Law-Abiding, Tax-Paying Woman
January 1880 — Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington DC
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee: It is scarcely necessary to recite that there is not an effect without a cause. Therefore it would be well for the statesmen of this nation to ask themselves the question, What has brought the women from all parts of this nation to the capital at this time; the wives and mothers, and sisters; the home-loving, law-abiding women? What has been the strong motive that has taken us away from the quiet and comfort of our own homes and brought us before you to-day? As an answer partly to that question, I will read an extract from a speech made by one of Indiana’s statesmen, and probably if I tell you his name his sentiments, may have some weight with you. He found out by experience and gave us the benefit of his experience, and it is what we are rapidly learning:
“You can go to meetings; you can vote resolutions; you can attend great demonstrations on the street; but, after all, the only occasion where the American citizen expresses his acts, his opinion, and his power is at the ballot-box; and that little ballot that he drops in there is the written sentiment of the times, and it is the power that he has as a citizen of this great Republic.”
That is the reason why we are here; that is the reason why we want to vote. We are not seditious women, clamoring for any peculiar rights, but we are patient women. It is not the woman question that brings us before you to-day; it is the human question underlying this movement. We love and appreciate our country; we its institutions. We realize that we owe great obligations to the men of this nation for what they have done. We realize that to their strength we owe the subjugation of all the material forces of the universe which gives us comfort and luxury in our homes. We realize that to their brains we owe the machinery that gives us leisure for intellectual culture and achievement. We realize that it is to their education we owe the opening of our colleges and the establishment of our public schools, which give us these great and glorious privileges.
This movement is the legitimate result of this development, of this enlightenment, and of the suffering that woman has undergone in the ages past. We find ourselves hedged in at every effort we make as mothers for the amelioration of society, as philanthropists, as Christians.
A short time ago I went before the legislature of Indiana with a petition signed by 25,000 women, the best women in the State. I appeal to the memory of Judge McDonald to substantiate the truth of what I say. Judge McDonald knows that I am a home-loving, law-abiding, tax-paying woman of Indiana, and have been for fifty years. When I went before our legislature and found that one hundred of the vilest men in our State, merely by the possession of the ballot, had more influence with the law-makers of our land than the wives and mothers of the nation, it was a revelation that was perfectly startling.
You must admit that in popular government the ballot is the most potent means of all moral and social reforms. As members of society, as those who are deeply interested in the promotion of good morals, of virtue, and of the proper protection of men from the consequences of their own vices, and of the protection of women, too, we are deeply interested in all the social problems with which you have grappled so long unsuccessfully. We do not intend to depreciate your efforts, but you have attempted to do an impossible thing. You have attempted to represent the whole by one-half; and we come to you to-day for a recognition of the fact that humanity is not a unit; that it is a unity; and because we are one-half that got to make up that grand unity we come before you to-day and ask you to recognize our rights as citizens of this Republic.
We know that many of us lay ourselves liable to contumely and ridicule. We have to meet sneers; but we are determined that in the defense of right we will ignore everything but what we feel to be our duty.
We do not come here as agitators, or aimless, dissatisfied, unhappy women by any means; but we come as human beings, recognizing our responsibility to God for the advantages that have come to us in the development of the ages. We wish to discharge that responsibility faithfully, effectually, and conscientiously, and we cannot do it under our form of government, hedged in as we are by the lack of a power which is such a mighty engine in our form of government for every means of work.
I say to you, then, we come as one-half of the great whole. There is an essential difference in the sexes. Mr. Parkman labored very hard to prove what no one would deny, that there is an essential difference in the sexes, and it is because of that very differentiation, the union of which in homes, the recognition of which in society, brings the greatest happiness, the recognition of which in the church brings the greatest power and influence for good, and the recognition of which in the Government would enable us finally, as near as it is possible for humanity, to perfect our form of government. Probably we can never have a perfect form of government, but the nearer we approximate to the divine the nearer will we attain to perfection; and the divine government recognizes neither caste, class, sex, nor nationality. The nearer we approach to that divine ideal the nearer we will come to realizing our hopes of finally securing at least the most perfect form of human government that it is possible for us to secure.
I do not wish to trespass upon your time, but I have felt that this movement is not understood by a great majority of people. They think that we are unhappy, that we are dissatisfied, that we are restive. That is not the case. When we look over the statistics of our State and find that 60 percent of all the crime is the result of drunkenness; when we find that 60 percent of the orphan children that fill our pauper homes are the children of drunken parents; when we find that after a certain age the daughters of those fathers who were made paupers and drunkards by the approbation and sanction and under the seal of the Government, go to supply our houses of prostitutions, and when we find that the sons of these fathers go to fill up our jails and our penitentiaries, and that the sober, law-abiding men, the pains-taking, economical, and many of them widowed wives of this nation have to pay taxes and bear the expenses incurred by such legislation, do you wonder, gentlemen, that we at least want to try our hand and see what we can do? We may not be able to bring about that Utopian form of government which we all desire, but we can at least make an effort. Under our form of government the ballot is our right; it is just and proper. When you debate about the expediency of any matter you have no right to say that it is inexpedient to do right. Do right and leave the result to God. You will have to decide between one of two things: either you have no claim under our form of Constitution for the privileges which you enjoy, or you will have to say that we are neither citizens nor persons.
Realizing this fact, and the deep interest that we take in the successful issue of this experiment that humanity is making for self-government, and realizing the fact that the ballot never can be given to us under more favorable circumstances, and believing that here on this continent is to be wrought out the great problem of man’s ability to govern himself — and when I say man I use the word in the generic sense — that humanity here is to work out the great problems of self-government and development, and recognizing, as I said a few minutes ago, that we are one-half of the great whole, we feel that we ought to be heard when we come before you and make the plea that we make to-day.
Source: U.S. Congress, Senate, Judiciary Committee, Appendix to the Report on Suffrage, 49th Congress., 1st Session, S. Rest. pp. 21-22.
Also printed in: Wallace, Zerelda G., “I am a Home-Loving, Law-Abiding, Tax-Paying Woman..” in One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage, ed. Hyman, Harold M. (New York: J.B. Lippincott Company), pp. 96-99.