Mary Jane Coggeshall

Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Convention - Nov. 18, 1896

Mary Jane Coggeshall
November 18, 1896— Independence, Iowa
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Mrs. President, members of the Convention and citizens of Independence.

When some of the good people of your city said to the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, "Come to us with your Convention," then the recording angel wrote it down in his book that the people of Independence were a long way from mound builders. We are glad to have the opportunity to come to your beautiful city. We chanced to read the other day that the dwelling places of the great peoples of the world cluster about a certain parallel that is a golden mean between the too freezing north and the too burning south, and of the five great cities of the world to be north and three be south of a dividing line which runs through the city of Independence, Iowa. We read also that the instincts of the human race may be trusted, and if we would be in luck, we must live either north or south of this fortunate line.

Now some of us who chance to live considerably south of this line are afraid that we are outside of charmed circle of great peoples, and we are glad that for once we have come up into good society. Your courtesy does not consist in the single fact that you have opened your hearts and homes to your neighbors in Iowa. You have done more than this. You have welcomed to your city the representatives of an idea.

We come to you not as "new women;" indeed, some of us lack a great deal of being new. The idea which we represent is the product of all that has gone before. We represent a class which is hungering and thirsting for freedom. Our pilgrim fathers thought that liberty meant freedom to worship God as they pleased. Their sons saw a deeper meaning in the word for it meant to them that England should not tax them without their consent.

But for the modern woman to talk about liberty may seem to some of you very absurd. Why should women who at home are well housed, and well fed; whose husbands and sons are kind, and considerate; where the men of the households are just as good as the women; why should such woman as these come up here and talk about liberty. We women can't very well help being the descendants of our ancestors. The blood of the patriot fathers flows in our veins too, and every drop of it boils with indignation because we are not free women.

We are now at the door of the 20th Century. Yet, women wear today the heavy restrictive garment that was fashioned for the women of the 18th Century. We are often politely reminded that the women of the U.S. are the most free, and the most fortunate of any women in the world. We believe all this and we are profoundly thankful to every mother's son who helped to make us so. But why shouldn't we have all these privileges. Why shouldn't we be allowed every right that any other human being is allowed?

The day for tears has gone by. Miss Susan B. Anthony said years ago she wished the women would quit crying so much. The W.C.T.U. women are shedding a good many tears yet, but we have done enough of it. We do not propose to "be like a hedge hog rolled up the wrong way, tormenting himself with his prickles." We propose to gladly use the privileges we have to help us to obtain more and there are a thousand different roads through which grists are coming to our mill.

Popular thought is turning our way. Clubs, societies and organizations of women prove that women are learning to combine their forces and stand together. What matters is that they do not all wear our label. They are standing together for something. They are helping to popularize the thought of women's individuality. We imagine there never was an association like ours that had such a large following outside of its actual membership. So we say all hail to the women's clubs, the missionary societies, the Christian Associations, the King's Daughters, and that greatest organization, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Let the anti­suffragist lay his ear close to the earth and he will hear the steady tramp of the thousands of oncoming women.

Sir Walter Besant, the English writer, complains seriously that women are invading the employments of men. Now Sir Walter Besant and all the rest of them were contented enough until women began to enter the professions and to take salaried positions; and this financial independence of women has worked a wondrous change. There is an army of bright working girls who pass my door each morning with elastic step and heads erect, whose whole bearing says plainly, "I am earning my own living, thank you."

But women have dragged down the wages of men; and great is the pity of it. They have quietly slipped into the poorly paid places. They have preferred this to marching across the country in droves like Kelly's army. This is the natural outcome of our strained economic relations. We are confronted with a condition the causes for which lie deeper than gold, silver or the tariff. We realize too that it is better to fight for the good than to rai1 at the ill; but we do protest against that system of government which enfranchises the saloon and the gambling house, and disfranchises one half of the home and two thirds of the church.

We Iowa people are not doing as we might, though we imagine we are in the forefront of progress. In my own city of Des Moines where we think very highly of ourselves, we have saloons – and a white chapel district. We have a chain gang and our courts have sent 37 men to the penitentiary within a year – and we will soon have the Legislature. Now it takes all the good people of a city to take care of all the vice of a city, or it is not taken care of. We are working upon a scale of uneven balances. Our political dreamers have again and again come to their several fig trees, but the time of figs was not yet. A government must be just or it cannot be saved.

So the Woman Suffrage Association comes to sharing its vision of justice _____ that you in the breadth of your sympathy have welcomed the humble advocates of absolute justice in government has made the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association your gracious debtors.

Again, we thank you.

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.