Address by Chief Justice Walter Clark
Before the Federation of Women's Clubs,
New Bern, N. C., 8 May, 1913:
Clark, Walter McKenzie, 1846-1924
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(title page) Address by Chief Justice Walter Clark Before the Federation of Women's Clubs, New Bern, N. C., 8 May, 1913
(caption) Address by Chief Justice Walter Clark Before the Federation of Women's Clubs, New Bern, N. C., 8 May, 1913. The Legal Status of Women in North Carolina: Past, Present, and Prospective
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With compliments of
CHIEF JUSTICE WALTER CLARK
FEDERATION OF WOMEN'S CLUBS
NEW BERN, N. C., 8 MAY, 1913
THE LEGAL STATUS OF WOMEN IN NORTH CAROLINA:
PAST, PRESENT, AND PROSPECTIVE.
Ladies of the Federation:--I appreciate the high compliment of being asked to address you on this occasion. When Edmund Burke, the great orator of the House of Commons in England, came to address the student body at the University of Edinburgh, he faltered, hesitated, and stood speechless. You may imagine, therefore, the embarrassment of a mere man in being asked to appear before this audience.
You are to be congratulated that your sessions are held in this beautiful, hospitable, and historic city, the city of De Graffenried, the home of William Gaston, and the Athens of North Carolina. But for the discrimination against our towns by the railroad systems in this State to the extent of many millions of dollars annually, New Bern would now doubtless have 50 to 75 thousand inhabitants. Whatever may be said against Woman's Suffrage, it is certain that if the women of our State had a share in its government they would not have tamely submitted, as the men have done, to this oppression, with the resultant dwarfing of our towns, the depression of our business interests, and the injury to our farmers.
The subject on which I have been requested to speak to you does not admit of rhetoric or well rounded periods. In truth, it is one which requires the admission of shortcomings and apologies on the part of those who have prescribed the legal status of your sex.
What I shall say to you will be necessarily dry and uninteresting, for you have asked a lawyer to talk to you about law, and they are always prosy--to other people. They make it lively for one another.
The present status of women, imperfect and in many respects still unjust, is an evolution. It has been attained by the slow, gradual uplift of humanity, which having raised the masses of men to happier conditions, could not fail to alleviate somewhat the condition of the other half of the race.
The legal status of women under the common law may be briefly stated. It was simply that of a slave. A married woman under the common law owned no property, except after the death of her husband. She could make no contracts, not even for necessaries and not even with the consent of her husband. She could not will or devise her property. Upon her marriage the husband and the wife became one--and that one was the husband. He was master, the wife was a nonentity. The moment she married, he became entitled to all her personal property. He was entitled to the rents and profits of her real estate, which he could sell for his lifetime, or it could be sold for his debts. If she died, the husband still possessed the right to the rents and profits of
all her realty for the rest of his life, while at his death she received only a child's part of his personalty and a life right, called a dower, in only one-third of his realty, and for a long time under North Carolina law she could be deprived of even this, for, if he chose, he could sell his realty without her consent and deprive her of dower. She could not appoint a guardian for her children even when she outlived her husband.
As to her personal rights, the married woman came under the absolute control of her husband, who could chastise her if he saw fit, provided the chastisement inflicted no permanent injury. The reason given for this by Judge Pearson as late as 1868 was that it was the husband's duty to "make the wife behave herself," and if he beat her without good cause it was held that the courts would not punish him, because it was too small a matter to take notice of, unless she was permanently injured. The reason seems to be worse than the decision. The husband had the right to imprison his wife, and if in her terror she was
driven to take his life, she was guilty of petty treason, as was a slave who took the life of his master, and the penalty as to both was to be burned alive at the stake. This last law was not repealed in North Carolina till 1793, and even after the Revolution, in Iredell County a widow was thus "drawn and burned at the stake" for the murder of her husband. There were doubtless other cases if the records have not been destroyed by the lapse of time. This was the law in England for many centuries.
This condition of married women was not created by any legislative body, but was made entirely by judicial decisions, that is, by the "common law," which was simply "judge-made" law, and this was implicitly followed by the courts of this State down to 1848, when the first change was made by statute, which provided that as to women married thereafter, their real estate could not be sold by the husband nor for his debts.
In 1868 our Constitution contained a new provision, in accordance with enlightened legislation in England, and in most of our sister states, which was intended to emancipate married women by providing that henceforward a married woman should own her property as fully as if she had remained single; that she might will it, and that she could sell her personalty, but it was still required that she must get the written assent of her husband to convey her realty. This last restriction still holds in this State, though it was abolished in England and nearly everywhere else 30 years ago.
Up to the Constitution of 1868, the property and personal rights of married women in North Carolina had remained substantially as Shakespeare, who was a fairly good lawyer, stated the law of England to be in his day when he made Petruchio say of his wife (
Taming of the Shrew, Act II, se. 2):
"I will be master of what is; mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything."
