Testimony in Congress
February 14, 1912 — Committee on the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Dr. WALKER. My address is 602 Fifth Street NW.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will be very glad to hear you, Doctor, on the subject that you asked a hearing for the other day, and that is on the proposed amendment to the Constitution providing in some sort for woman suffrage.
Dr. WALKER. The proposed amendment is as follows
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the Unit and States or by any State thereof on account of sex.
Sec. 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article.
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, in the first place I hold that Congress has no jurisdiction in this matter. In the next place I am going to show how women have always had equal rights with men, not only since, but before we had the Constitution of the United States.
[The chairman invited the ladies present to take seats on the bench beside the committee.]
Dr. WALKER. Mr. Chairman, that is chivalry, that is gallantry; but my coming before you is not. I get my rights from the Constitution of the United States, and I am very thankful that this committee has allowed me to speak sooner than they designated, on account of my being a business woman and having engagements, so that I could not be here next month at the time stated.
Heretofore before I wrote the Crowning Constitutional Argument it was supposed in Congress and in the States that it was merely a matter of chivalry and gallantry for women to be heard, but when I wrote the Crowning Constitutional Argument I dug out the fact that it was the right of every citizen to petition.
Before our Constitution was framed, in New Jersey — I do not know whether or not there are any New Jersey representatives here, but I hope there are — New Jersey made considerable trouble. She was a seaboard State and she could invite or allow foreign nations to come to her shore, and the United States Government was so small at that time that they had not ships enough to cover the whole coast, and therefore the framers and adopters of the Constitution of the United States kept friends with New Jersey.
It may not be known to everybody, but it is a fact that when this was a colonial form of government the women in New Jersey voted, and so they did in Maryland. And it was their established right. After the Constitution of the United States was adopted they continued to vote unmolested until 1844.
Then in New Jersey — I am not going to tell you the law because it is not fit to tell — they wanted to pass an act that they knew the women would never elect them to the legislature again, if they did pass it. And they passed it, and they turned around and passed an act that the women should not vote any more. Very well — they did not understand their rights fully or they would nave come up to the Supreme Court of the United States and had their rights restored.
In Maryland there was a woman named Margaret Brent. She was a relative of Lord Baltimore, and in her voting she contended that as the men had more than one vote according to the amount of their holdings in slaves and other property — I do not know just what the amount was — that therefore she ought to have more than one vote, and her right to one vote was established. You lawyers all see this. In considering the matter they decided that she could not have but one vote, because she did not have holdings enough to entitle her to more.
As you know, the slaveholders had several votes, according to their holdings. If our forefathers in their lifetime, those that framed the Constitution, and those that lived for years to help carry on this Government, had not intended this to be a republican form of government, instead of a half-republican form with women left out, they would have arisen and explained and ousted the women who were voting. They did no such thing. They voted on questions just the same as the men. If the other States had understood this matter, or if the women had been at liberty from their domestic matters so that they could have considered the question, there never would have been any trouble whatever in regard to women suffrage. But they did not, and when they did not fully understand their rights, and did not know how to right the wrongs, of being prevented from the exercise of the ballot in New Jersey the whole thing stopped all over the country.
I am glad I have constitutional lawyers to talk to, because when they understand this question fully, there will be no more trouble. I want to tell you that I am here, not as a backwoods woman, who does not know anything about law, because what I tell you, you will see is constitutional law, and the reason that I understand this is because, after the war closed — and I had been the most prominent woman physician in the country, anything I asked was granted — I came up to the United States Senate and asked Senator Harris, from my State, as he was professor in Columbian Law College here, to allow me to attend some of the lectures, and I was allowed to attend them all without paying any fee, and so I was the opener of the door for women in the law department. Not that I desired to be a lawyer — a third or fourth rate lawyer, when I was at the head of the medical profession for women. But I felt my littleness, I felt that there was something that I did not understand, and I did not know what it was, and so I wanted to go to a law college to find out. As I went there it gave me a method of thought, and then I studied and read the Constitution of the United States as no other woman had cared to do, and I studied out this argument and I found that the Constitution guarantees to every State a republican form of government, not a half republican form. And, as I have stated to you here, it was an established fact that woman was equal with man in regard to the franchise, and that it was by trickery that they were ousted in New Jersey.
