WOMEN IN THE HOME We are forever being told that the place for women is in the HOME. Well, so be it. But what do we expect of her in the home? Merely to stay in the home is not enough. She is a failure unless she attends to the health and welfare, moral as well as physical, of her family, and especially of her children. She, more than anyone else, is held responsible for what they become.SHE is responsible for the cleanliness of her house. SHE is responsible for the wholesomeness of the food. SHE is responsible for the children’s health. SHE, above all, is responsible for their morals. How Far Can the Mother Control These Things?
Women are in charge of the home. This includes cleaning the house, serving healthy food, keeping the children healthy, and serving as a moral example.
She can clean her own rooms, BUT if the neighbors are allowed to live in filth, she cannot keep her rooms from being filled with bad air and smells, or from being infested with vermin.
A woman cannot keep her house clean if her neighbors and neighborhood are dirty.
She can book her food well, BUT if dealers are permitted to sell poor food, unclean milk or stale eggs, she cannot make the food wholesome for her children.
A woman cannot serve healthy food if the food for sale is bad or rotten.
She can care for her own plumbing and refuse, BUT if the plumbing in the rest of the house is unsanitary, if garbage accumulates and the halls and stairs are left dirty, she cannot protect her children from the sickness and infection resulting.
A woman can take care of her own garbage, but she cannot keep her family safe if her street and building are filled with the garbage.
She can take every care to avoid fire, BUT if the house has been badly built, if the fire-escapes are inadequate, she cannot guard her children from the horrors of being maimed or killed by fire.
A woman can avoid fire in the home, but she cannot keep her children safe if buildings and fire escapes are not strong.
She can open her windows to give her children the air that we are told is so necessary, BUT if the air is laden with infection, with tuberculosis and other contagious diseases, she cannot protect her children from this danger.
A woman can open windows to give her children fresh air, but they will get sick if the air is filled with disease.
She can send her children out for air and exercise, BUT if the conditions that surround them on the streets are immoral and degrading, she cannot protect them from these dangers.
A woman can allow her children to play outside, but they will be in danger if there are immoral people around.
Alone, she cannot make these things right. Who or what can?
A woman cannot address the issues above.
The city can do it—the city government that is elected by the people to take care of the interests of the people.
And who decides what the city government shall do?
The city can address the issues above, but who controls the city?
FIRST, the officials of that government; and, SECOND, those who elect them.
Do the women elect them? NO, the men do.
The city officials and the voters who elect city officials are men.
So it is the men and not the women who are really responsible for the Unclear Houses Bad Plumbing Unwholesome Food Danger of Fire Risk of Tuberculosis and Other Diseases Immoral Influences of the Street
This means men are responsible for clean, safe, and healthy homes.
In fact, MEN are responsible for the conditions under which the children live, but we hold WOMEN responsible for the results of those conditions.
Women are in charge of the home, but only men can address the issues that influence the home.
If we hold women responsible for the results, must we not, in simple justice, let them have something to say as to what these conditions shall be? There is one simple way of doing this. Give them the same means that men have. LET THEM VOTE.
Women need a say in public issues. They need the vote.
Women are, by nature and training, housekeepers. Let them have a hand in the city’s housekeeping, even if they introduce an occasional house-cleaning.
NEW YORK STATE WOMAN SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION
303 Fifth Avenue
New York City
Printed by the NATIONAL WOMAN SUFFRAGE PUBLISHING CO., INC., New York City
Women are natural housekeepers. Let them influence the city’s housekeeping too.
New York State Woman Suffrage Association, Women in the Home, n.d. New-York Historical Society Library.
BALLOT NOT A PANACEA FOR EXISTING EVILS By Alice Hill Chittenden. President of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
The right to vote is not a cure all for society.
There can be no doubt that many earnest, sincere women declare they want to vote because they wish to take a hand in what they call municipal housecleaning. More schools are needed, more parks and playgrounds; better tenements and cleaner streets. Give us the ballot, they argue, and all these things shall come to pass. But these enthusiastic would-be housecleaners fail to take one point into consideration, which is, that the ballot does not clean streets, nor provide more seats in schoolhouses, nor lighten dark tenements, nor furnish pure milk, nor stop child labor, nor administer justice.
Women claim they want the vote so they can make society better. But the vote does not clean streets, expand schools, improve tenements, or ensure healthy food.
The advocates of woman suffrage who cling to this idea, which was prevalent at the time of the French Revolution, and even half a century ago, that the ballot in itself is a panacea for all existing evils and a short cut to the solution of government problems, are not progressive, but are in reality behind the times as students of government. Suffrage isn’t a remedial agent in government, but is merely a means of keeping the wheels of government in motion.
Suffragists support an old-fashioned belief that the vote will solve everything.
Men who are interested in social reforms—and their number is legion—have found they could not bring about these essential reforms by merely voting on Election Day, and that is the reason they have organized all kinds of commissions and committees to consider the question of child labor, the care of dependent children and kindred subjects, from an economic and humanitarian point of view in order to educate and stimulate public opinion to a more intelligent and comprehensive understanding of these questions.
Even men, who can vote, know that they cannot make changes through voting. Instead, they have created organizations and committees to address society’s problems.
