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localized: it is simply a phase of the ''woman's rights"
movement, and can be rightly understood only in the light
of this larger struggle of women for equal social, legal,
and political rights. Many of the earlier disabilities
under which women labored for centuries having been
removed in more recent years, the emphasis of the world-
wide movement — which is sometimes characterized as
the ''feminist movement" — is now being placed upon the
acquisition of equal suffrage.^



To appreciate something of the real meaning and the
moral force of the woman's rights movement it is only
necessary to understand the status of woman in primitive
society and her position under the Common Law of
England. At the dawn of history and among many primi-
tive peoples women were under the complete subjection
of their fathers, brothers, or husbands. They were often
mere chattels, being bought and sold like cattle without
their own consent. In fact the early contractual con-
ception of marriage appears to have been an outgrowth
of the practice of wife purchase.^

Under the Common Law of England the earnings of a
woman before marriage belonged to her father, and after
marriage they belonged to her husband. Indeed, accord-
ing to both the theory and practice of the Common Law
the person and property of a wife were under the abso-
lute control of her husband, and under his protection and
influence she was presumed to live during her married
life. The theory of the law that the husband and wife
were one meant in fact that the wife ceased to have any
legal existence apart from her husband. Divorce likewise
was exclusively a male privilege in early Anglo-Saxon

According to present-day standards the greatest
hardship imposed by the Common Law was in the rules



governing the property rights of married women. For
example, the title to all the personal property of a wife,
including even her clothing, became vested in her hus-
band at marriage: he could sell or give her personal
property away ; he could devise it by will ; and if he died
without a will such personal property descended to his
heirs, or the husband's creditors might claim them in
payment of his debts. At Common Law a wife could not
convey or devise either real or personal property without
the consent of her husband.

During marriage the husband was entitled to the con-
trol, use, and the enjoyment of his wife's real estate ; and
when she died he was entitled to a life interest in all her
real estate, if a child had been born alive. On the other
hand, if the husband died the wife got but one-third of his
personal estate, if there were children; and one-half, if
there were no children; and she was entitled to a life
estate in but one-third of his real property.

By the Common Law the father alone was recognized
as the guardian of his children : he could designate in his
will a guardian for them after his death, and he could
apprentice them or give them to others without the con-
sent of the mother. Moreover, the husband was per-
mitted to restrain the wife of her liberty and give her the
same degree of punishment which he might administer to
his children.

On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the
harshness of the Common Law was mitigated to some
extent by the theory of the oneness of husband and wife.
For example, the husband was responsible for the main-
tenance of his wife according to her rank and station. He
was likewise held liable for debts which she had con-
tracted before marriage ; and he was held responsible for


certain civil injuries committed by her after marriage,
such as libel and slander. The commission of certain
crimes by the wife in the presence or company of her
husband were presumed to have been committed under
his influence or coercion.

Blackstone, it will be recalled, looked upon the Com-
mon Law disabilities of the wife as mostly intended for
her protection and benefit, declaring ' ' so great a favorite
is the female sex of the laws of England." Without
entering into a discussion of whether or not the harshness
of the Common Law was beneficial to women in the period
in which its rules were formulated, it may be asserted
that these rules were perpetuated long after they had
ceased to be of any benefit or protection, and that the
gross injustice of the system became painfully apparent
when some misguided and inconsiderate husband lived
up to his full privileges under the law.

In reference to the operation of the Common Law in
America it may be said that the western States were the
first to adopt a more liberal policy towards women by
substituting for the rules of the Common Law, statutory
provisions equalizing the rights and abolishing most of
the discriminations between man and wife. In this legis-
lation Iowa ranks high: in all matters of property, cus-
tody of children, and personal rights women of this State
have been placed upon an equality with men.

Indeed, the statutory modification of Common Law
rules in Iowa began as early as 1840 when by an act of the
Legislative Assembly a married woman was permitted to
release her dower rights and to convey her real estate by
conveyance executed by herself and husband and ac-
knowledged by a separate examination and acknowledge-
ment.^ In 1851 women were permitted to convey their


interests in real estate the same as other persons;^ and
by the Code of 1873 the power to control property and
wages and to will the same was granted to women.*^

It is true that married women in Iowa have usually
aided their husbands in saving a part of the family in-
come. This surplus the husband could invest as he chose.
If he invested it in property the wife was entitled to one-
third thereof at his death, if there were children, and one-
half of it if there were no children. The other half went
to his heirs. It is apparent that this rule of law worked a
real hardship upon the widow where the estate when
divided was insufficient to support her in comfort. And
so, the injustice of this provision, which was equally hard
upon the husband in case of the death of the wife, was
remedied by an act of the Thirty-fifth General Assembly
of Iowa which provides that when a person dies intestate
without issue "the whole of the estate to the amount of
seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00), after the
payment of the debts and expenses of administration, and
one-half (l^) of all the estate in excess of said seven
thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00) shall go to the
surviving spouse and the other one-half (I/2) of said ex-
cess shall go to the parents. If no spouse, the whole shall
go to the parents."^



