Years ago, before I had had any experience in community work, like many other young people I believed that politics concerned itself with maters outside the realm and experience of women, and I accepted the conventional dictum that responsibility in political action and knowledge to guide the government were exclusively inherent in men. I very soon learned for myself that public affairs (political and governmental) were concerned with social matters, upon which women had experience and convictions. Later, I realized that man forms of social activity, affecting the welfare of children, the condition of the homes, employment, health matters, hospitals, infant mortality, etc., were to a large extent created, organized and administered by women, but that when these matters came under municipal or state control, women ceased to have any authority over them, or indeed had any share in their control, since the vote influenced the choice of the administrators, the methods of administration and the amount of the appropriations for carrying them out. Measures for social welfare, which Society agreed wee of paramount importance to the home makers of the nation, ceased altogether to be their affair, politically speaking, and the opinions of women received little or no attention.
An illustration of this: Two or three years ago; when tenement house legislation, which had been enacted through the influence of good people interested in housing reform, was endangered, a request came from those who were interested in the defeat of the bills for an expression of opinion from my neighborhood. I was definitely instructed to have only the men send their views. There was not a woman in the Settlement, among the residents or the club members, who did not comprehend the nature of the proposed legislation and the effect it might have upon their homes, and yet it was frankly stated that a petition from women would have no weight in Albany.
I believe that women have something to contribute to the government that men have not, as men have something to contribute that women have not; that their traditions and their experiences combined will make for a more perfect understanding of community needs. This is an expansion of the ideal family control. Women have been told that they can gain their wishes by influence, using their power over some man or men. Dignified women do not wish to be a part of an invisible form of government. They wish to speak directly and openly, and they consider this a more respectful recognition of their influence. They wish to take their share in the responsibility of society, and to give back what has been given to them.
Many women have worked faithfully for better conditions through philanthropic societies, through social settlements and in other ways, wielding their power in such measure and in such ways as have bene open to them They believe that they can do more, and they also believe that Society will be the gainer when the enormous numbers of women who now have no opportunity at all for expression are given this through the ballot. I remember that during the time of the [Governor Charles Evans] Hughes anti-gambling legislation, a young German woman in our neighborhood said that she wished the women had a vote, for then there would be no doubt of Hughes’ election and the will of the women would be heard as to the gambling laws.
In addition to what seems to be the advisability of completing and perfecting the government by making men and women share its responsibility, the inevitability of the extension of the suffrage makes objection seem futile. The whole force of evolution is behind it. Women are going into public life whether they wish to or not. They have gone into factories, into the professions, they are serving on public committees, they are proposing and even framing legislation. The movement is far greater than the demand for the ballot, and seems to be a force irresistible, one that cannot be swept back.
Source: The Lillian Wald Papers, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations,
Also: Lillian Wald: Progressive Activist, ed. Claire Coss (New York: The Feminist Press) 1989, pp. 74-76.