Mary Jane Coggeshall

Iowa Equal Suffrage Association Convention - Oct. 6, 1903

Mary Jane Coggeshall
October 06, 1903— Boone, Iowa
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Why are we assembled here today? It has been at some inconvenience, some sacrifice. Have we found that our environment in the world is not the best for our development. That the work which needs our doing is hindered because of the environment. Believing that neither man nor woman can do their best work under present conditions; then being people of good sense, we the people here assembled from all parts of the state do solemnly declare that we will change these conditions.

We believe we are right. We believe our cause has the sanctions of the great head of the church; with whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, male or female, for all are one if we are Christ-like. For the present condition of women in this country, history furnishes no parallel. In the days of savagery, women were bought or stolen. They were useful to work and bear young and thus were necessary to their clan. In Homeric Greece, nomadic Judea and the old Germanic ages, men had come to see that women could be utilized in the industries and in a great emergency might fight, or even govern. Through convent life of the Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance and through the later chivalry of even the 18th Century, woman was still a plaything and parasite.

In the 19th Century, women entered upon a new role. Men, in working out freedom for themselves had become broad enough to see glimmerings of the rights of the individual. But how hard it has been to learn that even men are all created equal --- the tens of thousands of graves all over our southland show. To take the scales for our blind eyes to see that this country could not hold together half slave and half free, the destroying angel had to stand for four terrible years spreading his wings over every household. Today, white women and black stand side by side in privileges and restrictions in a relation in which the two race classes never stood before.

Last year, 1,000,000 immigrants came to this country to better their condition. The larger portion of these were from the lower classes of the east and southern Europe. They are settling very largely in our cities to grow discontented whenever wages are lost. We welcome the honest homemakers from all lands. But even an ignorant anarchist may come to our shores and in a few months after landing may vote the conditions under which the women of that state must live. Why should not the slum element of all Europe come here? They not only become free from despotism themselves, but they become the political masters of the women of this newer country. I do not believe that good kind hearted men could look their wives and daughters in the face if they realized the enormity of this injustice.

At the opening of the 19th Century, no government money was expended in the education of women and girls. Today, there are 77,000 more girls than boys in our high schools. The whole system of primary education is in the hands of women and the higher education is threatened with the same result. These teachers are expected to imbue the minds of their pupils with patriotism, and a love for the government. This government that says to every high school girl that no matter how good or how learned she may become, her opinion will be of no account at the ballot box where her environment is decided. History has no precedent for an absurdity like this. Again we have the political absurdity of members of a class being elected to an office for which they are held to be incompetent to vote. All over Iowa on the second Tuesday of next month will be an election for the Iowa Superintendent of Schools -yet at not a ballot box in the state will she be allowed to vote.

In the church, two thirds of the membership are women, and they long ago took the burden of church work upon themselves. The Methodist Church, perhaps the greatest leader in morals in this country during the last two centuries, opens its theological schools to women where they may fit themselves for the ministry; then refuses to ordain them to preach. A majority of Episcopal churches still do not permit their women to vote even for what men shall fill the office of vestry men. In the great Christian Endeavor Society, which claims over 4,000,000 members, women form two thirds of the mighty host, but they have no official voice in the black administration of its affairs.

We hear today of the alarm about "race suicide," that our women are less willing to become mothers. If this be true, is there not a crying cause in that this government refuses to protect the offspring of women. It is a hard thing to say but it is true that this government of men only is in the business of destroying the offspring of women. This government virtually says to women, go help make homes, bear children and every year we will lay I 00,000 of them in drunkard graves besides those whom we will put in our alms houses, penitentiaries and insane asylums. Do you wonder that a woman will go out upon a ranch and go to raising sheep instead of boys and girls. She knows that if wolves attack her sheep that the government will step in and offer a bounty for every wolf's scalp. When men make the raising of children as safe as the raising of sheep and calves, then will our daughters cheerfully become wives and willing mothers.

But say what we will about the great reform yet to be accomplished, nevertheless, we are proud over the present condition of American women. School, church, society, and in a less degree law have made this that, and the other concessions until the status of women today bears little resemblance to that of a century ago. Then, when the mass of women were ignorant and subjugated and had nothing whatever which they could call their own --- they held themselves at much the same value at which men held them and felt less keenly the humiliation of their environment.

