Shall Women Vote?

Joseph V. McKee, A.M.

AT the present time the question of Woman Suffrage has been carried far past the point of the abstract; it now has become a concrete problem. Within a month the constituencies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts will be called upon to decide whether or not the full exercise of the ballot shall be conferred upon women. No longer is it an academic question. The issue has been placed squarely before the voters of these four great Eastern States. Shall the right of suffrage be extended to all citizens, male and female? Shall the whole body of women of voting age be enfranchised? Shall the millions of mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters enter the political arena and take their stand with or against their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons, as the case may be?

Were it not for this fact, that these questions must be answered within a very short time, there would be very little need to review the grounds pro and contra Woman Suffrage. Since 1848, when the first convention of suffragists under the leadership of Lucretia Mott promulgated its " Declaration of Independence," and demanded an equal participation in government, there has been much agitated discussion of the suffrage rights of women. That discussion has grown more vital since 191o, during which time the total of States granting full suffrage has risen to twelve and the number of women voters to four million. Because of this continued agitation the whole field of suffrage has long since been thoroughly traversed, and little opportunity left for the discovery of new ideas. Consequently it is a difficult task to oppose suffrage on new grounds, because the advocates of equal suffrage have brought forward no new, additional reasons to support their contentions. Nevertheless there is need of a clear discussion and restatement of the underlying principles of the problem. The same appeals have been made so often, and the reasons supporting them repeated so frequently, that there is danger that insistency might be taken for truth and persistency for fact. If a statement is repeated often enough it is, in time, accepted as truth,

(46) and its enunciators hailed the protagonists of the verities. There has been so much said of woman's rights that there are many who are profoundly convinced that the exercise of the ballot is an inalienable prerogative which man is unjustly withholding from women. We have heard so much of man's tyranny and injustice that many believe that women without the ballot are actually degraded. So distorted has become the whole agitation that it seems to have resolved itself not into an effort to unite with man in his attempt to better conditions, but into a struggle against him for so-called " independence " and " liberty."

Fundamentally, suffrage is the " participation in political government by the election of representatives and by voting for laws and measures." In itself it is not an end but a means " to keep up the continuity of government, and to preserve and perpetuate public order and the protection of individual rights " (Cooley). It is not absolute and immutable, for, as in the case of other means, were it to become unsuited for the accomplishment of the ends for which it was instituted, or a more efficient means discovered, it might reasonably be discarded. At no time, even under the most favorable conditions, has it ever been universal in application. Nor could it ever be so used; for at all times there would be some disabilities to stand in the way of its proper and efficient utilization.

Since, therefore, this participation in government may be subjected to enlargements and limitations, we must admit that suffrage can be given to women. There is no natural or statute law or sociological conception that connotes the impossibility of women's exercise of the ballot. This, of course, is obvious. The real problem lies in the question, Should women vote? or, more urgently, Shall women vote? If women should vote, then the ballot should be given them for any or all of the following reasons: First, because voting is a natural right. Second, because it is a duty. Third, because it would be expedient.

The suffragists hold the exercise of the ballot to be primarily a natural right; that it is inherent in the conception of citizenship. If you grant that women are citizens, which is universally held, you must, say they, grant them the right to vote; for voting, like the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is necessarily implied in the connotation of citizenship. If this contention is true, then man is doing a grave injustice in depriving the other sex of an inalienable right--the right to vote. But it is not true, and such a contention cannot be justified in reason. The right to vote

(47) is not a natural right; it is not a right in any sense of the term. Natural rights are rights that are possessed by the individual per se and precede in order the idea of government. A man has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness prior to the establishment of government; for government is established to safeguard and preserve these rights, not the rights to safeguard government. By the same token the machinery of government was instituted not to protect the ballot (in some governments there is no suffrage), but voting was instituted as a means to aid government to protect the rights of man.

Suffrage is never a necessary accompaniment of citizenship, nor do any authorities on constitutional law admit that it is. (Vide Cooley, Const., 2d. ed., 752; i MacArthur, 169; Blach., 200.) "Suffrage," says Cooley, "cannot be the natural right of the individual, because it does not exist for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the State itself." It is granted as a privilege by the State on the grounds of expediency, when the exercise of the ballot is necessary for the best interests of the State, or when its extension would work some good which could be acquired less easily no other way. From this it is clear that women cannot claim the ballot as a natural right. If they are to receive the suffrage, they will obtain it because the State feels that their votes will conduce to greater efficiency in government. It is upon this ground, namely, that the State will benefit by women voting, that the cause of Woman Suffrage must stand or fall.

