Woman and the State, February 2-14, 1911

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It is impossible in a paper such as this to go into the origin of the State, but we may perhaps permit ourselves to take advantage of the multiplicity of speculation regarding that origin to select from the biological, the anthropological, the religious, the legal and the philosophical, those hypotheses which best suit our purpose and which lend themselves most readily to our title.

We will fortunately be able to preserve a specious air of scientific inquiry even while we thus make a careful selection, for all these lines of speculation at one time or another tend to identify the beginnings of the Family with the beginnings of the State, or at least to point out the surprising similarity between the human solicitudes which made the nucleus of the Family group and those around which the State group was slowly formed. Thus the speculators who are biologists point to the care of children and the rearing of tribal defenders as the first aim in both of these great groupings of human existence; the anthropologists find the utilization of wife and labor and the ownership of slaves in both; those who study the evolution of religion, instance the worship of ancestors [page 2] and the establishment of a sacrificial altar in each of these great groups afterwards known as the Family and the State; while the legal mind claims that the inheritance of private property, first traced through the mother so that a man's heir was not his son but his nephew, gradually brought order both in the Family and State relations. As we approach the philosophical definitions, happily for our purpose these are so general, or dare we say so vague, that we can apply them either to the Family or State as children do with their sliced picture books when they fit the same pair of legs quite neatly either onto an ostrich or a giraffe. Thus Hegel says that "the State is the realization of the moral idea," but I submit that for the word State we might substitute the word Family, and be still nearer the truth, at least if we looked at the proposition from the empirical standpoint which is what Hegel always advised his followers to do in regard to every philosophical concept, and it was from those who faithfully obeyed this injunction that pragmatism itself finally descended. Certainly all of these hypotheses assume that in both institutions women held a place equal to men.

So soon, however, as we leave these speculative origins and definitions, and endeavor to trace the long evolution of the Family and State through the countless [page 3] generations of human existence, we encounter a very marked differentiation between the two.

Somewhere during the long journey of human development, so much of it red with blood, the woman lost her direct connection with the State, although she continually retained her ancient share of family responsibility, successfully making the myriad sharp and perilous readjustments lying between the isolated cave and the modern city.

She may have first lost her foothold in the stream of experiences which developed the State in that early shift from more or less peaceful savagery to the fighting era, because it became necessary that the children should be guarded against the incursions of the enemy, and she and they were hidden in caves until the foray should be over. Naturally if she had not fought the enemy, she would not be consulted as to his prowess and numbers when the men of the tribe discussed the advisability of revenge and decided in their turn to attack their tormentors.

Centuries later we find that she was still pushed aside when the men who bore arms held their stormy councils of war, and registered their votes by the clashing of their shields; she who had no shield with which to proclaim her vote, she who could not bear arms, was supposed to have no [page 4] opinion on these stern matters. And again centuries further on we find her put safely behind the thick walls of the feudal castle dependent, not only for defense but for her very existence, upon the will of her lord.

It was during this later feudal period that there gradually developed a most powerful and permeating sentiment concerning these protected women which we might call sex idealization, save for the fact that it did not include the entire sex, for during the period of its unchallenged ascendency, thousands of peasant women who were quite untouched by it, worked in the fields through all winds and weathers and carried the heavy burdens of beasts.

Nevertheless, this idealization on the part of the chivalric warrior was so universally accepted by the ruling class who idealized the lady, and that by the teaching class who idealized the saint, that at last what we call the civilized world, or at least the upper strata of it, accepted this notion. During the Renaissance the lady and the saint became furthermore the most precious objects of art, the chosen vessel of that visible beauty which men have ever adored, and which they so willingly worship.