Pkeceding the agitation for equal suffrage, and parallel-
ing the woman's rights movement, was the long struggle
for universal manhood suffrage. In England the exten-
sion of the right to vote was stoutly opposed at every
turn and only after many years was the goal of universal
manhood suffrage attained — the most notable reform
acts affecting the right to vote being those of 1832, 1867,
and 1884, with an act to abolish plural voting still (in
1914) pending.

In America manhood suffrage was very much limited
during the colonial period by property and religious
qualifications. Nor did the Revolution, with its endorse-
ment of the doctrines of natural equality, natural rights,
and the consent of the governed as expressed in the
Declaration of Independence, materially extend the
suffrage. Indeed, the belief seemed everywhere to pre-
vail that the possession of property was essential to the
right to vote — as if government was only an agent to
protect property rights. Moreover, religious and other
tests were also required of the voter — Jews and Catho-
lics usually being disfranchised. Thus, only a small part
of the adult male population had the right to vote under
the first State constitutions. At the same time the prop-
erty qualifications for holding office were so high as to
exclude all but the well-to-do.^



After the adoption of the Federal Constitution in
1789 a powerful movement for the extension of political
rights to the masses (of the male population) was in-
augurated under the influence of Thomas Jefferson and
his followers. One by one the States abolished property
and religious qualifications for voting. This was not
accomplished, however, without the powerful opposition
of the propertied classes. It is a notable fact that Chan-
cellor Kent and Daniel Webster were strongly opposed
to the removal of the property qualification.

Moreover, the growth and development of political
parties encouraged the movement for a wider suffrage,
since each party invited popular support by advocating
the extension of the electorate, just as to-day rival party
organizations are usually ready to adopt generous reso-
lutions in behalf of equal suffrage with a view to gaining
popular support. As new western Territories and States
were established, the older restrictions on the suffrage
were abolished — citizenship, residence, age, and sex be-
ing the only qualifications retained. But in some of the
older eastern States the property qualifications continued
down to the time of the Civil AYar.

Universal white manhood suffrage having been ac-
complished by the middle of the nineteenth century, the
next movement for the extension of the electorate arose
out of the emancipation of the negroes as a result of the
Civil War. Prior to 1865 negroes were not allowed to
vote except in five of the New England States ; but soon
after the war this discrimination against men of color
began to disappear in the northern States. In Iowa the
right to vote was extended to them in 1868;^^ but not
until 1880 were they permitted to hold public office in this


In the southern States to-day negroes do not as a
matter of fact enjoy the right of suffrage which is guar-
anteed to them by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Con-
stitution of the United States — the effect of that
amendment having nearly everywhere been nullified by
a body of educational and property qualifications and
''grandfather clauses" adopted by the several States.
The white men of the South justify the disfranchisement
of the colored men on the grounds of social and political


The movement for equal suffrage may be said to have
begun in England toward the close of the eighteenth
century. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published a book
on the Vindication of the Rights of Women which, though
greeted with a storm of ridicule and abuse, ''gave the
first considerable impulse to a discussion on the subject."
In 1797 Charles Fox is quoted as saying ''that all the
superior classes of the female sex in England must be
more capable of exercising the elective suffrage with
deliberation and propriety than the uninformed individ-
uals of the lowest class of men to whom the advocates of
universal suffrage would extend it." Bentham likewise
remarked upon the injustice of refusing women the right
to vote. In 1835 Bailey strongly advocated the extension
of the suffrage to women in his treatise entitled The
Rationale of Political Representation.^^ Likewise Benja-
min Disraeli in 1848 declared in the House of Commons
that he saw no reason for denying women the right to
vote. But the most influential advocate of equal suffrage
in England was John Stuart Mill, who espoused the cause
with great power in his book on The Subjugation of
Women published in 1869. Moreover, in 1867 Mill
championed the cause of equal suffrage in the House of
Commons by proposing it as an amendment to the Re-
form Bill then pending.^^

The results of the movement were that through a



series of acts, passed in 1869, 1870, 1888, and 1894, the
women of England obtained the right to vote at practi-
cally all local elections. Furthermore, the right to be
elected to all county and borough councils was granted by
the act of 1907. Having obtained practically all but the
right to vote for members of Parliament, the advocates
of equal suffrage in England are now attacking vigor-
ously and sometimes violently this last barrier of political

In the United States the first woman's rights conven-
tion was held in 1848, although the agitation for political
equality really began before the Revolution. Prior to the
middle of the nineteenth century the demand for equal
suffrage in the United States was everywhere overshad-
owed by the struggle for unrestricted manhood suffrage.
In the convention of 1848 the women adopted a * * declara-
tion of sentiments" modeled upon the Declaration of
Independence ; and it appears that the cause which they
represented gained considerable headway before the
Civil War — although woman suffrage was then gener-
ally regarded as a most radical and extravagant, if not
ridiculous, movement.

