SUFFRAGE IN THE 20TH CENTURY: PRIMARY SOURCES
CARRIE CHAPMAN CATT, ANNA HOWARD SHAW, ALICE STONE BLACKWELL, AND IDA HUSTED HARPER (ESSAY DATE 1904)
SOURCE: Catt, Carrie Chapman, Anna Howard Shaw, Alice Stone Blackwell, and Ida Husted Harper. "NAWSA Declaration of Principles." In History of Woman Suffrage, Ida Husted Harper, pp. 742-43. New York: J. J. Little and Ives, 1922.
The following is an excerpt from the 1904 declaration of principles by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
When our forefathers gained the victory in a seven years' war to establish the principle that representation should go hand in hand with taxation, they marked a new epoch in the history of man; but though our foremothers bore an equal part in that long conflict its triumph brought to them no added rights and through all the following century and a quarter, taxation without representation has been continuously imposed on women by as great tyranny as King George exercised over the American colonists.
So long as no married woman was permitted to own property and all women were barred from the money-making occupations this discrimination did not seem so invidious; but to-day the situation is without a parallel. The women of the United States now pay taxes on real and personal estate valued at billions of dollars. In a number of individual States their holdings amount to many millions. Everywhere they are accumulating property. In hundreds of places they form one-third of the taxpayers, with the number constantly increasing, and yet they are absolutely without representation in the affairs of the nation, of the State, even of the community in which they live and pay taxes. We enter our protest against this injustice and we demand that the immortal principles established by the War of the Revolution shall be applied equally to women and men citizens.
As our new republic passed into a higher stage of development the gross inequality became apparent of giving representation to capital and denying it to labor; therefore the right of suffrage was extended to the workingman. Now we demand for the 4,000,000 wage-earning women of our country the same protection of the ballot as is possessed by the wage-earning men.…
VIRGINIA B. LE ROY (ESSAY DATE 15 OCTOBER 1908)
SOURCE: Le Roy, Virginia B. "A Woman's Argument against Woman's Suffrage." The World To-Day (15 October 1908): pp.
In the following excerpt, Le Roy argues against suffrage, stating that social change and public responsibility are values that dig deeper than mere voting rights, and that women have been active participants in those activities for generations, with or without voting rights.
This age is developing an acute consciousness of the symptoms of our social disorders. Masterly and brilliant are the arraignments of our public corruptions; the pitiless searchlight of publicity illumines our most subtle perversities. We are, through the exercise of this awakened social consciousness, becoming experts in the diagnosis of our social diseases, and in our new-found zeal are prone to overlook the fact that this capacity, however valuable for some purposes, does not of itself qualify us as social healers, or inspire us with knowledge of adequate remedies. It is one thing to recognize the symptoms described on the label of a bottle of patent medicine, and quite another to confide in the contents of the bottle as a cure for the disease. There is no necessary connection between the diagnosis and the proposed remedy, but many social reformers make the mistake of assuming such to be the case.
The Fallacy of Abstract Rights
All social reform movements to-day seem to focus on some conception of "rights." Somewhere, somehow, there seem to be things out there that we call "rights," and we feel that if we could once grasp them and hold tight, their possession would insure our social machinery a smoother running. These "rights" seem to be independent and preëxistent principles, foreordained fiats, absolute verities, which to discover and possess promise us a short cut to an earthly paradise.
For example, there are the "rights of labor" ever seeming to taunt us with their challenge: if
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all men had their bellies full of food and the right kind of rags to cover them, democracy, that other glorious right and privilege, would be attained. Then there are those "inalienable rights of freedom," which can not be downed, but come frothing and sizzling from the word-intoxicated orator as he hypnotizes his emotionally receptive audience. These "rights" we have always with us. Our children begin to imbibe them with Patrick Henry, and we continue to absorb them till the last campaign gun is fired. True, they are becoming somewhat overworked, but under the wiles of the spellbinder they are often potent to galvanize into spasmodic semblance of activity the sluggish wills of the people.
Then there are those blessed rights called "woman's rights," that sound the clarion call to the recently emancipated industrial slave who fondly fancies because she has relegated the making of soap to the factories and the world's medicine to the chemist, she may with profit employ her leisure in legislating world politics. This is perhaps the most interesting, as it is the most recent, example of the "rights" fallacy.
Women's Reasons for Woman's Rights
I have interviewed many prominent women, putting to them the question: "Why do you want to vote?"
