Senators vs. Working Women: A Response by Miss Rose Schneiderman (1912)
Introduction: Rose Schneiderman, an organizer for the New York Women’s Trade Union League, did not participate in the Lawrence strike, but in her suffrage campaigning worked to bring together middle and working-class women in support of women’s right to vote. She makes a good case here against male politicians’ opposition to woman suffrage and she supports working women’s efforts to reduce the hours of labor and secure protective legislation. Schneiderman linked the two reform campaigns arguing, “We want to tell our Senators that the working women of our State demand the vote as an economic necessity. We need it because we are workers and because the workers are the one that have to carry civilization on their backs.” Women textile workers in Lawrence would have appreciated her argument.
Rose Schneiderman, Cap Maker, answers the New York Senator who says: “Get women into the arena of politics with its alliances and distressing contests — the delicacy is gone, the charm is gone, and you emasculize women.”
Fellow-workers, it already has been whispered to you that there is a possibility that our New York Senators don’t know what they are talking about. I am here to voice the same sentiment. It seems to me that if our Senators really represented the people of New York State, they ought to know the conditions under which the majority of the people live. Perhaps, working women are not regarded as women, because it seems to me, when they talk all this trash of theirs about finer qualities and “man’s admiration and devotion to the sex” “Cornelia’s Jewels” “Preserving Motherhood” “Woman’s duty to minister to man in the home” “The delicacy and charm of women being gone,” they cannot mean the working women. We have 800,000 women in New York State who go out into the industrial world, not through any choice of their own, but because necessity forces them out to earn their daily bread.
I am inclined to think if we were sent home now we would not go home.
We want to work, that is the thing. We are not afraid of work, and we are not ashamed to work, but we do decline to be driven; we want to work like human beings; we want to work for the welfare of the community and not for the welfare of a few.
Can it be that our Senators do not realize that we have women working in every trade but nine?
We have women working in the foundries, stripped to the waist, if you please, because of the heat. Yet the Senator says nothing about these women losing their charm. They have got to retain their charm and delicacy and work in foundries. Of course, you know the reason they are employed in foundries is that they are cheaper and work longer hours than men.
Women in the laundries, for instance, stand for 13 or 14 hours in the terrible steam and heat with their hands in hot starch. Surely these women won’t lose any more of their beauty and charm by putting a ballot in a ballot box once a year than they are likely to lose standing in foundries or laundries all year round.
There is no harder contest than the contest for bread, let me tell you that. Women have got to meet it and in a good many instances they contest for the job with their brother workman. When the woman is preferred, it is because of her weakness, because she is frail, because she will sell her labor for less money than man will sell his.
When our Senators acknowledge that our political life has alliances and distressing contests which would take the charm away from women if she got into them, let me reassure the gentlemen that women’s great charm has always been that when she found things going wrong she has set to work to make them go right. Do our Senators fear that when women get the vote they will demand clean polling places, etc.? It seems to me that this rather gives them away. Is it their wish to keep the voters in such a condition that it is a disgrace for anybody to come in contact with them?
Is not this Senator’s talk about political contests and alliances an insult to all honest voters?
What about the delicacy and charm of women who have to live with men in the condition of a good many male voters on election day? Perhaps the Senators would like them to keep that condition all year round; they would not demand much of their political bosses and he could be sure that they would cast their votes for the man who gave them the most booze.
I did some lobbying work last year for the 54-hour bill, and I can tell you how courteous our Senators and Assemblymen are when a disenfranchised citizen tries to convince them of the necessity of shorter hours for working women. I assure you chivalry is dead.
During the hearing at Albany our learned Senators listened to the opposition very carefully; they wanted to be able to justify themselves afterwards when they voted against our bill. But when the Committee, who spoke for the working women came to plead for the bill, there was only one Senator left in the room he was the chairman he couldn’t very well get out; we had to make our arguments to the chairman of the Committee, all the other Senators had left. Mind you, we were pleading for a shorter work week for working-women. We had our evidence to show that physical exhaustion leads to moral exhaustion, and the physical and moral exhaustion of women will lead to the deterioration of the human species. What did these men care. We were voteless working women no matter what we felt or thought we could not come back at them.
