The following words have been transcribed from a dozen handwritten pages (written nearly 100 years ago) found tucked into a box of items purchased in Minnesota. In honor of Women's History Month I now share them with you.
The Author unknown
"This is the first time I have been given the privilege of debating this word famous and all important question, whether or not we should regard the fairer sex of mankind our equal or whether we should restrain the ancient prestige and advance the others.
Friends, there is no means which would bring about reform faster than by giving the women of our republic the opportunity to help choose the ones who are to govern over their families and property.
The first thing and the real thing that we are to consider is what qualifies a human being to vote. It is judgement and loyalty to the welfare of our government. Are not our women demonstrating to us on every hand that they have as capable minds as their brothers. Our laws place the age of man suffrage at twenty one as that is the age when the human mind is considered well developed.
Gentleman, there are hundreds of thousands of men in these United States who are unable to read intelligently including the late slaves, the young negro of the South. (Are women) more unworthy (than) the foreigner who knows nothing of republican government and the thousands of scalawags who spend their boyhood days in confinement or rebellious prowling about the streets of our corrupt districts of our cities. All these form the sea of degraded beings who gather about the polls to cast sacred ballots, the sacred privilege of a republican government.
Besides them stand many of the master minds of the world unrecognized and helpless; women who through their ability to a far extent control the progress of government, although indirectly on account of the shackles placed on them.
I wish that someone would tell us why a woman should be denied this privilege: it certainly can not be on account of her disability to judge equally well with her brother what are the needs in our legislatures. It is often asserted that she is weak and her work is of different nature, she is not able to carry arms against the enemy in time of war nor to face the brunt of hardship which is often encountered. I repeat it is not a question of brutal strength but of judgement and righteousness.
Woman has her mission in the field of labor that are as difficult for man to fill as man’s labors for a woman to fill. Of course he can do it, so have women fought on the battlefield and did manipulated the machinery on the farm and in the factory. Our opponents may ask how about their going out on the public road and working out poll tax. I can only answer that if would be impolite because such men as my esteemed opponents would be constantly in battle to be roadmaster.
But there comes a graver question. This government of ours is a great corporation and every capable citizen who abides by its rulings should have a voice in its direction. If we formed a corporation privately to advance our industries including women who contribute to it funds and labor we should usually expect them to have a voice in its destination.
Here comes that momentous proclamation “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” and until we recognize this clause in the Declaration of Independence it is not fulfilled.
Let us be honest in our consideration of a fact which we all know exists. There isn’t an institution under the sun that is even moral who do not admit women in their presence save when they are under the strictest discipline. It would make one shudder to learn of the horrible vices that are practiced in our names, and why? Because they are deprived of that moral influence of women when out on their long voyages or even when confined on board in the harbors as they usually are. The same is true of our armies to a great extent. Do we not know that life at our regular army posts is barbarous; and the difference between right and wrong in a moral sense have disappeared as a rule.
It is a custom for women to visit places where liquor is sold in all the foreign countries and they do no more harm by that than going in any place of business as it’s a custom among the most respectable citizens. Therefore the saloons must be respectable places, but they would not be if were not for those whose presence they respect. Is this not true of our polls.
I have heard men argue that the polls are not fit places for respectable women to be present. This is a sad statement if those who make it are sincere. Gentlemen, if ladies were present it would be different and if a class were present who did not have enough self propriety I have enough confidence in men that a third class would be able to dominate.
This is our argument. I believe that if any of you gentlemen wished to send someone on a mission for which reliability and honesty were necessary not one of you would hesitate to say that a women is harder to bribe and less easy to be corrupted than is man.
Women have demonstrated their executive ability when given a chance. Victoria, the late queen of England was the most illustrious ruler that ever reigned the globe. I have heard men say that she hadn’t the power to do otherwise because men who were actually in position to be supreme in the state restricted her. I would like to answer those men by saying that none of us doubt that the president of the United States has more influence in this government of ours than has any one else and would have more so if he were to remain in office for an indefinite time or life. None of us would be willing to say that our president has more power than has a monarch of Europe’s greatest nation.
Fellow debaters, it is only very recently, considering the time with the age of the human race that man suffrage has been recognized. Now they proclaim in loud tones throughout the world that taxation without representation is tyranny while they deny their fellow citizens the privilege which they so strongly advocate. This declaration has been thus ordered in eloquent appeal throughout all civilization and the reward for this earnest endeavor is bound to come. The completion of man suffrage was the blossoming of this great and luxuriant growth but it remains for universal suffrage to dot it’s branches."
Note: Queen Victoria died in 1901. American women won the right to vote in 1920.