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WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
[Illustration: CONVENTION OF OUR WOMEN AT HOTEL ASTOR, NEW YORK]
WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
BY RHETA CHILDE DORR
THE AMERICAN REPRESENTATIVES
OF THE EIGHT MILLION--
THE EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND MEMBERS
OF THE GENERAL FEDERATION OF
THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED
Many of the chapters contained in this volume appeared as special
articles in _Hampton's Magazine_, to the editor of which the author's
thanks are due for permission to republish.
II FROM CULTURE CLUBS TO SOCIAL SERVICE
III EUROPEAN WOMEN AND THE SALIC LAW
IV AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE COMMON LAW
V WOMAN'S DEMANDS ON THE RULERS OF INDUSTRY
VI MAKING OVER THE FACTORY FROM THE INSIDE
VII BREAKING THE GREAT TABOO
VIII WOMAN'S HELPING HAND FOR THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
IX THE SERVANT IN HER HOUSE
X VOTES FOR WOMEN
XI IN CONCLUSION
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
CONVENTION OF CLUB WOMEN AT HOTEL ASTOR, NEW YORK
CARPENTER SHOP, VACATION SCHOOL, PITTSBURGH
CAPTAIN BALL ON GIRL'S FIELD, WASHINGTON PARK, PITTSBURGH
STORY HOUR AT VACATION PLAYGROUND, CASTELAR SCHOOL YARD, LOS
MRS. SARAH PLATT DECKER
A "WOMEN'S RIGHTS" MAP OF THE UNITED STATES
MISS EMILIE BULLOWA
MRS. FREDERICK NATHAN
MRS. J. BORDEN HARRIMAN
MISS ELIZABETH MALONEY
A DEPARTMENT STORE REST-ROOM FOR WOMEN
MISS MAUDE E. MINER
IN THE NIGHT COURT, NEW YORK
MISS SADIE AMERICAN
A TYPICAL DANCE HALL
AN UNTHOUGHT-OF PHASE OF THE SERVANT QUESTION
ANOTHER SERIOUS CONTRIBUTION TO THE SOCIAL QUESTION
THE SERVANT GIRL AND THE EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
SUFFRAGETTES IN LONDON ADVERTISING A MEETING
MRS. HARRIOT STANTON BLATCH
MEETING A RELEASED SUFFRAGETTE PRISONER
THE WOMEN'S TRADES PROCESSION TO THE ALBERT HALL MEETING, APRIL 27,
HELEN HOY GREELEY
SUFFRAGETTES IN MADISON SQUARE
THE "QUIET WALK" OF THE NEW YORK SUFFRAGISTS, WHOM THE POLICE WOULD
NOT PERMIT TO PARADE
SUFFRAGE DEMONSTRATION IN UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK
WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
For the audacity of the title of this book I offer no apology. I have
had it pointed out, not altogether facetiously, that it is impossible to
determine with accuracy what one woman, much less what any number of
women, wants. I sympathize with the first half of the tradition. The
desires, that is to say, the ideals, of an individual, man or woman, are
not always easy to determine. The individual is complex and exceedingly
prone to variation. The mass alone is consistent. The ideals of the mass
of women are wrapped in mystery simply because no one has cared enough
about them to inquire what they are.
Men, ardently, eternally, interested in Woman--one woman at a time--are
almost never even faintly interested in women. Strangely, deliberately
ignorant of women, they argue that their ignorance is justified by an
innate unknowableness of the sex.
I am persuaded that the time is at hand when this sentimental, half
contemptuous attitude of half the population towards the other half will
have to be abandoned. I believe that the time has arrived when
self-interest, if other motive be lacking, will compel society to
examine the ideals of women. In support of this opinion I ask you to
consider three facts, each one of which is so patent that it requires no
The Census of 1900 reported nearly six million women in the United
States engaged in wage earning outside their homes. Between 1890 and
1900 the number of women in industry increased faster than the number of
men in industry. _It increased faster than the birth rate._ The number
of women wage earners at the present date can only be estimated. Nine
million would be a conservative guess. Nine million women who have
forsaken the traditions of the hearth and are competing with men in the
world of paid labor, means that women are rapidly passing from the
domestic control of their fathers and their husbands. Surely this is
the most important economic fact in the world to-day.
Within the past twenty years no less than nine hundred and fifty-four
thousand divorces have been granted in the United States. Two thirds of
these divorces were granted to aggrieved wives. In spite of the
anathemas of the church, in the face of tradition and early precept, in
defiance of social ostracism, accepting, in the vast majority of cases,
the responsibility of self support, more than six hundred thousand
women, in the short space of twenty years, repudiated the burden of
uncongenial marriage. Without any doubt this is the most important
social fact we have had to face since the slavery question was settled.
Not only in the United States, but in every constitutional country in
the world the movement towards admitting women to full political
equality with men is gathering strength. In half a dozen countries women
are already completely enfranchised. In England the opposition is
seeking terms of surrender. In the United States the stoutest enemy of
the movement acknowledges that woman suffrage is ultimately inevitable.
The voting strength of the world is about to be doubled, and the new
element is absolutely an unknown quantity. Does any one question that
this is the most important political fact the modern world has ever
I have asked you to consider three facts, but in reality they are but
three manifestations of one fact, to my mind the most important human
fact society has yet encountered. Women have ceased to exist as a
subsidiary class in the community. They are no longer wholly dependent,
economically, intellectually, and spiritually, on a ruling class of men.
They look on life with the eyes of reasoning adults, where once they
regarded it as trusting children. Women now form a new social group,
separate, and to a degree homogeneous. Already they have evolved a group
opinion and a group ideal.
And this brings me to my reason for believing that society will soon be
compelled to make a serious survey of the opinions and ideals of women.
As far as these have found collective expressions, it is evident that
they differ very radically from accepted opinions and ideals of men. As
a matter of fact, it is inevitable that this should be so. Back of the
differences between the masculine and the feminine ideal lie centuries
of different habits, different duties, different ambitions, different
opportunities, different rewards.
I shall not here attempt to outline what the differences have been or
why they have existed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in _Women and
Economics_, did this before me,--did it so well that it need never be
done again. I merely wish to point out that different habits of action
necessarily result, after long centuries, in different habits of
thought. Men, accustomed to habits of strife, pursuit of material
gains, immediate and tangible rewards, have come to believe that strife
is not only inevitable but desirable; that material gain and visible
reward are alone worth coveting. In this commercial age strife means
business competition, reward means money. Man, in the aggregate, thinks
in terms of money profit and money loss, and try as he will, he cannot
yet think in any other terms.
I have in mind a certain rich young man, who, when he is not
superintending the work of his cotton mills in Virginia, is giving his
time to settlement work in the city of Washington. The rich young man is
devoted to the settlement. One day he confided to a guest of the house,
a social worker of note, that he wished he might dedicate his entire
life to philanthropy.
"There is much about a commercial career that is depressing to a
sympathetic nature," he declared. "For example, it constantly depresses
me to observe the effect of the cotton mills on the girls in my employ.
They come in from the country, fresh, blooming, and eager to work.
Within a few months perhaps they are pale, anaemic, listless. Not
infrequently a young girl contracts tuberculosis and dies before one
realizes that she is ill. It wrings the heart to see it."
"I suspect," said the visitor, "that there is something wrong with your
mills. Are you sure that they are sufficiently well ventilated?"
"They are as well ventilated as we can have them," said the rich young
man. "Of course we cannot keep the windows open."
"Why not?" persisted the visitor.
"Because in our mills we spin both black and white yarn, and if the
windows were kept open the lint from the black yarn would blow on the
white yarn and ruin it."
A quick vision rose before the visitor's consciousness, of a mill room,
noisy with clacking machinery, reeking with the mingled odors of
perspiration and warm oil, obscure with flying cotton flakes which
covered the forms of the workers like snow and choked in their throats
like desert sand.
"But," she exclaimed, "you can have two rooms, one for the white yarn
and the other for the black."
The rich young man shook his head with the air of one who goes away
"No," he replied, "we can't. The business won't stand it."
This story presents in miniature the social attitude of the majority of
men. They cannot be held entirely responsible. Their minds automatically
function just that way. They have high and generous impulses, their
hearts are susceptible to tenderest pity, they often possess the vision
of brotherhood and human kinship, but habit, long habit, always
intervenes in time to save the business from loss of a few dollars
Three years ago Chicago was on the eve of one of its periodical "vice
crusades," of which more later. Sensational stories had been published
in several newspapers, to the effect that no fewer than five thousand
Jewish girls were leading lives of shame in the city, a statement which
was received with horror by the Jewish population of Chicago. A meeting
of wealthy and influential men and women was called in the law library
of a well known jurist and philanthropist. Representatives from various
social settlements in Jewish quarters of the town were invited, and it
was as a guest of one of these settlements that I was privileged to be
Eloquent addresses were made and an elaborate plan for investigation and
relief was outlined. Finally it came to a point where ways and means had
to be considered. The presiding officer put this phase of the matter to
the conference with smiling frankness. "You must realize, ladies and
gentlemen," he said, "that we have entered upon an extensive and, I am
afraid, a very expensive campaign."
At this a middle aged and notably dignified man arose and said with
emotion trembling in his voice: "Mr. Chairman, and ladies and gentlemen
of the conference, this surely is no time for us to think of economy of
expenditure. If the daughters of Israel are losing their ancient dower
of purity, the sons of Israel should be willing, nay, eager to ransom
them at any cost. Permit me, as a privileged honor which I value highly,
to offer, as a contribution towards the preliminary expenses of this
campaign, my check for ten thousand dollars."
He sat down to that polite little murmur of applause which goes round
the room, and I whispered to the head resident of the settlement of
which I was a guest, an inquiry as to the identity of the generous
"That gentleman," she whispered in reply, "is one of the owners of a
great mail order department store in Chicago." She sighed deeply, as
she added: "During the first week of the panic that store discharged,
without warning, five hundred girls."
These typical examples of the reasoning processes of men are offered
without the slightest rancor. They had to be given in order that the
woman's habit of thought might be explained with clearness.
