Carrie Chapman Catt

Equal Suffrage – Aug. 3, 1916

Carrie Chapman Catt
August 03, 1916— Clarksburg, West Virginia
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Catt's speech in Clarksburg, West Virginia, as reported in The Daily Telegram on August 4, 1916.

My good friends, men and women of West Virginia: There is no power on earth that can prevent the coming of woman suffrage. One might just as well put his little weak hand against the tide of Niagara in the hope that he might keep it back as to try to stay the coming of this great cause of human liberty. It is as certain as the sun is sure to rise. When the women of this state ask the men to give the vote they are not asking West Virginia to try a new experiment. I wish that every man and woman of this state might join in the effort to further this great movement. Miss Binke has told you of all the states in this great West that have already granted the vote. But there is something which is far greater in its effect than that. We think of progress, when we think of the great West having endorsed this great cause and marching eastward because it is right and just and a success. There is a meaning in the color of this map which I wish that every man and woman this whole country could understand. It is across our northern border. There in the northern country the women have more privileges than we do on this side. My grandfathers on both sides of the family were in the Revolution, in order that there might be established a government of the people, in order that they might make good their slogan that "Taxation without representation is tyranny," and it was George the Third, remember, against whom they revolted because he denied them representation, and you remember that King George was worsted in that fight; now there is a George the Fifth ruling over the great empire and across our northern border is one of his great colonies. Except up here in the West where polar bears live, where people live it is white in the East and grey in the West where women have all the right to vote except for members of parliament, a territory equal to all our territory east of the Mississippi River. Now, isn't it curious that we American women with the blood of the Revolutionists in our veins, should be traveling over the country today appealing to the men to give us the vote when it might have been granted by Great Britain?

Ask yourselves what kind of an impression it is going to make. Are they going to be as loyal, are they going to feel that they have been fairly treated by their land? There is one great difference between these two countries which accounts for this delayed privilege. In the province they grant the vote by act of parliament. Parliament passed the law and gave the vote to the women. That is the reason that we have been so slow on this side, while we lift our eyes north and see that our continental sisters have out-won us in this race. That is not all. It was my privilege to travel in Britain, and the women in South Africa, which was founded 100 years after this one was founded, have all the suffrage rights, not only under the British; then Australia, which was founded 100 years later, and is nearly as large as the United States, women have all the vote that men have, as they have also in New Zealand, also controlled by Great Britain, and in Great Britain the women have all the vote except for members of parliament. There are women mayors, and a friend of mine has for twelve years been city counselor in Manchester. In Ireland, where they do not even have home rule, when they come to this country and are received by Uncle Sam they are given the right to vote, but the women lose their right for suffrage, for every Irish woman has the right to vote except for members of parliament. You know that Great Britain controls the destinies of that far-off India. She grants only a little self-government to that country. She has granted self-government to the large cities and in Bombay the women vote on equal terms.

Only a little while ago a clergyman said to me: "You know, it is only in Christian lands that women have found equality and have made progress." Alas, it has been my experience to meet Mohammedan women who wear the veil, such as Persians, who have more rights in their land, that we call semi-civilized, than I have ever been granted by the Stars and Stripes.

In Bermuda, another British colony, they also have the right to self-government. That is the Buddhist, and the woman who was the leader was so nearly like a Christian that it was amazing. She provided free schools for the children, furnished them free luncheons; she was a benefactress, magnanimous, and has had a vote upon the same terms with the men for thirty years. It was a curious thing to look at those brown Malay people and to realize that they enjoy a greater privilege than the Declaration of Independence has extended to the daughters of the republic.

I visited China at the close of the revolution. They established a republic. It is gone now, and one hardly know what does exist. But there was a great progressive element; they established a parliament. They had no president for election and no constitution, but they made a rule and said, "We will give ten seats to the women and the remaining seats to the men. The women shall elect women and the men shall elect men." Now, it was my privilege to sit up in a gallery and see that assembly and to see those ten women. They were unused to a representative form of government, but they proceeded with the affairs at hand much the same as the men.

