Anna Howard Shaw

Statement at a Hearing before the Select Committee on Woman Suffrage - Feb. 18, 1902

Anna Howard Shaw
February 18, 1902— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, in closing what we women have to say to you this morning in our own behalf, I am not going to make an argument, but to recall to your minds again, as Miss Anthony did in the beginning, that for thirty-two years we have been coming before your honorable body asking 36 that your committee shall report to the honorable Senate of the United States a bill for a sixteenth amendment to the Constitution.

Miss Anthony gave you the reasons why we want our measure to come before the people in this way rather than by submitting it in State after State and having the laborious work that we have been performing in these past thirty years continued in the years that are to come. I am not going to talk on that point, but there is a point upon which I wish to speak to you. Our association desires you as the representatives of these women not only to report the bill for a sixteenth amendment favorably, but we want you to recommend the appointment of a committee to investigate this subject. Years ago when our women came before your honorable body we had nothing but theory to give you—what we believed would be the result of woman suffrage if it were granted. The opponents of woman suffrage had their theories, and they stated the evils that they believed would follow if the right of suffrage were granted to the women of the country. The theory of one person is as good as that of another until it has been put to the test. But after we have tested the matter both sides must lay aside all theory and stand or fall upon facts as they are presented.

Now, we woman suffragists would like, more than anything else, to stand on the record of woman suffrage where it has been extended in this country.

In four States of our Union women have the full suffrage. For more than thirty years they have been experiencing it in Wyoming equally with the men; in Colorado for nine years, and in Utah and Idaho for about six years. In these different States suffrage has been tested, and while we do not claim that women will be able to change conditions in one year, or ten years, we do believe that twenty-one years is a long enough time to measure the effect of a mode of action upon the life of an individual or that of a company of individuals.

We woman are perfectly willing to let our case rest upon the result of suffrage in those States. What we would like better than anything else is that the Congress of the United States should grant a committee of investigation; such a committee as you appoint to obtain information in regard to other measures about which you desire the fullest knowledge and information; that such a committee be appointed to investigate the result of woman suffrage in the States where it has already been granted in the Union.

The opponents of woman suffrage come to you with letters from individuals. Everyone of us knows it is absolutely impossible that any matter of legislation should suit everybody. I have no doubt that we could get a large number of letters denouncing the Christian religion from people who consider it an utter failure.

We could doubtless secure an equally large number of letters against man suffrage. To-day the great danger in this country is, not that the women are not loyal to the fundamental principles of our national life, but that the ideal of democracy is dying out in the hearts of the men of the country; and we could get many letters from all over the country to prove that man suffrage in this country is an absolute failure. One of the leading ministers in one of the New England States said to me, not long since, when I lectured in his church upon this subject, “Why do you want to vote? I have not voted for twenty years. Our republican form of government is an absolute failure. Man suffrage has never succeeded and never will. There is but one ideal form 37 of government in the world and that is an absolute monarchy tempered by assassination.”

Now, that was the opinion of a leading minister in this country whose name is known from one end of it to the other.

It is easy to quote the opinions of men and women against the working of any good thing. And so our friends come to us with letters, which I have no doubt are bona fide, letters from people in the States where woman suffrage already exists, saying it is a failure. It is quite natural that here and there there should be one who should state this, but we can get hundreds and hundreds of letters stating that it is a success.

This might not convince you gentlemen of the Congress of the United States; but a committee appointed by your body to investigate the subject thoroughly, as it can be investigated by no other body, is and ought to be the way by which you gentlemen can be convinced whether suffrage has or has not been a success in the States where it is already granted.

So sure are we women that your report will be more than favorable to our measure, that we are perfectly willing to stand or fall by its results. So sure are we of the good that has been started in those States by cooperation of good men and good women, that we know the result would be on our side and not on the other, and we are willing to stake our future by it.

While we do not claim that all good is to come from woman suffrage, or that all women would always vote on the right side of important questions, we do believe that among all the people of a community or of a nation there are more good men and good women than there are bad men and bad women, and that when we unite the good men and good women in any community they will be able to carry measures for the good of the community.