The famous John Stuart Mill, in his work on the "Subjection of Women," said that under the English law the
legal status of a wife was that of "a personal body servant of a despot," and that her actual treatment was better than her legal position,
because men were better than the law on this subject, and that the power of public opinion forced even bad men to act better than the decisions of the courts permitted them to do. At Manchester, England, in 1856, occurred an instance which had a powerful effect in revolutionizing the law as to the property rights of women. A husband having failed in business, his wife went into the millinery business and not only supported him and their children, but accumulated quite in estate. He died, leaving all that she had made to his illegitimate children, and she had to start life again without a dollar for herself and children. This under the "common law"--the judge-made law of - England he was fully entitled to do, for her earnings were his property. Public opinion was aroused and soon forced the enactment of a statute which gave to married women their property of all kinds and their earnings. Our Constitution of 1868 did the same. Yet as construed by our courts, the wife was still denied her earnings, which until the statute passed this year belonged to her husband, and such an instance as that at Manchester which aroused the conscience of England and compelled Parliament to overrule the decision of the courts would have been legal in this State.
If conditions becoming intolerable, a wife left her husband, at common law be had the unquestioned right to bring her back by force, like any other runaway slave. About twenty years ago, in the famous "
Clitheroe case," this was done, but the highest court in England, without any change by statute, reformed the common law and set the woman free. Old-fashioned lawyers were shocked, and asserted that this was the end of marriage; but the prophesied evil has not materialized.
The intention of the Constitution of 1868 to emancipate women fully as to their property rights was as clear as the English language could make it. But, unfortunately, it had to be construed by judges who bad been raised up in the old belief as to the total incapacity of married women. The common-law idea was that the wife was the chattel, the property, of her husband. The judges raised up in that idea construed the Constitution as nearly as possible into the likeness of that which had been. It was a case of "putting new wine into old bottles." It
is no impeachment of the ability or honesty of the judges to say this. The same contest between the judges and the new Constitutions went on all over the country, and is well described by Chief Justice Thatcher of Colorado in
Wells v. Caywood, 3 Col., 491. He said: "The courts, which have ever been conservative have always been inclined to check with an unsparing hand any attempted departure from the principles of our law which were borrowed from England, and have regarded the enactments enlarging the rights of married women as a violent innovation and have construed them in a spirit so narrow and illiberal as to almost entirely defeat their intention. But succeeding legislatures have reasserted, in a more unequivocal form, the same principles which the court had before expounded almost out of existence."
It has taken act after act of our Legislature to secure to married women the rights which were conferred on them by the Constitution of 1868, and they have not yet quite reached the full enjoyment of the rights given them by that Constitution. The Constitution provided that all the property to which a married woman after marriage might become in any manner entitled "should be and remain the sole and separate estate and property of such female." Yet the courts placidly proceeded to hold that the earnings from her needle, or cooking, or other wise acquired by her labor should nevertheless become absolutely the property of her husband, and that she could not sue for it. It was not til this year that this was revoked by the Legislature giving a married woman the right to her earnings and to recover for her own use damages for injuries to her person. This law was passed at the instance of Senator V. S. Bryant and J. Frank Ray in the House. Another act passed a few years ago authorized her to appoint, after the death of her husband, a guardian for her children.
It was not until 1911 that an act, passed by the efforts of Senator Julius C. Martin of Buncombe, authorized her to make contracts, tho for more than 40 years the Constitution had decreed that she should possess the sole control, of her property. An act of the Legislature which had been brought over from former times, provided that a married woman could contract for necessaries,
etc., without the assent of her husband, and thereupon the courts created a Judge-made statute that a married woman could not contract for anything else, even with the assent of her husband except in writing specially charging her property. This was without a line of a statute to authorize it, and was directly against the purport of the constitutional provision. It required a statute in 1891 to allow a married woman to check her own money out of bank, tho the Constitution had nearly 25 years before guaranteed to married women the absolute control of their property as fully as if they had remained single. It was also held (in
S. v. Jones, 132 N. C., 1043) that notwithstanding this constitutional right, a husband of bad character could go into a house his wife was renting out and by his conduct and character prevent her renting it. Yet they say women do not need the suffrage to secure statutes guarding their rights.
As to the personal rights of married women, I have already mentioned that one was burned at the stake as late as 1787, in this State. As late is 1868 it was held by our Supreme Court that if a husband whipped his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb he could not be punished. Once, in England, when a judge held this, the ladies sent to get the measurement of his Honor's thumb. In 1874 Judge Settle in
S. v. Oliver, 70 N. C., 60, declared that this State had "advanced from that barbarism." No statute had ever given a man the right to thrash his wife with a switch of any kind. It was created by the judges in England centuries ago, whose decisions, as I have said, constitute what is called "the common law" which you hear lawyers talk about so much. Our North Carolina judges followed this without any statute until Judge Settle, also without any statute, wisely and justly said that we could no longer be so barbarous. But that did not end the matter. In 1886 the Court reverted to the former barbarism, and held in S. v. Edens, 95 N. C., 693, that a husband was not indictable for an assault upon his wife unless he put her life in peril or inflicted permanent injury or was prompted by a malicious or revengeful spirit. Notwithstanding this last qualification, the Court proceeded to hold that he could not be punished for maliciously slandering and destroying the good name of his wife.
