and Do a Woman’s Work
April 10, 1895 —Judiciary Committee, New York State Senate, Albany NY
We women who are opposed to the Extension of the Suffrage, have felt constrained to appear before this Committee because we believe the Legislative bodies to be under a misapprehension as to the attitute of the majority of our sex toward this, one of the most important social questions of the day.
Every extension of the Suffrage has been a subject of grave debate, but the general feeling of a fundamental similarity between men, has led to Universal Male Suffrage.
Now comes the question of the extension of the Suffrage to women, and we can no more call it a like question to those earlier ones, than we can call women like men. Equal they may be–different they certainly are. I shall very briefly touch upon the points which appeal most strongly to the body of women whom this committee represents.
The question of the right of Suffrage is disposed of by the fact that the State alone holds the power to extend the Suffrage, and she is only justified in extending it when her own best interest can be served thereby.
That the best interests of the State would be served by the extension of the Suffrage to women, we do not believe. Think for a moment of giving the voting power to a majority (we women are in the majority you know), unable to coerce a troublesome minority by physical power. A government unable to compel is no government at all–it is a mere travesty, a farce. We cannot be blind to the fact that civilization in the nature of things progresses by the force of the law, not by its moral suasion.
But civilization goes forward by two roads: one I have mentioned, the other is Philanthropy, and I use the word broadly. By it I cover educational, municipal and charitable work of all kinds, and it has a most important bearing on this question. The fact that women have no political prizes to gain, no offices in view, no constituencies to please, has made them of special value in all this wide field of work. Their ends are more quickly achieved since their singleness of purpose cannot be questioned. Let them be plunged into the arena of political strife and there will be no one left to carry on the work they now sustain so bravely.
There is a ridiculous side to this whole question, which is tacitly avoided in these public hearings, as are other more serious views of the subject, but brief as the time is I propose to touch upon both.
A very slight mention of the riduculous side will suffice. We women are not supposed to be humorous. I know, but even the most serious of us are obliged to smile when we ask ourselves who will do our work when we are doing the men’s!
The obvious reply to that is that all women will not want to go into political life if they have the ballot, any more than all men do, but all men may and can: it is a matter of choice. Legislation is for the majority, and the majority of women are mothers, whose health and strength must he given to the State, during their best years, only through the medium of those lives in whose preservation and upbringing lies the future of our country. It is these women–the great majority–whom we beg you to protect: the chivalry of men belongs to them. So sure are thousands of them that you will never place the burden of government upon their shoulders that it is difficult to persuade them that there is any danger of your mistaking the clamor of the suffragists for truth, or that their still small voice shoud be heard above the din.
It is true that last spring, in less than three weeks, without solicitation, 7,000 names, nearly half of which were those of self-supporting women, were collected and sent to the Constitutional Convention to protest against the amendment you are now considering, but I cannot give you an idea of how difficult it was for many women to gather sufficient courage even to put their names to a public paper. They confessed to a struggle before they could make up their minds to come forward. That may have been a foolish feeling–it is not for me to criticise–it is at least, one which most women understand. These women do not want publicity, they do not want to be mixed up in politics, they just want to be women and do a woman’s work, and they are the great majority of our sex, and they should be respected.
This question is often confounded with that of the higher education. Believe me they have nothing whatever to do with one another. The ballot in itself is not an educational force, as you men very well know, nor is it a wand with which to turn all vileness into purity. It is simply a part of the machinery of the State, a very cumbersome part, costing an enormous amount, but the only way we know of giving to a few representative men the power to legislate for all. The laws of the State have given women so much that any attempt to alter her position would, in the cause of justice, have to begin by taking away, not adding to her rights.
The gradual changes in the laws of this State during the last quarter of a century have taken away every cry of the Suffragists of that earlier time, and what women have asked, men have done time and time again.
Now in closing, I wish to be very serious. To many young persons, to many emotional persons, change is mistaken for progress. Thus in the train of the women so long identified with the demand for suffrage, who do not realize that the times have outgrown their cause, have followed many who, full of the unrestful spirit of the end of the century are hurrying along, eager only for something different, something more, forgetting the inexorable law which science has laid down: the law we know as the Specialization of Function. In every line of life we see this law ruling development. Where there is specialization there comes to be greater and greater perfection; nowhere is progress accompanied by a diffusion of force, but always by a concentration of effort in special directions. So, since the first development of sex, has specialization of the male and female types gone on: men have grown more manly, women more womanly. Are we alone of all nature to forcibly destroy the work of untold ages, and thrusting men and women together, demand that the work that each is beginning to be perfect in shall be indifferently done by both! And then, there are the assertions of greater virtue made for our sex without foundation. Again, in being equal we differ. Born as we are of man and woman, inheriting the mental and moral characteristics of both parents, we differ from our brothers only in so far as our physical limitations affect our organizations. Theirs are the robuster virtues, called to growth and strength by rough contact with the world. Theirs the word which serves for the bond; the responsibility which is the foundation of business life; the integrity on which justice rests; the broad mindedness, which gives each man his chance. And to balance all that, women have the spirit of self-sacrifice, the charity which forgives, the personal purity, all of which are essential to the existence of the home, and cause their sons to rise up and call them blessed.
I approacth this question of morality with natural hesitation. It and our physical disabilities are the points I spoke of earlier as being ignored when this question is seriously discussed, and yet unless considered this question cannot be properly dealt with.
Who does not realize the present disinclination for motherhood which possesses so many of our younger generation, and who can see it without alarm? It can be traced to this unrestful desire for life outside the home. When motherhood is spoken of with contempt, when a home-life is considered too dull to be endured; when the ambition of the intellectual life becomes so warped as to be dissatisfied with any outlet but that of public life– what is to become of the future?
Do what we may, say what we can, we cannot break down the barrier of sex which indicates the parting of the ways.
Build up the wall of the law about us, seeking and accepting our counsel meanwhile; protect the homes, which we women alone can make for you; open to us every door for our education and advancement, but do not put upon the shoulders of women the muskets they are too weak to carry, nor the burden of the government which was constituted to protect them; do not force them to undertake an undue share of the world’s work.
I leave this matter in your hands with confidence–I am a woman speaking for my silent sisters, appealing to you to leave us the liberty we might demand, begging you not to give your sanction to a retrogressive action, by breaking down the barrier experience has built between our sexes, but as you go on becoming nobler, finer men, carrying on the active part of the world’s work, to let us too progress, becoming every decade abler and more intellectual women, better and better fitted to help and counsel, but never your rivals, never partakers in the eager strife of public life.
Source: Mrs. Francis M. Scott, “First Legislative Address in Opposition to Woman Suffrage Delivered Before the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Senate, April 10, 1895,” (New York: New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, n.d.), 4 pp.