Address on Anna Howard Shaw, November 13, 1919



Nov. 13.


I wish very much I felt more adequate to the task of paying a tribute to Dr. Shaw, but perhaps we can remember together some of the fine things about her, revive our reminiscences as it were, and together call upon our memories to perform that function which is perhaps best described by Gilbert Murray in his life of Euripides. Murray tells us, or translates for us, that when Euripides was made one of the old men of Athens, a ceremony which took place at a stated period, he declared that although the state might modify his activities, it could not disturb his memories, and that his memories wedded to the Muses would present new offering to his fellow citizens. We are told that one of his finest plays was written after he had become officially an old man, because he believed that memory in and of itself had a function to perform for the state and for society, which could be achieved by no other faculty.

There is no doubt that in the hurly-burly of life, we do not cultivate our memories sufficiently, do not take pains with them, as it were, and that they become dim and confused and of little moment to us. We have to take care of them as we nurture our friendships and affections if they are to possess any real value. In this time of distress and trouble we may be guided and helped by Dr. Shaw's courageous and valiant spirit. I am sure [page 2] all of you are familiar with that wonderful book of hers, "The Story of Pioneer." It is so vivid, so full of wide and varied experiences with her wit playing upon them all.

I remember when she was induced to write that book. I was at that time first vice-president of the National American Association of Woman Suffrage, of which she was President. She broke an ankle, you may remember, slipping on some ice as she was leaving a train in the early morning, returning to New York from a lecture engagement. She was told that the broken bone must be kept quiet for at least six weeks and we all said: "Now is the time to write your reminiscences, you cannot do any lecturing, you cannot even go to your office, you are here in New York where the stenographers abide; now is the time to put down some of the things which we have wanted you to do for so long a time." She was persuaded to talk them out, which was more her own form of expression than writing, to a gifted newspaper woman, who took them down. This went on for six weeks until finally this book, "The Story of a Pioneer," was evolved.

This book, to my mind, is a very precious contribution, because it is the story of a pioneer in more senses than one. She was born in England, you remember, and came over when four years old. Her observations from the very beginning were cogent. The ship encountered a great storm and had to go back again toward the shore of Ireland, and there she saw some prisoners working on [page 3] an island. What did they have prisoners do in those days? They dipped up water on one side of the island, carried it to the other side and poured it back into the ocean. That was the best thing apparently that [anyone] could desire as work for prisoners.

Even as a child this seemed to her stupid, and I am afraid that later she thought it an example of man's unaided management of the world.

Then you remember her first experience when the family came to New Bedford, where her father's house was one of the stations of the underground railway. She once found a woman hidden in the cellar and her excitement and sense of moral adventure rose to this first introduction to the whole question of the abolition of slavery which was then being agitated throughout New England. Her youthful spirit caught the challenge, as it were, of great social changes and revaluations. Then later the real pioneer life began. She moved with her family into Michigan. Her father stayed behind in Massachusetts in order to earn money, but the mother with the group of children lived in a forest, miles from the nearest neighbor. Then again she felt the challenge enlisting her sympathies, her affection, every scrap of ability which she possessed. This child of 12, set to work to bring order out of a wilderness. Her description of the well which she and her little brother began to dig, because they were so tired of carrying water from the brook in the summer and of melting snow in the winter, is one of the most exciting bits of description to be found [page 4] in the history of pioneer America.

Later she became very eager to go to college and when the family fortunes improved she began to teach school, for which she was paid at first two, then five dollars a week. While she was still preparing and saving for college she began to [lose] the spirits of exhortation within her. It was almost unheard of, first that a presiding elder of the Methodist Church should be sufficiently advanced to ask her to do it and, secondly, that she should do it so extremely well. Her self-confidence grew as she went along, but her own family felt very badly about it, and she was obliged to continue under a sense of their disapproval. But she obtained a great training as she espoused one unpopular cause after another and followed at least some of them to fruition. I remember a story once told by Mrs. Avery, whose daughter Mrs. Coonley-Ward gave a birthday party when her mother was 80 years old and invited 80 people to dine in her honor. After dinner [someone] asked Mrs. Avery how she had always kept so young, because she did not seem to be old at 80, and in point of fact lived far into the nineties. Mrs. Avery though a moment, and said: "I keep young, I think, because I have always ↑been↓ identified with unpopular causes; when you have an unpopular cause, people do not treat you with respect, they do not bow down before you; they argue with you, and treat you as if you were still young enough to defend yourself, and on the whole it is good for you." She added that suffrage was sufficiently unpopular, she thought, to last her [page 5] to the end of her life. I remember Miss Anthony, who was one of the diners, expressed her pleasure with this reply; she, too, gave her testimony as to the tonic which an unpopular cause gave you, that is if you had the spirit for it, and did not allow opposition to overwhelm you.