I can not tell you about the Maryland matter, because I have not had time to study up everything, but just that one suit of Margaret Brent and that decision in Maryland, the committee will see, established the right of woman suffrage.
You all know that I was personally acquainted with Chief Justice Chase and with Senator Sumner, and when I had studied out this argument I met Senator Sumner in his library. When I came in he asked me to be seated, and we were both seated. I gave him the Crowning Constitutional Argument, and then as he was silent I arose to go, thinking that the interview as long as it pleased him had ended. But he bade me sit down. He arose. He could not say what he had to say in the sitting posture. He said, ”Dr. Walker, I am astonished at your coming to me with such an argument.” I began to wilt. I said, “Why are you astonished; is it not true?” He said, “It is true, and no jurist ever saw the Constitution in its true light in regard to women, and a woman’s brain has seen it.” And with a good deal of enthusiasm he said, ”You, Dr. Walker, have opened the door through which all women will yet walk and vote.” In that same hour I went to Chief Justice Chase without letting him know that I had seen Senator Sumner, and he said almost precisely the same thing.
You may wonder why as long ago as that that women came up here from the East and the West and the North and the South to ask such an absurd and silly thing as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Now I am going to tell you that I labored among the United States Senators and among the Members on this question after I had discovered this final argument for women, and for several years I had a very brief statement offered in both Houses regarding the rights of woman, and in talking with the Members and Senators, they said to me, “It is all true, but we are not going to acknowledge it now.” Now, look at it. If you gentlemen had been in that Congress, you would have acknowledged it. There was a lot of good in those men, but it came so suddenly. I tell you it was a good deal like a gentleman proposing marriage to a lady, and she will say, “It is so sudden; I can not answer now.”
There were some of the Members who came from the far West who had not had all the advantages that some of the rest of them had had, and I said to them, when they said, “Well, according to the Constitution no matter what you say we can not take in the facts,” and I said to them, “Study the Constitution. Have you a copy of it?” They said, “No.” And I said, “Have you ever read it?” They said, “No.” Then I went to the Members of Congress and said, “You should have published in the Government Printing Office a copy of the United States Constitution and give it to every Member.” You see I found by the Constitution of the United States that that had been done. I think it was when the Congress met in Philadelphia, but I do not remember exactly. Thereafter the Constitution of the United States was published and given to every Member, when they found there was a precedent for it, and every Member had a copy of the Constitution of the United States.
The CHAIRMAN. Would it interrupt you if I asked you a question right there? Do I understand that your Crowning Constitutional Argument is based upon the proposition that the Constitution of the United States guarantees to every State a republican form of government, and that as a corollary to that proposition no State has a republican form of government which denies suffrage to women? Is that your position?
Dr. WALKER. That is the point, and here is another point in the Constitution of the United States. Any law that a State passes that is in conflict with the Constitution of the United States is null and void. And so in every State where there is not woman suffrage, so far as I know, there is nothing legal to debar woman from exercising her rights.
I was the first woman who went to the polls to attempt to vote after the New Jersey women were stopped, and the inspectors put their hands over the ballot box. I demanded my rights, and I went and attempted for several years to exercise ray rights, with the United States Constitution in hand, and women in different States went for a while to attempt to vote, and it was found that they were barred everywhere, because the word “male” was in State constitutions, and later having registry law. I have tried to be registered. I went to the court in Oswego and asked the court to put an injunction on the officers of the registry who prevented me from registering, and he would not do it. He did not understand this crowning constitutional argument, and I had not had time to explain it to him. That one thing of making it legal according to the Constitution of the United States, to debar any of the citizens from the rights that other citizens enjoyed, is what I complained of, and I will tell you what I have had offered in the Legislature of New York. We do not want any amendment to the Constitution. We do not want any such sort of trash as that — not of the United States or of the States.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you think, Doctor, that the States have the power to confer suffrage upon women now without any amendment to the Constitution of the United States?
