Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/June 1896/Woman and the Ballot



IF every man considered it a matter of conscience to give voice in his vote to the feminine element in his household, it would put another aspect upon the demand for woman suffrage. If, after a family conclave, the husband, father, or brother quietly pocketed his own conflicting opinion, sallied forth and supported the measures favored by the home majority, what right-minded woman could complain? It would be merely an extension of the main principle of republican government. Only those women without male relatives would be unrepresented, and for them special provision could be made.

This hypothetical condition, however, is so far from fact that it sounds facetious, and the picture of a household wherein a gentle-minded man revises his sentiments to adequately set forth the contrary views of his womankind seems altogether Utopian, yet such a situation is one in which it might be justly claimed that men were the actual political representatives of women.

Some men there are, though rarissimœ aves, fair enough to acknowledge that woman ought to be represented in this fashion, or else allowed to deposit a ballot for herself. The proposition of woman suffrage alone does not trouble them, but they stumble over the corollaries of political life and officeholding, and, rightly judging that the trio are logically involved and claimed by suffragists, they demur at the result or reject all together.

Political avocations seem to them utterly alien to the womanly nature, or at least to what they know of it; and since their conception of this elusive quality is undoubtedly founded on the particular instances which have fallen within their experience, it would be useless to oppose it with a flurry of words. One of their number, however, in a paper on The Political Rights and Duties of Woman, is explicit, and furnishes us with several statements which may be debated. To the performance of political functions by women, he holds there is "a serious natural impediment" that "four fifths of the women all the world over, between the ages of twenty and sixty, are occupied with paramount domestic obligations incompatible with public service." "Under this disability of Nature, or closely related to it, all the objections to the exercise of political functions by women may be classed, so that no other objection need be considered."

It is no longer, then, a vaporous theory that confronts us, but an array of questionable facts. The condition of four fifths of the women "all the world over" is certainly beside the issue. We have no reliable statistics regarding them, and we are not at present concerned with their political disabilities. The ballot is demanded only for the women of civilized communities, where the right of suffrage is already possessed by men, and the question is immediately pertinent to those in the United States. Here statistics are available, and in New York State they run as follows:

Women between, the ages of nineteen and sixty-five.

Total number 1,707,655
Married women 1,244,291
Mothers[1] 1,238,070
Mothers disqualified for public service 550,252
Eligible women 1,157,403
= 67 per cent of the whole.

Comparing men, we find certain classes among them ineligible to political office by reason of their professional or business duties, yet disfranchisement of their sex on that account has never been considered. Priests and ministers of the gospel, even if devoting some time to politics, could not give to public office "that entirety of energy which an official oath exacts" without disregarding the spiritual welfare of their flocks; and if they are true pastors, it would not be amiss to compare them in the multiplicity of their cares to the mothers of young families. Physicians in active practice can not well be judges or sheriffs without neglecting the vocation for which they are especially fitted. Scientific men engaged in original research are not expected to abandon their laboratories, where they may be on the eve of bringing forth the fruit of lives wedded to patient observation, even if a mistaken populace should nominate them for mayors or Congressmen. Manufacturers and business men have even been known to decline senatorial honors, since these conflicted with the responsibilities of their callings.

If a count could be made of all these men who, for various reasons, will not accept political candidacy, it might be found to equal in number the mothers who are disqualified for office-holding.

It is to be observed that at any given time only a minority of mothers are even thus conditioned. That four fifths of woman-kind between the ages of twenty and sixty are ineligible for public office proves thus to be an exaggeration.

Planted upon this astounding proposition, our antisuffragist then proceeds to discuss the complications that may arise if women enter upon political life. While they attend committee meetings, the scarlet fever may invade the nursery. If they engage in jury duty, the husband, fretted with financial cares, will fail to find sympathy at home.

It may be presumed that women with young children will not generally accept candidacy for public office; but should they in some cases think best to do so, such contingencies are not unlike those that occur outside of political life. A wife is called to the bedside of a dying mother, one thousand miles away. She leaves her children; the measles breaks out among them, and the father, although an inexperienced man, nurses the flock back to health. Instances are not wanting in which men have wrestled victoriously also with other diseases, so that a great gloom need not settle down upon mankind at the prospect of a mother's occasional attendance upon a committee meeting.

