The Fitness of Women to Become Citizens
from the Standpoint of
Education and Mental Development
February 15, 1898 — Congressional Hearings, Marble Room, US Senate Committee, Washington DC
From the close of the Revolution, we find all the distinguished American patriots expressing the conviction that a self-governing people must be an educated people. Hancock, Jay, Franklin, Morris, Paine, Quincy Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, all urge the same argument in support of education. It is no longer to produce an educated ministry, but to insure educated citizens, that schools are maintained and colleges multiplied . . . .
In this year of 1897-98 not less than 20,000,000 pupils and students of all ages, from the toddlers in the kindergartens to the full-grown candidates for post-graduate honors, are registered in the schools, academies, colleges and universities of the United States. The average length of time which girls spend in school exceeds by nearly three years the average length of time which boys stay there; while the number of girls graduating from high-school courses, those which include United States history and civil government, is almost double the number of boys. Thus, at the present time, largely more than one-half of the moneys spent by the governments, local and national, in support of free schools, is used in the education of girls. By what authority does the Government tax its citizens to support schools for the education of millions of women to whom, after they have received the education declared necessary to citizenship, this is denied?
Is it urged that the Government gets its return upon its investment in the education of women through the increased intelligence with which women rear their children, manage their homes and conduct the larger social affairs outside the boundary of their home life? I have no disposition to diminish the Government’s recognition of such return, but I wish to remind you that no one has ever justified the maintenance of public schools, and an enforced attendance upon them, on the theory that the Government has a right to compel men to be agreeable husbands and wise fathers, or that it is responsible for teaching men how to conduct their own business with discretion and judgment. Quite in another tone is it urged that the schools are the fountains of the nation’s liberties and that a government whose policy is decided by a majority of the votes cast by its men is not safe in the hands of uneducated voters. . . .
It is the political life of our nation which stands in the sorest need; yet this is the only department of our national life which rejects the aid of women.
If intelligence is vital to good citizenship in a republic, it would seem that, to justify the exclusion of the present generation of American women, whose intelligence is bought at so high a price and at the expense of the whole people, there must be some proof that they have qualities which so vitiate it as to render it unserviceable. Such proof has never yet been presented.
At the present moment the education and the intellectual culture[Pg 308] of American women has reached a plane where its further development is a menace, unless it is to be accompanied by the direct responsibility of its possessors — a responsibility which in a republic can be felt only by those who participate directly in the election of public officers and in the shaping of public policies.
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol IX, pp. 307-308.