“Ignorance is always dangerous.”
Lavinia Goodell, May 1871
In the second installment of her series of Woman’s Journal articles rebutting commonly touted reasons why women should not vote (read the about the first installment here), Lavinia Goodell focused on the claim that voting would disrupt the tranquility of the home and take women away from their traditional duties. Rubbish! declared Lavinia.
Lavinia queried how much of a woman’s time would be spent in voting and what important duties would she be neglecting while doing so? She pointed out that no one seemed bothered that men, too, had to step away from their jobs to vote. “The mechanic, in voting, does not neglect his workshop, the merchant his counting room, nor the farmer his fields. Neither would woman forsake the kitchen and the nursery. The duties of a husband and father in providing for his family are as numerous as those of the wife and mother in her position as housekeeper. Yet experience teaches that the exercise of his duties as a citizen do not interfere with them. Neither would woman’s interfere with her home duties.”
Lavinia calculated that it took less time to vote than to attend church, “Yet who ever thought of forbidding woman to observe the outward ordinances of religion, on the plea that her home duties would suffer thereby?”
Next, Lavinia focused on the claim that in order to vote intelligently, women would have to spent time reading the papers. She said, “whether she ever possesses the franchise or not, it is most emphatically woman’s duty to thoroughly understand public questions, so that her influence in society, in the family, and especially in the rearing of her sons, shall be wise and judicious.” She went on:
An ignorant, frivolous, selfish woman, with no thought or care beyond what is erroneously called “her sphere,” would be a bane and a blight, while an earnest, thoughtful, intelligent woman would be an inspiration. A woman neither knowing nor caring for principles or measures, desirous only of the political advancement of husband, brother, or son, is a power dangerous to the State. Ignorance is always dangerous. So that, vote or no vote, the study of questions of national importance is so plainly woman’s duty, that any other duties conflicting with them must be of the most grave and serious character, to claim the precedence.
Lavinia wondered just what were the “duties, cares and responsibilities,” the neglect of which would cause society to fall to pieces if women should be allowed to vote. She said:
Ostensibly they are staying at home and keeping the household in order, darning the husband’s stockings, mending his shirts, rocking the cradle, ad training the infant mind. Really they are making bows and pincushions, crocheting tidies, going to parties and operas, eating ice cream in the middle of the night, studying fashion plates, and holding long conversations with milliners and dress makers… and similar devices of the enemy too numerous to mention, but which wear out woman’s life, strength and patience, without in the least increasing her influence, or adding to her usefulness to society.
Lavinia pointed out that women spent an inordinate amount of time making and remaking their dresses to comport with that season’s fashion. She deemed this exercise “utterly absurd,” but said “Yet this is a thing which is actually being done by multitudes of conscientious Christian women throughout the country, who really believe they are doing God service.”
Lavinia noted that fifty years earlier sewing machines were unknown but by 1870 most households had one. She said:
Now society existed and flourished, men wooed and won, women married and were given in marriage, and households were happy, fifty years ago. Is it not, then, reasonable to believe that civilization would survive the shock of a return to simple styles? With the time which the sewing machine and moderation in dress would give woman, she might with far less labor and weariness prepare herself for the duties of intelligent citizenship. as a matter of conscience and duty, would not Christian women better serve God by taking an interest in the active, vital questions of the day, questions which affect the family, society, philanthropy and religion, than by striving to outdo their neighbors in the extent and elaborateness of their wardrobe, and that of their family?
She concluded by saying, “since woman is not a dangerous element in society, and since she need neglect no real duty in exercising the right of suffrage, it is impossible that giving her the ballot would inaugurate any such “tremendous social revolution” as is predicted.”
Read the entire article here.
Sources consulted: “Womanhood Suffrage: A review of Objections,” by Lavinia Goodell, published in Woman’s Journal, vol. 2, no. 18, 5/6/1871, seq. 144, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.