Women, since society became an organized body, have been engaged in the
rearing, as well as the bearing of children. They have made the home,
they have cared for the sick, ministered to the aged, and given to the
poor. The universal destiny of the mass of women trained them to feed
and clothe, to invent, manufacture, build, repair, contrive, conserve,
economize. They lived lives of constant service, within the narrow
confines of a home. Their labor was given to those they loved, and the
reward they looked for was purely a spiritual reward.
A thousand generations of service, unpaid, loving, intimate, must have
left the strongest kind of a mental habit in its wake. Women, when they
emerged from the seclusion of their homes and began to mingle in the
world procession, when they were thrown on their own financial
responsibility, found themselves willy nilly in the ranks of the
producers, the wage earners; when the enlightenment of education was no
longer denied them, when their responsibilities ceased to be entirely
domestic and became somewhat social, when, in a word, women began to
_think_, they naturally thought in human terms. They couldn't have
thought otherwise if they had tried.
They might have learned, it is true. In certain circumstances women
might have been persuaded to adopt the commercial habit of thought. But
the circumstances were exactly propitious for the encouragement of the
old-time woman habit of service. The modern thinking, planning,
self-governing, educated woman came into a world which is losing faith
in the commercial ideal, and is endeavoring to substitute in its place a
social ideal. She came into a generation which is reaching passionate
hands towards democracy. She became one with a nation which is weary of
wars and hatreds, impatient with greed and privilege, sickened of
poverty, disease, and social injustice. The modern, free-functioning
woman accepted without the slightest difficulty these new ideals of
democracy and social service. Where men could do little more than
theorize in these matters, women were able easily and effectively to
I hope that I shall not be suspected of ascribing to women any ingrained
or fundamental moral superiority to men. Women are not better than men.
The mantle of moral superiority forced upon them as a substitute for
intellectual equality they accepted, because they could not help
themselves. They dropped it as soon as the substitute was no longer
That the mass of women are invariably found on the side of the new
ideals is no evidence of their moral superiority to men; it is merely
evidence of their intellectual youth.
Visitors from western cities and towns are often amazed, and vastly
amused, to find in New York and other eastern cities little narrow-gauge
street car lines, where gaunt horses haul the shabbiest of cars over the
oldest and roughest of road beds. The Westerner declares that nowhere in
the East does he find surface cars that equal in comfort and elegance
the cars recently installed in his Michigan or Nebraska or Washington
"Recently installed." There you have it.
The eastern city retains its horse cars and its out-of-date electric
rolling stock because it has them, and because there are all sorts of
difficulties in the way of replacing them. Old franchises have to expire
or otherwise be got rid of; corporations have to be coaxed or coerced;
greed and corruption often have to be overcome; huge sums of money have
to be appropriated; a whole machinery of municipal government has to be
set in motion before the old and established city can change its
The new western town goes on foot until it attains to a certain size and
a sufficient prosperity. Then it installs electric railways, and of
course it purchases the newest and most modern of the available models.
New social ideals are difficult for men to acquire in a practical way
because their minds are filled with old traditions, inherited memories,
outworn theories of law, government, and social control. They cannot get
rid of these at once. They have used them so long, have found them so
convenient, so satisfactory, that even when you show them something
admittedly better; they are able only partially to comprehend and to
Women, on the other hand, have very few antiques to get rid of. Until
recently their minds, scantily furnished with a few personal preferences
and personal prejudices, were entirely bare of community ideals or any
social theory. When they found themselves in need of a social theory it
was only natural that they should choose the most modern, the most
progressive, the most idealistic. They made their choice unconsciously,
and they began the application of their new-found theory almost
automatically. The machinery they employed was the long derided,
misconceived, and unappreciated Women's Club.
FROM CULTURE CLUBS TO SOCIAL SERVICE
Unless you have lived in a live town in the Middle West--say in
Michigan, or Indiana, or Nebraska--you cannot have a very adequate idea
of how ugly, and dirty, and neglected, and disreputable a town can be
when nobody loves it. The railway station is a long, low, rakish thing
of boards, painted a muddy maroon color. Around it is a stretch of bare
ground strewn with ashes. Beyond lies the main street, with some good
business blocks,--a First National Bank in imposing granite, and a
Masonic Temple in pressed brick. The high school occupies a treeless,
grassless, windswept block by itself.
In the center of the residential section of the town is a big,
unsightly, hummocky vacant place, vaguely known as the park--or the
place where they are going to have a park, when the city gets around to
it. At present it is a convenient spot wherein to dump tin cans, empty
bottles, broken crockery, old shoes, and other residue. When the wind
blows, in the spring and fall, a fine assortment of desiccated rubbish
is wafted up and down, and into the neighbors' dooryards.
Everybody is busy in these live towns. Everybody is prosperous, and
patriotic, and law-abiding, and respectable. The business of "getting
on" absorbs the entire time and attention of the men. They "get on" so
well, for the most part, that their wives have plenty of leisure on
their hands, and the latter occupy a portion of their leisure by
belonging to a club, organized for the study of the art of the
Renaissance, Chinese religions before Confucius, or the mystery of
Browning. The club meets every second Wednesday, and the members read
papers, after which there is tea and a social hour. The papers vary in
degree alone, as the writer happens to be a skimmer, a wader, or a
deep-sea diver in standard editions of the encyclopedias. The social
hour, however, occasionally develops in a direction quite away from the
realms of pure culture.
Such a town, with such a woman's club, was Lake City, Minnesota, a few
years ago. Lake City had a busy and a prosperous male population, a
woman's club bent on intellectual uplift, and a place where there was
going to be a park. One windy second Wednesday the club members arrived
with their eyes full of dust, soot on their white gloves, and
indignation in their hearts. When tea and the social hour came around
culture went by the board and the conversation turned to the perfectly
disgraceful way in which the town's street cleaning was conducted.
"The streets are bad enough," said one member, "but, after all, one
expects the streets to be dusty. What I object to is having a city
dump-heap at my front door. Have any of you crossed my corner of the
park since the snow melted?"
She drew a lively picture of a state of things gravely menacing to the
health of her neighborhood, and that of all the people whose homes faced
the neglected square.
"Why doesn't somebody complain to the authorities?" she concluded. "Why
don't we do something about it? The next time we meet we might at least
adopt resolutions, or, better still, have a committee appointed. What do
you think, Madam President?"
Madam President tapped her teaspoon on the edge of her empty cup. "I
think," she said, "that we will come to order and do it now. Will you
put what you have just suggested in the form of a motion?"
At the next meeting of the club the committee to investigate the park
made its report. The club members began a lively canvass among real
estate owners and business men, and before long an astonished city
council found itself on its feet, receiving a deputation from the
woman's club. The women came armed with a donation of fifteen hundred
dollars cash, and a polite, but firm, demand that the money be used to
clean up and plant the park.
The council replied that it had always intended to get around to that
park, and would have done it long ago but for the fact that there was no
park board in existence, and could not be one, because the Solons who
drew up the city charter had forgotten to put in a provision for such a
The club held more meetings, and appointed more committees. One of
these unearthed a State law which seemed to cover the case, and make a
park board possible without the direct assistance of a city charter. The
city attorney was visited, and somehow was coaxed, or argued, or bullied
into giving a favorable opinion, after which the election of a park
board followed as a matter of course. The town suddenly became
interested in the park. The club women's fifteen hundred dollars was
doubled by popular subscription, and the work of turning a town rubbish
heap into a cool and shady garden spot was brief but durable.
You wouldn't know the Lake City of those years if you saw it to-day.
They have an attractive railroad station, paved streets, cement
sidewalks, public playgrounds for children, a high school set in a
shaded square, and residence streets that look like parkways. And the
woman's club was the parent of them all.
There is a theory which expresses itself somewhat obviously in the
phrase: "Whatever all the women of the country want they will get." The
theory is a convenient one, because it may be used to defer action on
any suggested reform, and it is harmless because of the seeming
impossibility of ascertaining what all the women of the country really
want. The women of the United States and the women of all the world have
discovered a means through which they may express their collective
opinions and desires: organization, and more organization. Lake City is
but one instance in a thousand.
When American women began, a generation ago, to form themselves into
clubs, and later to join these clubs into state federations of clubs,
and finally the state federations into a national body, they did not
dream that they were going to express a collective opinion. Indeed, at
that time not very many had opinions worth expressing. The immediate
need of women's souls at the beginning of the club movement was for
education; the higher education they missed by not going to college, and
they formed their clubs with the sole object of self-culture.
The study period did not last very long. In fact it was doomed from the
beginning, for it is not in the nature of women, or at least it is not
in the habit of women, to do things for themselves alone. They have
_served_ for so many generations that they have learned to like serving
better than anything else in the world, and they add service to the
pursuit of culture, just as some of them add the important postscript to
the unimportant letter.
Thus Dallas, Texas, had a women's club of the culture caste. One spring
day, after the star member had read a paper on the "Lake Poets," and
another member had rendered a Chopin _etude_ on the piano, they began to
talk about the stegomyia mosquito, and what a pity it was that the
annual danger of contagion and death from the bite of that insect had to
be faced all over again. Pools of water all over town, simply swarming
with little wriggling things, soon to emerge as full-armed stegomyias,
merely because the city authorities hadn't the money, or said they
hadn't, to cover the pools with oil.
"Why, oil isn't very expensive," said one of the club women. "Let's buy
a whole lot of it and do the work ourselves."
So the work of saving hundreds of lives every year was added to the
study of "Lake Poets" and Chopin by the Women's Club of Dallas. The
members mapped the city, laid it out in districts, organized their
forces, bought oil and oil-cans and set forth. They visited the schools,
got teachers and pupils interested, and secured their co-operation. The
study of city sanitation was soon put into the school curriculum, and
oiling pools of standing water in every quarter of the town is now a
regular part of the school program in the upper grades. Every year the
club women renew the agitation, and every year the school children go
out with their teachers and cover the pools with oil.
That story could be paralleled in almost any city in the United States.
Clubs everywhere organized for the intellectual advancement of the
members, for the culture of music, art, and crafts, soon added to the
original object a department of philanthropy, a department of public
school decoration, a department of child labor, a department of civics.
The day a women's club adopts civics as a side line to literature, that
day it ceases to be a private association and becomes a public
institution--and the public sometimes finds this out before the club
An Eastern woman was visiting in San Francisco a short time before the
fire. In the complication of three streets with names almost identical,
she lost her way to the reception whither she was bound. The conductor
on the last car she tried before going home was deeply sympathetic.
