Alice Stone Blackwell

Hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage – Jan. 24, 1889

Alice Stone Blackwell
January 24, 1889— Washington, D.C.
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Gentlemen of the committee, I feel that I come before you a very inadequate representative of the Woman's Journal and the American Woman Suffrage Association; but at the same time I am glad of the opportunity which Miss Anthony's kindness has afforded me to say a word in behalf of the proposed constitutional amendment giving suffrage to women, because while what I can say may not be of much value in itself, it gives me an opportunity to show which side I am on in desiring suffrage to be granted to women.

In reading the various Congressional debates on the subject of woman suffrage, we find a number of different objections offered. Very little, however, is generally said as to what seems to most of us women who wish to vote the fundamental basis of our claim. The general argument for woman suffrage is the same as the argument for having a republican form of government rather than a monarchy. We say that it is fair and right that those who are required to obey the laws should have a voice in making them, and that those who are required to pay taxes should have a voice in deciding what shall be the amount of the tax and how the money raised by taxation shall be spent, and as we can not suit everybody, we take everybody's opinion and go according to the wish of the majority. That seems to be on the whole the fairest way, and that, roughly stated, is the principle of republican government. A vote is simply a written expression of opinion, which is written down and put into a box so that it may be counted.

In thus taking the sense of the community there are certain classes of persons who are always passed over, because their opinions, for one reason and another, are not considered worth counting. The laws of the different States differ, but all are agreed in excluding children, idiots, lunatics, felons, and women. There are good and obvious reasons for making all these exceptions but the last. Of course it is self evident that the opinions of children ought not to be counted, nor those of idiots, lunatics, and criminals. Is there any reason at all why, in reckoning up the opinions of the community, no account shall be taken of the opinions of women!

Let us try a few of the objections that are usually offered and see whether they are sound. One point that is often brought up in the objections to woman suffrage in Congressional debates is that women do not need to vote, because they are virtually represented already by their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc.

The first difficulty with the doctrine of virtual representation is that it is not according to numbers. I knew a man once who had a wife, a widowed mother, five unmarried sisters, and five unmarried daughters. According to this doctrine of virtual representation his vote represented himself and all those women, and it counted one, while the vote of his bachelor neighbor next door, without a female relative in the world, counted one, just the same. Thus there is an inequality even when all the women of the family think just as their male relatives do. Of course sometimes even in the most united family this can not be the case. How is a man to represent his wife and daughters if they do not all think alike, or if they do not all think as he does? In my own State there is one Senator who has two daughters. One of them is a woman suffragist. The other is very much opposed to woman suffrage, so much so that she burns the Woman's Journal when it comes into the house before her father can get hold of it. How is that gentleman to represent the opinions of his two daughters on that subject? Sometimes a man has a widowed mother, a wife, and a daughter. One of them may be a Republican, another a Prohibitionist, another a Democrat. How can he represent those three women by one vote unless he could be, like Cerebus, three gentlemen at once.

Then, again, even in the case where a man tries honestly and does his best to represent his woman-kind, this principle of virtual representation is still imperfect. I read the other day of a man who undertook honestly and did his very best to represent his women. He was a member of the Greenback party. He had three daughters who were all Republicans, and neither he nor his daughters believed in woman suffrage. The whole family held that the women of a family ought to be represented by the male members of it. When the election approached those three daughters all sought their father and represented to him how very wrong it would be in him, when three members of the family were Republicans, to cast the only vote of that family for the Greenback party. They said, "You are our representative; you always said so, and we believe it. We are Republicans, and we want you to vote to represent us." The father saw the point, and actually did it. Though himself a Greenbacker, he went and voted the Republican ticket in order to represent bis daughters. That is the best that can be done under that system. But do you not see that even that way was not fair? The Greenback candidate was entitled to one vote out of that family, and he did not get it. The Republican candidate was entitled to three votes, and he only got one.

So I think we are justified in saying, with James Otis in the old revolutionary times, that there is really no such thing as virtual representation; that it is really a delusion and a snare. The only sense in which it is true is this: I have no doubt that men in general mean well by women, feel friendly to them, and mean to make such laws for them as they consider for their good. It is equally true that women in general feel friendly towards men, and we find women as well fitted to make laws for the men. I have no doubt there are many such women, but I think it is very doubtful whether you would be satisfied with the results of our efforts in that line, and I am sure that none of you would like to occupy such a position.

Then it is often said of women that they will be contaminated and degraded by the ballot. Men use this argument who themselves would take a musket on their shoulders and fight to the death if it was proposed to deprive them of their right of suffrage. They think that the right for them is invaluable, but when anything is said about letting women vote they draw such a picture of the hardships, horrors, and contamination in the filthy pool of politics, all of which they say is involved in suffrage, that you would think it was the greatest kindness in the world on their part to refuse to let women have a share in the ballot.

