Handwritten suffrage speech from Pennsylvania's Justice Bell tour and the push for amendment ratification
Richland, PA: February 28, 1915.
Richland, PA: February 28, 1915. 6 page Autograph Manuscript in two hands, the majority in ink with a separate hand making pencil corrections. Header trimmed close, causing loss to stationery address and leaving only "Bell Phone" at top of pages. Vertical fold line down the center of each page. Sheets measure 8.5 x 9 inches. This unsigned suffrage speech comes from a critical moment in the women's equality movement, as Alice Paul and her cohort organized state-wide rallies following the progress of the Justice Bell and urging the ratification of a state amendment granting franchise. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) sent representatives and speakers to every county in an effort to raise support and earn men's votes.
"In 1915 the women of Pennsylvania waged a massive campaign of conferences, rallies, parades, and open-air talks in support of an amendment to the state constitution that would give women the right to vote. They sent speakers to every county. Although the campaign ultimately failed, it spawned a powerful new symbol of the suffrage movement -- the Justice Bell" (Murphy). The bell, modeled after the Liberty Bell, but with its clapper tied silent until women gained the franchise, toured the state. The rallies that followed it created a frenzy locally, as well as mapping out a strategy for other states and the NAWSA to use nationally.
The present speech comes from such a rally, hosted in or near Richland, PA. The anonymous speaker remains highly gender-neutral in her rhetoric throughout, only once giving away her gender ("we women"). And she relies, as so many NAWSA speeches and promotional materials did, on a combination of stirring eloquence with factual detail. "Mr. President, Honorable judges, Ladies & gentlemen," she begins, "The issue this evening is whether or not women shall have the right of suffrage." From the opening, she emphasizes that the stereotyped notions of women "honored for their singleness of purpose & devotion to duty even at the cost of personal suffering and self sacrifice" means that under their current conditions, they suffer even more greatly. After all, misogyny and anti-suffragist sentiment heap hardship upon them, even as they lack a voice to defend themselves in government. But while "suffragists of today are not universally admired or supported in their forward & progressive march to freedom," they will ultimately prevail while "their maligners will have long been forgotten by history." The main body of the speech ultimately focuses on the greater argument for American independence, applying it to women: "taxation without representation is morally wrong, and moral wrongs are legal wrongs and should be so...Taxation without representation has never been accepted." Alongside this principle are examples of women being taxed while having no say in the use of those funds. Finally, the speaker makes the case that woman's suffrage is only the start of an equality movement. "Good as [suffragists'] work is now, their work will not have been finished but will just have begun...for we shall have to consecrate our lives for universal suffrage, because that is the only solution to that great expression, A Government of the People, by the people, for the people."
A stirring survivor from a critical women's rights campaign. (Item #3356)