Hearing of the Women Suffrage Association
Before the House Committee on the Judiciary
January 18, 1892

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Woman Suffrage Collection, Library of Congress.

While there had been many voices since ancient times asserting the essential equality between men and women and while there had emerged from the Renaissance forward a sustained dialogue about the equality of women, the women's movement did not emerge as a significant political force until the nineteenth century, especially the second half of the nineteenth century, and, among the great powers, especially in Britain and the United States. While there was an array of objectives and a spectrum of opinions within the women's movement, the chief objective was gaining the right to vote and securing equal legal rights with men. In the United States, a Woman Suffrage Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1878. (Had it passed, the Amendment would have been the Sixteenth Amendment. The language of the Amendment was identical to the Amendment that finally passed both Houses in 1919 and became the Nineteenth Amendment.) The following excerpts are taken from the records of the House Committee on the Judiciary, still debating the proposed Amendment in 1892. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone had long been leading figures in the movement.

1. What are Elizabeth Stady Canton's arguments for passage of the Amendment?
2. What does she mean by "incidental relations of life" (paragraph 6)?
3. What are Lucy Stone's arguments for passage of the Amendment?
4. What advantages would women voters bring to the nation?
5. What parallels can you draw between the arguments of Canton and Stone and other theories and texts in the class? Are the arguments more similar to liberalism or socialism?

The committee met, Mr. Culberson in the chair.

The committee having under consideration House resolution 14, proposing an amendment to the Constitution extending the rights of women to vote at all Federal elections, this day heard argument in regard to the same.


[1] Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, addressed the committee. She said.

[2] Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee: We have been speaking before Committees of the Judiciary for the last twenty years, and we have gone over all the arguments in favor of a sixteenth amendment which are familiar to all you gentlemen; therefore, it will not be necessary that I should repeat them again.

[3] The point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human soul; our Protestant idea, the right of individual conscience and judgment-our republican idea, individual citizenship. In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual, in a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe with her woman Friday on a solitary island. Her rights under such circumstances are to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness.

[4] Secondly, if we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our Government.

[5] Thirdly, viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same-individual happiness and development.

[6] Fourthly, it is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, that may involve some special duties and training. In the usual discussion in regard to woman's sphere, such men as Herbert Spencer, Frederic Harrison, and Grant Allen uniformly subordinate her rights and duties as an individual, as a citizen, as a woman, to the necessities of these incidental relations, some of which a large class of women may never assume. In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never still. Moreover he would be better fitted for these very relations and whatever special work he might choose to do to earn his bread by the complete development of all his faculties as an individual.

[7] Just so with woman. The education that will fit her to discharge the duties in the largest sphere of human usefulness will best fit her for whatever special work she may be compelled to do.

[8] The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings.

[9] The strongest reason for giving women all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency they must know something of the laws of navigation. To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to watch the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. In matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman. . . .

[10] The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce storms of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual sovereignty. Rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, man and woman, it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself.

[11] Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?


Miss Susan B. Anthony, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I now wish to introduce to you Mrs. Lucy Stone, of Boston, one of the pioneers of our movement, and one, I believe, who has not yet spoken before the Judiciary Committee of the House, although Mrs. Stanton and myself have been here for the last twenty-five years. We are very proud to present to you Mrs. Lucy Stone.


Mrs. Lucy Stone, of Boston, next addressed the committee. She said:
[12] Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I arrived in town only last night and did not even know of a hearing here today, so I have not any speech prepared. Nevertheless I am glad to be here, and I am glad to see this committee, and-I suppose I have the right to say it-I am glad to see you are the kind of looking men I see before me. It is something on our side to have you be the men you seem to be. I come before this committee with the sense which I always feel, that we are handicapped as women in what we try to do for ourselves by the single fact that we have no vote. This cheapens us. You do not care so much for us as if we had votes, so that we come always with that infinite disadvantage.

