Rheta Childe Dorr.

What eight million women want online

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United States and in England. It is true, in a sense, in most countries
of the world. But in European countries not _woman_ suffrage, but
_universal_ suffrage is being struggled for.

I had this explained to me in Russia, in the course of a conversation
with Alexis Aladyn, the brilliant leader of the Social Democratic party.
I said to him that I had been informed that the conservative reformers,
as well as the radicals, included woman suffrage in their programs.
Aladyn looked puzzled for a moment, and then he replied: "All parties
desire universal suffrage. Naturally that includes women."

Finland at that time, 1906, had recently won its independence from the
autocracy and was preparing for its first general election. Talking with
one of the nineteen women returned to Parliament a few months later, I
asked: "How did you Finnish women persuade the makers of the new
constitution to give you the franchise?"

"Persuade?" she repeated; "we did not have to persuade them. There was
simply no opposition. One of the demands made on the Russian Government
was for universal suffrage."

The movement for universal suffrage, that is the movement for free
government, with the consent of the governed, is considered by the
International Council of Women to have passed the controversial stage.

The whole club movement, as a matter of fact, is a part of the great
democratic movement which is sweeping over the whole world. Individual
clubs may be exclusive, even aristocratic in their tendencies, but the
large organization is absolutely democratic. If the President of the
International Council is an English peeress, one of the vice-presidents
is the wife of a German music teacher, and one of the secretaries is a
self-supporting woman. The General Federation in the United States is
made up of women of various stations in life, from millionaires' wives
to factory girls.

The democracy of women's organizations was shown at the meeting in
London a year ago of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, where
delegates from twenty-one countries assembled. One of the great features
of the meeting was a wonderful pageant of women's trades and
professions. An immense procession of women, bearing banners and emblems
of their work, marched through streets lined with spectators to Albert
Hall, where the entire orchestra of this largest auditorium in the world
was reserved for them. A published account of the pageant, after
describing the delegations of teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists,
artists, authors, house workers, factory women, stenographers, and
others well known here, says:

Then the ranks opened, and down the long aisle came the chain
makers who work at the forge, and the pit-brow women from the
mines, - women whose faces have been blackened by smoke and coal
dust until they can never be washed white.... To these women, the
hardest workers in the land, were given the seats of honor, while
behind them, gladly taking a subordinate place, were many women
wearing gowns with scarlet and purple hoods, indicating their
university degrees.

Every public movement - reform, philanthropic, sanitary, educational - now
asks the co-operation of women's organizations. The United States
Government asked the co-operation of the women's clubs to save the
precarious Panama situation. At a moment when social discontent
threatened literally to stop the building of the canal, the Department
of Commerce and Labor employed Miss Helen Varick Boswell, of New York,
to go to the Isthmus and organize the wives and daughters of Government
employees into clubs. The Department knew that the clubs, once
organized, would do the rest. Nor was it disappointed.

The Government asks the co-operation of women in its latest work of
conserving natural resources. At the biennial of the Federation of
Women's Clubs in 1906 Mr. Enos Mills delivered an address on forestry, a
movement which was beginning to engage the attention of the clubs.
Within an hour after he left the platform Mr. Mills had been engaged by
a dozen state presidents to lecture to clubs and federations. As soon
as it reached the Government that the women's clubs were paying fifty
dollars a lecture to learn about forestry work, the Government arranged
that the clubs should have the best authorities in the nation to lecture
on forestry free of all expense.

But the Government is not alone in recognizing the power of women's
organizations. If the Government approves their interest in public
questions, vested interests are beginning to fear it. The president of
the Manufacturers' Association, in his inaugural address, told his
colleagues that their wives and daughters invited some very dangerous
and revolutionary speakers to address their clubs. He warned them that
the women were becoming too friendly toward reforms that the association
frowned upon.

This is indeed true, and women display, in their new-found enthusiasm,
a singularly obstinate spirit. All the legislatures south of the Mason
and Dixon Line cannot make the Southern women believe that Southern
prosperity is dependent upon young children laboring in mills. The women
go on working for child labor and compulsory education laws, unconvinced
by the arguments of the mill owners and the votes of the legislators.
The highest court in the State of New York was powerless to persuade New
York club women that the United States Constitution stands in the way of
a law prohibiting the night work of women. The Court of Appeals declared
the law unconstitutional, and many women at present are toiling at
night. But the club women immediately began fighting for a new law.

The women of every State in the Union are able to work harmoniously
together because they are unhampered with traditions of what the
founders of the Republic intended, - the sacredness of state rights, or
the protective paternalism of Wall Street. The gloriously illogical
sincerity of women is concerned only about the thing itself.

