Suffrage: The Women in Washington (1870)

A Deputation from the National Woman’s Suffrage Association consisting of Mrs. M. E. Joslyn Gage, Charlotte B. Wilbour, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Paulina Wright Davis, Madam Anneke, Martha C. Wright, Rev. Olympia Brown, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Phoebe Couzens, Josephine S. Griffiing, and Susan B. Anthony, was appointed from the Convention to wait on the District Committees and ask a hearing, which was granted for Saturday, Jan. 22, 1870.

The Deputation attended by a large number of distinguished friends of the cause appeared at the Capitol, crowding one of the large committee rooms. The Joint Committees from the Senate and the House consisting of Honorables Hamlin, Sumner, Patterson, Rice, Vickers, Pratt, Harris, Cook, Welcker, Williams, Cowles, Bowles, Gilfillen, were punctual to the minute, and gave the ladies a respectful hearing of two hours.

Hannibal Hamlin

Hannibal Hamlin, United States Senator from Maine

Senator Hamlin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, called the meeting to order and spoke as follows:

We have met this morning for the purpose of considering two petitions which have been presented, I believe, only to the Senate Committee of the District of Columbia. The first one is a petition, very numerously signed, I think, by both ladies and gentlemen of this city; and, in a few brief words, it adds that: “The undersigned, residents of the District of Columbia, earnestly, but respectfully request that you extend the Right of Suffrage to the women of the District of Columbia.” The other memorial, very nearly as brief, is in these words: “The undersigned citizens of the United States pray your honorable body that in the proposed amendments to the Constitution which may come before you in regard to Suffrage, and in any law affecting Suffrage, in the District of Columbia or in any Territory, the right of voting may be given to the women on the same terms as to the men.

Some of the testimony was reported in The Revolution on January 27, 1870.

Mrs. HOOKER: The fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” could not be obeyed while boys are taught by our laws and constitutions to hold all women in contempt. She felt it was not only woman’s right but duty to assume responsibility in the government. She thought the importance of the subject demanded its hearing.

Madam ANNEKE: You have lifted up the slave on this continent; listen now to women’s cry for freedom.

Mrs. GAGE: Liberty is an instinct of the human heart, and men desirous of creating change in governments or religion have led other men by promising them greater liberty, more freedom, and better laws. Nothing is too good or too great for humanity—nothing is too sacred for humanity—and, as part of humanity, woman as well as man demands the best that governments have to offer. Woman demands the ballot equally with man. Honorable gentlemen have spoken of petitions. For twenty years we have petitioned, and I now hold in my hand over three thousand names of citizens from but a small portion of the state of New York asking that justice shall be done women by granting them suffrage. But people have become tired of begging for rights, and many persons favoring this cause will not again petition. We but ask justice, and we say to you that the stability of any government depends upon its doing justice to the most humble individual in it.

Mrs. DAVIS: We are tired of petitioning. It is time our legislators knew what was right and gave us justice.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

Additional Remarks

Mrs. WILBOUR remarked that a lady of the district near her said she had obtained 1,500 signatures in one ward of the city to a petition.

Senator PATTERSON inquired what the effect would be in case women were allowed to vote where there was a difference of opinion between the husband and wife on some political question—where the authority of the family would rest?

Mrs. STANTON replied that there was one of superior will and brain in every family. If it was the man, he would rule; if it was the woman, she would rule. Individuality should be preserved in the family as well as in society.

Hon. Mr. WELKER wanted to know if the women in the District had shown any interest in the movement yet.

Mrs. STANTON replied that they had; they had attended the sessions of the Convention held here, and all she had spoken to were in favor of it.

Mrs. WILBOUR said the petition of fifteen hundred women of the District asking for suffrage had been presented to Congress this very winter.

Hon. Mr. COOKE said that the Committee on the District of Columbia could not get enough time allowed them by the House to transact the necessary business of the District during the short morning hour, to which they were limited by the rules, and he feared they would be unable to get the action of the House on the subject.

Miss ANTHONY said that they must make time enough to present the bill at least; and asked if women had the right to vote, and make and unmake members, if they could not then find time to plead woman’s cause.

The honorable member was obliged to answer this pertinent question in the affirmative.

Senator HAMLIN said the committee would take the matter into consideration and discuss it; that in Scripture language he could say he was almost, if not quite, persuaded.

Thus passed one of the most important events of the age. Altogether the hearing was serious and impressive, and it was evident from the questions of the honorable gentlemen they had already given the subject a thoughtful consideration.

Top Image: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, February 4, 1870

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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