Helen Hamilton Gardener

Statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage - April 26, 1913

Helen Hamilton Gardener
April 26, 1913— Washington, D.C.
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In a very remarkable article written recently by that distinguished Democrat, Mr. William Randolph Hearst, in speaking of the founders of this Nation, he said:

On the one hand were the Democratic Republicans, who believe both in the letter and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, who were convinced that a new order of things was both advisable and advantageous; that the old established systems of government by a superior class were failures, and that government by all the people was not only the most just and righteous, but the most practical and the most successful form of government that could be devised.

Did he mean it? Government by all of the people, and that there should be no class? Did this distinguished Democrat mean just that? That that is the only righteous form of government? And, then, are women people?

Have words a par value or are they merely hereditary forms of speech?

In speaking before a great patriotic body of women last week here in Washington our silver-tongued Secretary of State, the Hon. William Jennings Bryan, used these words:

We established an independent nation in order that men might enjoy a new kind of happiness and a new kind of dignity. That kind which a man has when he respects every other man and woman's individuality as he respects his own; where he is not willing to draw distinctions between classes; where he Is not willing to shut the door of privilege in the face of anyone.

Now, we are certainly "anyone," whether we are people or citizens, or not. He demands the kind of dignity that respects every other man's and woman's individuality as he respects his own. Did he mean it?

Again he said before this same distinguished body of patriotic women, of whom I was one:

The problems are different, but the principles are the same. Turn back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and apply the principles found in them to our modern questions.

This spirit must lead you to work for the preservation to each individual of his inalienable rights and to keep this a Government of the people, for the people, by the people. You must throw influence on the side of the people in their struggle for liberty. Then, and then only, will you be true Daughters of the American Revolution.

Now, are women individuals? Are they people? Did the Secretary of State really mena those words at their par value? I hope that he did.

The arguments against woman suffrage are, in point of fact, always in the ultimate analysis simply arguments against self-government. They are in the ultimate analysis based on opposition to our form of government. They are the arguments which have been used by king to serf in all the ages past, with women now the disqualified unit instead of labor or poverty or any other "lower class."

If government is to rest upon suffrage at all—that is, upon the expressed will of anybody not a "king by divine right"—who is to decide that you are born with that divine right to vote, to express yourself in civic affairs, and that I am not?

When and how did you get the right and where and how did I lose it? [Applause.]

That always puzzles me. I can not remember when I lost it. How did one type of human units get the right to decide that another type of human units shall not have liberty of conscience and expression? I never could understand that. If it is a divine right, what particular streak of divinity has been discovered in man that women lack? (Laughter and applause.]

If it is not a natural, inherent, hmmm right, then they say it is a "conferred privilege." Now, who conferred it? On what basis did they confer it, and where did they get it to confer? [Applause.]

Has the supply run out? ls not special privilege in government, in the final analysis, simply a wrong and an outrage against which people have been fighting since history began? Kings claim to be born with this divine right. The founders of our government scouted the idea—for kings, but not for men. They announced to the world that we are born "free and equal" and that all just government is based upon the consent of the governed. They said—and both our President and Secretary of State said to us the other day in this patriotic organization of women—that this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I hope that they realized, even when they were saying it, that it was only a glittering form of speech. I hope that they realized that it is in fact a government of all of the people by a half of the people for a few of the people. I hope that they realize that the Democratic Party now has the most wonderful opportunities that any party ever had since the beginning of time [applause]; an opportunity to make that great glittering generality a fact instead of a fiction.

I hope that they realize that fact while they were talking to the ladies, and that they realized that the ladies were people.

Again—Mrs. Kent has stolen my thunder, but I want to point a moral here and so I am going to quote it again—President Wilson recently said this:

As for other men setting up as a Providence over myself, I seriously object. I will not live under trustees if I can help it. If any part of our people want to be wards; if they want to have guardian put over them; if they want to be taken care of; if they want to be children patronized by the Government; why I am sorry, because it will sap the manhood of America.

