The Protective Value of the Ballot
February 13, 1900 — US House Judiciary Committee, Washington DC
What do the people and nations of the age seek? Why do individuals labor and strive? For what do nations battle and seize territory and seek spheres of influence? The savage Filipino, the desperate Slav, the rough Boor, the strenuous Anglo-Saxon, for what do they all struggle? Freedom, opportunity, power.
To-day none is too degraded, savage or mean to feel within his breast the desire for liberty, independence, and improved conditions. Life itself is sacrificed in the struggle. Many precious lives are counted none too great a price for the people’s liberty. Even against the greatest odds, sometimes in face of almost certain defeat, goes on the struggle for independence and equality. To the one vanquished in such a fight we give the laurel wreath. Far nobler to have struggled and died opposing tyranny than to have lived at ease a dependent, a subject.
The spirit of struggle against oppression and dependence is in the air, and all have breathed it in, women as well as men. The red corpuscles of the blood have been transmitted to daughters as well as sons. If women to-day did not feel this spirit of ambition, this thrill of aspiration, they would prove themselves untrue members of the race, of some other blood unrelated to humanity. But women are human. The are not only wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters, but are a portion of humanity. They, too, feel the desire for freedom, opportunity, progress; the wish for liberty, a share in government, emancipation.
The practical method by which these aspirations can be realized is through the ballot. The ballot to-day represents all for which this great world-struggle is being carried on. It is the insignia of power. The Outlander wants it, so does the Filipino, the Slav, the Cuban. So do women.
Women need the ballot, not only for the honor of being esteemed free women among their peers, but for the practical value it will be to them in protecting them in the exercise of a citizen’s prerogatives. This is perhaps a selfish view. It might be more lofty and unselfish to desire to benefit others, the nation, the world, through women’s ballots, but still the protection of women themselves is of considerable importance. Women need protection of life, liberty, property. They want protection in securing educational advantages, in entering remunerative employments, in obtaining fair wages for work, protection for the safety of their persons from assault and disease, protection for their property from unjust seizure, unfair taxation, and outside encroachments. They want protection in the discharge of wifely duties and motherly cares. They want protection for the home and for the little ones for whose sakes they have imperiled their own lives.
But, it is asked, have not women had some sort of protection, without the ballot? Yes, but it has been only such protection as the caprice or affection of the voting class has given, — mere gratuities, revocable at will. The man of wealthy or power defended his wife, daughter, or sweetheart because she was his, just s he would have defended his property. His own opinions, not her views, decided him concerning the things from which she should be protected. Should she ever have needed protection against her “protector,” there was no one to give it. She has as much protection as other non-voting classes, who must always acquiesce and never demand.
The chivalric protecting knight and the tender, compliant, dependent [sic] woman were the poet’s ideal. But in practical, humdrum life this ideal has in many particulars not been realized. Protection has often been needed when it has not been forthcoming, and women bereft of muscling protectors had no way of protecting themselves.
Protection of women’s lives, for their persons, is somewhat improved since the days when the husband or father had complete control, even the power to inflict the death penalty. The husband can no longer punish the wife with a stick of the thickness of his thumb. Yet mild corrective measures are nto often considered seriously by judges. This change in the degree of punishment has not only benefited women, but has affected all subordinate creatures. Apprentices, children, and even dumb brutes must not be cruelly beaten.
But there are other wrongs done women’s person, and they are not estimated at their full enormity by men judges and jurors. To assault a girl able the age of consent, or to ruin one below below the age of consent, which is in may States fourteen years, is esteemed a crime no worse than horse-stealing, meriting no greater punishment than would a theft of $15 or $20 worth of property. Seduction is counted no crime, merely a misdemeanor. These sexual crimes which are essentially against womanhood are punished with inadequate fines or brief imprisonment.
In seeking punishment of such crimes, which are always of a man against a woman, we may see the disadvantage under which women labor when they want legal protection. When a woman resorts to the court, the judge, the jury, the clerks, the bailiffs, are all men, elected by men or appointed by men, liable to look at each point from the man side. If she receives justice, great and lofty must be the spirit of those law enforcers, for it would not be unnatural if they should have been prejudiced against her, and not improbable that the side of the voters who were in the case would have been the more powerful. But should a judge continue to be fair to women, parties in actions, it would not be an impossible thing for is supporters, the voters, to serve notice on him that he was elected by them and should not decide against them. Of course, one or two isolated cases might make no great difference, but suppose all the women had a good cause of action against all the men, and a judge elected by men voters only, with a jury selected from these same men, tried the case. Even if the women were right, they would not win. The full influence of the ballot in securing protection would there appear. In the case of one woman against one man, as would generally be the fact in such legal procedure, a proportionate amount of influence would be felt. The power of the ballot to influence the judiciary must be admitted, especially where judges are elected.