In 1908 the matter again came up in S. v. Fulton, 149 N. C., 485, when three of the Court, following the decision in S. v. Edens, held that a man could not be punished for maliciously destroying the character of his wife by slandering her. Two of the judges (one of them the accomplished judge who now presides over the U. S. Court for this district) held that there was no exception in our statute which would exempt such a rascal from punishment. One of the three judges, however, held that
hereafter such conduct of the husband should be punished in North Carolina, but that Fulton was exempt because he had a "vested right" to slander his wife under the previous decisions of the Court. It looks more like a "vested wrong." It is, however, by this narrow margin that the good women of this State achieved judicial permission to be protected in future against false and infamous slanders on the part of a husband who has taken an obligation at the altar to "love, cherish, and protect."
As matters now stand in North Carolina, married women have thus at last obtained from the courts the assurance that they can no longer be thrashed or slandered with impunity by a brute who is called husband. As to their property rights, while they have not yet achieved the full measure of the control of their property given them by the Constitution of 1868, they have been empowered by acts of the Legislature, overruling the decisions of the Court, to make contracts of all kinds; to sue for and recover their personal earnings and damages for injuries to themselves or their property, and appoint guardians of their children after the death of their husbands. Tho contested at one time, it is no longer denied that they can convey their personalty at will, give checks upon funds in banks, devise and bequeath their property--all this without the consent of their husbands--and that they can convey realty with the written assent of the husband, and this assent has been dispensed with by act of the Legislature when the husband is a lunatic, idiot, or has abandoned her. But the Court has recently held that, the of age herself, she cannot convey her own property at all if the husband is a minor, and they have held by a vote of 3 to 2 that she is not a "freeholder," no matter how much real estate she owns, within the meaning of a statute which requires a petition for an election to levy a tax or assessment upon her
property. In most of the other states she now votes, and not merely petitions, upon all such propositions.
At common law, to avoid imposing capital punishment, which at one time was prescribed for 204 offenses, a man, however illiterate, was permitted to plead "benefit of clergy," that is, that be could read, and therefore was presumably a clergyman, and hence was exempt from punishment by death for most of these offenses. But a woman was never allowed to save her life in this way, on the technical ground that a woman could not be a clergyman. Yet, my Lord Coke said that "woman was a favorite of the common law"!
When they burnt and drowned witches in Massachusetts and elsewhere the "witch" was always a woman, never a man. We still hear from anti-suffragists of the "witchery of woman."
Moreover, at common law it was a crime to abduct an heir, but no crime to abduct a woman or girl against her will for immoral purposes; nor is it yet a crime in this State, unless she is married, and even then she is disqualified as a witness.
In this State there still prevails a gross difference as to the grounds of divorce. One act of infidelity on the part of the wife entitles the husband to a divorce, but his unfaithfulness must be habitual. Those who care to learn the discrimination have but to read the cases of
Everton v. Everton, 50 -N. C., 202, and Miller v. Miller 78 N. C., 102, to be enlightened and very much astonished.
Long in advance of our tardy bestowal of property rights upon married women it had been given them even in Russia, and it may surprise yon still more to learn that, tho under the Mohammedan religion it is held that women have no souls, yet 1,200 years before we gave our women all equality of property rights with the men, it was guaranteed to their women by Mohammed in the Koran. You will remember that he was not a Turk, but from the fierce, free wilds of Arabia, and that he owed his start in his career, like some other men, to the wealth and the wisdom of his wife. This feature of his laws still obtains in the Mohammedan world and is a tower of strength. It is their check upon the man's power to divorce his wife at will. The weakness of their system is in the seclusion of women, of whose aid they are thus deprived. It has been well said that
the result in the late Balkan war was due to the freedom, the education, and the practical cooperation of the women among the allies and the lack of it among the Turks.
Among the Romans, 1,700 years ago, married women controlled their civil property, and further back this was true among the Hebrews. You will recall instances lit the Old Testament, among them this: "In all the land there were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren." Job, 42 :15. And in Numbers, 27:6, the Lord gave the direct commandment to Moses to allot an inheritance to the daughters of Zelophehad. You will recall also that in an idyllic scene (Judges, 1:15) Achsah, Caleb's daughter, asked an inheritance and obtained of her father a "southland with the upper springs and nether springs"--a goodly inheritance in a thirsty land. Yet when the movement to give property rights to our women began it was denounced (and is still by some) on the ground that it would make them immoral, and create dissensions and divorces, because husbands could no longer control their wives.
The last General Assembly also, for the first time, authorized women to hold certain positions, as trustees on school boards and text-book commissions. This was long since the case in Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and a majority of the other states. In all matters that concern the schools the mothers are much more interested and better informed than the fathers. A very large proportion of the teachers are also women. It is therefore peculiarly appropriate that they should be authorized to hold these positions. Those who are opposed to any change whatever of course were quick to claim that this act was unconstitutional. But the Legislature, containing a large number of able lawyers, held otherwise. Our Constitution recognizes three grades of government agents: (1) Mere
employees, such as clerks, servants, and the like, as to which no one will deny that women are eligible. (2) Places of trust or profit, as to which no one can contend that the Constitution requires the incumbent to be a voter, and for which the Legislature can prescribe the conditions of eligibility. (3) Offices, as to which many contend that only voters are eligible.