"'Tis a shame, ma'am, them streets," he declared. "I've always said
there was no sense at all in havin' them named like that. A stranger is
bound to go wrong. I'll tell you what you do, ma'am: you go straight to
Mrs. Lovell White, she that bosses the women's clubs, you know, ma'am.
You tell her about them streets, and she'll have 'em changed."
The conductor's simple faith in the Women's Club of San Francisco did
not lack justification. In the intervals of studying Browning and
antique art, the club found time to discover to San Francisco all sorts
of things that the city wanted and needed without knowing that it did.
"We ought to have a flower market," pronounced the club.
"Nonsense," said the City Council. "Besides, where is the money to come
"We'll establish the flower market and show you," returned the club.
They did. They found a centrally located square, the place where people
would be likely to go for an early morning sale of potted plants and cut
flowers. Prices are moderate in outdoor markets, and nothing else so
stimulates in an entire community the gardening instinct, usually
confined to a few individuals. The city authorities discovered that the
flower market filled a long-felt want. So the city took the market over.
These activities were more or less local. Others, begun as local
affairs, ultimately became national in scope. The movement which has
resulted in a national program in favor of public playgrounds for
children began as a women's club movement. For a dozen years before the
Playgrounds Association of America came into existence, women's clubs
all over the country had been establishing playgrounds, supporting them
out of their club treasuries, and using every power of persuasion to
educate boards of education and city councils in their favor.
Pittsburg affords a typical instance. In 1896 there was a Civic Club of
Allegheny County, composed of women of the twin steel cities of
Pittsburg and Allegheny. At the head of its Education Department there
was a woman, Miss Beulah Kennard, who loved children; not beautifully
clean, well behaved, curled and polished children, but just children.
Children attracted Miss Kennard to such a degree that she couldn't bear
the sight of them wallowing in the grime and soot of Pittsburg streets
and alleys. Often she stopped in her walks to watch them, dodging wagons
and automobiles; throwing stones, tossing balls, fighting, and shooting
craps; stealing apples from push-carts, getting arrested and being
dragged through the farce of a trial at law for the crime of playing.
"Those children," Miss Kennard told her club, "have got to have a
decent place to play this summer." And the club agreed with her. The
treasury yielded for a beginning the modest sum of one hundred and
twenty-five dollars, and with this money the women fitted out one
schoolyard, large enough for sixty children to play in. There was no
trouble about getting the sixty together. They came, a noisy, joyous,
turbulent, vacation set of children, and the anxious committee from the
club looked at them in great trepidation of spirit and said to one
another: "What on earth are we going to do with them, now that we've got
With hardly a ghost of precedent to guide them, the club undertook the
work, and as women have had considerable experience in taking care of
children at home, they soon discovered ways of taking care of them
successfully in the playground.
The next summer the Civic Club invested six hundred dollars in
playgrounds. Two schoolyards were fitted up in Pittsburg and two in
Allegheny. After that, every summer, the work was extended. More money
each year was voted, and additional playgrounds were established. In the
summer of 1899, three years after the first experiment, Pittsburg
children had nine playgrounds and Allegheny children had three, all
gifts of the women. By another year the committee was handling thousands
of dollars and managing an enterprise of considerable magnitude. Also
their work was attracting the admiration of other club women, who asked
for an opportunity to co-operate. In 1900 practically all the clubs of
the two cities united, and formed a joint committee of the Women's Clubs
of Pittsburg and vicinity to take charge of playgrounds.
[Illustration: CARPENTER SHOP, VACATION SCHOOL, PITTSBURGH. Established
by club women and for years supported by them.]
All this time the work was entirely in the hands of the club women, who
bought the apparatus, organized the games, employed the trained
supervisors, and supplied from their own membership the volunteer
workers, without whom the enterprise would have been a failure from the
start. The Board of Education co-operated to the extent of lending
schoolyards. Finally the Board of Education decided to vote an annual
contribution of money.
In 1902 the city of Pittsburg woke up and gave the women fifteen
hundred dollars, with which they established one more playground and a
recreation park. The original one hundred and twenty-five dollars had
now expanded to nearly eight thousand dollars, and Pittsburg and
Allegheny children were not only playing in a dozen schoolyards, but
they were attending vacation schools, under expert instructors in manual
training, cooking, sewing, art-crafts. Several recreation centers,
all-the-year-round playgrounds, have been added since then. For
Pittsburg has adopted the women's point of view in the matter of
playgrounds. This year the city voted fifty thousand, three hundred and
fifty dollars, and the Board of Education appropriated ten thousand
dollars for the vacation schools.
In Detroit it was the Twentieth Century Club that began the playground
agitation. Mrs. Clara B. Arthur, some ten years ago, read a paper
before the Department of Philanthropy and Reform, and following it the
chairman of the meeting appointed a committee to consider the
possibility of playgrounds for Detroit children. The committee visited
the Board of Education, explained the need of playgrounds, and asked
that the Board conduct one trial playground in a schoolyard, during the
approaching vacation. The Board declined. The boards of education in
most cities declined at first.
The club did not give up. It talked playgrounds to the other clubs,
until all the organizations of women were interested. Within a year or
two Detroit had a Council of Women, with a committee on playgrounds. The
committee went to the Common Council this time and asked permission to
erect a pavilion and establish a playground on a piece of city land.
This was a great, bare, neglected spot, the site of an abandoned
reservoir which had been of no use to anybody for twenty years. The
place had the advantage of being in a very forlorn neighborhood where
many children swarmed.
The Common Council was mildly amused at the idea of putting public
property to such an absurd, such an unheard-of use. A few of the men
were indignant. One Germanic alderman exploded wrathfully: "Vot does
vimmens know about poys' play?--No!" And that settled it.
The committee went to the Board of Education once more, this time with
better success. They received permission to open and conduct, during the
long vacation, one playground in a large schoolyard. For two summers the
women maintained that playground, holding their faith against the
opposition of the janitors, the jeers of the newspapers, and the
constant hostility of tax-payers, who protested against the "ruin of
school property." After two years the Board of Education took over the
work. The mayor became personally interested, and the Common Council
gracefully surrendered. They have plenty of playgrounds in Detroit now,
the latest development being winter sports.
If the Germanic alderman who protested that "vimmins" did not know
anything about boys' play was in office at the time, one wonders what
his emotions were when the playgrounds committee first appeared before
the Council and asked to have vacant lots flooded to give children
skating ponds in winter. Of course the Council refused. Fire plugs were
for water in case of fire, not for children's enjoyment. In fact there
was a city ordinance forbidding the opening of a fire plug in winter,
except to extinguish fire. It took two years of constant work on the
part of the club women to remove that ordinance, but they did it, and
the children of Detroit have their winter as well as their summer
[Illustration: CAPTAIN BALL ON GIRL'S FIELD, WASHINGTON PARK,
PITTSBURGH. Out of the persistent work of club women more than three
hundred playgrounds for children have been established.]
In Philadelphia are fourteen splendid playgrounds and vacation schools,
established in the beginning and maintained for many years by a civic
club of women, the largest women's civic club in the country. The
process of educating public opinion in their favor was slow, for it is
difficult to make men see that the children of a modern city have
different needs from the country or village children of a generation
ago. Men remember their own boyhood, and scoff at the idea of organized
and supervised play in a made playground. Women have no memories of the
old swimming-hole. They simply see the conditions before them, and they
instinctively know what must be done to meet them. The process of
educating the others is slow, but this year in Philadelphia sixty public
schoolyards were opened for public playgrounds, and the city
appropriated five thousand dollars towards their maintenance. In a
hundred cities East and West the women's clubs have been the original
movers or have co-operated in the playground movement.
Out of this persistent work was born the Playground Association of
America, an organization of men and women, which in the three years of
its existence has established more than three hundred playgrounds for
children. In Massachusetts they have secured a referendum providing that
all cities of over ten thousand inhabitants shall vote upon the question
of providing adequate playgrounds. The act provides that every city and
town in the Commonwealth which accepts the act shall after July 1, 1910,
provide and maintain at least one public playground, and at least one
other playground for every additional twenty thousand inhabitants.
Something like twenty-five cities in the State have accepted the
playgrounds act. It is a good beginning. The slogan of the movement,
"The boy without a playground is the father of the man without a job,"
has swept over the continent.
[Illustration: STORY HOUR AT VACATION PLAYGROUND, CASTELAR SCHOOL YARD,
LOS ANGELES, CAL.]
This surely is a not inconsiderable achievement for so humble an
instrument as women's clubs. It is true that in most communities they
have forgotten that the women's clubs ever had anything to do with the
movement. The Playgrounds Association has not forgotten, however. Its
president, Luther Halsey Gulick, of New York, declares that even now the
work would languish if it lost the co-operation of the women's clubs.
The scope of woman's work for civic betterment is wider than the
interests that directly affect children. How much the women attempt, how
difficult they find their task, how much opposition they encounter, and
how certain their success in the end, is indicated in a modest report of
the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Women's Civic Club. That report says in
"It is no longer necessary for us to continue, at our own cost, the
practical experiment we began in street-cleaning, or to advocate the
paving of a single principal street, as a test of the value of improved
highways; nor is it necessary longer to strive for a pure water supply,
a healthier sewerage system, or the construction of playgrounds. _This
work is now being done by the City Council, by the Board of Public
Works, and by the Park Commission._"
Not that the Harrisburg Women's Civic Club has gone out of business. It
still keeps fairly busy with schoolhouse decoration, traveling libraries
for factory employees, and inspecting the city dump.
In Birmingham, Alabama, the women's work has been recognized officially.
The club Women have formed "block" clubs, composed of the women living
in each block, and the mayor has invested them with powers of
supervision, control of street cleaning, and disposal of waste and
garbage. They really act as overseers, and can remove lazy and
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has a ten-year-old Civic Club. The women have
succeeded in getting objectionable billboards removed, public dumps
removed from the town, in having all outside market stalls covered, and
have secured ordinances forbidding spitting in public places, and
against throwing litter into the streets.
