Anna Howart Shaw

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

Anna Howart Shaw
April 26, 1913— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I am here as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association to beg of the Committee on Woman Suffrage of the Senate a hearing in behalf of the proposed amendment to the Constitution granting to the women of the United States the privileges of citizenship and the right of suffrage. For nearly half a century the women of this nation have come here year after year, at every session of Congress, making this claim, that the women citizens of the United States equally with the men citizens are interested in the Government, and are interested in securing the right to express their will in regard to the form of Government under which they shall live.

With this end in view, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, we come before your committee to-day asking a favorable report upon this amendment to the Constitution. We ask a favorable report because we believe that the time has come in the United States when such a report can be made with a very fair prospect of a passage, because of the fact that already in the United States there are nine states in which women are enfranchised equally with men, have an equal voice in electing the legislature which elects the Senate, and therefore having a voice in electing to the United States Government the officials who are to help make our laws; and we feel that it is particularly unjust that certain States shall give to women the right of a voice in the Government while other States deprive women of a similar right. We think it is particularly unjust that a woman living in one of the States where women vote to-day may move to another State, according to the laws of the country giving the husband the right to decide the domicile, and at his wish or will he may remove from one State to another and yet retain his citizenship while the woman loses hers.

We believe this to be an unjust discrimination not only against women who are already entitled to vote, but equally unjust to those who are not.

Year after year we have come with our representatives, law-abiding citizens. No complaint can be made against the women of this country because of the manner in which they have carried on their campaign. From the very beginning it has been dignified, persistent, patient, and logical. In order to create antagonism to the women of the United States, and in order to bring any complaint against us, people are obliged to go to foreign lands.

We are not asking the right of suffrage for the women of Great Britain, nor of Germany, nor of India; but for the women of these United States, who have done their fair share in making this Nation what it is to-day.

Those who live in pioneer countries, those of you who understand what pioneer life is, know very well that the women of this Nation have suffered more than the men have in their sacrifices to build up our country, and when I say that I do not mean to disparage for one moment the splendid service which men have rendered this Nation in pioneer life. But according to my view of civilization the pioneer life of the people is the real fundamental life and basis of the Government's stability, and recognizing all the service which men have rendered, I still say women have rendered a greater service because they have made greater sacrifices. It means infinitely more to a woman to leave old associations, old friendships, and the culture and refinements of an older community, to move into a new country, and begin life all over again in the hope of rearing a family amidst conditions which are better.

She gives up everything, while the man who moves out with her struggles hard, works hard, has everything to win, the man wins everything, the woman loses everything; and notwithstanding that, the loyalty of the women of this country has been one of the greatest factors in building up a Nation such as we have it to-day.

The aggressive spirit of man, the hold-on, stick-to-it, patient spirit of woman has produced our Government. If ever women bought their freedom at a price American women have bought theirs. They have paid a tremendous price for it, and the daughters of the pioneer women realize the sacrifices which they had to make, as well as did their mothers, and the pioneer daughters have become the strength of the culture and refinement of the country; yet while they do not regret their sacrifice, they do claim the rights and privileges of citizenship, if not on the basis of justice, then as a reward for the service which women have rendered their country.

That is all apart from the justice of a free people of a Republic and their right to a voice in their Government.

We were asked recently at a legislative hearing what we had to give to the country—as though women had never given anything to the country, as though they could not furnish anything to the country to-day. We might as well ask what men have to give to the country? We have ourselves to give, we have our homes, we have our children, we have all the interests which are involved in the word "home and family, humanity and country." have everything to give, and the country which has given so much to us deserves our loyalty; it deserves our service, and we are ready to render it. As we look out over the country and realize present conditions, no intelligent American citizen can doubt that the country needs a kind of service which it does not have in the present electorate.

Recognizing that men have done fairly well with their suffrage, still conditions are such that much more needs to be done. If men can do it all by themselves, why have they not done it already? The fact that they have not and do not is, to my mind, the best evidence that they need a kind of power which men as men do not possess. And there is no place to find that except in the women who are disfranchised and therefore politically powerless, but who might bring to the help of men that particular and peculiar force which is feminine, which will enable the Government to be the kind of Government that it ought to be, and which will render the same protection for physical, for moral, and for spiritual health which the men of the country are striving to secure for material prosperity.

