Lucy Stone

Hearing of the Woman Suffrage Association Before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary - Jan. 18, 1892

Lucy Stone
January 18, 1892— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I arrived in town only last night and did not even know of a hearing here to-day, so I have not any speech prepared. Nevertheless I am glad to be here, and I am glad to see this committee, and—I suppose I have the right to say it—I am glad to see you are the kind of looking men I see before me. It is something on our side to have you be the men you seem to be. 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 (and George Washington advised us to recur often to first principles), and in the Declaration of Independence nothing is clearer than the basis of the claim that women should have equal rights with men. It is that those that are to obey the laws should make them. A complete government is a perfectly just government. Now it is easy to say that our fathers announced that principle but did not apply it. Of course they were in no condition to do so, and they could not. In the white heat of the struggle of the war of the Revolution these men declared better things than they could do. They saw the great truth that a complete government must be a just government; but they were too near the throne; they had the idea of the one man power, and so they were unable to carry out the principle of a just government. In my own State of Massachusetts they allowed none but church members to vote. Then property holders alone had the right to vote; and then the Democratic party came in and said that the poor man had as much right to vote as the man of property, and abolished the property qualification. Then the Republicans came and abolished the disfranchisement of the negroes; and to-day every human being in the United States except woman has the right to vote.

Now, what I want particularly to impress upon this committee is the gross and grave injustice of holding forty millions of women absolutely helpless under the Government. The laws touch us at every point. From the time the little girl baby is born until the time the aged woman makes her last will and testament, there is not one of our affairs which the law does not control. It says who shall own property, and what rights the woman shall have, and it settles all her affairs, whether she shall buy or sell or will or deed; it settles all that a woman has to do; and so, except in the single State of Wyoming—how glad I am you have two Senators from Wyoming—women are in a helpless position. Mrs. Stanton has told you about the solitude of the individual, but think what it is to be in the power of others in such a way that in nothing that concerns you have you any voice! If you are a woman and happen to have property and wish to rent it, somebody decides what you shall have for rent, how much you shall pay for taxes, etc., and in not a single solitary thing are you allowed to have a voice for yourself. Persons are elected by men to represent them in Congress and the State legislatures; and here are forty 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 one of the things that concern them.

Men must know the value of votes and the value of the possession of power, and I look at them and wonder how it is possible for them to be willing that their own sisters, mothers, wives, and daughters should be debarred from the possession of like power. We have been going to the legislature in Massachusetts—we have been going there longer than Mrs. Stanton has been coming here—and we asked that when a husband and wife made 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 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 no man to help her and she has to bear the whole burden of life on her shoulders, the law might give the widow more than forty days in which to stay in the house without paying rent.

But we could not defeat one of our legislators, and they cared not a cent for our vote and less than a cent for our opinion; and so when we went there and asked this they gave us leave to withdraw. But when some voters wanted about 6 inches of mud out of a river, the legislature passed it unanimously. 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 in Massachusetts for protection for wives beaten by their husbands, that there might be a committee to stand between such wives and 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. Of course we have obtained many concessions, and I am happy to say that in the legislatures of the different States the laws have been modified very greatly since the old common law which prevailed everywhere, which took away from the wife everything, even the right to herself, even the right to her children, even the right to her money and her real estate. The daughters of Cassius Clay are here to-day; and in Kentucky this same question is being considered, and they are trying there to get property rights for wives. As Mrs. Stanton says, we believe in the rights of the individual, hence this efforts is being made to secure the right of married women to their property.

Now you see, gentlemen, the helplessness of our position. 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 from him the right to vote. Now, the odium which attached to him from his disfranchisement is just the same that attaches to women from their disfranchisement. The only persons who are not allowed to vote in Massachusetts are the lunatics, idiots, and felons, and people who can not read and write. In what a category is that 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 the town of 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 used for girl's schools, and when one man said that 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. One of the fathers urged that the girls should be educated in the public schools, and the men—God forgive them!—said this: “We will let the girls go to school in the morning between 6 and 8 o'clock, before the boys want the schoolhouse.” Just think of the time those girls would have had to rise in order to get a little education before the boys got there! This plan did not work well, and the teacher was instructed not to teach females any longer.

