Mary Jane Coggeshall

Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Convention - Sept. 25, 1906

Mary Jane Coggeshall
September 25, 1906— Ida Grove, Iowa
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I believe I voice the thought of the delegates to this convention when I say we are glad to be here; we were glad to be invited to this goodly place. Years ago, this Association was wise enough to discover that your little city had some of the best and brightest women in the state; and so made one of them our President, and we knew that we had honored ourselves in the doing. Your local club has made our reception so cordial that we are in the finest humor imaginable. Some of us who have come up here out of the dust and coal smoke of a place like Des Moines feel that we have come into an atmosphere so pure which it is almost heavenly; and were it not for the force of habit, we might not be reminded that it will be necessary to wash our hands and faces at all.

But pure air has made pure blood which has flown to the higher arches of the brain and made you thinkers. Emerson says that thinking is the hardest task in the world and there are whole communities preferring not to trouble themselves with the understanding; and like the man centuries ago are wailing still at the pool of Siloam. Not so Ida Grove, or it would not have invited the Equal Suffrage Association.

Another of the hard things for human nature to accept is that in this inequality of the sexes (which our mission is to remove), there are none too brave for it. The cause of woman suffrage is not a protest against men. It is a protest against the system in a representative government which falls below the representative ideal. The revolutionary fathers had their ideals of justice and they lived up to them. One hundred and thirty years have passed. The world's ideals are higher today, and if we are even as wise as our great-grandparents in their day, we must be a great deal wiser than they were.

What would you think of a class of people who would be content with the political environment which was mapped out for them a century and a quarter ago by men who had only just caught the idea of political freedom for themselves?

There are thousands of women in Iowa tonight who cannot rest in a contentment which they feel is shameful. So we are trying our best to find God's way out of the wilderness into the Promised Land, and our road seems to be the way of the State Constitution. The framers of our State Constitution - wrapped the precious ballot up so tightly that it takes the action of two sessions of the Legislature, and then a majority vote of the men to break in to the enclosure. We believe that no question has ever come before our State Legislature since the Legislature was created that has had so many petitioners as has the question of giving the voters a chance to say whether or not women shall have the ballot. We believe that if all the petitions upon all other subjects through all the years were lumped together, they would not equal ours in number.

Just here is a curious fact. We have watched this business closely for 35 years, and up to the last two sessions, it has seemed to take the average man (we mean the average legislator) about ten years to get the idea into his head clearly that the suffragettes do not ask them to give the ballot to women. They are asked only to submit the question to the voters to decide. The suffragettes are willing that the fathers, husbands, brothers and sons should decide this question. But we are far from willing that 150 men in the Legislature, or 158 men as it will be hereafter-- vested with brief authority, shall forever decide this question for all the rest of the men in the state.

It is a long cry and far cry from Magna Charta in the 18th Century to the men of Iowa in 1906 that the people have rights which Kings in England and legislators in Iowa are bound to respect. The best system of relegated power may be abused and the rights trampled upon. We believe quite as many men as women have been among the hundreds of thousands of petitioners, and after 35 years of asking, men too are growing tired of the prolonged insult. Men are coming to see that the wishes of wives and mothers cannot be ignored by the legislature without contempt and continually coming upon themselves.

Men are awakening to the fact that an aristocracy of power may grow up even under a representative government. No man is fit for a seat in the legislature who - under conditions like this - is too cowardly or too mean, to trust the people; women are classed sometimes, or perhaps justly, for their forever apparent lack of interest in present Iowa politics. But after all, is it any wonder?

While one great party is eliciting for a progressive or a stand fast leader, and another great party is raking the stubble for votes for a young man upon a composite platform, and both parties are chasing that great American Chameleon, the tariff which turns any color to the party which one takes it in all the political hodge podge of interests where one half of the people are forgotten. We, Iowa women, first of all, and above all things else, desire our political freedom.

So it is our love of freedom that has brought us here tonight, and it was through your love of freedom, through your large ideas of justice, and your gracious kindness of hear that you have invited us.

Transcription from Ferris, J. N. (2017). Mary Jane Whiteley Coggeshall, Hicksite Quaker, Iowa/National Suffragette and Her Speeches. Milton, IN: Kids at Heart Publishing LLC.