[13] But the thing I want to say particularly is that we have our immortal Declaration of Independence and the various bills of rights of the different States (and George Washington advised us to recur often to first principles), and in the Declaration of Independence nothing is clearer than the basis of the claim that women should have equal rights with men. It is that those that are to obey the laws should make them. A complete government is a perfectly just government. Now it is easy to say that our fathers announced that principle but did not apply it. Of course they were in no condition to do so, and they could not. In the white heat of the struggle of the war of the Revolution these men declared better things than they could do. They saw the great truth that a complete government must be a just government; but they were too near the throne; they had the idea of the one man power, and so they were unable to carry out the principle of a just government. In my own State of Massachusetts they allowed none but church members to vote. Then property holders alone had the right to vote; and then the Democratic party came in and said that the poor man had as much right to vote as the man of property, and abolished the property qualification. Then the Republicans came and abolished the disfranchisement of the negroes; and to-day every human being in the United States except woman has the right to vote.

[14] Now, what I want particularly to impress upon this committee is the gross and grave injustice of holding forty millions of women absolutely helpless under the Government. The laws touch us at every point. From the time the little girl baby is born until the time the aged woman makes her last will and testament, there is not one of our affairs which the law does not control. It says who shall own property, and what rights the woman shall have, and it settles all her affairs, whether she shall buy or sell or will or deed; it settles all that a woman has to do; and so, except in the single State of Wyoming-how glad I am you have two Senators from Wyoming-women are in a helpless position. (In 1890, Wyoming entered the Union with universal--male and female--suffrage.) Mrs. Stanton has told you about the solitude of the individual, but think what it is to be in the power of others in such a way that in nothing that concerns you have you any voice! If you are a woman and happen to have property and wish to rent it, somebody decides what you shall have for rent, how much you shall pay for taxes, etc., and in not a single solitary thing are you allowed to have a voice for yourself. Persons are elected by men to represent them in Congress and the State legislatures; and here are forty millions of women, with just the same stake in the Government that men have, with a class interest of their own, and with not one solitary word to say or power to help settle one of the things that concern them.

[15] Men must know the value of votes and the value of the possession of power, and I look at them and wonder how it is possible for them to be willing that their own sisters, mothers, wives, and daughters should be debarred from the possession of like power. . . .

[16] What I wish, gentlemen, this winter, is for you to recommend a sixteenth amendment with an educational qualification in it. I believe you should never put obstacles in the way of anybody's right to vote. Everybody should have the right to vote who cares to vote, but anyone who does can learn to read. What I think you should recommend is a sixteenth amendment with an educational qualification. I do not suppose there is a State in the Union that would adopt it, not one; but the fact that you put it forward as a thing which ought to be adopted is a part education of the great public mind. What we look forward to is part of the eternal order. It is not possible that forty millions of women should be held forever as lunatics, fools, and idiots. It is not possible, as the years go on, that each person should not at last have the right to look after his own interests. As the home is at its best when the father and mother consult together in regard to the family interests, so it is with the Government. I do not think it possible for a man to see from a man's point of view all the things that a woman needs, and I do not think a woman from her single point of view sees all the things that a man needs. Now, I think men have brought their best, and also brought their worst, into the Union, and it is all here, but the thing you have not in the Government at all is the qualities that women possess, the feminine qualities. It has been said in regard to this matter that women are more economical and peaceful and law-abiding than men, and all those qualities are lacking in the Government to-day.

[17] How much do we spend for war, and how much should we save if this peace element were only represented in the Government? If the peaceful sex can have their way it will go toward helping peace. It will be the same way in regard to the economy of the Government. The part that a woman does in the family no man can do. When she brings up her children who are to be Senators and Representatives, or farmers or ranchmen, that woman, who has given twenty years to bringing up that family, has rendered a service to the Government that no man can render. She does not get compensation for it in money; there is no compensation in money that can buy such labor, and she does not ask for that. At the same time, women who earn a compensation (and I am sorry to say it is very much less than the wages of men), when they get a dollar do not go and spend it on carriage hire, etc., but they get the things they need, for they have learned economy. If women came into the Government, they would bring with them that economy and those traits which the Government needs.

[18] But whether this would be so or not, it is right that every class should be heard in behalf of its own interests. . . .

[19] I wish I had the power to impress you with the fact that greater than the free coinage of silver, or the tariff, or anything you have before you, is the question whether the people shall have the right to govern themselves, irrespective of whether they are men or women.

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