Most of them replied: "It is our right. We have been deprived of our rights by man long enough. We must assert ourselves and demand the ballot." It requires no prophet's eye to see that these pseudo-individualists urged into politics by their personal longings for political prerogatives would speedily come to grief in the maelstrom of party politics, where the male politicians have the first innings in the game.
Again, a large number of women make the reply: "We have property interests to protect, and if we pay taxes we should vote on municipal questions. Our property rights are violated."
"Taxation without representation" is another one of those embalmed traditions, to gainsay which is to the average American like shaking the proverbial red rag at a bull.
An Interview with Susan B. Anthony
I well remember one winter's afternoon several years ago, sitting with Susan B. Anthony in her cozy study in Rochester. Outdoors the frozen snow gleamed like crystal, the wind howled through the specter-like elms, but inside round the big fireplace the huge logs slowly smoldering sent out intermittently rose-colored flames, dispelling at rare intervals the twilight shadows, and softly lighting up the noble face of one great woman. As we sat there in the comfort and cheer of the firelight, reminiscing on "the woman question," the little maid brought in the evening paper. Instantly the quiet atmosphere was disturbed and the spell broken. The lights were turned on, and in indignant voice the priestess of woman suffrage read a certain city ordinance just passed which would mean the payment of a considerable tax by her.
"Now are you convinced?" she asked with confident directness. "Here am I obliged to pay this money, and I am allowed no voice in the direction of these civic affairs. Isn't this a rank injustice? Am I not deprived of my legitimate rights as a property-holder and taxpayer?"
I could fully understand her indignation but I could not assent to the inferences she drew, so I replied:
"But, Miss Anthony, do you think the suffrage should depend on property? If so, how much property? And should it vote if held by minors, Page 131 | Top of Article imbeciles, or aliens? And if property is to be the test, should not the one who owns most vote most? In which case, wouldn't you be worse off than you are now? Isn't it rather doubtful after all whether representation should not depend on something other than taxation?"
A caller interrupted, and I never got Miss Anthony's response.
Hobbes and Rousseau Still Rule us
The fallacy of absolute and a priori "rights" seems to vitiate the reasoning of most of our reformers and especially of our suffrage reformers, who accept it with a child-like naiveté that is touching. As it appears fundamental to the discussion I would like to turn the calcium on this whole question of "rights." I want to show that the idea itself is a mere verbal abstraction concocted in the intellectual laboratories of medieval Europe; that it is a sawdust idol fit to-day only for the circus ring, bloodless, lifeless, hopelessly grotesque and inadequate to form the backbone of any practical social purpose.
Our modern brand of "rights" runs way back to the sixteenth century when Hobbes manufactured the first batch of them to serve as a mediator between the leaders of the Long Parliament and the King. Hobbes declared the state was like a large man in whom was vested supreme rights, and that as the King personified the state, his sovereignty could not be impugned. Later came Rousseau, who let out a whole brood of rights, called "natural rights." The French Revolution scattered these rights as burning brands over the then civilized world, until every state smoldered with sympathetic conflagrations. This country, already aflame, gave generous recognition to them, supplemented the list with several varieties of its own, until to-day it is difficult to keep tab on all the different kinds of rights, more or less inalienable and independent.
The Pragmatist Declaration of Independence
The old-world doctrine of abstract rights has so permeated the structure of our social thinking that hardly a step can be taken in our reasoning processes without stumbling over its catch phrases. It holds us so tight that nothing short of a new declaration of independence can free us—and a few of the bolder spirits have already celebrated their new Fourth of July. These radicals are asking the old doctrinaires to make good, to turn their abstract "rights" into cash values, to test them by their power to do work. What will these "rights" do for us? Will they bake bread? Will they build schoolhouses? No. Then away with them, for they hinder the coming of ideas that are dynamic, that have the power to turn the wheels of social progress.
To the modern radical your communist, socialist, or anarchist, who prates about the rights of man and rants loudly about the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality, is as hopelessly conservative and reactionary as the most hide-bound Tory. For to the real radical all social rights are man-made. They are made by him for his own purposes, and can be unmade when his purposes change. To him all the rights of the individual are rights which he holds not as a unit apart from, but as an integral element in the social organism. These rights are not foreordained, not preëxistent, not independent, not things in themselves. They are called into being through the harmonious intercourse of rational beings, are man-wrought transformations in the social process, facilitating the interchange of human relations, elastic in their nature, their values relative and immediate.
New Test for Suffrage Wanted
Now it is evident that this new conception of human rights must have an important bearing on the question of suffrage. If the ballot is not a natural or abstract right but simply a question of social expediency, an instrument to effect a desired end, the whole question may be considered from a new viewpoint.
