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On Behalf of 7,000,000

April 23, 1912 —Joint Committee of the US Senate Judiciary Committee and the Woman Suffrage Committee, Washington DC


Gentlemen of the committee, it is as a wage earner and on behalf of the 7,000,000 wage-earning women in the United States that I wish to speak.

I entered the ranks of the wage earners when 18 years of age. Since then I have earned every cent of the cost of my own maintenance, and for several years was a potent factor in the support of my widowed mother.

Need of the Ballot. The need of the ballot for the wage-earning women is a vital one. No plea can be made that we have the protection of the home or are represented by our fathers or brothers. We need the ballot that we may broaden our horizon and assume our share in the solution of the problems that seriously affect our daily lives. There is no question that the exercise of the right to vote on matters of public concern enlarges the sense of public responsibility. While in Colorado, visiting a friend who had formerly been a teacher in Kansas, she assured me that the average woman teacher in Colorado, where the women have the full right of franchise, is as fully informed on all political matters as is the average man teacher in Kansas, while the average woman teacher in Kansas ranks below the man in this respect.

We need the ballot for the purpose of self-protection. Last Saturday afternoon, at the closing hour at Marshall Field’s in Chicago, a young woman cashier fell on the floor in a dead faint and was carried away by her fellow workers. Long hours of the rush and strain of the Saturday shopping overcome her. The 10-hour law is not a 10-hour law for us. We must be up at 6 in order to be at work by 8. It requires two hours after work for us to reach home and eat our evening meal. Fourteen hours out of the twenty-four are consumed entirely by our daily efforts to make a living. If we secure any education or amusement it leaves us but seven or eight hours for sleep, and this generally in insanitary and unwholesome surroundings.

Does the young woman cashier in Marshall Field’s need any voice in making the law that sets the hours of labor that shall constitute a day’s work?

In the Boston Store, at the same hour, a delicate slip of a girl employed as an inspector was on the verge of a hysterical breakdown. The floor woman, in all kindness, said to her: “My dear, it is useless to feel like this now. The busy season is just beginning, and you will have to stand it.” Receiving a wage of $4.50 a week, has this girl any need of a voice in demanding a minimum-wage law?

Has the young woman whose scalp was torn from her head at the Lawrence mill any need of a law demanding that safety appliances be place upon all dangerous machinery?

And what of the working girls who, through unemployment, are denied the opportunity to sell the labor of their hands and are driven to the sale of their virtue?

I met Katie Malloy under peculiar circumstances. It was because of this that she told me of her terrible struggles during the great garment worker’s strike in Chicago. She had worked at Hart, Schaffner & Marx’s for five years, and had saved $30 out of her wages. It was soon gone. She hunted for work, applied at the Young Women’s Christian Association and was told that so many hundreds of girls were out of work that they could not possibly do anything for her. She walked the streets day after day without success. For three days she had almost nothing to eat. “Oh,” she said, with tears streaming down her cheeks, “there is always some place where a man can crowd in and keep decent, but for us girls there is no place — no place but one, and it is thrown open to us day and night. Hundreds of girls that worked by me in the shop have gone into houses of — houses of impurity.”

Has Katie Malloy and the 5,000 working girls who are forced into lives of shame each month no need of a voice in a government that should protect them from this life which is worse than death?

The Working Woman and the Workingman. From the standpoint of wages received we wage earners know it to be almost universal that the men in the industries received twice the wage granted to us, although we may be doing the same work and should have the same pay. We women work side by side with our brothers. We are children of the same parents, reared in the same home, educated in the same schools, ride to and fro on the same early morning and late evening cars, work together the same number of hours in the same shops, and we have equal need of food, clothing, and shelter. But at 21 years of age our brothers are given a powerful weapon of self-defense, a larger means for growth and self-expression.

We working women, even because we are women and find our sex not a source of strength, but a source of weakness and offering a greater opportunity for exploration, are denied this weapon.

Gentlemen of the committee, is there any justice underlying such a condition? If our brother workingmen are granted the ballot with which to protect themselves, do you not think that the working women should be granted this same right?

The Working Girl Vs. Her Employer. What of the working girl and her employer? Why is the ballot given to him while it is denied to us? Is it for the protection of his property, that he may have a voice in the governing of his wealth, of his stocks and bonds and merchandise?