The dearth of sympathy at home is no matter for jesting. No doubt thousands of women, in times of anxiety, have gone entirely unconsoled while their husbands were jurymen. If men have a taste of this experience, where is the injustice?

Not very relevantly our opponent breaks in here with the assertion that "the suffrage is a question of readjusting the occupations of men and women as established by all civilized and uncivilized people." As the occupations of men and women vary with the state of civilization and the industrial development of a country, this generalization is valueless. The employments of men and women also depend upon the condition of the nation, whether militant or peaceful, and in regard to certain kinds of work no universal rule can be made. Women act as horse-car conductors in South America; Chinamen prefer the laundry in the United States; while in East Central Africa men insist upon sewing their own and their wives' garments, leaving the women to build the houses and hoe the corn. The modern readjustment of vocation in our midst arises, as it has been pointed out, from the increased leisure afforded women by the introduction of machinery. It is a wonderful evolution for woman, proceeding as noiselessly as the spinning of countless cocoons, liberating many who would have grubbed a hundred years ago to try their wings to-day if they will.

The next statement volleyed at us is very like an explosive used by Mrs. Lynn Linton in one of her harangues against women.[2] "The political disability is one irrevocably connected with that very office and raison d'être which called woman into existence."

Despite our advancement in science it seems next to impossible to extricate some minds from the mire of tradition. Brushing biology and common sense aside, these primitive souls continue to regard woman as the mythical rib of Adam. Those of us who have progressed beyond this dogma look upon it just as flatly contradictory to Nature as the biblical view of the earth as a plane. Woman's sexual life is shorter than that of man, her individual life longer. Therefore, if either was "called into existence" for the office of parenthood, it was obviously the man, not the woman. From a biological point of view the functions of life are two—nutrition and reproduction; and there is as much sense in saying that nutrition is the reason of man's existence as to state that motherhood—if that be "the office" meant—is the "raison d'être" for women.

As for us, we frankly confess we do not know anything about "reasons of being" or causes of existence. If Mrs. Lynn Linton, Mr. Talbot, et al., have been taken into the creative confidence, no doubt they have interesting revelations to offer the world!

Our antisuffragist, not being quite content with delving into prehistoric purposes, next hazards a prophecy of the feminine officeholder. As wives and mothers are, according to his premises, ineligible, only "those who have made shipwreck of their domestic ventures," the forlorn and déclassées, will pose as nominees. He provides, however, "a contingent disability," that of getting married, which may overtake these. As our prophet waxes eloquent over matrimony he forgets what manner of woman he has pictured as a politician, and tells us "only intelligent and agreeable women will be popular, and only popular women would be candidates and elected." The forlorn and déclassée woman is metamorphosed into "the brilliant, educated, and accomplished lady stump speaker," and when she marries, what can be left for the suffragists?

Having thus disposed of the phantasmagoria of his creation, he asks two momentous questions:

1. What wrongs are there affecting society which the women's vote will set right?
2. What oppression does woman suffer at the hands of man which she must rise in her might to redress?

I am not aware that woman suffrage is proposed as a panacea for social evils, or that it will usher in a millennial condition. Man would be disfranchised if such requirement was made of his vote. Legislation does not beget character, and man is not made temperate and pure by law. Stringent laws, however, are needed to prevent various evils and to make certain offenses punishable. Women are quick to recognize vicious tendencies that men with a greed for money-getting often overlook. The work of Mrs. Fawcett in England, and of many earnest women in the United States, shows what good would accrue to society if women helped to frame the laws.

Our opponent does not pause to consider whether woman's vote would be beneficial or not to the community, but spends his full strength in fortifying the second query. "The woman's grievance against man, what is it?" he asks. "The moment you attempt to inflate its emptiness. . . you are dealing with hysteric fancies rather than hard facts. . . . Woman has no grievance against man. . . . Cruel Nature has committed an offense against woman."