Those of you who have read Mrs. Putnam's recent book on "The Lady" will recall that she cites this and many [page 5] other streams of influence which united to produce an ideal persistently surviving into this age of ours, that woman was to be protected from the actual world and surrounded by a roseate haze of sentiment. So universal is this ideal that in spite of our irritation we find it difficult to combat the magazine articles of the hour which continually call our attention to the fact that the much admired modern woman is a non-producer, that she delegates all her domestic duties to someone else, and shirks all her public ones; that she vainly tries to supply through culture what she fails to receive from the real world, to substitute books and pictures, which should be merely interpreters of life, for life itself.

At any rate we would all admit that every discussion of the status of woman in this industrial era of ours has become complicated by this ideal of a previous age, until women of leisure, who most closely embody this ideal, presume to dictate to the thousands of working women who have never been included in it, what it is proper and fitting for them to do, or rather what they should refrain from doing. While there are certainly more ladies now than there used to be when the entire supply lived in castles, they are still very few compared to the multitudes of women [page 6] representing those who formerly worked in the fields, whom the ladies thus dominate.

Curiously enough, however, while men as well as women refuse to modify this ideal surviving from a former age and totally unfitted to our own, and while they quite approve the inhibition in the conduct of women which results from it, they themselves, the men, are going through a tremendous modification of their own ideals of knightly conduct, for statesmanship is daily developing further and further away from those primitive councils of war which were its first representatives.

During the last decades right in Germany where feudal ideals have most powerfully survived for instance, a strange thing has happened. The German cities at this moment probably represent the most advanced statesmanship to be found in the civilized world, and it is in them that the German burgher, the very descendant of the free knight himself, is undertaking a line of municipal activity, which even one hundred years ago he would have scorned as the type of work which was not only unworthy of his attention, but quite beneath his dignity -- which he himself would have called Frauen's Arbeit.

May I illustrate this contention by an address upon German Municipalities recently given in Chicago by Dr. [page 7] Südekum of the Imperial Reichstag, who represented a most masculine type even of German men. All the activities upon which he laid emphasis by way of illustrating this most advanced municipal administration had to do with those things which had been identified for centuries with family life and with the traditional activity of women.

By way of illustration he traced the life of a German child of poorer parentage from the cradle to the grave showing what the municipality did for him. Those of you who heard that stirring lecture will bear me out that the first half of it was devoted to the efforts made in German cities for the reduction of infant mortality. This German statesman seemed to consider it a disgrace that out of every two million children born annually in Germany, four hundred thousand died during the first twelve months of their existence; he bitterly resented this percentage as a reproach both upon German intelligence and upon the able administration of the empire itself. Then he told what was being done in various German cities to wipe out this disgrace and with great pride informed his audience of the administration of Charlottenburg, where the city undertakes the care of the child even before its birth. The mother is admitted into a hospital two weeks before childbirth, and given the requisite rest and care. She is retained for a month [page 8] afterward that she may have proper food and when she returns to her home, is put into communication with a municipal nursery where she receives not only direction and advice, but actual nourishment for herself if the health of her child seems to demand it. These advanced statesmen actually believe that a child, a future citizen, is the most valuable asset of a German City!

Having thus kept little children from perishing during the first weeks of life, the German statesmen proceeds to modify the sanitary conditions of the tenement house so that the average child may be able to survive in them, and after all there is no such delicate gauge of the reasonableness of the buildings in a modern city as the percentage of survival among the tenement house babies. The lecturer then proceeded to lead this surviving child into the next municipal activities, and I assure you be gravely told us of the value of the kindergarten to the State, of that modern system of technical education which lies at the basis of Germany's industrial greatness, of the opportunities for recreation which the city provides that youth may not come to grief in those first moments of sex consciousness and the self-assertion of a newly awakened individuality. It is as if men had been forced to take up woman's work which women themselves had neglected, inhibited therefrom by the feudal tradition that it was unwomanly to take an [page 9] active part in municipal affairs. Men, on the other hand, seeing the work which needed to be done, calmly ignored their traditions that it was unmanly to consider the nutriment of new-born babies, and having carefully ascertained that the death rate was too high, proceeded to reduce it in reckless disregard of the code of knightly conduct, or rather by an adaptation of that code to contemporaneous conditions.