Cranford, New Jersey, is one of a dozen small cities where the women's
clubs hold regular town house-cleanings. One large town in the Middle
West adopted a vigorous method of educating public opinion in favor of
spring and fall municipal house-cleaning. The club women got a
photographer and went the rounds of streets and alleys and private
backyards. Wherever bad or neglected conditions were found the club sent
a note to the owner of the property asking him to co-operate with its
members in cleaning up and beautifying the town. Where no attention was
paid to the notes, the photographs were posted conspicuously in the
club's public exhibit.
If the California women saved the big tree grove, the New Jersey women,
by years of persistent work, saved the Palisades of the Hudson from
destruction and inaugurated the movement to turn them into a public
park. As for the Colorado club women, they saved the Cliff Dwellers'
remains. You can no longer buy the pottery and other priceless relics of
those prehistoric people in the curio-shops of Denver.
I am not attempting a catalogue; I am only giving a few crucial
instances. The activities of women if they appeared only sporadically in
Lake City, Dallas, San Francisco, and a dozen other cities, would not
necessarily carry much weight. They would possess an interest purely
local. But the club women of Lake City, Dallas, San Francisco, do not
keep their interests local. Once a year they travel, hundreds of them,
to a chosen city in the State, and there they hold a convention which
lasts a week. And every second year the club women of Minnesota and
Texas and California, and every other State in the Union, to say
nothing of Alaska, Porto Rico, and the Canal Zone, thousands of them,
journey to a chosen center, and there they hold a convention which lasts
a week. And at these state and national conventions the club women
compare their work and criticise it, and confer on public questions, and
decide which movements they shall promote. They summon experts in all
lines of work to lecture and advise. Increasingly their work is national
in its scope.
In round numbers, eight hundred thousand women are now enrolled in the
clubs belonging to the General Federation of Women's Clubs, holding in
common certain definite opinions, and working harmoniously towards
certain definite social ends. Remember that these eight hundred
thousand women are the educated, intelligent, socially powerful.
Long ago these eight hundred thousand women ceased to confine their
studies to printed pages. They began to study life. Leaders developed,
women of intellect and experience, who could foresee the immense power
an organized womanhood might some time wield, and who had courage to
direct the forces under them towards vital objects.
When, in 1904, Mrs. Sarah Platt Decker, of Denver, was elected President
of the General Federation, she found a number of old-fashioned clubs
still devoting themselves to Shakespeare and the classic writers. Mrs.
Decker, a voter, a full citizen, and a public worker of prominence in
her State, simply laughed the musty study clubs out of existence.
"Ladies," she said to the delegates at the biennial meeting of 1904,
"Dante is dead. He died several centuries ago, and a great many things
have happened since his time. Let us drop the study of his 'Inferno' and
proceed in earnest to contemplate our own social order."
[Illustration: MRS. SARAH PLATT DECKER]
Mostly they took her advice. A few clubs still devote themselves to the
pursuit of pure culture, a few others exist with little motive beyond
congenial association. The great majority of women's clubs are organized
for social service. A glance at their national program shows the
modernity, the liberal character of organized women's ideals. The
General Federation has twelve committees, among them being those on
Industrial Conditions of Women and Children, Civil Service Reform,
Forestry, Pure Food and Public Health, Education, Civics, Legislation,
Arts and Crafts, and Household Economics. Every state federation has
adopted, in the main, the same departments; and the individual clubs
follow as many lines of the work as their strength warrants.
The contribution of the women's clubs to education has been enormous.
There is hardly a State in the Union the public schools of which have
not been beautified, inside and outside; hardly a State where
kindergartens and manual training, domestic science, medical inspection,
stamp savings banks, or other improvements have not been introduced by
the clubs. In almost every case the clubs have purchased the equipment
and paid the salaries until the boards of education and the school
superintendents have been convinced of the value of the innovations. In
the South, where opportunities for the higher education of women are
restricted, the clubs support dozens of scholarships in colleges and
institutes. Many western State federations, notable among which is that
of Colorado, have strong committees on education which are active in the
entire school system.
Thomas M. Balliett, Dean of Pedagogy in the New York University, paid a
deserved tribute to the Massachusetts club women when he said:
In Massachusetts the various women's organizations have, within the
past few years, made a study of schools and school conditions
throughout the State with a thoroughness that has never been
Dean Balliett says of women's clubs in general that the most
important reform movements in elementary education within the past
twenty years have been due, in large measure, to the efforts of
organized women. And he is right.
The women's clubs have founded more libraries than Mr. Carnegie. Early
in the movement the women began the circulation among the clubs of
traveling reference libraries. Soon this work was extended, but the
object of the libraries was diverted. Instead of collections of books on
special subjects to assist the club women in their studies, the
traveling cases were arranged in miscellaneous groups, and were sent to
schools, to factories, to lonely farms, mining camps, lumber camps, and
to isolated towns and villages.
Iowa now has more than twelve thousand volumes, half of them reference
books, in circulation. Eighty-one permanent libraries have grown out of
the traveling libraries in Iowa alone. After the traveling cases have
been coming to a town for a year or two, people wake up and agree that
they want a permanent place in which to read and study. Ohio has over a
thousand libraries in circulation, having succeeded, a few years ago, in
getting a substantial appropriation from the legislature to supplement
their work. Western States--Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho--have supplied
reading matter to ranches and mining camps for many years.
One interesting special library is circulated in Massachusetts and Rhode
Island in behalf of the anti-tuberculosis movement. Something like forty
of the best books on health, and on the prevention and cure of
tuberculosis, are included. This library, with a pretty complete
tuberculosis exhibit, is sent around, and is shown by the local clubs
of each town. Usually the women try to have a mass-meeting, at which
local health problems are discussed. The Health Department of the
General Federation is working to establish these health libraries and
exhibits in every State.
Not only in the United States, but in every civilized country, have
women associated themselves together with the object of reforming what
seems to them social chaos. In practically every civilized country in
the world to-day there exists a Council of Women, a central organization
to which clubs and societies of women with all sorts of opinions and
objects send delegates. In the United States the council is made up of
the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Woman's Christian
Temperance Union, and innumerable smaller organizations, like the
National Congress of Mothers, and the Daughters of the American
Revolution. More than a million and a half American women are
Four hundred and twenty-six women's organizations belong to the council
in Great Britain. In Switzerland the council has sixty-four allied
societies; in Austria it has fifty; in the Netherlands it has
thirty-five. Seventy-five thousand women belong to the French council.
In all, the International Council of Women, to which all the councils
send delegates, represents more than eight million women, in countries
as far apart as Australia, Argentine, Iceland, Persia, South Africa, and
every country in Europe. The council, indeed, has no formal organization
in Russia, because organizations of every kind are illegal in Russia.
But Russian women attend every meeting of the International Council.
Turkish women sent word to the last meeting that they hoped soon to ask
for admission. The President of the International Council of Women is
the Countess of Aberdeen. Titled women in every European country belong
to their councils. The Queen of Greece is president of the Greek
The object of this great world organization of women is to provide a
common center for women of every country, race, creed, or party who are
associating themselves together in altruistic work. Once every five
years the International Council holds a great world congress of women.
What eight million of the most intelligent, the most thoughtful, the
most altruistic women in the world believe, what they think the world
needs, what they wish and desire for the good of humanity, must be of
interest. It must count.
[Illustration: LADY ABERDEEN President of the International Council of
The International Council of Women discusses every important question
presented, but makes no decision until the opinion of the delegates is
practically unanimous. It commits itself to no opinion, lends itself to
no movement, until the movement has passed the controversial stage.
Those who cling to the old notion that women are perpetually at war with
one another will learn with astonishment that eight million women of all
nationalities, religions, and temperaments are agreed on at least four
questions. In the course of its twenty years of existence the
International Council has agreed to support four movements: Peace and
arbitration, social purity, removing legal disabilities of women, woman
The American reader will be inclined to cavil at the last-mentioned
object. Woman suffrage, it will be claimed, has not passed the
controversial stage, even with women themselves. That is true in the
United States and in England. It is true, in a sense, in most countries
of the world. But in European countries not _woman_ suffrage, but
_universal_ suffrage is being struggled for.
I had this explained to me in Russia, in the course of a conversation
with Alexis Aladyn, the brilliant leader of the Social Democratic party.
I said to him that I had been informed that the conservative reformers,
as well as the radicals, included woman suffrage in their programs.
Aladyn looked puzzled for a moment, and then he replied: "All parties
desire universal suffrage. Naturally that includes women."
Finland at that time, 1906, had recently won its independence from the
autocracy and was preparing for its first general election. Talking with
one of the nineteen women returned to Parliament a few months later, I
asked: "How did you Finnish women persuade the makers of the new
constitution to give you the franchise?"
"Persuade?" she repeated; "we did not have to persuade them. There was
simply no opposition. One of the demands made on the Russian Government
was for universal suffrage."
The movement for universal suffrage, that is the movement for free
government, with the consent of the governed, is considered by the
International Council of Women to have passed the controversial stage.
The whole club movement, as a matter of fact, is a part of the great
democratic movement which is sweeping over the whole world. Individual
clubs may be exclusive, even aristocratic in their tendencies, but the
large organization is absolutely democratic. If the President of the
International Council is an English peeress, one of the vice-presidents
is the wife of a German music teacher, and one of the secretaries is a
self-supporting woman. The General Federation in the United States is
made up of women of various stations in life, from millionaires' wives
to factory girls.
The democracy of women's organizations was shown at the meeting in
London a year ago of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, where
delegates from twenty-one countries assembled. One of the great features
of the meeting was a wonderful pageant of women's trades and
professions. An immense procession of women, bearing banners and emblems
of their work, marched through streets lined with spectators to Albert
Hall, where the entire orchestra of this largest auditorium in the world
was reserved for them. A published account of the pageant, after
describing the delegations of teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists,
artists, authors, house workers, factory women, stenographers, and
others well known here, says:
Then the ranks opened, and down the long aisle came the chain
makers who work at the forge, and the pit-brow women from the
mines,--women whose faces have been blackened by smoke and coal
dust until they can never be washed white.... To these women, the
hardest workers in the land, were given the seats of honor, while
behind them, gladly taking a subordinate place, were many women
wearing gowns with scarlet and purple hoods, indicating their
Every public movement--reform, philanthropic, sanitary, educational--now
asks the co-operation of women's organizations. The United States
Government asked the co-operation of the women's clubs to save the
precarious Panama situation. At a moment when social discontent
threatened literally to stop the building of the canal, the Department
of Commerce and Labor employed Miss Helen Varick Boswell, of New York,
to go to the Isthmus and organize the wives and daughters of Government
employees into clubs. The Department knew that the clubs, once
organized, would do the rest. Nor was it disappointed.
