The American Woman and Representative Government

IN the 1880’s the youngest member elected up to that time to the Kentucky House of Representatives appeared in Frankfort with the convening of the Legislature, bringing with him his still younger bride. The wife of the Governor of the state had organized a Sunday school for the inmates of the penitentiary that winter, — the first recorded effort toward prison reform in the state thus to be credited to personal initiative, — and she sought the services of the bride as a teacher. The husband, in view of the youth of his wife, questioned the advisability of this.

‘My boy,’ said white-haired Mrs. Governor earnestly, ‘she ‘ll come to no harm with me and my convicts within the penitentiary walls; but see that she meets none of these creatures known as lobbyists, who are still on the outside!’


We women in the United States have traveled a long way from Mrs. Governor’s day to this, when a woman’s magazine heads a biographical sketch of a certain personable and charming woman in public life: ‘The Lady Who Made Lobbying Respectable.’ And this woman’s organ, it is fair to assume, feels that it has grounds for its statement, for its belief that this pursuit can be respectable, considering that there is nothing necessarily illegitimate in lobbying per se — that lobbying by no means in all cases implies the power of threat or the use of bribery.

The unfavorable view of the practice as voiced by the wife of the Kentucky Governor was, however, the prevailing one in the 80’s — this as gathered from the periodicals and the newspapers of that day, and from the constitutions and the statutes of various of the states that sought to repress it.

Mr. Bryce quotes an experienced American publicist as saying: —

In the United States, though lobbying is perfectly legitimate in theory, yet the secrecy and want of personal responsibility, the confusion and want of system in the committees, make it rapidly degenerate into a process of intrigue and fall into the hands of the worst men. It is so disagreeable and humiliating that all men shrink from it except those who are stimulated by direct personal interest; and these soon throw away all scruples. The most dangerous men are ex-members, who know how things are to be managed.

Yes; we in the 80’s, if the printed word is trustworthy, used the word ‘lobby,’ as Mr. Bryce again suggests, in a dyslogistic sense: a sense truly the opposite of eulogistic, conveying in our application of it. censure, disapproval, opprobrium, moral and ethical contempt. The word in its primary meaning, used as a caption by a cartoonist of that day, is made to carry sinister portent — Lobby: a covered way. The paragrapher, as touching the lobbyist, read into Shakespeare an innuendo ol his own: ‘If you find him not . . . you shall nose him as you go . . . into the lobby.’

As has been said, attempts were made by the states from time to time to remedy the evil; this by constitutional prohibition, by statute law, and by the force of public opinion. Lobbying was declared by California to be a felony; by Georgia to be a crime. Following California, improper lobbying has been declared a felony by Utah, Tennessee, Oregon, Montana, and Arizona, and the constitutions of practically all the states impose restrictions upon the enactment of special and private legislation. The Massachusetts anti-lobbying act (1890), which has served as model for various of the other states, is based upon the publicity principle. Counsel and other legislative agents must register with the sergeant at arms, giving their names and the character of their employment. In 1907 laws regulating lobbying were passed in nine additional states. In fact we appear popularly to have believed that lobbying should be made the object of incessant war until driven from our legislative centres.

The American woman to-day, however, — as reported, — sees the lobby in a new and a different sense; sees this Augean stable of a former day as cleansed of its abominations by the presence and the methods of her sex; or, to be exact, by the presence in the halls and chambers of legislation of representatives of that percentage of the enfranchised women of the United States who, through organization and leadership, are voice and initiative for the silent and as yet inert majority: an organized minority of, say, one third of the whole.

Mrs. Maude Wood Park, at that time President of the National League of Women Voters, says, as reported by the Woman’s News Service: —

Women have done a thing which has never been done before. They have made lobbying respectable.