Is it not to be regretted that women fail to exhibit the same adaptability? Why should they not at least keep on with their traditional occupations even if they are obliged to exercise the franchise, a device of modern government long since separated from warfare, and the clashing of shields? Does this old association of clamor with the vote, or even the feudal sentiment of the protected lady, justify women in their refusal to care for those affairs which formerly pertained to the family, but which have been so rapidly taken over by the State?

Let us imagine for a moment the result if women had kept themselves free from hampering tradition, if the matriarchal period had held its own, if the warriors had never gained the ascendancy, and pushed women quite outside state affairs. Let us assume that the development of the State had closely followed that of the Family until the [page 10] chief care of the former as that of the latter, had come to be the nurture and education of children, and the protection of the weak, sick and aged. In short, let us imagine a hypothetical society soberly organized upon the belief that "there is no wealth but life." With this Ruskinian foundation, let us further assume that the political machinery of such a society, the franchise and the rest of it, were in the hands of women, because they had always best exercised those functions. Let us further evoke in our imagination a given moment when these women who, in this hypothetical society had possessed political power from the very beginnings of the State, were being appealed to by the voteless men that men might be associated with women in the responsibilities of citizenship.

If I may plagiarize somewhat upon a suffrage speech recently given at Hull House by Miss Ward of London, I should like to ask you to consider with me various replies which these citizen women might reasonably make to the men who are seeking the franchise, by which alone they could share the duties of the state.

First, could the women not say: "Our most valid objection to extending the franchise to you, is that you are so fond of fighting -- you always have been, since the dawn of history. You'd very likely forget that the real object of the State is to nurture and protect life, and out [page 11] of sheer vainglory you would be voting away huge sums of money for battleships, no one of which could last but a few years, and yet each would cost ten million dollars, more money than all the buildings and endowments of Harvard University represent, although it is the richest educational institution in America. Every time a gun is fired in a battleship it expends, or rather explodes, seventeen hundred dollars, as much as a college education costs many a country boy, and yet you would be firing off these guns as mere salutes, with no enemy  within three thousand miles, simply because you so enjoy the sound of shooting.

"Our educational needs are too great and serious to run any such risk. Democratic government itself is perilous unless the electorate is educated; our industries are suffering for lack of skilled workmen; a million immigrants a year must be taught the underlying principles of republican government. Can we, the responsible voters, take the risk of wasting our taxes by extending the vote to those who have always been so ready to lose their heads over more military display?"

Secondly, would not the hypothetical women, who would have been responsible for the advance of industry during those later centuries as women actually have been during the earlier centuries, since they dragged home the game and transformed the pelts into shelter and clothing, [page 12] say further to these disenfranchised men; "We have carefully built up a code of factory legislation for the protection of the workers in modern industry; we know that you men have always been careless about the house, and if you were made responsible for factory legislation it is quite probable that you would let the workers in the textile mills contract tuberculosis through needlessly breathing the fluff, or the workers in machine shops through inhaling metal filings, both of which are now carried off by an excellent suction system which we women have insisted upon, but which it is almost impossible to have installed in a man-made State, because the men think so little of dust and its evil effects. In many nations in which political power is confined to men, and this is notably true in the United States of America, there is no protection even for the workers in white lead, although hundreds of them are yearly incapacitated and others poisoned unto death.

"We have also heard that in certain states, in order to save the paltry price of a guard which would protect a dangerous machine, men legislators allow careless boys and girls to lose their fingers and sometimes their hands, thereby crippling their entire futures. These male legislators do not make guarded machinery obligatory, although they know that when the heads of families are injured at these unprotected machines, the State must care [page 13] for then in hospitals, and when they are killed, that, if necessary, the State must provide for their widows and children in poor houses."