I have left for future consideration women who having definite social
theories have organized themselves for definite objects. This chapter
has purposely been confined to the activities of average women - good
wives and mothers, the eight hundred thousand American women whose
collective opinion is expressed through the General Federation of
Women's Clubs. For the most part they are mature in years, these club
women. Their children are grown. Some are in college and some are
married. I have heard more than one presiding officer at a State
Federation meeting proudly announce from the platform that she had
become a grandmother since the last convention.

The present president of the General Federation, Mrs. Philip N. Moore
of St. Louis, Missouri, is a graduate of Vassar College, and served for
a time as president of the National Society of Collegiate Alumnae. There
are not wanting in the club movement many women who have taken college
and university honors. Club women taken the country over, however, are
not college products. If they had been, the club movement might have
taken on a more cultural and a less practical form. As it was, the women
formed their groups with the direct object of educating themselves and,
being practical women used to work, they readily turned their new
knowledge to practical ends. As quickly as they found out, through
education, what their local communities needed they were filled with a
generous desire to supply those needs. In reality they simply learned
from books and study how to apply their housekeeping lore to municipal
government and the public school system. Nine-tenths of the work they
have undertaken relates to children, the school, and the home. Some of
it seemed radical in the beginning, but none of it has failed, in the
long run, to win the warmest approval of the people.

The eight million women who form the International Council of Women, and
express the collective opinion of women the world over, are not
exceptional types, although they may possess exceptional intelligence.
They are merely good citizens, wives, and mothers. Their program
contains nothing especially radical. And yet, what a revolution would
the world witness were that program carried out? Peace and arbitration;
social purity; public health; woman suffrage; removal of all legal
disabilities of women. This last-named object is perhaps more
revolutionary in its character than the others, because its fulfillment
will disturb the basic theories on which the nations have established
their different forms of government.



Several years ago a woman of wealth and social prominence in Kentucky,
after pondering some time on the inferior position of women in the
United States, wrote a book. In this volume the United States was
compared most unfavorably with the countries of Europe, where the
dignity and importance of women received some measure of recognition.
Women, this author protested, enjoy a larger measure of political power
in England than in America. In England and throughout Europe their
social power is greater. If a man becomes lord mayor of an English city
his wife becomes lady mayoress, and she shares all her husband's
official honors. On the Continent women are often made honorary colonels
of regiments, and take part with the men in military reviews. Women
frequently hold high offices at court, acting as chamberlains,
constables, and the like. The writer closed her last chapter with the
announcement that she meant henceforth to make her home in England,
where women had more than once occupied the throne as absolute monarch
and constitutional ruler.

It is true that in some particulars American women do seem to be at a
disadvantage with European women. With what looks like a higher regard
for women's intelligence, England has bestowed upon them every measure
of suffrage except the Parliamentary franchise. In England, throughout
the Middle Ages, and even down to the present century, women held the
office of sheriff of the county, clerk of the crown, high constable,
chamberlain, and even champion at a coronation, - the champion being a
picturesque figure who rides into the hall and flings his glove to the
nobles, in defense of the king's crown.

In the royal pageants of European history behold the powerful figures of
Maria Theresa, Catherine the Great, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, Mary of
Scotland, Christina of Sweden, rulers in fact as well as in name; to say
nothing of the long line of women regents in whose hands the state
intrusted its affairs, during the minority of its kings. In the United
States a woman candidate for mayor of a small town would be considered
a joke.

These and other inconsistencies have puzzled many ardent upholders of
American chivalry. In order to understand the position of women in the
United States it is necessary to make a brief survey of the laws under
which European women are governed, and the social theory on which their
apparent advantages are based.

In the first place, the statement that in European countries a woman may
succeed to the throne must be qualified. In three countries only,
England, Spain, and Portugal, are women counted in the line of
succession on terms approaching equality with men. In these three
countries when a monarch dies leaving no sons his eldest daughter
becomes the sovereign. If the ruling monarch die, leaving no children at
all, the oldest daughter - failing sons - of the man who was in his
lifetime in direct line of succession is given preference to male heirs
more remote. Thus Queen Victoria succeeded William IV, she being the
only child of the late king's deceased brother and heir, the Duke of

Similar laws govern the succession in Portugal and Spain, although
dispute on this point has more than once caused civil war in Spain.

In Holland, Greece, Russia, Austria, and a few German states a woman may
succeed to the throne, provided every single male heir to the crown is
dead. Queen Wilhelmina became sovereign in Holland only because the
House of Orange was extinct in the male line, and Holland lost, on
account of the accession of Wilhelmina, the rich and important Duchy of

Luxemburg, in common with the rest of Europe, except the countries
described, lives under what is known as the Salic Law, according to
which a woman may not, in any circumstances, become sovereign.