I remember when I first began to work for woman suffrage. You may think I was using very impossible language, to repeat it here, but everybody said it twenty years ago, I head a man say: "You want your wife to wear the pants, do you?" It was said everywhere. And these Chinese women all did wear trousers, and all the men wore gowns. It has been the custom for centuries, so it was not woman suffrage that caused it there. None of these women could speak English and I could not speak their language, as I had to talk to them through an interpreter. The woman who was the leader was assisting them, and a woman of large vision and high character. That woman has been shot by Wi-ang-shi-ki [Yuan Shikai] and another leader of the revolutionary movement in Peking was shot.

Then I went to the Philippines, and there met a man who was at that time a speaker in the assembly. He said: "All the men believe that the women should have a vote. But we want our independence; we want it as soon as we can get it, and we know the men in the United States do not believe in votes for women, and so we do not want to do anything so progressive that the United States would refuse our independence."

Then I saw a Polynesian, a black man, and he was wearing a great big button "votes for women" and he was introduced as a candidate for the assembly. I remarked about the button to one woman and she said "Why, all the candidates wear them." Then I asked, "Don't you think the assembly will give you the vote?" "Oh, no, in the United States the men don't give the vote to their women and we want our independence, and their legislature has the right to veto all the laws passed by our assembly, but our men all believe in it, and when we get our independence and we are no longer constrained by the United States we will have the right to vote.

All the way around the world, it is not the black alone, it has been my privilege to sit in the Stockholm assembly, in Sweden, where women have all the suffrage except for parliament. I have been in Christiania, Norway, where there is universal suffrage for men and women, and in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and I know all the women who come to our international suffrage meetings clad in their Iceland dress, for they have universal suffrage for women and the land is under the Czar, but they have a privilege that we women have not yet enjoyed in our country. There is more I could tell you still, other tales of Austria, and Germany itself, where women have been denied even the suffrage privilege granted them by law. It is our own United States where women are denied the ballot. The white sections on the map consider them citizens, and below there is this black section, which has not given the vote at all to its women. Why is West Virginia lagging behind? Is it because women in this section do not want the vote? And the inference is that the men do want the vote, and did want to vote, and that is the reason why the vote was granted to them. I believe that the average honest man has the idea than man by some heroic feat won the vote; they do not know just exactly how it was, but they are sure some other man knows all about it, and so they say with that superior air: "Women do not want to vote."

My dear friends, there was a struggle for many thousands of years towards liberty. You know when I was young, and that has been a long time ago, I was taught in my Sunday school that the world was only 6,000 years old. We know that the world is much older than that, and I have just been reading a book about the men of the old stone age and it was a curious thing to read that in the very vicinity, on that river of the Marne, 35,000 years ago, men were fighting each other with axes made of stone, over the same territory; so we have not yet gotten civilized enough, but are still trying to settle our differences by killing each other. Perhaps 25,000 years of slow struggle upwards men and women have been making towards liberty, yet they never asked for the vote. You can't find the vote written in any of those movements which preceded the Revolution, but by some far vision our forefathers were able to clear the thought of the age, and put into the Declaration of Independence those principles upon which the vote is founded. And so they wrote that taxation without representation is tyranny, and that "All governments derive their just power by the consent of the governed." But when the Revolution was over, and they set up a republic here, the first question that came up was who should vote. They said: "Those who are taxed." We have said it and we will give the vote to those who are taxed, and so it was in the thirteen colonies that government was established in the republic on the basis of taxation. Then they realized that "government derived their just powers" meant something higher, that the man behind the tax was something worth more than the money paid, and so there was a struggle but It was all in the thirteen states and when at last they had taken away the property qualification.

In my state of New York, where I have lived for twenty-two years, there was perhaps as great a struggle, but it was a struggle of words; that was a constitutional committee. It contained three great men, one of them was at that time the chief justice of the supreme court, one of them Martin Van Buren, and the other Chancellor Kent, who is well known by his law books everywhere, and the question came up before them as to whether they should take away the property qualification, and "Shall we permit women to vote?" and Mr. Kent himself said, "If we do this thing it will mean that we shall have taken another step toward universal suffrage, and when we have approached that precipice there is no power on earth that can save us." The great men of the past have always told us this: "Men are possessed of too emotional a character to enjoy so severe a strain." Mr. Kent was an attorney, and was accustomed to thinking for himself, to weighing the evidence of a case. Men have said some bad things about women's votes, but they never said anything as bad as that, and yet, because it was written on the law of destiny, that qualification was taken away, and universal suffrage was granted, but to men only.

