Mary Jane Coggeshall

Political Advancement of Women – 1905

Mary Jane Coggeshall
January 01, 1905— Norwalk, Iowa
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I cannot be told when the first idea of woman's equality had place in the world­ certainly as long ago as the days of Plato, 300 years before Christ. All down the centuries here and there have been individuals who believed in equality between men and women. In Colonial days, Margaret Brent asked that she might vote in her state of Maryland. After the French Revolution, more than 100 years ago, __ asked that female suffrage might be included in the law of the New Republic. But not until 1848 did an organized movement begin when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and others called a convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Here 64 brave women declared themselves for the political rights of women. The years went on and their numbers increased in spite of the storm of opposition which raged around them.

Then came the Civil War when the energies of these women were sought for in other channels. Men high in the councils of the nations said to them, "This is the negro's hour. Cease working for yourselves and help us!!" And they bravely laid by their work for themselves, and circulated petitions to Congress for the freedom of the black man. The war being over, the slaves freed, and the ballot given to all black men. The women of the country again took up the struggle eagerly for their own political freedom.

The Temperance Reform Movement under the leadership of the queenly Alice(?) Francis Willard spread almost like wildfire over the land enlisting the interests of thousands of women. Again were the suffrage women appended to their chosen work. It was told them that, "This is the drunkard's hour." But our women had grown wise. They knew earlier than the temperance women, the serious handicap under which all women labored without the ballot. A dear aged-wise woman suffragist said to me years ago, "Did I care more for the cause of temperance than anything else in the world - to bring success to that cause? I should first seek the ballot for women."

So side by side through these later years has the W.C.T.U. through its department of franchise worked in harmony with the Equal Suffrage Association, and is doing precisely the same kind of work. What have been the gains in political freedom in the last 57 years since 1848? Almost simultaneous with the organized movement in this country did it begin across the water. Australia heads the list in giving political freedom to its women. In Italy, France, Austria - even in Russia have women minor political privileges. England, Scotland and Ireland have given women municipal and county suffrage.

Sweden and Norway are quite advanced - the Norwegian girl who comes over here and entered our kitchen as a domestic; is obliged to lay down some of her political rights, and to sink to the level of her disenfranchised American mistress.

But shameful as it is that even our gallant Iowa men have allowed their far off Norwegian brothers to outstrip them in granting justice to women - still in the Women's Suffrage since 1848 there has been a glorious advancement in securing political privileges. In Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho, women have the ballot upon the same terms as men. In 22 other states, women enjoy some form of suffrage. In Iowa, women may vote upon municipal bonds, and we expect to vote upon all measures in the not distant future.

In my humble view, never in the last 20 years has the outlook been so favorable as it is in this very month of grace. We believe we have good reasons for being hopeful over the prospect. Since it cannot come too soon, there is an aggregation of wrongs that need to be righted.

Think of all our churches being practically disfranchised. Two thirds of the church membership are helpless at the polls. The churches are seriously charged with not voting as they pray. Surely two thirds of the church do not vote as they pray - devout as they may be. My Sisters - with the New Testament in our hands, how can we be satisfied with this state of things.

We have tried to show a little of the advance towards liberty that women have made. The privileges that are ours today have been won for us. Let us be faithful in our trust.

In regard to child labor in Iowa, it is said with truth that the saloon demands one in every five of our boys for its support - but the increasing demand for wage earning children also demands one in five, and of this number one in every three is a girl.

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.