Carrie Chapman Catt

Woman's Place is in the Home - March 7, 1916

Carrie Chapman Catt
March 07, 1916— Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
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Mrs. Catt’s Speech Tuesday Evening March 7th, 1916, Harrisburg, Penna.

It is only a few months since a very remarkable thing happened – over a million men went to the polls and voted “yes” on Woman Suffrage in four conservative, reactionary Eastern States. And, when the votes were counted, there was not a woman in one of those four states who regarded that vote as final. A few took time to draw a long breath before beginning again, but some of us never lost an hour. We only said that in the year 1915 a million votes had been won.

As a matter of fact the United States of America is the most inconsistent, unjust and tyrannical of all the nations in the world in the attitude toward the enfranchisement of women. You may say “How is that”? Many other lands deny the vote to their women. Yes, but ours is the only one that proclaims itself a government of the people. One never hears of a Fourth of July or other patriotic oration without reference made to the fact that ours stands alone among the nations of the world as a government in which ever class and kind – the high and the low – the rich and the poor – every class has a balanced share in determining its own welfare. Now, women are as much “people” as men and some of them are more so! As a matter of fact there are only eight nations or countries in the world besides our own that have given universal suffrage to men, and of those eight, six have been generous enough to give universal suffrage to women. They have been consistent, they have been just, they have not been tyrannical. The other two – France and Switzerland – make no claim to be governments “of the people”. They boldly proclaim themselves as “man’s government” and that of the “brotherhood of men”. Of those six who have given suffrage to women, there is Finland. It possesses its own kingdom but the Czar is the most democratic of all the rulers of the world. Next is Norway with a kingdom; Denmark with a king; Iceland, a dependency of Denmark; the Isle of Man under King George; Australia and Italy have now granted universal suffrage to men for one solitary election and that is the election of members to the Imperial Parliament, but in all the other elections there are restrictions of the most complicated nature and the governments are highly democratic. Canada and Great Britain are democratic with a particular extension of suffrage to men although not universal and in those cases there is a particular extension of suffrage to women. It is a curious thing to reflect that in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Harrisburg there is no suffrage in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for women, and yet in the Capitol of Finland there are women sitting on the city council, and in Stockholm and Copenhagen and in many of the cities in Great Britain and the same is true of many others, chief perhaps of which are Manitoba and Glasgow. In Dublin women may become members of the council, although no woman has ever yet been a member. All of these cities are in kingdoms and kings preside over their government. Yet our boast is Democracy!

It was this country that led the world in teaching the idea of “government of the people” and there is no nation anywhere in the world which has gained extended suffrage for men that has not won it as the result of the unanswerable logic of our own Declaration of Independence. It is humiliating to American women to see that our country only boasts of its Democracy and allows itself to be outdone by monarchies in the actual demonstration of the thing we profess. Only a few weeks ago, across the St. Lawrence River, in a great territory as big as all New England, New York and Pennsylvania combined, in the Province of Manitoba the women were given the same suffrage that is enjoyed by the men of that province, and it is a province under the direction of a king. Kings are outdoing us in our own boasted business of Democracy, and so I say ours is the most inconsistent nation in the world.

Women are people sometimes, and at other times they are not people. When our government desires to extend and increase its income, it does not hesitate to recognize that women have incomes which it may tax. Women are people then, and when the political parties go before the country upon the issue as to whether they shall use that increased tax money to build ships and increase the army and navy, then women are not people. When in the small villages there is a desire to make some improvement and an appropriation of money is desired then the woman is a person if she possesses property which may be taxed, but when it comes to the determination of what that money shall be expended upon, women are no longer people. A woman is a person when she transgresses the law, as quickly held punishable, but when she comes to her trial she is no longer a person, but is given the right of trial by a jury of her peers. A child is an infant person whether it is a boy or girl; when a youth marries that youth is a person whether boy or girl; when death claims the person it does not matter whether it be man or woman. People we are all the wayalong the line, except in one particular. Our Congressmen are elected upon the basis of representation of all the people, so are our legislators, our civil council, or our officers. We are represented by these gentlemen but when it comes to saying who shall represent half of the people, we are no longer people. 364 days in the year every woman in our land possesses the same freedom of any man to develop her mind, to educate herself so that her opinions may be worth while, to become expert in all kinds of ideas. She is free to express those ideas in every way. She may speak from the platform, she may preach from the pulpit, she may speak in the street, she may write for newspapers, for magazines, she may organize and carry on a campaign for any kind of idea which appeals to her and she molds public opinion, she agitates public opinion, she olds opinions of her own and converts other people to them 364 days in the year and on the 365th she no longer is able to express her opinion except 100 feet away from the only place where an opinion is worth while, and this is inconsistent of our government.

