We have listened with understanding and sympathy to the words of these women from foreign countries, the unspeakable tragedies of the European nations and the threatened peril of the lands within the Western Hemisphere. The unspoken question, to which we must find an answer, is what are we going to do about it? Sympathetic words are not enough. Food to the hungry and clothes to the cold who have been robbed of every hope life offers are not enough. Even the utmost assistance, short of war, to Great Britain is not enough. Even war, itself, would not be enough.
I want to remind you women of what some of you may have forgotten. There was a great woman’s movement many years ago.
Its territory was Italy, Spain, and Southern France. In these districts, at the time, were the highest type of universities and perhaps here was the topmost peak of civilization at that date. Women attended universities and taught as members of the faculties. The knottiest subject of the curricula was mathematics and several women became distinguished as successful instructors in this study. There are many women doctors who killed or cured with the same liberty as men doctors. Occasional rich women established convents and so managed them that they were comfortably supported. I have supposed that some of the abbesses must have expressed independent and contrary opinions to those held at the Vatican for it happened that the Pope at that time about 1200 all powerful, put an end to the woman movement and there were no more women in colleges, no more women doctors, and no more women lecturers until the Woman’s Century.
1840-1940 came. What would have resulted had that first woman movement gone on normally and naturally as it had started? Would we not have had a better world than we have now? Would it not be possible that war would have loosened instead of tightened its hold upon the nations? Well, the woman movement came to an end and centuries passed before another such movement began.
The new movement grew slowly but surely. Democracy was climbing upward and we were climbing with it and clinging to it. When the World War came to an end, we were at the peak of the woman movement. Some thought we had fought “to make the world safe for democracy” and certainly democracy was on the upswing the world around. There was a republic in Germany. At that time, I actually made a speech in the Reichstag. I had been ill and a distinguished doctor had cared for me. He accompanied me that day lest I suffer some mishap. I am here because he cured me, but he is also here tonight because he is now an exile. The woman member of the Reichstag who introduced me is an exile also and I see another woman, Toni Sender, before me who was a member of the Reichstag for thirteen years and is now an exile. More, the Reichstag only meets when its masters wish and it votes as they desire.
In 1920, at a convention in Geneva, new women voters, proud of their new privileges, came from sixteen European countries to celebrate their victories. The future looked rosy, and civilization took on a new and inspiring meaning. Under the influence of this spreading liberalism, women in China removed the tiny shoes from their crippled feet, Mohammedan women took off their veils, boys and girls from backward nations all the world around were hurried to colleges in more privileged nations to prepare them to teach in their own homelands. The human race was marching onward.
Now, twenty years later, fourteen of these European countries have been invaded and possessed. Great Britain and Spain have not been invaded, but are possessed by the threat and the danger of it. The vote is gone for women and for men in those countries. The universities are closed. Men and women who write, speak, and think independently are in concentration camps or in exile, impoverished and homeless. The suffrage associations, the bravest of the women’s groups, have been forbidden to exist in all invaded lands. The last European group to go was in Hungary and that spark went out at the moment when the agreement of Hungary to enter the new world order was signed. Across the world, another active suffrage group came to an end when Japan joined the new world order.
Recently, a cartoonist presented a picture, setting forth the position of women in the new world order. In a corner stood a dejected looking woman. Beside her, was a scrubbing pail and a mop. In one hand, she held a rolling pin and on the other arm lay a baby wearing a military helmet. There should have been in the background a college door closing with a bang and a middle common school with its doors closed and locked for these are included in the present regime of the invaders. The title was “Go Back”. Well, I for one, will not go back!
Awake, women of America. Make a plan and a resolve, for we must not go back. We may be burned alive or buried alive or cooped up in a concentration camp, but we need not surrender. Do not forget that this most dastardly of wars is aimed at the rights of women more directly did any other war in all history. We were once classed as non-combatants and a slight protection was thrown around us. It is said that in this war more women and children have been killed than soldiers. Whether this is true or false, certainly more women and children have been killed than in any other war.
In all wars women have been put to indecent uses, but in no war was that unspeakable purpose so thoroughly organized as in this? Japan has actually bought some of the women she has mobilized for the use of the soldiers; she has enslaved other. Germany has hired them. This, the supremest indignity, the most damnable insult to civilization, should stir into activity every self-respecting woman although all other war news leaves her apathetic.
For a century women in this and other countries worked with much personal sacrifice to gain the rights all women enjoy today. This status of women is in no danger here at present, but when we reflect upon the dire consequences which lying propaganda, spread among ignorant citizens, brought to other lands, we should not trust too implicitly in our own security. If, once again, the woman movement is to go down, the man movement will go with it for the new world order will grant no liberty to any man or woman; it may grant privileges to the few who servilely obey.
Awake, arise, women of America, while there is yet time!! There is one antidote, and one only, for the menace that threatens. It is more powerful than armies; more effective than the deadliest of weapons. That something is public opinion, but when that opinion is scattered and divided into a thousand groups, it has neither power nor leadership. It becomes mere chatter, confused and aimless. However, when united, organized, and aroused, it becomes the most dynamic force the human race will ever know. Based upon logical thinking, centered about the key truth of the situation, the simple but all powerful thing to do is to shout this truth from the housetops from nation to nation and armies will fold their tents and disband. You may pronounce the plan silly. Instead, when the world comes to its senses, when brains turn their attention to logic, and reason reigns once more, the entire human race will learn that this is the way to settle disputes, calm grievances, and the policy which will lead all nations to live in peace with each other. Can the American people rise to an adequate understanding? Can they unite around the biggest and most fundamental truth in today’s situation? They can if they will. Women, you can make public opinion; you can unite it, organize it, arouse it. Arise!
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.