This national magazine noticed Kitchelt's success in encouraging women to challenge the way men conducted politics in Connecticut.
Laying Politics Bare
"Government of the people, by the people, and for the people," has ever had a mysterious, though disarming, sound. If we did it, for ourselves, it must be all right. But the women haven't been satisfied, and this article tells what they are doing about it
By Ruth E. Finley
THERE is a woman at the Hartford headquarters of the Connecticut League of Women Voters by the name of Florence Ledyard C. Kitchelt, who was written into the official report of Connecticut's citizenship work of last year as follows:
"Mrs. Kitchelt's ability, tact, and fearlessness, accompanied by an unsuspected spark of wickedness, have made her handling of the delicate non-partizan campaign meetings a real art."
As to that Mrs. Kitchelt, now Citizenship Director of the Connecticut League, refuses to vouch, but she does admit that ability, tact and fearlessness" at least were needed during the Presidential campaign, what with the new women voters of villagers up-state and down-state wanting an analysis of party platforms, often with particular reference to the machinery that grinds them out.
Connecticut still employs the caucus method of nomination, and from one of the little river towns arose an urgent call for somebody from suffrage headquarters to come and give an authoritative explanation of the "caucus." The letter was signed by the chairman of the Women's Republican Committee, and the speaker assigned was Mrs. Kitchelt. So Mrs. Kitchelt packed her bag, one bright morning, for the river town.
And then, even as she was leaving, came a second letter stating rather curtly that her services were not needed--in fact, were not desired. This letter was signed by the chairman of the Men's Republican Committee. What to do? The men said she shouldn't come; she had promised the women she would.
Now Mrs. Kitchelt is a small person with a wealth of dark hair and demure eyes that give her face a Madonna-like look. But being possessed of this "unsuspected spark of wickedness," she kept her promise to the women of the river town and went.
"I hadn't any idea whether I should be allowed to speak or not," said Mrs. Kitchelt in telling the story, "but after I got there I went straight to the man who had written me not to come, and explained that I was sure he did not understand I had promised the women I'd speak, and that my talk was wholly non-partizan, being simply a technical explanation of the power of the caucus. So finally he said I could have the first thirty minutes of the meeting, and I gave my talk, and that was that.
"The next speaker was a local celebrity, a big man called Colonel Somebody, who looked as if he would be a jolly person to know if he were not furious at you. But he certainly was furious at me. It was a mixed meeting, of course, and his job evidently was to destroy whatever favorable impression I, the bone of contention, had made.
"Ladies and gentleman." he began, ‘while I admit that I agree with much of what the previous speaker has said--andstopped short
I thought he was going to have apoplexy or something right there, but presently he began again.
"Ladies and gentlemen, while I admit that I must agree with all that the previous speaker has said--and stopped a second time.
"By now the men on the platform were fidgeting and the women in the audience beginning to smile. I learned afterward that the Colonel enjoyed no mean reputation as an orator and that he had been making speeches, political and otherwise, for many years. Also he was far-famed for his ability to twist a caucus around his finger.
"Finally, after he had cleared his throat several times and got redder and redder, he cast a sort of pleading glance back at the men on the platform behind him, and said, "Boys she's laid us bare!"
And that's what the women of Connecticut are doing. They are laying politics bare. Their aim is to do away with the intricacies and mysteries of government "of the people, for the people, and by the people," at least to understand what they are voting for and why.
To this end the great university of Yale, following the lead of younger colleges throughout the country, is opening its doors October 14 to October 28 inclusive to the women of the state for the holding of a special Citizenship school. The school will be held in cooperation with the Connecticut League of Women Voters.
YALE'S most renowned professors are to have charge of the classes. The best she has to give is her offering to the new seed of the mothers, wives, and many times great granddaughters of the men who have called her Alma Mater. In opening her doors to women she has, in plain American, kicked into a cocked hat much of the conservatism of her traditions.
For Yale was founded in 1701 by a band of high principled but stern men, whose views, or lack of views, on the education of women seem to have colored even her present day. She remains an old-line men's institution, strictly non-coeducational. And so, because Yale is a national tradition, one of the many beautiful, inspirational things that are American, she will be renumbered in the hearts of all women as the first of the big privately endowed, non-coeducational institutions to recognize and meet the needs of the new feminine voters.
It is apparent that any course of study, no matter now carefully planned, which lasts but four short days, can have only a limited academic value. Academic instruction, however, is but a part of what the women who are to attend the Yale citizenship classes are seeking. They look to Yale, rather, for a new vision, a deeper and wider understanding of the service which they, as newly-enfranchised citizens, may render to their state.
The types of women who will sit in these classes embrace all sorts and conditions. The young housewife, the gray-haired grandmother, the college graduate, and women from the farms (a surprising number of these latter, for with the fall harvest over they can be away from home these last days of October), the factory worker, and the office girl--all are enrolled among the two hundred that are expected at New Haven. Indeed, the words "citizenship class," which not so long ago were understood to mean the most elementary sort of instruction for aliens about to be naturalized, have taken on new significance. Now the words denote a civic forum in which every aspect of public questions is discussed. Sometimes, even, women's citizenship classes have been known to take unto themselves lawmaking powers.