In Boston, I am told, that there is a perfumer, an Italian, a foreigner if you please, and he carried in his window all the way through the campaign a placard and on it it was announced that “Men know all there is to be known about a great many subjects; men and women together know all there is to be known about all subjects”. And, so it is true as the Italian tells us that no government is a government of the people if it does not put into the ballot box all the wisdom of all the people.

This inconsistency of ours which has so strangely taken hold of our institutions would be amazing did not one pause to analyze the cause. Long years ago we opened wide our door to all who would come and we freely gave to them the rights of citizenship and the right of abode and as time passed on and our voting constituency became larger and more complicated and more difficult we restricted immigration. It is difficult to reach every single man and to teach him the fundamental principles of the government under which we live. That was our duty in the last campaign, and we ask ourselves, we women, many times as to the justice of demanding that we should strive generation after generation to convert every man in each one of our 48 states. And, men seem to think, some of them, that they have done something wonderfully heroic which won for them and their fellows the vote for all time. What did they do? We need not repeat here. The history of the enfranchisement of the Negro everybody knows it. Everybody knows no Negro ever asked for the vote. Everybody knows that it was thrust upon him, and by the National Government and the national political party of that time. It is not necessary to repeat here the history of the time which extended the vote to the Indian. The government, the National Government, gave it to him because he was a ward of the nation. It was never extended by a popular vote.

Then we go still further back. In our 13 original states we find a struggle – the only struggle which appeared in any of our Colonial or early state life to extend the vote, and that was when the land qualification was taken from men. But, the struggle took place within the Constitutional Conventions and one can find no campaign among men to secure that right for themselves. One finds no expenditure of money, no great mass meetings held all over the country, only a petition with a few hundred names and a meeting here and there and long discussion in the Constitutional Conventions, that was all.

And, then we go still further back, and the most interesting and strange piece of American history took place during the revolution and was the most mighty step of progress which has ever taken place anywhere and yet curiously enough not a mention of it is made in our ordinary school histories. In nearly all of the 13 colonies before the Revolution, the Catholic was disenfranchised. He was definitely disfranchised in 1737 in New Yormby an act of the Assembly. He was disfranchised through New England, and I think in Pennsylvania. The Jew never had the right to vote in any colony, the conditions of our own country being those which had been imported from Great Britain and these two classes were barred out from the franchise before the Revolution, in many of our colonies for 100 years, and then the Declaration of Independence was written upon the broadest principles of religious tolerance. “God created men free and equal” says that great immortal document, and so one turns the pages of those early Constitutional Conventions to reach there some wonderful debate which should plead for political equality to be granted where religious equality had already been won. One reads in vail to discover some great campaign on the part of the Jews, on the part of the Catholics, together or separate, asking for their vote. What a noble struggle it would have been! How much unanswerable logic might they have presented! What an appeal to the tolerance and justice of our forefathers might have been made, and yet history is silent. On the contrary in New York at least, and I believe it was common throughout the colonies, something happened which is not mentioned in our school history that gave the vote to those two deserving classes without an effort on their part. It is an old bit of strategy in time of war to offer something to people who it is desired to keep still. We have witnessed that in the past two years – European nations giving away territory which did not belong to them, in the hope of keeping other nations quiet. But, here was unrest in the American colonies and across the St. Lawrence there were other colonies and the unrest might spread easily across the river and if it did there was the greater reason to believe that the colonies might be lost to King George. Something must be done to keep those colonies quiet and so the thing that was done was this – Great Britain offered to inaugurate an annual assembly and suffrage for Catholics and Jews. Catholics had been definitely disfranchised by the British Parliament long before and the Jews had no vote at all, but now they were offered this freedom. Whether it had any effect in keeping them out of the Revolution, I do not pretend to know, but when in New York the Constitutional Convention was held to determine how to organize the new state of the colony which should now be a part of a republic, the great question was who shall vote in the new state of New York and to use the slang phrase, “it was up to New York” as “it was up” to all the colonies to be as just, to be as liberal minded with our citizens on this side as our mother country had been to those on the other side of the St. Lawrence. What would have happened had those early conventions not surrendered to that but of chance no one knows. There might have been a struggle but it never came.

