Document 8: Excerpt from "Suffragists and Socialists Demand Votes for Women," New York Call, 1 March 1909, p. 1.
The New York Call, a leading socialist newspaper, recounted the celebration of the first National Woman's Day at many different locations in New York City in 1909. This article shows which women's issues were prominent enough to be included in speeches at the event. Leonora O'Reilly, a prominent member of the cross-class Women's Trade Union League, mentioned a hearing on woman suffrage in the state capital, Albany, where an opponent of woman suffrage recommended restricted suffrage for both women and men. The success of these meetings demonstrated the positive results of the party's decision to promote woman suffrage.
SUFFRAGISTS AND SOCIALISTS DEMAND VOTES FOR WOMEN
Workers of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Yonkers Unite with Those of the Entire Nation in Stirring Demonstrations for Equal Rights.
_______________________In accordance with a request made by the national committee, the Socialist party all through the country yesterday afternoon gave demonstrations to the woman suffragists, and held many meetings at which the principles of equal rights were explained and votes for women were demanded. In this city the principle meeting was held at Murray Hill Lyceum, at 34th street and Third avenue, with an enthusiasm that foretold an active and energetic campaign and successful results. The two wanting numerically, but the two thousand people who were present were alive to the principles of equal rights and gave much spiritual encouragement to the workers in the movement. The speakers were frequently applauded, and the arguments were greeted with a boisterous approval. There were four women and two men speakers, and each spoke with a sincerity that filled the audience with enthusiasm and appreciation.
Miss O'Reilly Scores Antis.
The one who made the strongest appeal for her sisters was Miss Leonora O'Reilly. She was introduced by the chairman of the meeting, Mrs. Meta L. Stern, whose literary name is "Hebe," as "the woman who went to Albany with the suffragists, and who was responsible for the phrase 'We do not want the ballot, we need it.' A phrase that will become the slogan in the working woman's ballot for the right to vote," said Mrs. Stern.
Miss O'Reilly was simply attired, modest in appearance and unassuming in her manners. But no sooner did she begin to speak when her voice, her face, her very personality, told of a sincerity that won admiration. She gained the audience with the beginning of her first sentence. In addition to her sincerity she is eloquent and humorous. In simple words but in a decided tone, she hit hard at her opponents, and said words that impressed the most obdurate.
Albany Meeting a Farce.
She began her address by telling of the hearing in Albany last Wednesday. She did not know what to call that meeting. She was not sure whether it was a comedy, a tragedy or a farce. She quoted one anti as saying that what was wanted was not an extended franchise, but a restricted one.
"Now, is it not time for you men," said the speaker, "to consider the significance of these words? This demand will be made and carried out as soon as it will be realized that you want more than they care to give. The restrictions will be made. First it will be an educational qualification, then a property qualification, until the workingmen will be disfranchised and only the idiots who support the ruling class will be left to do the voting."
"One woman," she said, "spoke on the fallen woman, and called the attention of the Senators that she would vote. But she did not mention the fact that her companion is allowed to vote."
After reviewing the political situation of to-day she said in a low voice: "You men made a mess of it, and you know it. Your political house needs cleaning and a man is not earthly good when it comes to housecleaning; let us do it."
Speaking of the suffragists who are jailed, she said she wished they would jail her.
"But then there would be so many jailed with me," she said, "that all the jails would be packed. Nay, you would have to build new ones. In such event I would like you men on the outside to see to it that the jails be equipped with modern improvements so that they be fit for schools when we get the vote." (Tremendous applause.)
Socialism Stands for Suffrage.
Mrs. Stern made a strong speech in which she explained that Socialism stands for woman's suffrage.
"Every Socialist is in favor of woman's suffrage," she said, "because Socialism stands for true democracy and true democracy is impossible without equal rights. Every man who [illegible] the Socialist ticket is in favor of woman suffrage, and at the last election 423,000 voted for it."
She gave an outline of woman's place in the industrial field, and said that she who contributes to the wealth of a country by producing commodities would be allowed to participate in the administration of the community which she so usefully and faithfully serves."
Meyer London[A] and Algernon Lee, editor of The Evening Call, were the two men who addressed the meeting.
Mr. Lee explained that since its very existence the Socialist party was pledged to the cause of woman's rights and said that the National Executive Committee had decided to carry on the campaign for equal suffrage with great energy. He gave a view of the class struggles and class expectations, and showed that there always existed a controlling class that ruled mankind. He spoke on the political, industrial and economic evolution that brought the race to the present state under which a movement for equality became possible.
No Sex Distinction.
