Do Women Want the Vote?

“Suffrage should win on its merits or not at all.”


When the honest voters of his district elected him to represent them in the state senate, he had some idea of what might be expected of him. He had served in the legislature before. When he announced his candidacy and published his platform, however, he had not anticipated that woman suffrage would be an issue. The equal-suffrage advocates had been overwhelmingly defeated two years before when the suffrage question had been submitted to the voters of the state by means of a referendum. He knew that most suffragists were determined, persistent women who thoroughly believed in their cause and meant to win. He should have known that they would keep the suffrage question an issue until they did win. Had he been wiser, he would have realized that women’s ‘rights’ were becoming more and more important politically, and were already a most vital issue. Not only in many states, but in Congress as well, suffragists were playing a most prominent part. Sooner or later practically every legislator in ever state, every member of Congress, and almost every voter in the United States would be called upon to take a stand on the equal suffrage question.

Our legislator soon discovered his mistake. Nowadays a candidate for political office has no chance to remain deceived on the suffrage question. Our embryo statesman meant to do what was right. He did not like to oppose women. He had always believed that if a majority of women wanted the ballot they should have it; but he did not know that a majority of them did want it. How could he find out? Practically all women who said anything to him about suffrage wanted to vote. They told him so in no uncertain terms. Probably a majority of the voters in his district were opposed to equal suffrage, however. Two years before they had voted against suffrage very decisively. Perhaps public sentiment on the suffrage question had changed since then, but presumably there had been no change, if no evidence were brought to prove it. He saw very plainly that the suffrage problem would be a difficult one for him. What was he to do?

He did not have to be told the easiest course for him to pursue. That would be to vote on this question as a majority of his constituents had voted. But should he take the ‘easiest way’? He knew that when questions of right and wrong were involved, strong men did not suppress their convictions—even to please their constituents. Perhaps he was not a strong man, but he did not want to be a weak one. He had always believed it to be the duty of a legislator to keep in close touch with his constituents, to seek the help of their advice and the benefit of their judgment, and to give their interests preference over his own. He also believed just as firmly, however, that it was a legislator’s duty to realize that he was elected to make laws, not only for his own district, but for the whole state as well; and to remember too that he owed it to all for whom he must so legislate, to use his best judgment for their welfare and to be something more than a mere reflector of opinions—even of the opinions of those to whom he might owe the position which made his judgment important.

The next legislature would be asked to submit another suffrage referendum to the people. Legislators would be judged to be for, or against, equal suffrage, as they voted on this proposed referendum. Its passage would be demanded, not because there were more or better arguments in favor of equal suffrage now than there had been two years before, and not that there were any indications that the result of another popular vote would be different; but simply because suffragists wanted the vote and proposed to keep up an untiring and never-ceasing agitation in favor of what they wanted until they got it. If they could not convince the opposition, they meant to tire it out.

Without regard to the merits of equal suffrage, he could not help feeling that the legislature should not permit the state to be subjected to the annoyance and uncertainty of these proposed repeated referendums, without first being shown at least some substantial evidence to warrant the belief that public sentiment had materially changed since the previous election. The suffragists had no right to ask the coöperation of the legislature in attempts to win a suffrage victory by coercion and agitation. Surely continual agitation was not in and of itself fair argument. Suffrage should win on its merits or not at all.

Our would-be statesman had often been warned that equal suffrage would win eventually, and that therefore, as a matter of policy, it would be well for him to give it his support. He thought that that consideration should have no bearing in helping him to determine his duty, however. Certainly he could not support a cause any more conscientiously simply because he thought it would win.

While a member of the legislature before, he had known several suffrage lobbyists. They had given members a great deal of attention. He remembered their persistent ways. Some had been very emphatic in expressing their opinions. Many had been quite intolerant of any ideas entertained by those who differed with them. He knew that most suffragists were good, earnest, conscientious, public-spirited women, who wanted to vote only because of the greater opportunities for doing good that they thought the ballot would give them. He wished all of them could be more charitable toward the opinions of those who did not always agree with them.

Our law-maker had met female-suffrage advocates who could see no good in any man opposed to equal suffrage, and who apparently looked upon man as woman’s natural enemy—unsympathetic to her interests, unfair to her in matters of legislation, and woefully lacking in all humanitarian instincts. Such women seemed to feel antagonistic toward men as a class, and no doubt would consider any suffrage gain a victory over men. He did not admire this type of woman very much, but he realized fully that allowances should be made for them and that he should not allow their prejudices to influence him to be unfair toward them or their cause.