The line between "places of trust and profit" and "offices" is not clearly defined, but it is for the Legislature and not for the courts to draw this line, and it cannot be contended that the Legislature cannot fix the test for eligibility for places of trust or profit. As to the offices, the Constitution does prescribe that "ever voter" (except convicts, paupers, and duelists) is eligible to office. But this simply prohibits the Legislature from disqualifying any eligible voter from holding office. No one whose mind is not biased by preconceived opinions will say that that constitutional provision prohibits the Legislature from admitting women to office. It makes "voters" eligible, but it does not forbid the Legislature to admit others than voters to office, if public opinion so demands.
In more than 30 states the women are eligible to positions on school boards and to similar positions. Their admission to that right in this State was a distinct step in advance, and was brought about by the organized support of your Federation of Women's Clubs, aided by the unanimous vote of the State Convention of teachers, and by Dr. Joyner, the head of the School System of the State, who knows well the intelligence, public spirit, and patriotism of the women of the State and the great aid he is giving to education by securing their active cooperation on these school boards.
In the United States Government we have postmistresses, and they usually manage the offices well. In England even under the common law women were eligible to every ministerial office, and were only excluded from being judges and members of Parliament. Under the Act of 1907, in England, Ireland, and Scotland, women are eligible as mayors, aldermen, and to all other offices outside the judiciary and Parliament. The contest of the militant suffragettes seems unaccountable to us at this distance. But it is based upon the fact that in the present and the last Parliament there was a large majority pledged to confer the right to vote for members of Parliament upon women, and a majority of the Cabinet also favored it, and that by a subterfuge the Government broke faith and refused to allow the vote to be taken on the third reading, after it had passed the second reading by nearly 200 majority. You may recall that
Woman's Suffrage has seven times passed its second reading in Parliament, but the Government has always prevented its coming to its third reading. On Tuesday of this week it was defeated by a small majority because the Prime Minister threatened to resign and throw everything into confusion if it passed. But such a defeat is a victory.
As to the capacity of women for government, you all will remember that Deborah was "Judge over all Israel." And passing by the brilliant reigns of many other female sovereigns, in modern times, two of the longest and most brilliant reigns in England were those of Elizabeth and Victoria. Then there was Isabella of Spain, by whose aid Columbus discovered this Continent, Maria Theresa of Austria, and Catherine the Great of Russia. Yet I have heard a lawyer state in a legal argument that at common law a woman could hold no office in England!
Besides conferring on women the right to sit as trustees on school boards and colleges, the last Legislature created two commissions and selected the women to fill them. This was the first time this has ever been done in North Carolina. Moliére tells us of a newly rich man who set himself to study grammar and was delighted to find that he bad been "talking prose all his life, tho he did not know it." Our Legislature "broke their record," without knowing it. They were unconsciously permeated by the spirit of the times.
In this State, down to 1899, in at least two sections of our Code "married women, infants, idiots, lunatics, and convicts" were placed in the same category. Practically they have been more or less deemed in that category, in all respects, by decisions of the courts til these have been overruled by the Constitution or by legislative enactment.
A single woman was held fully capable of contracting and controlling her property. On marriage she instantly lost that capacity. The fact of marriage proved her in the eye of the law fit to be classed with idiots and lunatics. In view of the legal status of married women at that time, it may be that there was some force in the idea.
In England, Scotland, and Ireland, and in most of our states, and in all the provinces of Canada, women have the municipal suffrage, tho they have not yet attained to the right of full
suffrage. There is nothing in the Constitution of North Carolina which forbids the people acting thru the Legislature to, grant the women municipal suffrage. It would not be practicable without considerable agitation and education to procure an act conferring municipal suffrage on the women thruout the State. But the Legislature might well provide by a general statute that any city or town, upon petition of a specified number of the voters, shall vote upon an amendment to the charter which if adopted will entitle the women of that town to vote in the city elections thereafter under the same rules and regulations as the men. No one can doubt that the result would be highly beneficial in procuring cleaner cities and cleaner governments for the cities, for this has been the case wherever it has been tried. Should this prove true here as to those towns first adopting it, it would soon become universal thruout the State.
It is well known that the judge-made law, which is generally known as "the common law" of England, was harsher and more unjust to married women than even the customs among the barbarians who were our ancestors several hundred years further back, when Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, drove back the Roman legions. It may interest the ladies present to give the explanation which an interesting writer has related as accounting for this. There was a very great and learned lawyer in England some 300 years ago named Sir Edward Coke. He was Chief Justice of the King's Bench and wrote several law books at a time when that accomplishment was rare. Critical research was unknown, and he formulated the law much to suit himself. The nephew and sole heir of Lord Chancellor Hatton had left a young and beautiful widow and an estate which, estimated in the money value of our time, amounted to many millions. As the law then stood, this would become absolutely the property of her husband. Coke was a 6 months widower with several young children and a suitor for her hand. His rival in this, as in other matters, was Sir Francis Bacon, one of the brightest men of all the ages. By feminine dispensation, which like a dispensation of Providence no man can understand and none dare impeach, she accepted the crabid Coke instead of the brilliant and versatile Bacon. But he soon found that tho he could
lay down the law in the courtroom and in the law books, Lady Coke laid down the law at home, and that without appeal. As a result every night, when sulking over his defeats, he wrote into the English law what he thought married women deserved, and for three, centuries your sex has paid the penalty for Lady Coke's eloquence. She was another Eve, in that your sex has suffered vicariously for her sins.
