Anna Howard Shaw

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

Anna Howard Shaw
February 21, 1894— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee: I have not been present during the whole sitting and therefore do not know what points have been brought up before this body. I wish to impress one thought which oftentimes seems to me to be overlooked; that is, the fact that woman suffrage is no longer a theory, but is a fact in many places and in many parts of the world. Woman suffrage is a fact in England and in New Zealand. The reports from New Zealand have been exceedingly fine in reference to the moral influence of women at the polls. We have had facts from Wyoming, and have had them from different parts of the Union on restricted suffrage, such as school suffrage, so that we have abundance of facts; and while, so far as we have been able to gather these facts, they show that women have not voted in so large numbers as some people thought they should, they also show that wherever they have voted it has been for the public good.

Women are not so partisan as men. Perhaps if we were more partisan, and if political parties could count upon us more and be more assured of what we should do when we did vote, we might not have such a hard time in getting the suffrage. But they can not always count upon us. Women have voted largely for the men who represent the highest and best morally, and their influence has been for the good order of the community and for the best interests of the home and the family. This, I believe, will be largely the influence of women in politics, not so much that she will discuss the questions which have been agitating your body, on the lines of tariff and silver and finance. I do not suppose that she would know any more about them than men do. But so far as the questions are concerned which have to do with the moral order of society, women, it seems to me, have always given these duties their best thought, and have been always willing to sacrifice themselves in their best interests.

Therefore we claim that, having had so many facts—all, as a rule, favorable—the propriety of granting woman suffrage is proved. Even Mr. Gladstone, although he opposes a further extension of suffrage in England because it would interfere with some of his measures, says that woman's suffrage so far has always been a benefit and never a harm. Now it seems to me that if, so far, suffrage has been always a benefit and never a harm, it is absurd to say that, if it be extended farther, it will be a harm and not a benefit.

The other argument which we have all to meet, over and over again, is the attitude of women themselves. It is often said by gentlemen that the best women whom they know do not want suffrage. I know very good, excellent women who do not want what is good for them. I know very many excellent men who do not want what is good for them. But that is not the point. The point is whether they ought to have it. It is not a question whether women want to exercise the right to vote; but the question is whether they ought to exercise it. It is the right of the state and of the nation to demand that women shall give to it the very best of their life. The state has no claim upon men that she does not have upon women; and therefore if women can give to the state anything that is good and helpful it is their duty to give it.

It is very remarkable that the women who are supposed in time of peace not to be able to do anything for their country are the people on whom the country has relied so much in time of disturbance and disorder. We have never failed when it was a question of patriotism and of national life. Take the great cities of the country that are so badly mismanaged and you find organizations of women banded together not to do harm to the city or to put forth temptations that degrade and drag down its inhabitants, but to secure clean streets and to do the best good they can. Take New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities, and you find women banded together for that purpose.

I believe that it is much better for us to be interested in good sewerage, good water supply, good air, and good moral surroundings than to be interested in foreign missions which are not of quite as close interest to us as the conditions which surround our own homes.

As to suffrage taking up women's time and putting upon us responsibilities, I believe that it will be much easier for women of a city to go to the polls on election day and vote for the men who will see that these things are brought into the life of the city to make for it good health, than for them to take the extra work of nursing children suffering from diphtheria and scarlet fever. It is much easier to vote for a good condition of the town than to take care of the bad condition. We have here a lady who was elected to the school board of Quincy, Mass. She went to work at a certain school.

She asked the privilege of doing so, simply because the children who attended that school were so unhealthy, and so many of them died. The disease seemed to be of the worst character. The discoveries that she made in the building were enough to shock any good housekeeper. She went to work, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and found in the cellar a sunken tub into which had been dripping water from leaks until the entire tub had rotted away and the stench had permeated the whole building. The children were dying by the score. She went to work and did the general house-cleaning of that school. And I submit to you she was much better adapted to it than any man in the city of Quincy; and the work was certainly not an added burden to the city of Quincy, but a great relief.

I believe that we need better housekeeping in the nation, better housekeeping in the state, and better housekeeping in the city. We are asking you for this change. This change has always been for the best good of the people. If we did not believe it to be good we would not press our request so strongly. We ask that the women may have a voice in helping to make the laws which they obey, and may have some influence in the councils that affect their own homes.

I should like to ask you, gentlemen, to look out and see if the country does not need a change. The change that we ask can not be hurtful, and would certainly be beneficial. The result of woman's enfranchisement would be, I believe, beneficial. That has been the result of every extension of suffrage given to the people, and we believe that in this case greater good would come, because to no class of people of the country has the right of suffrage been extended better fitted to accept it and to use it wisely than the women of the country. We have now open colleges; we have large control of property and business affairs; we have large opportunities given to us by the business pursuits which we have been permitted to enter, and in this way we have been educated for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. When, at first, women asked for the ballot it was said, “You women are not educated; you can not understand it; you have no money, and nothing at stake.” We said, “Very true.” We undertook to be educated, and are educated. We undertook to get money, and are getting it, therefore there can be no objection to woman suffrage on the ground of lack of interest or lack of intellectual ability.

Believing it to be in accordance with the interests of the country we make this request; and we beg that you will give the matter on which we are addressing you this morning a speedy and favorable consideration; because your report, while it may not be adopted in the Senate or in the House, will be a help to us in those portions of the world where we are securing fractional suffrage. There are large numbers of women who do not believe in accepting this small bit of suffrage. But some of us do believe in taking what we can get, with the purpose of getting all that belongs to us. I have the privilege in Massachusetts of voting for school committees, and I have also had the privilege of escorting a gentleman from the poorhouse to the polls. He could vote not only for the school committee but for the school appropriation; while we women can only vote for the members of the school committee but not for the appropriation. All over the country you can see this injustice.

While interested in what Mrs. Colby said as to the effect of the picture which she described, I should not feel badly if gentlemen were haunted all their lives by the picture until it was obliterated from the picture itself and borne into the minds of men. Gentlemen, we do not like the society you give us.

We prefer the society of intelligent men, believing that intelligent men and intelligent women, law-abiding men and law-abiding women, working together for the common country, can do infinitely more than men can do alone, while women have to be associated with male idiots and male lunatics.

We therefore ask that justice, which should have been ours from the beginning, may be extended to us and that we may know what it is in this country to be a free people, where all the people have equal rights.

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,