Front Page Titles (by Subject) Debate on Women's Suffrage - The American Nation: Primary Sources
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Debate on Women’s Suffrage - Bruce Frohnen, The American Nation: Primary Sources 
The American Nation: Primary Sources, ed. Bruce Frohnen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Debate on Women’s Suffrage
May 21, 1919
Mr. Little. Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Moore] suggests that the ladies who are not in favor of woman suffrage are taken unawares. To register surprise at the appearance of propositions of a certain welcome, friendly, complimentary, and anticipated tenor is one of the most highly valued privileges of that charming sex, which no gentleman, even in the heat of debate, would ask them to surrender for any political right, however important. The ladies are certainly no more surprised than I am, because it is scarce 30 minutes since notification from the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Mann], chairman of the Woman Suffrage Committee and author of the resolution at issue, whose rare parliamentary sagacity and unrivaled parliamentary leadership made this day’s work possible, that I was to open this debate. This is a good time to bring it up.
Five years ago Julius Caesar, after 19 centuries, challenged Jesus Christ to a final contest. The Kaiser threw down the gantlet and the friends of Christian civilization took it up. The tide of war turned in favor of the Son of Bethlehem and against the Prussian; and, if anything has been decided, it has been decided that now right, not might, shall rule the world. [Applause.] Unless our sons and our billions have been sacrificed in vain, the world is about ready to substitute the rule of reason for the rule of force in the government of reasoning creatures. What better expression of that could there be than to say now that the mothers who risked their lives to bring into the world the four millions of soldiers we mustered shall have some word to say about the destinies of their sons? [Applause.] The British House of Commons voted, I think, 7 to 1, and recently, I believe, the French Chamber of Deputies voted 7 to 1, for woman suffrage. The time is opportune for marking an era’s close. Civilization has reached a state, a period, a moment, when we can ring the liberty bell again and announce that this great step forward has been taken.
They tell us that woman should not vote merely because she is a female. No other reason has been advanced except that form which says that she can not bear arms. Every mother who bears a son to fight for the Republic takes the same chance of death that a son takes when he goes to arms. The fact that she is a woman is a reason for, not against, the utilization of every force for the advancement of society. Ninety-nine per cent of the murderers in the world are men. Ninety-nine per cent of the burglars are men. Ninety-nine per cent of the gamblers are men. Ninety-nine per cent of counterfeiters are men. Ninety-nine per cent of all the thieves, outlaws, forgers, pickpockets, bank robbers, train robbers, pirates, and drunkards in the world are men. Ninety-nine per cent of all criminals are men.
Ninety-nine per cent of all diseases inherited by reason of evil lives of parents come down from the male side. For every courtesan there is a seducer and panderer and a thousand customers. When one considers the character of the two sexes, he better appreciates the power of the instinct of race preservation which nature has planted in the human kind, which certainly is all that has induced women to remain on the same continent with man for 60 centuries. If the world were open and the best character of votes were the dominating factor, women would control the ballot entirely. If good character were the basis for the franchise, most of the voters would probably have been women long ago.
In the last analysis those who oppose woman suffrage simply ignore everything except brute force. They discard brains, scholarship, character, and simply seek to enforce the law of the herd, that the biggest bull is the boss. Under their theories Napoleon Bonaparte was a greater man than Abraham Lincoln; John L. Sullivan a more useful citizen than Thomas Edison. I challenge all such claims as unworthy of the citizens of a Christian and cultured land. Carried to their logical conclusion those theories have dominated and guided and wrecked and ruined the great Empire of Germany perhaps for centuries to come, and at the very moment when they had attained the rounded summit of a successful, brutal, despotic development of brute force. If during the last 40 years the women had held absolute control of Germany, that mighty State would now be rich, happy, contented, and yet there are still those who will tell you woman should not rule because she can not fight.
They told us last year the determination of this issue should be relegated to the States. One of the fundamental privileges under the Constitution is to amend it. If three-fourths of the States wish it, there is no authority under the Constitution that endows any State with the privilege of denying. They suggest they wanted a referendum vote. The Constitution prescribes, orders, another method. When the women come here and ask for the ballot, they simply invoke the methods by which the Constitution has always been amended. Any other system would be illegal. If you say to them that you are not willing to abide by those rules under which every amendment has been made, you simply plead the baby act; and when the mother of a soldier comes here to demand the privilege of the ballot you should not do that.
