Carrie Chapman Catt

Address, State Suffrage Conference, Saratoga - August 30, 1917

Carrie Chapman Catt
August 30, 1917
State Suffrage Conference
Print friendly

SPEECH DELIVERED BY MRS. CARRIE CHAPMAN CATT AT THE STATE SUFFRAGE CONFERENCE IN SARATOGA. AUGUST 30TH. 1917

Madam Chairman and comrades, I have wondered what I could say to you this afternoon. I wanted to state to the workers, to those of you who are bearing the heat and burden of this campaign. You do not need a plea for suffrage. I know no arguments for it that are not even better for you. I cannot tell you what to do and how to do it for your five thousand officers have made the plans and passed them along the line, and so I have wondered what I could say that would be worth your while to hear, and thinking it over, it has seemed to me that if I could bring anything to you that would strengthen your hope, that would stimulate your courage, and that would add to the bigness of your spirit, it would be worth trying at least. You know nobody ever died and nobody ever broke down and nobody gave out or retired because of overwork. When people fall by the way it is a sign that the spirit is sick, but if there is anything that we can do to strengthen the faith in that spirit so that you will be triumphant in your march through the next few weeks, it would be worth while.

So I have brought to you each and all a slogan.

To all captains among you, and I propose that however high up you are in your official relations to this movement you are all captains and I know the President it, I think all of you are, and as captains let me give you this. It is an old old saying, you have all heard it, but it is worth remembering it now:

“Because a nail was lost, the shoe was lost, “Because a shoe was lost, the horse was lost, “Because the horse was lost, the rider was lost, “Because the rider was lost, the battle was lost “And all because of the horseshoe nail.

You the captains, are the suffrage nails in this campaign. You have a very especial place; not one poor bad, ineffectual, indifferent careless lazy captain could lose the battle, but five hundred such out of the five thousand odd could easily do it. Let me hope for you that the spirit of every captain will be strong in these next few weeks and that every one of you will be a true and steady and straight suffrage nail. Your duty is to deal directly with the prejudices of the voter. A great new thing has happened in the world. There is no person of big, broad vision who does not realize how woman suffrage is coming all the world around. One of the greatest of men, Victor Hugo, you know said: “There is one thing more powerful than kings and armies, the power of an idea when its time has come.” The time of woman suffrage has come. Captains, bear that then in your minds, but in talking to the voters in your little section, remember that not all of them know it yet. They are still wrapped in some of their ancient prejudices. Be tender with them. You have your prejudices about other things and they cannot be torn away from you. You must try to get the point of view and labor with them, but don’t say that such and such a man is impossible. Remember Dr. Asquith. One of the most memorable incidents of my life was sitting up in that chicken coop they call the ladies gallery and by the way, under the influence of the new democracy parliament has voted an appropriation of five pounds to take the grill away. Sitting up in that gallery and looking down through that famous old grill just a week before the war was declared, I heard Dr. Asquith make a speech on Woman Suffrage, and he said in that speech, that because war was one of the things that now and then was inevitable for any country and since no women had any place in war as it was a man’s business solely, therefore he would always oppose woman’s suffrage on the grounds of expediency and he had yet to hear that there was any sufficient demand in Great Britain for the vote to grant it upon lines of justice. Now he says that he believes that upon the lines of justice and expediency the vote should not be longer withheld. Looking down upon him three years ago, the thought went through my mind that so long as men remained in power there was no hope for the women of England, because their condition is different from ours. It is in one sense a man-ruled country in the matter of legislation. And I wondered if there was any way of reaching his reason, of bringing him to sanity, and I could see no possibility, but now it has come, and when Mr. Asquith can be converted there is no man or woman hopeless. Please remember that and if you do not get on well with your voter, try to find someone else who can. That is your task. It is the simplest and easiest because you do not have to combat the personal equation. He or she who enters into organization has the hardest task because there are always concessions that have to be made; there are always elbows sticking out and striking each other. It is always difficult to work in organization, difficult to work in society. We are having to do it because the world is bringing us closer and closer together every day and every year. That is your slogan, you are the nail in the horse shoe.

