The Progressive Party and Woman Suffrage, September 1912

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The Progressive Party and Woman Suffrage

The identification of women with the Progressive Party has given rise to widespread regrets, first, that women have [sacrificed] their superior non-partisan position which has so traditionally been above the turmoil of politics and second that certain advocates of woman suffrage have given up the strategic detachment from which they could advantageously make their appeal to the leaders of all parties.

To consider the first objection, is to make the wellknown statement that many women resent the moral idleness to which they have been relegated <because> the education of their children, the very adminsitration of their households, as well as their traditional activities are gradually passing from the region of domesticity into politics. Women <find themselves> at absolute liberty to advocate only the noblest and highest principles, but because such advocacy must be carried on in chilly places remote from real life, the mass of women gradually give it up and finally accept the moral standards which the men flushed with action bring to them from "the marts of trade" and the exciting "political arenas."

Even that minority of women who extend and renew their moral energy through the activity afforded in women's clubs are constantly pushed into civic enterprises and finally grow accustomed to find that their most cherished schemes are balked by corrupt politicians. They see philanthropic enterprises, carefully developed by public spirited women, such as industrial schools and juvenile courts, when made a part of governmental administration, languish and fail of their highest usefulness because their founders and promoters are [page 2] denied a further part in them. Women are praised for such undertakings when they are philanthropic, but if the very same patients in the very same buildings are taken over by the state, their further activity is considered unwomanly because the institution has entered the political field. Public spirited women also see other benificent measures, such as old age pensins and epileptic colonies fail of accomplishment, because women without the franchise have no opportunity to insist that the state shall provide adequate care for the old and sick.

Certainly such a role needs to be examined afresh when a multitude of men and women have come to challenge the sincerity and moral value of that combination of reverence and disregard which does not permit a woman to fulfill her traditional obligation to the community simply because to do this, she must participate in political life.

If women would bear their share in those great social problems which no nation has yet solved but which every nation must reduce to political action if it would hold its place in advancing civilization they are fairly forced to choose between standing for an impossible ideal, quite outside of the political field or upholding moral standards within political life itself.

In fact we constantly see that the women who use their leisure for useful activity develop a growing desire for citizenship while the others tend towards complete detachment and irresponsibility.

May we not say that the women who "keep out of the turmoil of politics," also keep out of the real life of their times for never since the days of Pericles has so large a portion of social activity come within the sphere of politics. [page 3]

To consider the second objection, may I relate two personal experiences which led me to accept my election as a delegate from Illinois to the Progressive Convention and thus to become identified with the party.

Although I have always been in favor of woman suffrage, it was only during the last year that I had an opportunity to speak for the cause in the states where suffrage for women was to be directly voted upon in the fall elections. These campaign states afforded an excellent illustration of political participation versus abstract propaganda. I spent a week campaigning in Kansas, a state in which the women have possessd the school franchise for fifty years and the municipal franchise for twenty-five years. Although I had the impression that I was plowing over a field that had been well plowed before and that all the essential reasons for giving votes to women had been presented to the people of Kansas long since, there was a new sense of reality abouty it. Part of the time I was with the Reverend Olympia Brown who had successfully campaigned through the state fifty years before. The men applauded when she recalled the hardships of pioneer women whom she knew, one had buried three children at her own doorstep, one after another as they died of diphtheria without the benefit of physician or clergy. Certainly such women out of their very [page 4] hardships and sacrifice, had earned a right to participate in the political development of their state. But they were no more devoted and patriotic than was the mayor of a Kansas town whom I met, at the State capital, an able, self possessed woman, conversant with the policies of advanced municipal administration, so often absolutely dependant upon state legislation. She too held a stake in the development of her state, as did many other Kansas women, bearing the burdens of their own day, who needed the franchise for immediate use.

Last winter members of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association appeared, as women from suffrage societies had done for forty-two consecutive sessions of Congress, before the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and House, to urge the passage of equal suffrage bills which had as usual been introduced into both houses of Congress. Although a million and a quarter of women vote for the president of the United States at the next election, the woman's vote was not used as a threat, and the entire discussion was kept far above political exigencies. It was a fine opportunity to test the strength of that disinterested leadership backed by moral worth, by intellectual distinction and social prestige, as one woman after another, representing the interests of the home, of education, of industry, of philanthropy, of social reform, presented her plea for political equality. The members of hte <Congressional> Committees were most courteous in their usual promise "to take the matter under advisement," they even ordered duplicate copies of the Congressional hearing to be sent to the National Suffrage headquarters that we might use them for propaganda, evidently convinced that the arguments as arguments were sound.

<It was evident however that> what the situation demanded, however, was not more abstract arguments not more deference to Congressional opinion and <more> dependence upon its initiative, but a new <party> alignment with the many men who, already convinced [page 5] of the validity of woman's suffrage, were ready to proceed to "the realization of opinion," in John Morley's fine phrase. Our position of appeal was anomolous. Woman suffrage needed to be pushed by men who had been elected to Congress pledged to that issue.

Having reached this conviction through my own experiences, as did many other women who were convinced that the time had come for political action, <we> could not do otherwise than identify themselves with the new party which met them <us> more than halfway, which through its state conventions had sent twenty-two women to participate in its first national deliberation and whose platform states that "the Progressive Party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike."

If further reply is needed to the objection that some of us as Suffragists have given up the <a> fine strategic position of non-partisanship, I can only add that political history has many times made evident that new parties ultimately write the platform for all parties; causes which they alone the New Party alone had the courage and insight to espouse are later taken up by existing political organizations to whom direct appeal had previosuly proven fruitless. When the cause <of Equal Suffrage> has once been campaign material, they <it> cannot again be ignored, certainly not when associated with two such men <candidates> as those at the head of the Progressive Party.

A candidate is not merely a unit, but the spokesman of a vast number of people. He must be accepted or rejected on the merits of his background, as well as upon his own personality. It is clear that measures can never be made into political material apart from men because they cannot be placed before the average voter, busy about his [page 6] every day affairs, unless they are expressed through a personality which engages his interest and loyalty.

Many of us are grateful that such an opportunity has come to our cause and while we in no wise commit the suffrage organizations with which we are connected, we gladly identify ourselves with the Progressive Party which declares for a rounded program of social legislation and appeals to that moral energy of women which <has> been so long undesired and unutilized in politics.