His mother was a suffragist. She was not the shy, timid, modest, retiring kind either. Fortunately, however, she was one of that rarer variety who do not take even their own opinions too seriously. He was very fond of his mother and very proud of her. He knew that her ideas were generally sound and well worth listening to. She often said that her women friends needed something worth while to do more than they needed the ballot. She doubted if woman suffrage would result in better government. She did not want to vote. In her opinion, however, all mature people, without regard to sex or color, education or intelligence, taxation or property rights, or any other qualification than that of citizenship, who contributed to support government and gave up part of their personal liberty to conform to government rules and regulations, were entitled to an equal share in the management of government business. She firmly believed that, as a matter of simple justice, women should be given the ballot on an equality with men. She maintained that suffrage was ‘right’ to which every woman was entitled, and that those women who wanted suffrage were justified in demanding their ‘rights.’ Whether or not other women wanted suffrage—or ‘rights’—had no bearing on the question.

Our friend had great respect for her mother’s opinions, but would have preferred not to discuss them with her. Experience had taught him that the suffrage question was an extremely difficult subject for men and women to discuss together. In all such discussions, sooner or later the relative merits of the two sexes were almost invariably brought up for debate, and disagreeable comparisons generally followed. He had learned that suffrage arguments between men and women were to be avoided, if possible.


But, try as hard as he might, our well-meaning state senator could not always avoid suffrage arguments with women. Believing as he did that women should not have the ballot until a majority of them wanted it, the question that interested him particularly was whether or not most women really did want it. He found that very few equal suffrage advocates were interested in this question, however. In his discussions with them, they generally argued that suffragists should be given the ballot even if most women were opposed to it.

To present his point of view, he often tried to question those who differed with him: —

‘Are suffragists in the majority?’

‘Don’t you think women who are opposed to equal suffrage have “rights”?’

‘Is not suffrage a duty and a responsibility as well as a “right”?’

‘Are you fair in trying to force duties and responsibilities upon all women, without regard to whether or not they want them, in order to secure “rights” for suffragists?’

‘Don’t you think the “rights” of all women should be considered in the determination of so important a question as their enfranchisement? or do you think anti-suffragists should be disfranchised on the question of enfranchisement?’

‘If women are well enough informed to exercise the right of suffrage, are they not sufficiently intelligent to decide for themselves whether or not they want suffrage?’

Our inquiring young legislator liked to ask questions of others, but one day one of his mother’s friends asked him a question.

She said: ‘The government of this country is the business of its citizens, each holding just one share of stock. I know I am counted a stockholder, for I am called upon to help pay the bills. The men of the country will not permit me and other women to vote our stock. They do not even allow us to vote by proxy as no one has more than one vote. You are a business man and a stockholder in this business. I don’t think you or any other business man should say that I cannot vote my stock because I am a woman, or because many other women stockholders do not care enough about the business to vote their stock. How would you and your friends in the legislature like to be compelled to support a business run with such a lack of principle?’

Well, our legislator was staggered! He was flabbergasted!

Could all his fine theories be exploded by one plain simple question? Had not his mother’s friend presented a strong case? Were not her premises correct? Was not her reasoning logical? Could there be more than one conclusion? He had to admit that he was quite overwhelmed. At first thought her question certainly seemed unanswerable, except in one way. He must take time and think it over. Perhaps he ought to state the hypothesis in his own way and see if he arrived at the same conclusion.

‘We are all stockholders in a public business called “government,” but we have never been equal stockholders so far as voting our sock is concerned. All stock is evenly divided into two kinds—common and preferred. You and other women have always owned all the preferred stock, and have had no opportunity to take part in the management of the business except in an advisory capacity. Other men and I have always owned all the common stock and managed the business for what we believed to be the best interests of all stockholders, preferred as well as common.

‘In order to permit you women to take an active part in running the business, would it be right for us to force all women—very much against the wishes of a majority of them perhaps—to exchange their preferred stock for common stock and in that way be compelled either to become active themselves in the management of the business, or to intrust their interests partly to you?

