"Chapter XVIII." by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
IN the month of June, 1871, Miss Anthony and I went to California, holding suffrage meetings in many of the chief cities from New York to San Francisco, where we arrived about the middle of July, in time to experience the dry, dusty season.
We tarried, on the way, one week in Salt Lake City. It was at the time of the Godby secession, when several hundred Mormons abjured that portion of the faith of their fathers which authorized polygamy. A decision had just been rendered by the United States Supreme Court declaring the first wife and her children the only legal heirs. Whether this decision hastened the secession I do not know; however, it gave us the advantage of hearing all the arguments for and against the system. Those who were opposed to it said it made slaves of men. To support four wives and twenty children was a severe strain on any husband. The women who believed in polygamy had much to say in its favor, especially in regard to the sacredness of motherhood during the period of pregnancy and lactation; a lesson of respect for that period being religiously taught all Mormons.
We were very thankful for the privilege granted us of speaking to the women alone in the smaller Tabernacle. Our meeting opened at two o'clock and lasted until seven, giving us five hours of uninterrupted conversation. Judge McKeon had informed me of the recent decisions and the legal aspects of the questions, which he urged me to present to them fully and frankly, as no one had had such an opportunity before to speak to Mormon women alone. So I made the most of my privilege. I gave a brief history of the marriage institution in all times and countries, of the matriarchate, when the mother was the head of the family and owned the property and children; of the patriarchate, when man reigned supreme and woman was enslaved; of polyandry, polygamy, monogamy, and prostitution. We had a full and free discussion of every phase of the question, and we all agreed that we were still far from having reached the ideal position for woman in marriage, however satisfied man might be with his various experiments. Though the Mormon women, like all others, stoutly defend their own religion, yet they are no more satisfied than any other sect. All women are dissatisfied with their position as inferiors, and their dissatisfaction increases in exact ratio with their intelligence and development.
After this convocation the doors of the Tabernacle were closed to our ministrations, as we thought they would be, but we had crowded an immense amount of science, philosophy, history, and general reflections into the five hours of such free talk as those women had never heard before. As the seceders had just built a new hall, we held meetings there every day, discussing all the vital issues of the hour; the Mormon men and women taking an active part.
We attended the Fourth of July celebration, and saw the immense Tabernacle filled to its utmost capacity. The various States of the Union were represented by young girls, gayly dressed, carrying beautiful flags and banners. When that immense multitude joined in our national songs, and the deep-toned organ filled the vast dome the music was very impressive, and the spirit of patriotism manifested throughout was deep and sincere.
As I stood among these simple people, so earnest in making their experiment in religion and social life, and remembered all the persecutions they had suffered and all they had accomplished in that desolate, far-off region, where they had, indeed, made "the wilderness blossom like the rose," I appreciated, as never before, the danger of intermeddling with the religious ideas of any people. Their faith finds abundant authority in the Bible, in the example of God's chosen people. When learned ecclesiastics teach the people that they can safely take that book as the guide of their lives, they must expect them to follow the letter and the specific teachings that lie on the surface. The ordinary mind does not generalize nor see that the same principles of conduct will not do for all periods and latitudes. When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that Bibles, prayerbooks, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brain of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of "Thus saith the Lord."
That thoroughly democratic gathering in the Tabernacle impressed me more than any other Fourth of July celebration I ever attended. As most of the Mormon families keep no servants, mothers must take their children wherever they go–to churches, theatres, concerts, and military reviews–everywhere and anywhere. Hence the low, pensive wail of the individual baby, combining in large numbers, becomes a deep monotone, like the waves of the sea, a sort of violoncello accompaniment to all their holiday performances. It was rather trying to me at first to have my glowing periods punctuated with a rhythmic wail from all sides of the hall; but as soon as I saw that it did not distract my hearers, I simply raised my voice, and, with a little added vehemence, fairly rivaled the babies. Commenting on this trial, to one of the theatrical performers, he replied: "It is bad enough for you, but alas! imagine me in a tender death scene, when the most profound stillness is indispensible, having my last gasp, my farewell message to loved ones, accentuated with the joyful crowings or impatient complainings of fifty babies." I noticed in the Tabernacle that the miseries of the infantile host were in a measure mitigated by constant draughts of cold water, borne around in buckets by four old men.
