The New Woman of the New South
|The New Woman of the New South (1895)
|Published in The Arena, Volume 11, pages 353-363. Editor B. O. Flowers. Boston, Mass.|
It is not the purpose of the writer to discuss in this paper woman's right to the ballot or the good or evil results to accrue from her enfranchisement. To argue the question of right is not admissible at this stage of the issue. To forecast results would afford no logical ground to stand on. The article will, therefore, be confined to the limitation of facts and their tendencies as they appear to a Southern woman.
The idea seems to be abroad that Southern women do not desire the ballot. Considering the powerful influences which operate to suppress an open manifestation of opinion among Southern women on this question, as in fact on many others, it is easy to see ho\v those who have given the subject no thought are led to accept such an impression as correct. The true index of existing facts is not always found upon the surface of things. We must probe a little if we would know the truth and its relation to cause and effect. Woman in the South is to such an extent the slave of her environment that it is questionable whether she has any clearly outlined opinion, exclusively her own, on any subject. Chivalry has allotted her sphere, and her soul has been so pressed by social and ecclesiastical rigidity that the average woman dares not transgress the limits. This is an appalling condition of the human mind, and fully accounts for the tendency of women as a mass to crouch under the shelter of silence. But every stronghold of conservatism will fall in line with advancing civilization when it must. The struggle will be fierce. " Broad ideas are hated by partial ideas. This, in fact, is the struggle of progress."
Among our representative women there is a class too ethereal to be troubled with affairs, whose mental lethargy is only disturbed by dreams of ante-bellum family legends, and whose thought-power is confined to devising ways and means for retaining their social prestige. With them "the virtue in most request is conformity." They love "names and customs," but shrink from "realities and creators."
Then there is another and quite different class, composed of those who stand on higher intellectual ground, who realize their potentialities, and who have the courage to demand a field of thought and action commensurate with their aspirations. These are the New Women of the New South. To them the drowsy civilization of the age appeals for some invigorating incentive to higher aims and grander achievements. They believe with Emerson that " all have equal rights in virtue of being identical in nature." They realize that liberty regards no sex, and justice bows before no idol. (
Humanity is created two in one, to accord with the law of renovation in nature; not for the purpose of preying upon itself, by permitting its one half to be pillaged by the other. In our duality of life there is a unity of purpose. Man and woman bear a relation to each other similar to that of the sides of an isosceles triangle. They are of equal length, and have exactly the same angle of inclination to the base — humanity. If men cannot or will not see these harmonies and purposes of nature, if they will not rise to the "higher eminences of thought" from whence they can look on woman with the eye of the soul, then woe to civilization's tottering fabric. "It does seem," says Mill, "that when the opinions of the masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency is the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought." There are many women in the South gifted with genius and endowed with faculties for glorious work, who are struggling to free themselves from the austerity of those environments which " the masses of average men " have fixed for them.
It may be said of the average woman of the South that she is satisfied with her condition. She loves her church and believes in her preacher. She is Pauline in her ideas and therefore loves the music of her chains. But with all this there is pervading this class a strong under-current of sentiment in the direction of larger liberty. With the downward trend of men, socially and politically, confronting them, and their growing sons and daughters around them, they are beginning to question the wisdom of existing customs. To the writer the widening of Southern women's views is one of the most portentous and vital facts in the history of the South. " Events are more concise but tendencies constitute real history."
One of the first noticeable tendencies is what might be termed the reign of woman club life. Literature has been exhausted and art despoiled to find names and devices suitable to the taste and purposes of the women who compose the membership of these clubs. The -framing of constitutions and by-laws, election of officers, discussions on ways and means and all the parliamentary usages which cleverness can bring to the aid of mimicry, go to make up this parody on the exercise of individual liberty. It is not difficult to recognize in these clubs the primary schools which lead to the university of politics.
