To the House Judiciary Committee
On The Rights of Women to Vote
c. January 1871 — Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee: —
In respectfully appearing before you, to solicit in concert with these ladies, your good offices, in securing to the women of the United States, and particularly, to the women of the District of Columbia, the right to vote — a right exerc[ized] by a portion of American women, at one period, in the hi[story] of this country, — am not vain enough to suppose, for [a] moment, that words of mine could add one iota of weight to the arguments from these learned and earnest women, nor that I could bring out material facts not heretofore used by them in one stage or another of this advocacy. But, as a colored woman, a resident of this District, a taxpayer of the same; — as one of a class equal in point of numbers to the male colored voters herein; claiming affiliation with two and a half millions of the same sex, in the country at-large, — included in the provisions of recent constitutional amendments, — and not leads, by virtue of a decision of the Supreme Court of this District a citizen, — my presence, at this time, and on an errand so important, may not I trust be without slight significance.
The crowning glory of American citizenship is that it may be shared equally by people of every nationality, complexion and sex, should they of foreign birth so desire; and in the inscrutable rulings of an All-wise providence, millions of citizens of every complexion, and embracing both sexes, are born upon the soil and claim the honor. I would be particularly clear upon this point. By the provisions of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States, — a logical sequence of which is the representation by colored men of time-honored commonwealths in both houses of Congress, — millions of colored women, to-day, share with colored men the responsibilities of freedom from chattel slavery. From the introduction of African slavery to its extinction, a period of more than two hundred years, they equally with fathers, brothers, [were] denied the right to vote. This fact of their investiture the privileges of free women of the same time and by the same amendments which disenthralled their kinsmen and conferred upon the latter the right of franchise, without so endowing themselves in one of the anomalies of a measure of legislation otherwise grand in conception and consequence beyond comparison. The colored women of this country though heretofore silent, in great measure upon this question of the right to vote by the women of the [sic], so long and ardently the cry of the noblest of the land, have neither been indifferent to their own just claims under the amendments, in common with colored men, nor to the demand for political recognition so justly made everywhere throughout the land.
Women everywhere throughout the land. The strength and glory of a free nation, is not so much in the size and equipment of its armies, as in the loyal hearts and willing hands of its men and women. And this fact has been illustrated in an eminent degree by well-known events in the history of the United States. To the women of the nation conjointly with the men, it is indebted for arduous and dangerous person[al] service, and generous expenditure of time, wealth and counsel, so indispensable to success in its hour of danger. The colored women though humble in sphere, and unendowed with worldly goods yet, led as by inspiration, — not only fed, and sheltered, and guided in safety the prisoner soldiers of the Union when escaping from the enemy, or the soldier who was compelled to risk life itself in the struggle to break the back-bone of rebellion, but gave their sons and brothers to the armies of the nation and their prayers to high Heaven for the success of the Right.
The surges of fratricidal war have passed we hope never to return; the premonitions of the future are peace and good will; these blessings, so greatly to be desired, can only be made permanent, in responsible government, — based as you affirm upon the consent to the governed, — by giving to both sexes practically the equal powers conferred in the provisions of the Constitution as amended. In the District of Columbia, the women in common with the women of the states and territories, feel keenly the discrimination against them in the retention of the word male in the organic act for the same, and as by reason of its retention, all the evils incident to partial legislation are endured by them, the sincere hope that the word male by be stricken out by Congress on your recommendation without delay. Taxed, and governed in other respects, without their consent, they respectfully demand, that the principles of the founders of the government may not be disregarded in their case; but, as there are laws by which they are tried, with penalties attached thereto, that they may be invested with the right to vote as do men, that thus as in all Republics indeed, they may in future be governed by their own consent.
Source: Mary Ann Shadd Cary Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.
Also published in: “We Must Be Up and Doing”: A Reader in Early African American Feminisms, ed. Teresa C. Zackodnik (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press), pp. 310-312.