It is in behalf of this side of our Government's life that we plead to-day, aside from the fact that we are citizens and equally with all other citizens in a republic have the right of self-government. In behalf of this petition I would like to present to your honorable body the names of various speakers who will represent the National Suffrage Association.

[Several people give statements, then Shaw returns to the floor to speak]

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, the ladies and gentlemen who have addressed you this morning have spoken principally on the basis of expediency—all with the exception of Mrs. Gardener.

The time seems to have gone by when we should argue our question from the standpoint of democracy; but I am going to speak of it for a few moments on that basis.

Reference has been made to the President of the United States and the book which he has written. Some one has said " Oh that my enemy would write a book," but President Wilson is not the enemy of women, nor is he the enemy of any man. Neither is the Secretary of State. No men have ever uttered more clearly or more perfectly the principles of democracy than have both of these leaders of present day democracy.

Then, we might reasonably ask, since Mr. Wilson has written that book so full of Democratic statements, and Mr. Bryan has lectured for years along Democratic lines, why neither of them have taken a stand for the enfranchisement of the women of this country. I think the reason they have not taken a stand for woman's enfranchisement is exactly the same as that which has kept so many other excellent men from taking a similar stand; it is simply because their point of view is limited by tradition and custom. I doubt very much whether Mr. Wilson thought of women when he wrote his book. He was thinking of democracy. I doubt if Mr. Bryan, even in addressing the women of the Daughters of the American Revolution, thought of women while addressing them. He was thinking of democracy. In thinking of democracy men have connected the idea of democracy with men only and not with women.

Now, it is a fearful thing, a humiliating thing, to belong to a class of people whom men can forget when speaking of fundamental principles, but it is an awful thing to belong to a class of people who when men have forgotten you they do not know they have forgotten anything. [Applause.]

That is exactly where women stand today. These gentlemen think of women, as many excellent, men do, as the wives, the sisters, and the daughters of men, and in their thought of legislation they do not think of us as separated from themselves and their interests. So they say of us in legislation just us they say of us in the family life, "We take care of them; we look after their interests; their interests are safe in our hands." And, consequently, instead of absolutely taking a position against us on the ground of sex antagonism, it is claimed, they take a position against us on the ground of sex guardianship.

If these gentlemen would divest themselves for one moment of the thought that women are related to them and other men, if they could think of women as they think of each other, as distinct human beings, with all the rights and privileges and desires and hopes and aspirations of human beings, then I doubt very much whether either of these two excellent gentlemen who are fundamentally right in their attitude toward great moral questions, could ever again utter a democratic principle without recognizing its application to the womanhood of the nation.

And that is where we women have lost all along, not by the antagonism of men, but by the guardianship of men. The idea that we are under tutelage, that we are taken care of, that a woman who works 10 hours a day is supported. [Applause.] That women contribute nothing to the general good, that they have done nothing toward the upbuilding of the Nation. They minimize woman's work, because it is not paid work, because it has been free work in the past. They estimate it upon the same basis that we estimate slave labor, and always will. Free labor is slave labor and slave labor is not supposed to add anything to the general good or to prosperity. [Applause.]

Consequently, men thinking of women in that light have failed to recognize the injustice of our position.

We have come to you today, representing as you do the Democratic administration, to call you back from the guardianship idea to the Democratic idea, and to demand that you recognize us as human beings, and then that you apply to women the fundamental principles of Democracy which you have applied to yourselves. I am sure that not on1y would the gentlemen of this committee but the gentlemen of the Senate and of the whole United States Congress and the leading men and good men of this country, of whom there are a very large majority over evil men, would see the justice of our cause, and grant our demand, which is purely a democratic demand.

As one of the ladies said, we do not wish to advocate our measure on the basis of mere expediency. I would be in favor of woman suffrage if it did nothing by harm [applause], because I believe that it is better for a government to know the conditions which prevail in the thought and life of the people, than it is for them to be ignorant of existing conditions [applause], and if all the centuries of the education which has been given to women has not developed in them either patriotism for their country, or loyalty to their home or devotion to their family, then could there be a better argument in favor of woman suffrage than that we should give them an education based upon an altogether different basis, and teach them to recognize their human relation and their human responsibilities?

If the old-time education has not broadened and developed women. then give them a new-time education which will broaden and develop them. [App1ause.]

If it has not developed out of them all the old-time barbaric savagery and immoralities and frailties which belong to primitive life, then give them a different education, that they may be evolved out of them.