Another and higher department in which the minds and hearts of advanced Southern women are earnestly enlisted is the investigation and revision of statutory law, regarding its application to the sexes alike. They find in the established codes enacted by men alone, for men' alone, a most horrible crucifixion of justice. They see themselves taxed without their consent, their property often confiscated for Lase uses, their sex arraigned before judges and juries composed of men alone. They see in the barbarous "age of consent" laws young girls exposed to the animal lusts of brutes in human form awaiting their prey under the law's protection. They find all along the avenues of urban life dens of drunkenness and crime, with wide-open doors ready to receive the bodies and souls of their loved ones, and when they ask by what right these modern Gehennas exist, they are told that it is by a right secured from the same source that denies to woman the power to destroy them. They are excluded from town and city councils, from the higher state institutions of learning, and from boards of education of our public schools, all of which they are taxed to support.
Southern women have in the past five years resorted in many states to their constitutional right of petition upon the questions of property rights, "age of consent," and the licensed liquor laws. They have pleaded for admission into state universities, and asked for a division of state funds to establish industrial or reform schools for girls, in states which provide such schools for boys alone. They have asked that women be placed on boards of all public institutions for the benefit of both sexes, and in many cases sought and obtained the county superintendency of public schools. These departures from the line of established customs show that the apparent contentment with present conditions is only on the surface, and that there is a half realized idea among our women that in our social and political organism there is something out of gear.
Rising above the terrorism of popular ridicule, and fortified by the intensity of their convictions, a few leading women in the states of Virginia, South Carolina and Kentucky, directly descended from the founders of the republic, have individually petitioned their legislatures, asking that a power be created to which they can apply and receive their enfranchisement papers, pleading for the restoration of an inalienable right and at the same time testing the honesty of that spirit of chivalry which places much emphasis on the willingness to grant the franchise when women want it. This initiative move of these fearless women marks a crisis in Southern thought. It gave an impulse in a new direction to the active minds of both sexes.
Their petitions were disregarded by the majority, and ridiculed by some, but the thought force which they imparted is irresistible. Their heroism will prove an inspiration to timid souls illumined by visions of a new creation for woman. The monochord of political liberty for women of the South has been touched by the finger of manifest destiny, and no power on earth can silence its refrain. This forecast of opinion may and doubtless will be received with a smile of derision by some, but the laws which govern society are as fixed as the laws of the material world. The light of Neptune had not reached the lenses of Leverrier when he first announced its existence in space, but the planet was there. " Immense and continued impulsions pushing together govern human facts, and lead them all within a given time to the logical state, that is to say, to equilibrium, or in other words, to equity."
The writer of this article has in her possession the most convincing evidence of these immense and continued forces that are driving onward to that logical state, a completely rounded civilization, grounded on equity. She has received thousands of letters from the foremost and best women in the South, and the number increases each day, expressive of their deep solicitude for the success of the one cause that gives promise of release from social and poltiical incarceration. Back of these facts stand in evidence the constitutional conventions of Mississippi and Kentucky, and the legislatures of South Carolina and Arkansas. Whenever the question of woman suffrage was touched by those bodies it met the approval and elicited the applause of thoughtful and intelligent women throughout the entire South.
As a unit of value in summarizing evidence of existing conditions and tendencies, there is not, nor could there be a fact more potent than the recent congressional contest in the Ashland District of Kentucky. The eyes of the world watched this contest with intense interest. The women of Kentucky forced the moral issue in American politics, and hence followed a political struggle the intensity of which stands unequalled in the history of politics. The very atmosphere seemed to darken under the tension of individual hate and partisan rancor. Woman's softening influence was demanded and she responded with all the finer impulses of her nature strained to the highest point. She pushed her way to the front, and with her natural tact and matchless skill in using her limited power to the best advantage, she gave to the world a victory which her enfranchised ally would have lost without her aid.
There is nothing in history so pathetic as woman's struggle for freedom. Men of the Old South, armed with all the implements of war, and supplied with the wealth of states, fought for empire based on slavery, and lost. The women of the New South, armed with clear-cut, unanswerable argument alone, are struggling for liberty based on justice, and will win. The failure of the former left our section in ruin and despair; the triumph of the latter will bring progress and hope. Woman's political coronation depends upon herself. The average woman must be educated in the new school, and man must become possessed by new ideas. "The key to every man is his thought; sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified, He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own." The women of the South are impressing men with new ideas, and hence that ancient spirit of protection which has so long retarded human progress by dispossessing woman of her share of the common heritage, is losing its force as an element in our civilization.
