Alice Stone Blackwell

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

Alice Stone Blackwell
February 18, 1902— Washington, D.C.
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Mr. Chairman and gentleman of the committee, I wish to submit to you to-day a few remarks, in very brief compass, simply from the standpoint of common sense.

I wish to recall to your memory the fact that every step of progress toward improvement in the condition of women has been opposed by exactly the same predictions of disaster as are now made in regard to equal suffrage. When my mother was trying to secure for married women the right to control their own property it was said that it would entirely destroy the home.

When school suffrage was granted to women in my own State, some twenty years ago, one of our State senators, Senator Winne, of Franklin, said in his address: “If we make this experiment we shall destroy the race, which will be blasted by the vengeance of Almighty God.” That was twenty years ago. Since then half the States in the Union have granted the school franchise to women, and the vengeance of the deity has not descended upon us in any appreciable manner.

When Vassar College was opened, a woman, who was the head of a band of missionaries going out to the Holy Land, said one thing she was sure of, that no refined Christian mother would ever send her daughter to Vassar College; that the mere fact that it was called a college for women was enough to condemn it. The popular belief that it would surely be the destruction of the home.

These reiterated predictions of disaster that never materialize suggest the story of a very valuable mare which only had only fault. She would always shy at an open umbrella. Her owner undertook to cure her. She was very fond of raw potatoes, and he put a raw potatoe on the end of an umbrella which was tightly furled, took it into her stable, and gave her the potato off the tip of the umbrella. The next day he took another, and opened the umbrella an inch. The next day he opened it a little farther, and the next day a little farther, until it was wide open. The first time that he took the umbrella into the stall wide open the mare looked at it rather suspiciously for a moment, but ended by eating the potato off the tip of it, as usual. The next rainy day he took her out, and when they met an umbrella he waited to see what she would do. Instead of shying, she walked deliberately across the street toward the umbrella, and looked for a potato on the tip of it. She got one when she reached home, and she never shied at an umbrella again.

Now, the gradual broadening of woman's sphere has been just like the gradual opening of that umbrella. Every successive widening of it has proved to be entirely without danger, and has always been followed by something good. The only question is, How long will it take us to develop enough “horse sense” to see that the unfolding of the last inch is not going to do any harm!

Gentlemen of the committee, every one of you, and probably every member of Congress, has received or will receive from my State a document published by a little knot of ladies who oppose equal suffrage, setting forth their arguments against it. I will not take your time longer, inasmuch as we have our foreign delegates here, whom I know you are desirous to hear, but I will ask permission to print a condensed statement of the arguments on the other side, which we have prepared in reply. [Applause.]

The Chairman. Ordinarily we do not print anything in the Senate which is not read, but we will make an exception in this case.

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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, item/02024783/.