For Dr. Shaw such experiences began when she was 23, but she decided that she would not be a lay preacher, she would go to Boston and take a theological course, which she did in the face of all sorts of difficulties. The forty or more young men did not at all approve of her preaching, and considered it very unnatural for a woman to want to preach. When she finished her course she encountered another difficulty. She was given a church in Cape Cod but a long time elapsed before they were willing to ordain her. She left one branch of the Methodist Church and went into another before she became an ordained preacher. After ten years of successful professional work she studied medicine. She felt that the villagers down in Cape Cod were all too respectable and that life was moving too smoothly, so she went up to Boston to study medicine and do her clinical work among the poor people of the tenements.

One day, when we were walking together in the Hull-House neighborhood, she told me with much feeling of her early impressions of the life in a crowded city, which she received as a medical student. She had never wished to practice, but she did want to [page 6] know life from another aspect. She did not believe in a chasm between the physical and spiritual, but that the two were inter-dependent. It was after she received the doctor's degree that she took the platform in behalf of Woman's Suffrage.

You all know of her life-long devotion to Miss Anthony, which began in 1888 and continued as long as Miss Anthony lived. Their activities became so absolutely identified that it is almost impossible to separate one from the other through 20 years of close friendship. There is no affection and no friendship so complete as that which develops when two people merge their energies into a common cause. It is very much greater, of course, than where two people merely try to come together through their own personalities, and there is unending opportunity for growth.

Dr. Shaw used to tell a funny story of their early lecturing together. Miss Anthony, who was a Unitarian Quaker, was very much pleased that Dr. Shaw was a Methodist minister, who would be helpful to the orthodox. Miss Anthony therefore proudly introduced Dr. Shaw to a religious meeting, saying that she was an orthodox minister, and also her right bower. The effect of this introduction was disconcerting, and she could not understand why the men in the audience should be amused. When Miss Anthony appeared again before this same convention, she apologized and said that to her a right bower meant ↑only↓ a right hand man, but that she had been enlightened by a Baptist audience and a Methodist preacher. [page 7]

In fact, Dr. Shaw's introductions would have made an entertaining book by themselves. She was once introduced by a man who said she had the heart of a woman and the brains of a man, and Dr. Shaw finally asked: "Before I take that as a compliment, please tell me which man."

People learned to anticipate her wit from the very moment she stepped upon the platform until she came to the end of her speech. She was so quick in her reactions, she was so unexpectedly alert to anything which developed out of the moment in the audience, or in the city in which she was speaking. I remember one trip which we made together through the Southern states. There were four members of the National Board in the party. We spoke in one southern city after another until we came to know each other's speeches pretty well and became a little sensitive about repeating ourselves. Miss Shaw used to take us aside and say that that would not do, ↑to be self-conscious about each other,↓ that we were not making suffrage speeches for her, and she was not making them for us, that we were trying to convert the men in the audience, that if we could not make them sit up and take notice we were no good as suffrage speakers, and were disgraced. It was a wonderful lesson in speech-making, not to desire to make an exposition of what you believed or did not believe, but absolutely to persuade your audience from one point of view, if you possibly could, to another point of view. That is what propaganda work means and what she learned during the long years she spent speaking for suffrage. [page 8]

Then, as you all know, she was the President of the National Association for a long time, and I am sure many of the people in this room recall her wonderful presiding and the whole quality of the convention when she had it in hand. I remember very well a National convention held in Louisville, Kentucky, when, because she had a severe cold, I was called upon to preside a good deal of the time. She would tell me beforehand, in the midst of her coughing, of the person who always gets up with some sort of a parliamentary scheme and ties the chairman into bowknots if she can and of the chronic objector. I well remember the whole experience of that Louisville meeting and the feeling I had of a maternal guidance, that the convention was the thing, that it was up to us to pull it off successfully among ourselves and in the evening meeting to make the men feel differently about suffrage.

