Pleads for Suffrage, April 17, 1906

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Jane Addams Brings Out Important Points in Vote Argument of Women.


Writer Hopes That Results Will Be Secured in Making of the New City Charter.


It is hoped by many of us that the municipal franchise may be given to women in the new charter which Chicago is at present securing. In making an argument for the advantages to be obtained from this extension of the suffrage, it has seemed illuminating to take for a moment the historic standpoint.

We all know that the modern city is a new thing upon the face of the earth, and that everywhere its growth has been phenomenal, whether we look at Moscow, Berlin, Paris, New York or Chicago. With or without the [medieval] foundation these cities are merely resultants of the vast crowds of people who have collected at certain points which have become manufacturing and distributing centers.

There are many evidences that we are emerging from a period of industrialism into a period of humanitarianism, and that personal welfare is now being considered a legitimate object of government. The most noticeable manifestation of this civic humanitarianism is to be found in those cities where the greatest abuses of industrialism and materialism exist, where a thousand conflicts arise between the individual interests and the social interests. It is in these cities that selfishness is first curbed and the higher social feelings developed, and in them men learn to submit to a minute regulation of their affairs which they would find intolerable anywhere else.

"To Make Life Human."

Because the delicate matters of human growth and welfare cannot be nurtured by mere brute strength, a new history of municipal government begins with a serious attempt to make life possible and human in large cities which have been devoted so exclusively to industrial affairs that they must plead guilty to Ruskin's indictment, that they are unspeakably ugly and unnecessarily devoid of green and growing things.

A city is in many respects a great business corporation, but in other respects it is enlarged housekeeping. If American cities have failed in the first, partly because officeholders have carried with them the predatory instinct learned in competitive business, and cannot help "working a good thing" when they have an opportunity, may we not say that city housekeeping has failed partly because women, the traditional housekeepers, have not been consulted as to its multiform activities?

The men of the city have been carelessly indifferent to much of this civic housekeeping, as they have always been indifferent to the details of the household. They have totally disregarded a candidate's capacity to keep the streets clean, preferring to consider him in relation to the national tariff or to the necessity for increasing the national navy, in a pure spirit of reversion to the traditional type of government which had to do only with enemies and outsiders.

Problems of the Municipality.

It is difficult to see what military prowess has to do with the multiform duties which in a modern city include the care of parks and libraries, superintendence of markets, sewers and bridges, the inspection of provisions and boilers and the proper disposal of garbage. It has nothing to do with the building department which the city maintains that it may see to it that the basements are dry, that the bedrooms are large enough to afford the required cubic feet of air, that the plumbing is sanitary, that the gas pipes do not leak, that the tenement-house court is large enough to afford light and ventilation, that the stairways are fireproof.

The ability to carry arms has nothing to do with the health department maintained by the city which provides that children are vaccinated, that contagious diseases are isolated and placarded, that the spread of tuberculosis is curbed, that the water is free from typhoid infection. Certainly the military conception of society is remote from the functions of the school boards, whose concern it is that children are educated, that they are supplied with kindergartens and are given a decent place in which to play. The very multifariousness and complexity of a city government demands the help of minds accustomed to detail and variety of work, to a sense of obligation for the health and welfare of young children, and to a responsibility for the cleanliness and comfort of other people.

Responsibility of Women.

Because all these things have traditionally been in the hands of women, if they take no part in it now they are not only missing the education which the natural participation in civic life would bring to them but they are losing what they have always had. From the beginning of tribal life they have been held responsible for the health of the community a function which is now represented by the health department; from the days of the cave dwellers so far as the home was clean and wholesome it was due to their efforts, which are now represented by the bureau of tenement-house inspection; from the period of the primitive village the only public sweeping which was performed was what they undertook in their [diverse] dooryards, that which is now represented by the bureau of street cleaning.

Most of the departments in a modern city can be traced to woman's traditional activity, but in spite of this, so soon as these old affairs were turned over to the care of the city they slipped from woman's hands, apparently because they then became matters for collective action and implied the use of the franchise. Because the franchise had in the first instance been given to the man who could fight, because in the beginning he alone could vote who could carry a weapon, it was considered an improper thing for a woman to possess it.

As to the "Ladylike" Aspect.

Is it quite public-spirited for women to say "We will take care of these affairs so long as they stay in our own houses, but if they go outside and concern so many people that they cannot be carried on without the mechanism of the vote we will drop them. It is true that these activities which women have always had are not at present being carried on very well by the men in most of the great American cities, but because we do not consider it 'ladylike' to vote we will let them alone?"

Because women consider the government men's affair and something which concerns itself with elections and alarms, they have become so confused in regard to their traditional business in life, the rearing of children, that they hear with complacency a statement made by the Nestor of sanitary reformers that one-half of the tiny lives which make up the city's death rate each year might be saved by a more thorough application of sanitary science. Because it implies the use of the suffrage they do not consider it woman's business to save these lives.

Are we going to lose ourselves in the old circle of convention and add to that sum of wrongdoing which is continually committed in the world because we do not look at things as they really are? Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled. It is so easy to be stupid and to believe that things that used to exist still go on long after they are past; to commit irreparable blunders because we fail to correct our theories by our changing experience.

So many of the stumbling blocks against which we fall are the opportunities to which we have not adjusted ourselves. We keep hold of a convention which no longer squares with our genuine insight into life and we are slow to follow a [clue] which might enable us to solace and improve the life about us because it shocks an obsolete ideal.

Asks Pointed Questions.

Why is it that women do not vote upon those matters which concern them so intimately. Why do they not follow these vital affairs and feel responsible for their proper administration even although they have become municipalized. What would the result have been could women have regarded the suffrage not as a right or a privilege but as a mere piece of governmental machinery, without which they could not perform their traditional functions under the changed conditions of city life?

Could we view the whole situation as a matter of obligation and normal development it would be much simplified. We are at the beginning of a prolonged effort to incorporate a progressive developing city life, founded upon a response to the needs of all the people, into the requisite legal enactments and civic institutions. To be in any measure successful this effort will require all the intelligent powers of observation, all the sympathy, all the common sense which may be gained from the whole adult population.

Hope for Two Results.

We certainly may hope for two results if the municipal franchise be granted to women. First, an opportunity to fulfill their old duties and obligations with the safeguard and the consideration which the ballot alone can secure for them under the changed conditions, and secondly, the education which participation in actual affairs always brings. As we believe that woman has no right to allow the things to drop away from her that really belong to her, so we contend that ability to perform an obligation comes very largely in proportion as that obligation is conscientiously assumed.

Out of the [medieval] city founded upon militarism there arose in the thirteenth century a new order, the middle class, whose importance rested not upon birth or arms, but upon wealth, intelligence and organization. They achieved a sterling success in the succeeding six centuries of industrialism because they were essential to the existence and development of the industrial era. Perhaps we can forecast the career of woman, the citizen, if she is permitted to bear an elector's part in the coming period of humanitarianism in which government must concern itself with human welfare. She would bear her share of civic responsibility, not because she clamors for her rights, but because she is essential to the normal development of the city of the future.