Now I have a slogan for the rest of you. You who are the Assembly Leaders, how hard it is for you to get your captains to do their work to please you. How hard it is to be sure that they are going to do it; how much you worry over their not doing it right. Will you take this for your slogan: “He who wants a horse without a fault must go afoot.” Your captains are not perfect, because you are not perfect and God has never made anybody yet who was. So go to your Captain, bear with her shortcomings if she has them, try to help her where she is weak, and remember that while she may not be doing perfect work she is going to do better work and with your aid she will do all that is needful.

And you who are the Chairmen of the Campaign Districts, you are the ones who have the larger responsibility. People are going to find fault with you and one county is going to say that you do not help enough, you do not give enough and all that. May I give you a slogan “Grumblers seldom work, and workers never grumble.” Take it to bed with you, say it with your prayers, keep it ever uppermost in your minds. When they come to complain of some of your workers find out whether it is a grumbler and if it is, never mind, throw it away.

And now for all of you, for the State President and all her board and the Chairmen of the districts and the Assembly Districts and the Captains all together, I have another slogan. Perhaps if I did not explain how I came by it, you will think it is a criticism. My Mother was never really a suffragist. She used to say for my sake that she was in her later years, but I never really thought she grasped the idea or perceived the vision, and I was a very trying daughter to her. I remember when I was quite a young lady she said to a neighbor that she felt like a hen that had hatched a duck. Well, long years ago, in 1900 I was elected President of the National Association and held that office for four years and when I was elected I knew my Mother had no sympathy with the idea at all, but I was deeply touched when she sent me this little comment and because she gave it to me in affection and I give it to you in that same affection, I think you will understand it “Remember ever it is not the place that ennobles you, but you the place and this is only by doing that which is great and noble.” A great work commands a great sacrifice and she who is not capable of a great sacrifice is not capable of a great work. These things are well to bear in mind, they will estimate you, they will help you. You can repeat them over and over and put the worry and the little bickering and troubles in the back grounds so as to bring your mind closer to bear upon the big problems which will come to you. So if the nails are strong and true the shoe of the towne is going to stay in place and that will mean that the horse of the Assembly Districts is going to be ridden if we are strong and true and the entire district will be the rider and he is going to fight a battle for victory. But let me remind you that you are not fighting a war, only a battle. Win or lose you are not through. If you win, I trust there will be no desertion anywhere in this great army, but that you will remember having fought this battle, that you are going on to fight it for those who have not yet won. I do not know what you may think, but our movement, our warfare will not be complete when New York women have the vote, nor even when the women of the United States have it; it will not be complete until all the women of all the civilized world have it including Germany and Austria and Bulgaria and perhaps we may add even Turkey. We will not be secure until the whole discrimination against our sex is wiped out of existence the wide world over, but the battle oftentimes gives the turn which brings the war to final victory.

Here is a little story: It is said by Uncle Eben “We can’t always tell about a display of strength; many a man thinks he is doing a fine job a-mule driving when the mule is just hurrying home on his own account. The suffrage mule is having to be whacked a good deal now to make him go forward, but when you have won he is going to go hurrying home on his own account; he is only going to need a little stimulation, that is all. So stand by and bear it in mind that it has been your priviliege to do this great thing for all the world.

There is still prejudice and I think it is something like this: It is said that there was a prisoner in a palace prison and somebody asked him in disgust at his great crime “What kind of conscience have you?” And he said, “It is as good as new, sir, I have never used it.” There are people in your position of whom we might say that about their minds, - they still have never used them. You must teach them but when they have begun to think in this great state of New York it is going to mean thinking all over the world. So you are fighting the battle for everybody.

In yesterday morning’s paper, General Pershing said, “I had to rather live to-day and have some part in these great things that to have lived and occupied the highest station in any previous time in history. We are going to establish democratic institutions in the world for all time and every man who can have a share however small in the work, may be proud.” Some men might have said that and as they did in the other times forget all about the women, but that is not so of General Pershing. He, as your remember, married a daughter of Wyoming and he lived there with her in that great fort out in Chayenne. You remember perhaps her tragic death, but he is the kind that remembers that women are people. If a man risking his life for all the ideas of democracy can rise to this high position of idealism, then why is it not true that a very (every) captain and every block helper should not feel that same idealism? If our boys are going away to fight, to give their lives for Democracy, can we not afford any and every sacrifice to bring it here in America? The best I can hope for every woman working in this campaign is that she may be filled with that idealism of General Pershing. It will lead you forward, nothing will discourage you, you will pass over all the hazards of the campaign triumphantly, and that is the wish that I have to give you.

