[N.P.]: [July 4, 1884]. 32 manuscript pages in a single hand, on lined legal paper. Some edges chipped; pages uniformly toned. Speech fully legible but cut short on the final page, where sentences are struck out and no conclusion exists. Composed to address a suffrage gathering at a critical time in the movement, the unknown writer draws attention to women's unnoted roles in American history and calls attendees to action, and encourages awareness of the important and expanded roles women are already claiming across the nation.
The U.S. women's suffrage movement experienced several key shifts in strategy during its seven-decade campaign for equality. 1884, the date of the present manuscript, was one of them. In March of that year, Susan B. Anthony submitted a statement to the House Judiciary Committee and testified before the Senate of the 48th Congress arguing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the vote. Across the country, grassroots organizations gathered together in like fashion, ramping up their speeches, emboldening women to canvas and gain signatures for petitions at the state and federal levels. Independence Day, which had become a symbolic event for the women to rally around since the 1876 Centennial, remained an annual opportunity to call out the nation's hypocrisy.
The present is a perfect example of this, ripe for researching local groups' rhetoric and the balance members needed to strike when addressing their own neighbors, friends, and husbands. Beginning "Mrs. President, Gentlemen and Ladies" (revealing the group's female leadership and dual-gender membership) the speaker uses the first ten pages to recount the history of the U.S. -- beginning with Columbus and leading up to the present. Here, a new focus emerges. "From the snow capped mountains of the North to the spicy groves of the South, we, a happy people, celebrate the birth-day of American Independence...On this 4th of July in the year of our Lord 1884 and the Independence of the United States of America the 108th, this is when the women of this enlightened portion of our state have attempted to demonstrate the fact that they can inaugurate and successfully carry out a plan." Drawing attention to female forebears' role in founding the nation, the speaker proclaims "it would be a serious omission if I did fail to make fitting mention of the part borne by the women -- the mothers of our country -- in these momentous affairs." The next two pages document historical women from the ancient world, the Bible, and early America who altered the course of history, setting the stage for women of the present time. "There is much talk in these days of the rights of women, of the injustice of taxation without representation, an old subject revived of the power of the ballot in a new form, and the unlawfulness of its being withheld from women. It is claimed that if they had suffrage, there would be a revolution...the effort of securing this privilege will be the next step in the development of the struggle for independence in our country." Promoting the power of the vote, the speaker next reminds listeners that even without enfranchisement, women have and will continue to shape their communities. "Women need not wait for it [the vote] to be assured of the tremendous power they are already wielding for good." The orator gestures to women's roles as "educated nurses," as contributors to fields of "science which every day is opening up new and wonderful discoveries," and to new possibilities unfolding as "schools and colleges everywhere invite the student to explore the realm of knowledge." Notably, the speech ends on a conservative note. Emphasizing all the women can already accomplish, the speaker urges moderate involvement in the pursuit of voting, and increased focus, in the end, on all women have already achieved.
Ripe for research, the present manuscript could be used to study rhetoric, paleography, gender studies, the history of women's employment and education, strategies in suffrage activism, levels of liberalism and conservatism in smaller grassroots groups, the exchange and use of literature, and the relationship between suffrage and larger national holidays. Research could further be done to discover the identity of the speaker and the speaker's organization. (Item #3430)