Tag Archives: Women’s History

Gage on Voting Rights for Washington D.C. Citizens

This testimony was delivered by Matilda Joslyn Gage in a special meeting of the committees of the Senate and House of Representatives on the District of Columbia on Friday, March 31, 1876.

Testimony by MATILDA JOSLYN GAGE, of New York:

On behalf of the National Association, which has its officers in every State and territory of the Union, and which numbers many thousands of members, and on behalf of the Woman’s Franchise Association of the District of Columbia, we appear before you, asking that the right of suffrage be secured equally to the men and women of this District.

Article I, Section 8, Clauses 17 and 18 of the Constitution of the United States reads:

Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district as may become the seat of government of the United States, … to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.

Congress is therefore constitutionally the special guardian of the rights of the people of the District of Columbia. It possesses peculiar rights, peculiar duties, peculiar powers in regard to this District. At the present time the men and women are alike disfranchised. Our memorial asks that in forming a new government they may be alike enfranchised. It is often said as an argument against granting suffrage to women that they do not wish to vote; do not ask for the ballot. This association, numbering thousands in the United States, through its representatives, now asks you, in this memorial, for suffrage in this District. Petitions from every State in the Union have been sent to your honorable body. One of these, signed by thirty-five thousand women, was sent to congress in one large roll; but what is the value of a petition signed by even a million of an unrepresented class?

Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn Gage

The city papers of the national capital, once bitterly opposed to all effort in this direction, now fully recognize the dignity of the demand, and have ceased to oppose it. One of these said, editorially, to-day, that the vast audiences assembling at our conventions, the large majority being women, and evidently in sympathy with the movement, were proof of the great interest women take in this subject, though many are too timid to openly make the demand. The woman’s temperance movement began two years ago as a crusade of prayer and song, and the women engaged therein have now resolved themselves into a national organization, whose second convention, held in October last, numbering delegates from twenty-two States, almost unanimously passed a resolution demanding the ballot to aid them in their temperance work. We who make our constant demand for suffrage, knew that these women were in process of education, and would soon be forced to ask for the key to all reform.

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The Changing Rights of Indiana Women

To what an appalling degree women were discriminated against by the law in Indiana prior to 1860, may be inferred from subsequent legislative enactments. At almost every sitting of Indiana’s biënnial legislature, since 1860, some important change will be observed. In 1861 was passed the following:

AN ACT to enlarge the Legal Capacity of Married Women whose Husbands are Insane, and to enable them to Contract as if they were Unmarried.

SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: That all married women, or those who may hereafter be married, whose husbands are or may be insane, are, during the continuance of such insanity, hereby enabled and authorized to make and to execute all such contracts, and to be contracted with in relation to their separate property, as they could if they were unmarried, and they may sue and be sued as if they were sole.

The legislature of 1863 was undisturbed by any question concerning women. In 1865 the legislature discriminated against women by the passage of a very long act, prescribing the manner in which enumerations of white male citizens shall be made; thus implying that a white male citizen is an honorable and important person, whose existence is to be noted with due care; with a care that distinguishes him equally above the white female and the black male citizen, and in effect places these two unenumerated divisions of human beings into one class.

Another act of 1865 reäffirmed an act of 1852 which prescribed the classes of persons capable of making a will, from which married women were excluded.


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The Association for the Advancement of Women in 1896

Among the hundreds upon hundreds of women’s organizations, of whose making there is no end and into whose many forms the much-talked of “woman movement” has crystallized itself, there is one unique and interesting society of which little is heard, though it is of ripe age–twenty-two years–and counts its membership in every section of the country.

From Canada to Florida, from Maine to California, are women to whom the initials “A.A.W.” stand for a new inspiration in their lives, and among its hundreds of members are included women of world-wide fame, from its president, Julia Ward Howe , author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” down. From the fact that its working methods are somewhat unlike those of most women’s clubs, the only time when the Association for the Advancement of Women challenges universal attention, is when it calls its members from the East and the North, the South and the West, to its annual convention in some representative city. For the rest of the year it works so quietly–though none the less effectively –that to many of the outside world a brief account of the Association, its membership, and its work, will come as interesting news.