A word about this Salic Law is necessary, because the tradition of it
permeates the whole atmosphere in which the women of Europe live, move,
and have their legal and social being.

The Salic Law was the code of a barbarous people, so far extinct and
forgotten that it is uncertain just what territory in ancient Gaul they
occupied at the time the code was formulated. Later the Salian Franks,
as the tribe was designated, built on the left bank of the Seine rude
fortresses and a collection of wattled huts which became the ancestor of
the present-day city of Paris.

The Salic Law was a complete code. It governed all matters, civil and
military. It prescribed rules of war; it fixed the salaries of
officials; it designated the exact amount of blood money the family of a
slain man might collect from the family of the slayer; it regu lated
conditions under which individuals might travel from one village to
another; it governed matters of property transfer and inheritance.

The Salian Franks are dust; their might has perished, their annals are
forgotten, their cities are leveled, their mightiest kings sleep in
unmarked graves, their code has passed out of existence, almost indeed
out of the memory of man, - all except one paragraph of one division of
one law. The law related to inheritance of property; the special
division distinguished between real and personal property, and the
paragraph ruled that a woman might inherit movable property, but that
she might not inherit land.

There was not a syllable in the law relating to the inheritance of a
throne. Nevertheless, centuries after the last Salian king was laid in
his barbarous grave a French prince successfully contested with an
English prince the crown of France, his claim resting on that obscure
paragraph in the Salic code. The Hundred Years' War was fought on this
issue, and the final outcome of the war established the Salic Law
permanently in France, and with more or less rigor in most of the
European states.

At the time of the French Revolution, when the "Rights of Man" were
being declared with so much fervor and enthusiasm, when the old laws
were being revised in favor of greater freedom of the individual, the
"Rights of Woman" were actually revised downward. Up to this time the
application of the Salic Law was based on tradition and precedent. Now a
special statute was enacted forever barring women from the sovereignty
of France. "Founded on the pride of the French, who could not bear to be
ruled by their own women folk," as the records are careful to state.

The interpretation of the Salic Law did more, a great deal more, than
exclude women from the throne. It established the principle of the
inherent inferiority of women. The system of laws erected on that
principle were necessarily deeply tinged with contempt for women, and
with fear lest their influence in any way might affect the conduct of
state affairs. That explains why, at the present time, although in most
European countries women are allowed to practice medicine, they are not
allowed to practice law. Medicine may be as learned a profession, but it
affects only human beings. The law, on the other hand, affects the
state. A woman advocate, you can readily imagine, might so influence a
court of justice that the laws of the land might suffer feminization.
From the European point of view this would be most undesirable.

The apparently superior rights possessed by English women were also
bestowed upon them by a vanished system of laws. They have descended
from Feudalism, in which social order the _person_ did not exist. The
social order consisted of _property_ alone, and the claims of property,
that is to say, land, were paramount over the claims of the individual.
Those historic women sheriffs of counties, clerks of crown,
chamberlains, and high constables held their high offices because the
offices were hereditary property in certain titled families, and they
had to belong to the entail, even when a woman was in possession. The
offices were purely titular. No English woman ever acted as high
constable. No English woman ever attended a coronation as king's
champion. The rights and duties of these offices were delegated to a
male relative. Every once in a while, during the Middle Ages, some
strong-minded lady of title demanded the right to administer her office
in person, but she was always sternly put down by a rebuking House of
Lords, sometimes even by the king's majesty himself.

In the same way the voting powers of the women of England are a result
of hereditary privilege. Local affairs in England, until a very recent
period, were administered through the parish, and the only persons
qualified to vote were the property owners of the parish. It was really
property interests and not people who voted. Those women who owned
property, or who were administering property for their minor children,
were entitled to vote, to serve on boards of guardians, and to dispense
the Poor Laws. Out of their right of parish vote has grown their right
of municipal franchise. It carries with it a property qualification, and
the proposed Parliamentary franchise, for which the women of England are
making such a magnificent fight, will also have a property

The real position, legal and social, which women in England and
continental Europe have for centuries occupied, may be gauged from an
examination of the feminist movement in a very enlightened country, say
Germany. The laws of Germany were founded on the Corpus Juris of the
Romans, a stern code which relegates women to the position of chattels.
And chattels they have been in Germany, until very recent years, when
through the intelligent persistence of strong women the chains have
somewhat been loosened.

A generation ago, in 1865, to be exact, a group of women in Leipzig
formed an association which they called the Allgemeinen Deutschen
Frauenbund, which may be Anglicized into General Association of German
Women. The stated objects of the association give a pretty clear idea of
the position of women at that time. The women demanded as their rights,
Education, the Right to Work, Free Choice of Profession. Nothing more,
but these three demands were so revolutionary that all masculine
Germany, and most of feminine Germany, uttered horrified protests.
Needless to say nothing came of the women's demand.

