Carrie Chapman Catt

Woman and War - September 1, 1914

Carrie Chapman Catt
September 01, 1914
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Mr. Steyn, President of the Orange Free State at the time of the Boer War, told me in my visit to South Africa that in one year the women on the farms of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State produced enough food and supplies to maintain the army in the field for three years. This remark is brought back to mind by the appeal of Premier Viviani to the women of France. He called to them to complete the work of gathering the crops left unfinished by the men who had been called to arms.

“The wheat,” said he, “stands unreaped and the time of vintage approaches. I ask you to maintain the life of our fields, to finish this year’s harvest and to prepare for the rest of the next year.”

American tourists flying toward London in their haste to escape from war territory, write that on every road in France there were companies of young men to be seen marching to the front, while in every field sobbing women were hard at work doing the work the men had left undone. They needed no appeal from the Premier. French women are already doing what women of all lands have done in war times since the world began – the work of women plus the work of men. With hearts heavy with dread; with none of the inspiration which comes from crowds, from music, from appeals to patriotism, from hero worship, from love of adventure, they bear the burdens as best they may.

Without the work of women in field , factory and shop were they take up the industrial labor men have laid down; without their production of food for the army and tax money to meet the enormous cost of the war, any nation would come to an end, though its army were composed entirely of Alexanders and Napoleons.

Men who have had the gift to analyze conditions free from preconceived theories, have long recognized this fact, but it remained for the tragedy of the Boer War to bring a demonstration clear enough for all to see.

For reasons which have never been explained to the world at large, the British at the end of a year of indecisive fighting established “concentration camps” and into these camps at the point of the bayonet, they gathered the women and children from the farms. They thus cut off the source of supply of food and clothes for the army more effectively than any previous invader in the pages of history had been able to do. Though the British would hardly agree that this was the motive which led to the policy of placing the women in camps, it is certain that the Boers are of one mind, and that is that they surrendered at the time they did solely because the women were taken from their posts of production.

The real tragedy, however, was not bringing the war to a speedy end. Benjamin Franklin, that great American philosopher, said, “Wars are not paid for in war time, the bill comes later.” The “concentration camps”, hastily established and badly equipped, were soon the scene of epidemics of typhoid fever, dysentery, measles and scarlet fever; and women and children died like flies. Young Boer women volunteered as nurses, but provided with none of the necessities for sanitation or medication, they made little headway in staying the harvest of Death. When the War was over and Boer casualties were summed up, it was found that 4,000 men had given up their lived in the field, but 20,000 women and children had died in the “concentration camps”. Thousands of men returned to the spot where wife and children had been to find them added to the war’s toll. Scarcely a child under five years was left in the land, and even yet it is a notable fact that there is a hiatus of five years in the ages of children in the schools of South Africa. Had the same condition continued long enough, the entire race would have been swept out of existence; and though the army had been victorious, the nation it defended would have been no more.

A successful war demands a division of labor and that of the women is quite as important as that of the men, as some day a thoughtless world will recognize.

Superficially minded opponents of woman suffrage bring the alleged argument that “women cannot fight”. They can fight and have fought in wars and all down the centuries; but if they go forth to fight, who shall keep the nation going? What is there to fight for? Thank God, they do not go to the front often! In the calm, sad moments at home they are learning to understand the wasteful cost of war as men have never done, and some day as one woman the motherhood of the world will refuse longer to give their sons to be shot in support of the vagaries of monarchs or false ideals of national honor. If courts are better than duels, if votes are better than pitched battles to settle national difficulties, so are international courts and international parliaments better than war. It is votes women must demand if they would abolish the horrors, the waste, the barbarism, of war, and usher in the blessings of peace.

Carrie Chapman Catt.

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