A Word About Woman Suffrage from “Woman’s Wrongs”

Mary Abigail Dodge (March 31, 1833 – August 17, 1896) was an American writer and essayist, she wrote under pseudonym Gail Hamilton. Her writing is noted for its wit and promotion of equality of education and occupation for women.

This review of Gail Hamilton’s book, Woman’s Wrongs, appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in the July, 1868 issue.

Gail Hamilton's "Woman's Wrongs"

Gail Hamilton’s “Woman’s Wrongs”

The last word upon the vexed question of Woman Suffrage is a little book by Gail Hamilton called “Woman’ s Wrongs.” Those who expect, from the title and from the writer’s well-known esprit de corps, warm advocacy of her sex’s right to the ballot and bitter denunciation of all who deny it will be disappointed— most of them pleasantly disappointed. We do not quote Gail Hamilton as an opponent to women’ s voting; she says distinctly that sex should no more affect the matter than height or weight. But she goes on to show how little the ballot will really give women; how many things there are of far more importance towards which it will do nothing. We cannot do better than quote some extracts, which we commend to those who believe in the widening of the suffrage as the introduction to a social and political millennium:—


Towards female suffrage in itself considered, I have never been able to feel otherwise than indifferent. There are so many things so infinitely more important, more close to the welfare and happiness of society and of individuals, and especially is the happiness of woman so apart from and independent of her right of suffrage, that it has seemed an altogether secondary and unimportant matter. Woman without the ballot may possess every condition of a dignified womanhood. It would sometimes seem, from the tone of discussion, as if the ballot were a sort of talisman, with a power to ward off all harm from its possessor. To me it looks rather like a clumsy contrivance for bringing opinion to bear on government— fine, delicate, precise, as compared with the old-time method of the sword; but coarse blundering, and insufficient, when compared with the pen, the fireside, and the thousand subtle social influences, penetrating, pervasive, purifying.

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.


Mary Abigail Dodge, who wrote under the pseudonym "Gail Hamilton"

Mary Abigail Dodge, who wrote under the pseudonym “Gail Hamilton”

The men and women of an American community are one race. Either sex alone is but a fragment. Neither rises or falls without taking the other with it. The male vote does not represent male thought alone; it is the product of both male and female thinking. The life of our men and women is constantly and inextricably intertwined; in the house, in the church, in the assembly, in work, and worship, and recreation, they are inseparable companions, every moment giving and receiving influence. They are so closely joined that their reciprocal relations are the most powerful and important relations of the life. So the man represents the woman because he needs must; and he is equally represented by the woman . The very laws that bear so unjustly on woman represent not only a man’s thought of woman, but woman’ s thought of herself. It is because the mass of women do not know what the laws are, or do not care, the laws stand.


It is utterly irrational to have scores of illiterate foreigners just naturalized, go to the polls and send one of their own number to make laws for the nation, while an educated and intelligent woman is not allowed to cast a vote to keep him at home. But I see no measure intended to keep the ignorant man away from the polls; only a proposition to enable him to bring his ignorant wife with him. We are not planning to order up a reserved force of intelligence to bear upon unintelligence; for the unintelligence is to order up its reserves just as freely, and the two reserves must pound away at each other, leaving the original forces precisely where they were before.


How will the possession of the ballot affect in any way the vexed question of work and wages? One orator says: ‘Shall Senators tell me in their places that I have no need of the ballot, when forty thousand women in the city of New York alone are earning their daily bread at starving prices with the needle?’ But what will the ballot do for these forty thousand women when they get it? It will not give them husbands, nor make their thriftless husbands provident, nor their invalid husbands healthy. They cannot vote themselves out of their dark, unwholesome sewing-rooms into counting-rooms and insurance offices, nor have they generally the qualifications which these places require. The ballot will not enable them to do anything for which their constitution or their education has not fitted them, and I do not know of any law now which prevents them from doing anything for which they are fitted, except the holding of government offices.


What incitement to honor, profit, education, do women raise in missing the ballot? What barrier will it remove, what stimulus present? The brilliant prizes of life are already open to female competition. There are still unequal laws, but not so many, or so severe, as to prevent any woman’s becoming whatever she has power to become in any walk of life except the political. Within her grasp lies all the freedom which she has the nerve to secure. Prejudice itself has softened down into an insipidity which is no obstacle to a really robust soul. There may be petty jealousies to impede and annoy; but these the ballot will not remove; and these excellence, without the ballot, will remove.


Every school, except the highest, is open to girls now, and even the doors of colleges are beginning to creak on their hinges. The self-same day on which women wish to go to college they will go. While men are hesitating, colleges are founding for women; Not if a force of sixty girls, well fitted for college, should beleaguer old Harvard to-day, they would compel her to capitulate. Nay, if twenty girl graduates of high schools should knock at her doors for admission, those doors might groan and grate harsh thunder, but they would swing open and let them in. I am willing to admit that our girls are not half educated, but I fail to see how the ballot is responsible for the deficiency.


Still we have not reached the masses— the women who have no inward, irresistible bent to anything; who have no ambition for a career, but who must earn their own living, who, while the leaders are conquering all opposition, all circumstances, still remain, thirty-nine thousand and five hundred out of forty thousand, for whose sake the ballot is demanded, and whose fortunes the ballot is expected to create. We have as yet found no answer to the question ‘What will the ballot do for them?’ A thousand employments it will give them, say its advocates, but they do not specify ten. Indeed, I cannot find one. Is it in fact the want of the ballot that keeps from at starving prices, any more than it is the want of the ballot that keeps them back from art and science I think not.

What can the ballot do towards equalizing wages, where work is already equalized without affecting wages, as is not infrequently the case? There are shops of the same sort, in the same street, with male clerks in one and female clerks in another, where the former work fewer hours and receive higher wages than the latter. There is a wrong, an injustice, perhaps, but the law cannot interfere. It cannot force a haberdasher to pay ten dollars for service which he can secure for six.


What will woman’ s vote do to reform our criminal code? Everything, say some. Vice, if we may trust these rosy-hued visions, is to disappear when women hold the ballot. I anticipate no such result. Vice is too deeply rooted in men’s hearts to be extirpated by any such summary process. Crime is hardly repressed by legislation; vice, never. That attempts will be made I do not doubt. The royal road to a desired object will seem to be legislation, and legislation we shall have in galore. Women will attempt to sweep away vice with the besom of law, and with apparent success. But a reaction will follow, and into the empty, swept, and garnished house will enter seven devils more wicked than the first.

Women’s Wrongs

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