A Celebration of Women Writers

"Are Women Citizens and People?" by Mrs. Emily Burton Ketcham (1838-1907).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 361-364.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 361] 



At the time of the Republican National Convention, in June, 1892, hundreds of women, as well as men, were waiting eagerly to see what issues that party would adopt in their platform as the issues for which they would carry on their campaign.

Carefully we read their declaration of principles as telegraph and press brought them to our homes. With surprise and joy we read the following: "We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot in all public elections. That a free ballot and a fair count shall be guaranteed to every citizen and all of the people." That surely meant women as well as men, for, by the Supreme Court of the United States, we are citizens, and certainly we are people; but to make certainty doubly sure, I wrote to Hon. J. B. Foraker, chairman of Committee on Resolutions, quoting the words, and asking if by "every citizen," and "all of the people," his committee considered women a part of all the people, "whose free and honest ballot, the just and equal representation as well as their just and equal protection under the laws," to whom the Republican party gave their guaranty "to protect in every state," to which the honorable gentleman replied, briefly and frankly, thus: "I can only say, speaking for myself, that I did not understand the words you quoted to be intended to include women, and, therefore, to amount to a declaration in favor of female suffrage."

Webster defines a citizen as one who enjoys the freedom and privileges of a city. The freeman of a city as distinguished from a foreigner, or one not entitled to its franchises, a person, native or naturalized, who has the privilege of voting for public officers, and who is qualified to fill offices in the gift of the people; also, any native-born or naturalized person of either sex who is entitled to full protection in the exercise and enjoyment of the so-called private rights, which latter definition is in harmony with the United States Supreme Court decisions.

Article IV, section 2, in the Constitution of the United States, says: "The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states."

Article IX says: "The enumeration of certain rights shall not be considered to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Article XIV says: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the state [Page 362]  wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."

Article XV says: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude."

In the Constitution of the United States the word female or she does not occur once. By man is meant an individual of the human race, a human being, a person, the human race, mankind, the totality of men. And God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. and let them have dominion."

Let whom have dominion? The male and female man.

In the constitution of Michigan the word she does not occur, and the word female is used once in connection with special property rights.

Now, if all this declaration and preamble concerning the rights and privileges of "citizens," "people" and "persons" do not include women, then it follows that any duties, requirements, obligations or penalties which the law lays on citizens, people and persons do not include women. It cannot mean women to be taxed as a citizen or person, but not represented as the same. Our martyred Abraham Lincoln said, "I believe in all who bear the burdens of the government sharing in its privileges, by no means excluding the women."

"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States." If by "we, the people," women are not meant, then, as a logical sequence, women are relieved from all responsibility and all allegiance to a government whose powers are not derived from the consent of the governed. What a farce is a government with such a preamble and declaration of principles, excluding one-half of the people from the right of self-protection, excluding one-half of the people from the right of self-government, and holding them amenable to laws made by others, taking by force their property to uphold the government and maintain the law, to pay the salaries of representatives whom they did not elect; to fine, arrest, imprison or hang them for not obeying laws made without their consent.

"A government by the people, of the people and for the people," which holds women as people and citizens, to bear its burdens, to be punished by its laws, but excluded from its privileges and immunities, is a government of robbery and usurpation.

In the settlement of new countries, while the railroads are being built; while the mountains are being tunneled and the mines developed; while the community is largely composed of men and that vanguard of civilization, the saloon, is the only public school, the depravity of men is appalling, the spirit of recklessness runs riot; gradually the wives and mothers come; the home is established, the little church is built, the primitive school springs up in lonely places, and slowly and surely a change of thought, habit and higher aims permeates that community; but that half of the people who maintain the church, who are self-supporting, law-abiding and aspire to noble deeds, are excluded from the citizen's right to the ballot, that instrument which makes and shapes the conditions and environments of home.

The one who aims to be self-supporting; who holds inviolate the rights of his neighbor; who succors the friendless, encourages and sustains the weak; who seeks to promote industry, economy, thrift; who cherishes a spirit of charity and forbearance: who stimulates a desire for high thinking, pure living and broad culture; who would suppress and eliminate the depraving influences of obscene literature, the base in art, the demoralization of gambling, the body and soul destroying cancer of prostitution, that poisons the blood and perpetuates its pestilential life by bringing into being helpless children, cursed from their conception and birth by vitiated blood and inherited tendencies to evil; who would wipe out that prolific breeder of poverty, pauperism amid misery–the saloon, with all its glitter, greed amid groveling, is the [Page 363]  one with the spirit to build up a community, to fortify a state, and insure the perpetuity of a republic. Such are the women of our country; these are the citizens and people who "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to themselves and their posterity." These are the citizens and people who furnish less than ten per cent. of all the criminals in jails and prisons; who furnish a small per cent. of the paupers in the poor-houses; who supply but few recruits to the great army of tramps, burglars and train robbers; who supply but a small per cent. of the patrons of the saloon; who pay an equal per cent. of tax on every dollar invested; who have won the highest honors in institutions of learning; who constitute about three-fourths of the graduates of the high school; who constitute nine-tenths of the teachers of the young; who do at least two-thirds of the church work; who do a large proportion of the charitable work; who made up the home reserves, to conduct the business interests when the fathers and brothers had answered their country's call to save it from rebellion; who sent train-loads of money, food and clothing to the wounded and sick on the battlefield and in the hospital; who left the shelter of home to comfort the dying and nurse the sick; and who leave the old home, ease, and civilization to endure the hardships and privation of pioneer life; bravely, cheerfully help husband, father and brother to build up the wilderness with homes and schools, its great grain fields and young cities filled with the whirr and hum of factory and shop. The pioneer mothers! Who shall tell of their patience, bravery, courage and helpfulness, without honor, or offices, or salaries?