There is no person whose attitude is so incomprehensible ns that of a Democrat or a daughter of the American Revolution, either of whom is opposed to democracy. I can not understand the Democrat who is opposed to democracy. I can not understand a daughter of the American Revolution who is opposed to the enfranchisement of women, who glories in the death of an ancestor who died for the principle of no taxation without representation. I can not understand the inconsistency. I was met by one of these daughters once who asked me why I spent all my time in the furtherance of the woman-suffrage movement and why I did not join their society. She said, "Were not your ancestors in the Revolution?" I replied they were, and I added, "And they fought hard, but they fought on the wrong side." She said, "I am so sorry for you." I replied, "You need not be; I am not a bit sorry for myself." "Why," she exclaimed, "are you not sorry that your ancestors were on the wrong side?" I have had such a hard time getting on the right side and keeping there I have had no time to worry over my great-grand­father. [Applause and laughter.]

I added, "It does not matter half so much to me where my grand­father stood as where I stand [applause], and the difference between you and me, my dear friend, is that you stand where my great-grandfather stood, and I stand where yours stood." [Laughter and applause.]

The lady did not like it. She did not like my reference to my grandfather. She said. "I descended from a long line of Revolutionary ancestors." I answered, "Yes, that is exactly what you have done: you have descended from a long line of Revolutionary ancestors; and I have ascended from a line of Revolutionary ancestors, and I would rather ascend from my ancestors than descend from them any time." [Laughter and applause.]

That is just the trouble with a great many people who catch a glimpse of a sublime idea. They fail to make its application to everyday life. If these excellent ladies would make that application to everyday life for just one moment, if the Democrats would make the application of democracy to everyday life for just one moment, they would see the inconsistency of opposing the fundamental principles of democracy and the fundamental principles in whose defense their ancestors died.

Our ancestors are all dead, excellent people that they were, and the only reason to commemorate their death is not because they are dead, but because they stood for something worth dying for.

If we are to be honored it can only be because we also stand for something worthy, not because we had ancestors who did what we dare not do.

If we look over the history of this country, gentlemen, and see what it is that we do commemorate, what we do hold in reverence, what as American people we are proud of, we will find it is always because of some fundamental principle of democracy incorporated into the life of the Nation, some democratic step taken by the people, which brings our Government more nearly into conformity with its fundamental theories and ideals.

We look over the past and we see how gradually one group of people after another have been accorded the right of self-government, and we rejoice in that spirit of democratic progress and in the age which recognized it. And now there is left only the womanhood of this Nation, one-half of the people who, as I said in the beginning, have paid the dearest price for freedom which any group of people ever did pay, one class of people who are more worthy of it than any other class to whom it has been extended in this country, at the time when it was extended to that class.

At the time when suffrage was extended to any particular class of men, whether it was to the church members who came across the sea in search of freedom, as our Puritan ancestors did, or to the tax­paying citizens after the close of the Revolution, or to the laboring men of this country, to whom suffrage was extended by the splendid democracy of Jefferson, or to the black men of the country, to whom the right of self-government was extended by the Republicans, no matter to what class of men the right of suffrage has been extended, no class was as fitted to exercise it as intelligently or more patriotically than are the women of this Nation at this time. [Applause.]

For almost 70 years the women of this country have been patiently working for woman suffrage (I am the president and these are the representatives of the national society, numbering more than 240,000 cooperative members and more than 40,000 paid members) and from the time of its infancy, when those splendid stateswomen, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Abby Kelly Foster, Lucy Stone, and the noblest Roman of them all, Susan B. Anthony [applause], year after year came on their pilgrimage here to make their plea for democracy, all down through these years women have appealed to Congress and with the men of the United States for that right protective of all rights—the ballot. These women who were greater stateswomen than the women who manage the suffrage movement to-day, because they were born in more rugged times, when they had a more rugged culture, these women grasped the fundamental principle of democracy as it had never been grasped by any body of men in the world, for if it had been we would not be disfranchised to-day.

These women recognized that the best way, the quickest way, and the surest way in which suffrage could be extended to the whole womanhood of the Nation was by a sixteenth amendment to the National Constitution. And so year after year they came, pleading for a sixteenth amendment. We can no longer plead for a sixteenth amendment. Ours must, now be the eighteenth amendment to the National Constitution. We hope it will become the eighteenth amendment to the National Constitution, and we hope that, Mr. Chairman, because of the attitude of fairness of the men who compose this body at the present time. [Applause.]

