Alice Stone Blackwell

Hearing before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage – Feb. 21, 1894

Alice Stone Blackwell
February 21, 1894— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee: As we were coming along the corridors of the Capitol on our way to this hearing I overheard a gentleman who, I think, is a member of Congress, say: “We shall have to let the women vote. This is what we are coming to.” I suppose he meant that this perpetual procession of women through the halls of the Capitol will go on until their efforts are crowned with success. That gentleman was a true prophet. We will continue to come here until the suffrage comes to us.

One very common argument against giving suffrage to women is that the majority of women themselves do not want it. I shall confine my remarks this morning to that one point. Unfortunately that argument proves too much. The various successive changes that have taken place in regard to the person and property, and educational and professional opportunities of women during the last fifty years have been much greater than the change that is now asked for; and every one of those successive steps (all of which are now generally approved) was made before a majority of women asked for it, and even against the disapproval of a majority of women.

When a merchant in a town in Maine employed the first woman in his store, the men of the place boycotted the store and the women upheld the men. When the effort was made to have women study medicine, and Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell dared to do so, not only did the men say very severe things, but even the women refused to speak to her, and I have heard her say that the contemptuous and irritating remarks of the women made were even more painful than the opposition from the men. So, too, when the effort was begun to be made to secure equal property rights to the women. Women said of it with contempt: “Do you think that I would give myself where I would not give my property?” So, too, with the effort to secure higher education for women. You recollect with what contempt it was received.

In eastern countries where the women are shut up in zenanas and are not permitted to appear on the streets unveiled, women themselves uphold those restrictions. The Chinese lady is just as proud of her small feet as any American woman is of her personal adornment. They tell us that in India the masses of the Hindoo women are so much opposed to the idea of education that, when a progressive Hindoo proposes to educate his little daughter, it is not uncommon for the women of the family to threaten to commit suicide. They have always thought that a learned woman is a monstrosity, and that if a woman could read and write she would lose her husband's affection and lose her high place in the heart of her family.

The objections to giving woman suffrage are only the same objections that have been made to every one of these successive steps in the progress of women. They have been found to be entirely erroneous. They have not been the dreadful things which they, at first, appeared to be.

Then, again, we can see that we have much more sentiment among women in favor of the change now asked for than there was in favor of any of the other changes. A member of Congress has said that there are more petitions presented to Congress for woman suffrage than on any other subject, and that, in every case where there are petitions for suffrage and remonstrances against it, the petitioners have always outnumbered the remonstrants by 5 to 1, and sometimes by 50 to 1. The remonstrants in Massachusetts have ceased sending in remonstrances because they can not find any one to sign them. So that I think it is fairly proved that the women who take any lively interest in the question, for or against, are generally in favor of it. And we say that it is only fair that those who do not care about the matter at all should not be counted.

Of those who do take a lively interest in it the great majority is in favor of it. Formerly there was very little sentiment in favor of woman suffrage; but to-day there is a great deal. A New York woman, in the convention which this association has just held in Washington, told me the other day that she has been lecturing and traveling in the country districts for woman suffrage. She is not a celebrated woman, and she cares no more for suffrage than hundreds of others. She has been riding from village to village in an open sleigh, and undergoing all kinds of hardships; but she says that she is not going to take a moment's leisure until woman suffrage is secured, and then she will be satisfied to lie down and die.

When this suffrage movement war begun there was very little desire to accomplish it. Now, there is a great deal. One of the speakers at our convention this week illustrated it by a story that she told of two frogs, one an optimistic and the other a pessimistic. They fell into a pail of milk. The pessimistic frog let himself sink to the bottom of the pail and lay there. But the optimistic frog continued to make a struggle to rise until finally he churned a large pat of butter, on which he floated and escaped. So, when we began this struggle there was very little encouragement for us, but we have kept up the agitation until we have produced a mass of public opinion almost large enough for us to climb up on and escape.

Source: United States Congress. Senate. Committee On Woman Suffrage, Shaw, A. H. & National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. (1894) Hearing before the Committee on Woman Suffrage. [Washington: Government Printing Office] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,