In attestation of existing suffrage sentiment in the South I append the following extracts from letters from representative women in the different states, giving their opinions on the subject. These women are of the highest intelligence and social standing, among them being many lineal descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the patriots of 1776, social leaders, noted housewives, literary women, teachers and taxpayers.*
We, the undersigned women of Tennessee do and should want the ballot, —
1. Because, being twenty-one years old, we object to being classed with minors.
2. Being American born, and loyal to her institutions, we protest against being made perpetual aliens.
3. Costing the treasuries of our respective counties nothing, we protest against acknowledging the male pauper of Tennessee as our political superior.
4. Being obedient to law, we protest against the law that classes us with the iininti-doned criminal, and makes the pardoned criminal and the ex-convict our political superiors.
- The method adopted to secure expression on the suffrage question from representative Southern women was this. One letter was written to a prominent woman in each of the Southern states, with the request that if she was in favor of woman suffrage she would put her reason in a short, clear-cut sentence, then pass the letter on to women of intelligence and prominence with the request that every woman into whose hands the letter came, would, if in favor of the ballot, formulate her reason, sign her name to same, and forward to the writer of this paper for publication. That one letter in each state could elicit the mass of testimony which has been received is almost beyond belief. It has come from the northern boundary of Missouri to Key West, and from the Maryland shore to the Rio (, rande. Enough has been received to fill a volume, and the reasons given by these Southern women why they want the ballot, if compiled, would be a valuable acquisition to the literature of woman suffrage. It ie dogmatically asserted what women do and do not want. The only way to get the truth is to let women speak for themselves. As one letter in each state has brought forth such a response the women themselves refute the assertion that " Southern women do not want the ballot."
5. Being sane, we object to being classed with the fanatic.
0. Possessing an average amount of intelligence, we protest against classification with the idiot.
7. We taxpayers claim the right to representation.
8. We married women want to Owd our own clothes.
9. We married bread winners want our own earnings.
10. We mothers want an equal partnership in our children.
11. We educated women want the power to offset the illiterate vote of our state.
Lide Meriwether, President Tennessee TF. C. T. U. and W. S. A. Clara Conway, Mary Jameson Judah, Achsah Bennett Anderson, Livinia Fleurnoy Selden, Grace Carlisle Smith, Mary Abarr, Flora C. Huntingdon, Elise Massey Selden, Rachel Gowling, M. D., Louise Drouillard, M. D., Mary F. Wolf, Rachel H. Menken, Mary A. Brigham,
Mary Frayser, Mary B. Aljerncthy, Atldie De Loach, Mary W. Lyle,
Mary B. Moseby, M. E. Drouillard, Lizzie Drouillard, Mary Drouillard,
Mattie M. Betts, Josephine E. Klophel, Sarah A. Langstaff, C. B.
Galloway, M. C. Tuck, F. W. Fisher, S. C. Harvey, Mary Kauffman,
Mattie C. Gaines, S. M. Dickens, Margery K. Kane, Anna B. Fisher,
Sarah Lacack. Memphis Equal Suffrage Club.
And five hundred other leading women of Tennessee from Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Morristown, Maryville, Rogersville, McMinnville, Fayetteville, Athens, Deer Lodge and other points in Tennessee.
The sentiment here is unanimous — Give us the ballot." I am district and local superintendent of franchise. Please send me work and instructions. 1 am ready to work. — Tina M. Dunham, Harriman, Tenn.
Woman demands and requires equal rights with man. She seeks to become a factor in the purification of government, and she is crying out for the ballot. — Flobide Cunningham, Rosemont Manor, S. C.
As a matter of principle the women of the South have joined their Northern sisters in the battle cry for political freedom.—Frances Siiuttleworth, Shreveport, La.
I should like to escape from the degradation of disfranchisement. I have committed no crime, and am loyal to the government. The Indians and Chinese may be indifferent to their privation, but all sensible women, understanding the situation, wish to have a voice in the government.— Caroline E. Mkrrick, New Orleans, La.
I am a heavy tax-payer in Shelby County, Alabama, and I need the ballot to protect my interests. — Minnie Gist, Calara, Ala.