In tracing the development of the law, I have necessarily criticised some decisions of the courts, but let it not be supposed that I have censured any judge, here or elsewhere, for his opinion, which is a very different matter. When Judge Settle rose superior to the barbarous rulings of a ruder age he is to be commended; but if other judges have found themselves unable to do the same, they are not to be blamed. They have acted honestly, tho you and I think, unadvisedly.
A gentleman not long since entered a church in New York after the sermon began. Getting restive at the length of the sermon he leant over and asked the gentleman on the bench in front, "How long has he been preaching?" This gentleman, not understanding the question, replied, "I do not know exactly, but I think about 35 years," to which the first man replied, "If that is so, I will stay a little longer, for he must be most thru." You doubtless think that I have been talking a long time already, so I will detain you only to touch upon the question of the
prospective status of women.
It is quite certain that the majority of women in North Carolina do not yet desire what is known as equal suffrage. But it is as certain, as anything in the future can be, that the time is not far distant when, the world around, women will be consulted in the direction of government as fully as men. They now pay taxes without representation. They bear the burdens of bad government even more than men. Had they possessed the right of suffrage the liquor traffic and cognate evils would long since have been abolished by law and the law enforced. With the aid of women's votes, we should have had a better educational system, laws against child labor, better sanitation, and other enactments for the betterment of the conditions of the home and of the more helpless part of society. It is certain
that the main force which has opposed the adoption of equal suffrage has come from the whiskey trust, the vice trust, and the political machines which have been operated with money furnished by the great interests which have derived revenues from the adulteration of food products and other abuses. It is said that in Michigan last fall, woman's suffrage really carried the State by 7,000 majority, but when these Interests, especially the whiskey trust, found that to be the result, they bought the returns in the more distant counties and thus showed a majority some 700 against the woman's suffrage amendment. When the amendment was again submitted recently to the people, these Interests were organized and with abundant funds defeated the amendment. But it will yet be adopted.
Full woman's suffrage and eligibility to all offices was adopted in Wyoming over 40 years ago. Later Colorado followed. It was afterwards adopted in all the Australian states and New Zealand. It has now been adopted in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and by 9 states and 1 Territory of this Union, and even in the great new Republic of China with its 400 millions of people. The fact that the movement is spreading is evidence conclusive that it has worked satisfactorily. The progress that has been made by women in obtaining their property and personal rights is an evolution. Further progress along that line and further betterment of social conditions will largely depend upon the admission of women to the right of suffrage.
We have heard much of the "Submerged Tenth." I have the honor now to speak to the representatives of the "
Disfranchised Half." Mr. Seward more than half a century ago declared that this country "could not live half slave and half free." He was a true prophet. Our civilization cannot progress to its ultimate end with half our population, the equals in intelligence in patriotism, and in public spirit of the other half, and in some respects its superior, utterly denied all share in the direction and control of the government which bears alike upon all parts of society. Ought we to deprive ourselves of the powerful influence to be derived from the participation in the government of one-half of our people?
I shall not make an argument in favor of woman's suffrage. It will work its way without any help from me or others, and in spite of opposition, from whomsoever it may come. I will merely give briefly some of the
reasons that have been debated pro and con.
1. The objection is made that the enfranchisement of the women is unnecessary, because every woman can vote thru her husband. This cannot be true. Who casts the vote for the drunkard's wife? Then there are a large number of women who are either widows or have never cared to marry who casts their vote? There are 9,000,000 unmarried women in this country. There are 8,000,000 of unmarried men in the United States. What woman's views does each of them express? If the supposed "Indirect influence" of married women is legitimate why should it not be expressed directly by the ballot?
2. It has been urged that the ballot is a substitute for physical force. And that each ballot represents a musket. But half of the soldiers in every war are under 21 and are not voters. Few soldiers are over 35, but all adult males are voters. The argument that voters are substitutes for muskets is therefore untenable. Besides, if men bear arms, the women raise the men, and train them to be brave and patriotic. The women do their full duty to their country thereby.
3. Another argument is that women should employ themselves with their home duties and the raising of their children. It will hardly interfere much with these duties for a woman to take an hour off once every two years to record her opinion by dropping her ticket in the ballot box. Are they so overworked that they cannot be spared that much time? If so, they need the ballot. We know that the churches are largely kept up and maintained by the activity of the women, who constitute two-thirds or more of church membership. This does not interfere with their home duties.