The Government asks the co-operation of women in its latest work of
conserving natural resources. At the biennial of the Federation of
Women's Clubs in 1906 Mr. Enos Mills delivered an address on forestry, a
movement which was beginning to engage the attention of the clubs.
Within an hour after he left the platform Mr. Mills had been engaged by
a dozen state presidents to lecture to clubs and federations. As soon
as it reached the Government that the women's clubs were paying fifty
dollars a lecture to learn about forestry work, the Government arranged
that the clubs should have the best authorities in the nation to lecture
on forestry free of all expense.
But the Government is not alone in recognizing the power of women's
organizations. If the Government approves their interest in public
questions, vested interests are beginning to fear it. The president of
the Manufacturers' Association, in his inaugural address, told his
colleagues that their wives and daughters invited some very dangerous
and revolutionary speakers to address their clubs. He warned them that
the women were becoming too friendly toward reforms that the association
This is indeed true, and women display, in their new-found enthusiasm,
a singularly obstinate spirit. All the legislatures south of the Mason
and Dixon Line cannot make the Southern women believe that Southern
prosperity is dependent upon young children laboring in mills. The women
go on working for child labor and compulsory education laws, unconvinced
by the arguments of the mill owners and the votes of the legislators.
The highest court in the State of New York was powerless to persuade New
York club women that the United States Constitution stands in the way of
a law prohibiting the night work of women. The Court of Appeals declared
the law unconstitutional, and many women at present are toiling at
night. But the club women immediately began fighting for a new law.
The women of every State in the Union are able to work harmoniously
together because they are unhampered with traditions of what the
founders of the Republic intended,--the sacredness of state rights, or
the protective paternalism of Wall Street. The gloriously illogical
sincerity of women is concerned only about the thing itself.
I have left for future consideration women who having definite social
theories have organized themselves for definite objects. This chapter
has purposely been confined to the activities of average women--good
wives and mothers, the eight hundred thousand American women whose
collective opinion is expressed through the General Federation of
Women's Clubs. For the most part they are mature in years, these club
women. Their children are grown. Some are in college and some are
married. I have heard more than one presiding officer at a State
Federation meeting proudly announce from the platform that she had
become a grandmother since the last convention.
The present president of the General Federation, Mrs. Philip N. Moore
of St. Louis, Missouri, is a graduate of Vassar College, and served for
a time as president of the National Society of Collegiate Alumnae. There
are not wanting in the club movement many women who have taken college
and university honors. Club women taken the country over, however, are
not college products. If they had been, the club movement might have
taken on a more cultural and a less practical form. As it was, the women
formed their groups with the direct object of educating themselves and,
being practical women used to work, they readily turned their new
knowledge to practical ends. As quickly as they found out, through
education, what their local communities needed they were filled with a
generous desire to supply those needs. In reality they simply learned
from books and study how to apply their housekeeping lore to municipal
government and the public school system. Nine-tenths of the work they
have undertaken relates to children, the school, and the home. Some of
it seemed radical in the beginning, but none of it has failed, in the
long run, to win the warmest approval of the people.
The eight million women who form the International Council of Women, and
express the collective opinion of women the world over, are not
exceptional types, although they may possess exceptional intelligence.
They are merely good citizens, wives, and mothers. Their program
contains nothing especially radical. And yet, what a revolution would
the world witness were that program carried out? Peace and arbitration;
social purity; public health; woman suffrage; removal of all legal
disabilities of women. This last-named object is perhaps more
revolutionary in its character than the others, because its fulfillment
will disturb the basic theories on which the nations have established
their different forms of government.
EUROPEAN WOMEN AND THE SALIC LAW
Several years ago a woman of wealth and social prominence in Kentucky,
after pondering some time on the inferior position of women in the
United States, wrote a book. In this volume the United States was
compared most unfavorably with the countries of Europe, where the
dignity and importance of women received some measure of recognition.
Women, this author protested, enjoy a larger measure of political power
in England than in America. In England and throughout Europe their
social power is greater. If a man becomes lord mayor of an English city
his wife becomes lady mayoress, and she shares all her husband's
official honors. On the Continent women are often made honorary colonels
of regiments, and take part with the men in military reviews. Women
frequently hold high offices at court, acting as chamberlains,
constables, and the like. The writer closed her last chapter with the
announcement that she meant henceforth to make her home in England,
where women had more than once occupied the throne as absolute monarch
and constitutional ruler.
It is true that in some particulars American women do seem to be at a
disadvantage with European women. With what looks like a higher regard
for women's intelligence, England has bestowed upon them every measure
of suffrage except the Parliamentary franchise. In England, throughout
the Middle Ages, and even down to the present century, women held the
office of sheriff of the county, clerk of the crown, high constable,
chamberlain, and even champion at a coronation,--the champion being a
picturesque figure who rides into the hall and flings his glove to the
nobles, in defense of the king's crown.
In the royal pageants of European history behold the powerful figures of
Maria Theresa, Catherine the Great, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, Mary of
Scotland, Christina of Sweden, rulers in fact as well as in name; to say
nothing of the long line of women regents in whose hands the state
intrusted its affairs, during the minority of its kings. In the United
States a woman candidate for mayor of a small town would be considered
These and other inconsistencies have puzzled many ardent upholders of
American chivalry. In order to understand the position of women in the
United States it is necessary to make a brief survey of the laws under
which European women are governed, and the social theory on which their
apparent advantages are based.
In the first place, the statement that in European countries a woman may
succeed to the throne must be qualified. In three countries only,
England, Spain, and Portugal, are women counted in the line of
succession on terms approaching equality with men. In these three
countries when a monarch dies leaving no sons his eldest daughter
becomes the sovereign. If the ruling monarch die, leaving no children at
all, the oldest daughter--failing sons--of the man who was in his
lifetime in direct line of succession is given preference to male heirs
more remote. Thus Queen Victoria succeeded William IV, she being the
only child of the late king's deceased brother and heir, the Duke of
Similar laws govern the succession in Portugal and Spain, although
dispute on this point has more than once caused civil war in Spain.
In Holland, Greece, Russia, Austria, and a few German states a woman may
succeed to the throne, provided every single male heir to the crown is
dead. Queen Wilhelmina became sovereign in Holland only because the
House of Orange was extinct in the male line, and Holland lost, on
account of the accession of Wilhelmina, the rich and important Duchy of
Luxemburg, in common with the rest of Europe, except the countries
described, lives under what is known as the Salic Law, according to
which a woman may not, in any circumstances, become sovereign.
A word about this Salic Law is necessary, because the tradition of it
permeates the whole atmosphere in which the women of Europe live, move,
and have their legal and social being.
The Salic Law was the code of a barbarous people, so far extinct and
forgotten that it is uncertain just what territory in ancient Gaul they
occupied at the time the code was formulated. Later the Salian Franks,
as the tribe was designated, built on the left bank of the Seine rude
fortresses and a collection of wattled huts which became the ancestor of
the present-day city of Paris.
The Salic Law was a complete code. It governed all matters, civil and
military. It prescribed rules of war; it fixed the salaries of
officials; it designated the exact amount of blood money the family of a
slain man might collect from the family of the slayer; it regu lated
conditions under which individuals might travel from one village to
another; it governed matters of property transfer and inheritance.
The Salian Franks are dust; their might has perished, their annals are
forgotten, their cities are leveled, their mightiest kings sleep in
unmarked graves, their code has passed out of existence, almost indeed
out of the memory of man,--all except one paragraph of one division of
one law. The law related to inheritance of property; the special
division distinguished between real and personal property, and the
paragraph ruled that a woman might inherit movable property, but that
she might not inherit land.
There was not a syllable in the law relating to the inheritance of a
throne. Nevertheless, centuries after the last Salian king was laid in
his barbarous grave a French prince successfully contested with an
English prince the crown of France, his claim resting on that obscure
paragraph in the Salic code. The Hundred Years' War was fought on this
issue, and the final outcome of the war established the Salic Law
permanently in France, and with more or less rigor in most of the
At the time of the French Revolution, when the "Rights of Man" were
being declared with so much fervor and enthusiasm, when the old laws
were being revised in favor of greater freedom of the individual, the
"Rights of Woman" were actually revised downward. Up to this time the
application of the Salic Law was based on tradition and precedent. Now a
special statute was enacted forever barring women from the sovereignty
of France. "Founded on the pride of the French, who could not bear to be
ruled by their own women folk," as the records are careful to state.
The interpretation of the Salic Law did more, a great deal more, than
exclude women from the throne. It established the principle of the
inherent inferiority of women. The system of laws erected on that
principle were necessarily deeply tinged with contempt for women, and
with fear lest their influence in any way might affect the conduct of
state affairs. That explains why, at the present time, although in most
European countries women are allowed to practice medicine, they are not
allowed to practice law. Medicine may be as learned a profession, but it
affects only human beings. The law, on the other hand, affects the
state. A woman advocate, you can readily imagine, might so influence a
court of justice that the laws of the land might suffer feminization.
From the European point of view this would be most undesirable.
The apparently superior rights possessed by English women were also
bestowed upon them by a vanished system of laws. They have descended
from Feudalism, in which social order the _person_ did not exist. The
social order consisted of _property_ alone, and the claims of property,
that is to say, land, were paramount over the claims of the individual.
Those historic women sheriffs of counties, clerks of crown,
chamberlains, and high constables held their high offices because the
offices were hereditary property in certain titled families, and they
had to belong to the entail, even when a woman was in possession. The
offices were purely titular. No English woman ever acted as high
constable. No English woman ever attended a coronation as king's
champion. The rights and duties of these offices were delegated to a
male relative. Every once in a while, during the Middle Ages, some
strong-minded lady of title demanded the right to administer her office
in person, but she was always sternly put down by a rebuking House of
Lords, sometimes even by the king's majesty himself.