The fact that we made the mistake of thinking in our callow youth that giving the ballot was giving equality and freedom is no reason for continuing the mistake now that we have arrived at the years of discretion. Because we gave the ballot to hundreds of thousands who are unfit; because to-day we are suffering the full penalty of our mistaken zeal for freedom, and are trying to unbungle the whole miserable business by illegally disfranchising as many as possible, will it further the solution of our problem to add several million more votes from generally ignorant and unqualified voters?
If, following this reasoning, we are to discard the old criteria of suffrage, we ought to be able to apply some more adequate test before we can intelligently discuss the question. What should the test be? It does not fall within my purpose to define it, but it is at any rate clear that it should not be based on an abstraction. It should result in some concrete good to the voter, to the state, or Page 132 | Top of Article to society at large, and it is up to the proponents of woman's suffrage to show that it will work practical good in some tangible way. If they can prove it can accomplish useful social results, as a good pragmatist I am bound to be with them. Up to the present time the arguments have not been forthcoming.
How would Suffrage Affect Woman?
What, for example, will the influence of suffrage be on woman herself? This is an old question, and it has been treated in a too trifling, too supercilious tone by men. I do not intend to rehash the old bosh about the defeminization of women, or the lowering of the sanctities of the home, etc. That sort of talk is puerile. Participation in public work need not of itself make a woman unwomanly, and I score no point on that ground. What damage, then, is to come to woman from voting? How are we to forecast the effect of suffrage on woman nature?
Obviously, by examining the influence of political activities on those who have had the suffrage—on the men.…
… What do men fight for to-day in the political arena? The most casual observer must be struck with the juggling of our political machinery which is making it possible for this huge organized political appetite to devour the public spoils. Men are playing the game for material prizes, not for principles. They join forces, play off great issues, toss the destinies of the nations lightly to and fro, all for the glittering bait of political advancement. The political conscience has become so atrophied, the public standard of morality so low, the premium on undiscovered chicanery so high, that the best brains of the century can find no more inspiring task than to haul over the political grabbag and fight for such baubles as it may contain.
Would women play the game more wisely? There is nothing in my experience as a twentieth-century club woman that would warrant me in supposing them superior to the spoils of office or political preferment. The promise of a "merry-widow hat" or a "directoire gown" might as easily turn a nation's destiny as any form of a more masculine graft.…
… The point I here emphasize is that the suffrage would divert woman from her real social purpose. As between the two sexes today woman has practically a monopoly of the social spirit. Were she to become a competitor for political prizes on the same terms as men, there is little reason for believing she could preserve her social spirit any better than men have done. Her motives would tend to become personal and selfish instead of public and patriotic, and society can not afford to lose her as a generator of pure social spirit unpolluted by lust of political gain.
I am more and more convinced that women are particularly fortunate in being exempt from the temptations of political activity. Just because woman may not participate in the political scramble, just because she is free, unhampered to let her generous impulses have full sway, just because she, and she alone, has heart-to-heart contact with the great ideals and problems of human destiny, unbiased by political expediencies, is she the potent power to-day in the direction of the great spiritual forces that are slowly but surely undermining the crass materialism of our sordid age. She it is to-day who is really influencing great public issues, accomplishing great humanitarian reforms, devising expedient measures of public sanitation, becoming in a word a great municipal housekeeper. She it is who is royally diffusing maternal tenderness for all motherless children, who is battling for a militant idealism that shall rescue us from the gross complacency of our idols of clay and reveal to us the shining gods of beauty, order and love.
DOROTHY DIX (ESSAY DATE 1908)
SOURCE: Dix, Dorothy. "Dorothy Dix on Women's Suffrage." In Women in America, edited by Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer. N.p., 1908.
In the following excerpt, Dix (a pseudonym for Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer) makes a case for women's suffrage, listing reasons why women should have the right to vote.
Women Ought to Vote, Because—
Taxation without representation is tyranny, whether the individual who pays the taxes wears trousers or petticoats, and because all just government must rest upon the consent of the governed.
Women form one half of the population, and as long as they have no voice in the government, they are held in serfdom. It is not just that, merely by reason of sex, one half of the people of the country should rule the other half.
It is folly to say that women are represented by the votes of the men of their family. No man is willing to sacrifice his suffrage and let his father or brother vote for him.
