Shall I Run for Congress?


I HAVE been urged by a number of prominent leaders of the political party with which I have voted for the past two years to become the candidate of the party from my Congressional district. The district has been represented for the past twelve years by a gifted and popular man of the opposite party. Our politicians scent the possibility that a woman known in the district for disinterested work along civic lines might stand a better chance than a man of making a successful race.

At times, the idea of running for Congress has appealed to me strongly. When I last stood in the House of Representatives and listened to a debate, I decided that a woman used to managing women’s clubs, missionary societies, classes in college English, and household expenditures for a family of seven, could introduce an element of coherence and unity into the Congressional Record, and see that needed legislation is expeditiously put through.

Again, to-day I am mightily minded to run for Congress, because the postman has just brought into our home the usual packet of seeds from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The packets this year are augmented by a number exactly equal to the newly qualified voters in the family, information as to the increased number of these voters having evidently been conveyed to Washington. I should like to stop forever the blighted hopes and family quarrels resulting from the efforts of congressmen to remain popular with their constituents by reason of an annual gift of seeds.

I speak thus bitterly of these seeds from an experience of three years, during which I have confidingly followed the directions on the backs of the packages and sowed Congressional seeds, only to reap a harvest of family bickerings and tough vegetables. When our radishes, beets, and lettuce have reached the table, I have been in the habit of blaming my husband for not having provided fertilizer and hoes in sufficient quantities to sweeten the vegetables. I am informed that in the families of my neighbors in this rural section of Virginia the joys of spring are lessened every year by heated discussions: whether to plant the Congressional seeds or destroy them. We are of Scoteh-Irish stock and the strain on our consciences — having to put into the kitchen range seeds that cost money — throws us into a state of nervous tension almost as severe as the disappointment we experience if we put the seeds into the ground. Besides, it is impossible that family needs and gardening space should come out even with the little packets. We always have an annoying surplus of onion and lettuce seed. Does anyone ever really plant onion seeds, when onion sets can be ‘swapped’ with friends across the fence?

Too late I learned that no well-informed gardener, no matter how thrifty his heredity, plants Congressional seeds. Instead of being raised, as I had fondly supposed, under the eye of the Secretary of Agriculture, these seeds are bought by Congress from the lowest bidder, at an annual expense of about $300,000. The impressive caption — ‘ U. S. Department of Agriculture. Please report the result of your trial to this Department’ — means nothing, nothing whatever. Congress maintains no experiment station which ut ilizes the reports of gardeners who plant their seeds. No Secretary of Agriculture watches with paternal solicitude such horticultural efforts. Far from it. These seeds are sent out to obtain votes, and not to further the interests of the agricultural sections of the United States.

The sum of $300,000 spent for seeds — most of which will never be planted, and none of which ought to be allowed to usurp good soil that might be devoted to carefully selected seeds from reputable gardeners! I regard this annual expenditure with the same emotions that I should feel if our missionary societies should vote to cut salaries in the foreign field and buy Persian rugs and Jacobean chairs for the office of the General Secretary.

In addition to saving this $300,000, and enacting legislation for rural schools, and putting a few friends into post offices, I should like to be at the heart of our national life in order to measure my mental powers with those of the great statesmen of to-day. I should like to know once for all whether a middle-aged woman of mediocre ability, the mother of five children, a fairly successful teacher and housekeeper, may measure wits with the men who are running the government, and may get done the obvious things that the common people of the country want to see done.

These motives and others urge me to yield to the ‘ flattering importunities of my friends’ and to run for Congress. What restrains me? Is it that organized system of emotional complexes which we call sentiment, or is it an instinct shared with the pig and the pigeon? Whichever it be, the simple truth is that I find that I cannot leave home — the old house where my children and my mother’s children were born; the old barn made over into a garage; the small town, which is growing so fast that I no longer know half the people in it; the first call of my husband and children as they open our front door, ‘Where ’s mother?’ The countless small tyrannies of the home, the habitual trivial duties have forged for me chains of triple brass. For so many Sunday mornings have I risen early and gone into the kitchen to get breakfast, while my husband read the Sunday School lesson to me; for so many nights have I watched the children roll back the music-room drugget for a litlle dancing (it was only yesterday that I mended the bust of Beethoven which had fallen into four pieces when ‘nobody was anywhere near it’); for so many years the creative instinct, working blindly in me, has wrought a home; and now I find that I am going to give up the most dazzling opportunity of my life, because I cannot leave home — even though I am no longer greatly needed, as in the old days when I was obedient to the ‘heavenly vision.’