Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Every Womans Right
By Thomas Wentworth Higginson (18231911)
[Common Sense about Women. 1882.]
AS the older arguments against woman suffrage are abandoned, we hear more and more of the final objection, that the majority of women have not yet expressed themselves on the subject. It is common for such reasoners to make the remark, that if they knew a given number of womensay fifty, or a hundred, or five hundredwho honestly wished to vote, they would favor it. Produce that number of unimpeachable names, and they say that they have reconsidered the matter, and must demand more,perhaps ten thousand. Bring ten thousand, and the demand again rises. Prove that the majority of women wish to vote, and they shall vote.Precisely, we say: give us a chance to prove it by taking a vote; and they answer, By no means.
And, in a certain sense, they are right. It ought not to be settled that way,by dealing with woman as a class, and taking the vote. The agitators do not merely claim the right of suffrage for her as a class: they claim it for each individual woman, without reference to any other. Class legislationas Mary Ann in Bret Hartes Lothaw says of Brook Farmis a thing of the past. If there is only one woman in the nation who claims the right to vote, she ought to have it .
Our community does not refuse permission for women to go unveiled till it is proved that the majority of women desire it; it does not even ask that question: if one woman wishes to show her face, it is allowed. If a woman wishes to travel alone, to walk the streets alone, the police protects her in that liberty. She is not thrust back into her house with the reproof, My dear madam, at this particular moment the overwhelming majority of women are in-doors: prove that they all wish to come out, and you shall come. On the contrary, she comes forth at her own sweet will: the policeman helps her tenderly across the street, and waves back with imperial gesture the obtrusive coal-cart. Some of us claim for each individual woman, in the same way, not merely the right to go shopping, but to go voting; not merely to show her face, but to show her hand.
There will always be many women, as there are many men, who are indifferent to voting. For a time, perhaps always, there will be a larger percentage of this indifference among women. But the natural right to a share in the government under which one lives, and to a voice in making the laws under which one may be hanged,this belongs to each woman as an individual; and she is quite right to claim it as she needs it, even though the majority of her sex still prefer to take their chance of the penalty, without perplexing themselves about the law. The demand of every enlightened woman who asks for the ballotlike the demand of every enlightened slave for freedomis an individual demand; and the question whether they represent the majority of their class has nothing to do with it. For a republic like ours does not profess to deal with classes, but with individuals; since the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, for the common good, as the constitution of Massachusetts says.