Winning Votes for Women in the Ozarks by Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

Alice Curtice Moyer Wing wanted equal voting rights for women. She traveled the Missouri Ozarks with her horse La Belle in the 1910s, talking to people about voting rights. Her experiences were chronicled in a series of articles published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1916-1919. Missouriwomen.org is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s first article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 16, 1916:

St. Louis suffrage leader invades country so far from railroad that she makes campaign on horseback, and is put to strange tests to “prove” sex’s fitness for ballot – One skeptic requires that she hoe corn, another that she drive a nail and a third that she make biscuits – Still another demands that she bait hook with angleworm, but on this she reneged, gaining the challenger, however, as a convert.

Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing of St. Louis, field secretary of the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association, has had many diverting adventures lately while “spreading the light” among the natives of the Ozark country, in Southeast Missouri, who live so far from a railroad that she was compelled to make her campaign on horseback. In the following article she tells with zestful humor of her “day of stunts” – when the news of her coming was heralded over the countryside by telephone, and every man had a “dare” ready for her to undertake so as to “prove” woman’s fitness to vote. She accepted them all, save one, and even this challenger was converted to the cause.

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

“Horseback for suffrage?”

“Yes.”

“Campaign alone?”

“Why not?”

“You’ll be afraid- or lonesome. Bet you don’t do it.”

“I was reared on an Ozark homestead. What will you bet?”

“You’ll have to show us.”

The questions are like those asked by doubting friends since it was announced several months ago that I should tour the Ozarks on horseback and talk woman suffrage to individual farmers and settlers. The answers are something like those I used in reply, and this is the first story in proof that I am “showing them.”

I’m going to tell about the first day. A complete history of its experiences would make a good-sized volume, hence I shall touch only the high places. It is distinguished from all subsequent days as my “stunt day.” It began early. I know the farmer’s habits. He is the early bird and the worm that doesn’t get caught has to hustle. (This parenthetical remark doesn’t touch upon the story, but I am in sympathy with the wit who called attention to what happened to the fool worm for being out early.)

As already intimated, this was a day of stunts. My first prospect was a young farmer and his wife in his cornfield. The cornfield is always “his” and she is always “his wife.” They are “one.” I have heard women of her type talk over the telephone. “Who is this?” will come the query, and she inevitably replies: “This is Jim Smith’s wife.” So I speak advisedly. Her individuality is gone.

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Convincing an Ozark farmer that a woman who believes in the ballot can also hoe corn. Illustration by Berdanier

The young farmer leaned on his hoe and listened. He accepted the printed sheet of paper I handed him, giving reason why women should vote. His wife went on with her hoeing.

“That’s all bunk about you city women comin’ down here to talk to us,” he said. “Now if it was a country woman comin’ round I might listen a spell. But they’re too busy; they ain’t got no time to fool; they know their place is in the house and they stay there. They air willin’ to let the men do their votin’ The Good Book says that the man and his wife is one. It’s the women that knows how to work that ought to have the vote if any of ‘em ought, which I don’t believe. Bet you never had hold of a hoe handle in all your life. I reckon your hands is plumb soft. You’re a city woman, that’s what you air. Why, like as not this is the first cornfield you ever seen ‘ceptin’ from a car winder. You couldn’t hoe a hill of corn to save your life.”

“Will you promise to think seriously about the suffrage question if I prove to you that I have seen corn before, and even a hoe, at close range?”

“I’d like to see you handle a hoe before I promise, and even then I don’t promise nothin’.”

I had seen his kind before, the kind that demands absurd “proofs” of a woman’s fitness to, and the moment she yields to his clamoring and humors him by making good, he demands something else- and always it is something just about as pertinent to the question as hoeing corn.

But a spirit of dare inclined me to “show” this smart young Southeast Missourian. By the time I had hoed a half-dozen hills of his corn he said:  “Well, you’re a city woman jist the same. You can’t git around that.”

As I was remounting, I asked him, since he believed that woman’s place was “in the house,” why did he compel his wife to stay in the cornfield, and left him sputtering something about the “Good Book sayin’ that a man and his wife is one,” something he believes with all his heart; but he also believes that the man is the “one.”

Is there any hope for his conversion? you ask. Well, that is just what I asked one of his neighbors that same day and the neighbor said likely not: that he was always “agin” and everything that anybody else was for, but that nobody “set any store” by what he said and that the more he talked against the cause the better it would be for it. And so I left this anti-suffragist making converts to suffrage.

A half-hour’s ride brought me to a clearing where a slab house was under construction. Do you know what a slab is? A slab is a mongrel- half log and half plank. One side is a smooth, sawed surface and the other is rough log bark.

