Jane Addams

The Communion of the Ballot – Nov. 24, 1912

Jane Addams
November 24, 1912— Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Addams gave this keynote address before the National American Woman Suffrage Association meeting in Philadelphia.

Convention and friends of suffrage:

When I tried to compose a title for this very important meeting this afternoon, I made three or four attempts and finally asked to have printed upon the program: "The Communion of the Ballot," wishing to express, if I might, that desire among all women who are seeking suffrage to come out into that larger light which knows no class, which knows no distinction and where all subjects, at least theoretically, are discussed upon their merits and upon their merits alone.

And in doing this I shall have to fall back almost altogether upon illustrations. I recall for instance, the many years ago in Chicago, and it is now a great many years ago since I first went to live in an immigrant community in Chicago.

I was very much distressed to find that the immigrants arrived so full of hope which America was going to hold for them. Very often today, all of their enthusiasm, all of their loyalty, all of their deep-seated affection for America has been grabbed, so to speak, by someone else, usually a self-seeking politician near the neighborhood who was very rich and successful and who invariably won their gratitude, not for America, but for himself, because he performed for them all sorts of favors and was always very careful to say that he was responsible for their good luck.

I found that those of them who were hard pressed, who were striving in vain for a better wage upon which to support their family in this land where the living is so expensive, got their first notion of fraternity and of help not from the Government, but from the Trades Union when they craved for a loyalty, which they poured out in their labor organizations. And then I found that when they were ill and when they were distressed, they too often came to philanthropy, and over and over again I was sorry that it was not more directly the city itself which could supply them with relief. "We do not own this hospital; it belongs to the County. We are not responsible for this ambulance; it is paid for by the tax-payer. Who wants a man who is injured and has to be cared for? When you are in trouble you went to kind-hearted people, not to the electorate of Chicago, as they stood man and man together." Something of that sort always adheres in altruism. There always adheres in every sort of philanthropy, which is a sex-goodness or society goodness, but the country garden variety of goodness which grows up every year more and more takes root in the hearts of the people and expresses itself in beneficial action.

John Galsworthy who is perhaps one of the best students of human nature, has recently cautioned us against the limitations of altruism. He is at present writing in England and has lately pointed out that there is coming into business a new danger. That the trustees who are representing stockholders in great corporations, that the agents who are representing the landed interests in great estates, are constantly being pushed to secure for their shareholders, to secure for their owners larger returns, the largest possible interest upon their investments, and that in order to do this, they are developing within themselves a loyalty and sense of obligation which cuts them off, as it were, from a just sense of obligation to the communtiy as a whole.

That They justify themselves in withholding repairs from their tenants, that they justify themselves as they would never do if they were acting as individuals, because as individuals they would allow their kindly impulses to assert themselves, but as mere representatives they fall back upon this altruism which they owe to other people. Mr. [Galsworthy] considers the sense of duty a very fine thing to other people, and because it is limited only to a few people out of the community, it becomes dangerous to the larger life of the community.

Something of that sort many of us feel: That altruism which sets limits, which says you must be good to your shareholders or even to the poor, or to one kind of people, or one set of people, in and of itself affords a certain danger in the community, and is not this a special danger, a special type, shall I say, of self-righteousness?

Referring to the sense of duty to which women have been prone, it came out of the very organization of family life. In the very beginning, a child's life could not be preserved without her help. It could not be brought up to maturity unless its mother gave to it her exclusive attention, her strong right arm to save it from destruction, and there therefore grew up the belief that unless a woman gave her time and effort to her family circle, she was not fulfilling the moral obligations of womanhood. Of course, in many cases that was true. In many cases it must always remain true. It is true of the woman of limited strength and experience, and shall I say limited power to delegate some of their work, but it is not universally true of all women. There comes a narrowing of woman's interests and morality, not that her family morality was to be [criticized], not that her family was not good, but that in its very essence it set a limit on all obligation to people outside.

I would like to say something of the [reverse] of this. We see all about us certain great functions of life being taken over by the Government, being taken over more rapidly year by year. One with which we are familiar and which Miss Lathrop touched upon is the great obligation to the widow and fatherless. That will do for an illustration, because they are a classical representation of beneficiaries. In some States it is the government itself which is providing mother's pensions and funds to parents and all sorts of things, that a child might be kept with its mother and that, in the discretion of the judge, it need not be sent to a home for $10, a month, but that it can be put back into the home if the mother is a fit person to care for that child.

While these things come about slowly, was it not to save money for those children who were cared for by the counties who cheerfully put out the ten dollars a month for each child? Was it not that the men did not see the great value of the child being kept within the home? Was it not rather than a partial view of life which government represents in so many ways? They were quite sure that if a child were housed in good institutions, if it were properly fed, if it were provided with shoes, it was being well cared for.

I remember in Chicago for many years, that the old people who were sent to the poor house, who had sometimes lived together for ten years, (longer than ten years sometimes) thirty and forty years and even fifty years, the man and his wife when they [fell] upon poverty were separated. The man went into the men's ward and the woman in the women's ward and once a week they were allowed to sit quietly together in the hall. When the women went to the County Commissioners to protest against this absurd regulation, we were always told that the buildings were built that way. Because the buildings were built that way, women naturally had to yield and the affection, that fine human relationship that is to be the greatest thing in life, was ruthlessly broken.