These wise woman governing the State with the same care they had always put into the management of their families, would further charge these men who were seeking for the franchise, with the fact that men do not really know how tender and delicate children are, and might put them to work in factories, as indeed they have done in man-made states during the entire period of factory production. We can imagine these women saying: "We have been told that in certain states children are taken from their beds in the early morning before it is light, and carried into cotton mills, where they are made to run back and forth tending the spinning frames, until their immature little bodies are so bent and strained that they never regain their normal shapes; we have heard that because glass-blowers have a tradition that their soft material must be carried quickly by boys into a hot oven, therefore these masculine legislators permit boys to work not only by day, but also by night, -- of course, these boys coming directly from the heat of the furnace into the chill of the early morning contract pneumonia, -- although we know for a fact that the men legislators will not read the statistics showing the relation of this disease to the children in glass factories, even when [page 14] such statistics, neatly printed, are laid upon their legislative desks."

Would not these same big-hearted women, accustomed to responsibility, instance that ghastly thing which happens every day in every industrial city of America where a girl stands at a machine pushing down a lever with her right foot, for it would involve a slight expense to make a machine adjustable, so that she might transfer the strain from one foot to another. And yet physicians say that if a girl does this steadily for six months there is such a displacement of her pelvic organs that she will probably never be able to bear a child. Would not these responsible women voters gravely shake their heads and say, that so long as men exalt business profit above human life, it would be sheer folly to give them the franchise; that, of course, they would never make such a matter a subject of legislation nor, indeed, give it more than a passing thought?

Could not the enfranchised women furthermore say to those voteless men: "You have always been so eager to make money; what assurance have we that in your desire to get the largest amount of coal out of the ground in the shortest possible time, you would not permit the mine supports to decay, and mine damp to accumulate, until the percentage of accidents among miners would be simply heartbreaking? Then you are so reckless, business seems to [page 15] you a mere game with big prizes, and we have heard that in America, where the women have no vote, the loss of life in the huge steel mills is appalling, and that the number of young brakesmen, fine young fellows, every one of them the pride of some mother, killed every year, is beyond belief; that the average loss of life among the structural iron workers who erect the huge office buildings and bridges is as disastrous in percentages as the loss of life in the Battle of Bull Run. When the returns of this battle were reported to President Lincoln, he burst into tears of sorrow and chagrin, but we have never heard of any Mayor, Governor or President weeping over the reports of this daily loss of life, although such reports have been presented to them by governmental investigators, and this loss of life might easily be reduced by protective legislation." Having thus worked themselves into a fine state of irritation, analogous to that ever recurrent uneasiness of men in the presence of insurgent women who would interfere in the management of the state, would not these voting women add: "The trouble is that men have no imagination, or rather what they have is so prone to run in the historic direction of the glory of the battlefield, that you cannot trust them with industrial affairs. Because a crew in a battleship was once lost under circumstances which suggested perfidy, the male representatives of two great nations voted to go [page 16] to war; yet in any day of the year in one of these nations alone, the United States of America, as many men are killed through industrial accidents as this crew contained. These accidents occur under circumstances which, if not perfidious, are at least so criminally indifferent to human life as to merit Kipling's characterization that the situation is impious." Certainly these initiated women would designate such indifference to human life as unpatriotic and unjustifiable, only to be accounted for because men have not yet learned to connect patriotism with industrial affairs.

These conscientious women responsible for the state in which life was considered of more value than wealth, would furthermore say: "Then, too, you men exhibit such curious survivals of the mere savage instinct of punishment and revenge." The United States alone spends every year five hundred million dollars more on its policeman, courts and prisons, than upon all its works of religion, charity and education. The price of one trial expended on a criminal early in life might save the state thousands of dollars and the man untold horrors. And yet with all this vast expenditure little is done to reduce crime. Men are kept in jails and penitentiaries where there is not even the semblance of education or reformatory measures; young men are returned over and over again to the same institution, until they have grown old and gray, and in all of [page 17] that time they have not once been taught a trade, nor have they been in any wise prepared to withstand the temptations of life. A homeless young girl looking for a lodging may be arrested for soliciting on the streets and sent to prison for six months, although there is no proof against her save the impression of the policeman.