Men have argued here for 50 years that woman suffrage would break up the home. But in the Western States, where we have had woman suffrage in one form and another for years, we know of no family that has ever been disrupted by quarrel over politics. We know of no fireside that has burned more dimly because of any difference of opinion about the use of the ballot. To permit the mothers of this country to express their views on important issues will not injure the homes. As I reflect now I realize that every time I followed my mother’s advice I did well. Generally when I did not list to her I lived to regret it. She was a thoughtful and prudent woman. The long and short of the whole matter is that for centuries you have treated woman as a slave, dragged her over the pages of history by the hair, and then you pretend to think she is an angel, too good to interfere in the affairs of men. Give her now a fixed, reasonable status, as becomes a rational human being like yourself.
I wish there were a home for every woman. But our civilization has developed in another direction. During this great war it has been determined that women are to take part in every vocation of human life. There is no place they have not filled with ability. The increase in population, the complex demands of a complicated civilization, have made it absolutely essential that many women shall come away from the fireside and go to work for a living and fight and struggle with men.
In the streets of Strasburg I have myself seen women assisted by dogs hitched in harness pulling carts and selling milk at the homes along the streets. My friends and I traveling the path through an Egyptian field were suddenly accosted by a woman, who rose with her sickle from among the wheat to cry in Arabic, “In your great country, sir, women do not thus toil in the field.” But now, in my great country, women throng the shops, the offices, the factories, in their strife with men to earn a living. In uncivilized nations they still treat her as a slave and as an angel. Your great civilization gives woman the glorious privilege that man has to battle for a livelihood if she will do so for small wages, but denies her the use of the ballot in her struggle. What are you afraid of? The Burmese women handle all the business of that country. Is this, then, a Burmese peril which menaces you?
The gentleman who leads the opposition to-day said once that she could not have the rights of a man and the privileges of a woman. Why can she not? That can not be true. If we are going to be the gentlemen we assume to be, why should she not have the rights of a man and the privileges of a woman? Men retained all the male privileges of drinking whisky, playing poker, and racing horses when they cast the ballot. Why can not she still retain the privilege of being treated like a lady, a wife, a mother, even if she votes? God Almighty placed upon her certain duties from which you escape, and you are wonderfully fortunate that you do, and every time you think of it you should blush for shame that you would deny any rights you have because of the responsibility that God has placed upon her.
It has been a source of profound regret to me this morning that I did not have some notice that would enable me to present this subject more thoroughly. The women of the Republic come here and say to you that they want the ballot. Gentlemen, God Almighty has made you strong; they have made your Republic great and made you statesmen of this great Republic. They have given you infinite powers, mighty responsibilities. Now, the mother who bore you, the wife who brought your son into the world, and those who have gone before reach out and ask that you apply to them the rules of common sense, and no more, no less.
If you should throw 200 people upon an island, why should any particular member or set of members there for any reason have the power to say what should be done? Why should not a sensible, God-fearing, intelligent woman have just as good a right to have her say about what goes on in any nation as any man that walks the earth?
As I have said to you, she takes the same risk that every soldier did. Which of you is there who has taken the same chance on any battle field that a mother has taken every time a child comes into the world? Who are you that you should say to the mothers of America that they can not vote as you do?
The world must progress according to the methods of Julius Caesar or the theories of Jesus Christ. During the last five years that ancient contest came to a head and the cross of Christ must henceforth and forever be made the standard of civilization instead of the crown of Julius Caesar. For the second time in this House I appeal from the rule of force to the rule of reason. The conquering armies camped on the Rhine have fought to establish the fact that civilization is better civilized than barbarism. If common sense is more potent than the sword, if men have determined that that is their sober intention and their law, woman should now be accorded the same opportunity to take part in the life that men have always had.