English law is more nearly defined as "a hard fact" than as "a hysteric fancy," and English law contains a long "bill of grievances" which woman may publish against man.[3] True, in this land of boasted freedom most of these laws have been repealed, many others are a dead letter, and still others have been enacted that favor woman. These changes have been brought about by the growth of the sense of justice, but also directly through the efforts of women agitators who have pleaded and written against decrees of oppression. These writings and arguments are a matter of record, and they antedate all betterment of the laws relating to women. Without them we do not know when "man's own sense of equity and right" would have impelled him to annul the obnoxious statutes. Even here in New York we come occasionally upon instances which betray the defects of a masculine code;[4] while in the civilized countries of Europe the laws generally discriminate in man's favor.

Outside of unjust enactments, the former subjection of woman is stamped on our customs, our literature, and our language. It is hardly possible for any one to investigate the origin of many of our conventionalities, titles, terms of obloquy, without coming unexpectedly upon proof of man's injustice to woman.

It is not intended to reproach the present generation of men for these or any other sins of their forefathers, as I hold all antagonism of the sexes as unnatural and vicious. Had women possessed the physical force, I think it very likely they would have acted as badly as their male ancestors. Yet it is instructive to note the tendencies and results of abuse of power, and an exclusive manhood suffrage is in this age and country a retention of power unwarranted by reason.

In primeval society, our antisuffragist allows that "the male and female were more nearly balanced in what each was called upon to endure." He adds that, although civilization has improved the lot of man, it. has not "redeemed woman from the primitive sufferings by which she consecrated her motherhood." As to what sufferings primitive woman had I do not feel quite sure, but can agree that civilization has not yet accomplished a physical redemption for woman, although it is now alive to the fact that she has a physique to be developed. On the contrary, it has hitherto distorted her and artificially increased her weakness under the pretense of differentiating her from man. Her own stupidity and vanity are occasionally at fault, but man is not guiltless, and if another distinct grievance is wished for, it is here. Nature is not cruel; according to the words of the old hymn, "only man is vile." Let us say instead, man is a blunderer.

Our opponent reaches at length his principal tenet: women are a privileged class. Their privileges consist not in the minor courtesies of life, but in various immunities and exemptions which are "a generous attempt on the part of men to make for their mates and yoke-fellows an easier pathway through a rugged world. . . . Having in the right of his strength the opportunity to determine the customs of society, he has exempted his mate from all those vocations that expose to premature death or great physical suffering." An inventory of these exemptions follows:

1. From the perils, wounds, and deaths incident to war.
2. From all kinds of labor dangerous to life or exposing to hardship and privation.
3. From the care of earning her livelihood and that of her offspring.

One is at first sight aghast at this record of masculine arrogance. Women might retort, and say Men have exempted themselves—

1. From the care of their progeny.
2. From the preparation of clothes, food, and household toil.
3. From nursing the sick.

All these "exemptions" are misnomers. Men have "exempted" women from nothing. They have excluded women in former times, and still exclude them in some degree, from the higher institutions of learning, the professions, and government. These exclusions, however, would form another "bill of grievances." The immunities mentioned are purely imaginary. Man chooses to fight, to sail the seas, to dig for gold and iron, to hew wood, and cut his own pathway in the-world because he is a man and likes it, not to save any woman nor womankind from such tasks. He has the. combative instinct that greets a struggle, the well-knit muscles that crave vigorous action, the adventurous spirit that courts the unknown, and the courage that defies danger. Does a boy wrestle with his playfellow to spare his sister; or run away to sea, or to the gold mines of South Africa, from an altruistic feeling for womankind?

