Indirect Influence, November 23, 1912

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How It Was Tried by Friend of Miss Addams and Found Wanting

By Jane Addams

To those who would admit that woman has no right to shirk her old obligations, but who claim that all of these measures could be secured more easily through influence upon her family than through the direct use of the ballot, I should like to tell a little story.

Here is Typical Case

I have a friend in Chicago who is the mother of four sons and the grandmother of twelve grandsons who are voters. She is a woman of wealth, of secure social position, of sterling character and clear intelligence, and may, therefore, quite fairly be cited as a "woman of influence." Upon one of her recent birthdays, when asked how she had kept so young, she promptly replied: "Because I have always advocated at least one unpopular cause."

Disturbed Over Election

It may have been in pursuance of this policy that for many years she was an ardent advocate of free silver, although her manufacturing family are all Republicans. I happened to call at her home on the day when Mr. McKinley was elected president against Mr. Bryan for the first time. I found my friend much disturbed. She said, somewhat bitterly, that she had at last discovered what the much-vaunted influence of woman was worth; that she had implored each one of her sons and grandsons, had entered into endless arguments and moral appeals to induce one of them to represent her convictions by voting for Bryan, that, although sincerely devoted to her, each one had assured her that his convictions forced him to vote the Republican ticket. She said that all she had been able to secure was the promise from one of the grandsons, for whom she had an especial tenderness because he bore her husband's name, that he would not vote at all. He could not vote for Bryan, but, out of respect for her feelings, he would refrain from voting for McKinley. My friend said that for many years she had suspected that women could influence men only in regard to those things in which men were not deeply concerned, but when it came to persuading men to a woman's view in affairs of politics or business it was entirely useless.

Should Not Press Men to Vote

I contended that a woman had no right to persuade a man to vote against his own convictions; that I respected the men of her family for following their own judgment, regardless of the appeal which the honored head of the house had made to their chivalric devotion. To this she replied that she would agree with that point of view when a woman had the same opportunity as a man to register her opinion by voting. I believed then, as I do now, that nothing is gained when independence of judgment is assailed by "influence," sentimental or otherwise, and that we test advancing civilization somewhat by our power to respect differences and by our tolerance of another's convictions.

Indirect Influence Undignified

This is, perhaps, the attitude of many busy women who would be glad to use the ballot to further public measures in which they are interested and for which they have been working for years. It offends the taste of such a woman to be obliged to use indirect "influence" when she is accustomed to well-bred, open action in other affairs; and she very much resents the time spent in persuading a voter to take her point of view, and possibly to give up his own, quite as honest and valuable as hers, although different because resulting from a totally different experience.

Need Ballot to Preserve Home

Public-spirited women who wish to use the ballot, as I know them, do not wish to do the work of men, or to take over men's affairs. They simply want an opportunity to do their own work and to take care of those affairs which naturally and historically belong to women, but which are constantly being overlooked and slighted in our political institutions.

If woman would fulfill her traditional responsibility to her own children; if she would educate and protect factory children who must find their recreation on the streets; if she would bring the cultural forces to bear upon our materialistic civilization, and if she would do it all with the dignity and directness fitting one who carries on her [immemorial] duties, then she must bring herself to the use of the ballot -- that latest implement for self-government. May we not fairly say that American women need this implement in order to preserve the home?