Women at the Polls
Colonel Higginson is reported to have said the late Convention for equal suffrage in Worcester that the failure of women to vote at the school elections showed that they did not care to vote, and that when they showed the wish, the right of suffrage would be granted. As a statement of the fact of the indisposition to vote, this remark is undoubtedly true. The number of women who wish to vote is very small, and, so far as our own observation extends, the diligent efforts of those who insist that they ought to wish to vote do not produce much effect. Yet it is unquestionably true that laws made by men exclusively have often been very unjust to women. A quarter of a century ago Mr. Gladstone denounced some such laws as a reproach to England and to civilization. But there is a constant amelioration of harsh laws, and despite the injustice it remains true that women at large are not greatly interested in the movement for their enfranchisement.
But because women who do not feel disfranchisement to be unjust are different, shall those who do feel the injustice be denied the right? The question is much like that of all emancipation. It is not whether the individual slaves or any considerable number of them wish to be free, but whether slavery is not necessarily hurtful to the whole community. The principle of popular government is the participation of all intelligent adult citizens under equal considerations. How can a political community wisely contemn its fundamental principle even although the disregard does not threaten it with immediate disaster? Is not permanent disregard of conceded rights dangerous demoralizing? And what reason is there in the argument that a hundred persons who are qualified to do something, and desire to do it, should not be allowed to until a thousand who are equally qualified, but have no desire, shall change their minds?
The extension to women of the right of voting at school meetings in New York was evidently not the result of an overwhelming wish of the women in New York to vote at school meetings, as the elections of the 12th of October proved. The law was passed because there was no good reason against it. The Legislature said that if Mrs. A., whose children went to the school, and who was taxed to maintain it, wished to have a voice in the disposition of the money and the management of the school, she should not be debarred because Mrs. B. thought it would be a great nuisance. We understand the difficulties. But the principle is sound that in a popular government the whole adult intelligence should take part. If women are competent to vote at school meetings, they can not, on other questions involving the common interests of the sexes, be classed fairly with criminals and lunatics. This was the conviction of the people of New Jersey many years ago, and women were enfranchised and voted. The charming picture drawn for the Weekly by Mr. Howard Pyle, which appears in this number, is a glimpse of the quaint and old times, and is in itself a pleasant argument. There is nothing disagreeable or unwomanly in the expression of interest and preference which is indicated by casting the ballot in this drawing, and there is an intimation of the humanizing and refining influence which would result from the voting of women upon subjects which they have a common concern with men—an influence which is felt in every fair association of men and women.