“A woman does not become unwomanly by entering fields in which man has heretofore been the principal worker.”
Lavinia Goodell, April 1871
Lavinia Goodell was a lifelong proponent of woman’s suffrage. Although American women did not win the right to the ballot until forty years after her death, during her lifetime Lavinia wrote many articles promoting suffrage. In April 1871, a few months before she left her job at Harper’s Bazar and moved to Wisconsin, Lavinia wrote the first of a series of articles on the topic for the recently launched Woman’s Journal, which was published by Lavinia’s mentor Lucy Stone. The series appeared under the title “Womanhood Suffrage – a Review of Objections.”
The article began by noting that one popular objection to women gaining the franchise was that it would result in women “unsexing themselves.” Lavinia responded:
Why a consideration of measures to promote the well-being of thousands of her fellow creatures would convert a lovely and conscientious woman into a monster of selfishness and hardness, while ignorance or carelessness of any interest outside her own and those of her family and immediate circle of friends would keep her gentle and unselfish, we are not told. The assertion … rests upon the assumption that a woman under the same conditions with a man would develop manlike qualities. This is a mistake. A sunflower and a rose may grow in the same soil, and be nourished by the same showers and sunshine yet the sunflower does not become a rose, nor the rose a sunflower.
Lavinia then noted that a second objection often lodged to women voting was that woman’s influence would be bad. She said, “Since, as we are constantly informed, woman’s influence at present is elevating, this is impossible. What magic exists in the ballot to transform an influence which is now a blessing into a curse?” She continued:
Moreover, these same women are not only permitted but urged and exhorted to become wives and mothers – a calling far higher and holier, and more responsible, than any other. Are they capable of filling this high position, yet unworthy of a lower one? To ask the question is to answer it.
Nor was lack of information a valid reason to keep women from voting. “Are not the majority of women sufficiently well informed to use the ballot judiciously?” Lavinia queried. “If not it is quite time they became so.” “And while we are about it, would it not be well for some young men (of course older ones wouldn’t need it) to go through a similar course of instruction?” Lavinia pointed out that lack of information was a problem that plagued both sexes. In fact, she said, “if Bridget voting is an argument against Woman Suffrage, Patrick voting is equally an argument against manhood suffrage.”
She went on:
It is sometimes said that selfish and unprincipled women would vote, while good women would stay at home. Is it possible that bad women are so much more in earnest in serving their own selfish in tests than good women are in serving God? Heaven forbid! The very fact that so many excellent women hesitate about assuming this added duty of the suffrage shows how scrupulous they would be in fulfilling it were it theirs, and how much less they would be influenced by ambitious than by conscientious motives.
Lavinia closed by pointing out that Wyoming women had gained the right to vote in 1870 and the ensuing election had presented no problems. “The papers at the time recorded the fact that ‘the election passed off quietly; the women generally voting.” Probably the result of Female Suffrage throughout the country would be similar.”
Read the entire article here.
Sources consulted: Woman’s Journal, vol. 2, no. 17, 4/29/71, seq. 137, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/woman-suffrage/.