Women and Democracy, October 4, 1912 (excerpts and summary)

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Miss Jane Addams Addresses Large Audience.


Convincing Argument Favoring Equal Rights -- Portage Band Renders Concert [Preceding] the Address.

If every man in Wisconsin who is to vote next November on extending citizenship to women could have been in Armory Hall last evening when Jane Addams asked their recognition, it seems as if Wisconsin women would be made citizens this fall as a matter of course.

One of the notable things about the audience that filled the Armory was the large percentage of men, both from Portage and from the rest of the county. Both men and women have come to feel that Jane Addams knows, on a sound, logical basis, what she is talking about, because she has lived it first. She spoke only thirty-five minutes, exclusive of the answering of questions, but she packed the time with actual instances in her own experience of how women's ancient work -- the caring for human life -- has been under these new modern conditions, hampered over and over again, and actually prevented by being shut out of citizenship.

"Women start humanitarian movements," she said, "and foster them till they are taking over by the city. Then the city shuts the door in the faces of women and will not let them go on with the work that they themselves began."

Before the address, the Portage band played three selections, and the hall was filled to listen to these excellent musicians. Then Charles Kutzke with his cornet led the chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." After the address an informal reception was held for Miss Addams. About sixty attended from the county.

Miss Addams laid especial emphasis upon the fact that the present universal desire of women for a share in the political life of the world is not because of any spirit of unrest among women, or even of dissatisfaction with their own conditions, but is simply the result of a natural tendency on their part to continue their traditional work of caring for the children, the aged, the poor, and the sick, which work has gone into politics and can be properly accomplished only through political agencies.

To illustrate this, Miss Addams told many interesting experiences of her work in Chicago and at Hull House. Many years ago the Chicago women became interested in the care of delinquent and dependent children, and with great effort established the juvenile court, which kept children who had committed petty crimes or misdemeanors out of the jails and free from association with older criminals. They established a detention home for these children, a medical clinic to determine whether physical defects which could be remedied were not responsible for their so-called crimes, a system of probation officers to see that the children did not get into more trouble, and for a while it worked very well. But soon politics came into the situation; the judge had to be elected or appointed; the city took charge of the matter and political favorites were put in the places of probation officers and physicians and the other devoted experts who had previously had charge of the work so that the women who had established the juvenile court found that it was absolutely necessary for them to have some kind of political power if they were to see the care of delinquent children attended to as it should be.

They found exactly the same thing to be true of the matter of school nurses who under the direction of Chicago club women had been caring for certain classes of school children in their homes, thereby preventing the spread of contagious disease among the poorer families. Soon this work was taken over by the school board, the qualifications of the nurses were lowered, physicians were put in charge who, because their practice lay among the well-to-do classes who sent their children to private schools, did not believe that contagion was spread by the schools as it is, and who therefore relaxed their efforts in the matter. And again the women found that to carry on their philanthropy as they had begun it, and to be able to say what kind of men should care for their children when the schools took them out of the homes, it was necessary for them to have the ballot.

Politics is largely concerned with the matters which affect the lives of women in their homes, and this is why women are demanding a part in it. The last congress was occupied for a great part of its time over Schedule K. That simply means how much must the housekeeper pay for the clothing and blankets for her family, and how much wool shall there be in them when she gets them. Politics is also largely concerned with the making laws for working women, women who have simply followed their trades into the factory. Women can understand what it means to stand by a machine and work a lever with the foot 8,000 times in one day. Women see how this means mental and physical inefficiency in the next generation. Therefore women should have something to say about the laws which control these occupations now that they are taken from the home.

Much of the feeling against women's having the ballot is simply due to tradition, to some inherited prejudice, a survival from early tribal days when all there was to vote upon was some not question of war, and since women did not fight, they did not vote. Politics is no longer a question of war; no state can declare war in this day. There is nothing unwomanly in casting a ballot.

"If I wanted to vote, and were allowed to," said Miss Addams, "I would cast my ballot in one of the club rooms of Hull House, with the men and women whom I have known for years.

"People say that equal suffrage will divide families. In Wyoming where women have had the ballot for forty-two years, longer than in any other state, the divorce rate is lower than in any other state in the union. At the home of a friend of mine who lives in Wyoming I saw four sample ballots, all of different parties. 'This one,' said my friend, 'is father's; this is mother's; this is brother Tom's, and this is mine. And we have had the best time discussing the various issues and candidates the last few weeks.'" That, said the speaker, is what will happen. Families will come to enjoy these discussions around the family table of the big questions which affect them all alike.