In the same way the voting powers of the women of England are a result
of hereditary privilege. Local affairs in England, until a very recent
period, were administered through the parish, and the only persons
qualified to vote were the property owners of the parish. It was really
property interests and not people who voted. Those women who owned
property, or who were administering property for their minor children,
were entitled to vote, to serve on boards of guardians, and to dispense
the Poor Laws. Out of their right of parish vote has grown their right
of municipal franchise. It carries with it a property qualification, and
the proposed Parliamentary franchise, for which the women of England are
making such a magnificent fight, will also have a property
The real position, legal and social, which women in England and
continental Europe have for centuries occupied, may be gauged from an
examination of the feminist movement in a very enlightened country, say
Germany. The laws of Germany were founded on the Corpus Juris of the
Romans, a stern code which relegates women to the position of chattels.
And chattels they have been in Germany, until very recent years, when
through the intelligent persistence of strong women the chains have
somewhat been loosened.
A generation ago, in 1865, to be exact, a group of women in Leipzig
formed an association which they called the Allgemeinen Deutschen
Frauenbund, which may be Anglicized into General Association of German
Women. The stated objects of the association give a pretty clear idea of
the position of women at that time. The women demanded as their rights,
Education, the Right to Work, Free Choice of Profession. Nothing more,
but these three demands were so revolutionary that all masculine
Germany, and most of feminine Germany, uttered horrified protests.
Needless to say nothing came of the women's demand.
After the Franco-Prussian War the center of the women's revolt naturally
moved to the capital of the new empire, Berlin. From that city, during
the years that followed, so much feminine unrest was radiated that in
1887 the German Woman Suffrage Association was formed, with the demand
for absolute equality with men. Two remarkable women, Minna Cauer and
Anita Augsberg, the latter unmarried and a doctor of laws, were the
moving spirits in the first woman suffrage agitation, which has since
extended throughout the empire until there is hardly a small town
without its suffrage club.
Now the woman suffragist in Germany differs from the American suffragist
in that she is always a member of a political party. She is a silent
member to be sure, but she adheres to her party, because, through
tradition or conviction, she believes in its policies. Usually the
suffragist is a member of the Social Democratic Party, allied to the
International Socialist Party. She is a suffragist because she is a
Socialist, because woman suffrage, and, indeed, the full equalization of
the laws governing men and women are a part of the Socialist platform in
every country in the world. The woman member of the Social Democratic
party is not working primarily for woman suffrage. She is working for a
complete overturning of the present economic system, and she advocates
_universal adult suffrage_ as a means of bringing about the social and
economic changes demanded by the Socialists.
These German Socialist women are often very advanced spirits, who hold
university degrees, who have entered the professions, and are generally
emancipated from strictly conventional lives. Others, in large numbers,
belong to the intellectual proletarian classes. Their American
prototypes are to be found in the Women's Trade Union League, described
in a later chapter.
The other German suffragists are members of the radical, the moderate
(we should say conservative), and the clerical parties. These women are
middle class, average, intelligent wives and mothers. They correspond
fairly well with the women of the General Federation of Clubs in the
United States, and like the American club women they are affiliated with
the International Council of Women. Locally they are working for the
social reforms demanded by the first American suffrage convention, held
in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. They are demanding the higher
education, married women's property rights, free speech, and the right
to choose a trade or profession. They are demanding other rights, from
lack of which the American woman never suffered. The right to attend a
political meeting was until recently denied to German women. Although
they take a far keener and more intelligent interest in national and
local politics than American women as a rule have ever taken, their
presence at political meetings has but yesterday been sanctioned.
The civil responsibility of the father and mother in many European
countries is barbarously unequal. If a marriage exists between the
parents the father is the only parent recognized. He is sole guardian
and authority. When divorce dissolves a marriage the rights of the
father are generally paramount, even when he is the party accused.
On the other hand, if no marriage exists between the parents, if the
child is what is called illegitimate, the mother is alone responsible
for its maintenance. Not only is the father free from all
responsibility, his status as a father is denied by law. Inquiry into
the paternity of the child is in some countries forbidden. The unhappy
mother may have documentary proof that she was betrayed under promise of
marriage, but she is not allowed to produce her proof.
Under the French Code, the substance of which governs all Europe, it is
distinctly a principle that the woman's honor is and ought to be of less
value than a man's honor. Napoleon personally insisted on this
principle, and more than once emphasized his belief that no importance
should be attached to men's share in illegitimacy.
These and other degrading laws the European progressive women are trying
to remove from the Codes. They have their origin in the belief in "The
imprudence, the frailty, and the imbecility" of women, to quote from
this Code Napoleon.
Whatever women's legal disabilities in the United States, their laws
were never based on the principle that women were imprudent, frail, or
imbecile. They placed women at a distinct disadvantage, it is true, but
it was the disadvantage of the minor child and not of the inferior, the
chattel, the property of man, as in Europe.
Laws in the United States were founded on the assumption that women
stood in perpetual need of protection. The law makers carried this to
the absurd extent of assuming that protection was all the right a woman
needed or all she ought to claim. They even pretended that when a woman
entered the complete protection of the married state she no longer stood
in need of an identity apart from her husband. The working out of this
theory in a democracy was far from ideal, as we shall see.
AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE COMMON LAW
A little girl sat in a corner of her father's law library watching, with
wide, serious eyes, a scene the like of which was common enough a
generation or two ago. The weeping old woman told a halting story of a
dissipated son, a shrewish daughter-in-law, and a state of servitude on
her own part,--a story pitifully sordid in its details. The farm had
come to her from her father's estate. For forty years she had toiled
side by side with her husband, getting a simple, but comfortable,
living from the soil. Then the husband died. Under the will the son
inherited the farm, and everything on it,--house, furniture, barns,
cattle, tools. Even the money in the bank was his. A clause in the will
provided that the son should give his mother a home during her lifetime.
So here she was, after a life of hard work and loving service, shorn of
everything; a pauper, an unpaid servant in the house of another
woman,--her son's wife. Was it true that the law took her home away from
her,--the farm that descended to her from her father, the house she had
lived in since childhood? Could nothing, _nothing_ be done?
The aged judge shook his head, sadly. "You see, Mrs. Grant," he
explained, "the farm has never really been yours since your marriage,
for then it became by law your husband's property, precisely as if he
had bought it. He had a right to leave it to whom he would. No doubt he
did what he thought was for your good. I wish I could help you, but I
cannot. The law is inexorable in these matters."
After the forlorn old woman had gone the lawyer's child went and stood
by her father's chair. "Why couldn't you help her?" she asked. "Why do
you let them take her home away from her?"
Judge Cady opened the sheep-bound book at his elbow and showed the
little girl a paragraph. Turning the pages, he pointed out others for
her to read. Spelling through the ponderous legal phraseology the little
girl learned that a married woman had no existence, in the eyes of the
law, apart from her husband. She could own no property; she could
neither buy nor sell; she could not receive a gift, even from her own
husband. She was, in fact, her husband's chattel. If he beat her she had
no means of punishing, or even restraining him, unless, indeed, she
could prove that her life was endangered. If she ran away from him the
law forced her to return.
Paragraph after paragraph the child read through, and, unseen by her
father, marked faintly with a pencil. So far as she was aware, father,
and father's library of sheep-bound books, were the beginning and the
end of the law, and to her mind the way to get rid of measures which
took women's homes away from them was perfectly simple. That night when
the house was quiet she stole downstairs, scissors in hand, determined
_to cut every one of those laws out of the book_.
The young reformer was restrained, but only temporarily. As Elizabeth
Cady Stanton she lived to do her part toward revising many of the laws
under which women, in her day, suffered, and her successors, the
organized women of the United States, are busy with their scissors,
revising the rest.
Not alone in Russia, Germany, France, and England do the laws governing
men and women need equalizing. In America, paradise of women, the
generally accepted theory that women have "all the rights they want"
does not stand the test of impartial examination.
In America some women have all the rights they want. Your wife and the
wives of the men you associate with every day usually have all the
rights they want, sometimes a few that they do not need at all. Is the
house yours? The furniture yours? The motor yours? The income yours? Are
the children yours? If you are the average fond American husband, you
will return the proud answer: "No, indeed, they are _ours_."
This is quite as it should be, assuming that all wives are as tenderly
cherished, and as well protected as the women who live on your block.
For a whole big army of women there are often serious disadvantages
connected with that word "ours."
In Boston there lived a family of McEwans,--a man, his wife, and several
half-grown children. McEwan was not a very steady man. He drank
sometimes, and his earning capacity was uncertain. Mrs. McEwan was an
energetic, capable, intelligent woman, tolerant of her husband's
failings, ambitious for her children. She took a large house, furnished
it on the installment plan, and filled it with boarders. The boarders
gave the family an income larger than they had ever possessed before,
and McEwan's contributions fell off. He became an unpaying guest
himself. All his earnings, he explained, were going into investments.
The man was, in fact, speculating in mining stocks.
One day McEwan came home with a face of despair. His creditors, he told
his wife, had descended on him, seized his business, and threatened to
take possession of the boarding house.
"But it is mine," protested the woman, with spirit. "I bought every bit
of furniture with the money my boarders paid me. Nobody can touch my
property or my earnings to satisfy a claim on you. I am not liable for
One of the boarders was a lawyer, and to him that night she took the
case. "A woman's earnings are her own in Massachusetts, are they not?"
"You are what the law calls a free trader," replied the lawyer, "and
whatever you earn is yours, certainly. That is--of course you are
recorded at the city clerk's office?"
"Why no. Why should I be?"
"The law requires it. Otherwise this property, and even the money your
boarders pay you, are liable to attachment for your husband's debts.
Unless you make a specific declaration that you are in business for
yourself, the law assumes that the business is your husband's."
"If I went to work for a salary, should I have to be recorded in order
to keep my own money?" Mrs. McEwan was growing angry.
"No," replied the lawyer, "not if you were careful to keep your income
and your husband's absolutely separate. If you both paid installments on
a piano the piano would be your husband's, not yours. If you bought a
house together, the house could be seized for his debts. Everything you
buy with your money is yours. Everything you buy with money he gives you
is his. Everything you buy together is his. You could not protect such
property from your husband's creditors, or from his heirs."