Women Should Vote because they are unlike men, because they have different aspirations, different Page 133 | Top of Article needs, a different point of view, a different way of reaching conclusions. Feminine talents, which are invaluable everywhere else in life, should be equally useful in politics.
Women Should Vote because every question of politics affects the home, and particularly affects the woman in the home. Out of the woman's housekeeping allowance, which has not increased, come the increased profits of the beef trust, and the milk trust, and the sugar trust, and the canned goods trust. If women had a say-so in making the laws, they would have long ago clipped the wings of the predatory combinations that have increased the cost of living so greatly.
Women Should Vote because their vote would supplement man's, and, while he looked after the big things, they would look after the little things. The man might interest himself in making his country a world power, the woman voter would see that the street-cleaner did his duty so that her children might not be killed by diphtheria.
Women Should Vote because they would look just as much at the candidate as they did the platform upon which he stood. It is practically impossible to put the party yoke on women. This has been proven in the States in which women have suffrage. When a clean man was put up on either the Democratic or the Republican ticket and a corrupt man named on the other ticket, the woman vote invariably has flopped over to the good man. It was the women of Denver, irrespective of party, who kept Judge Lindsay in office after the party committees had turned him down, and thus enabled him to continue his great work of child-saving.
Women Should Vote, if for no other reason than because women, if they had a chance would be just as potent a factor in politics as they are in religion. They would compel men's interest in the subject.
CARRIE CHAPMAN CATT (ESSAY DATE 16 SEPTEMBER 1916)
SOURCE: Catt, Carrie Chapman. "The Crisis." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 28, no. 3 (spring 1998): 52.
The following is an excerpt from Catt's famous 1916 presidential address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. This excerpt is taken from a complete text compiled in Rhetoric Society Quarterly that combines versions of the address that were printed in The Women's Journal on September 16, 1916; the Catt papers in the New York Public Library; the Catt papers at the Library of Congress; and an article in the New York Times dated September 8, 1916.
I have taken for my subject, "The Crisis" because I believe that a crisis has come in our movement which, if recognized and the opportunity seized with vigor, enthusiasm and will, means the final victory of our great cause in the very near future. I am aware that some suffragists do not share this belief; they see no signs nor symptoms today which were not present yesterday; no manifestations in the year 1916 which differ significantly from those in the year 1910. To them, the movement has been a steady, normal growth from the beginning and must so continue until the end. I can only defend my claim with the plea that it is better to imagine a crisis where none exists than to fail to recognize one when it comes; for a crisis is a culmination of events which calls for new considerations and new decisions. A failure to answer the call may mean an opportunity lost, a possible victory postponed.
The object of the life of an organized movement is to secure its aim. Necessarily, it must obey the law of evolution and pass through the stages of agitation and education and finally through the stage of realization. As one has put it: "A new idea floats in the air over the heads of the people and for a long, indefinite period evades their understanding but, by and by, when through familiarity, human vision grows clearer, it is caught out of the clouds and crystallized into law." Such a period comes to every movement and is its crisis. In my judgement, that crucial moment, bidding us to renewed consecration and redoubled activity has come to our cause. I believe our victory hangs within our grasp, inviting us to pluck it out of the clouds and establish it among the good things of the world.
If this be true, the time is past when we should say: "Men and women of America, look upon that wonderful idea up there; see, one day it will come down." Instead, the time has come to shout aloud in every city, village and hamlet, and in tones so clear and jubilant that they will reverberate from every mountain peak and echo from shore to shore: "The Woman's Hour has struck." Suppose suffragists as a whole do not believe a crisis has come and do not extend their hands to grasp the victory, what will happen? Why, we shall all continue to work and our cause will continue to hang, waiting for those who possess a clearer vision and more daring enterprise. On the other hand, suppose we reach out with united earnestness Page 134 | Top of Article and determination to grasp our victory while it still hangs a bit too high? Has any harm been done? None!
Therefore, fellow suffragists, I invite your attention to the signs which point of a crisis and your consideration of plans for turning the crisis into victory.…
WOODROW WILSON (SPEECH DATE 30 SEPTEMBER 1918)
SOURCE: Wilson, Woodrow. "Appeal to the U.S. Senate to Submit the Federal Amendment for Woman Suffrage." 1918.
The following is an excerpt from President Woodrow Wilson's speech to the U.S. Senate on September 30, 1918, to grant the federal amendment for women's Suffrage.
This is a people's war and the people's thinking constitutes its atmosphere and morale, not the predilections of the drawing room or the political considerations of the caucus. If we be indeed democrats and wish to lead the world to democracy, we can ask other peoples to accept in proof of our sincerity and our ability to lead them whither they wish to be led, nothing less persuasive and convincing than our actions.