Now in the long ago when there was a socalled defeat – we never had a real one; we have had some postponements of final victory; there came what they called a defeat; it really did not so much matter, - the questions that were before the world were likely to be before it later on when that temporary defeat would be turned into victory, but we have come now to that time; we can’t wait any longer. When this war is over it is going to be a new world to take the place of the old one. It is going to be an utterly different world. Scarcely anything that has remained stable in the past will perhaps be stable then. And it is going to need the mother point of view, the mother heart of the race, in order that the adjustment may be fair and well-balanced.

In the long, long ago when world wars turned the world upside down, it was still a man’s world and women were in their homes, supposedly protected there; they had little to do with public institutions; they continued doing what women had done for centuries before and did for centuries after, but it is very different now. Probably our own land will not be so disturbed, so utterly re-arranged as are the lands on the other side of the ocean, and yet no one can tell. In Great Britain and Germany there were a million more women than men before the war, eight hundred thousand in France and in all the little countries there was a surplus of women. Prussia, about five years ago, hid an investigation as to the reason why, and the Commission authorized by the Government for that investigation brought in its report and said that it did not know why, that it was not due to wars, it was not due to colonization, it was evidently due to some scientific fact that had not yet been discovered. I forgot to say that Prussia then opened all educational opportunities to women because it said it is clear there is going to be a surplus of women who will have to be self-supporting, therefore, we will give them the opportunity. Now when the war is over that surplus of women is going to be infinitely greater. To put it at a minimum, at least there will be two millions more in every one of those countries, probably still greater.

In Great Britain the trade unionists said and gave their promise to the government, we will set aside all our trade union rules while the war is in progress with the promise that when the war is over we shall have our places and the rules re-established. The government blithely made the promise and the men went away to war and the women went into their places. Sometimes there were questions of wages, sometimes they had the men’s wages, and now everybody in England sees that many of these men are not coming back, that there are not going to be men enough to take these places, and those same trade unions had not admitted them heretofore; they see that the government cannot deliver its promise and that it would be rankly unfair to the trade unions to demand it. They see that there are women who never worked before who are working now and who must go on because there are children to be cared for and the man is not coming back to be the economic support of that household again, or perhaps he is coming back not as a helper but as a dependent for the wife and the children to care for. And this has been one of the particular reasons that led the calm minded men to see the necessity of giving women a chance.

As Lloyd George says, it would be an outrage in the readjustment of economic conditions if the women were not to have their opportunity to have their influence brought to bear upon that great problem. We will have that problem here, perhaps not so intense and difficult as on the other side, but it will be here, and if it is an outrage in Europe that men alone should fix these affairs it will be a great an outrage here. We must have our views heard at the Board of arbitration in all of these industrial affairs. Those of your who remember a few weeks ago – I have heard the description; I was not there – when the gentleman whose renown is greatest as a leader of anti-suffrage in this state cane before a committee in Albany to defend this bill to eliminate during the time of the war the child labor laws, and he came to speak before that committee with an employer of child labor, and they too on one side with a roomful of women on the other, representing the Federation of Clubs, the Woman Suffrage Party, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Consumers League, the very best homes in this state, the mother heart that was trying to reach out and take in the children who did not have such powerful mothers to speak for them, - you will remember how in spite of all your arguments the Legislature passed the bill, and had it not been for that splendid suffrage Governor it would have gone into effect. Now when the war I over, with the women perhaps filling many places, perhaps many of the men not coming back to fill their old posts, there will be a demand for all the things that children can do and there will be the temptation to put the children into these places. We can afford to mobilize men, we can afford to mobilize women, but a nation is not civilized that mobilizes its children. What pretty nearly happened in Albany with women disfranchised, will happen in many places in our own country if the women who came before that committee do not have the power of the vote and it is the mother, the mother desiring to do her own work in the world that should speak for the vote for the protection of those children after the war.

There are other questions. To my mind there is one, one of which heretofore it has not been permissible to speak. There has been a sort of conspiracy of silence about it, and so the world has gone on suffering, producing unhappiness and misery and crime because of the cowardice of the world. There is a disease of Soddom and Gomorrah, of Babylon and Ninevah, that has followed all the way down through the centuries, filling our hospitals, our insane asylums, wrecking our homes and devastating civilization. Well do I remember a beautiful young woman and a splendid type of man, as high as any I ever knew, a doctor who attended as did I the wedding of that young woman to a man who was a patient of that doctor and he didn’t dare to speak to her because professional honor forbade it. I saw her fade away and die, and saw the man marry again and the next wife fade away and die, and the doctor’s lips were sealed all that time. That is one of the things against which the motherhood of this nation and every other nation must make war.

