Frances Willard

Statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage – April 2, 1888

Frances Willard
April 02, 1888— Washington, D.C.
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I suppose these honorable gentlemen think that we women want the earth, when we only want half of it. That is just exactly where we stand. We call their attention to the fact—I do not know whether it has been brought out here this morning, but it is a fact—that our brethren have encroached upon the sphere of woman. They have very definitely marked out that sphere, and then they have proceeded with their incursion by the power of invention. They have taken away the loom and the spinning-jenny, and they have obliged Jenny to seek her occupation somewhere else to an extent. They have set even the tune of the old knitting-needle to humming by steam. So that we women, full of vigor and full of desire to be active and useful and to re-act upon the world around us, finding our occupation industrially largely gone, have been obliged to seek out a new territory and to pre-empt from the sphere of our brothers, as it was popularly supposed to be, some of the territory that they have hitherto considered their own. As I understand it, that is the rationale of the present crowding in of these women. If you had left them spinning-jennies and looms and the knitting needle, they might not be here. But you shrewd Yankees set to work and put spindles and steam at your service, and lo and behold we need more occupation, and so we think it will be very desirable indeed that you should let us lend a hand in the affairs of government.

We know that in the olden time when force was at the fore, and had to be, women were at a discount, but we accept that and have no complaint to make. We think, however, in these "piping times of peace" women may well pipe up and may be heard; and your presence, "grave and reverend signiors" and Senators, looking at us this morning, shows that you think just the same.

We call you to remember a certain incident in politics, namely, that when women had the vote, as they had for a brief space in New Jersey, thanks to the kindliness of the Quakers, who always thought well of women and marked them at their true value, it was the decisive vote of women in New Jersey that put John Quincy Adams in the great Executive Mansion at Washington. Then he, like the true and loyal man we was, stood up and argued that women should have the right to put their signatures to petitions, which had not been done before. He remembered the women that he left behind him, and he it was who, when men in the Capitol at Washington said that if women put their names to a bit of paper in the way of a signature to a petition they would lose their womanliness, that they would not care for their homes, and that they would become strong minded—he it was who declared that it would not make them a bit different, that they would still be womanly and kind and motherly and sisterly. The result was that women were given the right of petition, and have they not vindicated John Quincy Adams? You can not legislate the womanly trait into being.

It is said that if women are given the right to vote it will prevent their being womanly. I know it is a sentiment of chivalry in some good men that hinders them from giving us the ballot. They think we should not be what they admire so much; they think we should be lacking in womanliness of character, which we most certainly wish to preserve; but we believe that history proves they have retained that womanliness, and if we can only make men believe that, and if we can only make women believe that, the ballot will just come along sailing in a ship with the wind beating every sail—the ballot will come in the next ten years.

I ask you to notice here if the women who have been in this international council, if the women who are school teachers all over this nation, if the hundreds of thousands are not a womanly set of women. They have gone outside of the old sphere. We believe that in the time of peace women can come forward, and can, with peaceful plans, use weapons that are grand and womanly, and that her thoughts, winged with hope and the force of the heart given to them, will have an effect far mightier than forceful power. For that reason we ask you that that class of our women who, having a level head upon their shoulders, can be trusted shall be allowed to stand at the ballot-box, because we believe that at the ballot-box every person shows his individuality, and would show her individuality. The majesty or the meanness of the man—and by that I mean to include womanhood—comes out more at the ballot-box than anywhere else. The ballot is the compendium of all there is in civilization, and of all that civilization has done for us. We believe that the mothers who had the good sense to train noble men like you who have achieved high positions, had the good sense to train your sisters in the same way, and that it is a pity that the State has lost that other half of the conservative power that comes from a Christian rearing and a Christian character.

I have spoken thus on the principles which have made me, a conservative woman, devoted to the idea of the ballot, and have made me one in heart with all these good and true suffrage women, though not one in organic community. I represent before you the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and not a suffrage society, but I bring these principles to your sight, and I ask you, my brothers, to be grand and chivalrous towards us on this new departure that we now wish to make.

I ask you to remember that it is women who have given the costliest hostages to fortune, and out into the battle of life they have sent their best beloved with snares that have been legalized set on every hand. From the arms that held him long the boy has gone forever, and he will not come back again to the home, and can not come back again into the world. Then let the world in the person of its womanhood go forth and make a home, and make that home in the State and in society. By all the pain and danger the mother has shared, by the hours of patient watching over beds where little children tossed in fever and in pain, by the incense of ten thousand prayers wafted to God from earnest lips, I charge you, gentlemen, give women power to go forth so that when her son undertakes life's treacherous battle still let his mother walk beside him weak but serious, and clad in the garments of power. [Applause.]