I come before this committee with the sense which I always feel, that we are handicapped as women in what we try to do for ourselves by the single fact that we have no vote. This cheapens us. You do not care so much for us as if we had votes, so that we come always with that infinite disadvantage.
But the thing I want to say particularly is that we have our immortal Declaration of Independence and the various bills of rights of the different States ( George Washington advised us to recur often to first principles), and in these nothing is clearer than the basis of the claim that women should have equal rights with men.
A complete government is a perfectly just government. . . . . .
What I desire particularly to impress upon this committee is the gross and grave injustice of holding thirty millions of women absolutely helpless under the Government. The laws touch us at every point. From the time the girl baby is born until the time the aged woman makes her last will and testament, there is not one of her affairs which the law does not control. It says who shall own the property, and what rights the woman shall have; it settles all her affairs, whether she shall buy or sell or will or deed. . . . .
Persons are elected by men to represent them in Congress and the State Legislatures, and here are these millions of women, with just the same stake in the Government that men have, with a class interest of their own, and with not one solitary word to say or power to help settle any of the things which concern them.
Men know the value of votes and the possession of power, and I look at them and wonder how it is possible for them to be willing that their own mothers, sisters, wives and daughters should be debarred from the possession of like power. We have been going to the Legislature in Massachusetts longer than Mrs. Stanton has been coming here. We asked that when a husband and wife make a contract with each other, as for instance, if the wife loan the husband her money, the contract should be considered valid just as it would be between any other parties—for now in case the husband fails in business, she can not get her money—and the Legislature very kindly gave us leave to withdraw. Then we asked that when a man dies and the wife is left alone, with the whole burden of life on her shoulders, the law might give her more than forty days in which to stay in her home without paying rent. But we could not defeat one of our legislators, and they cared not a cent for our petition and less than a cent for our opinion; and so when we asked for this important measure they gave us leave to withdraw.
They respect the wants of the voter, but they care nothing about the wants of those who do not have votes. So, when we asked for protection for wives beaten by their husbands, and that the husband should be made to give a portion of his earnings to support the minor children, again we had leave to withdraw.
I can think of nothing so helpless and humiliating as the position of a disfranchised person. I do not know whether I am treading on dangerous toes when I say that, after the late war the Government in power wished to punish Jefferson Davis, and it considered that the worst punishment it could inflict upon him was to take away his right to vote. Now, the odium which attached to him from his disfranchisement is just the same as attaches to women from their disfranchisement. The only persons who are not allowed to vote in Massachusetts are the lunatics, idiots, felons and people who can not read and write. In what a category is this to place women, after one hundred years and at the close of this nineteenth century? And yet that is history. In Massachusetts we are trying to get a small concession—the right to vote in the cities and towns in which we live in regard to the taxes we have to pay. In 1792, in Newburyport, Mass., it was not thought necessary to give women education.
At that time there were no schools for girls ; the public money was not so used, and when one man said he had five daughters, and paid his taxes like other men, and his girls were not allowed to attend school, and that they ought to give the girls a chance, another man said, "Take the public money and educate shes? Never!"
Remember this was one hundred years ago. Some of the fathers urged that the girls should be educated in the public schools, and so the men—God forgive them !—said, "We will let the girls go in the morning between 6 and 8 o'clock, before the boys want the schoolhouse." Just think of the time those girls would have to rise in order to have a little instruction before the boys got there! This plan did not work well, and the teacher was directed not to teach females any longer. Every descendant of those men now feels ashamed of them ; and I think that in one hundred years the children of the men who are now letting us come here, year after year, pleading for suffrage, will feel ashamed. Men would rather lose anything than their votes ; they would fight for their right of suffrage, and if anybody attempted to deprive them of it there would be war to the knife and the knife to the hilt. We come here to carry on our bloodless warfare, praying that the privilege granted in the foundation of the Government should be applied to women.
What we look forward to is part of the eternal order. It is not possible that thirty millions of women should be held forever as lunatics, fools and criminals. It is not possible, as the years go on, that each person should not at least have the right to look after his or her own interests. As the home is at its best when the father and mother consult together in regard to the family interests, so it is with the Government. I do not think a man can see from a man's point of view all the things that a woman needs, or a woman from her single point of view all the things that a man needs. Now men have brought their best, and also brought their worst, into the Government, and it is all here, but the thing you have not at all is the qualities which women possess, the feminine qualities. It has been said that women are more economical, peaceful and law-abiding than men, and all these qualities are lacking in the Government to-day. But whether this be so or not, it is right that every class should be heard in behalf of its own interest. . . . .
Now, gentlemen, I hope you will try to make this case your own. It is simple justice and fair play, and it is also a fundamental principle of the Government. Here we are trying to have a complete republic, and yet there are twelve millions of disfranchised adults. I believe that among the great people—and by the people I do not mean men, but men and women, the whole people—nothing creates such disrespect for a fundamental principle as not to apply it. The Government was founded upon the principle that those who obey the laws should make them, and yet it shuts out a full half. As long as this continues to be done, it certainly tends to create disrespect for the principle itself. Do you not see it? Why not reach out a hand to woman and say, "Come and help us make the laws and secure fair play"?