"People also say that women will neglect their homes to vote, or that the baby will fall out of the cradle. But actually no one can vote more than four times a year, and the process can't occupy more than half an hour at the most. Yet women have for ages been attending church fifty-two times a year for an hour or more at a time. They haven't found their homes neglected or any the worse off for that; on the contrary, indeed, since they have been able to bring into their homes from the time spent at church, a peace and spiritual force and change of viewpoint which they could not have acquired at home, and whereby their homes have been the richer. The same result will come from woman's entrance into politics. She will bring into her home and do for her home things of the greatest value to it, which she could get for it in no other way." [page 2]

"It seems unfortunate that the United States should be so far behind other countries in granting full citizenship to its women. There are twelve women in the Finnish parliament, and yet Finland is a Russian possession. In Iceland all women have full franchise; in England they have a full municipal franchise and even have a woman mayor in an important English town; in Australia they have full voting power; in Canada they have municipal suffrage, and even in Persia and Turkey they have it in some measure, while in China every woman who owns any property and can read and write has the same voting power as men. A recent visitor to China says that it is remarkable to note the increased courtesy and respect which Chinese men show toward their women since the granting of the right of suffrage to them."

Miss Addams made a telling point from an experience of hers with one of the Greek immigrants who lives in the Hull House neighborhood. The Greeks as a rule do not care to become American citizens as they prefer to retain their Greek citizenship, but this particular man was taking lessons of Miss Addams in American history and the duties of American citizenship, and she had influenced him to become naturalized. The day came for him to cast his first ballot, and Miss Addams walked with him to the door of the Club room which was used as a polling place. His amazement and horror when he found that she could not vote, while he who had derived all his knowledge on the subject of American history and politics from her teaching, could cast a ballot, were most pathetic to see. He could not understand a country which permitted its newly arrived immigrants to vote but not the most cultured of its native born women. "What!" said he. "Can you not vote? Such a queer America!"

Miss Addams then answered many questions asked by the audience. Asked if she would be willing that the franchise be withheld from the women of the vice districts of the country, she replied that she would, providing it was also taken away from the men who frequent those districts. In fact, however, it does not work out in those states which have the ballot that the vote of the so-called "bad women" is an element to be feared, for they do not vote as they are unwilling to register and make known their names and places of residence. Indeed, many of the things most feared as possible difficulties before the ballot comes into the hands of all the citizens, are found upon actual experiment to be negligible. Women hold very few offices in the suffrage states, and those largely the same offices as they hold in [states] where they have not the ballot.

Asked as to the cause of the defeat in Ohio, Miss Addams said the organized opposition of the liquor interests was one thing which defeated it; another was the southern tier of counties in which old-time southern sentiment on such questions still prevails; and still another was the number of boss-ruled cities in the state and the fact that Ohio is so far east; for the west is more radical, more ready to try new things.

Questioned as to whether the states which had granted the ballot might withdraw it, Miss Addams created a ripple of amusement by saying they couldn't because the women themselves would vote upon it a second time, where now they are in the difficult position of a disenfranchised class begging the ballot from those who already have it.

Asked whether American women would begin to throw stones as the English women do, if they are refused the ballot, Miss Addams said that that matter is greatly exaggerated by the press; that only one of the many English Suffrage societies advocate such measures and their reason is because they say no measure had ever been brought to the attention of parliament in any other way, that the members simply pay no attention to any desire of the people unless the people resort to sensational measures. Because all [other] English movements have succeeded by throwing stones, and Parliament has never waked up until stones were thrown, this particular English society feels it necessary to throw stones. "While I do not agree with them," said Miss Addams, "I was, at least discouraged last winter when I appeared before the Congressional committee at Washington in behalf of a constitutional amendment to give the ballot to women, and realized that this was the 48th congress before which women had appeared and made an effort to get an amendment. I was no more successful than they had been."

"The attitude of American men regarding the granting of suffrage to women," said Miss Addams, "reminds me of a friend of mine who was walking down the street one bitter winter night. Although warmly clad, be was exceedingly cold and uncomfortable. A tramp accosted him and asked for money. 'Well,' said my friend, 'I don't believe in giving money to men on the street when I know nothing about, but it is so cold tonight that I will give you a nickel just to make myself feel more comfortable.'

"'Aw, come on , boss,' said the man, 'why don't yer blow yerself an' git a whole quarter's worth of comfort?'

"That," said Miss Addams, "is the way the men have done about the ballot. They gave women a nickel's worth of school suffrage and in some states they've given her a quarter's worth of municipal franchise; now let us hope the time is coming when they will really 'blow themselves' and give her the unlimited ballot."

During her stay in Portage Miss Addams was entertained at the home of Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Gale, 506 Edgewater Place.