Woman in the Family,
the Town, and the State
November 16, 1890 — The Committee for the Propaganda of Women’s Rights, Bologna, Italy
In theory the political and administrative rights of woman were recognized in all civilized countries. Woman was considered to be a citizen and tax-payer in the town, the province and the State; she was given legal rights and was subject to legal sanctions. No lawyer could ever have denied the theoretical validity of such rights. When, however, the moment came to put into practice these rights, those same men who at first had conceded everything then began to deny everything, allowing themselves to be swayed by strong prejudices. . .
We must also admit it, gentlemen: although civilization necessarily beings with it a continual transformation of ideas and of things, it seems that here each innovation comes as an absurdity, nor does the work of reflection and experiment that we may apply to it make the innovation appear to be subsequently possible, reasonable, natural and therefore necessary.
This is also what has happened in the debate about giving women voting rights: so I am inviting you to think with me about something that may help you get use to this innovation, although without upsetting the natural balance of things.
The objections raised against votes for women are these:
1. They must take care of their families;
2. Their distaste for business and public life in general;
3. Their lack of political intelligence;
4. Their ignorance of social issues;
5. The influence of fathers, husbands, children and lovers, which would multiply the votes for one party.
6. The religious influence, which would make women tend to vote conservatively;
7. The inappropriate nature of this innovation.
In the Western world women fill the streets and squares, they public books and newspapers, they do business, they study in high schools and in universities; if these tings do not distract them from the care of their families, voting will distract them even less. So the first objections have no concrete validity . . .
What level of intelligence will be needed in order to vote?
There are thousands and thousands of women in charge of the education of the population. There is a myriad of single women or widows. Adults under the law, who get on with their affairs and live perfectly independently, without waste, organizing without mistakes, speculating without stupidity, honouring their responsibilities and owning nothing to anybody.
There are thousands who, through their work, prudence and common sense, have built up wealth.
There are others who have saved husbands and children from economic disaster and recovered homes and businesses which repeatedly failed . . . .
What have democratic laws done from us? They have taken away our administrative vote and made us pay taxes. If married, they have taken away from us the freedom to manager our property, they have reconfirmed the exclusive right of marital authority, they have reconfirmed all our presumed incapability, they have excluded us from working in society, they have deprived us of our vote and representation, they have put us, by virtue of our intellectual and moral deficiency, together with criminals, the insane and the demented.
I am convinced that the legislator who contrived the legal status of women must have been subject to insanity. Why then do you laugh when we talk about our impossible conditions? Why do you say that our code of laws has made some progress and that it was not possible to do more? Recognise our administrative and political voting rights. Don’t you have time, or the will, to deal with us? Well, don’t bother. Just recognise our right to vote, that’s all. . .
Your mothers, your wives and daughters, educated and intelligent, live as pariahs and servants, with no voice or representation, with no other role outside of the family, the town and the State than that of contributing, in person and with their own money, and obeying.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that I extend a formal invitation to this democracy and those who govern, to take upon themselves the commitment of honour to present a bill for women’s right to vote and to sustain it with the maximum possible support. I hope one day not too far away to thank you on behalf of all women.
Translation by Antonella Cagnolati.
Source: “La donna nella famiglia, nella città e nellos Stato.” Discorso detto a Bologna il giorno 16 novembre 1890.” Bologna, Tip. Lit. A. Pongetti, 1891, 32.