Neither do men go to war or enter upon any dangerous calling with the purpose of exempting women. When John takes the peach and hands Jane the apple, we do not say, "Jane is exempted from eating the peach." Were all womankind swept from the earth to-morrow, men would not bury their weapons nor let the ships drift. Love of the other sex is a spur to the endeavor of either, but the choice of occupations calling for physical force is instinctive with the sex possessing it in greatest degree. All intellectual pursuits are feminizing in tendency, and it is only with men engaged in these, only with the smaller number among them who have allowed their masculine instincts to become atrophied, that the fallacy of "exemption" would take root. The wrestler, the sailor, the Alpine hunter, the blacksmith, would laugh such a creed to scorn. Men have not exempted women from deeds of force, from war, from labor, nor from self-support. They have generally chosen these offices for themselves, and left women to do the things that were left undone.

Woman is not only weighted by these gratuitous immunities. but, according to this document, her natural delicacy is owing to them, and she is warned that she may part with womanhood if she persists in her unnatural endeavor to change her occupations. The bee is cited as an example that "sex itself may be determined by continuous special regimen or diet."

Now, so far as any naturalist has observed, sex is not altered[5] by any regimen or diet; and as the subject of our inquiry is not a neutral bit of protoplasm, but a developed individual, woman, we do not need to study the origin of her differentiation so much as its possible modification.

The bees, with instinctive wisdom, feed the male and female larvsB differently, just as we, regardful of distinct uses, furnish varying food to the cow and ox. Yet, as the utmost change in nutrition does not result in transference of function in the mature organism, we need not fear that a different environment will ever rob woman of her essential womanhood. This specter, used to frighten girls from a higher education, is still the favorite totem of the tribe of viriolaters.

Our antisuffragist falls into another grave error when he seeks for "the instinctive tendencies of the dominant sex" in an era and in localities where woman has partial sway. It is not generally in the United States—certainly not in a city of New England—that we should look for the gross masculine ignorance that makes woman a beast of burden. It is in primitive communities that the anthropologist investigates the habits of man as the best exponents of his natural instincts. If we find in all such states of society the male is not inclined to relieve the female from hardship and toil, we can hardly argue that the divisions of labor found among civilized people arise from man's wish to exempt his mate from the arduous tasks of life. The Russian mother toiling in the fields, the Viennese woman laying bricks, the peasant girl harnessed to a cart, are better instances of man's "instinctive tendencies" than any to be found in American cities, where men have learned in some degree to subordinate instinct to reason.

Yet if one, being a woman, was forced to choose between toil in the fields, laying bricks in the sun, or a day at the washtub, it is not altogether certain that the last would be regarded as a privilege. It is possible that some women might prefer the first employments and desire exemption from the scrubbing-board. Moreover, if a child is needed to complicate the case, its chances of life may be vastly better with the flies in the open air than with the germ-laden atmosphere of a tenement.

Thousands of women work in the mines of Belgium, England, and Cornwall.[6] In the first-named country they formerly worked from twelve to sixteen hours a day, with no Sunday rest.[7] The linen-thread spinners of New Jersey, according to the report of the Labor Commissioner, are "in one branch of the industry compelled to stand on a stone floor in water the year round, most of the time barefoot, with a spray of water from a revolving cylinder flying constantly against the breast; and the coldest night in winter, as well as the warmest in summer, these poor creatures must go to their homes with water dripping from their underclothing along their path, because there could not be space or a few moments allowed them wherein to change their clothing."[8] Yet women are "exempted" from labor attended by hardship!

Despite these washerwomen, miners, and linen-thread spinners, we are told "it is woman's privilege generally to be exempted from the care of earning her livelihood and that of her offspring."

It would seem to be time that this libel upon woman should be scorned by fair-minded men. From all antiquity the majority of women have been faithful workers, rendering a full equivalent in labor for their scanty share of the world's goods. The origin of every industry bears testimony to this. In our own era, while women were still homekeepers, did they not earn their livelihood? What was the weaving, the sewing, the cooking, the doctoring, the nursing, the child-care, "the work that was never done," if it was not earning a subsistence? Even in these days, when woman goes forth and receives the reward of her labor as publicly as man, she is no more worthy of her hire.[9] Her ancestress—sweet and saintly soul!—did not dream of recompense.[10] But was it not her due; and shall we refuse to credit it because man was then a self-sufficient ignoramus who deemed himself the only one fit to acquire property?

