We Need the Vote
Autumn 1915 — Stump speech during the suffrage referendum campaign, Massachusetts
I have just come from New Jersey, where I canvassed the city of Newark for 10 weeks. I’ll tell you more about New Jersey later. I tried to explain to the men there, and I hop I will make it plan here that the women in all the campaign sites are merely asking for an opportunity to co-operate with their men. They have shared in play and work, and now they ask to share in government. We say that if we are different it is very necessary to have our point of view expressed and should have the ballot — and if we are not different — why then it is a safe proposition to entrust us with the ballot. We are making a plea for a balanced government, one where both men and women are hard and considered, where men and women interchange opinions, for the benefit of both.
They as us “Whey do you want to vote? Who wants to vote?” As an answer I class women in three classes, “Working women,” “home women,” and “tax paying women” and show that each class wants to vote and what is more important needs the vote. I have a few examples which I like to tell, showing that working women don’t always get fair play. In my own home state, New York, women work 12 hours a day in the canneries. The men of my State don’t work 12 hours at any industry according to law. Last Spring when our Legislature convened, a bill was introduced, backed by all the women of the State, limiting these women to 9 hours, barely human hours at that. Had you asked any of these women what the vote or politics meant to her, she would have answered immediately “Three hours a day.” Count it up, — for 10 years! How these men, sitting hundreds of miles away, never having stepped in a canner in all their lives, had the power to say whether these girls should work nine hours or twelve hours a day, and the girls and women were powerless.
Here is another examples of where women didn’t get fair play. In Washington the National Government was growing poor. They had to cut down expenses — and this is what they did. They told all the scrub women in Washington, who scrubbed the Federal buildings that their services wouldn’t be required for a certain week, and they saved the Government something like $18,000 or $20,000 and were proud of it. Now, scrub women have no savings, and this meant starvation and great deprivation to many.
In my own home city of New York, wealthy New York, we too were growing poor, and this is how we saved money in New York. New York is a very different city from perhaps any city in the world, with the exception of London. We have inhuman congestion there. Our East Side is ghastly and when I describe conditions there I know whereof I am speaking, as I have done settlement work in the district. Last Spring our comptroller announced to us that we would have no more playgrounds in the city of New York, unless women volunteered their services free of charge. So in the city of New York, just where we needed them most, we had no playgrounds. Mothers had extra work thrown upon them, girls had their jobs taken away from them, and kiddies, hundreds of them, had their play places taken from them. And one man in New York had power to control all this.
Now, I have given these three examples for a very specific reason. It was the Republican that voted 3 extra hours a day on the working girls in the New York canneries. It was the Democratic party that took the scrub women’s salaries away, and it was a Progressive party comptroller who took the playgrounds away. Each party stands responsible for one deal that wasn’t fair play to women. Now we proved that the men of these parties, all of them as a body, are not against us, President Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and so on — Men don’t know what their own parties are doing. They are not interested in the party’s principles. They marked the top of the ticket. Here in Massachusetts you are beyond that. In each of these cases if men had been concerned they would have voted against the man who failed to stand by them. These women, had they had the power, would have done the same thing. Don’t you see, men, that the people who make our laws, who tell us how long to work, under what conditions we should work, and so on, are Legislators, State Legislators, Congressmen, Senators, all depending on votes for their job. If you have a vote to show, you count; otherwise you don’t. As self-respecting women we want a count in this great Government, of which we are a part.
We need the vote to protect our homes and children. Politics runs the homes.
Here in Massachusetts the Boston Tea Party expressed the revolt against “taxation without representation.” Women pay taxes. Fifty percent of the stock owners of the Pennsylvania Railroad are women. Women own stock in every corporation in the country, and vote on it. Women pay on the income tax ($1,000. more than men, men paying beginning with $3,000. if they are bachelors and $4,000. If they are married. No distinction is made for women.) Women are brokers, expert accountants; they wish to have a voice in the management of their own money.
But there are always certain objections raised. “Men will protect women with chivalry.” The Washington parade in 1912, with all horrors was a shining example of chivalry. I marched in that parade. Just compare that parade with the Inaugural parade.
Men, who will you line up with on November 2nd? The women who are earnestly endeavoring for a better, more representative government, or the corruption and vice that openly stand opposed to women suffrage? Now men, we are simply asking you to believe in us, to give us a chance and an opportunity to co-operate with you. We are asking you to trust us as the men of the West have trusted their women. Prove your faith and confidence in the Massachusetts women, in your own women, and vote YES to November 2nd.
Source: Rebecca Hourwich Reyher Papers, Schlesinger Library, History of American Women, Box 127 Folder 20, Harvard University, Cambridge MA. Published with permission of the Schlesinger Library.