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Garments of Power

Longer ago than I shall tell, my father returned one night to the far off Wisconsin home where I was reared, and, sitting by my mother’s chair, with a child’s attentive ear I listened to their words. He told us of the news that day had brought about Neal Dow, and the great fight for Prohibition down in Maine, and then he said: “I wonder if poor, rum-cursed Wisconsin will ever get a law like that!” And mother rocked awhile in silence, in the dear old chair I love, and then she gently said: ” Yes, Josiah, there’ll be such a law all over the land some day, when women vote.” My father had never heard her say as much before. He was a great conservative; so he looked tremendously astonished, and replied in his keen, sarcastic voice: “And pray, how will you arrange it so that women shall vote?” Mother’s chair went to and fro a little faster for a minute, and then, looking not into his face, but into the flickering flames of the grate, she slowly answered: “Well, I say to you, as the Apostle Paul said to his jailor: ‘You have put us into prison, we being Romans, and you must come and take us out.’”

That was a seed-thought in a girl’s brain and heart. Years passed on, in which nothing more was said upon the dangerous theme. My brother grew to manhood, and soon after he was twenty-one years old he went with father to vote. Standing by the window, a girl of sixteen years, a girl of simple, homely fancies, not at all strong-minded, and altogether ignorant of the world, I looked out as they drove away, my father and brother, and as I looked I felt a strange ache in my heart, and tears sprang to my eyes. Turning to my sister Mary, who stood beside me, I saw that the dear little innocent seemed wonderfully sober, too. I said, “Don’t you wish that we could go with them when we are old enough? Don’t we love our country just as well as they do?” and her little frightened voice piped out: “Yes, of course we ought. Don’t I know that; but you mustn’t tell a soul — not mother, even; we should be called strong minded.”

In all the years since then, I have kept those things, and many others like them, and pondered them in my heart; but two years of struggle in this temperance reform have shown me, as they have ten thousand other women, so clearly and so impressively my duty, that I have passed the Rubicon of Silence, and am ready for any battle that shall be involved in this honest declaration of the faith that is within me. “Fight behind masked batteries a little longer,” whisper good friends and true. So I have been fighting hitherto; but it is a style of warfare altogether foreign to my temperament and mode of life. Reared on the prairies, I seemed pre-determined to join the cavalry force in this great spiritual war, and I must tilt a freelance henceforth on the splendid battlefield of this reform ; where the earth shall soon be shaken by the onset of contending hosts ; where legions of valiant soldiers are deploying ; where to the grand encounter marches to-day a great army, gentle of mien and mild of utterance, but with hearts for any fate; where there are trumpets and bugles calling strong souls onward to a victory which Heaven might envy, and,

“Where, behind the dim Unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.”

I thought that women ought to have the ballot as I paid the hard- earned taxes upon my mother’s cottage home—but I never said as much —somehow the motive did not command my heart. For my own sake, I had not courage; but I have for thy sake, dear native land, for thy necessity is as much greater than mine as thy transcendent hope is greater than the personal interest of thy humble child. For love of you, heart-broken wives, whose tremulous lips have blessed me; for love of you, sweet mothers, who in the cradle’s shadow kneel this night, beside your infant sons; and you, sorrowful little children, who listen at this hour, with faces strangely old, for him whose footsteps frighten you; for love of you have I thus spoken.

Ah, it is women who have given the costliest hostages to fortune. Out into the battle of life they have sent their best beloved, with fearful odds against them, with snares that men have legalized and set for them on every hand. Beyond the arms that held them long, their boys have gone forever. Oh! By the danger they have dared; by the hours of patient watching over beds where helpless children lay; by the incense of ten thousand prayers wafted from their gentle lips to Heaven, I charge you give them power to protect, along life’s treacherous highway, those whom they have so long loved. Let it no longer be that they must sit back among the shadows, hopelessly mourning over their strong staff broken, and their beautiful rod; but when the sons they love shall go forth to life’s battle, still let their mothers walk beside them, sweet and serious, and clad in the garments of power.



Source: Willard, Emma “Safeguards for Women,” Famous Orators of the World and Their Best Orations: Containing  the Lives of the Greatest Orators and their Best Orations from Earliest Times to Present Day, with an Account of Place and Time of Delivery of Each Oration and Explanatory Notes on Obscure Passages: Arranged in Eighteen Great Epochs Or Books, Ed. Charles Morris, (Philadelphia, John C. Winston Co.) 1902, pp. 346.