One by one the old industries have been transplanted from the home, and still man constructs new schemes of enterprise from the little tasks that once rounded out woman's day of toil. In the census of 1890, three hundred and sixty-nine groups of industrial work are enumerated, and in all but nine of these women are employed, the actual ratio of women workers to men being 1 to 4·4. The United States Commissioner of Labor writes: "A careful examination of the actual earnings of women discloses the fact that in many industries their average earnings equal or exceed the earnings of the men."

It may be difficult for those not conversant with manufacturing towns to realize that as far back as 1850 there were over two hundred and twenty-five thousand women engaged in factory work, or 27·30 per cent of the whole number of employees. Today, however, when women have swarmed into nearly all hives of labor, statistics are scarcely needed to prove that, whether "exempted" or not, they earn their livelihood in visible fashion. Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi asks the observer to "station himself on Broadway at six o'clock in the evening and watch the crowds pouring out of the retail stores, the binderies, printing establishments, and newspaper offices, or to visit the ring of ferries encircling the city, and analyze into their component sexes the vast throngs returning from work; or, at the station of some manufacturing town, see the operatives disembarking for the day, and after such inspection he will find it hard to believe that any women remain at home to sew, dust, sweep, or mind the babies. . . . To his imagination the women of leisure would disappear as completely as in the United States the men of leisure are wiped out of the national census."

This phase of the industrial evolution is unrecognized by our antisuffragist, and he depicts for us how a census-taker would find the sexes relatively employed—the man going to work and the women engaged at home in household supervision and social duties. He admits that now and then women teach, act as clerks, or do literary work, but these are exceptions.[11] "In the healthy normal society the true order seems to be that 'men must work and women must weep,' unless a cheerful temperament converts the weeping into a song." This, which might answer for a poetical view of the lives of the fisher-folk of whom it was written, was not typical of the general social condition even in Charles Kingsley's time. To-day it is not true of a respectable fraction. The number of women who live in absolute leisure is an insignificant item and is constantly diminishing.

It is not the casualties of life nor of business that drive women as a class into industrial occupations, but the constant inventions that liberate their time, once useful in the house. Woman's work has always been one of the main stays of the home, although men have cherished the fiction that they "supported" it. Now that man has laid violent hands on woman's former employments—cutting children's garments by machinery, baking, pickling, and preserving for the nation—it is inconceivable that woman, industrious woman, should fold her hands and sit in a corner. She has gone forth and sought for work; she has become "an economic factor," and this status is the precedent, not the consequent, of the ballot.

We are, however, informed that "women want the ballot in order that they may open to themselves a free career in all the professions and occupations in which men are engaged. . . . They wish to make wounds which the present social structure now receives its chronic status."

This diagnosis is faulty, the caution too late. The wounds were rifts in the larval envelope that woman has cast from her. She asks recognition now in the new order to which she is admitted.

It is to be deprecated that individualism in seeking its due should overlook what it owes to others. Women, in the past at least, have sought much more actively for duties than for rights, so that it is superserviceable for a man to suggest this course to them. Even yet some women need to be informed that they have any rights, such rights as the Constitution of the United States avers belong to every man—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our antisuffragist again brings forth the bugaboo which is dear to the conservative heart: the threat of unsexing woman.

"The inevitable ultimate result of subjecting the two human sexes to the same labors, the same employments, the same cares, will be just the same as when domestic animals have been subjected for long periods to the same conditions. Sexual differences, physical and mental, will tend to disappear, and the two branches of the race will tend to approximate a common type."

We can safely let the matter of sex rest entirely with Nature. It is a fundamental fact of our being, not to be disturbed by any little transformation scenes that we can bring about. We may go for analogies to the domestic animals, birds, or fishes, and in none of them will we find sexual differences disappearing or tending to disappear. What are called secondary sexual characteristics are very tickle in their nature, and do for various reasons often desert the sex with which they are identified. These are characters merely associated with one sex but having no essential connection with the sex itself, such as the brilliant plumage of the peacock, or, as Mr. Darwin suggested, the baldness of Englishmen. These in a majority of instances depend upon the preferences of the opposite sex, the last example being a probable exception. So men have only themselves to blame if an undesirable type of woman persists.