When I am laid away on the hillside, Bert Berry, my orderly in the Philippines, will bring the bugle he blew for me at Marilao, Guiguinto, and San Fernando and sound taps above my last earthly resting place, and I trust I shall hear no more of wars for all eternity. I hope, as my dear wife holds my hand for the last time as I pass out into the starlight, and as my dear mother extends her sainted hand to me as the trumpets sound the reveille on the other side, both will know that the sons for whom they went down into the valley of the shadow have granted to the mothers of this most august and stateliest Republic of all time the same power, authority, and opportunity to fashion and preserve the lives of their sons that is possessed by their fathers. [Applause.] . . .
Mr. MacCRATE. Mr. Speaker and gentlemen, I realize thoroughly that a man only three days in Congress should hold his tongue, but coming as I do from a district which has equal suffrage, and being a member of the Committee on Woman Suffrage, I felt it obligatory to say why we from our section believe this national resolution or amendment should be submitted to the States for the States to decide in the constitutional way whether it shall be adopted. Now, whether you consider the franchise a right or a privilege, the women of America deserve the right, or they have earned the privilege. Everywhere you went during the past two years you saw women in uniform. You saw them in the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the Knights of Columbus, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and other allied war activities. Whether you were at home or whether you were abroad, and like myself had the privilege of seeing the streets of London and Liverpool in January of this year, you realized that American womanhood had met the last argument that men have given for denying them the suffrage privilege, namely, that no one who is not a potential soldier is entitled to the franchise. I submit to your fairness and judgment that the women of America have been as potential soldiers during the past war as have been the men of America. [Applause.] And if potentiality for military service is the last objection, then certainly with the men who avoided the draft, or with the slackers, the women of America ought never be compared; and more certainly if men who continued in agricultural pursuits to win the war, if men who continued in shipyards to win the war, if men who continued in other branches of activities to win the war are entitled to the franchise, the women who maintained equal industrial and agricultural burdens and high moral burdens to win the war are entitled to the franchise. [Applause.] Not only that, but this resolution seems to me to be in perfect harmony with the Constitution itself. The preamble of the Constitution declares its purpose to be “to form a more perfect Union.” This amendment will help us perfect the Union. It does not go into the homes of the country and tell the people what they shall put on or what they shall eat or what they shall drink. It does not say to the men and women of America they shall not do this or they shall not do that, but it does recognize a fundamental of our Government that rights and privileges shall be equal, and declares that sex alone shall not deprive women of the right or privilege of voting. I submit to you that this resolution is in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution itself. [Applause.]
Mr. MANN. Mr. Speaker, I now renew my request that all Members have leave to extend their remarks in the Record on this subject for five legislative days.
The SPEAKER. The gentleman from Illinois asks unanimous consent that all Members may be permitted to extend their remarks in the Record on this subject—
Mr. RAGSDALE. I object, Mr. Speaker.
The SPEAKER. The gentleman from South Carolina objects.
Mr. CLARK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Pennsylvania. [Mr. Focht.]
Mr. FOCHT. Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask unanimous consent to extend by remarks in the Record.
The SPEAKER. Is there an objection?
Mr. FERRIS. Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, I do not think it fair to let in any more extensions unless we let in those who did not have a chance to speak, and so I object—of course, without any discourtesy whatever to the gentleman.
Mr. FOCHT. Mr. Speaker, we all realize that this is a transcendent and far-reaching question. It has been decided in Pennsylvania more than once what the people there think about it. It has been decided in many, many States what they think about it there. It has been brought to Congress for decision. In Pennsylvania the last time the test was made the amendment was defeated by 50,000 majority, and it is conceded it would have been 250,000 majority or 300,000 majority had the question been voted on separately instead of in connection with four other amendments.
In my own district in Pennsylvania, comprised of eight counties, which are typical of the Christianity, civilization, and the chivalry of America, every last county went against it after a full discussion of the question. I dare say, if it were submitted again, yes or no on its merits, it would go double what it was the last time against it. I appreciate the tribute that has been paid here, very tenderly and, I might say, patriotically, to womanhood. How could any of us do otherwise than pay high tribute to the mother or wife or daughter? These gentlemen say that those of us who are opposed to this amendment are denying the women something; that we are defeating them in a high and laudable purpose. I challenge that statement and that argument. My proposition is that those mothers of the soldier boys do not ask for this thing. I need not dwell upon the greatness of Pennsylvania, or her glory, or the soldiers she sent to the front, or the money she gave to back them up, but it is well that you be reminded that Pennsylvania’s only vote of record is against woman suffrage. In the time I have here I want to enter the protest of one Member from Pennsylvania against going too far afield at this particular time in this uncharted matter, simply because a few States out West have adopted the suffrage program. And with all respect for the Members who come from those States where they have had woman suffrage, I do not believe many appeals come to them or much concern is felt for the franchise by most women. I do not believe a vast majority of women want the vote, nor do they need it for their protection.