After the Franco-Prussian War the center of the women's revolt naturally
moved to the capital of the new empire, Berlin. From that city, during
the years that followed, so much feminine unrest was radiated that in
1887 the German Woman Suffrage Association was formed, with the demand
for absolute equality with men. Two remarkable women, Minna Cauer and
Anita Augsberg, the latter unmarried and a doctor of laws, were the
moving spirits in the first woman suffrage agitation, which has since
extended throughout the empire until there is hardly a small town
without its suffrage club.

Now the woman suffragist in Germany differs from the American suffragist
in that she is always a member of a political party. She is a silent
member to be sure, but she adheres to her party, because, through
tradition or conviction, she believes in its policies. Usually the
suffragist is a member of the Social Democratic Party, allied to the
International Socialist Party. She is a suffragist because she is a
Socialist, because woman suffrage, and, indeed, the full equalization of
the laws governing men and women are a part of the Socialist platform in
every country in the world. The woman member of the Social Democratic
party is not working primarily for woman suffrage. She is working for a
complete overturning of the present economic system, and she advocates
_universal adult suffrage_ as a means of bringing about the social and
economic changes demanded by the Socialists.

These German Socialist women are often very advanced spirits, who hold
university degrees, who have entered the professions, and are generally
emancipated from strictly conventional lives. Others, in large numbers,
belong to the intellectual proletarian classes. Their American
prototypes are to be found in the Women's Trade Union League, described
in a later chapter.

The other German suffragists are members of the radical, the moderate
(we should say conservative), and the clerical parties. These women are
middle class, average, intelligent wives and mothers. They correspond
fairly well with the women of the General Federation of Clubs in the
United States, and like the American club women they are affiliated with
the International Council of Women. Locally they are working for the
social reforms demanded by the first American suffrage convention, held
in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. They are demanding the higher
education, married women's property rights, free speech, and the right
to choose a trade or profession. They are demanding other rights, from
lack of which the American woman never suffered. The right to attend a
political meeting was until recently denied to German women. Although
they take a far keener and more intelligent interest in national and
local politics than American women as a rule have ever taken, their
presence at political meetings has but yesterday been sanctioned.

The civil responsibility of the father and mother in many European
countries is barbarously unequal. If a marriage exists between the
parents the father is the only parent recognized. He is sole guardian
and authority. When divorce dissolves a marriage the rights of the
father are generally paramount, even when he is the party accused.

On the other hand, if no marriage exists between the parents, if the
child is what is called illegitimate, the mother is alone responsible
for its maintenance. Not only is the father free from all
responsibility, his status as a father is denied by law. Inquiry into
the paternity of the child is in some countries forbidden. The unhappy
mother may have documentary proof that she was betrayed under promise of
marriage, but she is not allowed to produce her proof.

Under the French Code, the substance of which governs all Europe, it is
distinctly a principle that the woman's honor is and ought to be of less
value than a man's honor. Napoleon personally insisted on this
principle, and more than once emphasized his belief that no importance
should be attached to men's share in illegitimacy.

These and other degrading laws the European progressive women are trying
to remove from the Codes. They have their origin in the belief in "The
imprudence, the frailty, and the imbecility" of women, to quote from
this Code Napoleon.

Whatever women's legal disabilities in the United States, their laws
were never based on the principle that women were imprudent, frail, or
imbecile. They placed women at a distinct disadvantage, it is true, but
it was the disadvantage of the minor child and not of the inferior, the
chattel, the property of man, as in Europe.

Laws in the United States were founded on the assumption that women
stood in perpetual need of protection. The law makers carried this to
the absurd extent of assuming that protection was all the right a woman
needed or all she ought to claim. They even pretended that when a woman
entered the complete protection of the married state she no longer stood
in need of an identity apart from her husband. The working out of this
theory in a democracy was far from ideal, as we shall see.



A little girl sat in a corner of her father's law library watching, with
wide, serious eyes, a scene the like of which was common enough a
generation or two ago. The weeping old woman told a halting story of a
dissipated son, a shrewish daughter-in-law, and a state of servitude on
her own part, - a story pitifully sordid in its details. The farm had
come to her from her father's estate. For forty years she had toiled
side by side with her husband, getting a simple, but comfortable,
living from the soil. Then the husband died. Under the will the son
inherited the farm, and everything on it, - house, furniture, barns,
cattle, tools. Even the money in the bank was his. A clause in the will

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Online LibraryRheta Childe DorrWhat eight million women want → online text (page 3 of 14)