The question of the most profound interest to us at that time, in the Mormon experiment, was the exercise of the suffrage by women. Emeline B. Wells, wife of the Mayor of the city, writing to a Washington convention, in 1894, said of the many complications growing out of various bills before Congress to rob women of this right:
"Women have voted in Utah fourteen years, but, because of the little word 'male' that still stands upon the statutes, no woman is eligible to any office of emolument or trust. In three successive legislatures, bills have been passed, providing that the word 'male' be erased; but, each time, the Governor of the Territory, who has absolute veto power, has refused his signature. Yet women attend primary meetings in the various precincts and are chosen as delegates. They are also members of county and territorial central committees, and are thus gaining practical political experience, and preparing themselves for positions of trust.
"In 1882 a convention was held to frame a constitution to be submitted to the people and presented to the Congress of the United States. Women were delegates to this convention, and took part in all its deliberations, and were appointed to act on committees with equal privileges. It is the first instance on record, I think, where women have been members and taken an active part in a constitutional convention.
"Much has been said and written, and justly, too, of suffrage for women in Wyoming; but, in my humble opinion, had Utah stood on the same ground as Wyoming, and women been eligible to office, as they are in that Territory, they would, ere this, have been elected to the legislative Assembly of Utah.
"It is currently reported that Mormon women vote as they are told by their husbands. I most emphatically deny the assertion. All Mormon women vote who are privileged to register. Every girl born here, as soon as she is twenty-one years old, registers, and considers it as much a duty as to say her prayers. Our women vote with the same freedom that characterizes any class of people in the most conscientious acts of their lives."
These various questions were happily solved in 1895, when Utah became a State. Its Constitution gives women the right to vote on all questions, and makes them eligible to any office.
The journey over the Rocky Mountains was more interesting and wonderful than I had imagined. A heavy shower the morning we reached the alkali plains made the trip through that region, where travelers suffer so much, quite endurable. Although we reached California in its hot, dry season, we found the atmosphere in San Francisco delightful, fanned with the gentle breezes of the Pacific, cooled with the waters of its magnificent harbor. The Golden Gate does indeed open to the eye of the traveler one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.
Friends had engaged for us a suite of apartments at the Grand Hotel, then just opened. Our rooms were constantly decked with fresh flowers, which our "suffrage children," as they called themselves, brought us from day to day. So many brought tokens of their good will–in fact, all our visitors came with offerings of fruits and flowers–that not only our apartments, but the public tables were crowded with rare and beautiful specimens of all varieties. We spoke every night, to crowded houses, on all phases of the woman question, and had a succession of visitors during the day. In fact, for one week, we had a perfect ovation. As Senator Stanford and his wife were at the same hotel, we had many pleasant interviews with them.
While in San Francisco we had many delightful sails in the harbor and drives to the seashore and for miles along the beach. We spent several hours at the little Ocean House, watching the gambols of the celebrated seals. These, like the big trees, were named after distinguished statesmen. One very black fellow was named Charles Sumner, in honor of his love of the black race; another, with a little squint in his eye, was called Ben Butler; a stout, rotund specimen that seemed to take life philosophically, was named Senator Davis of Illinois; a very belligerent one, who appeared determined to crowd his confrères into the sea, was called Secretary Stanton. Grant and Lincoln, on a higher ledge of the rocks, were complacently observing the gambols of the rest.