Every descendant of those men in the town 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 to vote, and if anybody attempted to deprive them of the suffrage, it would be war to the knife and the knife to the hilt. We come here to carry on this bloodless warfare, year after year, asking and praying that the privilege granted in the foundation of the Government should be applied to women.

What I wish, gentlemen, this winter, is for you to recommend a sixteenth amendment with an educational qualification in it. I believe you should never put obstacles in the way of anybody's right to vote. Everybody should have the right to vote who cares to vote, but anyone who does can learn to read. What I think you should recommend is a sixteenth amendment with an educational qualification. I do not suppose there is a State in the Union that would adopt it, not one; but the fact that you put it forward as a thing which ought to be adopted is a part education of the great public mind. What we look forward to is part of the eternal order. It is not possible that forty millions of women should be held forever as lunatics, fools, and idiots. It is not possible, as the years go on, that each person should not at last have the right to look after his 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 it possible for a man to see from a man's point of view all the things that a woman needs, and I do not think a woman from her single point of view sees all the things that a man needs. Now, I think men have brought their best, and also brought their worst, into the Union, and it is all here, but the thing you have not in the Government at all is the qualities that women possess, the feminine qualities. It has been said in regard to this matter that women are more economical and peaceful and law-abiding than men, and all those qualities are lacking in the Government to-day.

How much do we spend for war, and how much should we save if this peace element were only represented in the Government? If the peaceful sex can have their way it will go toward helping peace. It will be the same way in regard to the economy of the Government. The part that a woman does in the family no man can do. When she brings up her children who are to be Senators and Representatives, or farmers or ranchmen, that woman, who has given twenty years to bringing up that family, has rendered a service to the Government that no man can render. She does not get compensation for it in money; there is no compensation in money that can buy such labor, and she does not ask for that. At the same time, women who earn a compensation (and I am sorry to say it is very much less than the wages of men), when they get a dollar do not go and spend it on carriage hire, etc., but they get the things they need, for they have learned economy. If women came into the Government, they would bring with them that economy and those traits which the Government needs.

But whether this would be so or not, it is right that every class should be heard in behalf of its own interests. When the common law was being indited, if there had been one single woman there, and the question had come up as to when a baby was born who should own that baby, would it have been decided that the man should own the baby? Not at all. The woman would have said, “I had an equal share in this child's life, and I have an equal share in its future.” Suppose a woman had been there when the question was raised as to when a woman married who should own that woman.

Would a law have been passed that the custody of her person shall belong to the husband, who may give her mild correction and use gentle restraint, and that if she breaks her leg and damages are awarded, he shall receive the damages? Not at all. The woman would have said, “My legs are my own, and I shall have the custody of my own person, and if I break my leg and get damages, the money shall be my own.”

Now, gentlemen, I hope you will try and make this case your own. It is simple justice and fair play, and it is also a fundamental principle of the Government. Here are we trying to have a complete government, and yet there are forty millions of disfranchised people. I believe, among the great people—and by the people I do not mean men, but men and women, the whole people—that nothing that makes such disrespect for the fundamental principle of our Government as not to apply it. The Government was founded upon the principle that those who obey the laws should make them, and here it shuts out a full half. As long a that is done and continues to be done, it certainly tends to create disrespect for the principle itself. Do you not see it?

What I wish to impress upon you is that you should present a sixteenth amendment, with an educational qualification, and strongly support it, and as far as in you lies, try to get rid of this odious class distinction, this oligarchy of sex which is more hateful than the oligarchy of wealth or the oligarchy of color. This Government gives to a criminal taken from the State's prison and pardoned higher privileges than it grants to Mrs. Stanton, and makes her his political inferior. I have seen a man who was so drunk that he had to be helped to the polls, yet who in the eye of the law the political superior of Miss Anthony. Why not reach out a hand to woman and say, “Come and help us make the laws and see fair play.”

I wish I had the power to impress you with the fact that greater than the free coinage of silver, or the tariff, or anything you have before you, is the question whether the people shall have the right to govern themselves, irrespective of whether they are men or women.

Source: Hearing of the Woman Suffrage Association before the Committee on the Judiciary, Monday, January 18, 1892. [Washington: Government Printing Office] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,