During the Civil War the movement was all but lost
sight of, when it was suddenly revived in an agitation to
keep the word ''male" out of the proposed Fourteenth
Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Unsuccessful in their effort to modify the Fourteenth
Amendment, the advocates of woman suffrage sought to
have the word ''sex" inserted immediately after the
word "color" in the Fifteenth Amendment so as to have
the proposed amendment read: "The right of citizens of
the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any State on account of race,,
color, sex, or previous condition of servitude."



Division of opinion regarding the advisability of the
agitation of this phase of the question arose in the ranks
of the Equal Rights Association and finally split the
organization asunder. One branch, under the leadership
of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, formed the National Woman
Suffrage Association and the other under the leadership
of Henry Ward Beecher formed the American Woman
Suffrage Association. The former devoted its energies
to the securing of national action; while the latter cen-
tered its efforts chiefly on State action. In 1890 these
organizations reunited under the name of the National
American Woman Suffrage Association, thus giving a
new impulse to the equal suffrage movement.^^ The older
leaders, such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony,
have passed away and their work has been taken up by
such new leaders as Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard
Shaw, and Jane Addams.

The first fruits of the reorganized efforts in behalf of
equal suffrage came with the admission of Wyoming as a
State in 1890 ; for Wyoming was the first, as a Territory
(in 1869) and then as a State (in 1890), to give women
the ballot. Other States which have given the suffrage to
women on equal terms with men are Colorado in 1893;
Utah in 1896; Idaho in 1896; Washington in 1910; Cali-
fornia in 1911 ; and Oregon, Arizona, and Kansas in 1912.
The Alaska Territory also granted the suffrage to women
in 1913. Moreover, in twenty-two States women enjoy
partial suffrage, which is usually confined to some phase
of school, municipal, or taxpaying matters ; while in sev-
enteen States they have no suffrage right whatever. ^^

In 1913 the General Assembly of Illinois granted to
women all the suffrage which it was possible to confer in
that State without a constitutional amendment: the act


gives them the right to vote at municipal elections, for
certain State officers, and for presidential electors.^*^ To
grant the right to vote at all elections in Illinois will re-
quire an amendment to the State Constitution.

Six States will submit equal suffrage amendments to
the voters at the general elections in November, 1914.
These States are Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South
Dakota, Nebraska, and Missouri. In Ohio, by an initia-
tive petition for equal suffrage, the question will be sub-
mitted to the voters in November, 1914. In Iowa, Massa-
chusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania
suffrage amendments have passed one legislature and are
awaiting the action of the succeeding assembly. More-
over, the record shows that in four other States a ma-
jority vote was mustered in the legislature for the
submission of the question to a vote of the people ; but in
two of these States, Maine and West Virginia, the propo-
sition did not receive the necessary two-thirds vote. In
Wisconsin the Governor vetoed the act; while in Mich-
igan the voters twice refused to sanction the proposition.
A proposed suffrage amendment was defeated by the
voters of Ohio in 1912.

It is significant that at nearly every session of almost
every State legislature one or more propositions of ex-
tending the suifrage to women are introduced and more
or less seriously considered. Sometimes these proposed
measures are killed in the committee. More often, how-
ever, they pass one house only to be defeated in the other.

Nor have efforts to secure recognition in the law been
confined to State legislatures : there has been no little
agitation of the suffrage question in Congress. In 1884,
for example, an amendment to the Federal Constitution
was favorably recommended in a minority report from


the Judiciary Committee of the House. This document,
which was written by Mr. Thomas B. Reed of Maine and
signed by him and by Mr. E. B. Taylor of Ohio, Mr. M. A.
McCoid of Iowa, and Mr. T. M. Browne of Indiana, is a
notable contribution to the equal suffrage literature of
America.^^ (See below. Appendix.)