California was on the eve of an important election, and John A. Bingham of Ohio and Senator Cole were stumping the State for the Republican party. At several points we had the use of their great tents for our audiences, and of such of their able arguments as applied to woman. As Mr. Bingham's great speech was on the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, every principle he laid down literally enfranchised the women of the nation. I met the Ohio statesman one morning at breakfast, after hearing him the night before. I told him his logic must compel him to advocate woman suffrage. With a most cynical smile he said "he was not the puppet of logic, but the slave of practical politics."
We met most of our suffrage coadjutors in different parts of California. I spent a few days with Mrs. Elizabeth B. Schenck, one of the earliest pioneers in the suffrage movement. She was a cultivated, noble woman, and her little cottage was a gem of beauty and comfort, surrounded with beautiful gardens and a hedge of fish-geraniums over ten feet high, covered with scarlet flowers. It seemed altogether more like a fairy bower than a human habitation. The windmills all over California, for pumping water, make a very pretty feature in the landscape, as well as an important one, as people are obliged to irrigate their gardens during the dry season. In August the hills are as brown as ours in December.
Here, too, I first met Senator Sargent's family, and visited them in Sacramento City, where we had a suffrage meeting in the evening and one for women alone next day. At a similar meeting in San Francisco six hundred women were present in Platt's Hall. We discussed marriage, maternity, and social life in general. Supposing none but women were present, as all were dressed in feminine costume, the audience were quite free in their questions, and I equally so in my answers. To our astonishment, the next morning, a verbatim report of all that was said appeared in one of the leading papers, with most respectful comments. As I always wrote and read carefully what I had to say on such delicate subjects, the language was well chosen and the presentation of facts and philosophy quite unobjectionable; hence, the information being as important for men as for women, I did not regret the publication. During the day a committee of three gentlemen called to know if I would give a lecture to men alone. As I had no lecture prepared, I declined, with the promise to do so the next time I visited California. The idea was novel, but I think women could do much good in that way.
My readers may be sure that such enterprising travelers as Miss Anthony and myself visited all the wonders, saw the geysers, big trees, the Yosemite Valley, and the immense mountain ranges, piled one above another, until they seemed to make a giant pathway from earth to heaven. We drove down the mountain sides with Fox, the celebrated whip; sixteen people in an open carriage drawn by six horses, down, down, down, as fast as we could go. I expected to be dashed to pieces, but we safely descended in one hour, heights we had taken three to climb. Fox held a steady rein, and seemed as calm as if we were trotting on a level, though any accident, such as a hot axle, a stumbling horse, or a break in the harness would have sent us down the mountain side, two thousand feet, to inevitable destruction, He had many amusing anecdotes to tell of Horace Greeley's trip to the Geysers. The distinguished journalist was wholly unprepared for the race down the mountains and begged Fox to hold up. Sitting in front he made several efforts to seize the lines. But Fox assured him that was the only possible way they could descend in safety, as the horses could guide the stage, but they could not hold it.
At Stockton we met a party of friends just returning from the Yosemite, who gave us much valuable information for the journey. Among other things, I was advised to write to Mr. Hutchins, the chief authority there, to have a good, strong horse in readiness to take me down the steep and narrow path into the valley. We took the same driver and carriage which our friends had found trustworthy, and started early in the morning. The dust and heat made the day's journey very wearisome, but the prospect of seeing the wonderful valley made all hardships of little consequence. Quite a large party were waiting to mount their donkeys and mules when we arrived. One of the attendants, a man about as thin as a stair rod, asked me if I was the lady who had ordered a strong horse; I being the stoutest of the party, he readily arrived at that conclusion, so my steed was promptly produced. But I knew enough of horses and riding to see at a glance that he was a failure, with his low withers and high haunches, for descending steep mountains. In addition to his forward pitch, his back was immensely broad. Miss Anthony and I decided to ride astride and had suits made for that purpose; but alas! my steed was so broad that I could not reach the stirrups, and the moment we began to descend, I felt as if I were going over his head. So I fell behind, and, when the party had all gone forward, I dismounted, though my slender guide assured me there was no danger, he "had been up and down a thousand times." But, as I had never been at all, his repeated experiences did not inspire me with courage. I decided to walk. That, the guide said, was impossible. "Well," said I, by way of compromise, "I will walk as far as I can, and when I reach the impossible, I will try that ill-constructed beast. I cannot see what you men were thinking of when you selected such an animal for this journey." And so we went slowly down, arguing the point whether it were better to ride or walk; to trust one's own legs, or, by chance, be precipitated thousands of feet down the mountain side.