Mrs. McEwan's case is mild, her wrongs faint beside those of a woman in
Los Angeles, California. Her husband was a doctor, and she had been,
before her marriage, a trained nurse. The young woman had saved several
hundred dollars, and she put the money into a first payment on a pretty
little cottage. During the first two or three years of the marriage the
doctor's wife, from time to time, attended cases of illness, usually
contributing her earnings toward the payment for the house or into
furniture for the house. In all she paid about a thousand dollars, or
something like one-third of the cost of the house. Then children came,
and her earning days were over.
Unfortunately the domestic affairs of this household became disturbed.
The doctor contracted a drug habit. He became irregular in his conduct
and ended by running away with a dissolute woman. After he had gone his
wife found that the house she lived in, and which she had helped to buy,
had been sold, without her knowledge or consent. The transaction was
perfectly legal. Community property, that is, property held jointly by
husband and wife, is absolutely controlled by the husband in California.
In that State community property may even be given away, without the
wife's knowledge or consent.
It happened not many years ago that one of the most powerful
millionaires in California, in a moment of generosity, conveyed to one
of his sons a very valuable property. Some time afterwards the father
and son quarreled, and the father attempted to get back his property.
His plea in court was that his wife's consent to the transaction had
never been sought; but the court ruled that since the property was owned
in community, the wife's consent did not have to be obtained.
This particular woman happened to be rich enough to stand the experience
of having a large slice of property given away without her knowledge,
but the same law would have applied to the case of a woman who could
not afford it at all.
It is in the case of women wage earners that these laws bear the
peculiar asperity. Down in the cotton-mill districts of the South are
scores of men who never, from one year to the next, do a stroke of work.
They are supposed to be "weakly." Their wives and children work eleven
hours a day (or night) and every pay day the men go to the mills and
collect their wages. The money belongs to them under the law. Even if
the women had the spirit to protest, the protest would be useless. The
right of a man to collect and to spend his wife's earnings is protected
in many States in the chivalric South. In Texas, for example, a husband
is entitled to his wife's earnings even _though he has deserted her_.
I do not know that this occurs very often in Texas. Probably not, unless
among low-class Negroes. In all likelihood if a Texas woman should
appeal to her employer, and tell him that her husband had abandoned her,
he would refuse to give the man her wages. Should the husband be in a
position to invoke the law, he could claim his wife's earnings,
The Kentucky lady who chose England for her future home, had she known
it, selected the country to which most American women owe their legal
disabilities. American law, except in Louisiana and Florida, is founded
on English common law, and English common law was developed at a period
when men were of much greater importance in the state than women. The
state was a military organization, and every man was a fighter, a
king's defender. Women were valuable only because defenders of kings
had to have mothers.
English common law provided that every married woman must be supported
in as much comfort as her husband's estate warranted. The mothers of the
nation must be fed, clothed, and sheltered. What more could they
possibly ask? In return for permanent board and clothes, the woman was
required to give her husband all of her property, real and personal.
What use had she for property? Did she need it to support herself? In
case of war and pillage could she defend it?
Husband and wife were one--and that one was the man. He was so much the
one that the woman had literally no existence in the eyes of the law.
She not only did not possess any property; she could possess none. Her
husband could not give her any, because there could be no contract
between a married pair. A contract implies at least two people, and
husband and wife were one. The husband could, if he chose, establish a
trusteeship, and thus give his wife the free use of her own. But you can
easily imagine that he did not very often do it.
A man could, also, devise property to his wife by will. Often this was
done, but too often the sons were made heirs, and the wife was left to
what tender mercies they owned. If a man died intestate the wife merely
shared with other heirs. She had no preference.
Under the old English common law, moreover, not only the property, but
also the services of a married woman belonged to her husband. If he
chose to rent out her services, or if she offered to work outside the
home, it followed logically that her wages belonged to him. What use had
she for wages?
On the other hand, every man was held responsible for the support of his
wife. He was responsible for her debts, as long as they were the
necessities of life. He was also responsible for her conduct. Being
propertyless, she could not be held to account for wrongs committed. If
she stole, or destroyed property, or injured the person of another, if
she committed any kind of a misdemeanor in the presence of her husband,
and that also meant if he were in her neighborhood at the time, the law
held him responsible. He should have restrained her.
This was supposed to be a decided advantage to the woman. Whenever a
rebellious woman or group of women voiced their objection to the system
which robbed them of every shred of independence they were always
reminded that the system at the same time relieved them of every shred
of responsibility, even, to an extent, of moral responsibility. "So
great a favorite," comments Blackstone, "is the female sex under the
laws of England."
You may well imagine that, in these circumstances, husbands were
interested that their wives should be very good. The law supported them
by permitting "moderate correction." A married woman might be kept in
what Blackstone calls "reasonable restraint" by her husband. But only
with a stick no larger than his thumb.
The husbandly stick was never imported into the United States. Even the
dour Puritans forbade its use. The very first modification of the
English common law, in its application to American women, was made in
1650, when the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed that a
husband beating his wife, or, for that matter, a wife beating her
husband, should be fined ten pounds, or endure a public whipping.
The Pilgrim Fathers and the other early colonists in America brought
with them the system of English common law under which they and their
ancestors had for centuries been governed. From time to time, as
conditions made them necessary, new laws were enacted and put into
force. In all cases not specifically covered by these new laws, the old
English common law was applied. It did not occur to any one that women
would ever need special laws. The Pilgrim Fathers and their successors,
the Puritans, simply assumed that here, as in the England they had left
behind, woman's place was in the home, where she was protected,
supported, and controlled.
But in the new world woman's place in the home assumed an importance
much greater than it had formerly possessed. Labor was scarce,
manufacturing and trading were undeveloped. Woman's special activities
were urgently needed. Woman's hands helped to raise the roof-tree, her
skill and industry, to a very large extent, furnished the house. She
spun and wove, cured meat, dried corn, tanned skins, made shoes, dipped
candles, and was, in a word, almost the only manufacturer in the
country. But this did not raise her from her position as an inferior.
Woman owned neither her tools nor her raw materials. These her husband
provided. In consequence, husband and wife being one, that one, in
America, as in England, was the husband.
This explanation is necessary in order to understand why the legal
position of most American women to-day is that of inferiors, or, at
best, of minor children.
It is necessary also, in order to understand why, except in matters of
law, American women are treated with such extraordinary consideration
and indulgence. As long as pioneer conditions lasted women were valuable
because of the need of their labor, their special activities. Also, for
a very long period, women were scarce, and they were highly prized not
alone for their labor, but because their society was so desirable. In
other words, pioneer conditions gave woman a better standing in the new
world than she had in the old, and she was treated with an altogether
new consideration and regard.
In England no one thought very badly of a man who was moderately abusive
of his wife. In America, violence against women was, from the first, an
unbearable idea. Laws protecting maid servants, dependent women, and, as
we have seen, even wives, were very early enacted in New England.
But although woman was more dearly prized in the new country than in the
old, no new legislation was made for her benefit. Her legal status, or
rather her absence of legal status apart from her husband, remained
exactly as it had been under the English common law.
No legislature in the United States has deliberately made laws placing
women at a disadvantage with men. Whatever laws are unfair and
oppressive to women have just happened--just grown up like weeds out of
Let me illustrate. No lawmaker in New Mexico ever introduced a bill into
the legislature making men liable for their wives' torts or petty
misdemeanors. Yet in New Mexico, at this very minute, a wife is so
completely her husband's property that he is responsible for her
behavior. If she should rob her neighbor's clothesline, or wreck a
chicken yard, her unfortunate husband would have to stand trial. Simply
because in New Mexico married women are still living under laws that
were evolved in another civilization, long before New Mexico was dreamed
of as a State.
Nowhere else in the United States are women allowed to shelter their
weak moral natures behind the stern morality of their husbands, but in
more than one State the husband's responsibility for his wife's acts is
assumed. In Massachusetts, for one State, if a woman owned a saloon and
sold beer on Sunday, she would be liable to arrest, and so also would
her husband, provided he were in the house when the beer was sold. Both
would probably be fined. Simply because it was once the law that a
married woman had no separate existence apart from her husband, this
absurd law, or others as absurd, remain on the statute books of almost
every State in the Union.
The ascent of woman, which began with the abolishment of corporeal
punishment of wives, proceeded very slowly. Most American women married,
and most American wives were kindly treated. At least public opinion
demanded that they be treated with kindness. Long before any other
modification of her legal status was gained, a woman subjected to
cruelty at the hands of her lawful spouse was at liberty to seek police
The reason why police protection was so seldom sought is plain enough.
Imagine a woman complaining of a husband who would be certain to beat
her again for revenge, and to whom she was bound irrevocably by laws
stronger even than the laws on the statute books. Remember that the only
right she had was the right to be supported, and if she left her
husband's house she left her only means of living. She could hardly
support herself, for few avenues of industry were open to women. She was
literally a pauper, and when there is nowhere else to lay his head, even
the most miserable pauper thinks twice before he runs away from the
poorhouse. Besides, the woman who left her husband had to give up her
children. They too were the husband's property.
There were some women who hesitated before they consented to pauperize
themselves by marrying. Widows were especially wary, if old stories are
to be trusted. A story is told in the New York University Law School of
a woman in Connecticut who took with her, as a part of her wedding
outfit, a very handsome mahogany bureau, bequeathed her by her
grandfather. After a few years of marriage the husband suddenly died,
leaving no will. The home and all it contained were sold at auction. The
widow was permitted to buy certain objects of furniture, and among them
was her cherished bureau. Where the poor woman found the money with
which to buy is not revealed. In time this woman married again, and
again her husband died without a will. Again there was an auction, and
again the widow purchased her beloved heirloom. It seems possible that
this time she had saved money in anticipation of the necessity.
A little later, for she was still young and attractive, a suitor
appeared, offering his heart and "all his worldly goods." "No, I thank
you," replied the sorely tried creature, "I prefer to keep my bureau."
The first struggle made by women in their own behalf was against this
condition of marital slavery. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott,
Lydia Maria Child, and others of that brave band of rebellious women,
were active for years, addressing legislative committees in New York and
Massachusetts, circulating petitions, writing to newspapers, agitating
everywhere in favor of married women's property rights. Finally it began
to dawn on the minds of men that there might be a certain public
advantage, as well as private justice, attaching to separate ownership
by married women of their own property.