“You women do hit the nail on the head once in a while, I’ll own,” said the settler as he hammered away after listening a moment. “But you can’t drive a nail into a slab. Try it.” handing me the hammer.

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When challenged by a scoffer, she drove a nail straight and true through a slab. Illustration by Berdanier

The queer challenges of my “stunt day” were truly unique, but they awoke within me the same spirit of combat I always feel when plied with anti-suffrage objections. Before I realized it, I had again dismounted.

Good fortune was with me and the nail was skillfully driven home. The settler handed me another, which I declined, thinking I’d better quit while quitting was good.

“Well,” he said, “I ain’t no special objection to women votin’, and I reckon all I need is to know about it. When the question was up in 1914, I throwed away all the amendments, but I’ve been thinkin’ that a feller is insultin’ his intelligence when he does that, and no matter how many there may be hereafter, I ‘low to study ‘em out and vote on every darned one of ‘em.”

It was nearing noon when I came to a house close to the road, with shade trees in the front yard. A table stood under one of them.

“Light and look at your saddle,” called the pleasant voice of a woman who was coming round the corner of the house carrying a pan of flour.

“Light and look at your saddle” is an invitation to dismount, and I “lighted.”

“On nice, still days like this,” continued the pleasing voice. “I do a lot of my work out of doors. It sort of takes away the kitchen feelin’. I heered over the phone that you was headin’ this way and just ‘lowed that maybe you would about git here for dinner. Do you like biscuit bread?”

I said I did.

“But I don’t reckon you ever made a batch of ‘em. They say that women suffragettes cain’t cook.”

I assured her that a great many things were said about suffragists that were misleading, to say the least.

“Well, you can try your hand at this pan of flour, if you don’t care, while I pull a few more onions fer dinner.”

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Proving that a woman who believes in universal suffrage can also make biscuits.

I had been ages since I made biscuits with soda and buttermilk, but I was on trial again. I told her I should be glad to help, took off my gloves and waded in.

She didn’t hurry away for more onions, but stood by and watched me. By the time I had the dough ready to roll, she had confided that she believed in votes for women, but that her husband was an anti and that this biscuit-making stunt was “fer Jackson’s benefit.”

“He’s been watchin’ you from the winder all the time,” she said. “He don’t believe that women suffragettes know how to do anything that women ought to know how to do. But I jist reckoned that you could make biscuit bread and that I would teach Jackson a lesson right now. But say! If you had failed!”

“I’ll put ‘em in the oven,” she continued presently, “and we will have dinner right away. You look plumb starved.”

“But jist look at her saddle, Maudie,” protested a man’s voice from the window. “She’s rid a-straddle. I knowed she’d be ridin’ a-straddle.”

“Jackson.” and the pleasant voice became firm. “I’m plumb glad that my old sidesaddle is wore out, and I’ll never have another.”

“A wife of mine shain’t ride a-straddle,” persisted Jackson.

“So far as I know, you ain’t got but one wife. She’s a-goin’ to keep on ridin’, I reckon, and she ain’t goin’ to ride no more silly old sidesaddles, neither,” said Maudie, laughing good-naturedly.

“Come along and git acquainted with the lady, Jackson, and by the time you’ve et dinner with her maybe you’ll feel better. She can beat me all to pieces makin’ biscuit bread, which is sayin’ a right smart.”

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and wanted to “swap” me a couple of mule colts for her. A man is always in a good humor when bantering for a horse trade. It’s a sure sign.

The afternoon was mostly gone. I had seen one man in his calf lot since leaving Jackson and Maudie; another hunting in the range for his horses and three others putting up hay. All of them declared their intention of coming to hear me speak the following Sunday, frankly admitting that they had never heard a woman speak and that curiosity was bringing them.

At 5 o’clock I came upon a lone fisherman by the sea- “sea” being short for Bear Creek. I was beginning to feel weary and was wondering where I should spend the night, but this fisherman looked interesting- and besides, it was my policy to let not a single inhabitant escape. He seemed a very self-satisfied individual, and before I could speak he opened the conversation.

“I ain’t hoein’ corn this evenin’,” he drawled, “and I ain’t any slabs to nail. I ain’t even makin’ biscuit bread. But I got a hook to bait. Air you game?”

I laughed and asked him how he knew about the corn field, the nail and the “biscuit bread.”

“Young lady,” he said (I mentally thanked him for the adjective), “what do you s’pose our phone is fer? Why the whole diggins knows about it. But air you game fer another dare?”

“Why do you all ask dares of me?” I demanded.