They realize that public opinion must first create a demand for a law, and afterwards enforce it in order to make the law effective. In this task of moulding and stimulating public opinion woman plays a great and important part—never greater than at the present day. She is not excluded from any conferences for the discussion of special problems because she hasn’t a vote, neither is her influence lessened for that reason as a member of any committee where men and women are working together. In appointive positions, as members of educational, philanthropic and reformatory boards, which deal directly with the needs of the unfortunate of both sexes, individual women of judgment and ability who are free from other obligations can render valuable service to the city or state.
Men and women who organize outside of politics can influence lawmakers. Women can work with men and hold appointed positions that make a difference.
Mayor Gaynor has appointed several women as members of the Board of Education, and the borough presidents have also appointed women on most of the local school boards. Women are also members of various state boards and receive such appointments from the Governor. Two women were members of the Massachusetts Commission appointed to consider the question of establishing minimum wage boards in that state. Two women also served on the Connecticut Industrial Commission to investigate the conditions of wage earning women and minors, which has just made its report to the Connecticut General Assembly.
Women sit on many important boards and committees in state and local government.
Any one who has closely followed the remedial legislation of the past few years must realize that such organizations as the Consumer’s League, the Woman’s Municipal League and kindred organizations, as well as individual women who are members of these organizations, have been influential in securing such legislation.
Volunteer organizations and leagues have been very influential in making changes in society.
The State Charities Aid Association, which was established in 1872, is responsible for much legislation along the lines of social welfare. The first training school for nurses in this country was established through the efforts of this association. It also initiated tenement house reform and the working girl’s club movement. During recent years it has secured the establishment of tuberculosis dispensaries all through the state, as well as agencies for the care of dependent children.
The State Charities Aid Association is an example of an organization that helped in the areas of public health and childcare.
The women who are opposed to woman suffrage are in hearty sympathy with all lines of constructive social reform, and they are confident that they can do their work better along these lines because they are outside of politics. As non-partisan citizens, untrammeled by party affiliations or obligations, they can go before any legislative committee or municipal organization and ask for the passage of any measure, and their request will be listened to on the merits of the case, and not because they have any political axe to grind or because they voted with this or that party at the last election.
Women who are opposed to woman suffrage believe in social reform. However, they believe that they can accomplish more through organizing outside the official political system.
I believe we would lose immeasurably if this power were taken from us for we would then become but another spoke in the wheel of political machinery.
Women would lose power if they gained the right to vote. They are better off outside of politics.
Alice Hill Chittenden, Ballot not a Panacea for Existing Evil, 1913. New-York Historical Society Library.
By 1900, the fight over woman suffrage had persisted for over half a century, and a new momentum was building as women activists rallied on both sides of the debate. But suffragists and anti-suffragists had more in common than they wished to admit. Most women actively involved in the fight were white, educated, and financially stable. Even the arguments they used were similar. Both suffragists and anti-suffragists tended to favor a traditional view of womanhood that embraced women in the home. It was the power and importance of the vote that created the difference between these opposing views.
Instead of promoting a vision of gender equality, suffragists usually argued that the vote would enable women to be better wives and mothers. Women voters, they said, would bring their moral superiority and domestic expertise to issues of public concern. Anti-suffragists argued that the vote directly threatened domestic life. They believed that women could more effectively promote change outside of the corrupt voting booth.
For more about the arguments against suffrage, watch the video below.
This video is from “Women Have Always Worked,” a free massive open online course produced in collaboration with Columbia University.
About the Document
Both documents exemplify the types of materials created by suffragists and anti-suffragists to share their beliefs with a wider audience. Articles and broadsides were distributed at meetings, rallies, and parades, and displayed in meeting rooms, coffee shops, and other public places.
The first document is a pro-suffrage broadside created by the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in New York City. The second document is an anti-suffrage essay written by Alice Hill Chittenden, president of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.
broadside: A single-sided printed piece of paper; often used as a flyer or poster.
municipal: Connected to a city, town, or local government.
non-partisan: Neither supporting nor representing a political party.
panacea: A solution that will cure all problems or symptoms.
suffrage: The right of voting; in this era, suffrage often referred specifically to woman suffrage, or the right of women to vote.
suffragists / anti-suffragists: People who fought for or against the expansion of suffrage.
tuberculosis: A highly contagious and deadly disease.
What are the key arguments in each of these documents? Why do suffragists want the vote? Why do anti-suffragists want to prevent the vote?
To what extent do these documents offer a similar view of women’s roles? What does this tell you about the differences between suffragists and anti-suffragists?
Who is the audience for these materials? What did the authors hope to accomplish?
Compare “Women in the Home” with the illustration from Life magazine depicting the evils of urban life. How do these two pieces present a case for women taking on a more active role in social and political issues?
Compare both of these documents with the life story of Emma Goldman, who opposed suffrage for radical reasons. How were her beliefs different from the anti-suffrage arguments presented by Alice Hill Chittenden? How might she have responded to both articles?
ACTIVISM, LAWS & LEGAL STATUS, MARRIAGE & DOMESTICITY, MOTHERHOOD, POLITICS & GOVERNMENT, PUBLIC & PERSONAL HEALTH, SOCIAL REFORM, SUFFRAGE
New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections
For more resources relating to women, suffrage, and modern life in the early twentieth century, see The Armory Show at 100.