It was a hot August day; the sun, in the zenith, shining with full power. My blood was at boiling heat with exercise and vexation. Alternately sliding and walking, catching hold of rocks and twigs, drinking at every rivulet, covered with dust, dripping with perspiration, skirts, gloves, and shoes in tatters, for four long hours I struggled down to the end, when I laid myself out on the grass, and fell asleep, perfectly exhausted, having sent the guide to tell Mr. Hutchins that I had reached the valley, and, as I could neither ride nor walk, to send a wheelbarrow, or four men with a blanket to transport me to the hotel. That very day the Mariposa Company had brought the first carriage into the valley, which, in due time, was sent to my relief. Miss Anthony, who, with a nice little Mexican pony and narrow saddle, had made her descent with grace and dignity, welcomed me on the steps of the hotel, and laughed immoderately at my helpless plight.
As hour after hour had passed, she said, there had been a general wonderment as to what had become of me; "but did you ever see such magnificent scenery?" "Alas!" I replied," I have been in no mood for scenery. I have been constantly watching my hands and feet lest I should come to grief." The next day I was too stiff and sore to move a finger. However, in due time I awoke to the glory and grandeur of that wonderful valley, of which no descriptions nor paintings can give the least idea. With Sunset Cox, the leading Democratic statesman, and his wife, we had many pleasant excursions through the valley, and chats, during the evening, on the piazza. There was a constant succession of people going and coming, even in that far-off region, and all had their adventures to relate. But none quite equaled my experiences.
We spent a day in the Calaveras Grove, rested beneath the "big trees," and rode on horseback through the fallen trunk of one of them. Some vandals sawed off one of the most magnificent specimens twenty feet above the ground, and, on this the owners of the hotel built a little octagonal chapel. The polished wood, with bark for a border, made a very pretty floor. Here they often had Sunday services, as it held about one hundred people. Here, too, we discussed the suffrage question, amid these majestic trees that had battled with the winds two thousand years, and had probably never before listened to such rebellion as we preached to the daughters of earth that day.
Here, again, we found our distinguished statesmen immortalized, each with his namesake among these stately trees. We asked our guide if there were any not yet appropriated, might we name them after women. As he readily consented, we wrote on cards the names of a dozen leading women, and tacked them on their respective trees. Whether Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Phoebe Couzins, and Anna Dickinson still retain their identity, and answer when called by the goddess Sylvia in that majestic grove, I know not. Twenty-five years have rolled by since then, and a new generation of visitors and guides may have left no trace of our work behind them. But we whispered our hopes and aspirations to the trees, to be wafted to the powers above, and we left them indelibly pictured on the walls of the little chapel, and for more mortal eyes we scattered leaflets wherever we went, and made all our pleasure trips so many propaganda for woman's enfranchisement.
Returning from California I made the journey straight through from San Francisco to New York. Though a long trip to make without a break, yet I enjoyed every moment, as I found most charming companions in Bishop Janes and his daughter. The Bishop being very liberal in his ideas, we discussed the various theologies, and all phases of the woman question. I shall never forget those pleasant conversations as we sat outside on the platform, day after day, and in the soft moonlight late at night. We took up the thread of our debate each morning where we had dropped it the night before. The Bishop told me about the resolution to take the word "obey" from the marriage ceremony which he introduced, two years before, into the Methodist General Conference and carried with but little opposition. All praise to the Methodist Church! When our girls are educated into a proper self-respect and laudable pride of sex, they will scout all these old barbarisms of the past that point in any way to the subject condition of women in either the State, the Church, or the home. Until the other sects follow her example, I hope our girls will insist on having their conjugal knots all tied by Methodist bishops.