For more than a century. in a land of boasted freedom and self-protection, the men, because of superior physical strength, have arrogated to themselves mental and political supremacy.

For more than a century the women have accepted and acquiesced, scarcely lifting a voice in protest, and I grieve to say that there are those who, in the high noon light of the last half of this nineteenth century, feel no degradation, no humiliation; who, like the black men of slavery days, do not want to be free. Sad, indeed, have been the conditions and environments of an individual or people who do not prize freedom and long for all the liberty that belongs to any soul. It is a stain on the fair name of republican government, when part of that government have usurped rights and abridged the privileges of the other part until those defrauded are incapable of smarting under a sense of humiliation at having set upon them, in the words of the "Grand Old Man," "the stamp of inequality, which is the brand of degradation."

The petty thief, the disorderly, the visitor of houses of ill-fame, the drunkard, may serve his time for having broken the law, and leaving the jail today go to the ballot-box tomorrow to vote into office the man who, he knows, will be lenient to criminals. The man who has committed forgery, or theft, or criminal assault, may serve his time or be pardoned and go to the polls and vote into office the prosecuting attorney, or judge, whom, he believes, will shield the guilty and cater to the criminal class. But how cautiously the way is hedged about for the wives and mothers. After appealing to and petitioning legislatures, pleading their cause and asking for simple justice from legislators, humiliating themselves to beg and plead for rights of which they have been defrauded; slowly and cautiously the small measure of school suffrage has been granted in many states, but always with restrictions. After a long struggle municipal suffrage was granted to the women of Kansas; and let me here speak in honor of the just men of Wyoming who have recognized that their wives and mothers are citizens and people, fully and freely with no discrimination.

We women in various states have been hammering away at that well-nigh invulnerable old wall, prejudice, until the men of one more state have dared to trust their wives and mothers with a carefully-restricted ballot. Ignorance in men is not a dangerous qualification; it is not subversive of good government and the safety of the people. Every male, native or foreign born, white or black, ignorant or otherwise, drunk or sober, self-supporting or a pauper, any male but a duellist in Michigan, a [Page 364]  traitor in the United States, can be trusted with that patent of sovereignty, the ballot, without fear of danger. Even the anarchist is not disfranchised. In Michigan, my own state, after years of bombarding our legislature with hearings, petitions, letters and arguments, the women, denying themselves the pleasure and advantages of society and study, giving time, strength and money to secure the right of the franchise, which means protection, respect, power, that right from which no male, except him whose fratricidal hand is lifted to betray his country, is excluded, at least the half measure of municipal suffrage has been conceded by the legislature of Michigan and become a law. But the women are such dangerous creatures, they must be guarded; and female ignorance is most dangerous. So they are required to read the state constitution in the English language.* Was it that the women might be able to read the ballots for the illiterate male voters of their families?

Though this recognition be but in half measures, the women of Michigan have risen to the occasion, and a carefully outlined plan of study has been prepared, and a constitution and by-laws to meet the requirements of all, that a uniform system may be adopted. Thousands of copies have been printed, as also a circular letter, with earnest appeal from the state president and careful instruction from the organizers, and sent to every incorporated city and village in the state. Two organizers have been sent into the field, the expenses to be paid, largely, by contributions and pledges from these dangerous women. The printed plan is so plain that any ordinary woman who knows anything of committee or club work can call a meeting at her home and organize a Municipal Franchise League. By this method, every city and village is to be organized into a central committee and ward leagues to study municipal government and parliamentary law. When in the near future full suffrage shall be extended to the women, which, as our own Thomas W. Palmer says, "is sure to be," they will be the best equipped for intelligent self-government of any class that ever exercised the right of franchise.

For the passage of the Municipal suffrage bill, we owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Hopkins and Representative Newkirk, who undertook, with manly sincerity and determination, to champion our bill, and they made it a study to win. The pity of thus defrauding the women of political rights and power is not alone to those excluded, but the great loss of moral and uplifting conditions from which the state and government have suffered.

Material prosperity cannot save a nation whose heart and life are eaten out by cancerous physical and spiritual conditions, that consume manhood, deprave childhood and destroy the nation.

* Bill referred to, after being passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, was finally lost by a decision of the courts.

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Mrs. Emily Horton Ketcham is a native of Grand Rapids, Mich. She was born July 16, 1838. Her parents were Josiah Burton and Elizabeth Freeman Burton. She was educated in the public schools and St. Mark's College, of Grand Rapids, Mich., Henrietta Academy, New York, and Mary B. Allen's school for girls, at Rochester, N. Y. She has traveled considerably in the United States. She married Smith G. Ketcham, of Farmington, N. Y. her special work has been in the interest of the political enfranchisement of women. Her principal literary works are newspaper and magazine articles and addresses on some phase of the question of political equality for men and women. Mrs. Ketcham is a woman of strong character and of marked executive ability, and is a zealous, earnest and successful worker. Her postoffice address is Grand Rapids, Mich.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom