Mary Jane Coggeshall

Suffrage Club: "Men Tramps vs. Women Tramps" - c. 1894

Mary Jane Coggeshall
January 01, 1894
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We have often wondered why there is such a scarcity of women tramps. If men tramps are a necessary result of the present industrial condition, and if the number of men and women are about the same, why is it that where there are a thousand men asking charity, there are not ten women? The number of occupations open to men are vastly greater, the wages better, the oppo1tunity to go from one place to another greatly in favor of men. We are everlastingly told that men support women. While many of the unemployed are single men and boys, yet the number of that class in proportion is not so large as seriously to affect the calculation. There are single women and girls to match all these. Does anyone imagine that these thousands of idle men are sending home money to support this complement of wives and sisters? If it be true that thousands of men during the last eighteen months would have starved if outside help had not been given, then by parity of reasoning this country should now be dotted from Maine to California with the graves of women who have starved to death. For these women have not asked public charity, but we all know that when money grows scarce, the home is generally the first place to feel the stringency.

During the last winter in all our large cities as in Chicago, the floor of the City Hall was packed at night with sleeping men kept warm by public expense, and a breakfast furnished by charity; how did food and warmth come to the same number of poor women and girls?; for they were not in the City Hall, nor were they on the streets, neither was there a wholesale dying of starvation.

Do we say that the occupations of women have been less affected than those of men?

Ask the scores of clerks, bookkeepers, stenographers and others and see if they will tell you if it has been an easy matter to secure a paying position. Even in domestic employment there has been a sensible falling off. The wages of a domestic with her attendant expense is a heavy demand upon the family purse, and often retrenchment begins just here. It is true the demand for competent help is still large as the advertisement in the daily papers show; but there are thousands of incompetents and those who could not enter domestic service even if places could be made for them. No, the financial problem for women cannot be solved by remanding them all to domestic service; neither does this one open door of employment account for the scarcity of women tramps.

Prof. Drummond says that, "Civilization began when our savage ancestors felt the first spark of human affection, and that the most stupendous work God ever undertook was when he began to make a mother. When the savage mother made the first bed of leaves she laid the foundation of the modern home. The love of the mother for her child came first; all else was a later acquisition."

Possibly, this care for others beside ourselves which Prof. Herron holds is the only true interpretation of the Christ spirit, is yet a little stronger in women than in men. They will stay by the broken fo1tunes of the family to the very last. In the final analysis it may be found that women have less pride than men; that when the wolf actually looks in at the door they are ready to fight him back with any weapon they can reach. If fair pay is not to be had for their work they will take what they can get, but go on working at something, and live on less and less, but to band together and on a strike is to most women farthest from their thoughts. Women seem not to have imbibed the fatal fallacy that the world owes them a living. We are not holding up to you the actions of women as models of excellence, but this we say, that if men in distress were moved by precisely the same spirit that governs the actions of the women of this country, there would not be droves of idle men meandering through the land asking alms of the thrifty.

I do not say that under our serious economic conditions that strikes and commonweal armies are to be condemned. I only call your attention to the difference with which men and women have met the financial and industrial trouble. We agree with our social economists that we have fallen upon calamitous times; when the rivalry for existence is simply terrible; but in spite of the assertion to the contrary, we insist that history does repeat itself, and that the same causes which worked disaster to primitive civilizations are working towards the same results in the more complicated society of today.

Mr. Benjamin Kidd in his recent book, Social Evolution, shows with remarkable clearness the road by which former great civilizations have travelled to their destiny. That Greece, whether under the rule of an oligarchy, an aristocracy or its independent city states to the "pure democracy" of which our own states have been compared, went down before the canker within her own vitals. The leading principle of Greek society was that consideration was due to the order, but below this human beings were of no account only for plunder. Of the universal brotherhood of man, the Greek mind had no conception. Its civilization shows to us that no sort of a social system can stand the stress of time and change no matter how great its culture if a large proportion of its people are in irremediable subjection.

Roman civilization which exhibited the very highest type of successful military supremacy, repeats the same story -- a high intellectual condition among the ruling classes and a large percent of the population without rights of any kind - with an almost absurd toleration of all other religions, yet not place for the spirit of the Nazarene who taught the equality of all men. Roman civilization teaches us that in spite of great military prestige and the highest culture, any organization that holds a large class in subjection has in it a poison which, being inseparable from the system, needs time to do its fatal work.

Will our Western civilization prove an exception to this law of development which has worked through all the ages and will work on in-spite of theories and systems? Will our great subject class achieve the goal of equal opportunity without shattering the whole fabric when all former attempts at republics have failed? But what has all this to do with the question of men and women tramps? Much every way. Our country is now in the throes of a terrible industrial depression. And why? Far be it from me to presume to give either the reason or remedy. I come only as one of the great army of the interested with my tribute of wonderment as to why these things are so. With plenty of money in the country and a panicky money market -- with our granaries full and the people asking for bread -- when neither war, famine, nor pestilence has devastated our land, yet apparently no work for thousands of willing hands to do; and strangest of all -- racking their brains for the cause and solution, and none able to give it.

This pseudo representative government of ours is but the larger household. What think you of the success of that family where there is a rather good but very busy father, a large flock of children, and no mother? Suppose this father declares before his household and before high heaven that the complicated machinery of his modern home needs another manager than himself, and resents any offers of help as an insult to his high prerogative. Is it any wonder that there is confusion and waste in this household; that though the pantry may be stored yet the children are hungry and chaos and confusion reigns in every department?

If there could be injected into our governmental organization the thrift, tact, economy, and patience in detail that exists with the women of this country – together with that spirit that make a woman self-supporting member of society where a man would turn tramp – then we would have a governmental housekeeping such as the world has no conception of. Then if Christ should come to Chicago or any other city, he would find no political pariahs - no subject class. He would find that the spirit of brotherhood of man which he brought to earth nearly nineteen hundred years ago had come to full flower in our body politic. He would find that the world-old antagonism between the sexes had become a thing of the past.

That our western civilization had come to admit that God knew what he was about when he made men and women different that together they might form the perfect whole; for "sure as sin and suffering joined. We march to fate abreast."

Prof. Herron says that his country is now laboring under "a deep conviction of sin." This gives us hope. It is amazing how slow our American people are to perceive that we are a nation of liars. After fighting to the death for the principle that a free people cannot be governed without their consent and then go to go on for more than a hundred years coolly governing one half the population – taxing them – arresting them – imprisoning them – trying them – hanging them, and permitting them no more voice in the matter than if they were so many South Sea Islanders.

That the masses so far fail to see this gigantic brand we suppose is due to the same thickness of scull that obtained in primitive times when the materials which make our present comfortable homes lay all about our grinning ancestors, yet they kept right on hanging by their tails in the woods. Organized lying has for its sure complement organized stealing. Individual robbery is not uncommon, but our organized robberies cry aloud to heaven.

We are not pointing the way to an economic millennium, but we insist that the working men of this country need in this government the leverage of the ballot in the hands of the working women of the country ... a force, the needs, and aspirations of which run side by side with theirs. The capitalist needs the balancing power of woman's vote even more.

We have faith to believe that the expansive capacity of our institutions is so great, and the character of the rank and file of our ruling class is so high, that before it is everlastingly too late, this government which has always acknowledged the fatherhood of God, will come at last to recognize, in its fullness, the brotherhood of man.

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.