A young girl under such suspicion may be obliged to answer the most harassing questions put to her by the city attorney, with no woman near to protect her from insult: she may be subjected to the most trying physical examination conducted by a physician in the presence of a policeman, and no matron to whom to appeal. At least these things happen constantly in the United States, in Chicago for instance, but possibly not in the Scandinavian countries where juries of women sit upon such cases, women whose patience has been many times tested by wayward girls, and who know the untold moral harm which may result from such a physical and psychic shock.

Then these same women would go further and, because they had lived in a real world and had administered large affairs and were therefore not prudish and affected, would say that "worse than anything which we have mentioned is the fact that in every man-ruled city the world over, a great army of women are so set aside as outcasts that it is considered a shame to speak the mere name which designates [page 18] them. Because their very existence is illegal, they may be arrested whenever any police captain chooses, they may be brought before a magistrate, fined and imprisoned. The men whose money sustains their houses, supplies their tawdry clothing, and provides them with intoxicating drinks and drugs, are never arrested, nor indeed even considered law breakers. Lecky calls this type of woman "the most mournful and the most awful figure in history." He says that "she remains, while creeds and civilizations rise and fall, the eternal sacrifice of humanity, blasted for the sins of the people." Would not these fearless women whose concern for the morals of the family had always been able to express itself through state laws, have meted out equal punishment to men as well as to women, when they had equally transgressed the statute law? Would they not insist upon frank education for boys and girls? Would they not secure publicity concerning this darkest side of city life?

Did the enfranchised women evoked by our imagination speak thus to the disenfranchised men, the latter would at least respect their scruples and their hesitation in regard to an extension of the obligation of citizenship, but what would be the temper of the masculine mind if the voting women representing the existing State should present them only with the following half dozen objections which are unhappily [page 19] so familiar to many of us; if the women should say, first, that men would find politics corrupting; second, that they would doubtless vote as their wives and mothers did; third, that men's suffrage would only double the vote without changing results; fourth, that men's suffrage would diminish the respect for men; fifth, that most men [do] not want to vote; sixth, that the best men would not vote?

I do not believe that women broadened by life and its manifold experiences would actually present those six objections to men as real reasons for withholding the franchise from them, unless indeed they had long formed the habit of regarding men not as comrades and fellow-citizens, but as a class by themselves, in essential matters really inferior, although always held sentimentally very much above them.

Certainly no such talk would be indulged in between men and women who had together embodied in political institutions the old affairs of life which had normally and historically belonged to both of them. If woman's sense of obligation had enlarged and modified in response to the demands of the State, if she had adjusted herself to the changing demands as she did to the historic mutations of her own household, she might naturally and without challenge have inaugurated laws for the protection of thousands of young girls between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two who [page 20] are working in the factories and shops of all our contemporary cities. It is the first time in the long history of women that so many of them have been without the protection and care of their elders. Even the lady of the castle whom we so much admire and insist upon imitating, felt responsible for the morals of the maidens who spun and wove for her. After all we only feel responsible for those things which are brought to us as matters of responsibility. If conscientious women throughout the years had conceived it a duty to be informed in regard to grave industrial affairs, and at last to express their solicitude by depositing a piece of paper in a ballot box, one cannot imagine that they would hesitate simply because the action ran counter to certain traditions and dogmas. It would be as if a woman declined to save a child from drowning because the water might injure a conventional gown.

Chesterton, in one of his earliest and most brilliant essays, bids us admire Browning's father because he destroyed his fortune in order to protest against slavery; and then proceeds to say that while the ideals held by the men of the period appear to us very unattractive, and their sense of duty a sort of chilly sentiment, when we think of what they did with those cold ideals of theirs, we can scarcely feel superior. They uprooted the enormous Upas tree of slavery, the tree that was literally [page 21] as old as the race of man, and they altered the whole phase of Europe with their deductive fancies.