“Jist the habit of the neighborhood, I reckon, and it was plumb the fashion by the time you driv the nail, specially with Jackson on the line sayin’ that maybe you could hoe corn and drive nails and do other things that men could do better, but that, of course, you couldn’t cook. I always listen to Jackson’s ring. He’s a plumb sight. But, as I asked before, air you game fer another?” and he held a tin can toward me.

I looked at the contents and shuddered. I wouldn’t have touched one of those wriggling angleworms for any amount of money and told him so.

“Then you ain’t fit to vote,” he said belligerently.

“That hasn’t anything to do with it,” I said. “You are confusing your ideas, sir. Whether one can bait a hook with an angleworm is one thing: whether a person is fitted to vote is another. I know a few fine men who wouldn’t bait your hook and few rascals who would, and some of both would and wouldn’t. And I know women who do bait hooks with angleworms and those who won’t. I chance to be one who won’t.”

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is at home darnin’ his socks while you’re gallivantin’ around, and I reckon your pore little children air cryin’ their eyes out fer their ma.”

“Wrong.” I said. “Guess again.”

“Maybe you’re wantin’ the old man to git a divorce and air stayin’ away to give him a chance, or maybe you think you can git one yourself if he’ll run away with the housekeeper while you’re gone. I say” (with the accent on the pronoun) “that the woman’s place is the home.”

“Yes,” I replied, “it is. But so is the man’s.”

There was something so irresistibly provoking about this self-satisfied old codger that I felt a diabolical impulse to “sass” him.

“Yes,” I continued, “I have seen cases where a man would have looked better hanging round home a little bit himself. In all probability your wife has hoed in the garden all this warm afternoon while you sat here in the shade pretending to fish. How many fish have you caught, anyhow?”

“They ain’t bitin’ much today,” he admitted.

“No, they ‘ain’t bitin’ much.’ But they’re an excuse for you to sit here and let her do that hoeing. About the time you think supper is ready you will stroll along home. After supper your wife will wash the dishes while you smoke out in the front. Then she will do the milking. She will bring in the kindling for morning and will carry in the wood. By the time she gets all that done, she will be so dead tired that she can do nothing but get to bed as quickly as possible, while you, rested from your day of doing nothing, will wonder why women folks are so sleepy of evenings, just when you would like to sit up and talk.

“In the morning she will make the fire before you are up. If you work in the field tomorrow, she will help you. You have been married 20 years, maybe, and you are not poor. Your wife has helped you gather together what you have. But when she wants to go to see her mother, several miles away, she has to walk. You haven’t a horse on the place that she can ride or drive- and anyhow you have nothing to drive one to. She has”-

“Say, if you will just shet up a minute! Who’s been talkin’ about me to you?”

“Nobody. If I have stepped on your toes, it is just because of the multitudes I have seen like you.”

“I don’t reckon you’re the kind of a campaigner what carries a bottle of snakebite with ‘em. Copperheads and

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“Well- air you goin’ to write this up fer the paper?”

“Yes.”

“Language and all?”

“Yes.”

“It might make us country folks mad at you.”

“It shouldn’t. You all know better language than you use; it’s just carelessness that you don’t use it. But even as it is, it’s as good or better than that of the city- only different.”

“Do you ever write up city people, language and all?”

“Yes.”

“Allright, then, let ‘er go. But say! You’ll have to stay somewheres tonight. Tillie believes in woman suffrage and would be proud to have your company. I wouldn’t object myself. Maybe you could convert me. The only reason I ain’t been believin’ in it is because all the woman is gittin’ in favor of it and it has been my policy to never give women anything they want too easy. But I’ll see. As a rule a country man is more open minded on a thing like this than the city fellers, I reckon.”

I agreed with him. I told him I was reared in the country and was pinning my faith to the country people.

“Well, I’ll own that you’re workin’ on the right track,” he said. “Most of us has a picture in our mind of a suffragette as wild-eyed, short-haired, bloomer-wearin’ creature, going about with an ax, raisin’ cain and smashin’ things. We’ve been needin’ a missionary to tell us better. So jist go on up to the house. Tillie was wishin’ at dinner time that you would git round this way. We’ll talk it over. I reckon there is a campaign on hand till you git the vote and that it’s converts you’re after.”

And with Tillie and the lone fisherman I spent the night, thus ending the first day- the day of stunts- of my horseback campaign in the Ozarks.

As I was leaving next morning, Tillie whispered confidentially that her man said he would not “go agin it” the next time the question was voted upon.

And I went joyously on my way, singing “Every little bit added to what we’ve got makes just a little bit more.”

 

 

 

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