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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY

APRIL, 1916

DO WOMEN WANT THE VOTE?

BY WILLIAM M. BRAY

Our legislator soon discovered his I

mistake. Nowadays a candidate for WHEN the honest voters of his dis- political office has no chance to remain trict elected him to represent them in deceived on the suffrage question. Our the state senate, he had some idea of embryo statesman meant to do what what might be expected of him. He was right. He did not like to oppose had served in the legislature before. women. He had always believed that When he announced his candidacy and if a majority of women wanted the balpublished his platform, however, he lot they should have it; but he did not had not anticipated that woman suf- know that a majority of them did want frage would be an issue. The equal-suf- it. How could he find out? Practically frage advocates had been overwhelm- all women who said anything to him ingly defeated two years before when about suffrage wanted to vote. They the suffrage question had been sub- told him so in no uncertain terms. mitted to the voters of the state by Probably a majority of the voters in his means of a referendum. He knew that district were opposed to equal suffrage, most suffragists were determined, per- however. Two years before they had sistent women who thoroughly believed voted against suffrage very decisively. in their cause and meant to win. He Perhaps public sentiment on the sufshould have known that they would frage question had changed since then, keep the suffrage question an issue until but presumably there had been no they did win. Had he been wiser, he change, if no evidence were brought to would have realized that women's prove it. He saw very plainly that the ‘rights' were becoming more and more suffrage problem would be a difficult important politically, and were already one for him. What was he to do? a most vital issue. Not only in many He did not have to be told the easiest states, but in Congress as well, suffra- course for him to pursue. That would gists were playing a most prominent be to vote on this question as a majorpart. Sooner or later practically every ity of his constituents had voted. But legislator in every state, every member should he take the easiest way'? He of Congress, and almost every voter in knew that when questions of right and the United States would be called upon wrong were involved, strong men did to take a stand on the equal suffrage not suppress their convictions question.

to please their constituents. Perhaps VOL. 117 - NO. 4

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he was not a strong man, but he did not tion of the legislature in attempts to want to be a weak one. He had always win a suffrage victory by coercion and believed it to be the duty of a legislator agitation. Surely continual agitation to keep in close touch with his constit- was not in and of itself fair argument. uents, to seek the help of their advice Suffrage should win on its merits or and the benefit of their judgment, and not at all. to give their interests preference over Our would-be statesman had often his own. He also believed just as firm- been warned that equal suffrage would ly, however, that it was a legislator's win eventually, and that therefore, as duty to realize that he was elected to a matter of policy, it would be well for make laws, not only for his own dis- him to give it his support. He thought trict, but for the whole state as well; that that consideration should have no and to remember too that he owed it to bearing in helping him to determine his all for whom he must so legislate, to duty, however. Certainly he could not use his best judgment for their welfare support a cause any more conscienand to be something more than a mere tiously simply because he thought it reflector of opinions even of the would win. opinions of those to whom he might While a member of the legislature owe the position which made his judg- before, he had known several suffrage ment important.

lobbyists. They had given members a The next legislature would be asked great deal of attention. He rememberto submit another suffrage referendum ed their persistent ways. Some had to the people. Legislators would be been very emphatic in expressing their judged to be for, or against, equal suf- opinions. Many had been quite intolfrage, as they voted on this proposed erant of any ideas entertained by those referendum. Its passage would be de- who differed with them. He knew that manded, not because there were more most suffragists were good, earnest, or better arguments in favor of equal conscientious, public-spirited women, suffrage now than there had been two who wanted to vote only because of the years before, and not that there were greater opportunities for doing good any indications that the result of an- that they thought the ballot would give other popular vote would be different; them. He wished all of them could be but simply because suffragists wanted more charitable toward the opinions of the vote and proposed to keep up an

those who did not always agree with untiring and never-ceasing agitation in them. favor of what they wanted until they

Our law-maker had met female-sufgot it. If they could not convince the frage advocates who could see no good opposition, they meant to tire it out. in any man opposed to equal suffrage,

