Hypothesis is that women should not have got the vote in the early 1900s and I fully agree.Emily P. Bissell, "A Talk to Women on the Suffrage Question"
There are three points of view from which woman today ought to consider herself—as an individual, as a member of a family, as a member of the state. Every woman stands in those three relations to American life. Every woman’s duties and rights cluster along those three lines; and any change in woman’s status that involves all of them needs to be very carefully considered by every thoughtful woman.
The proposal that women should vote affects each one of these three relations deeply. It is then a proposal that the American woman has been considering for sixty years, without accepting it. Other questions, which have been only individual, as the higher education for such individual women as desire it, or the opening of various trades and professions to such individual women as desire to enter them have not required any such thought or hesitation. They are individual, and individuals have decided on them and accepted them. But this great suffrage question, involving not only the individual, but the family and the state, has hung fire. There are grave objections to woman suffrage on all these three counts. Sixty years of argument and of effort on the part of the suffragists have not in the least changed these arguments, because they rest on the great fundamental facts of human nature and of human government. The suffrage is "a reform against nature" and such reforms are worse than valueless.
Let us take these three points of view singly. Why, in the first place, is the vote a mistake for women as individuals? I will begin discussing that by another question. "How many of you have leisure to spare now, without the vote?" The claims upon a woman s time, in this twentieth century, are greater than ever before. Woman, in her progress, has taken up many important things to deal with, and has already overloaded herself beyond her strength. If she is a working-woman, her day is full—fuller than that of a workingman, since she has to attend, in many cases, to home duties or to sewing and mending for herself when her day’s toil is over. If she is a wife and mother, she has her hands full with the house and the children. If she is a woman of affairs and charities, she has to keep a secretary or call in a stenographer to get through her letters and accounts. Most of the self-supporting women of my acquaintance do not want the ballot. They have no time to think about it. Most of the wives and mothers I know do not want to vote. They are too busy with other burdens. Most of the women of affairs I know do not want to vote. They are doing public work without it better than they could with it, and consider it a burden, not a benefit. The ballot is a duty, a responsibility; and most intelligent, active women to-clay believe that it is man's duty and responsibility, and that they are not called to take it up in addition to their own share. The suffragists want the ballot individually. They have a perfect right to want it. They ask no leisure. And if it were only an individual question, then I should say heartily "Let them have it, as individuals, and let us refuse to take it, as individuals, and then the whole matter can be individually settled." But that is impossible, for there are two other aspects. The suffragists cannot get the vote without forcing it on all the rest of womankind in America; for America means unrestricted manhood suffrage, and an equal suffrage law would mean unrestricted womanhood suffrage. The individual aspect is only one of the three, and after all, the least important.
Duty to the Family
For no good woman lives to herself. She has always been part of a family as wife or sister or daughter from the time of Eve. The American home is the foundation of American strength and progress. And in the American home woman has her own place and her own duty to the family.
It is an axiom in physics that two things cannot be in the same place at the same time. Woman as an individual, apart from all home ties, can easily enough get into a man’s place. There are thousands of women in New York to-day — business women, professional women, working girls, who are almost like men in their daily activity. But nearly all these women marry and leave the man’s place for the woman’s, after a few years of business life. It is this fact which makes their wages lower than men’s, and keeps them from being a highly skilled class. They go back into the home, and take up a woman’s duties in the family. If they are wise women, they give up their work; they do not try to be in a man's place and a woman’s too. But when they do make this foolish resolve to keep on working the home suffers. There are no children; or the children go untrained; housekeeping is given up for boarding; there is no family atmosphere. The woman’s place is vacant—and in a family, that is the most important place of all. The woman, who might be a woman, is half a man instead.
The family demands from a woman her very best. Her highest interests, and her unceasing care, must be in home life, if her home is to be what it ought to he. Here is where the vote for woman comes in as a disturbing factor. The vote is part of man's work. Ballot-box, cartridge box, jury box, sentry box, all go together in his part of life. Woman cannot step in and take the responsibilities and duties of voting without assuming his place very largely. The vote is a symbol of government, and leads at once into the atmosphere of politics; to make herself an intelligent voter (and no other kind is wanted) a woman must study up the subjects on which she is to vote and cast her ballot with a personal knowledge of current politics in every detail. She must take it all from her husband, which means that he is thus given two votes instead of one, not equal suffrage, but a double suffrage for the man.
