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The Fitness of Women to Become Citizens
from the Standpoint of Moral Development

February 15, 1898 — 30th Annual Convention, National American Woman Suffrage Association, Washington, DC


Government is not now merely the coarse and clumsy instrument by which military and police forces are directed; it is the flexible, changing and delicately adjusted instrument of many and varied educative, charitable and supervisory functions, and the tendency to increase the functions of government is a growing one. Prof. Lester F. Ward says: “Government is becoming more and more the organ of the social consciousness and more and more the servant of the social will.” The truth of this is shown in the modern public school system; in the humane and educative care of dependent, defective and wayward children; in the increasingly discriminating and wise treatment of the insane, the pauper, the tramp and the poverty-bound; in the provisions for public parks, baths and amusement places; in the bureau of investigation and control and the appointment of officers of inspection to secure better sanitary and moral conditions; in the board of arbitration for the settlement of political and labor difficulties; and in the almost innumerable committees and bills, national, State and local, to secure higher social welfare for all classes, especially for the weaker and more ignorant. Government can never again shrink and harden into a mere mechanism of military and penal control.

It is, moreover, increasingly apparent that for these wider and more delicate functions a higher order of electorate, ethically as well as intellectually advanced, is necessary. Democracy can succeed only by securing for its public service, through the rule of the majority, the best leadership and administration the State affords. Only a wise electorate will know how to select such leadership, and only a highly moral one will authoritatively choose such . . . .

When the State took the place of family bonds and tribal relationships, and the social consciousness was born and began its long travel toward the doctrine of “equality of human rights” in government and the principle of human brotherhood in social organization, man, as the family and tribal organizer and ruler, of course took command of the march. It was inevitable, natural and beneficent so long as the State concerned itself with only the most external and mechanical of social interests. The instant, however, the State took upon itself any form of educative, charitable or personally helpful work, it entered the area of distinctive feminine training and power, and therefore became in need of the service of woman. Wherever the State touches the personal life of the infant, the child, the youth, or the aged, helpless, defective in mind, body or moral nature, there the State enters “woman’s peculiar sphere,” her sphere of motherly succor and training, her sphere of sympathetic and self-sacrificing ministration to individual lives. If the service of women is not won to such governmental action (not only through “influence or the shaping of public opinion,” but through definite and authoritative exercise), the mother-office of the State, now so widely adopted, will be too often planned and administered as though it were an external, mechanical and abstract function, instead of the persona, organic and practical service which all right helping individuals must be.

In so far as motherhood has given to women a distinctive ethical development, it is that of sympathetic personal insight respecting the needs of the weak and helpless, and of quick-witted, flexible adjustment of means to ends in the physical, mental and moral training of the undeveloped. And thus far has motherhood fitted women to give a service to the modern State which men can not altogether duplicate. . .

Whatever problems might have been involved in the question of woman’s place in the State when government was purely military, legal and punitive have long since been antedated. Whatever problems might have inhered in that question when women were personally subject tto their families or their husbands are well-nigh outgrown in all civilized countries, and entirely so in the most advanced. Women’s nonentity in the political department of the State is now and anachronism and inconsistent with the prevailing tendencies of social growth . . . .

The earth is ready, the time is ripe, for the authoritative expression of the feminine as well as the masculine interpretation of that common social consciousness which is slowly writing justice in the State and fraternity in the social order.



Source: History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4, ed. Susan B. Anthony, Ida Husted Harper (Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press) 1902, pp. 308-309.