I believe in woman suffrage because woman is equally concerned with man in all the issues of life. — Kate P. Nelson, New Orleans, La.
I wish my political disabilities removed, giving me the power to help reform all that is oppressive to women and injurious to men.—Eugenia B. Farmer, Covington, Ky.
Every human being with love of country and good government, and love of home and good morals, ought to want to vote. —Ann J. Lindsay Howard, Columbus, Ga.
It is but simple justice that I should have the suffrage. —Floba P. Dill, Greenville, S. C.
As long as laws are made by men only, when the interests of woman and man conflict, woman will be forced to the wall. The Golden Rule demands justice, yet the clergy are our worst oppressors by their teachings.— Kate H. Stafford, Little Rock, Ark.
I am a sane human being, having the same inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and being an inhabitant, a person and a citizen, I have the right in a republican government to help make the laws that govern my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. — Maiiy B. Clay, farmer, Richmond, Ky.
It requires the best thought of a whole humanity to make laws for the protection and government of the race, in the home and out of it. As people and citizens of the United States women are entitled to the ballot.—M. L. Mclendon, Atlanta, Ga.
I want men to stop calling me a queen and treating me like an imbecile. I have a head as well as a heart, common sense as well as intuition. I am tired of the bullet business. Are men who are exempt from military service disfranchised? If not, why not? —Eleanor Foster Comegys, President Shreveport Woman's Club, Shreveport, La.
The ballot for woman will give her food for thought outside the cares of home and the frivolities of society, and prepare her to better educate her children for citizenship. — O. C. Bingham, Melrose, Fla.
I want to vote because so long as women are prevented from legislation, so long will they be cramped and paralyzed by powers over which they have no control. — Helen Morris Lewis, Asheville, N. C.
Taxation without representation is tyranny, and is as hard for a woman to submit to as it was for our forefathers. —Ada C. Dickinson, Limona, Fix
Woman's disfranchisement is the blot on the escutcheon of the nation that stands for freedom. — Helen L. Beurens, President Portia Club, New Orleans, La.
I have the aims and aspirations of a citizen, I abhor class legislation, and the women of the South are dominated by the ignorant and vicious. — Ella C. Chamberlain, President Florida Suffrage Association, Tampa, Fla.
I want to stand on advanced ground. — Carolyn A. Leach, Louisville, Ky.
I want to vote because I am a Southern woman and know the needs of the South. — Mrs. S. A. Wheatley, Tampa, Fla.
Every woman who fought and defeated the vile " social disease act" in New Orleans was a believer in woman suffrage, and but for such breadth of comprehension, and study of such vital questions by these women, the city to-day would be cursed by this crime-breeding law. — Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, New Orleans, La.
I want to vote to help develop morality in government.—Mrs. H. Lewis, New Decatur, Ala.
I need the ballot because I am a human being, although only a woman. I am the daughter of a woman, the sister of women, I have the care of a little woman child, I am the wife of a man and the mother of a boy, and I need to vote to do my duty to all these and to society. — Jean Jennings, Little Rock, Ark.
I want the ballot because I believe in the fundamental principles of our government, and because I believe principles are not limited in their application by sex. — Laura Clay, President Kentucky Equal Bights Association, Lexington, Ky.
The franchise is my right. Woman's ballot means the enforcement of siici:>1 purity and better government. —Mary Putnam Ghidley, Greenville, S. C.
The most chivalrous deference and tender consideration on the part of men, should not be allowed to usurp simple right and justice. An educational campaign for the cause of woman suffrage in the South will so sensitize the public conscience that the disfranchisement of one half the people will reveal itself as a monstrous injustice.—mary Brent Read, Atlanta, Ga.
If I sojourn in Mexico the United States says, " Respect her rights," but when I am in Louisiana I am denied the essential right of citizen ship, and for no good reason that has ever been given.—Evelyn W. Obdway, President Louisiana Suffrage Association, New Orleans, La.
Women could drop their ballots in a box without being as conspicuous as the remonstrants in their " I-don't-want-it-and-you-shan't-have-it" rdle. — Margaret Schofield, Shreveport, La.