The Episcopal marriage service not only still clings to the word "obey," but it has a most humiliating ceremony in giving the bride away. I was never more struck with its odious and ludicrous features than on once seeing a tall, queenly-looking woman, magnificently arrayed, married by one of the tiniest priests that ever donned a surplice and gown, given away by the smallest guardian that ever watched a woman's fortunes, to the feeblest, bluest-looking little groom that ever placed a wedding ring on bridal finger. Seeing these Lilliputians around her, I thought, when the little priest said, "Who gives this woman to this man," that she would take the responsibility and say, "I do," but no! there she stood, calm, serene, as if it were no affair of hers, while the little guardian, placing her hand in that of the little groom, said, "I do." Thus was this stately woman bandied about by these three puny men, all of whom she might have gathered up in her arms and borne off to their respective places of abode.
But women are gradually waking up to the degradation of these ceremonies. Not long since, at a wedding in high life, a beautiful girl of eighteen was struck dumb at the word "obey." Three times the priest pronounced it with emphasis and holy unction, each time slower, louder, than before. Though the magnificent parlors were crowded, a breathless silence reigned. Father, mother, and groom were in agony. The bride, with downcast eyes, stood speechless. At length the priest slowly closed his book and said, "The ceremony is at an end." One imploring word from the groom, and a faint "obey" was heard in the solemn stillness. The priest unclasped his book and the knot was tied. The congratulations, feast, and all, went on as though there had been no break in the proceedings, but the lesson was remembered, and many a rebel made by that short pause.
I think all these reverend gentlemen who insist on the word "obey" in the marriage service should be removed for a clear violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, which says there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude within the United States. As I gave these experiences to Bishop Janes he laughed heartily, and asked me to repeat them to each newcomer. Our little debating society was the center of attraction. One gentleman asked me if our woman suffrage conventions were as entertaining. I told him yes; that there were no meetings in Washington so interesting and so well attended as ours.
As I had some woman-suffrage literature in my valise, I distributed leaflets to all earnest souls who plied me with questions. Like all other things, it requires great discretion in sowing leaflets, lest you expose yourself to a rebuff. I never offer one to a man with a small head and high heels on his boots, with his chin in the air, because I know, in the nature of things, that he will be jealous of superior women; nor to a woman whose mouth has the "prunes and prisms" expression, for I know she will say, "I have all the rights I want." Going up to London one day, a few years later, I noticed a saintly sister, belonging to the Salvation Army, timidly offering some leaflets to several persons on board; all coolly declined to receive them. Having had much experience in the joys and sorrows of propagandism, I put out my hand and asked her to give them to me. I thanked her and read them before reaching London. It did me no harm and her much good in thinking that she might have planted a new idea in my mind. Whatever is given to us freely, I think, in common politeness, we should accept graciously.
While I was enjoying once more the comforts of home, on the blue hills of Jersey, Miss Anthony was lighting the fires of liberty on the mountain tops of Oregon and Washington Territory. All through the months of October, November, and December, 1871, she was jolting about in stages, over rough roads, speaking in every hamlet where a schoolhouse was to be found, and scattering our breezy leaflets to the four winds of heaven.
From 1869 to 1873 Miss Anthony and I made several trips through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Nebraska, holding meetings at most of the chief towns; I speaking in the afternoons to women alone on "Marriage and Maternity." As Miss Anthony had other pressing engagements in Kansas and Nebraska, I went alone to Texas, speaking in Dallas, Sherman, and Houston, where I was delayed two weeks by floods and thus prevented from going to Austin, Galveston, and some points in Louisiana, where I was advertised to lecture. In fact I lost all my appointments for a month. However, there was a fine hotel in Houston and many pleasant people, among whom I made some valuable acquaintances. Beside several public meetings, I had parlor talks and scattered leaflets, so that my time was not lost.