When you ask these gentlemen why they oppose the bill so shamefully, they will tell you it is the fault of the Republican Assembly; that the Democrats would have passed it, only that the Republicans held up the bill to consider the canning industry. That is what they say this year, but when you ask them what was the matter last year, when both houses were Democratic, they don’t know what to say.
It seems to me that the working women ought to wake up to the truth of the situation; all this talk about women’s charm does not mean working women. Working women are expected to work and produce their kind so that they, too, may work until they die of some industrial disease
We hear our anti-suffragettes saying, “Why, when you get the vote it will hinder you from doing welfare work, doing uplift work.” Who are they going to uplift? Is it you and I they want to uplift? I think if they would lift themselves off our shoulders they would be doing a better bit of useful work. I think you know by now that if the workers got what they earn there would be no need of uplift work and welfare work or anything of that kind.
We want to tell our Senators that the working women of our State demand the vote as an economic necessity. We need it because we are workers and because the workers are the ones that have to carry civilization on their backs.
What does all this talk about becoming mannish signify? I wonder if it will add to my height when I get the vote. I might work for it all the harder if it did. It is too ridiculous, this talk of becoming less womanly, just as if a woman could be anything else except a woman.
This vote that she is going to cast is going to work this marvellous change in her all of a sudden. Just by beginning to think of how the laws are made and using such intelligence as she has to put good men in office with her vote she will be made over into a creature without delicacy or charm.
Poor Mr. Senator, you don’t expect us to put any faith in you when we have seen women working in electric works, working all day with sleeves rolled up until they had developed the muscles of their arms as strong and hard as a strong man’s; yet these women were intelligent and charming.
No man need be ashamed of the working-women. They do more than their share of the world’s work. Our Senators do not think long hours is making them mannish or less delicate or less womanly. Not at all. If you tell these men “Those women ought to work only eight hours a day,” they will answer, “No, a woman is a free American citizen; you must not hinder her, let her work as many hours as she pleases.”
I honestly believe that it is fear of the enfranchisement of working-women that prompts the Senators to oppose us. They do not want the working-women enfranchised because politicians know that a woman who works will use her ballot intelligently; she will make the politician do things which he may not find so profitable; therefore, they come out with all these subterfuges.
Senators and legislators are not blind to the horrible conditions around them, especially among women workers. Some of these Senators come from the canning district where women and children may be working 24 hours a day, the canning districts where little children fall asleep while at work in the pens. Others of these Senators come from the textile district, where the whole family goes to work and there is no one to do the administrating of the so-called home; again, others of these Senators come from the New York district where women have to sew 37 SEAMS FOR ONE CENT and where a woman has to IRON 70 DOZEN SKIRTS A DAY TO EARN $1.25! It does not speak well for the intelligence of our Senators to come out with statements about women losing their charm and attractiveness, when they begin to use their intelligence in the face of facts like these. If these men really were representatives of the people, if they knew how the people lived, then they would think and act differently. They have a few women in mind, to whom they think it would be a bad thing to give the vote–these are some of the well-to-do women they are afraid that these women, instead of going down to the settlements to teach a girl how to use her knife and fork, how to be lady-like, etc., might turn their energy into political house-cleaning. And what would the Senator do then, poor thing?
Those Senators who have opposed the enfranchisement of women will be ashamed of themselves in a few years. The vote has got to come whether they like it or not. It is the next step. This republic has got to come to it, and it is going to before long
Every working women ought to work to hasten the day.
I assure you we are not going to sit down on our job; we are going to push “Votes for Women” among working women everywhere. Those of you who want to be on the winning side of this abolition movement better join right now.
Let us demonstrate to our Senators and Assemblymen and all other anti-suffragettes everywhere, that the citizens of New York, the voting citizens of New York, stand by this democratic demand for “Votes for Women.”
Editor’s Note: Below is the cover of the pamphlet published with Rose Schneiderman’s response to the Senators.
Wage Earners’ Suffrage League
MISS ROSE SCHNEIDERMAN
NEW YORK SENATOR
Delicacy and Charm of Women
Price, Five Cents
Source: Document 19: “Miss Rose Schneiderman, Cap Maker, Replies to New York Senator on Delicacy and Charm of Women” (New York: Wage Earners’ Suffrage League, 1912); microfilm, History of Women, reel 951, #9222.