Mary Jane Coggeshall

Then and Now - National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention - Feb. 18, 1907

Mary Jane Coggeshall
February 18, 1907— Chicago, Illinois
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Some of us who happen to be extant during the early part of the 19th Century have a vivid recollection of the contrast between the then and now; especially the contrast in the condition of women. But we would go back further than our own memory takes us and glance for a moment of history, but as history records chiefly the exploits of men, we should say we will glance a moment at his story.

Through all the creeping centuries, woman has been the quiet, the unknown, the uncomplaining, the oppressed. Indeed, she has been profoundly thankful that she was permitted to be created at all; for from the record in Genesis, she has always had the suspicion that if Adam had happened to be satisfied to be alone, and willing to tend the garden himself, that our much maligned foremother would not have been made. But as to when or where our humanity started, we are not concerned; whether it were upon the banks of the Euphrates, upon the shores of the Nile, or in the valley of the St. Laurence, for the scientist and the biologist assure us that when the first Anthropoid ape made a nest in the forks of a tree, then and there our civilization began.

In a far off age, the primitive father was the hunter and fighter, and but little more. The primitive neither tended the cave or the hut; she tanned the skins for clothing, dug the ground for the maize, cared for the springs of water, she trained the dogs to help carry the burdens while the men strode on before.

She watched the example of a bird, bee and beast and slowly discovered the rudiments of what has become the splendid civilization of today. She was the origin of the town and the city, and was the means by which church, school and society came into existence.

Women were the founders of the world's homes, and through all the ages have been their protecting spirit, and no powers of earth are strong enough to drive out of their natures the love of home, though in these later days, thousands of men and some women are apparently frightened almost to death with the fear that if women are not restricted by law, they will get out of the home.

The primitive mother would seek a safe place for her young and defend them by tooth or claw. It is in the same mother spirit coming down through the evolving and refining centuries that today, in the cult of 20th century is asking for the legal power to protect these homes. That the U.S. Congress and some state legislatures have put themselves in the way of the world's oncoming movement for woman's freedom is just a little eddy in the current; only an incident in the sweep of progress. Indeed, the persistency of politicians to arrest this movement seems to add to the gaiety of nations.

A few years ago, in one of our western states during a session of its legislature when the House of Representatives had just voted down a woman suffrage bill, immediately about one hundred women rose and left the hall to hold an indignation meeting in the corridor. Feeling ran very high; but upon the face of one of the leading spirits was a look of supreme satisfaction. The chairman of this improvised meeting said to her, "Mrs. Blank, why do you look so happy?" She answered, "I am thinking of the men we have just left in the hall. Although their action in its stupid injustice was almost enough to make the very stones in the street cry out, yet they sat in their seats erect, clean, well clothed. Think what an advance they have made over their great, great, grinning ancestors, hanging by their tails in the trees."

Conditions which obtained even a hundred years ago are today in the minds of women simply intolerable. We remember even fifty years ago how a sympathizing clergy would advise and console women; they would conjure them to be content in the position in which they said, "Divine Providence had been pleased to place them." They were told that if they would continue patient and steadfast to the end that after a few more sighs and a few more tears, they would all be wafted into Abraham's bosom. As a little girl, I used to wonder what kind of a place of rest this bosom would be to which my mother was expected to go.

Today, even Heaven must bid higher for the souls of women. For today, each woman of us would demand the whole of Abraham's bosom to herself nor divide up with Sarah or Hager.

The day for women to walk through the world with bowed heads and weeping eyes has passed by. We have quit crying. What good do our tears do? Women have come to the same conclusion as the eminent Professor of Chemistry, who, after a quarrel with his wife, and she had burst into tears, taking up his hat to leave the house, said to her, "Emily, your tears do no good at all; they are only common water, with a small percentage of phosphorous salts and a trace of chloride of sodium."

Fainting too is at a discount. Seventy-five years ago, no function in polite society was complete without a fainting woman. A New York specialist declared that he used to visit a score of fainting woman every twenty-four hours. Today, our most refined and cultured young women, with faces unveiled, and fore-arms bared, take a walk of five miles or ten and come swinging home with their cheeks wearing natural roses. Our matrons too grow old slowly. Even staid members of this Association, women of 60 may be seen sprinting to the street cars almost any day.

When the world was young, fifty centuries of time brought less change in woman's lot than comes to her now in fifty years. We have all the experience of the past to aid us. The very stars in their courses are working for us. We have gained nearly everything. We will gain all. Man suffrage crept along through more than six centuries to reach its present proportion. Comparing our gains with his, woman suffrage since its first inception has come forward with the speed of the whirl-wind.

For the over-burdened woman, we have sympathy - for the wicked woman, we have charity - but of the discouraged woman, we are ashamed. But even in these happier days there are some things which have been left over from pre-historic times; and among these is the antisuffrage woman. There are not many of her who are active, or seem to be really alive. A few rare specimens have been observed upon the Atlantic seaboard, two or three in the Middle West, but beyond to the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, there are almost no formations of this character.

Some social biologists claim that she is the product of the stone age. But she is here - in limited numbers and the liquor interests of this country especially are ready to do her honor. The antisuffrage man or woman whether he or she knows precisely what the corporate liquor interests of the country would like to have them do. They would help to prolong the day for the corporate liquor interests of the country to coin money from the blood and tears of women and little children. The saloon can stand up boldly before an army of good men; but it would cower before an army of good men reinforced by an army of good women with ballots in their hands.

A pressing problem today is the immigrant. In vast numbers they come to us d m hem the prejudices of the old world meet here the corrupter and poht1cal chicanery of the new world, and they are often voted in herds under the manipulation of American bosses. My friends, we must get up into the mount of vision or we can not see the battle that rages in the plain. It is a battle royal against the forces of greed, political corruption and corporate power. But the immigrant is eager to learn, and this wonderful country of ours has in it the machinery and the institutions to Americanize the immigrant and control and humanize our own people. And we will. The muck rake is abroad in the land and the terror of public execration is lashing the dishonest. The forces of good are stronger than the forces of evil.

The men and the women, the fathers and the mothers will together work out our country's salvation.

"God's in his heaven. All's right with the world."

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.