Furthermore, let me say that in the State of Pennsylvania 20 years ago we had better laws for the protection of womanhood than they have in the States where they have had woman suffrage for 25 years, and we have better laws there now; hence it is to be seen that it is not necessary for women to engage in the conflict and asperities of politics to secure more than equality of protection with men. Formerly it was contended that the vote for women was necessary to win the war and to further prohibition, but the fallacy of these arguments was made manifest by subsequent events.
Mr. HICKS. Will the gentleman yield for a moment?
Mr. FOCHT. I can not, having but a few minutes’ time. I know where your heart is. You are really not for this. [Laughter.] There is no Member here, either from the States of New York, Pennsylvania, or Ohio, who down in his heart is for this sort of thing.
Another reason why women in their good sense are not here appealing for the vote and sphere of political activity may be that they have a better conception of the biological and physiological laws than some gentlemen who will vote in the affirmative on account of coming from States where women now vote—laws ordained by God, and which the vote of Congress nor an amendment to the Constitution can not change or set aside. [Applause.]
In conclusion I will submit a letter I received this morning from Mrs. Horace Brock, president of the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and which includes some salient points on this question:
By the submission of the question of woman suffrage to the voters of the State in 1915 Pennsylvania declared against Federal interference and for the right of the electorate to decide this question. There is a bill now before the State senate, which has passed the house, providing for a resubmission to the people. We opposed this bill in the house, for, while we agree a referendum to the people is the only democratic and just way of deciding this issue, we know there is no increased demand for woman suffrage, but rather increased opposition to it. Since the passage of the bill in the house, however, we have made no further opposition and are making our opposition to the passage of an amendment to the Federal Constitution, which would deprive the State of the right to decide its own electorate.
A Federal amendment to the Constitution is a serious matter, because it is irrevocable. The voters of New York State, men and women, finding double suffrage increases taxes and the socialist vote, are planning a resubmission of this question to the voters before long. If the Federal amendment is not passed, this will certainly be done.
A noisy minority are demanding votes for women as a reward for their war work, but the majority of women war workers, who have been largely antisuffragists desiring no reward, object to being penalized and given this added burden because of their work. Moreover, because a woman is efficient in Red Cross and industrial work, it does not follow she would be efficient in Congress. Also, it is not advisable to legislate for normal times extraordinary measures that may be useful and necessary in abnormal times.
I therefore ask you, in justice to your State and its electorate, to vote against the Federal woman-suffrage amendment.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Fess). The time of the gentleman from North Carolina has again expired.
Mr. CLARK of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield five minutes to the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Black].
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Texas is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. BLACK. Mr. Speaker, of course there is no dispute upon the proposition that Congress by a two-thirds vote of both Houses may submit any amendment which it sees fit, and when such amendment is ratified by three-fourths of the legislatures of the several States it would become a part of the Constitution and binding upon all the States. There is no controversy upon that point. And since the right of a State to peaceably secede from the Union has forever been settled in the negative, there can no longer be any sound contention that any amendment which is adopted in the constitutional manner violates any of the rights of the other States. The minority States must, of course, yield to the will of the majority.
But this very fact makes all the more important that Congress should be careful in submitting amendments, and the States should be slow in ratifying those which delegate power to the Federal Government hitherto reserved to the States and exercised by their own legislative machinery.
Article I, section 2, of our Federal Constitution provides—
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the people of the several States. . . . And the electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislature.