It has always seemed to me that it belonged to this former generation, with their eighteenth century doctrines of liberty and equality, and their belief in the rights of man, to have secured suffrage for women. For their doctrinaire point of view they could have made every possible argument for it, with absolutely nothing to be said against it save on the ground of expediency, and expediency they did not believe in. Certainly the women of modern industry need the suffrage for their own protection as much as the freed slaves needed it for theirs, and the men who secured the franchise for the negro could certainly have done it for women. In fact, many of these men, such as Theodore Parker and Abraham Lincoln, were much concerned as they saw increasing numbers of women entering competitive industry without the safeguard of the ballot.

When we now make a plea for woman's suffrage, I at least feel as if I were doing that which should have been accomplished a generation ago; we contemporary women ought now to be using the franchise for the furthering of those plans in which hundreds of women are at this moment absorbingly interested. For instance, in Chicago just now, women ought to have the municipal vote in order to secure clean milk for tenement house babies; we need the county [page 22] vote in order to guard and extend the uses of the Juvenile Court; we ought to have the state vote in order to extend the provisions of the child labor law to young boys and even little girls who deliver messages and then papers in the red light district into all hours of the night; we need the federal vote in order to secure a Children's Bureau which shall enable the nation itself to deal adequately with its under-nourished and illiterate children in whatsoever state they may be found, and the franchise in all of these departments of state could thus be utilized only to further woman's traditional affairs. We of this generation should be using the franchise quite simply and naturally for securing this much needed legislation, instead of which we are now obliged to obtain these laws as best we may by all sorts of persuasion and roundabout talk. In the meantime, while we give our energies toward securing the mere mechanism of the ballot, important affairs must be pushed aside and industrial conditions allowed to grow worse.

Woman's need of the ballot, or at least the working woman's need of the ballot, is so obvious that it is difficult to make a speech on the subject, while an address setting forth our human right to it, is clearly an anachronism; such an address should have been made fifty years ago when men still used the grandiloquent phrases of the eighteenth century with solemn conviction. Yet here we [page 23] are with all this contemporary work which needs to be done, work in which women are so naturally interested, and the ballot is withhold from us largely because "the dogma of the lady" continues to dominate us although we are so ready to give up all other dogmas, or, to quote still another sentence from Mrs. Putnam's new book, "In contemporary society the lady is an archaism, and can hardly understand herself unless she knows her own history." And yet comparatively early in this history, so to speak, when the only free women in Greece were the courtesans, Plato dreamed of a Republic wherein all men free to exercise all their powers should joyfully use them for the common good, and should gradually forget the ancient chimeras of Poverty, Disease and Crime. When Plato told the men of Greece of this dream, he begged them not to ridicule him because he considered the cooperation of women necessary for its fulfilment. He asked whether it could be permanently good for the state that half of its adult free population should lag behind the other half in body or mind. He contended that so far as the guardianship of the state is concerned there is no difference between the nature of the man and of the woman, but that natural gifts are found here and there in both sexes alike. He would not tolerate the assumption that women possessed or lacked this or that faculty. Custom had made certain distinctions, but whether nature concurred [page 24] in them was to be determined by experiment. Plato possessed perhaps the most gifted mind which the race has produced, and it was he who made the boldest declaration on behalf of women in the state.

Twenty centuries later women are still afraid of ridicule when they beg the men responsible for the destinies of a great republic to give them a share in the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship.

Who shall say that Plato's dream may never come to pass? Certain it is that the vision of such a state shall continue to haunt the human mind until the best powers of men and women shall at last be united in the upbuilding of an ideal Republic, and woman, without self-consciousness of ridicule, shall assume her place in the State, as naturally as she has retained it in the family.