Equally untenable is the cry, so often heard, that " taxation without representation is tyranny." Taxation is the means used to collect the moneys necessary for the maintenance of government. Taxation makes possible government, and government makes possible the protection of rights. We do not vote because we pay taxes. We submit to the various tax levies because they are the considerations in return for which we receive material benefits, such as roads, schools, and hospitals. If voting were based upon taxation, then every corporation would have the right to suffrage. Carrying it ad absurdum, were a taxpayer the guardian of six taxpaying minors, he would have the right to cast seven ballots, one for himself and for everyone of the children.

If women were not represented in government in any way "taxation" would be "tyranny." But she is represented; for man's interests are her interests, and his welfare is so bound up in the welfare of the other sex that to neglect the one is to neglect the

(48) other, to injure the one is to injure the other. There is no logical reason for making sex a political division with representatives for each. It would be just as logical to insist upon representatives being chosen from boys under twenty-one, and from girls who likewise are under voting age.

If suffrage is not a right, it is hard to see how it can be a duty. So frequently have we heard the expression, " Woman's place is in the home," that it has become trite and bromidic. But has it lost any of its truth? It is hard to bring forward cold reasons concerning a subject so vitally feminine. We are old, old men and women in the passing of the centuries, and when we see that nature has preserved the physical and psychological distinctions between man and woman, when we see that to one she gives strength, hardness, deliberation, and to the other sweetness, lovableness, impetuosity, we can be sure that there is reason for it all--that it is good to keep holy this relation of man and woman. And making her a political unit subject to the bruit of politics, where she will become a pawn in the game that hardens even men, will do much to destroy that relation, and bring about changes that the man of high ideals does not desire.

The married woman with a family could find time to study political conditions and vote intelligently. But what are the reasons to urge her to add to her burdens ? What will she gain that she has not now ? What- greater happiness will be hers when she has the ballot? The apathy of the majority of women toward suffrage is not due to ignorance, prejudice or selfishness. It is more deeply rooted. Perhaps its explanation can be seen in the reply of a mother to a deputation of women who came to urge her to join them and fight for her rights. " Ladies," she said, " I am so busy and happy here at home attending to my duties that I have no desire to go out and fight for my rights."

The only real ground upon which the suffragists can base their claim to the ballot is that of expediency. Suffrage is not a right; it is not necessarily a duty. It is a means to better government. Consequently, if the State feels that the extension to women of the ballot would work greater good, then it should grant that extension. If, when women vote, our government would be more efficiently conducted, if better laws would be enacted and higher standards of living established, if individual rights would be better protected and greater happiness secured, if women's votes would secure any of these or hurry them along, then women should vote.


This is the vital phase of the Woman Suffrage, and its consideration leads to many questions. Would the extension of the suffrage to woman secure any material advantages which cannot be obtained without her vote? Would these changes be effected more quickly if women vote? Would woman's position be improved socially, morally, economically by the exercise of the ballot? Women do not need the ballot to secure greater freedom or wider privileges for their sex. At no time in the world's history have women had the freedom they possess at the present time. Without the vote they have full entrance into all the professions. Treated as an equal in business, they yet are free from many of the duties that devolve on man.

The women of the State of New York do not enjoy the exercise of the ballot. All the laws are man-made laws. Yet the discrimination that exists in legal matters is all in favor of women. Legally, whether married or single, she is an independent unit, possessing, in fact, more privileges than men enjoy. Particularly is this true of married women. The property of a married woman, whether acquired before or after marriage, is her own separate property, and she may convey, sell or mortgage it without the consent of her husband. On the other hand, a married man cannot make the smallest transaction of his property without the written consent of his wife. She can sue and be sued, carry on a business in her own name; she is entitled to all her earnings. She can enter into contracts with her husband or with others. She is not liable for the debts of her husband. She may dispose of her property by will, without reservation or limitation of any kind.

In the matter of dower she is especially favored. Upon the death of her husband, she is entitled to dower in all the lands owned by her husband during their marriage, unaffected by any debt or act of her husband not assented to in writing by her, consisting of the use during her life of one-third of all such lands. She possesses an inalienable right, which cannot be defeated, to one-third absolutely of all personal property. If there are no children or . descendants, the widow takes one-half of the estate, and if there are no parents or children, but the husband leaves brother or sister, nephew or niece, to the widow is given precedence over them, and she takes the other half of the whole estate or the whole if the whole is under two thousand dollars.[1]

A married man has no claim on the estate of his deceased wife.