"The capitalistic society has wiped out sex distinction," he said, "and a woman has now the right to own property. She has the right of a man. "The rich woman has the right of the rich man; the capitalist women is a capitalist. But it is the working woman who is deprived of her rights. Capitalism has destroyed the home and forced her from her fireside into the factory, and it is for the men as well as the women of the working class to make an organized effort for universal right and industrial and political equality."
He explained that it was not a question whether woman suffrage was expedient, but it was inevitable, and the sooner we have it the better.
Mrs. Carry W. Allen[B] spoke on the relation of woman suffrage to Socialism, and said that while woman suffrage stood for political freedom. Socialism stood for both -- economic and political freedom.
"It is impossible to have Socialism without woman suffrage," she said, "In this battle for freedom democracy is the first demand; without democracy the demand for freedom is a farce."
Meyer London made a witty speech in which he flayed mercilessly the antis who went to Albany to advise the lawmakers not to give freedom to their sisters.
The Woman of the Dog Show.
"She who opposed woman suffrage is the same women who attends the dog show, horse show, automobile show, cat show, and other shows. And I can imagine the kind of a show they made of themselves in Albany," said the speaker. He disapproved of the suffragists going to Albany to ask for the right to vote.
"I like the ways of the London suffragettes," he said. "They fight for their rights. This is the way to do, the only thing to do, because you cannot argue with them."
"Go down to Albany if you want but do not give them any logic. Hammer at the table and say: Cheap politicians, second-hand lawyers, ex-saloonkeepers, give us our rights," stormed the speaker.
The house went wild with applause as he gave this piece of advice. He then poked fun at Elihu Root, who expressed himself against suffrage because it would destroy the sanctity of the home.
"Root is a polite man," he said. "When he will meet a lady in the car he will tip his hat and offer a seat. But he will not make a law that will provide a seat for a woman who works for ten hours a day in a factory. They speak of the sanctity of the home." he said, "but they take our children out of the home and send them to the shop."
Mrs. Anita Block[C] opened the meeting and explained the purpose and the aim of the demonstrations. She, with Mrs. Stern, represented the Women Socialists of New York.
The Brooklyn Meeting.
In Brooklyn a thousand enthusiasts filled the main hall of the Labor Lyceum and heartily cheered the eloquent speeches in behalf of votes for women, delivered by Mrs. Katherine Kennedy, Mrs. Priscilla Hackstaff, honorary president of the Political Equality League; Henry Frank, Frank Bohn[D] and Mrs. Bertha M. Fraser, who presided. A rousing woman suffrage song, well rendered by Miss Marjorie Hughan, and a recitation, "The God of Gold," delivered effectively by little Miss Sadie Sasslow of the Socialist Sunday School were also warmly applauded.
Mrs. Fraser, in opening the meeting, drew a touching picture of the horrors of child labor and said that she was sure that the women of the land would never degrade their motherhood by voting for a system that sanctioned such things, as the men had degraded their fatherhood. She closed her brief talk by appealing to all women to join the only party that recognized them as equals to the men in every way -- the Socialist party.
Mr. Bohn declared this to be a meeting of rebels. "I am here," said he, "to speak for the 14,500,000 working women of this country. I don't care about the parasites, but I do care about those who suffer in slavery." The speaker then told of the pitiless conditions under which the 7,000,000 female workers in shop, mill and office labored, and of the miserable stunted lives of the 7,500,000 others who conducted places where their husbands ate and slept and which were called "homes."
He warned the working girls in the audience that marriage to the average wage slave was no escape from drudgery. "The woman," declared Mr. Bohn, "who sells herself to one man for life for a bare living and a cheap calico dress is just as degraded as the one who sells herself to ten men in a year for silks and a suite in the Waldorf." Woman should have political liberty in order to help establish industrial freedom under which she would not have to sell herself to anybody.
Mr. Bohn ridiculed the idea of a sex rebellion and said that what was needed was a rebellion of the working class to overthrow the present system of wage slavery. In the labor unions women were treated as equals and he urged all working girls to join the unions, both for their own interests and those of the men workers. The speaker concluded by saying that when industrial liberty was won all minor questions would be settled without much trouble.
A. Meyer London was a New York congressman at this time.
Back to Text
B. Carry Allen was a prominent Socialist Party member who spoke at meetings held for the the strikers and aroused enthusiasm for the union drives.
Back to Text
C. Anita Block was the editor of the Women's Page of the New York Call during the 1909 shirtwaist maker's strike.
Back to Text
D. This is probably referring to Frank Bohm who was a Socialist Party organizer.
Back to Text