In the old days, when a certain group or a certain big interest wanted a bill put through the Congress, it sent a lobbyist or two to Washington, or engaged somebody on the ground skilled at the business, to see members of the Congress and ‘persuade’ them to vote for the measure. Sometimes large sums of money were placed in their hands to use ‘where it will do most good,’ in the words of a newspaperman who testified before an investigation committee years ago. That particular person who had been ‘approached’ said he had bought himself a house with the money. Whether other sums went to build up Washington can be conjectured. It is fairly safe to say that sums contributed by interested persons did not go to orphan asylums.

In those days it would have been the direst insult to say on the floor of House or Senate that a man was voting as he had been asked to vote. Now Senators and Representatives rather pride themselves on having it known that they are voting in the way the women want them to vote.

The women’s lobby is a ‘front-door’ lobby. It works in the open and is effective by reason of the millions of women behind it. Seventeen national organizations of women have representatives in Washington who work for legislation of interest to women in general, regardless of party affiliation. They make no secret of it, for publicity is one of their three tremendous assets. The millions of voters behind them and the inherent common-sense of the bills they push are the other two.

It is a new thing, the front-door lobby, and it has given the word ‘lobbyist’ so new a meaning that the old working-undercover urgers of legislation are without a title.

They are also without a deal of their old power; for there is not nearly so much convenient darkness to work in as there used to be, and members of Congress have learned to ask a disconcerting question: ‘How many people want this? ‘

The front-door lobby has let light in. It has conveyed the idea that when a majority of the voters want a law for the general good they are entitled to have it, and that pleasing the people pays better in the long run than pleasing a few pullers of secret wires.

Conceded either way, then, that lobbying is not or is respectable, what is it that the lobby and the lobbyist are about? What is their reason for being?

Lobbying, in America, is a general term used to designate the efforts of persons who are not members of a legislative body to influence the course of legislation. In addition to the large numbers of private bills which are constantly being introduced in Congress and the various state legislatures, there are many general measures, such as proposed changes in the tariff or in the railway or banking laws, which seriously affect special interests. The people who are the most intimately concerned naturally have a right to appear before the legislature or its representative, the committee in charge of the bill, and present their side of the case. Lobbying in this sense is legitimate, and may almost be regarded as a necessity. Unfortunately, however, all lobbying is not of this innocent character. The great industrial corporations, insurance companies, and railway-traction monopolies . . . are constantly in need of legislative favors; they are also compelled to protect themselves against what are known in the slang of politics as strikes or holdups: bills introduced for the purposes of blackmail.

In order that these objects may be accomplished there are kept at Washington and at the various state capitols paid agents whose influence is so well recognized that they are popularly called ‘the third house.’ Methods of the most reprehensible kind have often been employed by them.


Since the above statement was written, defining lobbying as we in the United States knew it two or more decades ago, the ranks of the lobbyist have been increased by the agents of organized labor; of organized agriculture; of prohibitionists and antiprohibitionists; of the federated churches; of organized women; of the National Educational Association; of the professional welfare-workers and reformers, and others.

In this parlous world of ‘the third house,’ national, state, and municipal, the American woman as a factor of any appreciable moment first appeared some thirty and more years ago, this appearance being simultaneous with the nation-wide spread among the women of the United States of the organized club movement, the prohibition movement, and the suffrage movement.

To-day, as we have seen in Mrs. Park’s statement quoted, the organized American woman frankly avows herself a component factor in this ‘third house,’ seventeen national organizations of women — as Mrs. Park has told us — having authorized agents in Washington to work for their interests, and this apart from the organized women’s activities in the various state legislatures.

The American woman’s motives thus far in seeking to influence legislation have been for the most part altruistic. And it is not to attack or decry these motives, or to belittle the ends which the organized woman seeks, to say that many of her fellow citizens feel: first, that she, in her zeal for the end she seeks, overlooks the purpose and the proper limits of government; and next, that some of the measures she has helped to write into the statutes are failing of their direct object, while on the other hand they are creating unnumbered collateral evils, alarmingly increasing the official class, and unduly and unwisely burdening the taxpayer. Nor does it detract from the disinterestedness of the organized woman’s intentions, that she seems to fail to grasp the fact that no law or statute, since time and history were, has achieved its purpose unless it has had the consent of the popular will.