There was never a truer thing written than that. [Applause.] And it has already sapped the womanhood of America to such an extent that there are women willing to travel around the country telling other women that their place is at home [laughter and applause]; that they ought to stay inside of four walls, where guardians und trustees will keep them in perpetual tutelage, and take care of them like children, and they should not even want the ability to express themselves in their own government [Laughter and applause.]

These traveling ladies, who insist that woman's place is the home, asserted just the other day, here in Washington, that this movement of ours is one of sex antagonism. They asserted it is conducted by a few disgruntled old maids. Now, the fact is that most of us are married and have been married a long time, and we like men so well that we want to help them make the world a better place to live in. We do not believe in throwing upon our husbands and brothers all of our burdens just as soon as those burdens and responsibilities pass beyond the front door or the back gate.

Was it "sex antagonism" that made President Wilson object to having guardians set over him? Let us use a little common sense and a little common honesty in dealing with these questions that are basically as old as time—the question of human rights; the question of equality before the law; the question of self-government. I should think men would be ashamed to accept opportunities, rights, and privileges which they are unwilling to share with their mothers and sisters and wives. I am glad that these gentlemen here are ashamed of it.

Another point: I insist that you have no right to ask just what woman is going to do with her vote when she gets it. [Applause]

That question is always based on two assumptions. First, that man has a right to dictate to her, to control her vote and make her vote the way he wants her to; and the other is that she most likely is going to vote either like a knave or a fool, that she will be prone to use her vote with bad results.

Nobody assumes that attitude when extending franchise to the young men as they become of age. Nobody insists that boys of 21 shall show how wisely and for just what reform measures they are going to vote before they are given the ballot. The callow youth whom probably his mother has educated and sent to school and sent out in the world is not asked to mortgage his vote before he gets it to prove that he will use it to please somebody else. Now, why should women be asked or required to prove that they are not going to vote unwisely? Are they more corrupt or more foolish than their 21-year-old sons?

The question of what measures women will or will not vote for is quite aside from the issue—which is simply and solely that of self-government. Have women the right of self-government in a republic? If not, why not? [Applause.]

But for the sake of the argument, and to reply to those who have been saying so much about woman's place being inside the home, I will take up just that one item. I will leave out the women who have no homes. I will leave out the women who have no children. I will talk of the mother and her child.

When the mother's sense of responsibility and her power of supervision shall no longer end at the front door or at the back gate, childhood will have gained its most powerful protector and vice will have withdrawn farther from the family altar.

Nor is it vice alone which she will be better able to keep out of her own special home nest. She will be better able to guard her children against dirt that is dangerous and disease that is fatal.

It is not fair to throw this entire burden on the men of the world—the fathers of those children. They are too busy making the money with which to buy. They are too much occupied with the products of factory and farm to stop to examine too closely the details of their construction, the ethics of their surroundings.

Women have no right to shirk their share of the public duty. They have no right to turn their little children out into the streets, schools, churches, theaters—into a world, in short, which they are too timid or too lazy to want to help to make fit for those children to live in. I have little patience with the shrinking sisterhood opposed to woman suffrage when they insist that they do not want civic duties thrust upon them. They do not want to vote against the powers that make for bad conditions for their children or for their neighbors' children. And, since they do not want these things, they insist that women who have developed a civic conscience shall not be allowed to use it. They do not want the burden of helping the fathers to rid political and social life of the wrongs and vices and dangers that beset the developing boy and girl at every step the moment they pass outside the walls of home.

They do not want to help make the world a better and safer place for children to live in. They object to the heavy, added burden of care and responsibility. They want to just stay at home "and nurse the little ones and care for the ailing."

Is not that beginning at the wrong end? Is it not simply holding to the old idea of letting ignorance and wrong, dirt and crime, do their worst with the individual, and then undertaking to provide a cure for the individual and a palliative for the community?