In 1779 our Congress passed a Naturalization law and ¾ of the men who are not voters have been naturalized under this law or are the descendants of those who have been naturalized since that law was passed. The other ¼ are descendants of those who had the vote before 1779 and that is the way they got it, through bringing the vote with them from Great Britain because they were land holders. Little by little without effort, without struggle, the old restrictions disappeared and universal suffrage for men became an established fact. And to all of these men we women, the last disfranchised class, must make our appeal. By and by the cataclysm on the other side of the Atlantic will come to an end, and they tell us there will be another return of that great wave of immigration, and they will come to us from all the nations of Europe and especially from those that have suffered most. They will come to escape conscription, to escape taxation. Among them there will be illiterates and degenerates, but our country opens its door wide, and we women must meet these men at the gates of the Atlantic and begin entreating them that as soon as they have a vote to be ready to use it to extend that same privilege to us. Other women of other nations ask their parliaments for the vote. Switzerland, France and Holland are the only nations except our own where such questions go to referendum. It did not so go in Manitoba or Denmark – it was a Parliament composed of their own race and kind and religion. We in America must ask the men of the world for our suffrage. It may be asked why should there be a hesitation in a land that has made the vote so cheap. How does it happen that we trust men without education, without opportunity or breadth of vision and deny this simple a privilege to our own women? I answer that it seems to me that we may divide those who opposed giving the vote to women as developed in our recent campaign into three classes. They doubtless were the same in all the states. As our movement has gone on, as it has grown broader, as it has grown bigger, we have been able to learn more clearly what classes are likely to be for us and what against us.

First of all then, there are those that we may call the Conservatives – they are the flotsam and jetsam of civilization marching on. Every generation produces a certain per cent of these people who can never see anything good in that which is not established. Such people are sometimes intelligent so far as an education goes, they are elected to the Legislature, they often go to congress, but you never caught one of them voting “Yes” on any proposition which his grandfather did not believe in two generations ago. These are the kinds of people that never keep up with the procession, they do not know the meaning of the word “progress” they have never heard of evolution, but if they have they believe it stops with this generation. We had plenty of them in New York and so did you in Pennsylvania. I have often wondered just what per cent those conservatives compose. I estimated in New York that it was about 10% of the population. No power on earth could move them in behalf of Women Suffrage or anything else that was not an established fact.

The second class I should call the Pessimists. We had plenty of those in New York and so did you. They are the people who are iconoclasts – they pull down, they do not build up. They are those who believe that man suffrage in American has been so signal a failure that it is idle and ridiculous to extend the suffrage to any other class. They are those who do not believe that a poor man can vote to the good of himself or the government. They believe it is a menace to all future society that foreigners are given a vote, that ignorant men have a vote – they do not believe in universal suffrage. Sometimes they believe in a property qualification, sometimes in an educational qualification, sometimes they do not know what they believe, but they know they do not believe in that which exists and there is no power which can convert such people – they are hopelessly pessimistic. I should think we had about 5% of such people. They are the “leftovers”, the “back numbers”. They are like the man who recently wrote a book on the subject that the earth is flat, and the other who tried to prove that the sun is made of ice; when all the world had accepted the solution of those two problems these two people tried to say that it was all a mistake. Now, I do not think they amount to very much in the way of opposition. We must write off the Conservatives and pessimists when we begin a campaign for Woman Suffrage.

But, there is a third class we may call the Spoilers, and they are our real opponents. I am willing to admit that there may be some intelligent men and women who are capable of changing their minds who are honest and open minded who have not yet been reached with education. Were it not so we should consider our case hopeless. If we won 42 to 48% this year without the class that we are going after now, we ought to be able to win and lift the up to something over 51%. But, while we are educating we must know where our enemy is, and they are the Spoilers.