Without regard to the merits of equal and who apparently looked upon man suffrage, he could not help feeling that as woman's natural enemy unsymthe legislature should not permit the pathetic to her interests, unfair to her state to be subjected to the annoyance in matters of legislation, and woefully and uncertainty of these proposed re- lacking in all humanitarian instincts. peated referendums, without first be- Such women seemed to feel antagoing shown at least some substantial nistic toward men as a class, and no evidence to warrant the belief that pub- doubt would consider any suffrage gain lic sentiment had materially changed a victory over men. He did not admire since the previous election. The suffra- this type of woman very much, but he gists had no right to ask the coöpera- realized fully that allowances should

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be made for them and that he should able comparisons generally followed. not allow their prejudices to influence He had learned that suffrage arguhim to be unfair toward them or their ments between men and women were cause.

to be avoided, if possible. 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 But, try as hard as he might, our take even their own opinions too seri- well-meaning state senator could not ously. He was very fond of his mother always avoid suffrage arguments with and very proud of her. He knew that women. Believing as he did that women her ideas were generally sound and well should not have the ballot until a maworth listening to. She often said that jority of them wanted it, the question her women friends needed something that interested him particularly was worth while to do more than they need- whether or not most women really did ed the ballot. She doubted if woman want it. He found that very few equal suffrage would result in better govern- suffrage advocates were interested in ment. She did not want to vote. In this question, however. In his discusher opinion, however, all mature peo- sions with them, they generally argued ple, without regard to sex or color, edu- that suffragists should be given the balcation or intelligence, taxation or prop- lot even if most women were opposed erty rights, or any other qualification than that of citizenship, who contrib- To present his point of view, he often uted to support government and gave tried to question those who differed up part of their personal liberty to with him:conform to government rules and regu- ‘Are suffragists in the majority?' lations, were entitled to an equal share ‘Don't you think women who are opin the management of government posed to equal suffrage have "rights”? business. She firmly believed that, as a 'Is not suffrage a duty and a responmatter of simple justice, women should sibility as well as a “right”?' be given the ballot on an equality with ‘Are you fair in trying to force duties men. She maintained that suffrage and responsibilities upon all women, was a 'right' to which every woman without regard to whether or not they was entitled, and that those women want them, in order to secure “rights” who wanted suffrage were justified in for suffragists?' demanding their ‘rights. Whether or ‘Don't you think the “rights” of all not other women wanted suffrage - women should be considered in the deor 'rights' — had no bearing on the termination of so important a question question.

as their enfranchisement? or do you Our friend had great respect for his think anti-suffragists should be dismother's opinions, but would have pre- franchised on the question of enfranferred not to discuss them with her. chisement?' Experience had taught him that the 'If women are well enough informed suffrage question was an extremely to exercise the right of suffrage, are they difficult subject for men and women to not sufficiently intelligent to decide for discuss together. In all such discus- themselves whether or not they want sions, sooner or later the relative merits suffrage?' of the two sexes were almost invariably Our inquiring young legislator liked brought up for debate, and disagree to ask questions of others, but one day

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one of his mother's friends asked him have always owned all the common a question.

stock and managed the business for She said: “The government of this what we believed to be the best intercountry is the business of its citizens, ests of all stockholders, preferred as each holding just one share of stock. I well as common. know I am counted a stockholder, for I 'In order to permit you women to am called upon to help pay the bills. take an active part in running the busiThe men of the country will not permit ness, would it be right for us to force me and other women to vote our stock. all women

very much against the They do not even allow us to vote by wishes of a majority of them perhaps proxy as no one has more than one vote. - to exchange their preferred stock You are a business man and a stock- for common stock and in that way holder in this business. I don't think be compelled either to become active you or any other business man should themselves in the management of the say that I cannot vote my stock be- business, or to intrust their interests cause I am a woman, or because many partly to you? other women stockholders do not care 'Would not we common stockholdenough about the business to vote their ers be fairer to you preferred stockstock. How would you and your friends holders, if we said to you: “You may in the legislature like to be compelled decide for yourselves whether you want to support a business run with such a to leave the business of running this lack of principle?'

government to us or prefer to take an Well, our legislator was staggered! active part in its management. We He was flabbergasted!