Only about one-fourth of all the men in this country today are the descendants of those men who made the early constitution. In 1879 the first naturalization law was passed, and at the present time three-fourths of our men are naturalized citizens, or their children. Now, when you say women don't want the vote, I want to ask you how it is with those three-fourths of all our young men. Did they come asking for the vote? Don't you know that from 1779 to date when every man of Europe sets foot upon our soil, the hand of hospitality is extended to him and our government says, "Come and be one of us, and enjoy full suffrage and citizenship." "What will it cost?" "Nothing. Live among us five years." "What do I get?" "You get the protection of the stars and stripes the whole world over. You get admission to our schools, our churches, our institutions, and the name of this great country." And when we steps down with his last papers in his hands he is automatically enfranchised. In West Virginia, you are still more liberal. You take him fresh from the old world and say: "All we ask of you is to live in West Virginia, and then we will give you the vote." There were fifteen such states, there are only five now left. The other have demanded citizenship. One might imagine West Virginia saying to such an alien who might come from Europe where they have been denied the privilege of education: "We have made you a voter" and he timidly says: "A voter? What must I do to get this vote?" "Oh, nothing but register. That is all; write your name and the right date." "What do I pay for it?" "Nothing, it is free." "What do I get?" "You get the privilege of helping to make the destiny of this republic of one ballot's worth of self-government, and self protection." "But that will be a burden; I don't believe I would like that vote. I don't understand what a destiny is. I don't want burden and that responsibility. I came here for freedom." "My dear man, don't be scared, you have to have it whether you want it or not, it is written in the constitution. You may live here if you like, for a generation, and you need never use that vote." But here comes 1916 when the men of the legislature have submitted to the voters the question as to whether the women shall vote.

All the other countries around the world, new-coming citizens, they have it in the land from whence you came, don't you want to vote on it as your privilege? Did he ask for the vote? It was thrust upon him, because it was a liberty. They did not say, "We want to give it to the men because they asked for the vote." Did the Indians ask for the vote, or was it thrust upon them? There isn't a man in the country who has not had the vote thrust upon him. Does he go and say, "Gentlemen, I want to vote. Please put me down as a man who wants to vote, and I will prove that I want to vote."

The only thing compulsory about it is when the world says to a class of its citizens: "You shall not have it." Now, there are a few classes of people who are disfranchised. We don't allow the boys to vote before 21. In some states they don't allow the drunkards to vote. In some states, I regret to say, there are a great many of them, but when a man sobers up he goes to vote. In some states, criminals, idiots and insane are disfranchised, but some of the states allow all of these to vote and in New York there is a great pardoning before election day, so the men may not lose their vote. They perform an operation on the idiot, and when he knows only a very little, they allow him to vote. The insane are partially restored and they get a vote. Women are the only people in this country who are disfranchised and cannot vote. There is not class of citizens in this country who have worked so hard, so long, and who have made such self sacrifice to secure the vote as have the women of our own land. They have signed petitions to Congress, they have appealed to legislatures, and yet it is withheld, and because of the illiterate and the ignorant and the evil forces. Said the Honorable Champ Clark: "There are some good and intelligent people opposed to you, but all the illiterate and bad people are opposed to your cause."

Now, in view of these facts, is it not clear that women are possessed of some great disqualification? Now, what is this disqualification? It is not a question of intelligence. There are a great many women of this land who have a great deal more intelligence that a great many men. Our government says to us: "Men, intelligent and ignorant, you may vote. Women, you may not vote." Why not say: "Intelligence, you may vote. Ignorance, you cannot vote." That would be justice.

Are women good enough? Search the records of your county jails, courts and police records, and you will find that it is the men who keep up these institutions. Search the records of your churches and Sunday schools and you will find that it is the women who keep them going, the public schools of our country, the hope of a nation like ours, and you will find that it is the women that are keeping them going. Where would a nation be, where would its citizens be, if it were not for the [unreadable]? It is the women who are keeping them going. We have given the women of our country freedom. Even in Russia before the war they were struggling to get what they called the four great liberties. They were free speech, free thought, free press and free organization.