As the floods had upset my plans for the winter, I went straight from Houston to New York over the Iron Mountain Railroad. I anticipated a rather solitary trip; but, fortunately, I met General Baird, whom I knew, and some other army officers, who had been down on the Mexican border to settle some troubles in the "free zone." We amused ourselves on the long journey with whist and woman suffrage discussions. We noticed a dyspeptic-looking clergyman, evidently of a bilious temperament, eying us very steadily and disapprovingly the first day, and in a quiet way we warned each other that, in due time, he would give us a sermon on the sin of card playing.
Sitting alone, early next morning, he seated himself by my side, and asked me if I would allow him to express his opinion on card playing. I said "Oh, yes! I fully believe in free speech." "Well," said he, "I never touch cards. I think they are an invention of the devil to lead unwary souls from all serious thought of the stern duties of life and the realities of eternity! I was sorry to see you, with your white hair, probably near the end of your earthly career, playing cards and talking with those reckless army officers, who delight in killing their fellow-beings. No! I do not believe in war or card playing; such things do not prepare the soul for heaven." "Well," said I, "you are quite right, with your views, to abjure the society of army officers and all games of cards. You, no doubt, enjoy your own thoughts and the book you are reading, more than you would the conversation of those gentlemen and a game of whist. We must regulate our conduct by our own highest ideal. While I deplore the necessity of war, yet I know in our Army many of the noblest types of manhood, whose acquaintance I prize most highly. I enjoy all games, too, from chess down to dominoes. There is so much that is sad and stern in life that we need sometimes to lay down its burdens and indulge in innocent amusements. Thus, you see, what is wise from my standpoint is unwise from yours. I am sorry that you repudiate all amusements, as they contribute to the health of body and soul. You are sorry that I do not think as you do and regulate my life accordingly. You are sure that you are right. I am equally sure that I am. Hence there is nothing to be done in either case but to let each other alone, and wait for the slow process of evolution to give to each of us a higher standard." Just then one of the officers asked me if I was ready for a game of whist, and I excused myself from further discussion. I met many of those dolorous saints in my travels, who spent so much thought on eternity and saving their souls that they lost all the joys of time, as well as those sweet virtues of courtesy and charity that might best fit them for good works on earth and happiness in heaven.
In the spring I went to Nebraska, and Miss Anthony and I again made a Western tour, sometimes together and sometimes by different routes. A constitutional convention was in session in Lincoln, and it was proposed to submit an amendment to strike the word "male" from the Constitution. Nebraska became a State in March, 1867, and took "Equality before the law" as her motto. Her Territorial legislature had discussed, many times, proposed liberal legislation for women, and her State legislature had twice considered propositions for woman's enfranchisement. I had a valise with me containing Hon. Benjamin F. Butler's minority reports as a member of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, in favor of woman's right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment. As we were crossing the Platte River, in transferring the baggage to the boat, my valise fell into the river. My heart stood still at the thought of such a fate for all those able arguments. After the great General had been in hot water all his life, it was grievous to think of any of his lucubrations perishing in cold water at last. Fortunately they were rescued. On reaching Lincoln I was escorted to the home of the Governor, where I spread the documents in the sunshine, and they were soon ready to be distributed among the members of the constitutional convention.
After I had addressed the convention, some of the members called on me to discuss the points of my speech. All the gentlemen were serious and respectful with one exception. A man with an unusually small head, diminutive form, and crooked legs tried, at my expense, to be witty and facetious. During a brief pause in the conversation he brought his chair directly before me and said, in a mocking tone, "Don't you think that the best thing a woman can do is to perform well her part in the role of wife and mother? My wife has presented me with eight beautiful children; is not this a better life-work than that of exercising the right of suffrage?"
