Why Women Should Vote, March 30, 1911

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Jane Addams Says His Laws Wouldn't Warrant Right to Vote


By Jane Addams.

HEREWITH appears the final article in the series prepared by Miss Jane Addams of Hull House on the topic, "Why Women Should Vote." Miss Addams has very cleverly, in the course of her discussion of the woman's suffrage issue, turned the weapons of those opposing votes for women against the wielders, and it is safe to assert that no articles appearing in this newspaper for some time have created so wide a discussion among all classes of readers.

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 that 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 as old as the race of man, and they altered the whole face of Europe with their deductive fancies.

Vote for Protection.

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. From 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. 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 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.

The franchise in all of these departments of state thus utilized would only 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 mechanics of the ballot, important affairs must be pushed aside and industrial conditions allowed to grow worse.

Need of Ballot Obvious.

Woman's need of the ballot, of 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 are with all this contemporary work which needs to be done, work in which women are so naturally interested, and the ballot is withheld from us largely because the "dogma of the lady" continues to dominate us, [page 2] 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."

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 fulfillment. He asked whether it could be permanently good for the state that half of the adult free population should lag behind the other half in body or mind. He contented that so far as the guardianship of the state is concerned there is no difference between the nature of 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 in them was to be determined by experiment. Plato possessed perhaps the most gifted mind which the race has produced, and it is significant that it was he who made the boldest declaration of the need 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 commonwealth, and women, without self-consciousness or fear of ridicule, shall assume her place in the state, as naturally as she has retained it in the family.