The wealth of the working woman is of far greater value to the State. From nature’s raw products the working class can readily replace all of the material wealth owned by the employing class, but the wealth of the working woman is the wealth of flesh and blood, of all her physical, mental, and spiritual powers. It is the wealth, not only of to-day, but that of the future generations, that is being bartered away so cheaply. Have we no right to a voice in the disposal of our wealth, the greatest wealth that the world possesses — the priceless wealth of its womanhood?

Is it not the cruelest injustice that the man whose material wealth is a source of strength and protection to him and of power over us should be given the additional advantage of an even greater weapon which he can use to perpetuate our condition of helpless subjection?

Discrimination Against Disfranchised Class. You say the ballot is not a factor as a means of discrimination between the workingman and the working woman. We found a most striking example of the falsity of this statement a few years ago in Chicago. The Chicago teachers, firemen, and policemen had had their salaries cut because of the poverty of the city. The teachers’ salaries were cut the third time. They organized to investigate the reason for the reduction. Margaret Haley was selected to carry on the investigation. As a result, she unearthed large corporations that were not paying the legal amount of taxes. The teachers forced the issue, and as a result nearly $600,000 in taxes was annually forced from the corporations and turned into the public treasury. What was done with it? The policemen and firemen had the cut in their salaries restored, while the teachers did not. Instead, the finance committee recommended and the board of education appropriated the teachers’ share to pay coal bills, repairs, etc. Why was this? It was a clear case of the usual treatment accorded to a disfranchised class.

Industrial Revolution Precedes Political Evolution. However, Mr. Chairman, as students of sociology we are forced to recognize the fact that the ballot has never yet been granted by a ruling class because of the needs of a serving class.

Almost without exception the extension of the franchise has taken place only when the needs of the industrial development have demanded a larger degree of freedom upon the part of the serving class, so that the serving class, driven by the very pressure of economic need, has organized as a class, and, after a struggle, has wrested from the grasp of the ruling class a larger share in the powers of government.

Instance after instance of the truth of this assertion presents itself. At the breaking up of the feudal system, the peasants, in larger numbers, left the estates of their masters and entered upon the new form of industry made possible through manufacturing. To escape the robbery of the nobility, they organized in guilds. This organization was a necessity, not only for their protect, but also for the better development of their new form of industry. A larger freedom upon the part of the members of the guild was the inevitable outcome of the change in the industrial basis. As a result of the struggle, the members of the guilds forced the nobility to relinquish their exorbitant demands, and free towns came into existence. This increase in political liberty came as the direct result of the revolution that had taken place in the industrial life of a large number of the peasants of that day.

When the industrial basis of any society, or any portion of society, changes, the superstructure must change in accordance with it. This was again proved when the transition from the hand tool to machine production took place. Again it resulted in an extension of the franchise to a still larger portion of the working class.

Woman’s Political Status Must Change to Conform With Change in Industrial Basis. It is the same revolution that has taken place in the life of the working woman. Within the last two generations the woman of the working class has been forced from her home into the industries.

The weaving that we used to do with our hand looms is now done in great factories requiring the services of hundreds of thousands of women and children. The meat that we used to cure in the smoke-house is now prepared in gigantic meat-packing establishments. Our butter is made at the creamery and our bread at the bakery. Even the education of our children is placed in the hands of the kindergarten and the public schools. There has been nothing for us to do but to follow our jobs into the great industrial centers.

History has proved that industrial revolutions are inevitably followed by political and social revolutions. The industrial basis of the life of the working woman has changed. The work that was formerly confined within the four walls of the home has gone to the centralized industries of the country, and the political superstructure must be adjusted to conform to this change. This industrial change has given to woman a larger horizon, a greater freedom of action in the industrial world. Greater freedom and larger expression are at hand for her in the political life.

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, the time is ripe for the extension of the franchise to women. We do not come before you to beg you to grant us a favor; we come presenting to you a glorious opportunity to place yourselves abreast of the current of this great evolutionary movement. You can refuse to accept this opportunity, and you may, for a moment, delay the movement, but only as the old woman who, with her tiny broom, endeavored to sweep back the incoming tide from the sea.

If to-day, taking your places as men of affairs in the world’s progress, you step out in unison with the eternal upward trend toward true democracy, you will support the suffrage amendment now before your committee.



Source: U.S. Congress, Senate, Joint Committee, 62nd Congress, 2nd session, S. Document 601, pp. 16-30.