Dr. WALKER. Not the power to confer suffrage, because it is already conferred by the Constitution of the United States, but they have the power.
The CHAIRMAN. You misunderstood my question. The States have the power to confer suffrage upon women if they want to do it, because the Constitution of the United States does not interdict it.
Dr. WALKER. Yes. I use a little different term than “confer.”
Mr. NORRIS. Your position is that the States do not have the power to prohibit?
Dr. WALKER. That is it.
Mr. NORRIS. Do you think they have the right now without any further action, though it has not been enforced?
Dr. WALKER. Certainly.
The CHAIRMAN. Your position is that they can do it now, that they can do it without an amendment to the Federal Constitution to confer suffrage upon women; that they can do it as California has done recently?
Dr. WALKER. See here, Mr. Chairman, so far as conferring is concerned, if I lay my portmanteau down somewhere, you do not confer a favor upon me by allowing me to go and take up my portmanteau. There is the point. The States do not confer a favor. They simply remove the obstacles and then the women take up the favors that they have always had.
The CHAIRMAN. You say the States then have the power to remove the obstacle?
Dr. WALKER. Certainly. You have my point now.
Let me tell you, here is one experience I have had with the Legislature of the State of New York. While there were carloads of women who came down to Albany to have an “amendment to the constitution of the State,” it did not weigh with those members. They heard them because they had a right to be heard. But here was my bill, and the chairman of the committee said to me that New York State would eventually pass this declaration of legislative intent, which is as follows:
Any law of the State which in terms or otherwise discriminates against women or denies them any privileges enjoyed by men is hereby declared to be in conflict with the Constitution of the United States, and shall hereafter be construed as conferring equal privileges, notwithstanding the terms of such law or any construction heretofore placed upon it by the courts of this State.
This has been reintroduced and is now before the New York Legislature.
Now, gentlemen, you can see just where we are all over this country. Instead of your valuable time being taken up by having women come here year after year, and, like Gen. Santa Anna, “they do not know when they are whipped,” because they do not understand the Crowning Constitutional Argument.
I understand about the hard duties of the Members of Congress of the United States, and one reason — it is not the only reason why I am before you — is that I have a sympathy for you all, that have been bored to death with matters that have no connection whatever.
The CHAIRMAN. Lest my silence may be an admission that your statement is correct, I beg to dissent. Women have been here about every two years since I have been on this committee, some 12 or 14 years, and they have never bored the committee. In fact, they have been very edifying in their talks and we are always glad to have them come. I say that because I do not want to be put in the attitude of acquiescing in the broad statement that any ladies heretofore have or ever will bore this committee by anything they may have to say to them.
Dr. WALKER. That is chivalry. It is nevertheless a wrong to Congress to come here to ask for laws which already exist, and it would be an unconstitutional matter for Congress or any State to legislate for existing law.
The reason that all the women in this country that have desired suffrage have not had it long ago was because of the graft of some women. They saw very clearly the truths of the Crowning Constitutional Argument all these years. They have had said argument in full, and know it, and I hope every member of this committee will read what I wrote and gave to them of the tricks to thwart the dissemination of the argument. I kept still about it for a great many years because I did not want to injure the cause or injure women; but the time came when it was important that the men should have an explanation, and if it had not been for the graft, the getting of money out of wealthy women, and the getting of money out of poor women who gave it to them from their savings to bring about a “constitutional amendment,” and to rush over to Europe and back again — a number of them have been over several times — graft has been the very reason they did not wish this Crowning Constitutional Argument to be known, because they would lose their graft. There are some such women in New York City and up in Massachusetts. We have found that women are not all perfection. Rev. Anna Shaw I told personally that if she did not stop that amendment trash and come out and let the people understand about the Crowning Constitutional Argument the day was coming when the women would accuse her of deception, just the same as they accused a few women who are dead of doing that same thing.