‘Would not we common stockholders be fairer to you preferred stockholders, if we said to you: “You may decide for yourselves whether you want to leave the business of running this government to us or prefer to take an active part in its management. We will abide by your decision. If most of you want the right to vote, all well and good, you may have it; but if a majority of you do not want a change in government management, we will not let a minority force it upon you.’

Our young friend felt relieved. He had discovered the flaw in the lady’s argument. At first, her question had seemed fairly to represent the situation and to knock all his theories in the head. He now saw plainly, however, that in her hypothesis she had failed to consider the interests of those women who did not want to be forced to take an active part in public business in order to protect their own interests, and who also did not want to have their business managed, even in part, by other women.

Our representative finally decided that the only way he could determine for himself whether or not women should be given the ballot was to submit the question to the women themselves. He resolved to find out, if possible, what proportion of the women living in his own district wanted equal suffrage. He was sure his women constituents were no less intelligent and well informed on the suffrage question than were the women of any other district in the commonwealth. If there proved to have been a decided change of sentiment throughout his district in favor of suffrage since the referendum vote of two years before, there would probably have been a proportionate change throughout the state. If a majority of the women in his district desired equal suffrage, very likely a majority in the state would favor it. For fear the women of his district were more intelligent and well informed than the average, however, and therefore, that a poll of his district would not prove a fair test of suffrage sentiment elsewhere, he finally interested other members of the legislature and induced some of them to agree that, if he would take a poll of women in his district, they would do likewise in their respective districts located in different parts of the state.

How to make a fair test was another problem. Our legislator was determined that, above every other consideration, his poll should be fair. He realized that, because of the expense involved, he could not afford to poll all of his district. He finally decided to canvass half of it, selecting such parts of each city, village, and country town as he thought would be most representative. But, being puzzled to know just how to make his canvass, he sought advice. A variety of suggestions was received. Most of them were manifestly impractical, and few of them appeared unbiased.

One suffrage advocate advised him to poll only schoolteachers, librarians, and other educated women. It seemed to her that a general poll of women, including ‘uninformed and indifferent working girls’ and ‘home-bodies,’ would not be a fair test.

A very prominent suffragist living in a large city told him: ‘The only fair method of taking a test vote would be to visit every house in the district selected, carefully explain to each woman the advantages of woman suffrage, and hand her a ballot with the rest that she mark it, voting “yes” if not opposed, and “no,” of course, if opposed.’ The prominent suffragist said that she herself had taken many test votes in this manner and found results ‘most satisfactory.’

What our inquisitive friend wanted, however, was a record of the equal-suffrage sentiment then prevailing throughout his whole district; not a selected test of such sentiment, or a test of general sentiment as it might be after arguments on one side had been presented. He made up his mind to have some ballots printed and to take his poll in his own way.

After he started his canvass, I did not see him for many days, but I heard of him frequently. One day I saw a young lady, who did not look as if she would hurt any one, approach our good old German housekeeper, who was busily hanging out the family washing, and offer her a slip of paper.

There was a short pause; then a mouth full of clothespins sputtered, ‘Ach! Gott in Himmel! I got no time for such foolishness!’

I was puzzled, but finally guessed the reason for so much vehemence. The stranger was one of our legislator’s suffrage canvassers. She looked tired, and graciously accepted my invitation to come in.

Her little ballots were plainly printed and read that members of the legislature wanted to know whether or not women wanted the vote. Women were asked to take the ballots somewhere where they could be alone, mark them with a cross (x) to indicate whether or not they were in favor of equal suffrage, fold them so that their vote could not be seen, and deposit them in the ballot bag carried by the collector.

The modest young canvasser said there were other ballots to be sent by mail to women of different nationalities living in the country districts. These ballots were worded in very much the same way, but printed in different colors—one color for each nationality. She thought her employer was curious to know if nationality made any difference if suffrage sentiment.

I asked her if she were a suffragist. She said she could not tell me. Neither could she discuss suffrage nor tell how my vote was going. She had been instructed to be very careful, in talking with women, not to give any advice or information that might influence a vote. Most of the ballots were folded before being handed back to her, and she seldom looked to see how they were marked. She was expected to visit every house in the districts assigned to her. Practically every woman she saw voted, almost always without hesitation. She understood that both men and women were employed as canvassers and that half of them had been selected because they favored equal suffrage and half because they were opposed to it. None of them were allowed to inform any one how the stood. She thought there were many canvassers. Most of them were employed calling from home to house in different cities and villages, while others were taking polls in factories, stores, offices, libraries, and schools. Her employer had said he intended to secure as many votes as possible before his canvass became advertised, so that he might get a fair, impartial vote before any one interested attempted to influence the voters.

