There is a great problem confronting the women of Iowa today. The same kind of a problem that has given unrest to men and women ever since governments began. It is this: How to obtain political freedom.
The Declaration of Independence is slowly and painfully being interpreted alright. It required 100 years and the blood of a nation to teach us that all men were created equal. Is it a wonder that it has taken even longer to convince us that all men and women were created equal. It is said that the framers of our National Constitution built better than they knew. Yes, and they built worse. In their recent escape from kingly rule themselves, in their overpowering zeal to vest all authority in the sovereign men people - like all before them they ignored the fact that women were people and vested all power in the sovereign men. Europe has no monarchy within her borders where there is such arbitrary discrimination against women.
The U.S. alone of all countries having an elected representative government cannot or will not extend the franchise to any class without a change in the National Constitution; and every State Constitution requires the same. The English Parliament has absolute power to free its women. Australia enfranchised its 850,000 women. The Parliament of New Zealand by one act freed 150,000 women. Now we have no idea that the forefathers realized how hard they were making the path which their daughters and granddaughters would have to travel in order to reach the political level of themselves.
After the adoption of the National Constitution for about 60 years, women were apparently contented to be silent partners in this compact. But in 1848, a New Declaration of Rights was put forth, signed by 68 brave women who claimed that they too were a part of the body politic, taxed without representation and governed without their consent. From that time on there has been a growing appreciation of human equality as expressed in terms of government. The forgotten one half of the people are yearly -- yes -- daily discovering themselves more and more. This growth is from within. Women are finding to their distress and dismay that the legal clothing with which the men of the 18'" Century invested them are too small for their expanding bodies; and worse than this, we find that fret and chafe as we may in these outgrown garments, we cannot cast them off until men, the makers of these garments, see fit to remove them.
It is bad enough to be compelled to be governed by living men, but to be governed everlastingly by men who for more than a century have been in their graves is more than women of the present day are willing to stand. As Col. Ingersoll used to say, "When a man's dead, let him keep still." It is not that men are by nature unkind to women. But it requires a fine order of intellect to see an evil that lies about us on every side; and men will evade or resort to expedients for a long time rather than openly attack an established wrong. A blind contentment with the old order of things when we know they are wrong; even though we are not responsible for their being is the beginning of moral death.
Our strengths come from the things we try to do. It is the work of suffragists to stir up our uninterested sisters, our half-awakened brothers. Does this time seem long? It has taken this country 40 years to get the east and west united so that Congress could pass an irrigation law to transform our arid lands; and in this there was neither race nor sex prejudice to combat. For only about 60 years have women been asking for a measure a thousand times more revolutionary than laws for irrigation. No new thing has happened that woman suffrage has not come sooner.
We have a world-old prejudice to combat. The fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers taught that woman's place was that of a political underling. They early had the divine inspirations for freedom for themselves from British rule, and they fought for it. Do we expect to be "wafted to the skies on flowery beds of ease," while we are working out our freedom? Do we deserve freedom if we will not work for it?
Were I an orthodox preacher, I would probably say that we women should be willing to take up the cross of Christ, and this is exactly what I mean. If our idea of a representative government – our patriotism be secured at; what does it matter? It is worth the need. But the day of need is passing - men are not alone in being held by prejudice. In Eastern countries where women are shut up in and dare not appear in public without their veils, the women themselves are the strongest supporters of these restrictions, for it has been taught them that it adds to their dignity. It is said that when a Hindu gentleman proposes to educate his young daughter that the women of the family threaten to drown themselves. The anti-suffragists of today do not propose to drown themselves to keep women out of politics; they had rather get into politics themselves by making speeches from the rostrums or securing such men as Dr. Lyman Abbott to go before state legislatures and beg them not to give women their freedom.
It is very often said in these days that suffrage is not a natural right. Women have no natural right to ride in street cars. But if women were forbidden to ride in the street cars, would it be very convincing and satisfactory to be told that to ride in street cars was not a natural right? But what would we think of a class of women who would be contented decade after decade to trudge through the streets on foot because society said that it was unwomanly for women to ride in street cars? Yet to refuse women the ballot on the ground that it is not a natural right is not one whit more absurd or unjust and for thinking woman to be utterly indifferent to the present condition in this government is equally absurd.