4. It is said that women ought not to go into the filth and mire of politics. If there is filth and mire in politics, it is due entirely to the men, who so far have had sole charge of it. It is time that the women had taken a hand and given us a political house-cleaning, as they did in Seattle, and other places.
Wherever woman's suffrage has been tried it has broadened and benefited the women and the suffrage has been benefited by them.
5. It is said that women have no experience in electoral matters. But when a boy becomes 21 he has no experience, yet he is admitted at once to the suffrage. When his sister becomes 21 she has had exactly the same opportunities and the same lack of experience. Why should there be any discrimination?
6. It is stated as an objection to women's suffrage that our negro cooks could vote. As much and no more than the cook's husband can. And I have not yet heard it asserted that white men should not vote because the negro might. If the negro cannot vote, neither will his wife. If he does vote, we ought not therefore to disfranchise white men to get rid of him. Nor should we disfranchise white women to keep their cooks from voting.
7. Then there is the outworn argument that we should put woman on a pedestal. Has any one ever seen it done? "When Knighthood was in Flower" the sisters were often put in convents that their brothers might have the estates to squander in brutal and licentious pleasures. Whenever the law has been administered solely by men, there has been gross discrimination against women. As some poet has well said, "Man to man so oft unjust, is always so to woman." Indeed, Lord Coke, the bright particular star of the common law, in speaking of one instance in which the law discriminated most unjustly against women, uses this expression, "Herein the common law shaketh hands with divinitie." He had doubtless just lost out in some debate with his beautiful but eloquent wife.
8. One great motive that is urging on suffrage for women is the demand of "equal pay for equal service." Justice demands this, but it has not been and never will be granted except where women can make their influence felt by the ballot.
In every land, civilization has been measured by the status of women. Among barbarians, they are beasts of burden. Among the semi-civilized, they are secluded; and among the fanatic followers of the fiery prophet of Mecca embracing nearly one-third of the people of the globe, it is held that they have no souls. If the same belief were entertained among us our churches would soon go to ruin.
The average man is thoroughly imbued with the idea of his superiority to women. There is nothing to base it upon except superiority of brute force, and not always that. It is due most largely to the fact that it was not spanked out of them by their mothers when they were little. In the language of Scripture, "If You bray him in a mortar, yet will not his folly depart from him." Even good men are obsessed by it. Matthew and Mark, the evangelists, in speaking of the mother of the apostles James and John, do not name her, but in quite a superior manner refer to her as the "mother of Zebedee's children." What she did is remembered to this day. But what did Zebedee do that his name should come sounding down to us across the centuries above the wreck of empires and the crash of dynasties? I would like to know that woman's name. She stood for something. I never did care a fig for Zebedee.
Then there is Augustine, a really great man whom some call St. Augustine, as if a
man could be a saint. He owed everything to the training of his mother, St. Monica, who was truly a saint and a great woman, but even he speaks of women as "a necessary evil, an agreeable calamity." I do not like to talk slang, but when a man speaks of women in that way I think he is "biggety," if he is a saint.
They call you "the weaker sex." But you will remember that in Luke (ch. xiv, v. 17-20), when invitations were sent out to supper, "They all, with one consent began to make excuse." One said he had bought a piece of ground and must go and see it, and he prayed to be excused. Another said he had bought 5 yoke of oxen, that he must prove them, and therefore he prayed to be excused; but another said: "I have married a wife, and therefore I
cannot come." So you see that there is Scripture that a wife is stronger than 5 yoke of oxen.
Thoughtful men everywhere are beginning to believe that the exclusion of the intelligence, public spirit, and patriotism of one-half of our people from a share in the Government is a great injury and a serious detriment to progress. We must recall, as one qualification for equal suffrage, that criminal statistics show that criminals are five times more numerous among men and that the proportion of women criminals is smaller still where they have property rights, suffrage, and equal pay.
No argument has yet been used against the admission of women to the suffrage that is not based upon one of two grounds. Either it is based on the fears of bad men, who know that the ballots of women will abolish the abuses by which they live and profit, or it is based on the opposition of good men, who are by nature opposed to any change in anything. These last do not realize that the world turns completely over in every twenty-four hours.
There are those who think that they have exhausted ridicule and destroyed all claim of women to any rights by speaking of them and their friends as "long-haired men and short-haired women." I am sure that none of these slanderers will be atrocious enough to call
me a "long-haired man." And as to "shorthaired women," I would recall that at the siege of Saguntum, at the siege of Carthage, at the siege of Tyre, and many another, the women cut off their long, beautiful tresses to make bowstrings to speed the arrows which saved their city and their country. Your sex has never been wanting in devotion to country and to public duty. And as to courage and fidelity--
"Not she with trait'rous kiss her Savior stung,
Not she denied Him with unholy tongue;
She, when apostles fled, could dangers brave,
Last at the cross, and first at the grave."
The common law esteemed her a slave, but as was said of Epictetus, the philosopher, "He was oppressed, and a slave, but dear to the immortals."