Do you know that long ago when our government was new that great man, Macauley, said of our republic, that it could never succeed with all classes of men counted among the voters; said he some Caesar or Napoleon will arise among you and he will seize the reins of government and rule America. No Caesar or Napoleon has ever yet shown his head, but there had come now and then powers which have overridden the real law of the men of our country and those powers have varied from time to time. But, we have one dangerous condition in our political system. Some states have tried to correct it; none have succeeded absolutely. Every state must correct it, somebody, somewhere will find the solution, and that is this – that when some great power with much money contributes vast sums to political campaign funds, it virtually buys up the consideration of the leaders of those political parties which have received those contributions and they therefore are able to largely control legislation whether it be in a city, in a state, or a nation, and those powers which care nothing for the welfare of the people, which care nothing for Democracy, which only stand for their own selfish interest – Spoilers and masters of our land – they all are opposed to Woman Suffrage. And, many a man who has expressed an opposition and who appears upon the surface to be a very nice, respectable individual, you will discover is connected in some way with that system of Masters and Spoilers of our land. All over our country, in ever campaign, we have ever had we have made this observation but it is difficult always to prove in the courts, but sometimes the proof comes out. A little while ago in the state of New Hampshire they made an investigation of the Boston & Maine and they had forgotten to fix up their accounts as they usually do when these things happen, and the Boston & Maine had made contributions to defeat Woman Suffrage in the Constitutional Convention of that state. Now if you can say why a railroad wants to defeat Woman Suffrage, you know more than I do, but there it was in black and white and no one to deny. When in Nebraska there was a campaign a year or two ago the editor of a paper of large circulation in that state (his name is Edgar Howard) said that he had opposed Woman Suffrage honestly and conscientiously in his paper. He had fought it bitterly and hard and he had often been complimented by men who had told him they were with him, they were glad he was doing what he was doing. Until one day he had something which made him think about the men who had spoken to him in this way. And, then he wrote out a list of these men. He said that when he honestly contemplated that list he was ashamed. They were an attorney for a private gas company which sandbags the city, an attorney for a stock yards company which steals unfair tribute from farm shipments, an attorney for a brewing corporation which owns many saloons, president of a great factory where child labor laws are disregarded, etc., etc.

This was the testimony of one man, but it has been the observation of every campaign, and while there are honest people doubtless who have honest views in opposition to Woman Suffrage, after all the real power which today keeps the women of this country disfranchised is not the opposition of the intelligent confessed voter, but it is the power that is the enemy of our republic – the enemy of everything our people hold sacred. It is worth investien. I bring you no proof, I ask you to find it for yourself. When men travel around as they did in the city of New York, probably in Pennsylvania, from town to town and behind closed doors walk with men about Woman Suffrage where no woman could know what they said unless some kind hearted man should chance to tell them, one asks who and what is it in our country that considers it worth money and lots of money to keep women disfranchised. Who are paying such men, who are their backers – I do not pretend to know. What we really need is a large company of well trained sleuths to ferret out our real opposition and if we could but find it in New York it would not only mean the success of Votes for Women, but it would arouse the patriotism of America as nothing has done for many years. We go upon our way silent and regardless of what is going on about us. We do not realize how our enemies are at work in our society. There is but one solution of this question – honest politics, honest votes, no purchase of political parties, of Legislatures, nor of Congress. And, when we may make sure of that, we may then go upon our way without watching all the way along the line.

