Anna Howard Shaw

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

Anna Howard Shaw
January 24, 1889— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of the committee, I suppose Miss Anthony has introduced me that I may vouch for the orthodoxy of the body that has been gathered together here. We are orthodox on the woman suffrage question, and although they do not all agree with me on matters of faith in religion, they do agree with me on matters of faith in government.

We have no apology to offer for being here. We have come to the conclusion that if women are to be free they must strike the blow. We have long enough waited for our chivalric brothers to do it for us. They decline, preferring to bear our burden of the ballot, while they also decline to bear our burden of the responsibility of life. Since we must bear the responsibility of the ballot without having the pleasure of bearing the ballot that we may govern the responsibility, we should like to govern the responsibility we have to bear. Yet while those of us who in the different parts of the country have had no experience like Mrs. Johns of Kansas, and no experience like the women of Massachusetts, and no acts from experience to offer, we do not come before you without a desire to offer them.

I wish to plead to-day not for myself alone, but especially for the women of the Territories. There is a great deal of talk before the country now about the injustice of the exclusion of the Territories from statehood and there are great hopes on the part of many people that several of the Territories will soon be admitted as States. I wish to plead in behalf of the women of those Territories that when they are admitted the word "male" may be left out of the constitution and the Territories admitted into the Union as States only on the ground that all the people in the Territories are free, and that the State shall come in in the way in which we all ought to have come in in the beginning, without any restriction on the ballot so far as the sexes of the citizens of the State or the Territory are concerned.

I therefore wish to put in a word this morning for the women of the Territories. While you are realizing, as so many of our brethren seem to realize, the terrible burden of disfranchisement on the part of the men of those Territories, I trust that you will also feel a pang of suffering on account of the condition of disfranchisement on the part of the women, and while you are speaking for the men that you will speak and work for the women also.

We women have wept a great while. We have wept because we have been told it is proper for women to weep. We thought that would bring us justice; but justice does not come to weeping women. The only thing it has brought us is the thought that we have no place in the Government because we weep. We have tried to be pleasant, because we have been told it is becoming to women to be pleasant, and then we have been told that we have been altogether too pleasant to enter into political relations. It is a bar to our enfranchisement. We have tried to be sweet and womanly, and then we have been told that we are so sweet and womanly that it would never do to injure the sweetness and womanliness of our nature by bringing us in contact with coarser things. After having tried to be what we were told we ought to be, we have discovered that we have only been placing barriers to our further advancement.

But the mourning women have dried their tears; the pretty women have gone to looking after something else; the sweet women have taken another course, and so are come here as neither sweet, pretty, nor weeping. We come here with strong convictions. We come with the purpose of coming just as often as we are permitted to come until we obtain our request, like the woman in the Word who appeared before the unjust judge. It would hardly become us to put you on a level with the unjust judge, but we come before you gentlemen who are our judges, and we will plead again and again until our petition shall be heard. We will be here regularly and systematically, Providence permitting, until the angel Gabriel blows the last trump, unless something is done. [Laughter and applause.] There is only one way to get rid of us, and that is by granting our request. Then we will stay at home. There is nothing we so much desire as to remain at home.

Of women who have never had the experience of married life, like Miss Anthony and myself, who are of the superfluous class of women, my State has 70,000. I want to know how we are represented in the Government and by whom. Nobody has offered himself to represent me out of Government, and I doubt if anybody is representing me in Government. The question is, shall I be unrepresented while so many women are represented in so many different ways under different conditions? I need the ballot for my protection. In my city of Boston there are some 22,000 women who are obliged to earn their own livelihood. It has been declared that the ballot is worth 50 cents a day to the laboring man of this country. If it is true that the ballot is worth 50 cents a day to the laboring man it is also true that it will be worth 50 cents a day to the laboring woman, and there is not a laboring woman of us who would not be glad for an extra 50 cents a day. If the ballot will bring us this in response to our service rendered in the different lines of work in which we are engaged we want it.