The ballot is mine by right because I am a citizen of the United States, a taxpayer of sane mind. — Mrs. N. O. M. Speaks, Varnville, S. C.
I want to vote for the same reason men do, because it is my right . — Mrs. M. R. Bbeckinridge, Tampa, Fla.
On the simple ground of justice 1 regard the ballot as my rightful heritage as a citizen of South Carolina and of the United States of America. — S. Odie Sirrine, Greenville, S. C.
It is urged by some that woman may perform her part in public affairs more effectually without the ballot than with it. I shall endorse this idiocy whenever I hear men in politics requesting lawmakers to spare them the "dreadful burden" of voting, and declaring that the right to vote is no help to them in their political work. — Lida Calvebt Ouenchain, Bowling Green, Ky.
Liberty being the birthright of all, I desire political freedom.— Flo Hence Huberwald, New Orleans, La.
I want to vote because I want liberty. — Mary S. Muggebidge, Belleview, Ky.
Self protection is my inherent right. For that protection I demand the ballot. The question is not debatable. — Clara A. McDiABuiD, President Arkansas Kuffrage Association, Little Rock, Ark.
If Americanism means anything I am as much a citizen as my brother. With an equal amount of patriotism and politics we sang together "The Bonny Blue Flag." He marched off to the tune of Dixie, and I stayed at home to scrape lint and sew sand bags. I was a patriot then, and I am one now, and the ballot is mine by right. — Frances Gbiffin, Verbena, Ala.
The suffrage is my right on the principle of abstract justice. I am entitled to the same powers necessary to make my life a success as my brother man. — Vihginia I). Young, President South Carolina Suffrage Association, Fairfax, S. C.
To control the environment of her child is beyond the question of right or privilege, it is a duty. Only by voting can woman do this.— Ellen Stephens Hildreth, President Alabama Suffrage Association, New Decatur, Ala.
I want the ballot because I am a human being, and desire with my whole heart to stand before the law the equal of any other human being. — Belle Keabney, Flora, Miss.
I am a woman and a mother. I have a son to rear whose pure moral character I am powerless properly to mould and discipline without the ballot. — Miriam Howard DuBosE, Columbus, Ga.
A disfranchised class is a servile and subjected class, and the mothers of statesmen should be free.—Mary C. Cramer, Lexington, Ky.
Woman as an intelligent, responsible being should have a voice in law-making. Now she has indirect influence without responsibility, which is demoralizing. — A. Viola Neblett, Greenville, S. C.
For four generations my ancestors have been American patriots, and I want to vote to honor them and do my duty to my country. — Frances E. Beauciiamp, Lexington, Ky.
Women who affirm that they do not want to vote, are voting without effect against their enfranchisement, which proves conclusively, that when enfranchised they will continue to vote, and amazingly enjoy having their votes counted. — Claudia H. Howard-maxwell, President Georgia Suffrage Association, Columbus, Ga.
I am for woman suffrage first, last and .all the time, every part of my being from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, because of the utter failure of a more capable person to answer for me in questions of right. — M. S. M. Caldwell, Melrose, Fla.
I think it unjust and selfish in the extreme for one half of the adults of this country to deny to the other half the right they hold so sacred.
— Marietta Sibebt, Gadsden, Ala.
The ship of state is poetically called "she." I fail to see while women are subject to taxation, imprisonment and capital punishment, why they are too good for the ballot. — Mrs. E. Randolph, Shreveport, La.
If I violate the laws of the land, I must suffer the penalty. In justice, then, I want the power to help make the laws.—Matilda P. Hero, New Orleans, La.
I am a Southern woman wholly Virginian on both sides back to the Revolution. Do I want to vote ? Yes! because it is my right. There lives no creature on American soil who has the right to say I shall not vote. The " age of consent" in this state is ten years. If there were no other reason, I want to vote for a man who has the strength and courage to change this. — S. M. Hicks, M. D., Atlanta, Ga.
I want to vote because when men and women work together they build homes, schools and safeguards for the good of society, and men working alone build armies, navies, saloons and dens of vice and perpetuate the same with their ballots.— Mariana T. Folsom, St. Mary, Tex.
I wish to vote because the ballot in woman's hand will purify society.