It is lamentable that there should be anything of this kind, and by my silence I have shown that I did not want to injure women. I feared that I might injure the cause by stating the truth years ago. But you can see from the time that has elapsed since the death of Senator Sumner and Chief Justice Chase, as it was in their lifetime, how long I have suffered, and how long through me the women in the country have suffered, which I deplore.
Before that time, before I wrote that argument, there was not a jurist, there was not a Member of Congress, there was not anybody who believed that women had equal rights with man according to the Constitution of the United States. And those six States in the Union that have this right accorded it because I wrote that crowing constitutional argument and showed that women were equal with men before the law according to that Constitution. Although they have taken various methods to right that wrong, instead of doing it by this New York method that I studied out, they have got there, and I am very glad they have, and a million women in the next presidential election are going to vote.
I am rejoiced to think that after all these years men are coming to understand that women should be side by side with them in all the relations of life; to make life better, and grander, and nobler.
I have here a pledge for the women in different parts of the country to take up, and that is to declare their rights and to get signers to a petition that they will go to the polls and attempt to vote. The pledge is as follows:
*We, the undersigned, believing that the Crowning Constitutional Argument, written by Dr. Mary E. Walker (and made available in six States), “has opened the door through which all women will yet walk and vote,” as stated by the late Senator Sumner, and the late Chief Justice Chase, shall commence the exercise of right to the ballot, the same as men, on next election day, after having registered in States having registry requirements, compelling by court law a right to register.”
The Constitution of the United States declares all acts of States “null and void” if in “conflict with said Constitution,” and Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado, Washington, and California, seeing that woman suffrage was not in “conflict,” deemed some law essential to protect women in the same rights that men enjoyed, and proceeded in accordance therewith; but the time has come when women need no laws to enforce rights of suffrage, any more than men clergymen needed the same when they commenced to exercise their franchise, after so in any years of deprivation, which they did not see was their right until our fraternal war.
Now comes not ‘the gallantry and the chivalry of the men, but the knowledge of the men that it is woman’s right, and I predict here and now that in a number of the States when the men understand this they will not wait for the legislature to remove those wicked barriers, but they will stand back, and the women will walk up and exercise their rights.
For the want of understanding of their rights the women are where they are to-day, and I desired above all things to make this Crowning Constitutional Argument before you gentlemen, so that there could be copies of it printed and distributed among the women all over the country, so that they would understand what their rights are.
The CHAIRMAN. Speaking to the resolution that you referred to in the opening of your remarks, what would you recommend to the committee that it do with that resolution?
Dr. WALKER. I would recommend that the committee say that Congress not only has no jurisdiction, but that the Congress of the United States does not legislate to give rights where rights already exist.
The CHAIRMAN. That is what you call your Crowning Constitutional Argument?
Dr. WALKER. Yes; because there have been a good many arguments made on woman suffrage, but none have been so based on the Constitution of the United States that those who understood the Constitution, the constitutional lawyers, could grasp it, because there was not anything to grasp. When they put forth their hands to grapple with those arguments they found there was no argument there. Now, gentlemen, you see that when such men as Charles Sumner and Chief Justice Chase said what they did in regard to this matter that it is no wonder — where is the gentleman from California, who introduced this resolution?
The CHAIRMAN. Judge Raker, of California, introduced this resolution. He is not present.
Dr. WALKER. I desired to say something personally to him, that he need not feel that I am oppressing or abusing him personally for offering this, because not a jurist nor anyone in these United States up to the time of that argument —
The CHAIRMAN. I am quite sure, Doctor, that Judge Raker will not regard it as a personal criticism, however severely you may criticize that proposition.
Dr. WALKER. I do not intend it as a criticism, but when I say that there was no one in this whole country, and, as Senator Sumner said, ”no jurist had seen the Constitution in its true light,” it is not to be expected that gentlemen from different parts of the country who have not heard this Argument would be informed regarding the absurdity of offering such a resolution.