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Reverend Wayland’s Model Woman

The following from the pen of the Rev. H. L. Wayland should not be a mere fancy sketch, but the reality with every born woman. He knows one such he tells us. Let that one stand the prophecy of all women in the future. We do not expect much of humanity, and so do not realize much in man or woman. “According to your faith be it unto you,” is one of the truest and sublimest utterances in human language, and one of the most important. And the principle runs through all human action and aspiration. We expect nothing, we aim at nothing, we arrive at nothing, is true of an awful proportion of the human race. The Hot Wells of Bath, England, have brought multitudes there to die as well as to be cured during the centuries, and the Old Abbey church is filled with mural and other monuments of the departed, but scarcely a name known to fame appears among them all. And a satirist there has left this tracing to be read as his estimate of them:

“These walls adorned With monument and bust,
Show how Bath’s waters serve to lay the dust.”

Over how many cemetery gates might not the substance of this be placed? And the satire will be just until loftier ideas of human possibility and perfection are entertained.

Men sometimes say of a caged lion, if he only knew his strength, how soon he would be free! So of the man, if he only knew his power, his possibilities, how quickly he would burst the second death cements that now hold him, and leap to loftier life and action? Who shall speak the new word of life to stir the stagnant souls of these unburied dead, that make our nation and the world of man so like the vision of the Hebrew prophet: a valley of dry bones! Who shall cry with his fervor and his faith too, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live!”

But our readers shall not lose Mr. Wayland in these musings of our own. It should be impressed on the mind and heart of universal humanity that the rare models like this described below, and all the sublimest attainments ever yet reached by saint or sage, are but the beginning, not the end, of what every mortal man and woman will one day reach in the earthly life, not the heavenly, where it doth not yet appear, even in a few models, what we shall be.

Mr. Wayland says:

I know one lady (I use the singular number not unadvisedly), and she is not compelled by her circumstances, who makes housekeeping an art, who studies chemistry and physiology, that she may adapt her table to the comfort and health of her family; who is the mistress of her servants, and not their unpaid dependent; who knows when the work of the house is done, and if it is not done is able to show the servants the reason of their failure; and with all this, she is not a drudge, with a soul confined to pots and pans, but a sensible, pleasing and truly religious woman, who, while enhancing the happiness of her family and doubling the income of her husband, alike by reducing his expenses and freeing his mind from vexing cares, yet is also reading the best books, is serving God, and dispensing charity to man. One such woman I know; pray how many do you know?

Source: The Revolution, August 13, 1868.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Newspapers Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily, The Revolution, and the National Citizen and Ballot Box.

Top Image:  Brooklyn sanitary fair in 1864  as shown in New England Kitchen.

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This Unaccountable Stupidity

Dear Ballot Box:

Do you know that this interminable drudgery imposed on American mothers of petitioning–petitioning for the ballot–this humiliation of forever praying to their own sons to be allowed to enjoy their birthright with the men born of them, furnishes me with stronger evidence of the Darwinian theory than anything I am able to find elsewhere. Were it not for this relic which has no parallel in the history left us of the dark ages–of the long ago buried past,there would be little proof of such an age having once enshrouded the earth.

The brutish vulgarity which we see cropping out in men who ignorantly disgrace themselves by ignoring their own mothers, is conclusive evidence to me that the race must have come up through the long line of animal ancestry to the “man in the dugout,” and from thence to the men in our present Congress, some of whom still seem inclined to root, and grunt, and squeal, if others assert rights equal to their own: lest the visual line of their own pen be the world’s extent, and, if others should be allowed to enjoy like blessings, they would be crowded, off the stage of action. While there are other men on the same floor, who, I am proud to say, are infinitely in advance of all this, which is a promise and prophecy of the oncoming of those others, for which I thank God and take courage; and love to accept this theory because it gives us a better outlook–this law of eternal progress must in cycles of years lift the most sordid to a higher plane of nobler action.

I say, but for this, I could find no way to account for this unaccountable stupidity, this lack of power to comprehend the plainest possible expressions in the English language.


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