(50) While he cannot defeat the right of his wife to one-third of his estate, he himself does not share in the property of his wife in any way except by will. Formerly he was privileged to support some claim by an " action in chose," but this has fallen into disuse and is rarely invoked.

" Before the law," writes Judge Cullen, " the woman is in theory the equal of the man, while in practise the common complaint is that a man does not have a fair chance in litigation when opposed to a woman. There may be still trifling matters of which women can justly complain, but they would be redressed for the asking."

Surely it is idle to talk of " freedom " and " independence " in the light of these conditions that exist in this State, where women do not vote. For themselves what do they expect to gain by voting, when already they receive privileges that men do not enjoy ? When has it ever been known in the history of the legislature that women without the vote have failed to obtain whatever they wished? Since they can and do obtain without the ballot the things they deem necessary, there is no need to enter the field where their efforts will be robbed of their greatest asset-.--the powerful influence of disinterestedness. There is no need to lay their actions open to the suspicion of political jobbery, a result which will follow when they become political units.

It is evident that in New York woman suffers in no way because she does not possess the ballot, and if the vote is given to her she could gain nothing for herself that she cannot now obtain without the suffrage. The only other reason why the ballot should be given to her is that her vote is needed to accomplish public good, to raise the standard of public morals, and to quicken public conscience. Would these follow as direct or indirect consequences of voting? Most of the evils of our public and private life are due to moral reasons. The casting of a ballot will never change men's hearts, and no amount of prohibitory laws will make men better. Voting can suppress an evil only after it has arisen, and the damage it has done become so great as to attract widespread attention. The solution lies in the prevention of the evil, not in its suppression. And women's greatest work consists not in policing public morals, but, by her influence in the home, in lessening the need of prohibitions. Her noblest work is to instill high ideals in the hearts of her sons, her husbands, and her brothers, This is her true sphere,

(51) and here nature has given woman her strongest powers to mould for good or evil.

In The Saturday Evening Post of September 11th, former President William Howard Taft writes : " I question whether in politics and in resistance to corruption we should find any sturdier honesty among women than among men. The most common defect in legislation is not the ideal good aimed at, but in the lack of practical provision for its attainment. The lack of experience in affairs and the excess of emotion on the part of women in reaching political decisions on questions like prohibition and the social evil, are what would lower the average practical sense and self-restraint of the electorate if they were admitted to it now."

Woman suffrage has been in operation since 1869, yet it has failed to accomplish any marked improvements that can be attributed to its influence. Wyoming has suffrage, and there the marriage vows can be dissolved for any of twelve reasons. New York is not a suffrage State, yet its statutes recognize only one cause for divorce. Utah, a suffrage State, presents the spectacle of polygamous marriages and a condition of affairs which is not very creditable. In matters of legislation the non-suffrage States do not show any lack of that zeal for public welfare which the suffragists claim as their exclusive birthright. Prohibition was secured in the South and in the Southwest without the aid of Woman Suffrage. New York has labor laws that protect adequately the women and children who must work. Its legislature has passed the Workmen's Compensation Law and the Widows' Pension Bill. North Dakota, which rejected woman suffrage in 1914, passed a mother's pension bill. Pennsylvania has a child labor law limiting the hours a child under sixteen may work to fifteen a week. If all these measures can be obtained without suffrage where, in the name of expediency, is the need of doubling the present vote, making cumbrous the voting machinery and adding to public expense?

Judge Edgar M. Cullen, in a recent letter to Miss Alice Hill Chittenden, expressing his reasons for opposing Woman Suffrage, writes on this point: " My own belief is that to grant women suffrage will not make any substantial change in government and laws; that the great mass of women will exercise the suffrage in harmony with their male relatives and friends. In that case the grant of suffrage will have no practical effect, except to increase the cost of elections."

A fair and impartial estimate of the operation of Woman Suf-

(52) -frage is furnished us by Bryce in his revised The American Commonwealth. He says : " No evidence has ever come in any way tending to show that politics are in Wyoming, Idaho or Utah substantially purer than in the adjoining States, though it is said that the polls are quieter. The most that seems to be alleged is that they are no worse; or as the Americans express it, 'Things are very much what they were before, only more so.'"[2] If politics, with Woman Suffrage, are " no worse," but " things are very much what they were before; only more so," the claim that women should have the vote on grounds of expediency can hardly be sustained.