The CHAIRMAN. So that you think some men are ignorant as well as some women?
Dr. WALKER. Certainly.
The CHAIRMAN. No doubt you are correct.
Dr. WALKER. But more women are ignorant because they have not had the facilities to understand all things that men have. It is not because they are not capable of understanding, and it is not because these men are not capable of understanding, but simply that they have not had the opportunities. All these bills look so absurd to me. We might just as well ask the Congress of the United States to grant women the right to wear gum shoes, and what is amusing (and I want this forever stopped), one of the papers in the city of Washington, and the New York Herald, I am informed, stated under a picture of mine that the “Congress of the United States had granted me the right to wear men’s clothes.”
Mr. WEBB. Have you ever tried to enforce the right you speak of, the right to vote, through the courts?
Dr. WALKER. I would have done it years ago, but I was not financially able. I have never been given a dime in the interest of women’s franchise.
Mr. WEBB. You know that there is an old saying in equity that wherever there is a right there is a remedy.
Dr. WALKER. Certainly.
Mr. WEBB. You say you have a right under the Constitution of the United States to vote, and if you have it seems to me that you would have some right through the courts to enforce that right.
Dr. WALKER. There is, to commence in the courts of the States, and if there is a failure there, to go up to the Supreme Court of the United States. I have always been doing everything for other people, and I have never been financially able to do that which I should have done if I had been able.
The CHAIRMAN. Before you begin proceedings of that kind I would suggest to you to read several decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on this matter of suffrage made in recent years. One of the cases is Williams v. The State of Mississippi, and there are several more cases following that. That will perhaps give you some new ideas on this question of suffrage.
Dr. WALKER. The Supreme Bench had not then read the Crowning Constitutional Argument. I thank you. I shall be very pleased to read them, but there can no new ideas be given that will do away with what I state in this Argument. It can not be done. Truths are immortal, and all of the quibbles can not do away with truths.
The CHAIRMAN. You think, then, that there can not be any republican form of government in a State where woman is denied the privilege of voting?
Dr. WALKER. Certainly, according to the Constitution of the United States, and it seems that our forefathers, foreseeing that there might be some wrong, made this clause that no law that was in conflict with the United States Constitution, if passed, would be other than null and void in the States.
I am very much gratified to find that the gentlemen here are so interested in the matter and, of course, as constitutional lawyers you can not help seeing the right. It does not matter what decisions have been made by the Supreme Court of the United States. You know once in awhile they will make a decision and then they will reverse it. But here is something that the Supreme Court of the United States can never reverse, because it is so plain, and I have been honored by the law department in Albany — the seniors have asked me to give my Crowning Constitutional Argument to them and the juniors, and I have done so, and you can not find a student there who does not believe in the Crowning Constitutional Argument. I do hope that you gentlemen, when this record is published, will say something that will forever stop the wrongs that are practiced upon women the country over by getting them to come up here and ask for an amendment, when you have no jurisdiction, and when also, according to the Constitution of the United States, you can not be legislating on laws that do not exist. I am very much obliged to you, gentlemen, for postponing other matters and giving me an opportunity to be heard by you, and I feel that the obligation is also on your part that I have been able to give you these facts, so that you will think upon this subject in its true light.
The CHAIRMAN. Your time has expired and the committee has another engagement at this hour, 11 o’clock, and on behalf of the committee I desire to thank you for what you have said to us. We have heard you with a great deal of pleasure.
Dr. WALKER. That is very good news.
The CHAIRMAN. We are obliged to you for what you have said, and later along we will hear some other ladies who may differ from you in your opinion in respect to this subject. I believe we have set down the 13th of March as the day for a hearing for some other ladies, Mrs. Raker and Mrs. Kent, at their instance.
Dr. WALKER. However they differ on some minor points, they can not differ upon the Constitution of the United States. That stands forever.
Source: Woman Suffrage, No. 1: Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Sixty-Second Congress, Second Session, Statement of Dr. Mary E. Walker. February 14, 1912 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1912), pp. 6-14.