The Mind is the Standard
by Which Humanity Must be Gauged
April 12, 1892 — Dunedin City Hall, Dunedin, New Zealand
I submit that all thoughtful and intelligent women desire this right; and if a few thoughtless and frivolous women san they do not wish it, is that any reason why those who do want it should be deprived of it?
Women compose nearly one-half of the adult population, and they have to obey the laws the same as men, and should have a voice in the framing of the laws they are called upon to obey. Women have to pay taxes the same as men, and taxation without representation is tyranny and an utter violation of the spirit of freedom, so characteristic a spirit in the present age.
It is urged by the opponents of this righteous measure that women’s sphere is her home. I with all my heart believe that women’s highest and holiest duties lie first in her home — but from her home to the world. Let me ask, however, can all women be offered a home? No, I contend they cannot. Women are compelled to go into the battle of life to earn their daily bread. The laws of competition and the factory system compel women to leave their homes and face life’s battle, and I think women as wage-earners have a right to a voice in those laws that control this competition, and they cannot have a voice, or be properly represented, unless they have the ballot in their own hands.
It is again said that it will destroy the harmony of the domestic circle to introduce politics therein. Why should it be so? What is there in politics that this should be the case? If there is anything in politics that will have the effect of setting the wife against her husband, the sister against her sister, surely the same causes are at work to set the father against the son, and the brother against brother. Yet we do not hear of very serious strife arising because men related by the nearest ties of kinship differ in their political views. . . . Do wives and their husbands at present agree in their opinions upon everything outside of politics?
It has been said it will destroy woman’s influence in her home, but let me ask you, friends, does it destroy woman’s charms because she has mastered intricate subjects, and passed with honor examinations at the universities, and has attained the right to append to her name the letters B.A. or M.A.? Does that lessen her charms? Nay, I affirm it rather increases her attractions in the eyes of all good and true men.
. . . What is there about politics of a degrading nature? Are politics so bad that women would be demoralised by coming in contact with them? If so, then man is responsible for their condition — and perhaps the best argument to meet that objection would be to extend the franchise to women, and I will undertake to say that the political atmosphere will be purified . . . .
Then it is urged by our opponents that to grant the franchise to women would be to give a dual vote to some men. Thus, a man with a wife and two adult daughters will, according to our opponents, for all practical purposes, have four votes. That contention, however, is not correct. It assumes that the man has all the brains, while his wife and daughters have none. The supporters of the women’s franchise, however, contend that the franchise should be extend dot the man’s wife and daughters because they are gifted with sufficient intelligence to use it for the welfare of the race.
Again, it has been urged that because they cannot take part in active warfare or defend the country they shall not vote . . . . The contention is that because women are physically weaker than men, and unable to fight, they shall not vote. Assuming this to be so, logically the same argument must be applied to all weak and delicate men, and also to men after they have attained that age which unfits them for warfare . . . . Because men can fight they must rule! Women’s lives may be sacrificed as a result of rash men’s notions of national honor, or because of some trumpery commercial dispute; but they must suffer death, and often worse than death, because they cannot fight. Perhaps there would have been fewer fights had women’s calm counsels been listened to in the past . . . . But I deny that woman has no patriotism. History bristles with instances of her self-sacrificing devotion to her country and people. What of Joan of Arc, and the Florence Nightingales who have gone out to the battle field, and amid shot and shell have nursed the wounded and dying?
Another argument raised by our opponents is, they do to wish to be brought under what they very vulgarly der petticoat govt Well, I am astonished that Britons can be found in this the nineteenth century to raise such an objections Have they not been under petticoat government for the last fifty years and over? Has the British nation lost anything by Queen Victoria being at the head of affairs instead of a king in this the nineteenth century? . . . But were the autocratic powers she was possessed or abused, or, if abused, whether more so than in the case with, say, Charles I.? But if Governments are to be tested by the garments worn, I would honestly like to know what differenc there is between petticoat government and pantaloon government. I contend that the mind is the standard by which humanity must be gauged, not the garments worn.
Woman is denied the franchise because her intellect is said to be lower than man’s. Is this so? Do our girls in the primary schools not pass the standards as readily and at the same age as the boys? Is not the record on the sphere of higher education in proportion to their numbers quite as good as that of boys?
Source: Poverty Bay Herald, 20 April 1892.