Leonora O’Reilly

Statement to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee- March 13, 1912

Leonora O’Reilly
March 13, 1912— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee. I ask this committee in all seriousness to understand that we working women are not asking for the vote for fun; we need the vote for self-protection. Gentlemen, you may tell us that our place is in the home. Do not make fun of us, please. There are 8,000,000 of us in these United States who must earn our daily bread. Now, in all seriousness, because we must earn that bread, we come to tell you that while we are working in the mills, the mines, the factories, and the mercantile houses, we have not the protection that we should have. Gentlemen, you have been making laws for us; now, we want to make laws for ourselves, because the laws you have made have not been good for us. Year after year working women have gone to the legislature in every State; they have tried to tell their story of need in the same old way. They have gone to you, believing as they do believe, in the strength of the big brother; believing that the big brother could do for them what they should, as citizens, do for themselves.

They have seen, time after lime, the power of the big interest come behind the big brother ad say to him: "If you grant the request of these working women you die, politically." It is because the working women have seen this that they now demand the ballot. In New York, and in every other State, we plead for shorter hours. When the legislators learn that women to-day in every industry are being overspeeded and overworked most legislators would, if they dared, vote protective legislation for the women. Why do they neglect the women? We answer, because those who have the votes have the power to take the legislator's political ladder away from them, a power that we, who have no votes, do not have. The getting of the vote and the use of the vote for self-protection as a class is another thing we working women are going to do; we are going to do it as well as we have done our work in the factory, mill, office, and shop. The world to-day knows that the women in industry are making good. But we working women maintain that the rest of the world are not keeping faith with us, in that they are driving us like mad, burning us alive, or working us to death for profits. We, of New York , remember the Triangle fire cases; we saw our women burned alive, and then when our people appealed to the courts and tried to get justice we got instead the same old verdict from the courts, "Nobody to blame.'' The ballot is a matter of necessity with working women. We come to you to-day to say we want you to put behind you all your prejudice against votes for women; we ask you for fair play. Deal with us as you would want to be dealt by. When the workingmen come to you with the power of the ballot they make you listen. We want the power of the ballot for the same reason. If there is a man who will not be just, we mean to put him out of politics. If there is a man in office who is serving humanity fairly, we will keep him in office to help make our land what it ought to be.

Gentlemen, that is my message to you from working women in general, and from all organized working women and workingmen in particular. Working women want the power to protect themselves. Working women want the opportunity to work effectively for decent factory laws, sane labor laws. Working women know that we will never have a universal child-labor law until we have the heart of all the women of the land behind the framing and the enforcing of such a law.

While the doors of the colleges have been opened to the fortunate women of our country, only one women in a thousand goes into our college, while one woman in five must go into industry to earn her living. And it is for the protection of this one woman in every five that I speak.

You may say the vote was never given as a right, but rather as an expedient to any group of people. Then we demand it as an expedient. It is time that these women who work in the factories, or wherever they work, contracting the diseases known as occupational diseases, were given the opportunity to clean our political house of its disease germs.

It is in a wretchedly unhealthy condition to-day. Men, let the women come in and help you in this political house cleaning. You have got it into an awful mess; we only ask you to do the thing you have done since Adam, namely, turn the burden of responsibility over to woman when it gets too big for you or you fear the consequences. Let us help you now, or if you will not it will look as if you are afraid of the kind of house cleaning we will give you. Well, we will give it to you, as sure as fate, because we are on this job to win. [Applause.] We see that there is not a thing in the way of this right which we are asking but prejudice or fear; we are pleading for the right to use our intelligence, as you use yours at the ballot box. You believe you protect us. You say you want to take care of the women. I can tell you as a working woman we know you have made a very bad job of the protection and caretaking. [Laughter and applause.] A working woman has to deal with the facts of life; she knows when she is overtired, when her finger is taken off by a machine just because she was too tired to take it out. That is what one of my girls calls a "fac'." Now, men, we working women deal in "fac's." We want the ballot in order that we may straighten out all of this economic and political mess that your superior intelligence has gotten us into. Is that straight? Well, that is what the working woman wants. [Applause.]