I could give many other illustrations which clearly demonstrate this same thing, -- that a certain kind of thing should be done and it is then all done without bringing to bear upon it the full power of criticism, the full power of understanding which the entire community might so easily bring.

Take, if you please, the whole subject of recreation, which is so rapidly being turned over [to] the government. Not only the provision made in play grounds and parks, but the supervision of dance halls and the erection of recreation piers. There are all sorts of things which the people in the city are suddenly awakening to realize it is their obligation to provide for the young people, unless they are to be ensnared by the hundreds every time that crowds of them walk out upon the streets. The subject of recreation is passing over into the government's hands and shall we say it shall be well done only by men, who have so long been more or less annoyed by the of young people when they come home too worn out to care for more noise?

Shall we not way it is a better thing to turn the provision for public recreation over to our good city, if women are not only permitted to take part in planning out the best types of recreation, and having something to do with the supervision of the young people who are supplied with the pleasure which has so long been denied to them?

As another illustration, take the whole subject, if you please, of sanitary science. They endeavored, in our cities not very long ago, to keep the alleys clean and to keep the basements free from water, and those other very obvious things. Year by year that is passing steadily into a department of city activity, which might easily be called the science of [Sanitary] Regulations, which shall not only preserve life, but which shall prolong it and lift it up to a higher degree.

Is it safe to turn this all over, as intricate as it is and as strongly and [thoroughly] as it has to do with the erection of houses, with the actual living day by day in tenements with which women have had to do, to men who must look at it from one side and not from all sides which the life of the community would represent?

There is still the gravest question which is coming into public notice. When I was in Philadelphia the last time, the Civic Club discussed and has since taken up the question with great courage. It is the subject of a Vice Commission for the City of Philadelphia.

Now, whether we think it wise or not, this whole question of the regulation of vice is coming up for Government action. The first action that was ever taken about it in the matter of careful laws was passed, as you know, in the Federal Congress in relation to International white-slave traffic, and it goes on from State to State as men are aroused to the need of doing something about it.

Now I ask you, in the name of common sense and in the name of this great moral which baffles every community when the subject is placed before it, is it sane that legislation concerning this evil which changes with each generation, is it safe to trust it in the hands of men? What has happened in England? However impatient we may grow about the laws in America which seem to discriminate against women in regard to property and the care of children in regard to their treatment in the courts, we always admit that our laws are superior to most of the countries of Europe and certainly superior to the laws in England. But it has happened in England simply because the women have been forced to appeal to the pity, shall I say, of men, not to the chivalry because that has failed, but because they have been obliged to be subjected to the indignity of other women that such things should exist. There has grown up a tendency to look at this queston of vice in the care that should be accorded to unfortunates and the protection that should be thrown around the young people in a great city, and there has grown up a disposition to divide into two camps, -- the women in one camp and the men in the other.

Now, it seems to me that the recent events which exist in England have been brought about largely because these great moral questions were not taken hold of as they ought to be taken hold of by men and women together. When they begin to say that you are responsible for this great evil and you are responsible for not protecting girls, you bring about a state of mind which is not the best state of mind with which to deal with a delicate, difficult and intricate situation which has its moral aspects as well as political and deep, underlying human aspects, which can only be understood if all of the intelligence and the moral and all the idle common sense in the community is brought to bear upon it in the spirit of cooperation and the desire to find the best possible solution.

Therefore we say, simply because, in addition to those things which Dr. Shaw mentioned as belonging to the Government, (the streets and the water) these great moral things, these great domestic questions, if you please, are now being brought into the government and it has been dangerous to trust them too much to philanthropy; so, on the other hand, it is going to be advantageous to philanthropy in the hands of women; so now it is equally dangeous to trust them to politics in the hands of men.

In both cases we are failing to bring to bear upon them the great moral energy of the people to right a common wrong and to bring to pass a new sense of jsutice and a new sense of higher living. Now it has so happened, it seems to me, in the history of America, that whenever great moral issues have come before the public, there has followed the movement to extend the franchise to women.

We have heard that story of the meeting held in 1848. It was an aftermath of a great meeting held several years before in London, when these same women were not allowed to sit in an Abolition meeting because they were women. And when they knew this was coming before Congress, of course they had to have the ballot to carry on the work which they had done so long before.

The second great impulse came with the Prohibition movement. The sale of alcohol is a matter of legal regulation and unless we have the ballot we can have nothing to say about it. Now there coems from all over the world this irresistible impulse to take over great social and industrial questions, and whether it comes in Australia, where they first brought wages in relation to legal inactment, or in Norway, where women sat for the first time n the Session of, the Parliament and made over the adverse laws, -- however it may come, the world over, because it is the power of government, so must women follow our own business there. We cannot be left out of government because these things will not be well done. The things we have always done cannot be handed over to a Government managed solely by men. When they were altruistic questions, we could not deal with them rightly. We did not have enough money or power, but neither can you deal with them in spite of your wisdom and money, because the momey and wisdom are not applicable but only the interpretation and only the understanding of all the community together can deal with them safely or deal with them safely.

And so we would like to put the Women Suffrage Movement into making it a part of the movement of social development and advance which is going on [throughout] the entire civilized world, and we would like to say that we are part of that onward tide flowing out to the open sea, of which Milton said:

"It was a tide which no man and no element of nature could withstand, -- the tide of increasing and developing morality.

Speech from Addams, Jane, “The Communion of the Ballot, November 24, 1912,” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed October 31, 2018, https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/8938.