Now that women have the vote, what will they do with it?
One of the most important results of the long suffrage fight just ended is the education in the fundamentals of American social life that thousands of women have received. We have learned as much, perhaps more, in seeking the vote as we shall learn for a long time in using it. For nothing has brought so many women of different classes together on a common working basis as suffrage. True, the women who work long hours and the poor with large families have had little time for the active suffrage work done by those with some margin of leisure; but in the campaigns, with their widely conducted house-to-house canvass, we have come to know each other as we could not otherwise, and have had our eyes opened to the economic struggle in these United States. We have learned to throw to the winds the things we have been told and to reason first hand from our own observations. It is likely, therefore, that a large share of the energy formerly in suffrage work will be redirected into the channels of the labor movement. This is particularly true of the younger suffrage worker. Not so long ago, after her feminist baptism of fire, she was convinced that the ills chiefly afflicting the community were the gross inequalities of women. These adjusted, she believed, with women having a voice in government, that wars would be avoided, social evils remedied and the world generally a fitter place to live in.
But after campaigning in cities, small towns, and outlying rural districts, she begins to have grave doubts about the feminist program as a panacea for social ills, or even for the ills of women. She begins to see that perhaps the feminist program of readjustment should be but a part of a larger, more embracing program of economic readjustment. Just “Votes for Women” may not amount to much, but the votes of women cast intelligently in the struggle against the present sick economic order may make considerable difference.
Perhaps this same young woman has worked for suffrage in a mill town. Most mill towns are much alike. Here is one with a population of thirteen or fourteen thousand and, per capita, a very rich town, but the suffrage worker learns that most of the wealth is in the hands of a score of the town’s families, while the vast majority of the folks, who do most of the work to produce this wealth, live in poverty and dirt. Sometimes this majority, who–according to the stated rules of democracy as the suffrage worker learned them in school and the Declaration of Independence–should have some say as to how things should be in their town, has protested against insufficient wages and unsanitary housing; but ugly things have been done to them when they have spoken for themselves, though their protests have all been of a peaceful sort; and at present the Mayor, usually one of the large manufacturers and millionaires of the town, will not even allow the workingmen to parade. It might “lead to trouble,” “trouble,” really meaning changing the status quo in the little town which is very comfortable for the handful of its first families.