I had had my eye on this man during the whole interview, and saw that the other members were annoyed at his behavior. I decided, when the opportune moment arrived, to give him an answer not soon to be forgotten; so I promptly replied to his question, as I slowly viewed him from head to foot, "I have met few men, in my life, worth repeating eight times." The members burst into a roar of laughter, and one of them, clapping him on the shoulder, said: "There, sonny, you have read and spelled; you better go." This scene was heralded in all the Nebraska papers, and, wherever the little man went, he was asked why Mrs. Stanton thought he was not worth repeating eight times.
During my stay in Lincoln there was a celebration of the opening of some railroad. An immense crowd from miles about assembled on this occasion. The collation was spread and speeches were made in the open air. The men congratulated each other on the wonderful progress the State had made since it became an organized Territory in 1854. There was not the slightest reference, at first, to the women. One speaker said: "This State was settled by three brothers, John, James, and Joseph, and from them have sprung the great concourse of people that greet us here to-day." I turned, and asked the Governor if all these people had sprung, Minerva-like, from the brains of John, James, and Joseph. He urged me to put that question to the speaker; so, in one of his eloquent pauses, I propounded the query, which was greeted with loud and prolonged cheers, to the evident satisfaction of the women present. The next speaker took good care to give the due meed of praise to Ann, Jane, and Mary, and to every mention of the mothers of Nebraska the crowd heartily responded.
In toasting "the women of Nebraska," at the collation, I said: "Here's to the mothers, who came hither by long, tedious journeys, closely packed with restless children in emigrant wagons, cooking the meals by day, and nursing the babies by night, while the men slept. Leaving comfortable homes in the East, they endured all the hardships of pioneer life, suffered, with the men, the attacks of the Dakota Indians and the constant apprehension of savage raids, of prairie fires, and the devastating locusts. Man's trials, his fears, his losses, all fell on woman with double force; yet history is silent concerning the part woman performed in the frontier life of the early settlers. Men make no mention of her heroism and divine patience; they take no thought of the mental or physical agonies women endure in the perils of maternity, ofttimes without nurse or physician in the supreme hour of their need, going, as every mother does, to the very gates of death in giving life to an immortal being!"
Traveling all over these Western States in the early days, seeing the privations women suffered, and listening to the tales of sorrow at the fireside, I wondered that men could ever forget the debt of gratitude they owed to their mothers, or fail to commemorate their part in the growth of a great people. Yet the men of Nebraska have twice defeated the woman suffrage amendment.
In 1874 Michigan was the point of interest to all those who had taken part in the woman-suffrage movement. The legislature, by a very large majority, submitted to a vote of the electors an amendment of the Constitution, in favor of striking out the word "male" and thus securing civil and political rights to the women of the State. It was a very active campaign. Crowded meetings were held in all the chief towns and cities. Professor Moses Coit Tyler, and a large number of ministers preached, every Sunday, on the subject of woman's position. The Methodist conference passed a resolution in favor of the amendment by a unanimous vote. I was in the State during the intense heat of May and June, speaking every evening to large audiences; in the afternoon to women alone, and preaching every Sunday in some pulpit. The Methodists, Universalists, Unitarians, and Quakers all threw open their churches to the apostles of the new gospel of equality for women. We spoke in jails, prisons, asylums, dépots, and the open air. Wherever there were ears to hear, we lifted up our voices, and, on the wings of the wind, the glad tidings were carried to the remote corners of the State, and the votes of forty thousand men, on election day, in favor of the amendment were so many testimonials to the value of the educational work accomplished.
I made many valuable acquaintances, on that trip, with whom I have maintained lifelong friendships. One pleasant day I passed in the home of Governor Bagley and his wife, with a group of pretty children. I found the Governor deeply interested in prison reform. He had been instrumental in passing a law giving prisoners lights in their cells and pleasant reading matter until nine o'clock. His ideas of what prisons should be, as unfolded that day, have since been fully realized in the grand experiment now being successfully tried at Elmira, New York.