When the evolution began which will give women just and equal rights of property and person, the opposition was as fierce, and prophecies of evil to come therefrom were as dreadful as those which are now made in regard to their admission to the suffrage. A writer of that day, answering this argument, said: "We read in Gibbon that, 'After the edicts of Theodosius had severely prohibited the sacrifices of the pagans, they were still tolerated in the city and temple of Serapis; and this singular indulgence was imprudently ascribed to the superstitious terrors of Christians themselves, as if they feared to abolish those ancient rites which could alone secure the inundations of the Nile, the harvests and the subsistence of Constantinople. But the temple
was at last destroyed and the statue of Serapis was involved in ruin. It was confidently affirmed that if any impious hand should dare to violate the majesty of the god, the heavens and the earth would instantly return to their original chaos. An intrepid soldier, animated with zeal and armed with a heavy battle-axe, ascended the ladder; and even the Christian multitude expected, with some anxiety the event of the combat. He aimed a vigorous stroke against the cheek of Serapis; the cheek fell to the ground; the thunder was still silent, and both the heavens and the earth continued to preserve their accustomed order and tranquility. The victorious soldier repeated his blows; the huge idol was overthrown and broken in pieces; and the limbs of Serapis were ignominiously dragged thru the streets of Alexandria.' The law of the status of woman is the last vestige of slavery. Upon their subjection, it has been thought, rests the basis of society; disturb that, and society crumbles into ruins. By the married woman's property acts, the first blow has been struck. The cheek of the idol has fallen to the ground; the thunder is silent, and the earth preserves its accustomed tranquility. The huge idol will sooner or later be broken in pieces."
The movement for the equality of women is as irresistible as the tides which the followers of Canute endeavored to stay with words. The reasoning of a woman who opposes it reminds one of the woman at Marble Head, whose relatives were engaged in the whale oil business and who opposed the introduction of gas by saying, "What will become of the poor whales?"
We cannot envy any man who deems that his mother, his wife, and his daughter are inferior to himself. With some men, it may be truly said that they are not subject to this reproach, but it is with them mostly the inertia of ideas. History shows few great, or good, men who did not greatly owe their success to their mothers or their wives.
Some one has quaintly said that when woman was formed she was not taken from the head of the man, lest she rule over him, nor from his feet, lest he trample upon her, but from his side, that she might be his equal.
Those who see the beginning of a revolution do not always recognize that they are already in the midst of one. When in
1830 Charles X. of France issued his Ordonnances he expected some slight opposition, and removed his court to the Palace of St. Cloud on the edge of Paris. When the resistance became decided and the discharge of cannon shook the palace windows, he remarked to a former marshal of Napoleon who stood on the lawn beneath him: "Why, this is a revolt!" The veteran whose trained ear had caught the regular roll of musketry which showed that troops of the line had gone over to the people, replied: "Your Majesty, it is not a revolt; it is a Revolution." Before sunrise the last of the Bourbons was on his way to the frontiers and that long exile from which the dynasty has never returned.
Those who have observed closely the management of the movement for women's rights which is going on all around the world have noted the method and consummate skill with which it is being handled. It is no longer in the hands of mere enthusiasts but it is being managed with ability and skill, and with a success that no temporary check can defeat.
Among savage tribes the club of the husband was logical. And under the common law so was the lash, because women being kept in ignorance and deprived of property rights could be thus governed. But when they were educated and given the right to own property these things became illogical and impossible. The men of former days were well aware of this, and they showed much more judgement in opposing the conferring of property rights and education upon women than do the men of this day who oppose giving them the suffrage. The first schools for women in this country are not much over a hundred years old. And the first woman's college was established by Mrs. Emma Willard in 1821. Those who will turn to the literature of that day will see that the opposition to the education of women was as violent, as much ridicule was used and as many prophecies of evil to come, as are now employed against giving them the suffrage. When education was followed by the gradual bestowal of property rights and the abolition of the husband's right to chastise and imprison his wife, exactly the same arguments were used with exactly the same foolish talk of putting women on pedestals and the like.
Under the old system a woman above the grade of a day laborer had only two careers open to her--marriage or needlework. Now in North Carolina we have women lawyers, and bank presidents, doctors, preachers, teachers, journalists, clerks, college presidents, and everything else. In the Union there are now 3,000 women lawyers, 4,000 women preachers, and as many women doctors; 3,000 journalists, and indeed they fill every vocation. For some vocations they are better adapted than men. For others men are better fitted, but the choice of a vocation should be freely left to every woman, as well as to every man, to be determined by the individual, and success therein should depend upon merit and not be arbitrarily decided by the accident of sex or birth. If a woman can make a good poem, a good speech, or a good song, she should be free to do so, and the world should not be deprived of the benefit.
Notwithstanding the boasted chivalry of the Southern States, they were the slowest to give women freedom from the husband's lash or their property rights. And they now are the last to give them that right of suffrage to which their intelligence and patriotism entitle them. In Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma they have the right to vote in school elections and on assessments of taxes and the issue of bonds. In Arizona they have full suffrage. In some of the other Southern States they are trustees on school boards.