Women have brains or schools would not be provided for them, and a woman may go upon a platform and talk just like a man, but she may go out in West Virginia and get an idea and she may say: "Here is something West Virginia needs that is has not got." She may beg for the law and talk that law into the statutes of the state. Did you ever stop to think that a woman has just as much privilege in some ways as a man, that she is just as free as a man 364 days out of the year, and the 365th day she has the same freedom, only she is only allowed to operate sixteen feet from the only place where freedom is worth while.

What danger is there to our country? "But a woman will desert the home and that is the reason." We heard in Parkersburg that the place for women is at home. Many years ago I traveled through the country in the interest of suffrage and stopped off in the towns, but I didn't talk about it in those days. People said the same thing then, in every town I visited, and I thought it extremely strange how they all learned the same thing, as men didn't travel very much from one town to another then, and I wondered how they came to their conclusion. One of them said: "No, if we give the women the vote they will stand on the street corner, smoke big black cigars, just like the men, on election day." I didn't know how they got the idea. "Silogism." [Syllogism] When they think just like a horse or a dog. Now this is the way it worked. I had seen them doing the same thing, therefore, if women vote they will stand on the street corners on election day and smoke big black cigars, and talk scandal. Now, I have observed ever since that when people don't think they will give you something of that kind. You can't think of your mother without thinking of her at home. Perhaps she was: Perhaps she was getting you a cookie out of the hidden jar, or perhaps she was giving you a spanking, or perhaps teaching you your prayers, and you can't think of her anywhere else, and because men go away from home to vote means that it will take women out of the home, therefore, women can't vote. In New York they kept saying this until it got on my nerves. They represented every nationality and religion under the sun, and some of these men did not know what "woman suffrage" was, but they all said: "Woman's place is at home."

A couple of weeks before this I had taken a little vacation in the Hot Springs of Virginia, where Mary Johnson, the actress, has a beautiful summer home, and she keeps a colored gardener who is utterly illiterate. He was very much opposed to woman suffrage. One of the neighbors thought she would find out why, so she asked him. He said: "Woman's place is at home." Just as the politicians two weeks later said in New York; and then, immediately following them was another example in New York. The prison reformers had bought a farm and were paroling some of the best behaved prisoners. Among our prison reformers we are very glad to name Dr. Catherine Davis. She made a speech to the prisoners. The others said to her: "I dare you to talk to them about woman suffrage." She said: "Men, I want to ask you how many are citizens? All. Of New York? All of them were. Americans? They were. How many are going to be paroled before election day? Most of them were. "I want you to know that in the state of New York I have charge of 6,000 prisoners. I have control over their food, their clothes, and your welfare in general. How many of you would like to go to the polls in November and vote for woman suffrage?" Not a hand came up. "How many of you would like to go to the polls and vote that no women should ever have a vote?" All of them. "Why?" All of them were silent, until finally one hand was raised timidly, and the man said: "Woman's place is at home."

And then the anti-suffragists had a meeting in their big home, and their star is a well known attorney who has been in the president's cabinet. Now you know lawyers are different from other people. They have to think. And do you think he said: "Ladies, women have the vote of twelve states and the women have deserted their husbands, their homes, and their children?" On the contrary, he said: "Women's place is at home. Is it not clear that if we give women the vote they will desert their homes, their husbands, and their children?"

For the first, last and only time that I know anything about in the history of the suffrage movement, the suffragettes played a joke on the public. It was announced that we were going to have a strike. All women were to be called off for one day. The figures were published, showing just how many women were employed and in what occupations; there were "so many" in factories, "so many" as doctors, so many in schools, so many telephone operators, office girls, etc., and they would all be expected to go home for that one day and sit there and do nothing; and then there was the greatest hub-bub you ever heard, and then one man who had said before that woman's place is at home, that "if the women did do a thing so ridiculous they ought to be tarred and feathered." The manufacturers said it would put them into bankruptcy if the women went on a strike for a single day. The bankers said if they could not use the telephones, if the operators refused to work, it would mean a panic, as business conditions were very critical just now, and finally the newspapers asked us to call off the strike. Finally, when the leader of the anti's said humbly that she never said woman's place was at home, we called off the strike. No woman stays at home every minute. She works for the church, for charity; if she is rich she ride in her own auto or plays bridge. Her anti sister doesn't stay at home; she travels all over the country to tell the men "to please not give women the vote, in order to keep them at home."