Thus it will be seen that the framers of our Constitution, recognizing the State as the sovereign unit of government, deemed it wise to reserve to the States the right to regulate their own suffrage and provided in affirmative terms that the House of Representatives should be chosen by electors having the same qualifications as those who should choose the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
And when 123 years later the seventeenth amendment was adopted, which provided for the election of United States Senators by direct vote of the people, this same provision was carried which prescribed that the electors should have the same qualifications as those required for electing the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
Now, the amendment which we have under consideration proposes to change all of this and turn over to the Federal Government one of the most essential elements of State sovereignty; that is, to limit and control the States in their right to determine and prescribe the qualifications of their own electors.
And while I concede that the method by which it is proposed to be done is a perfectly legal one, the question is, Should it be done as a matter of wise government policy?
Is suffrage such a question as should be snatched from the control of the States and lodged in a rapidly centralizing government? That is a question which I consider myself called upon to answer as the elected Representative of the people from the district which I have the honor to represent in this body.
When I consider the principles which underlie the structure of our republican form of government, with its “indissoluble Union of indestructible States”; when I consider the fact that I am a Democratic Representative and owe at least some allegiance to the historic principles of the party and some degree of obedience to its most recent national platform, then I am not in doubt as to how I should vote.
I should vote against the submission of the amendment and leave each State free to regulate and control the matter of its own suffrage.
Therefore I will vote that way I think and believe.
If my own State—Texas—for instance, wants to grant full suffrage to women, it has a perfectly simple method of doing it. On next Saturday, May 24, the people of our State will vote upon a constitutional amendment which has for its object this very purpose.
In the submission of this State amendment the voters get a real referendum. If they adopt it, they will have no need of this Federal amendment. If they do not adopt it, then why should I vote for a Federal amendment which would impose it upon them against their own will.
The committee at the last session of Congress who reported this resolution made this remarkable statement on page 4 of their report. I would not refer to it now except for the fact that it is illustrative of much of the logic used by the proponents of this amendment. The language was:
To deny the States the opportunity to establish woman suffrage if they wish to do so is an act of autocratic injustice which would certainly be misunderstood abroad and would deeply incense the millions of women who are voters, as well as the millions more who are petitioning for the vote.
That is a very remarkable statement. I would like to inquire what provision there is in the Federal Constitution which in the slightest degree prohibits the States from granting full suffrage to their women whenever they desire to do so? And if there is no such prohibition, then what possible power is there anywhere which can prevent a State from doing so?
Every schoolboy knows that all the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. If that report had said, instead of the language which I have quoted, that “To deny the States the opportunity to control their own suffrage, if they wish to do so, is an act of autocratic injustice,” then it would have been a statement, as I understand it, of the doctrine which the Democratic Party has championed for more than a hundred years and which has been so ably defended by many of the party’s greatest leaders. I do not think that the matter has been more clearly stated anywhere than by President Wilson in a statement to a delegation of suffragists January 6, 1917:
I am tied to a conviction which I have had all my life, that changes of this sort ought to be brought State by State. It is a deeply matured conviction on my part, and therefore I would be without excuse to my own constitutional principles if I lent my support to this very important movement for an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Of course it will be conceded that the President has expressed some contrary opinions since then, but the newest is not always the best. The date or luster of the coin does not determine its true value, and “he who chooses without a proper test may perish, both a pauper and a fool.”
When we put these different statements of the President to the test of Democratic principles, as interpreted throughout the history of our party and by our recent Democratic platforms, I am compelled to choose his option, as expressed on January 6, 1917, as the soundest and wisest one, rather than that of these more recent days.
Our platform at St. Louis in 1916 contained this declaration:
We recommend the extension of the franchise to the women of the country by the States on the same terms as to men.
If the party had intended to take the position that woman suffrage is a Federal and not a State matter, then the platform would have recommended that Congress take action on the question instead of making its recommendation to the several States of the Union. There is no declaration in the platform anywhere for the submission of a national woman suffrage amendment, and no Democratic national convention in the history of the party has ever declared for it.
On the contrary, it is perfectly well known that the attitude of the party has long been that the regulation of suffrage belongs to the States, and that as a matter of proper public policy it should be left there.
It is for these reasons, and not because I am opposed to woman suffrage by State action, that I will vote against the submission of this amendment. [Applause.]