It seems to these fellow citizens that the organized woman is that illiberal factor in the electorate, a reactionary; and that her policy, as revealed, is ‘based on collectivism, which is liberalism’s most active and unrelenting foe,’ this definition of the reactionary of to-day being that of Nicholas Murray Butler.

Doctor Butler goes on to say: —

The liberal knows that it is not progressive but reactionary to attempt to control and make uniform by law the personal habits and conduct of men . . . that it is not progressive but reactionary to relieve by law any group of citizens. . . . The liberal abhors the constant success with legislation and with executives of these well-organized lobbies which arc now euphemistically described as pressure groups; for he knows that each , . . of these represents not the public interest but a special interest. . . . The liberal resists the building-up of a still more huge bureaucracy at Washington, with its agents, inspectors, and spies, spread out over the land at enormous cost to invade and subtract from what should be the province and responsibility of local government among a free people. . . . The liberal knows that, there is a democratic imperialism as well as a monarchical imperialism, and he resists the one as vigorously as his ancestors resisted the other.


There are those of the organized woman’s fellow citizens who even believe that she, with the persuasive power of her mass vote, has been used, has been exploited; who insist that she is the cat’s-paw which at this moment is pulling the chestnuts from the fire; and this through the same fine quality of altruism. There are those of her fellow citizens who maintain that the organized woman as a whole is unaware of the influences that centred upon her from the moment of her enfranchisement, as the instrument by which to accomplish desired ends. To instance: Representative Lester D. Volk, speaking on an Act for the creating of another Federal Bureau, which the organized women endorsed (Congressional Record, November 19, 1921), said: —

In order to maintain schools of philanthropy, to teach social work as a profession, it is necessary to obtain jobs; hence the women’s associations are led by those interested.

Senator Thomas F. Bayard, speaking in the Senate of the United States on the proposed Child Labor Amendment to the Constitution, May 31, 1924, said: —

The junior Senator from Wisconsin (Mr. Lenroot) referred to the tremendous number of very respectable organizations throughout the country which are advocating this measure. . . .

I would suggest this: that all of these organizations seem to get their information entirely from the National Child Labor Bureau; that none of them speak of their own knowledge. They all speak by secondhand knowledge, and they speak vehemently, and are very aggressive. . . .

I state this, that these good people — and most of them are ladies, and I think these organizations are for the most part ladies’ organizations — evidently had that fed to them. . . .

I have also received a number of copies of a magazine called The American Child, published by the National Child Labor Committee of New York. That committee seems to be the backbone and the clearing house for all the information gathered together and put out. I find in the number of June 1924 a table showing the vote in the House, the names of all the members of the Senate, their addresses, and the statement:

Now write to your Senators.

The Senate has not yet passed the amendment.

Write or wire your Senator.

See pages 7 and 8 for the names and addresses of all Senators.

The American women in the mass, on finding themselves enfranchised, had their moment of exaltation; had their far view of possible better results which they should bring about. I am sure of this. I say it as a fact. We had our brief moment in which we saw the ballot in woman’s hand as the spear in the hand of Ithuriel, the touch of which exposed deceit.

The American woman as represented to-day by the woman lobbyist seems, however, to differ from the man lobbyist, not in ethics, but in methods only.

One woman’s group is credited with the use during the suffrage campaign of a ‘card index of Congress’ whereby, through a tabulation of both the private and the official life of each member, the chosen representatives of the nation’s will might, wherever it was possible through intimidation based on the individual record, be bent to the will of this group.

Other groups are said — and this again according to testimony appearing in the Congressional Record — to be banded together in a so-called Washington Interlocking Lobby Dictatorship, its principle of operation being: ‘A united front, but separate organizations.’

Still another variety in woman’s lobbying at Washington is set forth in this same testimony in the Congressional Record:

American centralism and bureaucracy is frequently called ‘ Prussianism.’ They are as far apart as the poles.