But you may say that the ballot has nothing to do with pay; that wages are not regulated by the ballot. We know that is true directly, we know that indirectly legislation and public sentiment regulate demand and supply, and that regulates wages. Just as long as legislation debars women from a certain position, just as long as social custom, which rest upon legislation, debars women from certain lines of employment, then women will be more or less crowded into few employments and there will be a greater supply of laborers than of labor, and the result will be that the wages of the laborer will be reduced. So we find women in the city of New York sewing, making shirts for 4 cents a piece, making coarse overalls for 3 cents a pair, and then we wonder that there are immoral women all over our country! The simple fact is the wages that are paid the laboring women of this country are so meager that it is strange to me that the cry during the last campaign was not "Look at the working women of New York, look at the working women of Chicago and of Boston," instead of '' Look at the working women of London and of the other cities of England." We have them where they can barely sustain themselves by the hard labor which they render seventeen hours a day. I consider that the greatest class of laborers we have in this nation are the working women, who are trying to sustain life on the meager pittance which they receive for their labor. The ballot means better pay for women as well as it means better pay for men. We have these women not only in a few cities, but generally all over the country women are required to labor by the absolute necessity of earning a livelihood, and they desire to earn it in better ways. I am the national superintendent of the franchise department of the Womans' Christian Temperance Union. There are more than 200,000 of us, and wherever we have gone in the different lines of our work we have been brought at last to a great barrier, and we can go no farther unless we have the ballot to open up the way. In our protective agency in Chicago we find that while it is quite possible to secure a favorable result in a civil suit, it is rarely possible to secure a favorable result in a criminal suit, and in our work in the northern woods of Michigan and Wisconsin, where terrible conditions of impurity prevail, we find ourselves blocked at every step simply because we are politically powerless. Wherever we go, and under all conditions, we feel that we need the ballot to help us, in order that the results we desire for moral conditions may be advanced.

One great fear of us women is that we will all vote the prohibition ticket. A gentleman told me his only objection to the enfranchisement of women was that the women might all vote the prohibition ticket, and yet this same gentleman was very angry with a certain district of our country because there were persons deprived of the right of suffrage there on the very ground that they did not vote the ticket that somebody else wanted them to vote. The simple fact is women no more agree among themselves upon a ticket than do men. There would be as great diversity of opinion among us as there is among the men of the country as to the ticket we would vote. We would probably vote our own convictions in whichever direction that might lie, and we are not asking for the ballot that we may vote one way or another, but that we may protect ourselves under the conditions in which we are placed in whatever way we need, and because we find that wherever we undertake any legislative work the ballot is necessary.

Take, for instance, the case of petitioning a legislature. Every gentleman here knows the value of a petition upon which the names of prominent and influential political men are found, and the utter want of value of a petition that is signed by a large number of women. If I were to go before any legislative body in this country with a petition I would rather have the names of one hundred influential men than the names of one hundred thousand women; the petition would be of more influence. I well remember when I was about to sign a petition on a certain subject in Massachusetts, the lady who gave me the petition snatched both petition and pencil out of my hand and ran to a man, and when she came back apologized, on the ground that the name of one man was worth the names of forty women. Why is it? Is it because the legislators feel more kindly towards men than towards women and do more justly to men than to women? Not at all. It is merely because men, having political power, are their constituents, and they conserve the interests of their constituents, while they can not conserve the interests of a disfranchised class.

We are at a disadvantage, not because we are women—nobody believes that—but because in a republic a disfranchised class is always at a disadvantage, and because we are called the weaker sex. Are we to be deprived of every right because we are weak, and then told to go alone, when men can not get along, with their superior strength, without the help of government? We ask that we may have the ballot for own protection; for the protection of the home; that we aid good men to give us the best forms of government. As one of your Senators has said, the nature of the sexes is widely different. We believe on that very ground that we should be enfranchised, in order that the diverse nature of our race, the masculine and the feminine, may affect legislation as long as legislation affects us. Everybody knows that the opinion of a wise man and a wise woman upon any subject is infinitely better than the opinion of two men or of two women on the same subject. What I want is the outcome of both for the interests of all, and this can only be done when in counting the opinion of the people of our country we count the opinion of both men and women. You will find in the end that women are as capable and willing to give a wise opinion as men.

Hence, for the general good of our nation, we beseech you that there shall be something done that shall give to us a sixteenth amendment, that there may no longer be any disfranchisement in this country either because of race, color, previous condition of servitude, or sex. [Applause.]