As to women’s personal liberty, it is protected in a general way, and yet not always from a woman’s husband. There are decisions on the records sustaining a husband in restraining a wife’s liberty, if he desired her not to go visiting, or if he wanted to prevent her from spending money, or going to church. But few husbands would need such harsh measures to keep them from church.
The husband’s right to choose the family home, whither the wife must follow or be left out in the cold and be adjudged guilty of deserting him, is another violation of the wife’s personal liberty.
But the ownership by the husband of the family pocket-book is a certain method of restraining a wife’s liberty of movement, for street cars and railroad trains carry no passengers without fares. So, unless the wife is a good pedestrian, the withholding rom her of money restrains her liberty. She who gives her life strength to family cares should be protected in her right to use some portion of family money. If women voted, they would certainly be assured of some share in family funds.
Women need protection from disease, and yet that is largely a matter of enforcement of law. Women generally desire this protection. A recent instance of women’s interest in warding off disease occurred in New Orleans, where many women came forward to vote for a better system of sewers. The women property owners were generally for the new method of sanitation, and with the men voters of similar views, they made a majority. Women rejoiced and thought they had succeeded. But at the election of councilmen, for whom women had no votes, members were elected who had no sympathy with the new plans, and so the women’s great efforts in behalf of sanitation were almost useless. Without the ballot for officers, their wishes were not mandatory and had no influence.
Women’s education is not receiving attention in many public and private schools. But the majority of our schools are public schools. Regulated by the voters, through elected officials. The great common school system of this country rests on voters. The increasingly valuable State University and Normal schools rest also on voters. Admission to these schools is regulated by laws framed by people elected by voters. The money to run these schools is collected and expended by other officials elected by voters. The subjects taught are decided by the representatives of voters. Women have now no assurance of continued entrance to these schools, desirable curricula or wise expenditure of the tax money except through man’s gratuity. To protect women in their aspiration for school privileges, nothing but the ballot is sufficient.
Concerning entrance into remunerative employments, that in many instances has been denied women. In many of the States the professions of law, medicine, dentistry and all elective offices were closed by law. Even appointive positions, which women might legally hold, were practically closed to women because of their lack of the ballot. The appointing power, president, governor, mayor, judge, or commissioner, all owed their own positions to voters, who expected some minor appointment in acknowledgment of service. Sometimes the appointing power found himself with less places at hand than he had given promises. His task then was to invent new places, or evade civil service laws to supply all his supporters, or else he must forget his promises. It can scarcely be expected, then, if he desired reëlection, that he would give any of these places to women who could not vote for him.
The newspapers tell us occasionally about some department or bureau, even here in Washington, where no more women clerks are wanted or where women are bared out because voters are clamorous for places. Even civil service laws do not protect women in securing employment. Only ten per cent. of the women who have passed civil service examinations obtain work under the government, while twenty-six per cent. of the men who pass receive appointments. Women should be protected in receiving comfortable government positions, and the only way in which they can be honorably assured of such protection is by holding the ballot in their own hands.
Even large private corporations not supposed to be influenced by votes, have in certain instances closed their doors upon women seeking employment, when the special line of employment could as well be performed by women as by men. These great enterprises have occasionally desired and received governmental help and protection. In return, the employees of these enterprises have been advised to vote for the party which has protected their employers’ business.
At a caucus, a street parade, and on election day, the 500, or 10,000, or 100,000 persons employed in a certain industry made a considerable political showing, if they are all voters. In a street parade, it is not the floats filled with pretty girls, but the rows of sturdy men, trudging steadily forward, even without flowers or tarleton or smiles or frizzes, who count. We look on them, remembering their voting power, and feel that they are the procession. On such occasions women employees are of little value.
When some pretty factor girls once went to Washington beseeching increased tariffs, their influence was infinitesimal. Their visit was of no value except to make a news item. A similar delegation of men might not have looked as sweet, but they, being voters, could have accomplished more. So when a great corporation considers its occasional need of votes, it employs few women.
Women refused employment in such enterprises are injured not in their feelings, their pride, but in the matter of bread and butter. Women are not protected in their right to earn bread and butter.