I remember also the great International Suffrage meeting at [Budapest], where Mrs. Catt presided and where Dr. Shaw was head of the American Delegation. The whole experience was most interesting in a city in which, of course, the women did not vote and were then apparently far from it, although they had one or two good friends in parliament. The City and the Parliament had appropriated money for out entertainment, which was a great achievement, and fostered the hope that we might push forward the local situation. On Sunday Dr. Shaw was invited to speak in a church, which was, of course, an unheard of procedure. She was [page 9] not allowed to go into the pulpit, but stood on a platform placed in the aisle. She gave a very stirring sermon, and she took as her text one crucial moment after the other in the life of Christ, where he had given his commands to women and had confided the future of his great movement over and over again into their hands when men seemed to fail him.

I think some of them were a little ashamed that they should judge a woman unfit to give his message, especially when she had the gifts to make it so fine and so clear as Dr. Shaw did then.

We have lately had a telegram from [Budapest] that there is the greatest danger that the Hungarian women are going to lose the suffrage, which was given them in the regime of [Károlyi]. It continued, of course, during the succeeding regime, but the party now in power have threatened to take it away, and the alarmed women are appealing to suffragists everywhere to bring the pressure of outside public opinion that they may retain the right of suffrage.

It was at this [Budapest] meeting that I recall Dr. Shaw's pleasure in a woman who came from Iceland. The government was poor and could not take money out of its treasury to send her. They had three mails a day from the mainland to Iceland and they had given up one post during that entire summer in order that they could take the money and send this suffragist to represent them at the convention.

So I could go on and on to give my impressions of this remarkable woman, whom we all miss so sadly. The companionship [page 10] of that fine mind and valiant spirit has gone from us. It seems to me very touching that the very last effort of her life should have been the effort to promote the League of Nations. She turned her fine eloquence and experience and training into this movement, which we all hold so important. She became ill, as you know, when speaking in Springfield, Illinois, and developed her old difficulty of pneumonia. There is no doubt that her death was brought about by this strenuous speaking tour which she undertook on behalf of the League of Nations -- the same sort of a tour which Mrs. Moore had previously undertaken, with the same set of speakers. It was a fine service, nobly rendered.

It was another lesson for suffragists to learn. Miss Shaw was a suffragist first, last and all the time, but she did not shut herself away from every movement for which we want to use the vote when we get it. But in addition to her desire for a League of Nations, the whole question of having women represented in the Assembly was one which interested her as it does the women of the world everywhere. Norway has elected a woman to represent Norway officially in the Assembly. Out of its three representatives, one is a woman. She is a pioneer, let us hope others will follow.

England has lately held a meeting of 80 women's societies urging that at least one member to the Assembly from England shall be a woman.

Certainly women all over the world ought to take up such [page 11] representation as one of their obligations. It took a great deal of work to get women representatives in national governments. Possibly it will take less to secure the representation of women in this new international government which is being evolved. I am sure Miss Shaw's voice would be lifted in behalf of this cause if she were with us today.

There is so much to be said that I am going to leave it unsaid and read, if I may, from her own words which she spoke at the grave of her dear friend, Susan B. Anthony. The great joy of Miss Anthony's life was the push and pull which Miss Shaw's vigor brought into the suffrage movement and the great fellowship and comradeship which developed between them. Speaking under the fir trees around her open grave, Dr. Shaw obeyed Miss Anthony's long since expressed wish that she should say the last words. She spoke as follows:

"Dear friend; thou hast tarried with us long, now thou hast gone to that [well-earned] rest, we beseech the Infinite Spirit to make us worthy to follow in your steps and to carry on your work. Hail and farewell."