We are trying to protect as best we can our boys in the camps in this country. We have succeeded better than they did on the other side, but in Great Britain the suffragists organized a patrol of mothers and they patrolled the camps to protect the boys. Now the government of Great Britain has called for volunteers of ten thousand mothers, seeing the benefit, to patrol the camps. We have succeeded better and yet it is reported that this infamous thing has increased 300% in France since the war began. In Great Britain, in Austria and in Germany there have been great meetings of protest by the women because the boys were not protected and the women, the mothers, have said we are willing to give our sons, but we are not willing to give their morals. And in Austria a book upon this subject has recently come forth. We do not know much that is going on down in that part of the world, only a little leaks out, that which the censors are willing for us to have, but it is clear that in all the countries that the war has touched up to this time that the women have been terribly arroused over this thing. And so it is time for us to lay aside the mock-modesty of early days and give it to the world that we will stand for this thing no longer. But we need votes votes behind out state and our city governments, behind our health departments, votes to make our influence strong. And these are many things that are coming; things that are so strange that they have not been made right in a man-governed world. We are now fighting for food. It seems as though the world might be strangled by starvation and when the war is over that problem is not going to cease, and yet they tell us now in the current Geographic Magazine that it takes all the time of two hundred thousand men to raise the food that rats in this country consume every year. They consume enough to supply all the food that France and Belgium and Great Britain would require, that we are trying to save by living on corn-meal and so one. Now while the world is a man’s world, they do not eliminate rats. That seems to me a very feminine thing to do. But we in our homes, being told that our place was there, have never had any inducement to think of things in a social way. It may be there are other problems like rats that we do not think of now that we can do and will need terribly to do to save the food when the war is over.

But to my mind the greatest of all, there is one thing more and that is this, Lloyd George said not long ago, “There must be no next time; do not let us repeat this horror; let us be a generation that manfully, courageously, resolutely eliminates war from the tragedies of human life.” The sickening and horrors of this war must never come again, and how can they be prevented? By making every nation of the world democratic instead of autocratic; by letting the people rule and women are people. I think sometimes that men are too belligerent to rule all by themselves, anyway. They need to have some restraining influence, and if all the nations were democratic it would be so. We cannot say that there will not be other Napoleons and Ceasars in the days to come. The only safety is in the people. The women have proved all the world round that if their nation is forced to war, if it is in danger, they go to the side of the men and fight with them however their hearts may be torn by the sorrows of it all. But the way to do is not that. But to prevent by looking far ahead, by establishing some kind of system – there are many theories – that will put war forever out of the world. We owe that, we owe it to posterity, and when all the nations are tired, when they are all bankrupt, when they are all lacerated by this war, when everybody living can remember its horrors, and though the recounting of those horrors will be lessened when the war is over and we shall hear more of them than we have heard yet, while all of this is fresh is the time to take action, and then we need the women, the women behind the governments of all the world, in order that the mother as well as the father may say something about the welfare of their common land, about the destiny of their children, about the civilization under which they live.

So we cannot wait any longer. We must have the vote now. I believe that in November New York is going to give that expected victory. I believe it because I believe that all the men of New York are capable of sane thinking; I believe that they will think sanely. But I want to speak to you upon the bare possibility that they have not yet seen the light. If they have not, then I beg of you be not discouraged. Our time has come just the same and we are going to win in another way, and I invite you one and all, every soldier, all the way along this tremendous army, to come to Washington and I invite you there to fight one more battle, for I venture the prediction and stand by it that within two years, win or lose in New York, we shall have suffrage all over our country.

And now as they used to say in the old fashioned sermons, in conclusion – I did not write this, I am going to read it to you, I bring to you something somebody wrote; I would give credit for it were it not an anonymous writer.

“If you can keep your head, When all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, And make allowance for their doubting too, If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, do not deal in lies, Or being hated, do not give way to hating

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, If you can fill the unforgiving minute, With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run. Yours is the Earth, and everything that’s in it, And – what is more – Your Cause, Our Peace is won.

PDF version