Again is dust thrown in our eyes by telling us that the family is the political unit. The bachelor who has no one depending upon him has a vote. The widow with six grown daughters has not a vote. Where is the family unit? Suffragists must not be duped with a fallacy like this.
The entrance of women into the labor market has made it imperative that government recognize motherhood as a service to the state, for which the state must be ready to give due protection. Women must be allowed to control the environment into which they are asked to bring fresh human beings. Mothers ought not to live like frightened deer trying to hide their fawn from beasts of prey. It is not fair to mothers that our streets are lined with open doors to drink, degradation and ruin. It is our business, it should be our religion to secure that environment which will produce the highest type of human life here on earth. Let us bear in mind that the prairies of Iowa are as near to the heart of the loving God as were the plains of Palestine when the world was young.
It is claimed that American women are queens. Then it is the business of queens to be queenly, and when a chance comes to do a queenly act, great or small, do, simply and without preparation. How many lovely women do we meet who say, "I believe in woman suffrage; I know we cannot do the best work in the world as things are - but when my children are older, or when this or that is accomplished in my life - then I too will help the cause for which you are working?" In the meantime, the little service - a subscription to a paper or a fifty cent membership in a suffrage club is not given and the cause that would help to uplift humanity is left the poorer by so much. Women who enjoy rights of personal property and of opportunity won for them by the struggles of women in the last fifty years - yet who serenely tell us they have all the rights they want. With the New Testament in our hands, we cannot be satisfied with the present condition of things. We serve God by serving one another. If women fail to do their part, men cannot do it for them and thus are prevented from doing their own work well.
To be harmless after the fashion of women is not enough. Nations in which the masculine virtues only have found expression have gone down; so will our own nation if our women use not their virtues for its safety, and if we are to have a life everlasting, it must have its start here and now. Wherever we are, there is our past of service.
Let suffragists be not unfriendly to the various other causes which are at work for the uplift of the human race - the Church, Temperance, child labor - Direct Legislation and the scores of philanthropies which press upon us from every side. But underlying all these, if it signifies anything to be moral - if it signifies anything to be intelligent - to be a good human being, then in a government like ours, this intelligence, this goodness must have power to put its hand upon our laws. We believe the suffrage work lies not at the center but at the very bottom of reform measures.
What would we think of the farmer who was in earnest to raise a good crop of corn upon his promising acres but who was content to turn the soil with an old fashioned plow with a wooden mould board drawn by a yoke of oxen when a steam plow running a dozen furrows was obtainable but he would take no pains to secure it because the wooden plow and yoke of oxen had been left to him by his father? Women are cultivating what is more value than corn or wheat. They are raising boys and girls, and need to be able to put the mother heart into the laws. Man suffrage to achieve its present proportions was over 600 years in the making. Are we women so weak of purpose that we are ready to fall by the way because our efforts have not met with success here in Iowa in the 35 years we have been asking for it?
My dear comrades, there was never a time in all these years when our cause occupied such an advantageous position as it does today. Never a time when we knew so precisely where to concentrate our work. The members of the last legislature, with a half a dozen exceptions, and whose views upon our question we learned at that time, are the same men who will return to our legislative halls this winter. Let us between now and January I lose not one day of precious time; but put our most intelligent plans and every ounce of energy where what we do will count. Let each one of us go home to our respective counties and be not satisfied though our Senators and Representatives may pleasantly tell us that they rather think they will vote to submit our question; but bolster them up with a special petition with the names of the best voters in their respective counties.
Men always want an excuse for doing wrong, but many legislators want an excuse for doing right. A wise ex-member of the Legislature writes us, "Be sure that you know the sentiments upon the question of every man in the Legislature before he comes to Des Moines." Of the 99 counties of the state, in 24 both Senators and Representatives are believed to favor the passage of the Woman Suffrage Amendment. In 26 counties both Senators and Representatives are supposed to oppose it. The remaining 49 counties are half and half.
My dear friends, we have had a long pull together in this work. In the next three months, let us make a short and a strong pull together in this one and only way - as it seems to me will be effective; and this we can do - and we must or the next legislature may go by as a dozen have gone before. A little time from many of us, and a little money from all of us if well directed will bring the grand result for which we are aiming.
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.