As a matter of fact, every new idea finds people afraid. I would be just as much afraid as you, but I am familiar with this idea, so it doesn't scare me. Even the animals are afraid of a new thing. Why does a horse shy at a piece of paper? Lions love horseflesh, but they may turn horses loose for days if they cover them with blankets, for he doesn't know a horse with a blanket on it. Now, a lion afraid of a horse blanket is the same thing as an American afraid of votes for women. They are not thinking. They just think they are thinking. They think as a horse and lion thinks. They are afraid of a new idea, and that is what stands between you and the vote. Now, I want to ask you women who are not thinking of the vote very much. What will it do? You know behind every political party, every town council, there is a vote. The parties and the town councils and the legislatures are going to do what the voters compel them to do, because this is a representative government, and the men are there to represent, and they ought to be there to represent the men, women and children. But have you ever heard of a Republican lying awake night trying to find out what the Democrats wanted him to do? Or a Democrat walking up and down the streets to find out what the Republicans wanted? Women don't elect a representative, therefore nobody asks us what we want.

It was my privilege to be present in Idaho when women got the vote, and I visited the town of Caldwell. Nobody thought well of woman suffrage, and I had a little bit of a meeting there, but the town went against it, but the state was carried. Later I had a letter from a friend of mine. They had submitted what we call a local option law for gambling in the state and it was passed by the legislature, so they had a license. I don't know whether you ever had anything like this in the East or not, but there were places where small boys could get a nickel, go in and do a little of this gambling, and become fascinated with it, and it was the dismay of the mothers of their town, and the moment the question came up, what they call the business men of the town circulated petitions reading: "We customers of yours, we buy our goods here, we help you to maintain your business, now you help us to keep ours." And so in one way and another they got the men to sign.

Then the women started a petition, and more nearly than at any instance that I know of that has ever arisen were the women lined up on one side and the men on the other. The men's petition was read first, and it was formulated in the regular way: "We, the undersigned, do hereby pray your honorable body to do this, etc." Then the women's They had had no opportunity to cast their vote yet, but their petition began: "We, the undersigned voters do hereby demand" and so these two petitions were read, the men's to keep the license, and the women's against it.

The chairman said: "You know last November when I voted against it, and I have never been converted to it until tonight, but so far this is the first time that I know where gamblers came to pray and mother to demand" and the license was taken away.

All the way around the world we find that this is the way to get things. Why, over across the sea in Norway, the women wanted to do a thing for the good of humanity. They said: "If we can only get a home for the poor girls of the streets, we will sell the productions of their labor, we will save them and the country the disaster of their downfall, and they asked the premier, and every time were told that Norway was too poor, but be it known by all men that whenever a woman sets her mind to do a thing they keep at it until it is done. And so they got the vote. The woman who was head of this movement again sent a note to the premier, saying "We ask a hearing before you and your cabinet in behalf of our measure." The premier replied: "We will grant your hearing, but you needn't bother to come if you don't want to, because we have already selected the lands for the home. We are going to do it anyway, but if you wish to come to the hearing we will be glad to have you."

So you may not see anything to be done in this world. You may like to live in it. You may not like the idea of voting but it is the means by which we are climbing upward. Perhaps when 25,000 years have passed by, we will arrive at a better order. If you want to accomplish anything, you must vote. What is a vote? It is a prayer. There is a political Divinity who hears and who answers prayers, but they are not recorded in the ballot box, and when they are not the prayers of voters, they are not heard nor answered.

It is not a question of right, nor of freedom, but a duty, and I believe that to be the duty of every woman. I ask the men of West Virginia to do this great thing for the women of this state. Across the sea when they crown a king they have a ceremony, and beside the king there is a queen and in a certain point he lifts his crown and touches the queen's head to show that she also shares his power and his honor.

In American every man is a king and every woman is a slave. Gentlemen, we ask you next November to take the crown from your head just a moment and to touch it to the head of the wife by your side, that you may lift her up and seat her upon the throne that you may rule together.

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