A Man’s Place
Home is meant to be a restful place, not agitated by the turmoil of outside struggles. It is man’s place to support and defend the family, and so to administer the state that the family shall flourish in peace. He is the outside worker. Woman is the one whose place it is to bear and rear the children who shall later be the citizens of the state. As I have shown, she can, if she wishes, go into man’s place in the world for a while. But man can never go into hers. (That proves she is superior, by the way.) He cannot create the home. He is too distracted by outside interests, too tired with his own duties, to create an atmosphere of home. The woman who makes the mistake of trying to do his work and hers too, cannot create a home atmosphere, either. She cannot be in two places at once. I have known even one outside charity become so absorbing in its demands on a woman's time and thought that her children felt the difference, and knew and dreaded the day of the monthly meeting, and the incessant call of the telephone. There are certain times in a wife and mother’s life, such as children’s illnesses, the need of care for an over-worked husband, the crisis of some temptation or wrong tendency in a child’s life, and so on, when all outside interests must abdicate before the family ones, and be shut out for a while. The vote, which means public life, does not fit into the ideal of family life. The woman who is busy training a family is doing her public service right in the home. She cannot be expected to he in two places at the same time, doing the work of the state as the man does.
Individualism and Family Life
The individualism of woman, in these modern days, is a threat to the family. There is one divorce in America nowadays to every dozen marriages. There are thousands of young women who crowd into factory or mill or office in preference to home duties. There is an impatience of ties and responsibilities, a restlessness, a fever for "living one’s own life," that is unpleasantly noticeable. The desire for the vote is part of this restlessness, this grasping for power that shall have no responsibility except to drop a paper into a ballot box, this ignorant desire to do the work of the world" instead of one’s own appointed work. If women had conquered their own part of life perfectly, one might wish to see them thus leave it and go forth to set the world to rights. But on the contrary, never were domestic conditions so badly attended to. Until woman settles the servant question, how can she ask to run the government?
This brings us to the third point, which is, the effect on the state of a vote for women. Let us keep in mind, always, that in America we cannot argue about municipal suffrage, or taxpaying suffrage, or limited suffrage of any kind — "to one end they must all come," that of unrestricted woman suffrage, white and colored, illiterate and collegebred alike having the ballot. America recognizes no other way. Do not get the mistaken idea — which the suffragists cleverly present all the while — that the English system of municipal or restricted suffrage, or the Danish system, or any other system, is like ours. It is not. Other countries have restricted forms of suffrage by which individual women can be sorted out, so to speak. But America has equal manhood suffrage ingrained in her very state, in her very law. Once begin to give the suffrage to women, and there is but one end in this country. The question is always with us, "What effect will unrestricted female suffrage have on the state?" We must answer that question or beg the subject.
One thing sure — the women’s vote would be an indifferent one. The majority of women do not want to vote — even the suffragists acknowledge that. Therefore if given the vote, they would not be eager voters. There would be a number of highly enthusiastic suffrage voters — for a while. But when the coveted privilege became a commonplace, or even an irksome duty, the stay-at-home vote would grow larger and larger. The greatest trouble in politics to-day is the indifferent vote among men. Equal suffrage would add a larger indifferent vote among women.
A Corrupt Vote
Then there is the corrupt vote to-day. Among men it is bad enough. But among women it would be much worse. What, for example, would the Tenderloin [red-light district] woman’s vote be in New York? for good measures and better city politics? In Denver, it has been found to work just as might be supposed, and in Denver the female ward politician appeared full-fledged in the Shafroth case, in the full swing of bribery and fraud. Unrestricted suffrage must reckon with all kinds of women, you see—and the unscrupulous woman will use her vote for what it is worth and for corrupt ends.
Today, without the vote, the women who are intelligent and interested in public affairs use their ability and influence for good measures. And the indifferent woman does not matter. The unscrupulous woman has no vote. We get the best, and bar out the rest. The state gets all the benefit of its best women, and none of the danger from its worst women. The situation is too beneficial to need any change in the name of progress. We have now two against one, a fine majority, the good men and the good women against the unscrupulous men. Equal suffrage would make it two to two — the good men and the good women against the unscrupulous men and the unscrupulous women — a tie vote between good and evil instead of a safe majority for good.
Then, beside the indifferent vote and the corrupt vote, there would be, in equal suffrage. a well-meaning, unorganized vote. But government is not run in America by unorganized votes — it is run by organized parties. To get results, one vote is absurd. An effectual vote means organization; and organization means primaries and conventions, and caucuses and office-holding, and work, and work, and more work. A ballot dropped in a box is not government, or power. This is what men are fighting out in politics, and we women ought to understand their problem. One reason that I, personally, do not want the ballot is that I have been brought up, in the middle of politics in a state that is full of them, and I know the labor they entail on public-spirited men. Politics, to me, does not mean unearned power, or the registering of one’s opinion on public affairs — it means hard work, incessant organization and combination, continual perseverance against disappointment and betrayal, steadfast effort for small and hard-fought advance. I have seen too many friends and relatives in that battle to want to push any woman into it. And unless one goes into the battle the ballot is of no force. The suffragists do not expect to. They expect and urge that all that will be necessary will be for each woman to "register her opinion" and cast her ballot and go home.
Where would the state be then—with an indifferent vote, a corrupt vote, and a helpless, unorganized vote, loaded on to its present political difficulties? She is too busy to vote, and doesn’t believe in it anyhow. Is the state benefited by an unwilling electorate such as that?