Today, intelligent, cultivated, traveled, in many cases wealthy, their inferior positions in the state compels them to wear a yoke, galling and peculiar, such as no class of intelligent women ever wore since government began.

We are thankful to the men of this country for every concession they have made. We are not here to condemn our fathers, husbands and brothers. This legacy of power over the destinies of women has been bequeathed to them from the generations gone before. They are not to blame for this heritage of power. We wonder indeed that they are as good as they are.

But here in Iowa, we are sometimes confronted with this pertinent question. We boast that it is almost every line of the world's work men have made great advances. Why is it that politically she has been almost at a standstill?

We announce that it is simply and solely because the ballot is a threat- the consent of the whole body of men. In all other directions in the industries, arts and professions, some woman has been brave enough; and there was either the kindness or because he could get her service for less price and _ - end of the wedge was introduced. Gradually, other women and other employers met on the same terms and thus the industries and professions were opened to women. It needed but a few men and even one man to allow a woman a place. Had it been necessary to ask the whole mass of men whether women should go to college, we would today probably have no more co-educational institutions in this country than we have states granting full woman suffrage. But to get women the ballot, we must have the consent of the whole mass of men.

The founders made this a male government and vested in men the absolute power to prevent women forever from having any share in it beyond paying taxes for its support. This then is the environment which, in our endeavor to change, we have met here today. The powers of our national and state constitutions have mapped out the road by which we and all other classes must travel if we hope to reach the high standards of voters. It seemed utterly impossible to get through legislative enactment, therefore the privilege must either come through an amendment to the. national Constitution or by a state Constitutional Amendment which, in Iowa, must run the gauntlet of the votes of 150 men in our State Legislature, and this for two successive sessions, and afterward receive a majority vote of the men of the state.

For thirty two years, by bills and petitions, we have begged these 150 men to submit these question to the voters. From 1871 (?) to 1884, they played see-saw with it: one session passing it and the next one killing it. But since 1884, the continued gain in public sentiment has been so obvious; our Association has so widened its influence and clubs have sprung up in many quarters of the state. The Legislature has determined that the risk shall not be run that this measure might carry at the polls.

But a cause that is worth fighting for is worth suffering defeat for. We know that we have a vast amount of sentiment in our favor. Our work through all those years has not been without results. Our foundation is permanently laid in the hearts of the people. To get our bill passed by the Legislature next winter is the Mecca towards which we now tum. We have three months in which to work. We are here to plan, to counsel and to learn from one another. Let us set every wheel in our machinery to a quickened whirl.

Let us not be beguiled with the delusion that petitions do no good. There are some present here today who could point us to high places in this state where the votes of certain members in the Legislature have been saved to us through the force of the petitions which you delegates have sent up. Let us not grow weary in the work. It is said that even God cannot use a discouraged person. Why should we be discouraged? It has taken men 700 years to bring men's suffrage to its present proportions; while women have not worked 100 years; and today there are over a million fully enfranchised women.

Look at the length of time required to get on the Board of Control. As far back as 1876 Gov. Carpenter suggested a change in the trustee system of managing state institutions. Four years later Gov. Gear recommended a Board of Control. Ten years later Gov. Hull made it a special feature of his message of 1890. Bills were introduced in the legislature on this subject in 1896, 88, 90, 92, 94-96-98 and not until _____ was the law enacted. It took over 20 years to get this much needed change in the management of the state institutions.

We have worked longer in an effort to bring about the most radical change ever proposed in the commonwealth of Iowa.

The machinery of our Association is in good working order. Faithfully, women have labored hard the past year to bring the press of the state into line with our thoughts, with what success their reports will show. The letter writers, the workers before large assembles have turned the people to think of our cause. The Headquarters work will show for itself, under the care of our efficient Corresponding Secretary. The field worker will come up bringing their shares with them.

We are here to gather fresh inspiration, look into each other's faces and feel the glow of courage ship in the work of a holy cause. If we are worthy to be the sons and daughters, we must do something for others every day of our lives.

Remember, that "the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, if we are underlings."

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.