On March 26th
The three remarkable articles that follow were given as radio addresses over a nation-wide hook-up on the National Broadcasting Company’s system. The occasion was the tenth anniversary of woman suffrage and of the founding of the League of Women Voters.
The Hope of the Founders
By Carrie Chapman Catt
Honorary President of the National League of Women Voters
You ask me what Hope led to the founding of the League of Women Voters. None at all. When suffragists were marching upward on the last lap of their century old campaign, they spied Old Age coming down the path to meet them. They knew they would be caught soon, for they had been long on the way. They did not feel sorrow or regret. Glancing over their shoulders they saw an army plodding upward behind them, younger, healthier, stronger, much handsomer, and beaming with patriotism. The Old Ones spoke softly to the Young Ones, saying, “Hear ye, we are dropping an incompleted task that we can no longer carry. Come, take hold, and finish it.” The answer “Aye, Aye,” unanimous and confident, came in quick response. The army picked up the dropped tools and went to work. It was not a hope, but a job that brought the League of Women Voters. That is the way God’s work is done.
It was this war: with the vote won, there remained innumerable odds and ends of claims to equal rights, some disputed year by year for a century, that had now to be set straight and made consistent with women voters. There were legal wrongs, some little, some big, that must be made right, and every code of laws was dotted with stray and curious bits of discriminations against women and these had not only to be thought out, but often brought to the consideration of somewhat obstreperous legislatures. These were the troubles left over from the suffrage campaign. There were others.
When the suffrage movement began, no married woman could collect or use her wages, should she earn any. As late as 1846 there were only eight occupations open to women. In 1920 industry had so expanded that the number of occupations had increased by several hundred. Yet women were, in that year, employed in all of them except eight; that is, all occupations except eight were closed to women in 1846, - all except eight were open to women in 1920. Every day new industries are arriving and new occupations call for new workers. Even farmers are deep in the experiments of translating corn into paper, sugar, syrup, and fertilizer, instead of feeding it to swine.
Upon this fast expanding field of industry lies the mighty prosperity of this nation and, curiously, the industry rests largely upon its millions of women workers. Every worker is wrapped around by a group of problems and this forms the contact with the League of Women Voters.
Wages: Shall the woman’s equal the man’s or be inferior?
Hours: Shall the woman work 16 or 8, or what?
Seats: May she sit or must she always stand?
Sanitation: Shall her health be protected or death invited?
Trade Unions: Is she free to join a trade union and if she does, will she have equal rights within the union?
Indeed, there are social problems enough boiling and seething around every woman of us to keep an army of keen thinkers and doers busy for a generation or so in order to clear them all away.
The problems confronting the new voters of 1920 were by no means confined to the rights and status of women.
Men in the United States were enfranchised in six installments and in no case were these new voters asked what qualifications for voting they possessed. Suffragists discovered long ago that many of them possessed none. With ignorant, untutored voters as its constituencies the great nation dreamt of by the Revolutionary fathers never came. Progressive legislation has been slow to arrive. Institutions unbecoming such a nation as ours, still linger. Inexplicable timidity frequently possesses Congresses and legislatures.
Benjamin Franklin was a great story teller and at least one biographer records that this was his favorite tale. The famous Eddystone lighthouse [located in Southern England] was kept by two men. It occupied a remote and wild island. In the autumn a ship brought them a stock of provisions which had to last six months and during that time no other human being except themselves was seen by the two men. One spring the ship’s crew, bringing provisions, found only one man. Upon inquiry, the man replied that he had not seen the other man for six months. He explained that they had had a dispute and had decided that they hated each other so much that neither wanted ever to see or to hear the other again. So one had gone to live in the tower while the other occupied the ground floor, and for six months they had not met. Franklin said that the spirit of these two men pervaded every Parliament he had known and gave this as the reason why so little got done. The story seems to provide an explanation why Naval Reduction Conferences do not reduce; why a high tariff Congress consumes a year some months to raise the tariff higher. It certainly illustrates the predicament of our nation when wets have taken to the cellar and drys to the tower.
The spirit of the two men, flying about in our legislatures, may explain why progress has often moved backward instead of forward.
Observing these things, suffragists said to each other, “Wives and daughters of American men will be as ignorant and indifferent as they. What shall we do about it?” “Why,” others replied, “We must educate them. Remember, no party, no government, ever tried to educate the new man voter. He stayed where he was found. We must not repeat that blunder. Let us have a League of Women Voters. Each League must first educate itself; then go forth and teach all it knows to other groups. It must hold schools and round tables on all the great issues of the day. It must persuade other organizations to take up the business of making good and wise women citizens.