native heath in Birmingham, Ala., in November last, when he addressed the League of Press Clubs, and where I saw the women of his State — the Christian women, with their children and their pastors — parading the streets of Birmingham with banners and bands of music in their effort to arouse enthusiasm enough in the men of the city to vote (as they could not) to put down the liquor traffic. I have faith in the honesty and uprightness of Senator Johnston on this question of woman suffrage.
When we reached Atlanta and called upon Governor Hoke Smith we found the people of Atlanta already rejoicing that they had a State prohibition law, and that the influence of the women of the State had helped to bring it about. The ballot in the hands of these women would have decided the question without this extraordinary effort.
Last week a Member from North Carolina, where the people are trying to get a prohibition law, said to me: “I wish you suffrage women were down in North Carolina. We need you there to help us.”
In the District of Columbia, my own home for the last forty years, we are now trying to get a prohibition of the liquor traffic, and we want the vote of the good women of the District on this question as well as that of men. And why not? The women of this District own fully one-half of the real estate outside of that owned by the United States. We are taxed without representation even by men, one of the cardinal features of the Revolution.
I was asked to represent here to-day the women of Wisconsin, Rev. Olympia Brown Willis, president, who are not able to get their representatives here in a body. Women as a class control but little money, and the railroads no longer give passes to the favored few. Wisconsin allows her women to vote on the school question, and so does Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York, and several other States. And the new State of Oklahoma has a clause in her constitution allowing women to vote on the school question. In justice to herself and the enlightenment she has manifested on other questions she should have given to her women the same liberty and privileges claimed by her men. With them she endured the hardships and privations incident to the settlement of a new country, and equally with the men every accredited Indian women there of the Five Civilized Tribes now has her freehold of 140 acres and must in the near future be taxed to support schoolhouses and highways and will become as much an integral part of the body politic as the men of the State. They have already voted liquor out, so the women have two points there; but why did they not make her a full-fledged citizen? Representative Carter, of Oklahoma, was made to say in yesterday’s Star that he was “willing that the women of Oklahoma should vote when there was not a woman opposed to it.” That will be when the millennium is here, and long time after Mr. Carter will be out of Congress.
The question of woman suffrage has passed beyond the realm of ridicule and experiment. It has been tried in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, where full suffrage has been given; in Kansas, where municipal suffrage has been a success; in Wisconsin and in Louisiana, on the question of issuing bonds for the State, where her property rights are concerned, and we now come to the highest and most imperative right — the protection of her own homestead, her person, and her children.
If woman is inferior to man why draw the line? You do not draw it on an inferior man unless he is an idiot. If it is because you do not wish to multiply votes, then draw the line at the adult son who lives at home, not on the mother and keeper of the home. Gentlemen you forget that the world moves, and that the educated, cultivated woman of to-day is not the woman of a century, or even a half century, ago, and that now the State university of the country is the daily press, from which every woman aspires to graduate.
This Senate resolution, No. 47, asks 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;” and that this question shall be submitted for ratifications to the legislatures of the several States of the Union. The States may adopt or reject the measure, and it resolved itself into the plain wish of the people. It can hardly be said to invade the right of every State to manage its own internal affairs, when such management does not interfere with the vested rights of the common people. It would add, if carried by a majority of the States, one more amendment to the Constitution; but the fifteenth amendment might be amended for the same purpose by adding one word “sex;” but if a woman really is a person she is already included in the fourteenth amendment, which says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are ‘citizens’ of the United States, and the State wherein they reside. * “ so that only a declaratory law is necessary by the Congress of the United States to make women eligible for the ballot.
The ninth amendment to the Constitution reads as follows: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Are you, gentlemen, prepared to assert that women are neither citizens nor people?