Our professions will not suffice. Verification must be forthcoming when verification is asked for. And in this case verification is asked for—asked for in this particular matter. You ask by whom? Not through diplomatic channels; not by foreign ministers; not by the intimations of parliaments. It is asked for by the anxious, expectant, suffering peoples with whom we are dealing and who are willing to put their destinies in some measure in our hands, if they are sure that we wish the same things that they do.
I do not speak by conjecture. It is not alone that the voices of statesmen and of newspapers reach me, and that the voices of foolish and intemperate agitators do not reach me at all. Through many, many channels I have been made aware what the plain, struggling, workaday folk are thinking, upon whom the chief terror and suffering of this tragic war fall. They are looking to the great, powerful, famous democracy of the West to lead them to the new day for which they have so long waited; and they think, in their logical simplicity, that democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men and upon an equal footing with them.
If we reject measures like this, in ignorant defiance of what a new age has brought forth, of what they have seen but we have not, they will cease to believe in us; they will cease to follow or to trust us. They have seen their own governments accept this interpretation of democracy—seen old governments like that of Great Britain, which did not profess to be democratic, promise readily and as of course this justice to women, though they had before refused it; the strange revelations of this war having made many things new and plain to governments as well as to peoples.
Are we alone to refuse to learn the lesson? Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give—service and sacrifice of every kind—and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our side in the guidance of the affairs of their nation and ours? We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right? This war could not have been fought, either by the other nations engaged or by America, if it had not been for the services of the women—services rendered in every sphere—not merely in the fields of efforts in which we have been accustomed to see them work but wherever men have worked and upon the very skirts and edges of the battle itself.
We shall not only be distrusted, but shall deserve to be distrusted if we do not enfranchise women with the fullest possible enfranchisement, as it is now certain that the other great free nations will enfranchise them. We cannot isolate our thought or action in such a matter from the thought of the rest of the world. We must either conform or deliberately reject what they approve and resign the leadership of liberal minds to others.
The women of America are too intelligent and too devoted to be slackers whether you give or withhold this thing that is mere justice; but I know the magic it will work in their thoughts and spirits if you give it to them. I propose it as I would propose to admit soldiers to the suffrage—the men fighting in the field of our liberties of the world—were they excluded.
The tasks of the women lie at the very heart of the war and I know how much stronger that heart will beat if you do this just thing and show our women that you trust them as much as you in fact and of necessity depend upon them.…
ALICE PAUL (ESSAY DATE 1924)
SOURCE: Paul, Alice. "The Woman's Party and the Minimum Wage for Women." In Party Papers: 1913-1974. Glen Rock: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1978.
In the following excerpt, Paul clarifies the Woman's Party position on minimum wage laws as applied to women.
The Woman's Party takes no stand upon minimum wage legislation, except that it stands for the principle that wage legislation, if enacted, should be upon a non-sex basis, as is already the case in various foreign countries.
The Woman's Party opposes a sex basis for a minimum wage law, because it believes that establishing minimum wage laws which apply to women but not to men, gives recognition to the idea that women are a class apart in industry who can only enter the industrial field by permission of the government and under various restrictions laid down by the government.
The Woman's Party contends that there is no more reason for a minimum wage law applying to women only, than for a minimum wage law applying to one particular race or one particularly creed.
That this point of view is gradually coming to be accepted is evidenced by the latest opinion of the United States Supreme Court on this subject. The Supreme Court, in discussing the minimum wage law for women in the District of Columbia, said in 1923:
We can not accept the doctrine that women of mature age, sui juris, require or may be subjected to restrictions upon their liberty of contract which could not lawfully be imposed in the case of men under similar circumstances. To do so would be to ignore all the implications to be drawn from the present-day trend of legislation, as well as that of common thought and usage, by which woman is accorded emancipation, from the old doctrine that she must be given special protection or be subjected to special restraint in her contractual and civil relationship.
(Adkins v. The Children's Hospital, 261, U.S. 525, 1923)
The courts are among the last places to reflect changes in popular opinion. When one finds the Supreme Court stating that women should be "accorded emancipation from the old doctrine that she must be given special [protection] or be subjected to special restraint in her contractual and civil relationship," one feels that the demand of the modern woman for Equal Rights with men in industry is at last beginning to be heard.
The modern woman wants "Equal Rights" with her male competitor in earning her living. She wants nothing more and nothing less.