I did not think that she looked either part, but the young canvasser though that many people judged her to be either a ‘suffragette,’ or employed by the ‘liquor interests.’ A large number of women had told her they were interested in suffrage only because of the liquor question. Many wanted the ballot for just one reason—to close up saloons. It made no difference to her how women voted or why they voted one way or another. The man soliciting in the ward with her was an experienced canvasser. He had told her that he always put his foot in a front door as soon as it was opened, to prevent its being slammed in his face before he could explain his business. She would like to visit longer, but her employer expected her to work. Perhaps she had stayed too long. Some boys outside had followed her, calling her ‘suffering cat.’ She had been hoping they would go.

The same day the newspapers began to take notice of our legislator’s canvass. News articles appeared, telling about ‘mysterious strangers seen canvassing different parts to the city and many other places.’ Because officers of the ‘Equal Suffrage League’ knew nothing about it, prominent suffragists were inclined to believe that ‘interests inimical to the cause of suffrage, probably the liquor people,’ were back of the poll.

Next day our law-maker was interviewed. He attempted to explain the mystery, but no explanation was satisfactory or acceptable. There must be something ‘crooked’ about the canvass, because leading suffragists had not been consulted. It was inconceivable that a fair poll could be taken by any one outside of equal-suffrage organizations. One suffragist said that she had stayed at home for three days (something she had never been known to do before) for fear the canvassers would miss her, but she had not been called upon. Another had ‘called up fourteen prominent advocates of suffrage and not one of them had been asked to vote by the mysterious canvassers.’ Others had told the canvassers at just what houses they should call to get suffragist votes, but many of these calls had not been made. Surely the liquor people were back of it. ‘Mysterious strangers should not adopt dark, mysterious methods!’


I had not seen my friend the legislator for so long a time that I began to think he must be in hiding, when one day I met him coming out of a large office building. He seemed pleased to see me, and said he was ‘glad to meet a friend.’ He had been home for days counting ballots. There were thousands of them, and he had counted them all himself. His telephone had rung so incessantly that he was glad to leave home occasionally. His mail had grown enormously. The offices he had just visited had been canvassed twice, as sixty-one young women employed there had managed to vote eighty-two times in the first poll. He knew of no other instances, however, where the ballot-box had been ‘stuffed.’ He thought probably some one had been trying to place a ‘practical’ joke. At that particular place, a telephone exchange, he had been obliged to leave the ballots to be called for later on, after they had been marked. In every other case, his canvassers had passed the ballots around and then taken them up immediately. He was very much pleased with the success he had had in taking a fair poll. He felt sure no fairer test could be made of the sentiment of the women of his district on the suffrage question. Many thousand ballots had been cast. With very few exceptions, probably less than two per cent, every woman solicited had responded to the invitation to vote. The few women called upon who had seemed in doubt and undecided which way to vote had not been encouraged to vote at all; but there had been very few who were not ready to vote promptly.

His ballots had been distributed in his own ward first. Most of the women living in his ward were the wives of workingmen. They had voted against equal suffrage four to one.

Another workingmen’s ward had voted the same way. Two others had opposed suffrage three to one.

He had next canvassed a ward where he thought the residents were more representative of all classes. In this ward homes ranged in value from two hundred dollars to as high as twenty thousand dollars and more. Two thirds of the vote in this ward had been ‘no.’

A majority of the men living in the seventh ward had voted in favor of suffrage two years before. A careful canvass indicated that their women were now opposed to suffrage by a small majority.

In the thirteenth ward, the largest in the city, almost eight hundred workingmen’s wives had marked ballots. Seven out of eight had not wanted women to vote.

He had polled in all six and one half of the thirteen wards in his city. Only one fourth of the three thousand women called upon in these wards had voted ‘yes.’

At first he had thought that perhaps the result would be different when he polled the women whom his canvassers had not found at home—the working women in factories, stores, schools, and other places.

Most teachers, older scholars, librarians, nurses, and dressmakers had voted ‘yes.’ A large majority of bookkeepers, stenographers, clerks, factory girls, and hotel employees had voted ‘no.’