So far we have considered only the grounds for giving or withholding the suffrage. Nothing has been said of the evils that may follow the extension of the vote. Yet there are many dangers that will follow on the footsteps of the ballot. But as they are psychological, and have to do primarily with the private lives of men and women, it is difficult to note and analyze them. The unit of the State is the family. Destroy that and you work the downfall of society. Yet that is the tendency of Woman Suffrage, for, like Socialism, it emphasizes the individual to the detriment of the family. If the man in exercising alone the ballot expresses the will of the family, there is no need to grant the vote to the wife. If there is dissension,. then the suffrage exercised differently by the husband and wife becomes a source of discord, and proves the opening wedge for the breaking up of the family and the dissolution of the marriage bond.

While these dangers may not be apparent at first sight, they are no less real because they are insidious. A still greater danger to things even more precious, comes from the very leaders of Woman Suffrage to-day. Because of the principles they have enunciated and the alliances they have not repudiated, they cry down the rebuke of all clean-minded men and women. We judge a man by the company he keeps. We cannot be censured if we do the same thing with Woman Suffrage. When the leaders of Woman Suffrage demand " freedom from man's tyranny," and speak of women being " debased and degraded " because they do not have the ballot, the injustice of the cries can be overlooked in the heat of the campaign. But when they mean by " freedom " immorality; when their "liberty" consists in discarding the laws of decency and purity, then we must cry halt

At a recent suffrage dinner at the La Salle Hotel in Chicago,

(53) Professor W. I. Thomas addressed the women gathered there on the subject of women's rights to limit offspring and to become mothers without the formality of marriage. It is hard to conceive that any pure-hearted woman would remain to listen to such a speech. But instead of rebuking Professor Thomas for introducing such a topic, the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, the acknowledged leader of all the suffragists and president of their national body, endorsed the speaker and his pernicious doctrines. She is quoted in a Chicago paper as saying : " You have to shock the people to make them think. The address has set every woman who heard it thinking, and they are the thinking women who will consider both sides of such a proposition. Political emancipation is not the only emancipation. There is a greater freedom which women must gain, the freedom of social relations. Women are over-sex-developed, and men are responsible for that condition . . . . . I do not believe in mother's love. I believe in mother's intelligence."

These are principles no decent woman can subscribe to. Dr. Shaw is an ordained minister of the Gospel. In the ranks of the suffragists she is hailed their prophet, and wields a tremendous influence. Her words are therefore dangerous in the highest degree. Any increase in the power of suffrage is an increase in her power, and a greater opportunity for her to work evil. Surely honest men and women cannot be expected to join hands with such a leader to fight for a " greater freedom." That she cares for little outside the mad desire to force the vote from men upon women, she showed when she said recently at Atlantic City : " I believe in Woman Suffrage, whether all women vote or no women vote; whether all women vote right or all women vote wrong; whether women will love their husbands after they vote or forsake them ; whether they will neglect their children or never have any children." While she is the head and front of Woman Suffrage, we cannot' further the cause that gives her greater power.

In a speech made as chairman at a debate held recently in Brooklyn, Miss Inez Millholland (now Mrs. Boissevain) declared that the three greatest achievements of the century were " the higher criticism of the Bible, Woman Suffrage, and Socialism."

Mrs. Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale has written a book called What Women Want. It has become the official literature of the suffragists. In it she shows a state of mind on questions of deepest importance that would be ridiculous were it not dangerous in the extreme.

The attitude of the leading suffragists is reflected in their alliance with radical Socialists, and other advocates of principles destructive of ideals we hold precious. In a recent suffrage parade the latter half of the marchers were Socialists, who made the parade a grand propaganda for Socialism under the guise of suffrage. To the most radical Socialists are given places of honor on the speaker's platform at suffrage meetings; and to The Masses, the most outspoken of the Socialist papers, has been awarded a large advertising contract by the suffragists. While Miss Stone Blackwell, Charlotte Perkins, Mary Ware Dennet, Max Eastman, Inez Millholland-Boissevain and others equally radical, who are Socialists first and suffragists after, continue to hold power in the councils of the suffragists, deep-thinking people will hesitate to advocate the cause of Woman Suffrage.

Woman suffrage is not a natural right. It is not a duty, but would become one were the exercise of the ballot extended to women. It is not expedient that women should vote; for she has little to gain, and may lose much with the gaining of the vote. It is not necessary for the welfare of the State, since with women voting "things are very much what they were before, only more so." This is a summary of the sociological reasons against granting women the vote. Other reasons no less important are the pernicious radicalism of the suffrage party's accredited leaders and the alliance of suffrage with Socialism.


  1. Vide Foster, The Legal Rights of Women.
  2. The American Commonwealth, vol. ii., p. 609.

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