Jeannette Rankin

"Until They Have the Power", Suffrage Day Speech - May 13, 1914

Jeannette Rankin
May 13, 1914
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This is one of the grandest days that ever happened for women. All over the country women are asking for the vote and you know that what a woman asks for she usually gets. And we should have the ballot. We are a force in life, a factor which must be considered in all problems. You know that when you are working a problem in mathematics you must take account of every factor if you are to get the right answer. So it is with government; unless you take account of every factor the answer will always be wrong.

The women of the United States are joining in this demonstration today to show that they are ready for the next step in the evolution of democracy. You have admitted women into the schools, and they have brought themselves to the point where they recognize the importance of this step. While we Montana women have broader opportunities than the women of any other part of the world, we want the ballot in order to give opportunity to less fortunate women. Steam and the development of machinery have taken women out of the home and put her in the factory.

Emerging reports show that there are eight million women engaged in earning labor in the country. They are not there because they don’t want to stay at home, but because they must work if they are to live.

If these women are to be safeguarded they must have more than indirect influence upon the laws which concern them. When these women go before legislatures the legislators are not always as generous as you might be. Working women are without any power new to make their wishes felt. A woman who went out and lived with factory girls told me once of an experience she had in Pittsburgh. She was living in a single room with four other girls. One night one of her roommates came in, threw herself on the bed and cried from sheer exhaustion. She told my friend that she had made candy from 8 o’clock in the morning until 6 at night. After a few minutes for supper she had gone back to work, wrapped candy until 4 o’clock in the morning. From 4 until 6 she had slept on the floor, and got up and wrapped candy until 6 at night. The only extra pay she received for this was her supper and her breakfast. When we asked why she didn’t complain, the girl say, “Aw, what’s the use. I’d only lose my job.”

And with all women workers it is the same. Until they have the power to influence the laws which govern them their protests will be restricted by the fear of losing their jobs. The employer cares nothing for men or women as such, but in votes, whether they be cast by men or women, he is mightily interested. These girls alone knew the conditions under which they work, and they should have the power to improve them.

“We want votes, too, for the woman in the home. Do you know that the woman who rises at 6 to cook her husband’s breakfast, who gets the head of the house off to work, and then takes care of the baby, dresses and feeds the children and sends them to school; the woman who scrubs and coos and irons and bakes and sweeps and mends until she has to cook dinner and get ready to entertain her husband all evening is listed in the census reports as without occupation? This woman is as much of a worker as any other and needs the same representation in government.

You men all know what the ballot has done for the working man. All of our labor laws are the result of the power placed in the laborers’ hands by the constitution. Legislatures do not make laws and conduct investigations because they are interested in such things for themselves, but because they are interested in the votes which are affected by such things. We are asking for the ballot for working people that they may have a means of securing justice.

But most of all we ask the vote for the sake of the mother. Of the three hundred thousand children under a year in age who died last year, it has been estimated that half could have been saved by proper enforcement of existing sanitary laws. Too many mothers, because of the restrictions placed upon them, are ignorant of the duties of their calling. Motherhood is not respected as it should be. For any other professions we demand special training, but women qualify for motherhood without knowing anything of it. We have a school in this state where men may learn how to take care of pigs and cows, but none where women can learn how to take care of their children. The fact that women laugh at the idea of a school for motherhood is proof of the statement that that motherhood is not respected as it should be.

When women have the power to use their superior knowledge of matters which concern them most they will be able to increase their efficiency. Votes for women bring happiness into the home You men are inconsistent if you but knew it. Instead of making us come before you to ask for the right to vote you should be trying to force the ballot on us, for you will benefit by our betterment.

The Missoulian, May 14, 1914, p. 6.