In the other two cities in his district, the vote had been practically the same. About seven women out of ten did not want the ballot.

There were two villages that had shown strong equal-suffrage sentiment two years before. The suffragists in these villages had almost won in his poll, but in each case a very small majority of women had been opposed.

Not a single ward, city, or village in his district had returned a majority for suffrage.

He had found the rural districts almost as strongly opposed to women voting as the cities had been. Thirteen out of sixteen country towns had voted ‘no.’

In these country towns he had mailed different colored ballots to different nationalities. Three fourths of the German women answering had voted ‘no.’ The Irish had voted ‘no.’ A close majority of the Scandinavians and English and most of the Welsh had voted ‘yes.’

In all he had polled almost eight thousand votes. The results indicated that fully two thirds of all the women in his district were opposed to suffrage. The referendum on suffrage two years before had shown almost exactly the same proportion of men opposed to giving women the ballot. Evidently there were no indications of a gain in suffrage sentiment in his district.

The other members of the legislature who had promised to poll their districts did not do so. He thought that they had refrained, either because they did not want to incur the expense, or did not want to agree to abide by the results. In the absence of any other test, he must assume the suffrage sentiment in his district to be a fair indication of suffrage strength throughout his state.

* * *

Just before the equal-suffrage measures introduced in the state legislature came up for consideration, our representative called upon me. He was in trouble. His mother had written him a letter asking him to support equal suffrage. She said it would settle the liquor problem. She was visiting in a western state where women had the ballot. He did not like to disappoint his mother. Her letter read: —

My Dear Boy: —

What an opportunity you now have as a state senator to make our state a cleaner and better home for its citizens.

Your first privilege will be to help women to secure the ballot. I am so sure of your absolute integrity and high sense of honor that I feel certain you will not deny women justice.

My western visit has made me a real ‘votes for women’ enthusiast. The ballot has already done wonders for women in the west, and these recently enfranchised western women are accomplishing so much in return.

Every western man I have met tells me he is glad to have women vote. Even those who were most opposed to equal suffrage have become converted. Men out here seem to believe in women, and the women are showing themselves to be worthy of this trust.

After fifty years of saloon politics under man rule in Oregon and Washington, the women of these states have stepped in with their new untried weapons, women’s votes, and banished ‘demon rum’ from the country. Men in politics in the east are afraid to vote against saloons, but in these western suffrage states men no longer fear the liquor vote. They know that women’s votes count more than saloon votes.

In civilization there is no room for the saloon. Women realize this more than men, perhaps, because women suffer more from the effects of liquor than do men, while their judgment is not prejudiced by a taste for it. Women know that absolute prohibition is the only permanent solution of the liquor problem.

I wish we could rid our state of saloons, but I am sure this can never be done until women are given the ballot. My faith in you is so great that I am sure you will vote for woman suffrage, for you must choose between the two, equal suffrage and saloons. I know my boy could not align himself with the saloon.

Your loving

I was interested to know how our state senator would answer his mother. He finally wrote her in part: —

You will not agree with me, mother, but I believe no one should support equal suffrage because of the liquor problem

In our state, as well as in others, the equal-suffrage movement is linked with the prohibition movement. Most suffragists are opposed to saloons. Many are suffragists only because of saloons. They want women to have the ballot only to bring about prohibition.

In my opinion the liquor problem is of minor importance in comparison with the suffrage question. Whether or not women vote, it is generally admitted that the liquor problem will be permanently solved in the course of time by laws that will have public sentiment back of them to make them enforceable. On the other hand, equal suffrage is for all time. When suffrage for women is once granted, it is an irrevocable step. How unfortunate it would be to take an irrevocable step for a reason that will no longer exist after a comparatively short time.

Friends of good government should consider the advisability of equal suffrage entirely aside from any effect women’s votes might have on the liquor business. If equal suffrage ought not to be granted for other reasons than because of its effect on the saloon business, then it ought not to be granted at all, for the saloon question will be taken care of without women’s votes. Linking the two questions together only tends to prevent a fair, impartial judgment of each.

And, mother, if a majority of the men in our state really want saloons (as they seem to), bad as the saloon is, would we be better off to have it abolished by women? Would it be well to have most women voting against most men? Would equal suffrage bring about such a situation?

* * *

My conscientious friend opposed all equal-suffrage bills introduced in the state senate. One of these measures failed to pass by only one vote.