I do not always believe what I read in the papers, but there are some things I believe because I want to believe them; and when I read that the chairman of this committee said that he would accept the chairmanship only on condition that it should become an active committee; that it should really do its duty; that it should make this question, just as all other committees make the questions which come before them, one of importance, and one which the gentlemen would consider and upon which they would report just as if it were the demand of men of the country, and believing in this sense of justice in this committee, we reasoned that a Congress which appoints such a committee has the same sense of justice, and consequently we look with hope to the present Congress for speedy action upon this measure, just as we hope, Mr. Chairman, your committee will report it favorably.

We have appeared in the past when we knew the committee would not report it favorably. We have begged that they would report it adversely. We have also urged with our committees heretofore that they would ask Congress to appoint a commission to investigate the workings of woman suffrage, for we believed a proper investigation by a responsible body would bring out such evidence that the Nation could no longer refuse with any show of justice to extend suffrage to woman.

Though we have asked that this should be done, our request has never been granted until recently, and that commission is now, I understand, appointed. Your committee has been appointed with the view of dealing fairly and justly with us. Why should we not hope for favorable action by a Congress so just?

Women suffragists claim that it is the right of any woman not to vote if she does not wish to, as it is the right of every man. But we claim that no human being has a right to deprive another human being of the citizen's right to cast a ballot simply because she does not wish to perform her duty and is not patriotic enough to desire to serve her country. [Applause.]

We make our claim as an organization upon the fundamental principles of democracy, and from the just application of those principles to women there is no escape. We do not ask for any special privileges. We do not ask for any special consideration on account of our sex; but we say that whatever qualifications are applied to male citizens should be applied to us and no others. That the Government has a right to protect itself against any undesirable group of citizens no one can deny.

If it can he proven that women are undesirable citizens, that they would be destructive of the best interests of the country, there would be some basis for the arguments of our opponents. But whenever a democracy prescribes any qualifications for citizenship it must prescribe such a qualification as will apply equally to all of the citizens of the Government. And so long as this Government does that women have no complaint whatever. When the Government says the citizens shall be 21 years of age, we say that is a reasonable qualification and we accept it. When the Government says we shall either be born in the United States or become naturalized, we can accept that qualification as essential to good citizenship. When the Government says we shall reside in the community a certain length of time or in the State a certain other length of time, again we acquiesce and say that that is fair and we have no complaint. The Government might even go further and we would concede that the citizen should be obliged to read the ballot before he cast it. We would accept that provided it were a universal demand for all the citizens of the country.

Is it not remarkable how afraid men are of female ignorance and how they desire to incorporate into the electorate all the male ignorance they can get there, since to make possible for the most ignorant man to vote they put symbols on the ballot, such as a rooster or an eagle, so that he may have something to guide his weak intelligence, so that a man who has intelligence enough to know the difference between a rooster and an eagle or a man with a hammer or a water pitcher will know how to vote? [Applause.]

Gentlemen, women would not object to having these symbols taken away, as they are being removed in the States where women vote—one State after another. Wyoming never had them; Colorado has removed them; Washington, I believe, has removed them or is in the process of removing them. California is advocating their removal. Wherever women vote there will be an agitation for removal of these symbols from the ballot. And when they are all removed, and all the citizens of this Nation are entitled to vote more women will be voting than men because more women in the United States will be able to read their ballots. [Applause.]

I speak of this only because I have heard the statement made over and over again that men are afraid of adding the large illiterate vote of the women to the illiterate vote of the men of to-day. While we will add some illiterates, about 3,000,000, you know we will add 24,000,000 of voters and you can afford out of 24,000,000 voters to take 3,000,000 of illiteracy and have 21,000,000 of intelligence left. [Applause.]

But we will not only cancel our 3,000,000 of illiteracy by 3,000,000 of intelligence, which will leave us 18,000,000 of intelligence, but being generous to men, as always, we will give you 4,000,000 of intelligent women to cancel 4,000,000 of ignorant men, and then we will have 21,000,000 of intelligence, and see what an improvement that will be in the whole Nation. [Applause.]