will abide by your decision. If most of Could all his fine theories be explod- you want the right to vote, all well and ed by one plain simple question? Had good, you may have it; but if a major

a not his mother's friend presented a ity of you do not want a change in gov. strong case? Were not her premises ernment management, we will not let a correct? Was not her reasoning logical? minority force it upon you.' Could there be more than one conclu- Our young friend felt relieved. He sion? He had to admit that he was had discovered the flaw in the lady's quite overwhelmed. At first thought argument. At first, her question had her question certainly seemed unan- seemed fairly to represent the situation swerable, except in one way. He must and to knock all his theories in the head. take time and think it over. Perhaps He now saw plainly, however, that in he ought to state the hypothesis in his her hypothesis she had failed to considown way and see if he arrived at the er the interests of those women who did same conclusion.

not want to be forced to take an active ‘We are all stockholders in a public part in public business in order to probusiness called “government,” but we tect their own interests, and who also have never been equal stockholders so did not want to have their business far as voting our stock is concerned. managed, even in part, by other woAll stock is evenly divided into two men. kinds — common and preferred. You Our representative finally decided and other women have always owned that the only way he could determine all the preferred stock, and have had for himself whether or not women no opportunity to take part in the man- should be given the ballot was to subagement of the business except in an mit the question to the women themadvisory capacity. Other men and I selves. He resolved to find out, if pos

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sible, what proportion of the women working girls'and'home-bodies,'would living in his own district wanted equal not be a fair test. suffrage. He was sure his women con- A very prominent suffragist living in stituents were no less intelligent and a large city told him: 'The only fair well informed on the suffrage question method of taking a test vote would be than were the women of any other dis- to visit every house in the district setrict in the commonwealth. If there lected, carefully explain to each woman proved to have been a decided change the advantages of woman suffrage, and of sentiment throughout his district in hand her a ballot with the request that favor of suffrage since the referendum she mark it, voting “yes” if not opvote of two years before, there would posed, and “no," of course, if opposed.' probably have been a proportionate The prominent suffragist said that she change throughout the state. If a ma- herself had taken many test votes in jority of the women in his district de- this manner and found results 'most sired equal suffrage, very likely a ma- satisfactory.' jority in the state would favor it. For What our inquisitive friend wanted, fear the women of his district were however, was a record of the equalmore intelligent and well informed than suffrage sentiment then prevailing the average, however, and therefore, throughout his whole district; not a that a poll of his district would not selected test of such sentiment, or a prove a fair test of suffrage sentiment test of general sentiment as it might elsewhere, he finally interested other be after arguments on one side had members of the legislature and induced been presented. He made up his mind some of them to agree that, if he would to have some ballots printed and to take a poll of women in his district, take his poll in his own way. they would do likewise in their respec- After he started his canvass, I did tive districts located in different parts not see him for many days, but I heard of the state.

of him frequently. One day I saw a How to make a fair test was an- young lady, who did not look as if she other problem. Our legislator was de- would hurt any one, approach our good termined that, above every other con- old German housekeeper, who was sideration, his poll should be fair. He busily hanging out the family washing, realized that, because of the expense in

and offer her a slip of paper. volved, he could not afford to poll all of There was a short pause; then a his district. He finally decided to can- mouth full of clothespins sputtered, vass half of it, selecting such parts of 'Ach! Gott in Himmel! I got no time each city, village, and country town as for such foolishness!' he thought would be most representa- I was puzzled, but finally guessed tive. But, being puzzled to know just the reason for so much vehemence. The how to make his canvass, he sought stranger was one of our legislator's sufadvice. A variety of suggestions was frage canvassers. She looked tired, and received. Most of them were manifest- graciously accepted my invitation to ly impractical, and few of them ap

come in. peared unbiased.

Her little ballots were plainly printOne suffrage advocate advised him ed and read that members of the legisto poll only schoolteachers, librarians, lature wanted to know whether or not and other educated women. It seemed women wanted the vote. Women were to her that a general poll of women,

asked to take the ballots somewhere including 'uninformed and indifferent where they could be alone, mark them

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