I visited the State prison at Jackson, and addressed seven hundred men and boys, ranging from seventy down to seventeen years of age. Seated on the dais with the chaplain, I saw them file in to dinner, and, while they were eating, I had an opportunity to study the sad, despairing faces before me. I shall never forget the hopeless expression of one young man, who had just been sentenced for twenty years, nor how ashamed I felt that one of my own sex, trifling with two lovers, had fanned the jealousy of one against the other, until the tragedy ended in the death of one and the almost lifelong imprisonment of the other. If girls should be truthful and transparent in any relations in life, surely it is in those of love, involving the strongest passions of which human nature is capable. As the chaplain told me the sad story, and I noticed the prisoner's refined face and well-shaped head, I felt that the young man was not under the right influences to learn the lesson he needed. Fear, coercion, punishment, are the masculine remedies for moral weakness, but statistics show their failure for centuries. Why not change the system and try the education of the moral and intellectual faculties, cheerful surroundings, inspiring influences? Everything in our present system tends to lower the physical vitality, the self-respect, the moral tone, and to harden instead of reforming the criminal.
My heart was so heavy I did not know what to say to such an assembly of the miserable. I asked the chaplain what I should say. "Just what you please," he replied. Thinking they had probably heard enough of their sins, their souls, and the plan of salvation, I thought I would give them the news of the day. So I told them about the woman suffrage amendment, what I was doing in the State, my amusing encounters with opponents, their arguments, my answers. I told them of the great changes that would be effected in prison life when the mothers of the nation had a voice in the buildings and discipline. I told them what Governor Bagley said, and of the good time coming when prisons would no longer be place's of punishment but schools of reformation. To show them what women would do to realize this beautiful dream, I told them of Elizabeth Fry and Dorothea L. Dix, of Mrs. Farnham's experiment at Sing Sing, and Louise Michel's in New Caledonia, and, in closing, I said: "Now I want all of you who are in favor of the amendment to hold up your right hands." They gave a unanimous vote, and laughed heartily when I said, "I do wish you could all go to the polls in November and that we could lock our opponents up here until after the election." I felt satisfied that they had had one happy hour, and that I had said nothing to hurt the feelings of the most unfortunate. As they filed off to their respective workshops my faith and hope for brighter days went with them.
Then I went all through the prison. Everything looked clean and comfortable on the surface, but I met a few days after a man, just set free, who had been there five years for forgery. He told me the true inwardness of the system; of the wretched, dreary life they suffered, and the brutality of the keepers. He said the prison was infested with mice and vermin, and that, during the five years he was there, he had never lain down one night to undisturbed slumber. The sufferings endured in summer for want of air, he said, were indescribable. In this prison the cells were in the center of the building, the corridors running all around by the windows, so the prisoners had no outlook and no direct contact with the air. Hence, if a careless keeper forgot to open the windows after a storm, the poor prisoners panted for air in their cells, like fish out of water. My informant worked in the mattress department, over the room where prisoners were punished. He said he could hear the lash and the screams of the victims from morning till night. "Hard as the work is all day," said he, "it is a blessed relief to get out of our cells to march across the yard and get one glimpse of the heavens above, and one breath of pure air, and to be in contact with other human souls in the workshops, for, although we could never speak to each other, yet there was a hidden current of sympathy conveyed by look that made us one in our misery."
Though the press of the State was largely in our favor, yet there were some editors who, having no arguments, exercised the little wit they did possess in low ridicule. It was in this campaign that an editor in a Kalamazoo journal said: "That ancient daughter of Methuselah, Susan B. Anthony, passed through our city yesterday, on her way to the Plainwell meeting, with a bonnet on her head looking as if it had recently descended from Noah's ark." Miss Anthony often referred to this description of herself, and said, "Had I represented twenty thousand voters in Michigan, that political editor would not have known nor cared whether I was the oldest or the youngest daughter of Methuselah, or whether my bonnet came from the ark or from Worth's."
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 volunteers
Washington Irving and Jessie Hudgins.
This chapter is dedicated by Jessie Hudgins:
"With a little love and a little work... for my grandchildren."