While it is true, as one of the speakers this morning said, that we will not add ideal perfection or divine wisdom, we will add something, the very something our country most needs. If men would apply common sense to this matter, but the difficulty with men, most men, is that they do not apply common sense to the woman suffrage movement. Men use a good deal of common sense when they talk about each other's rights. They have a high sense of justice when they speak of justice as applied to men. They have a broad sense of fair play when applied to each other, but the moment they begin to discuss women and their relations to world problems then common sense, justice, and fair play fly to the wind and sentiment takes its place. It is sentimental discussion always. "I do not want my daughter, I do not want my wife, I do not want my mother to this, that, or the other"—something that men never did in all their lives while they voted. In the Missouri Legislature, as I was passing out of the house, where I spoke before the body, one gentleman said, "I do not want my wife to go down to the lower end of my city to vote with 50,000 of the lowest people in town." I could not help myself, saying to him," Does your wife live in the lowest end of the city?” He replied that she did not. I said," Do you vote there?" He replied, ''Why, of course I do not." "Then,” I said, "just why should your wife, who has respect enough and intelligence enough to select your as her husband, immediately that she is free rush from her home to vote at the lowest end of the city with the people to whom you refer?”

Such statements are made over and over again without any thought whatever. That man did not realize that his wife would probably take his arm and go to the polls as she would go to church, and under better conditions, because in voting she would only vote with his neighbors. Yet those are the sort of arguments that have weight with men to-day.

I have just come from the campaign in Michigan, and if any body of women ought to be loved for the enemies they make it is the women who are working for woman suffrage there. If you could see the groups of people banded to defeat us and the measures that they adopted you would not wonder how we were defeated. One of the gentlemen to-day spoke of the moving pictures that are shown where women are excluded. In their fight against woman suffrage they have gone so far as to put on exhibition in moving-picture theaters ridiculous caricatures of woman suffrage, showing the destruction of the home. They have gone so far as to say that it means the closing of all picture shows, because the governor of the State of Michigan advocated the supervision of moving pictures, and the governor is a suffragist.

You will always find that the people and the influences that are corrupting the youth are organized to defeat us; it is the kind of antisuffrage influence that has defeated us in every State where our amendment has failed to pass.

The groups of people who have stood by us and have passed resolutions favoring suffrage are those who are seeking the well-being of society. Not a single one whose purpose is the undermining of the virtue of the people has ever passed a resolution in favor of woman suffrage, has ever worked for it, has ever stood by and advocated its passage at the polls, but every kind of an organization whose purpose is the destruction of the moral sentiment of the community, the degradation of humanity, and the destruction of the virtue boyhood and girlhood have banded themselves together, have cooperated to defeat us, and have defeated us every time we have ever been defeated at any election.

And the only trouble with us is this, we are not so sure how the good men will vote as we are of bad men. I have as much faith in men, I believe there are so many more good men than bad men, that if I was only as sure how every good man would vote on our question as I am how every bad man will vote on it, I would know exactly how the amendment was going, and I would go home with a light heart. It is not the good men we are afraid of. It is not the men who care for their homes and society. it is not the men who want the best conditions for society and their country of whom we women are afraid. Those we fear are those who to-day are destroying the home, who are making it impossible for us to send our little girls to school in the morning and know that they will come back home at night, the men and women who make it impossible for the little girl of the poor to go on an errand and know that the child will come home again; the men and women who play upon the poverty, the hunger, and the destitution of the young girls who are making the most magnificent fight that any army of soldiers ever made for honesty and justice—the working women of this country. They are preying on them because life is so hard. [Applause.]

It is, gentlemen, these men whom we fear, and these men and women who are working for this condition only of whom we need to be afraid.

We do not fear that little band of professional antiwomen going around the country advocating home, heaven, and mother. We are not at all disturbed by them. The only purpose they serve is that by holding out their skirts they act as a screen for the liquor traffic, the gamblers, the vicious, and those interested in dance halls and places where young girls are ruined. These people have a good screen behind which they can hide, and carry on their antagonism and their opposition to our movement. [Applause.]

I am so pained that good women do not know that they are being used for that purpose.

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, we thank you for the courtesy of the hearing. You have had to hear us many times, and we were warned the other day not to antagonize Congress by coming here too often, not to worry the President. In answer I would say that Congress and the President have it all in their hands to stop this any time. They can cut it off now—because we will come, gentlemen, and our children will come, and our children's children will come until this country, a democracy in name, shall become a democracy in fact. [Applause.]

We thank you gentlemen for the courtesy of the hearing. Thank you for the generosity you have shown in giving your time, and we ask you as we have always asked every senatorial committee before which we have appeared; that we may have as large an edition of the hearings printed as possible, just as large as your conscience will allow you to ask for.