Nothing could be less like the system of expert central control and direction of prewar Prussia, every department of its huge overhead in charge of scientific specialists indoctrinating the German nation in the policy of their Government, than the uncontrolled, undisciplined, unsupervised activities of a Washington Federal Bureau in charge of settlement-house workers, disseminating any propaganda they please, — socialism, pacifism, or what not, — and operating as a political machine in defiance of civil-service rules, with lobbies in Congress and state legislatures for the promotion of the Bureau’s interest.


Now the question which troubles some of us here in the United States to-day is not whether lobbying can or cannot be made respectable, but. whether we can have and do have representative government when legislation is arrived at through group coercion, be these groups who or what they may; when our laws, as made for us, are the outcome of pressure brought to bear by minorities on the lawmakers.

Can we be said to have representative government when we ourselves are lobbying against the free hand of the legislators whom we ourselves have elected? Shall the parent then seek to steal the manhood of his or her own child? How long shall a house divided against itself stand?

The new President of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs endorses and recommends to the two million women within the federation this weapon of group pressure: of group pressure against the functioning of government as accepted by these two millions of us when we asked for and received citizenship under the Constitution. Mrs. Sherman says in her first message to the federated club women of the United States, as printed in the Woman’s Home Companion, September 1924:—

Next in importance . . . comes a knowledge of power gained through federation. As an individual, however keen and earnest, the woman citizen feels powerless in the face of a local, state, or national evil which should be corrected or eradicated.

As an individual voter, she knows that her protest will carry small weight with the police department or board of education in her town, the commissioners of her county. As a member of the Woman’s Club, fifty voters strong, with perhaps a well-organized civic department, she knows her appeal carries weight because it represents a block of ballots.

Translate this idea into terms of state government and state federation, and it means juvenile protection, better management for state institutions, the sort of housekeeping through state government at which women are adept. From a federation of fifty women, you now deal with an affiliation of several thousand.

Move on from state to Federal government, and what can be done?

The Sheppard-Towner Act is the best answer to that question. Congressmen who wanted to defeat it hesitated before the demands of two million federated club women. And the General Federation, cooperating with the other organizations of women, has stood determinedly behind the Child Labor Amendment, which will free hundreds of thousands of children now enslaved to industry.

Now it may be that the majority of us women here in the United States are really convinced that our political institutions as now existing are unfitted longer to carry on government as desired by the people. It may be that the majority of us women are ready to abandon that ‘dispensation of individual liberty which the Constitution of the United States offers them,’though myself I do not believe it.

What we women cannot do, however, is make the Constitution a working agent of another, even if a desired, system. To have the one, we must first abandon or destroy the other. This because our present system of representative government is, in its essential purpose, — which purpose is the preservation of the rights of the individual and of the state through the agency of representation, — a contradiction of government by group or bloc, or by centralized bureaucratic control.

Let us women be as frank here as we are about our lobbying and our group coercion. If the majority of us are agreed against our present system in government, let us say so and get about the next step, which is to declare as frankly what we do want. But at once to ratify a system through a voluntary acceptance of citizenship under the system, and the while be boring from within to destroy what we are ratifying — this would seem to he the part of the witless, the tool, or the enemy.

Or is it — and I myself believe that it is — that we women here in the United States really have not grasped for ourselves the meaning and the purpose of representative government, the Anglo-Saxon’s great contribution to democracy?

Is it that we really have not entered into the idea — and this as a working proposition which we then can proceed upon — that in the Grecian democracies, of which our own democracy is a logical development, it was the small physical areas of the little political units which made possible the scheme of democratic government as then operating, the supreme authority resting with an assembly in which every qualified citizen gave his vote in person; whereas the same scheme of government, when it was transported to the vast-spreading Roman Empire, led to its ultimate downfall, control being centred at Rome, and leading through this centralized power to abuses, decay, and dissolution?

Is it then that we women, having failed to grasp these fundamentals in the story of modern government as we know it to-day, fail as a consequence to enter into the further idea that it is the principle of representation, as developed by the Anglo-Saxon mind out of the feudal system, that makes modern democratic government possible — a principle which, as embodied in our government here in the vast-spreading United States, we organized American women seem banded to destroy?