There is a story told of a boy whose little sister found an apple and began to eat it. The boy rushed up to her and with horror and consternation told her the apple was green; that if she ate it she certainly would have the cholera. The child threw the apple down, when her brother immediately picked it up and began to eat it. The little girl looked at him surprised for a few moments and said, ''Will it not give you the cholera, too?" "Oh, no," said he, "boys don't have cholera." [Laughter.]

If the exercise of the right of suffrage is really contaminating we ought to establish a monarchy instead of a republic. We ought to restrict the right of suffrage as much as possible and spare it to men as well as women.

It seems to me self-evident that the right of suffrage is degrading or not according to the spirit in which you exercise it. It must be degrading to anybody to whom it is simply a selfish scramble for office, but I think it can hardly be otherwise than ennobling to any one to take an intelligent interest in the affairs of the country, and cast an honest vote for the best men and the best measures.

Then it is said that the bad women will vote, and the argument is put in such a shape that you would think the bad women formed a majority instead of being a very small minority of the feminine population.

Then it is said that women must not vote because they are too good to vote. The very same people who have been saying so much about bad women will turn and say, "Women must not vote because they are angels." All we can say in regard to that is, if women are angels it is very unreasonable to be afraid of the effects of their voting, for the effect could hardly be otherwise than good. There was once a little boy afraid to go to bed in the dark. His mother told him not to be afraid, because the angels would watch over him. But he said, "It is the angels themselves I am afraid of." [Laughter.] The people who are so much afraid of woman's vote because women are angels, are just in the unreasonable position of the little boy. On the other hand, if women are only ordinary human beings, why should they not have ordinary human rights?

Then it is said that if women vote they must hold office. A very intelligent Democratic lawyer told me once the only objection in his mind. He said, "I can see perfectly well that all the objections generally made to woman suffrage are entirely illogical when carried to their logical conclusions, but suppose the mother of a young family is elected to Congress, what is to become of the children?" He had before his eyes a dreadful vision of half the homes of the country left desolate because the mothers had been sent to Congress. It did not occur to him that not one person in a thousand can go to Congress anyway, and that nobody is obliged to go against his will. The mother of a young family would not be likely to ask to go to Congress, and if she did ask she would not likely be sent. Yet for all that, she might have a very definite opinion as to what sort of a man she wanted to send to make law for her and her children, and is there any reason why her 0pinion should not be counted on this subject along with her husband's, father's, and brother's.

In this matter of bad women there is one point that I think should be brought out, and that is, the argument from experience in this thing. You can not tell anything about it until you have tried it. You can see that there is no reason to expect that bad women would vote more generally than good ones, and in this matter an ounce of experiment is worth a pound of theory. Mrs. Duniway has told you something about the experience in Washington Territory; Mrs. Johns will tell you about the experience in Kansas. Then we have to bring in fourteen States where women have the right, more or less restricted, to vote on school questions. In every one of those States women exercise the right.

The complaint in Massachusetts for a long time was that only the best women voted. At our last school election in Boston we had, I think, very evident proof that whenever women are allowed to vote on a question which reaches out to general public opinion, and on which there is reason to vote, they will vote.

There was a controversy that arose in regard to the use of text-books in the schools. Indeed, there was a very general impression that the text-books had been tampered with in the interest of the Roman Catholic Church, and that the facts of history were not fairly presented. I think myself there was something to be said on both sides of the question, but many felt that the schools were in danger, and 21,000 women registered to vote, paying a voluntary tax in order to do so, and going through a very troublesome process to get registered. When voting day came a northeast storm was raging, and when a northeast storm rages in Boston it is something formidable. But for all that, 18,000 or 19,000 of those women came out to the polls. They not only came themselves but they brought with them many husbands and brothers who were not in the habit of voting. So the control of the city government of Boston was taken out of the hands of the Democratic administration, which had held it for many years, and was given over to the Republicans. Both parties agreed that it was owing to the votes of the women that this happened.

I see that my time is out, and I shall not detain you. There are many more things that could be said in favor of woman suffrage. It is told of Mr. Lincoln that during the very busiest period of his administration a man came to him to protest against an appointment he had made of some one as postmaster. This man was a great bore, and talked on and on. Mr. Lincoln was too polite to send him away, but waited while this man enumerated every possible reason he could think of why the person was unfit for postmaster. Finally, to bring his argument to a climax, he said: "Mr. Lincoln, the man you have appointed has no more sense than an oyster." " Well," said Mr. Lincoln, "an oyster is a very stupid creature, but it does know some things worth knowing; it does know how to shut up." [Laughter.] I will try to show, gentlemen, that a woman does know sometimes how to shut up.