The ideal of a passive womanhood acting as the nurse of a diseased and crippled, a wronged and vicious race was once the best ideal that mankind had attained.

To-clay we believe in and work for prevention rather than for cure. Don't let the contagion spread in order to allow the inert and timid Iadies to display their fine qualities as nurses and reformers. The price is too great to pay even for the luxury of laziness, the willingness to shirk responsibility.

Let us begin at the beginning.

Let us study the conditions that create the social and physical and political disorders, and then spend our time, skill, strength, and ability in helping to cut out the root of the wrong and disorder rather than permit that root to develop, that we may later on pluck off the apples of discord while we hold man responsible for it all.

Women, also, are responsible. No woman can be an ideal mother unless she is willing—unless she insists upon—following her child outside the home; unless she insists upon knowing and helping to better the conditions and surroundings and employments and amusements and in forming the ideals of that child in his life out in the world.

Women have no right to bring children into this world unless they are brave enough and sane enough and thoughtful enough, and unless they are willing to be helpful and try to make of the world itself a fit place for little children to live in, to grow up in, to be safe in.

One can have little patience with people who say that women have no business to know or to do things "outside the home," that "public affairs are not for women."

What is outside of her home?

Surely not the food her children eat. Shall she have no knowledge of its purity, of the places and the conditions from which it came? Shall she not know whether it is filled with impurity and Disease? Shall she not know that the price she pays for it is the premium on dishonesty of method or of principle? Is it not her business to help to correct these things?

What is outside her home?

Surely not the clothes her children wear, made, perhaps, in disease and crime-breeding sweatshops or in factories where the very life blood of other little children whose mothers are ignorant or vicious, or only poor, stay inside their homes while their little ones go out into a man-made; man-governed, man-thinking world to be ground under the wheeI of ignorance and greed. Surely the courts of law—upon which the whole structure of life for her and hers must rest—none of these are "outside the home," except to women who are so blind that they will not see.

These are all subjects that are of vital interest to women, to mothers of little children—to those who have dared to bring them into a world with which they are not equipped to contend.

It is for mothers to equip themselves to stand first for, and then with, these children in facing conditions which women are almost as much to blame in allowing to be wrong as are the men upon whom they try to cast the entire burden. Women should stop shirking their civic and political duties. Stop saying these are no concern of theirs.

If women are not strong enough to cope with life's problems they are utterly and hopelessly unfit to bring children into these conditions. They must face their responsibilities.

And upon what do all these things rest—in the ultimate analysis?

In a republic they rest on the ballot.

If women want clean, wholesome, properly priced food they must have the power to vote for—and hence to command—the men who control the food supplies of their cities.

If they want to eliminate diphtheria germs and tuberculosis, and worse, from the very clothes they buy they must have the ballot and the willingness to use it to secure factory conditions that shall cease to take the steady toll of blood from one class to coin it into gold for another class, while it passes on to them and theirs, in the form of disease and death, and claims, even from my languid lady who is not "interested in anything outside her home," the very lives of those whom she loves.

But does she love those whom she will not strive to protect? Or does she love only her own ease and to have her own way, which shall conform to the fixed ideals of the past?

Does not a real, a fine, a true love for child or friend or country involve the sincere passion for service which shall know no hampering lines of home or sex, but which shall claim, demand, and secure the right and the glorious privilege to give of time, of thought, of effort for the betterment of all, the happiness of all, the safety of all, whether those human units chance to be within or without the walls she calls home? Whether they are within or without the city that is hers, whether they are under beyond the flag of her country.

A good mother will not desert her child just when he needs her most. Just when he goes out into the world that is unknown ground to him as well as to her. She will stand with his father in helping that child to find the better way. She has no right to desert her post now. She is still his mother. She can not shut herself in and live to herself alone.

Cooperation is the law of progress, and humanity is a unit with interests and aims indivisible. [Applause.]