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Agitation and Pressure

December 7, 1917 — National Advisory Council Conference, National Women’s Party, Washington DC


I was greatly impressed with the fact when I started West, that as Susan B. Anthony said, our chief difficulty in the amendment campaign is women.

Our chief obstacle to success is the fear and timidity in the hearts of women themselves. And it devolved upon me, so far as I could, to rouse them out of that fear and timidity of their own hearts, and to get them so far as possible — even though this is not an election campaign — to put principle above party and get back of us in our work for the national amendment.

I found that it was easier than I thought. Wherever I could reach people in audiences, wherever we could reach people through the press, I found it was easier than I had believed it to be to rouse women out of this fear and timidity of their own hearts.

I was told on every hand when I started through these Western suffrage states, by men and women both, that this was no time to work for the national amendment, that the country was at war, that it was not patriotic, that we must wait, that we must be submissive. Many women had just been thinking one way, and as I told them, without casting any blame upon men at all — they were simply a reflection of man’s psychology. As the dominant half of the human race many men regard women’s affairs as unimportant. They are short-sighted enough to see this question only as a woman’s question, not as a great human question, a national, a world question, and on account of the fact that they have always been the dominant half of the human race from the way our society developed, they taught women and are still teaching them that affairs they regard as women’s affairs are not important, that they can wait. Men trade on the traditional humility and humbleness and self-forgetfulness of women. And that is why women said almost everywhere, to begin with, that this is not the time, that we must wait.

By telling them the story of the picket line it was comparatively easy to make them see that liberty has never been won by waiting, by treading the path of submission, that it can only be won by agitation and pressure, that submission has always led to continued submission and subjection and defeat. They came to see this as we worked among them.

Another point came up, which I remember discussing last with the Governor of New Mexico. Governor Lindsay said hew as in favor of woman suffrage, that he saw the national suffrage amendment was inevitable but that this was “not the time,” that he was back of the President, that he was going to remain back of him , and that this agitation of ours was an embarrassment to the President and to the Government. I was aroused at this. I said at once to Governor Lindsay that this is not our problem. If our agitation for democracy is an embarrassment to the Government, it devolves upon the Government to remove it.

I pointed out to him how the Administration has dealt with other embarrassing situations that have developed since the war began. We found shipyard strikes staking place in Seattle and in San Francisco. There were strikes among the engineers and firemen in the steel yards at Gary, Indiana, as I wen through there in September. There have been strikes among the coper miners in Arizona and among the telephone operators in San Francisco. And what happens when these strikes occur? Does the Government waste any time in calling these groups that are striking for shorter working hours, for better working conditions, for higher wages — does it waste a moment of time in calling these strikers disloyal and unpatriotic and an embarrassment? Does it put them in jail? No, it sends a member of the Federal Adjustment Board, of the Federal Labor Commission, it sends the Secretary of Labor himself, out to these Western states to deal with the strikers, to give hearings, to remove the embarrassment to the conduct of the war. And I think I made Governor Lindsay see quite clearly before I left him, just as we made other groups throughout the trip see this same thing, that if our agitation at this time is in the slightest way an embarrassment to the Government it can easily remove the difficulty by removing the grievance, and that this would take merely an hour of the time of Congress.

I found less and less belief on the part of women voters that they are free women. I think the attitude of mind of women voters toward the national amendment, toward the incompleteness of their own state enfranchisement is developing rapidly. I know that one or two women, when I first reached Colorado, did say that they were free women because they could vote in their own state, but I know that women voters are doing more and more thinking for themselves. They realize that as long as the women of twelve states only are fully enfranchised and women are in effect, if not literally, classified with the insane and the drunkards and the criminals in thirty-six states, the women of twelve states are not free women. As long as that stigma is attached in anyway to the women of thirty-six states, or to one woman in any other state, that stigma is attached to the women of the twelve fully enfranchised states. They see that no woman can be fully free until all the women of this country are enfranchised and politically free.

I think that President Wilson’s declaration to the New York suffragists did a good deal to make the women voters think in a different way about the national amendment. They are realizing more and more the impossibility of amending at least twenty state constitutions. I took great pleasure in pointing out to them that President Wilson when he was a professor of history, just a very few years ago at Princeton, wrote a good many text-books and that one of those text-books was called The State, which I used as a reference book in lectures on history that I gave in the University of Nevada; and that as a student of constitutional history, even though we had not taught him this fact, President Wilson knows that twenty state constitutions are practically impossible to amend.

But President Wilson, in his address to the New York suffragists said, in effect, that though he might still be clinging to a very traditional view, he thought each state should settle this question for itself, but he thought that it should be done quickly, immediately. President Wilson knows that the Legislature of Alabama meets only once every four years, yet he wants the Legislature of the state of Alabama to settle this question immediately for itself! In his own state of New Jersey when a constitutional amendment is once submitted and fails it cannot be resubmitted for five years; it cannot be resubmitted in New Jersey until 1920, and yet he wants his own state of New Jersey to settle this question immediately for itself. Women voters are doing more thinking along this line and they see the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the President’s state by state position as regards the extension of suffrage to the women of the country.

The legislative record of this last session of Congress has given them a good deal of food for thought. They can not believe that just because they have the right to vote within the borders of their own state they are free women. Legislation has been put through this war session of Congress, that has entered the very doors of their homes, that affects the food they eat, and when they shall eat it, that affects the clothes they wear, their incomes, the books and newspapers which they are allowed to read. Now that national law is affecting the lives and homes of every man and woman throughout the country, women voters are seeing the effect of these laws that were put through this last Congress upon their homes, upon themselves., upon their children and their children’s children for generations to come. Beginning with the declaration of war message, going on to the espionage act, to the shipping bills, to the enlargement of the Army and Navy bills, to the war tax bills, the conscription act, the food administration acts, the trading with the enemy act, I used to ask them to study the vote in Congress upon these measures. I asked them what influence their one vote for their one Congressman which they were entitled to had upon the vote for these measures, no matter what side they took upon them.

The saw the justice of this viewpoint, that a nation which conscripts the sons and brothers of women by national act should enfranchise its women by national act, and that a President who declares for conscription of the sons and brothers of women by act of Congress, should, in justice to the women of the country, declare for the national suffrage amendment.



Source: The Suffragist, Vol. V. No. 99, December 29, 1917.