Mary Jane Coggeshall

Poor Stupid Uncle Sam - undated

Mary Jane Coggeshall
December 31, 1969
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[Pages 1-3 of her handwritten copy are missing.]

Poor stupid Uncle Sam. He fails to see that the laws made for women a hundred and fifty years ago have not yielded to women's growth, and she is resisting the chains which confine her, and therefore the home, her special realm, is the loser.

What means the enormous number of divorce suits brought by women which now burden our courts until your souls are sick with every day's report. Does it mean that men are more cruel - more drunken - more licentious than fifty years ago? Is it the fault of our loose divorce laws? I believe the cause is deeper than any or all of these. Women's ideal of excellence is raised; and the conditions written and unwritten which marriage imposes - the authority over the wife - the children which are hers as well as his -- his control of the earnings she helps to acquire - all this power had men take advantage of, and through this cause more than all others. Is the American home being sacrificed?

Fifty years ago, the poor woman who starved and was beaten by a drunken husband would still cling to his beastly self, while every two years or more often she added another drunkard's child to the wretched group at her knee; today this woman would rise up in her stronger selfhood and walk out of his house forever. Today for a man to make as good a husband as his grandfather, he must make a great deal better one. Let Uncle Sam give to every mother, wife and daughter the same political freedom enjoyed by his man subjects and women could adjust themselves to their conditions, or make conditions to which they could adjust themselves with a facility which Uncle Sam never dreamed of.

Again, what robbery of women he allows. The tax on tea which our forefathers fought to the death to resist was only about $1500 a year, while women are every year robbed of millions. Call it by whatever name, we will - we, tax paying women are the slaves of voting men. Again, Uncle Sam is a marvelous liar. Every principle of freedom which he has enunciated for 150 years but emphasizes the claims of women to representation in a government that pretends to be by the consent of the governed.

How does he treat a woman who attempts to make a home upon his public domains? Let her stay nearly five years upon a claim, but if she marries in the meantime, which all the world advises her to do, what happens? She forfeits her claim to the land. In the National Cemetery at Pittsburg Landing, of the 3594 graves, all have been marked by marble tablets except those of the four female Army nurses who lost their lives through diseases contracted in the service; and this distinction was by instructions from the War Department.

Each state is allowed to make such restrictions against women as the men of that state may decide. Iowa boasts of its absolute equality in matters of property. In the case of a certain excellent lady of Des Moines - a member of the Presbyterian church her husband's acts becoming unbearable, they lived apart, he entering into a written contract with him to pay her a monthly stipend. This he soon failed to pay and the wife brought suit- but the Supreme Court of the state decided that a contract between man and wife "was against public policy," and today in Iowa it is not a crime for a man to defraud his wife.

A friend told me of a case in another state which came under her own observation. Two young people married poor and soon after the husband by an accident became a permanent invalid. The wife while nursing carefully her husband, also did washing until she had accumulated enough to buy a house and a few acres of ground, the deed to which from the force of public opinion was made in the husband's name. After fifteen years, the husband died, and his relatives took two thirds of the property allowing to the wife the use of one third while she lived and at her death all went to his relatives.

In several states, the married mother still has little more legal right to her child than a cow has to her calf. If a wife has property in her own name and sells it for cash - if the husband should receive the money in his own hands, he may spend it, and there is no federal or state law that will compel him to restore to her.

A little scrap of history came to my knowledge just the other day which shows how our children suffer by the lack of the mother influence in public affairs. When the University of Iowa was founded by President Jefferson, of course it was only intended for the education of boys, and all possible inducements were offered to the young men to attend; and among others were accommodations provided in the building by which women were to be sacrificed to the passions of these young men. If one mother had been on the Board of Trustees of that University, could such things have been?

The heritage of power is a curse to men as well as to women. I think we women are given too much to look to men to do the work which we should do ourselves. If we ever hope to set ourselves right with the world, it is for each of us to be faithful in these matters as they come up before us as in the every day.

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.