The "rights of women" may be well summed up as follows: Equal pay for equal services; equality of property rights, so that a wife may have the same control over her property as her single sister or her husband; the repeal of all judicial decisions that give the husband the right to chastise or imprison her, which give him more control over her than she has over him; equality of right in the custody of children and in the appointment of guardians; the same grounds of divorce for wife as for husband; and finally, all equal share in the conduct of the Government by the equal right to the ballot in the selection of officers or in taxing her property, and equality of right to hold office. There is nothing wrong in demanding equality in these matters. Now that women are educated and hold property, equality of right to the suffrage and to hold office cannot long
be denied them. In states where women have the right of suffrage equality of pay for equal services and regard for her wishes in the conduct of the Government are maintained. Women will rarely desire to hold office, but it is insulting to be held by law unfit for it.
The most powerful weapon of the great Napoleon was not his artillery, but his declaration that his Government stood for the principle of "an avenue open to merit without distinction of birth." This kept the Bourbons out for 25 years. In our country, certainly, we should call to the aid of the Government and of our civilization every power of the intellect and proclaim "an avenue open to merit without distinction of sex."
The vote of the women, if cast solidly, can already decide a Presidential election, or the balance of power in Congress, both in the Senate and House. Their demand for votes has passed the stage of ridicule. One great National Party has already placed a demand for equal suffrage in its platform and the Chairman of the Senate Committee states that his committee will report favorably the constitutional amendment to confer the suffrage. There is a stronger sentiment for it, even in North Carolina, than politicians dream, or you yourselves may be aware of. I claim no special sources of information, but I have some knowledge of human nature. I know that those who have mental capacity equal to others will not be, and are not, satisfied to be deprived of equal opportunities and equal compensation. I know that this is a world movement, and that the same reasons and influences which are driving it on everywhere else will operate here.
The effect of the ballot has been shown recently in the Washington incident, when the women made their march the day before the Inauguration down Pennsylvania Avenue. At the instance of the liquor interests and the vice trust, all the roughs and hoodlums of the town were collected to break up the march. The police, which in large cities are usually in league with these Interests, thought it great fun, and were much amused at the outrage; but they have not laughed since. The members of Congress and Senators from 9 states were dependent upon the women's votes, and there were several other states in which
constitutional amendments to give them the suffrage are pending. Besides, the sense of decency of the public was roused at the outrage, with the result of an investigation, and in a march the women have since made, in that city, they have been treated with as much respect as the President himself.
Col. Henry Watterson gives an interesting account of the first occasion when an advocate of Woman's Suffrage appeared before a Democratic National Convention. He had been elected president of that body, in 1876 at St. Louis, where Tilden and Hendricks were nominated. A committee asked him to permit a lady to appear before the Convention to ask for the insertion of a plank favoring equal suffrage. He told them it would create a big row, but he was a Kentucky gentleman and did not know how to refuse a lady anything, and said he would do his best. During a lull in the Proceedings, he sent a committee out to bring Miss Cousens, the representative of the movement, to the platform. He told the Convention what he had done. Immediately there was tumult all over the hall, for the idea of Woman's Suffrage was then new, and he said he thought they would take him out of the chair by force. Just then he saw the committee coming down the aisle with the lady at their head. He says that to his intense relief at a glance he saw that she was a beauty and dressed to kill. As she rose the platform and faced the audience, the tumult immediately ceased and there was a buzz of admiration, except one man immediately in front, who yelled at the top of his voice, "Point of order, Mr. Chairman! point of order." Raising his gavel as if about to throw it at him, he shouted, "Sit down
thar! There is no point of order when a lady has the floor." The Convention cheered, and the man subsided. When Miss Cousens concluded, she had an ovation. From that day to this no request of that kind has been denied by any National Convention. Indeed, at least one National party (Progressive) has put a demand for "Equal Suffrage" in its platform, and if the Prohibition Party has not done the same, it is very ungrateful.
We may well say of this movement for equality of rights, as Curran, the impassioned orator of Ireland, when he thrilled his audience, by declaring that he looked forward to the time when
he would see his country, in all its majesty and loveliness, "redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled by the irresistible might of universal emancipation."
After the defeat at Cunaxa, the Greek contingent, deprived of their generals, found themselves in the midst of the Persian empire surrounded by millions of their enemies. Like brave men, they determined not to surrender, but to cut their way out. They could not return over the long route by which they had come, and set out across the mountains to find the nearest sea by which they could return to Greece. After weeks of daily battles, the head of the column, led by Xenophon, climbing the mountains of Kurdistan, caught sight of the wide waste of waters which would bear them back to Argos, to Athens and to Sparta. They shouted "
Thalatta! Thalatta!"--"The sea! The sea!" The, cry rolled back down the mountain along the struggling columns, cheering the weak, the weary, and the wounded with the hope of home, at last. The women have made a brave and gallant fight, not only for justice to themselves, but, in their unselfishness, for justice and salvation for the little children and for justice to all the poor and oppressed. Your advancing columns have caught sight of that immortal sea of justice which enwraps the globe, and you have seen glimmering upon it, in ever-broadening circles of light, the rosy auroras of the coming dawn, for all mankind, of a brighter and a happier day.