In 1839 the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a cautious measure
giving married women qualified property rights. It was not until 1848
that a really effective Married Women's Property Law was secured, by
action of the New York State Assembly. The law served as a model in many
of the new Western States just then framing their laws.
These New York legislators, and the Western legislators who first
granted property rights to married women, were actuated less by a sense
of justice towards women than by enlightened selfishness. The effect of
so much freedom on women themselves was a matter for grave conjecture.
It was not suggested by any of the American debaters, as it was later on
the floors of the English Parliament, that women, if they controlled
their own property, would undoubtedly squander it on men whom they
preferred to their husbands. But it was prophesied that women once in
possession of money would desert their husbands by regiments,--which
speaks none too flatteringly of the husbands of that day.
Men of property stood for the Married Women's Property Act, because they
perceived plainly that their own wealth, devised to daughters who could
not control it, might easily be gambled away, or wasted through
improvidence, or diverted to the use of strangers. In other words, they
knew that their property, when daughters inherited it, became the
property of their sons-in-law. They had no guarantee that their own
grandchildren would ever have the use of it, unless it was controlled by
It was the women's clubs and women's organizations in America, as it was
the Women's Councils in Europe, that actively began the agitation
against women's legal disabilities. The National Woman Suffrage
Association, oldest of all women's organizations in the United States,
has been calling attention to the unequal laws, and demanding their
abolishment, for two generations.
Practically all of the state federations of women's clubs have
legislative committees, and it is usually the business of these
committees to codify the laws of their respective States which apply
directly to women. In some cases a woman lawyer is made chairman, and
the work is done under her direction. Sometimes, as in Texas, a well
known and friendly man lawyer is retained for the task. Almost
invariably the report of the legislative committee contains disagreeable
surprises. American women have been so accustomed to their privileges
that they have taken their rights for granted, and are usually
astonished when they find how limited their rights actually are.
There are some States in the Union where women are on terms of something
like equality with men. There is one State to which all intelligent
women look with a sort of envious, admiring, questioning curiosity,
Colorado, which is literally the woman's paradise. In Colorado it would
be difficult to find even the smallest inequality between men and women.
They vote on equal terms, and if any woman deserves to go to the
legislature, and succeeds in convincing a large enough public of the
fact, nothing stands in the way of her election. One woman, Mrs. Alma
Lafferty, is a member of the present legislature, and she has had
But Colorado women have a larger influence still in legislative
matters. To guard their interests they have a Legislative Committee of
the State Federation of Women's Clubs, consisting of thirty to forty
carefully chosen women.
This committee has permanent headquarters in Denver during every session
of the legislature, and every bill which directly affects women and
children, before reaching the floor of either house, is submitted for
approval to the committee.
Miss Jane Addams has declared, and Miss Addams is pretty good authority,
that the laws governing women and children in Colorado are superior to
those of any other State. Women receive equal pay for equal work in
Colorado. They are permitted to hold any office. They are co-guardians
of their children, and the education of children has been placed almost
entirely in the hands of women. This does not mean that Colorado has
weakened its schools by barring men from the teaching profession. It
means that women are superintendents of schools in many counties, and
that one woman was, for more than ten years, State superintendent of
Contrast Colorado with Louisiana, possibly the last State in the Union a
well-informed woman would choose for a residence. The laws of Louisiana
were based, not on the English common law, but on the Code Napoleon,
which regards women merely as a working, breeding, domestic animal.
"There is one thing that is not _French_," thundered the great Napoleon,
closing a conference on his famous code, "and that is that a woman can
do as she pleases."
[Illustration: A "WOMEN'S RIGHTS" MAP OF THE UNITED STATES]
The framers of Louisiana's laws were particular to guard against too
great a freedom of action on the part of its women. Toward the end of
Mrs. Jefferson Davis's life she added a codicil to her will, giving to a
certain chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy a number of very
valuable relics of her husband, and of the short-lived Confederate
Government. Her action was made public, and it was then revealed that
two women had signed the document as witnesses. Instantly Mrs. Davis's
attention was called to the fact that in Louisiana, where she was then
living, no woman may witness a document. Women's signatures are
In Louisiana your disabilities actually begin when you become an engaged
girl. From that happy moment on you are under the dominance of a man.
Your wedding presents are not yours, but his. If you felt like giving a
duplicate pickle-fork to your mother, you could not legally do so, and
after you were married, if your husband wanted that pickle-fork, he
could get it. Your clothing, your dowry, become community property as
soon as the marriage ceremony is over, and community property in
Louisiana is controlled absolutely by the husband. Every dollar a woman
earns there is at her husband's disposal. Without her husband's consent
a Louisiana woman may not go into a court of law, even though she may be
in business for herself and the action sought is in defense of her
Nor does the Louisiana woman fare any better as a mother. Then, in fact,
her position is nothing short of humiliating. During her husband's
lifetime he is sole guardian of their children. At his death she may
become their guardian, but if she marries a second time--and the law
permits her to remarry, provided she waits ten months--she retains her
children only by the formal consent of her first husband's family. If
they dislike her, or disapprove of her second marriage, they may demand
the custody of the children.
It is true that many of these absurd laws in Louisiana are not now often
enforced. It is also true that in Louisiana and other states few men are
so unjust to their wives as to take advantage of unequal property
rights. Laws always lag behind the sense of justice which lives in man.
But the point is that unequal laws still remain on our statute books,
and they may be, and sometimes are, enforced.
Between these two extremes, Colorado and Louisiana, women have the other
forty-six States to choose. None of them offers perfect equality. Even
in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah--the three States besides Colorado where
women vote--women are in such a minority that their votes are powerless
to remove all their disabilities. Very rarely have club women even so
much felicity as the New York State Federation, whose legislative
chairman, Miss Emilie Bullowa, reported that she was unable to find a
single unimportant inequality in the New York laws governing the
property rights of women.
In most of the older States the property rights of married women are now
fairly guaranteed, but the proud boast that in America no woman is the
slave of her husband will have to be modified when it is known that in
at least seventeen States these rights are still denied.
The husband absolutely controls his wife's property and her earnings in
Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Arizona, North Dakota, and
Idaho. He has virtual control--that is to say, the wife's rights are
merely provisional--in Alabama, New Mexico, and Missouri.
Women to control their own business property must be registered as
traders on their own account in these States: Georgia, Montana, Nevada,
Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia.
Nor are women everywhere permitted to work on equal terms with men.
[Illustration: MISS EMILIE BULLOWA.]
There is a current belief, often expressed, that in the United States
every avenue of industry is open to women on equal terms with men. This
is not quite true. In some States a married woman may not engage in any
business without permission from the courts. In Texas, Louisiana, and
Georgia this is the case. In Wyoming, where women vote, but where they
are in such minority that their votes count for little, a married woman
must satisfy the court that she is under the necessity of earning her
If you are a woman, married or unmarried, and wish to practice law, you
are barred from seven of the United States. The legal profession is
closed to women in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas, Delaware,
Tennessee, and South Carolina.
In some States they discourage women from aspiring to the learned
professions by refusing them the advantages of higher education which
they provide for their brothers.
Four state universities close their doors to women, in spite of the
fact that women's taxes help support the universities. These States are
Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina. The last-named admits
women to post-graduate courses.
You can hold no kind of an elective office, you cannot be even a county
superintendent of schools in Alabama or Arkansas, if you are a woman. In
Alabama, indeed, you may not be a minister of the gospel, a doctor of
medicine, or a notary public. Florida likewise will have nothing to do
with a woman doctor.
Only a few women want to hold office or engage in professional work.
Every woman hopes to be a mother. What then is the legal status of the
American mother? When the club women began the study of their position
before the law they were amazed to find, in all but ten of the States
and territories, that they had absolutely no control over the destinies
of their own children. In ten States only, and in the District of
Columbia, are women co-guardians with their husbands of their children.
In Pennsylvania if a woman supports her children, or has money to
contribute to their support, she has joint guardianship. Under somewhat
similar circumstances Rhode Island women have the same right.
In all the other States and territories children belong to their
fathers. They can be given away, or willed away, from the mother. That
this almost never happens is due largely to the fact that, as a rule, no
one except the mother of a child is especially keen to possess it.
It is due also in large measure to the fact that courts of justice are
growing reluctant to administer such archaic laws.
The famous Tillman case is an example. Senator Ben Tillman of South
Carolina has one son,--a dissipated, ill-tempered, and altogether
disreputable man, whose wife, after several miserable years of married
life, left him, taking with her their two little girls. South Carolina
allows no divorce for any cause. The sanctity of the marriage tie is
held so lightly in South Carolina that the law permits it to be abused
at will by the veriest brute or libertine. Mrs. Tillman could not
divorce her husband, so she took her children and went to live quietly
at her parent's home in the city of Washington.
One day the father of the children, young Tillman, appeared at that
home, and in a fit of drunken resentment against his wife, kidnapped the
children. He could not care for the children, probably had no wish to
have them near him, but he took them back to South Carolina, and _gave_
them to his parents, made a present of a woman's flesh and blood and
heart to people who hated her and whom she hated in return.
Under the laws of South Carolina, under the printed statutes, young
Tillman had a perfect right to do this thing, and his father, a United
States Senator, upheld him in his act. Young Mrs. Tillman, however,
showed so little respect for the statutes that she sued her husband and
his parents to recover her babies. The judge before whom the suit was
brought was in a dilemma. There was the law--but also there was justice
and common sense. To the everlasting honor of that South Carolina judge,
justice and common sense triumphed, and he ruled that _the law was
There are other hardships in this law denying to mothers the right of
co-guardianship of their children. Two names signed to a child's working
papers is a pretty good thing sometimes, for it often happens that
selfish and lazy fathers are anxious to put their children to work,
when the mothers know they are far too young. A woman in Scranton,
Pennsylvania, told me, with tears filling her eyes, that her children
had been taken by their father to the silk mills as soon as they were
tall enough to suit a not too exacting foreman. "What could I say about
it, when he went and got the papers?" she sighed.
The father--not the mother--controls the services of his children. He