In addition to these, artificial differences, mere resultants of specific treatment, may also disappear. The foot of a Chinese woman is quite unlike that of a man, and possibly an aristocratic Celestial dame would be fearful of approaching the masculine type if she allowed her daughter's feet a natural development. Barbarous nations are not usually content with Nature; they delight in differentiating their women from men by blackening their teeth or boring holes in their lips, ears, and noses. We follow their fashions in a mild way and have created several artificial types of women, but it is hardly scientific to call the exaggerations which distinguish them "sexual differences."

Among animals we can, by breeding and training[12] through several generations, increase desirable qualities, such as the pace of horses or flight of pigeons, but it is not claimed by any breeder or zoölogist that the sexes are any nearer each other than they were in protozoan times. It is also an assumption to declare that the "graces of womanhood—affection, tenderness, and sympathy"—have sprung from the relation of the sexes. According to all authorities, the general relation of the sexes in all but recent times has been characterized by anything but "affection, tenderness, and sympathy." So far as we have proof of the origin of these qualities, they have arisen from the offices of motherhood; and just in the degree that we elevate, ennoble, and endow the mother with moral, mental, and political responsibility, do we put it in her power to exercise the wisest affection toward her offspring, the fullest sympathy with her mate.

Our antisuffragist "fears to drag woman from her high estate wherein man is her servant." This has for me the melodramatic ring of "a hysteric fancy." With all the opportunities for progress which recent years have given her, it does not appear to me that woman is yet on so high a plane as man. She is, however, climbing step by step, and all unprejudiced, men and women will welcome the day when she may stand beside him as his coworker in life. That the ballot, officeholding, or any other right which she can exercise or pursuit which she will undertake can render her less a woman, is a hypothesis without a grain of evidence. No biologist can hold it with any consistency. Over and over again such a result was predicted of education. As she was not educated out of womanhood, so she can not be metamorphosed by politics, and will remain, when acknowledged as an individual, still the counterpart of man.

  1. The general proportion of mothers among married women is ninety-five per cent. Of these, the maximum number disqualified would be four ninths.
  2. The Wild Women as Politicians. Mrs. E. Lynn Linton. Nineteenth Century, July, 1891.
  3. John Stuart Mill. Subjection of Woman, pp. 56-58.
  4. A woman appointed administratrix refused to pay an exorbitant bill. Her arrest for contempt of court resulted in the death of her babe. The surrogate said it was a case of great injustice, but the code made it mandatory upon him to issue the order (New York Times, June 11, 1890).
  5. The genesis of sex in certain orders seems to depend upon differing temperature and nutrition.
  6. Census of England and Wales, 1891, vol. cvi, table 6. Miners, female—coal, 3,267; copper, lead, tin, and ironstone, 1,425.
  7. Vide Report of Reichstag, 1889, forbidding women to work in the mines of Belgium on Sunday and at night.
  8. Report of Bureau of Labor, State of New Jersey, 1888.
  9. "The never-ceasing industry of the women was the principal factor in the development of a manufacture that was probably contributing more directly to the personal prosperity and comfort of the people than any other then in existence in 1790" (Industrial Evolution in the United States, p. 20). Carroll D. Wright.
  10. Women colonists rarely worked for wages; . . . they carded the wool, spun the yarn, and wove the cloth for the male members of the family. In many instances they worked on the land, and did their share in every way to enable the family not only to secure a livelihood but to build itself upon stable lines (Industrial Evolution in the United States, p. 112).
  11. The percentage of women workers for the United States in 1880 was forty-nine. In 1890 the gain is stated to be ten per cent. The number of women employed in mechanical and manufacturing industries for 1890 was 505,712. They received as wages $139,329,719. There are 549,804 women in New York city over fifteen years of age. Those regularly employed number over 250,000.
  12. In every case of change, breeding is certified to be more potent than mere conditioning; vide Alfred Russel Wallace, in the Popular Science Monthly, vol. xxxviii, p. 94.