Now these people, that is these Conservatives, these Pessimists, these Spoilers, they do not stand before the public for what they are. They go about giving reasons and they make you think that they are honest, but one thing about our four campaigns did for this great movement was to prove absolutely that the arguments, the reasons, the excuses which are offered by the average opponent are merely to hide the real motive which lies behind. You ask him his reason and he seems to turn the wheels of his mental machinery and out pops something but it is not what he really thinks. Among the things we met in our campaign in New York and I suppose every other place was this. It was about a year ago that I was in Virginia at Hot Springs for a bit of vacation and while there I went to visit Mary Johnston, the authoress. She has built a wonderful mansion way up on a mountain side. She has a gardener who is a totally illiterate black man, but he does not believe in the cause – Miss Johnston is a suffragist. A neighbor thought he would like to know what his point of view was and so she asked him. The rusty machinery of his brain seemed to turn around. “Woman’s place is at home.” Immediately I returned to New York and our people there were just inaugurating an experiment. A farm had been procured and a building had been erected upon it where a large number of well behaved prisoners were placed on parole. The prison reformers had gone there for the ceremony for inaugurating this new thing. There were many men present and Dr. Kate Bement Davis, and the men made speeches to the prisoners and then one of them said to Dr. Davis, “I dare you to talk Woman Suffrage to these men,” and so she did. And, she began by asking them how many were citizens of New York – all of them. How many voters – all of them. There were no women there! She asked them how many would be liberated before November – quite a large number. “I want to ask you to do something for me. I have charge of 6,000 prisoners, I may dismiss men, I may employ men, I have great power over the prisoners of New York, but I have no vote and I want one, and I want to know how many of you will be willing to give me a vote next November.” Not a hand came up! “I would like to ask how many of you feel that you would like to vote against giving me a vote.” And, every hand came up! And then said “I am very curious to know the reason why. Will you not tell me why you feel as you do?” At last a few hands came up, and when she asked them, one said “Women’s place is at home.” There was a Woman Suffrage meeting in Carnegie Hall in New York and the star speaker was an ex-cabinet member and this cabinet member, a great lawyer, accustomed to hear evidence, accustomed to think logically said, “I am opposed to Woman Suffrage because women’s place is at home, and if women shall desert their place at home it means that there will be no one to take care of the children and if the children are to be uncared for, what is to become of the nation?” This man never said, I hear that twelve states out in the West have Woman Suffrage/ I will just inquire whether the women do neglect their homes and children. He turned his back and reasoned out of his prejudices – woman’s place is at home. And, then one of the newspapers interviewed the leaders of the Assembly Districts in New York and in almost every instance the reason of these who were not in favor was women’s place is at home. And, they were Irish, Italians, Jews and Americans. Whenever a man was opposed he almost invariably gave that same phrase – woman’s place is at home.

By that time it began to get on our nerves and we thought something ought to be done, but we did not want to answer it in an elaborate way because we knew that those people would not listen, they would not listen to the reasons why nearly a million women in that city were out earning their living, and so one morning the papers announced that the suffragists were going to declare a one day strike. Nothing happened that day, and the next day there came another announcement giving the date and this time it said the stenographers and the telephone and telegraph girls and all the workers in the factories and all the cooks and all the waitresses in the hotels and boarding houses and all the dressmakers and all the teachers in the public schools would be expected to stop work for a single day in order to support the campaign for Woman Suffrage, and then things did happen and one of the men who had declared that women’s place was at home and therefore he would never give her a vote, said that the women who had dared to suggest that the women of New York should not go to their places for one single day ought to be tarred and feathered. The banks do not employ many women, but one bank president said that if there should be no girls at the telegraph and telephone offices for one day it would perhaps mean the bankruptcy of many firms in the city of New York, it might mean a panic throughout the entire country. And, manufacturers said “If we should stop manufacturing for one day we cannot fulfill our contracts and it will mean loss and financial stress all over the country, and finally the president of the Anti-suffragists said, she never had said that woman’s place was at home. It was demonstrated that by what the opponents themselves said that if the women who are already out of the home should go home for one day the whole country would suffer for it. And, then our Publicity Department calmly withdrew the strike as it had be heard. That is all there is to voting, and woman’s place is at home is a mere excuse to cover the real prejudice of their opposition. And, yet, there is something in it. You can’t think of your mother without thinking of your home. Perhaps she was getting you a cooky out of the pantry, or kissing you good-bye as you went to school, or sitting by the window sewing or reading you a story or teaching you prayers, but you can’t think of her anywhere else. When mother comes to mind it is always at home and so the first superficial thought about a woman is woman’s place is at home. It is not really thinking, it is only the instinct that is working. When I first began to speak for Woman Suffrage a good while ago you would scarcely believe that in general men and women all the way along town after town would say to me when women vote they will just stand on the street corners and smoke long black cigars and swap vulgar stories like men. It could not understand it, it was a solecism. Men are supposed to stand on the street corners, smoke long, black cigars and tell vulgar stories and men vote, and therefore if women vote they will smoke long, black cigars, stand on the street corners and tell stories. That was the reason of it, that is the reason of women’s place is at home, but it is not common sense. So one all these excuses that were offered in our campaign we proved that they were not arguments, we proved that they did not come from honest though – they were only excuses to cover up the real ignorance and traditions of their prejudices.

The New York Times (which I hope some of you read) is very interesting when you read it constantly and see how one day it

Speech cuts off here. The later pages are missing and presumed lost.

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