Representative government is only the application to government of that principle which men have found by experience to be beneficial in other important affairs of life.

Government more and more becomes a difficult and complex thing. Just as the citizen selects someone skilled in the law to represent him in a lawsuit, or someone skilled in medicine if his child is ill, so he ought to be permitted to select someone to represent him in government. The representative can, if he so desires, keep in touch with the needs and real interests of those he represents. In intelligence and character he is usually above the average of his constituency. He has the great advantage of listening in and participating in debates upon any important question of policy. He has the privilege of proposing amendment if he favors the principle of a bill but objects to its form. Therefore he has infinitely better opportunity to act intelligently and well than his constituents can possibly have. If the people are unable to select wisely from their own numbers one who will represent them honestly and faithfully, what possible chance have they to legislate wisely themselves?

Upon questions of government we all know how unsafe it is to act upon first impulses. The representative, giving all his time to the consideration of public questions, has an opportunity to correct his impressions where they are wrong. The people have not the time for the study necessary to the understanding of these questions. Hut the representative may come before the people to discuss with them the mooted question in all its bearings. He thus becomes an educative force.

The above picture, as set forth by Ex-Governor Lowden of Illinois, is representative government at its best, as Governor Lowden is himself a type of the people’s representative at its best.

It may be that we American women are better acquainted with representative government and with representatives at their worst. This is offered in defense of the woman voter throughout the forty-eight states who, only too aware of the dubious character of much of the legislative class, obeys her nearest woman leader, whose injunctions — in the words of one leader, as these appeared in a woman’s organ, and in this particular corroborating the testimony of Senator Bayard — will be: ‘Write or telegraph your Congressman; get pressure to bear on your Senator. Bring pressure to bear where pressure counts — that is, through political channels.’

Let us see how this works. A Congressman goes to Washington from, say, my state of Kentucky, representing a constituency who, from a Jeffersonian objection to centralization of government as threatening that personal liberty guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, opposed the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Bill. Mrs. Sherman, the new President of the General Federation of Woman’s Clubs, says specifically concerning this Sheppard-Towner Bill: ' Congressmen who wanted to defeat it hesitated before the demands of two million federated club women.'

How is it that federated women justify to themselves such an admission as this? Have the Constitutional rights of this district in Kentucky, through its elected and credentialed representative, no claims to respect from these two million club women who. each in turn, is given the same right to he represented in Washington through her own Congressman from Maine, or Texas, or California? Mrs. Sherman does not say that our arguments convinced these Congressmen that they were wrong, but that they were afraid to vote their sentiments in the face of two million women’s votes. We not only denied their legislative representation to these Congressmen’s constituents, but also are directly responsible for the deterioration in character in the individual Congressman.

We have here both a moral and a political crime. We are tempting the Congressman to do evil in violating his own sense of right and wrong; and we are denying to his constituents their political rights.

Mrs. Sherman, in recommending group-pressure, in theory offers us nothing new; a club of whatever nature over the head of another, as a means of persuasion to our view, was, as an argument, old when Donnybrook Fair was young.

‘Pressure to bear where pressure countsthat is, through political channels’ This would look, indeed, as if the business of politics in organized woman’s hands is to be one with tyranny: an ugly trade.

If American women are better acquainted with representative government and with representatives at their worst, will the methods of the federated women of to-day tend to raise or to lower the present standard? For the woman in Kentucky, who in her turn writes and wires and brings pressure to bear upon her own Congressman or her own Senator, is in her turn denying to him his rights as a representative. Mr. Alleyne Ireland, in Collier’s, makes these rights clear: —

A legislative representative is an elector whose duty it is to apply his own knowledge and his own judgment to the conduct of public affairs; a delegate is an elector sent to register the will of his constituents. A legislative representative is supposed to make up his mind after hearing debate; a delegate has had his mind made up for him before he takes his seat. To keep a man of eminent ability out of politics, nothing can be more effectual than to hold out to him a delegateship. To represent a people is an opportunity which can command the service of the most talented and upright man in the country; but the chance to become the obedient servant of the passions and prejudices of an uninformed and misinformed electorate is an ambition which can appeal to few men of worth.