— Mrs. Mary K. Jones, Newport, Ky.
I want the ballot as a weapon for service and defence, the only one possible in a country like ours. — Alberta C. Taylor, Huntsville, Ala.
The ballot will give woman the power to make the most of her mental and physical capacity. — Julia Daniels Moseley, Limona, Fla.
Woman suffrage is designed to bring about justice, also moral and political regeneration, and I want to help. — Jennie W. Thompson, Kansas City, Mo.
I want to vote because I am a citizen of the United States, and the constitution guarantees me this right. — Virginia Hedges, President Missouri Suffrage Association, Warrensburg, Mo.
1 pay taxes and am not represented, and I am as intelligent and competent to vote as the young men whom I instruct. — Ellen Murray, St. Helena, S. C.
The educated women of the South should claim and exercise their right to the ballot. Their votes are needed to counteract the effect of the irresponsible and venal classes. — Mrs. K. S. G. Paul, Harrisonburg, Va.
I want the ballot because it is my right, and will be worth as much to me in helping mould the destiny of my country, and protecting my own interests, as it is to man. — Grace Danforth, M. D., Vice President Texas Stiffrage Association, Granger, Tex.
The United States should not pose as a self-governed nation, while it is governed by only one half the people.—Belle W. Hammen, Sandy Spring, Md.
As long as injustice blots our industrial, civil and social codes, the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association will not abate one jot nor one tittle of its righteous claim for "equal pay and equal say." — Mary Bentley Thomas, President Maryland Woman Suffrage Association.
As woman is a rational being it is both her right and her duty to seek the elective franchise. — Mrs. F. C. Swift, Atlanta, Ga.
That the mass of men are always agonizing to keep women out of politics is sufficient evidence that women woefully need to be in them. — II. Augusta Howard, Columbus, Ga.
The women of the South should be the very first to work for the ballot, to preserve its homes, its institutions and its individuality from the great influx of opposing forces from the North, East and West, from the foreigner and negro. The Southern woman has now the choice to inherit her land or pass into a tradition.—Margaret L. Watsox, Beaumont, Tex.
I demand the ballot on the ground of human rights. Human nature rebels against class legislation. —Sarah T. Miller, Ashton, Md.
Southern women need the ballot with educational qualification to protect their personal and material interests and to secure them equal rights with southern men. Virginia women are excluded from the higher institutions of learning they are taxed to support. — Orra Langhorne, farmer, President Virginia Suffrage Association, Culpeper, Va.
So long as woman remains a political cipher she counts no more in affairs than the mathematical "naught"; nothing but the ballot will supply the significant figure that will end her reign of zero. — F. S. Whitesides, Atlanta, Ga.
Women love their country, but cannot love its injustice nor its boastful falsehoods about universal suffrage. Give me justice or no country. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation.—Sarah Freeman Clark, Marietta, Ga.
I want the ballot because I am a woman and desire to say what I want and do not want. — L. T. Wood, Laurel Heights, Tex.
I am shocked when I see men too ignorant to read their ballots continue to vote away the rights of women. — Mrs. Cbaig, San Antonio, Tex.
I wish to vote not only that I may be represented by lawmakers, but that I may protect my own son and other mother's sons from the degrading influence of " age of consent" legislation. —Mrs. L. M. Dodge, Berea, Ky.
I wish to vote that I may aid good men to promote purity and justice in law and government, protecting the weak by placing in power those of known probity and honor. — Susan E. Wilshire, Covington, Ky.
Woman suffrage will come, let who may try to stem the rising tide. Then those who have been captains on the wave may say when passing to the farther shore, " When I am dead lay a sword on my coffin, for I was a soldier in the war for the liberation of humanity." — Dora RichArds Miller, New Orleans, La.
The object of this article is in the main to emphasize the subjective rather than the objective condition of woman in the South, that is to say her " real" condition, by summarizing the tendencies which, let us hope, will lead to the crowning point of tangible history — the complete liberation of woman. Says Buckle: "The real history of the human race is the history of tendencies which are perceived by the mind, and not of events which are discerned by the senses." The writer has stated tendencies among Southern women, and leaves the readers to draw their own conclusions.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1928, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.