But there are many different kinds of employment which do not debar women, and in these, women need protection in securing a fair return for their labor. This is no more than men workers ask, and it should be granted. But one peculiar thing appears in examining the schedules of wages for men and women, — men’s wages are higher. For instance, in Massachusetts 78 per cent. of the females employed received less than $1.00 per day, while only 30 per cent. of the males receive such low wages. This would not be unjust if men always did harder work or better work. But men as a rule receive higher wages, even in cases where their work is not more difficult and not more carefully done.
In an investigation conducted by the United States Department of Labor, concerning the wages received by men, women, and children, it appeared that in 75 per cent. of the 782 instances investigated, men receive 50 per cent. higher wages than did women laboring with the same degree of efficiency on the same sort of work. This is not an isolated case of inequality, but averages of all; and it is a question of serious importance to women why their wages are so low. It is a question of even greater importance how these wages can be made higher. Dollars mean more than pride in good service. They mean relief from hunger, thirst, cold; they mean freedom to be good.
Women need special and peculiar factory legislation for their protection from long hours and insanitary conditions. Women inspectors are needed; but only six States recognize this necessity, for women do not vote. Women wage-workers need the ballot to secure proper production.
The American working man is the superior of the working man in other countries, because of the ballot which he possesses. Men laborers have the same political rights and liberties as other classes of citizens, and their votes are protected by law against intimidation. Special statues against alien labor and against convict labor, whether right or wrong, are the direct result of the wishes of the voting laboring man. Special privileges given G.A.R. men, even in civil service laws, show the value of votes in securing remunerative positions.
Those who are best informed as to women wage earners concur in the view that they should have the ballot. Carroll D. Wright has said: “Industrial and political equality will be coordinate results. Political influence will bring industrial emancipation.”
But, while the wage-earning women need protection, the nineteen millions of home women who work for their own families need even more legal attention for they have no wages. Wages, even low wages, are somewhat of a protection. Some plan would speedily be devised whereby home workers would be justly recompense, if women voted.
Women also need protection of their property. A man who knew the ways of assessors said once: “Widows and minors are always assessed for more tan men.” No statistics have ever been taken of this branch of the question, but it is a matter of common knowledge that many men desire to be assessor, and that the assessor when in office is in receipt of many requests from property owners to lower their assessments. IF the assessor desires reëleection, one of the easiest methods of securing it is to lower the assessments of the most important politicians, who control most voters. Women without votes could not force the lowering of excessive assessments, even if they proceed according to law. The employment of attorneys, the time expended in looking after the matter, and the uncertainty of justice when other politicians should decide, keep women from proceeding at law.
Women also want protection for the one sphere which even the most conservative loudly proclaim should be theirs, — the home. That the water supply is full and abundant; that the sewage is carried away carefully and speedily; that contagious cases are isolated; that food is pure in quality and reasonable in price; that inspection of food is honest and scientific; that weights and measures are true; that gas and electricity are constant and inexpensive; that buildings are strongly constructed — these are all matters under the control of certain officials elected by voters.
Women, too, want protection for the children of the home. They desire proper regulations as to trains at crossings, as to villains, tramps, and child abductors. They want strict regulations against obscene literature, and the unhealthy cigarette, and desire that which is equally important, honest enforcement of such laws and ordinances. Without the allot women cannot protect their children. In such numerous ways women need protection, and in many of these instances they have it not.
Such protection as has been allowed women has no more substantial foundation than the changing discretion of men.
Should carpenters, engineers, lawyers, want protection for such varied purposes, or for any one purpose, on what would they depend? Upon their right to vote; and this right to vote would often cause their needs to be anticipate, and their requests granted even before spoken. They would never trust their own protection to those whose interests were different and possibly antagonistic. They would prefer the ballot to protect themselves.
The thousands of illiterate and degraded, who are seen crowding about the judges, seeking naturalization, are they anxious whether the party of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln wins? Do they worry about the gold standard, or single tax? Are they naturalized for the purpose of saving the nation? They seek this honor because they want the nation to save them from ignorance, poverty, misery. They want to protect themselves by the governmental weapon of protection — the ballot.
A king, a leisure class cannot or will not plan for them the best government. The is the governmental question of the ages, and in this country it has been decided that no man should rule another. One class cannot, will not legislate better for all than all for all. So men alone cannot legislate better for women and men than can men and women together for men and women both.
Women need the ballot to protect themselves and all that they hold dear.
Source: Woman’s Journal, February 24, 1900, pp. 58-59.