The thoughtful man in the United States admits to the inquiring woman a general lowering from the former standards in our public men. He tells her that democracy as at present operating seems to insist on degrading the statesman into the politician. He points her to this and that illustration of this process of degradation in operation; as with the henchman who, pleading that his candidate never owned a dinner coat, assured his audience: ‘Democracy won’t flatter any man he’s better than we are.’

The thoughtful American man tells the inquiring woman, however, that the henchman quoted is representative of a proportion only of the American people. He assures her that there is a not inconsiderable proportion in the United States who, believing that the representative form of government is the highest form yet evolved, still believe that because it is the highest form it calls for the highest types in human nature.


I could wish that we American women, when our enfranchisement arrived, had been less organized than we were, with our federations, our welfare groups, our suffrage and our antisuffrage groups, our prohibition and our antiprohibition groups, our pacifists, our war mothers, our internationalists. I could wish that we at the start of our citizenship had been a more heterogeneous mass. As it was, when the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment brought our citizenship, before we could apply ourselves to even a cursory study of government, of the fundamentals of economics, and the legitimate scope of legislation, membership within an organization too often determined the individual woman’s policy, engendered and fixed her prejudices, and overemphasized to her the interests of women and children, the one ground common, as it proved, to all these organizations.

The English woman, as she is reported in the press, secs her part differently. Lady Astor says of woman’s part in legislation: —

English women must think, not in terms of women and children, or of any special groups, but in terms of Empire.

Mrs. Philipson says, as reported: —

Women must n’t come in with the idea of working especially for women’s questions. That comes into it, of course, but we must n’t be narrow and feminist. It will only handicap us, prevent people from taking the woman member seriously. In Parliament one must have a broader idea. One must think, not sectionaily, but nationally.

Miss Bondfield says, in answer to a question as to what she considers the most important phase of woman’s work in Parliament: —

There is no most important work. It’s like this: these women represent constituencies. I am a member of a big constituency, Northampton,a large boot-and-shoe centre. I represent the town in it as a whole and every question that comes up in Parliament interests me. Of course women exert special influence in the House of Commons on questions relating to women and children.

Perhaps it really is that human nature values only that which it works for, pays for; that which it gains by labor or performance; that which is earned before it is secured. And this may explain why we American women to-day, blessed politically through no efforts of our own, are so busily and — it almost seems — so gayly doing what we can to destroy our own and our fellow citizens’ constitutional freedom; doing all that we can, through the multiplying of bureaus and the strengthening of bureaucracy, to change our government into a democratic autocracy, to impose its will upon the states and the people.

George Washington, in the Farewell Address to his countrymen, reminded them and us: ‘The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels and joint efforts.’

The following comment occurs in a letter written by an American woman, a teacher in a primary school: —

I find blindness and disregard for broad principles among American women, extending even to the care of little children; perhaps here is the beginning.

Women want to rush the millennium, and that is not nature’s way, not God’s way. They ask rewards without giving or exacting service, and this deprives us of our birthright, freedom in its highest sense.

After all, very few of the ancestors of our present-day Americans fought for freedom in our Revolution, and fewer still faced King John at Runnymede. To the mass of our countrymen and countrywomen, alas! freedom is a thing not earned, but conferred; so why not every other good or desirable thing?

Let us women here in the United States, before we repudiate the plan of government which at our request gave us our citizenship, try out for ourselves its logical workings. Let us find, persuade, and elect the right sort of men and women to public office; and, having elected them, let us trust them. To avoid the evils of overpower or of control through force or threat by any group or groups, the originators of this republican democracy of ours embodied within it the principles of representation. And do not let us seek by indirection to overthrow its constitutional equilibrium, indirection being that nature of weapon I am convinced the American woman would not knowingly and voluntarily employ.