There is a much cherished record of such an occurrence on file at Connecticut League Headquarters. The class in question was being held by a traveling instructor in a little rural town that was proudly and characteristically
Yankee. The women, thirty-odd of them, had gathered in the town hall because of its central location. Just as they were about to begin their meeting, the First Selectman walked in and announced that he was very sorry, but he would have to command the use of the hall for an hour or so, as it was the last day on which he could call the town meeting to levy the spring taxes. Connecticut still has the old township form of government.
So the women delayed the object of their gathering and sat about and talked, while one by one a few men straggled in, not enough to make a quorum. Finally the First Selectman bustled out in search of more. He returned presently in a great quandary and with only three recruits, his quorum still incomplete. He had been able to corral the local blacksmith, who said he couldn't stay because he was in the midst of shoeing a colt, the druggist, who looked as if he had been taking a nap behind his prescription screen, and the village man of all work, who had been impressed while in the act of cutting the minister's lawn.
The situation was critical, and the First Selectman repeated several times that he didn't see what he was going to do because he couldn't get a quorum.
Then uprose a broad and comfortably-cushioned woman affectionately known to the assemblage as "Ma."
"Well, Samuel," she said, addressing the Selectman by his first name, "seein' you're in a fix, us ladies'll help you out. There's plenty of us here, and bein' as how we voted for the last President, I guess it's legal for us to take a hand in this town's taxes."
At this startling announcement Samuel raised some objections, but Ma, who had officiated at most of the village births and deaths for a quarter of a century, placidly overruled him.
"I've been payin' taxes on my place ever since my husband died, twenty years ago this summer," she stated. "And them that have husbands livin' know as well as I do what improvements this town needs--we've been studyin' about it in our citizenship class. You call your meetin' to order, Samuel."
The women raised the township tax one-tenth of one percent, and during the summer they saw to it that the village sidewalks were mended, and the local man of all work was employed in the capacity of white-wing to keep Main Street clean.
"Ma" plans to attend the Yale School in October.
What is going to happen in New Haven is the culmination of many just such meetings as the one where the women jumped into the breach and made the town meeting quorum.
In the first instance not all the women of conservative Connecticut wanted suffrage. The state was a stronghold of the "Antis." But when the vote was granted the women, their fine old Puritanism, which makes of anything pertaining to the country a moral duty, set them speedily to learning how to use that vote intelligently and justly.
JUST how much has been accomplished is best indicated by contrasting the first citizenship class ever held in Connecticut with those of today. The first class convened in Hartford less than three years ago under the auspices of the old Woman's Suffrage Association. The membership of this class was so small that no officer at League Headquarters, the less-than a year-old outgrowth of the Association, can be inveigled into telling how few women attended.
Now the state is honeycombed with citizenship classes in women's clubs, church societies, factories, department stores. And in this work of making women intelligent citizens the League of Women Voters has won the support of old and powerfully organized societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, the W.C.T.U., the Council of Jewish Women, the Y.W.C.A., and the Federated Clubs.
From the biggest city to the smallest cross-
Citizenship that votes is power in the hands of either men or women, and women in astonishing numbers are taking advantage of every offer to teach them the ballot's use. What is its use? As the new woman voter views the matter, to lay bare obsolete laws, to expose the injustices and lacks of our government, and to correct them by new laws.
Certain persons of great conservatism there may be who still shake their heads and prophesy dire consequences of all this political linen washing on the part of women. They fear lest women, in the fervor of a new enthusiasm, tear up the whole house at once. But government and housekeeping are not so unlike.
Every housekeeper knows that to throw all the doors and windows wide at the same time and every room into confusion causes discomfort to her family and tempts from its members unhappy explosions of temper. The housekeeper knows that it is not the general house-cleaning that keeps the home wholesome week in and week out, but rather the room-by-room cleaning. It is the room-at-a-time method that goes most surely into the corners, that keeps the housewife's judgment clear, that never permits her, in the hurry and bustle of too much undertaken at once, to discard what later she wishes she had kept, and that through it all allows her family still to find a comfortable room or two in which to live.
Indeed, American women, by the thousands on thousands have denied themselves not luxuries, but the merest comforts, to the end that the same, both-sides-seeing judgments of the college and university might mold their sons to worthy citizenship. To the women, therefore, it is a profound satisfaction that, as they themselves take up the duties of full citizenship, these same colleges and universities, still sane and disinterested, are ready to serve in the work of constituting American womanhood into a voting factor of that degree of intelligence whose ideal is balance, and whose habit of thought instinctively interprets the present as an outgrowth of the past.
The women, in this new national housekeeping to which the country calls them, turn to Yale and her younger sister schools for academic help, for inspiration, but above all for a balancing of values. And as eagerly Yale and the others turn to the women, prepared to do their part in effecting realization of the League if Women Voters' slogan:
A citizenship school in every county, in every state."