Now the difficulty with so many of our legislators who do not do the will of the best classes of people is not that the legislators do not want the good, it is simply because a large number of the best classes of the people whom they would be glad to serve are not their constituents, and they have not the support and backing of that element; and I believe when all the good men and good women are back of the legislators of our country we will have different laws, we will have different conditions; and instead of the criticism that is passed to-day it will be an altogether different criticism—not because the men will be more deserving than to-day, but because the men will dare to stand up for what the people desire, because of the constituency which is behind them.

While we do not claim, as I say, that women possess all wisdom or all knowledge or all intelligence, or know what is always best for the people, we believe that all the people know more than any part of the people, and that all men and all women know better what is for the general good of the community or the State in which they live than all men alone or all women alone; and that the only way by which we can come to the best interests of a State or the best interests of a family or a church, or any other organized form of existence, is by taking the consensus of opinion of all the people who are old enough and wise enough to give their views upon the subject under consideration.

Therefore the one thing I am here to plead for this morning is the appointment of a committee from the Congress of the United States 38 to investigate the workings of suffrage in the States where women already have the full vote.

You will notice that our opponents come to you and say the women do not want to vote, because in States where they have had school suffrage no large mass of them have taken advantage of their privilege. They never come to you with that statement concerning States where women have the full suffrage as men have it. It is only where they have this partial suffrage, this educational suffrage, that they make that claim.

You know as well as I do that when a measure relating to education is before the people the only ones who will be interested in it are the people who have their attention directly turned to educational matters; and while it is true that women have not voted upon those questions as numerously as some people might have expected, yet if men were forced to pay a tax and to register every year in order to vote simply on this measure the vote of the men upon those matters would not exceed the vote of the women to-day.

I know in Massachusetts, when I voted for school director, I not only had to register, but when we went to register we found the registrar was out in the hayfield. I took several of the ladies of my own parish and went with them to register. We had to take him away in from the hayfield. He was very busy, and on his way between the hayfield and the house he said many things that are not in the decalogue, and declared that women were a nuisance.

Now, when you go as a citizen to perform your citizen's duty, and the official not only feels but says that you are a nuisance, there is a feeling of timidity that makes you shrink a little. When the whole community look upon you as eccentric an absurd you naturally shrink from doing it, even if it is a duty and you feel obligated to do it.

Then we had to swear to our possessions. I inquired of the men of my parish if they had ever sworn to their possessions in order to pay taxes. They said no, they always waited until after the tax-came in before they did that. We women not only have to swear to them beforehand, but we have had to pay pretty dearly for the privilege. In that community a number of women live year after year on a meager bit of an income, as women will. I had an income of $105 a year from a little property which was left me in the will of a friend. I had never gone before the tax collector or hunted him up and told him I had that little bit of property; and being a Methodist preacher he never suspected I had any. [Laughter.] Consequently I was never asked about it. But in order to vote for a member of the school board—not to vote on any appropriation or on any question concerning the school at all, but just to vote for a member of the school board—I had to swear to this property and pay a tax of $22.50 on an income of $105.

Now, while the right of citizenship is a great right and a great privilege, if one has to live on $105 a year, $22.50 is a good deal to pay for the privilege of voting for a member of the school board. I might not have objected had I been able to vote for every officer, from President to pathmaster. So, because of these objections, because of the sentiment of the community in which our women live, because it is not generally regarded to be quite the thing, women do not come out in large numbers to vote where they have only partial suffrage; but where women have the full suffrage, where they can make their influence 39 felt upon the great measures of State and national affairs and all the local questions in the communities where they live, from such places, where they have full suffrage, our opponents never come to you with a statement of the number of the women who do not or who do vote.

Therefore we who favor woman suffrage are perfectly willing to stand or fall on the result of such investigation as would be made by a committee appointed by your honorable body to look over the whole ground. [Applause.]

United States Congress. Senate. Committee On Woman Suffrage, Shaw, A. H., United States Congress ). Senate, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection & Susan B. Anthony Collection. (1902) Woman suffrage: hearing before the Select Committee on Woman Suffrage, United States Senate, on the joint resolution S. R. 53 proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, extending the right of suffrage to women. Washington: Government Printing Office. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,