In recent years the equal suffrage cause has been en-
dorsed in America by the Progressive party, the Prohibi-
tion party, and the Socialist party in their national plat-
forms. But the advocates of this reform have plead in
vain with President Woodrow Wilson, who takes the
position that the suffrage is a problem to be solved by the
States. In the first session of the Sixty-third Congress
the suffragists were granted a hearing before both House
and Senate committees on woman suffrage; and subse-
quently the Senate committee reported favorably on the
proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution, which
would provide for the solution of the equal suffrage prob-
lem as follows :

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote
shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any
State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have power, by appropriate legis-
lation, to enforce the provisions of this article. ^^



Theee has been so much discussion of the rights of
women in general and of woman suffrage in particular
that the leading arguments for and against equal suffrage
need only to be briefly summarized in this connection.
Moreover, since it is not the purpose of these pages to
advocate or oppose the extension of the franchise to
women the several arguments will be presented without


1. Equal suffrage should prevail because it is social-
ly just. The right to vote is the highest test of liberty.
Taxation without representation is unjust. Government
for, by, and of the people includes women as well as men.

2. The suffrage will benefit woman herself. Women
can not do their full share of the world's work without an
equal participation in government. The political equality
of men and women does not necessarily mean identity of
duties, occupations, and activities.

3. Modern law and administration are more and
more concerned with the welfare of the mother, the child,
and the ordering of household life. In these matters
women have from the beginning of the race been the

4. The enfranchisement of women is necessary to the



proper solution of child labor problems and to prevent
the exploitation of the labor of women and children.

5. If economic conditions do not force women to com-
pete with men and underbid them in the labor market,
they can devote themselves to the household without low-
ering the family income.

6. Woman suffrage will eventually abolish the pres-
ent double standard of morals, thus tending to lessen
social diseases and social evils.

7. The best thinkers of the day and the greatest
statesmen are in favor of equal suffrage, while practi-
cally all the vicious and predatory interests are against

8. Wherever women have had the right to vote they
have justified their right to its enjoyment by the active
and wise use which they have made of the privilege.

9. Equal suffrage means the socialization of one-half
of the human race.

Finally, the suffragist does not ask to be considered
man's equal in every respect; but she does ask to be con-
sidered his equal within her limitations. She insists that
there is no reason or justice in the claim that every man,
no matter what his moral, intellectual, or physical status
may be, should be legally and politically the superior of
all women. To her it is altogether absurd that am^ State
should allow a man to qualify to vote on his wife 's prop-

The advocates of equal suffrage have no fears that the
enfranchisement of women will result in the decline of
marriage and a falling off of the birth-rate. Nor do they
believe that it will destroy woman's capacity for child-
bearing, or prevent her from performing her duties as a
mother. On the contrary they declare that it will make


her a more intelligent wife and mother. They stoutly
insist that there is no more reason to believe that differ-
ences in politics will break up the home than that differ-
ences in religion will invariably result in estrangement:
at present the marriage certificate is not an insurance
policy against domestic discord.


1. It is claimed that women are naturally inferior to
men — intellectually, morally, and physically.

2. Women are too emotional to understand politics.
They jump at conclusions, and they would not frame
workable laws.

3. Women lack the physical force which is necessary
to support authority. The transfer of power from the
military to the unmilitary sex would result in national

4. Woman's sphere is in the home. Equal suffrage
threatens the family with dissolution.

5. Women are not a class but a sex with class inter-
ests identical with those of the men and effectually repre-
sented by men.

6. Women as a sex have no wrongs which men can
not be expected to redress.

7. Women are already crowding the professions,
trades, and occupations, thus depriving many worthy men
of places which would otherwise enable them to support
women in marriage.

8. Woman can not be both the helpmate and the com-
plement of man and at the same time his rival and com-

9. Voting will degrade women : the polls are not a fit
place for wives and mothers.


10. Women would vote at the dictation of brothers,
fathers, husbands, relatives, or religious advisors.

11. The Scriptures command women to be silent and
under obedience, and teach that woman is inferior to man.

12. There being more women than men in the world,
if women vote they will dominate men and reduce them to
positions of inferiority.

13. Women do not want to vote.

14. Chivalry will cease when women become poli-

15. Equal suffrage will open the question of suffrage
for negro women.

Perhaps the most radical expression of opposition to
equal suffrage which has appeared in print in recent
years is Sir Almoth Wright's book entitled The JJnex-
purgated Case Against Woman Suffrage, which denoun-
ces the whole feminist movement. The author declares
that when women argue for their rights they are simply
"bluffing": the term "woman's rights" should be
changed to "woman's claims". If the policy of giving
rights is to be adopted and carried to the limit, he de-
clares, it will in the end involve the granting of full rights
to negroes and to animals, and finally lead to the conclu-
sion that it is unjust to kill animals even for food. He
answers the argument that taxation without representa-
tion is tyranny by saying that the taxes paid by women
cover only a small amount of what women cost the State :
the men must make up the deficit. Furthermore, he de-
clares that wherever a woman does hold an independent
financial position it is not because she has won the place

Online LibraryState Historical Society of IowaApplied history (Volume 2) → online text (page 21 of 50)