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.
The following was Moyer Wing’s second article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 8, 1916:
“They’re the kind o’ girl we want to git spliced to,” Jake and Bill tell Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing, equal rights missionary to Southwest Missouri – “Purtiest girl in the county” says “any feller wuth shucks wants girl with idees of her own” – Tale of a red-letter day in which everyone favored votes for women.
Lovers of humor will welcome this, the second article by Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing of St. Louis, relating her experiences while campaigning in the Ozarks for the cause of equal suffrage. Her stories of actual adventures are racy with the tang of the soil, but below their surface of wit and fun is a deep undercurrent of seriousness, as must be the fact in all genuine humor. Mrs. Moyer-Wing goes alone on her expeditions, although she counts as a companion the horse she rides, which rejoices in the feminine name of “La Belle.”
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
“You shore ain’t a bit stuck up, anyhow,” said Janey. “Some of the fellers has been bettin’ with me an’ Pansy that you was.” and she smiled encouragingly.
“They said they’d pay if we could prove you ain’t.” put in Pansy, and then Pansy smiled.
I needed those smiles. They come in handy in my business sometimes, and this was one of the times. It was the beginning of a new week and the week before had been a nightmare.
Once I heard a St. Louis minister tell a story about two travelers who were chased by a cross bull as they walked through a pasture. There was just one tree in sight big enough to climb and the better runner reached it first. But there was a cave a short distance away and the other dodged into it just as he felt the bull’s hot breath behind him. But he didn’t stay in the cave. He jumped out: was chased by the bull and jumped in again: and then in a moment was being chased again, much to the surprise of the man in the tree, who called out: “Man alive, why don’t you stay in the cave?” And the poor, hard-pressed fellow stammered back: “There’s a b-b-bear in the cave.”
I had had just such a hard-pressed week, difficulties all about me and not a tree in sight. I had heard every conceivable anti-suffrage argument. There had been those who feared that the women would all want office if they voted, and those who declared that it would be just like them to shirk the duty of office holding: those who said that women wouldn’t vote at all if they had a chance, and others who were sure that they would vote all the time and consequently be always away from home: those who declared that women would all “git to drinkin’:” and those who feared they would vote liquor out of existence; those who knew positively that it would make trouble in the family, because the man and the woman would vote differently, and those who said it would merely double the vote, because the woman would vote exactly as “her man” did; those who feared the evil effects of the women’s vote and those who declared that women were angels and too good to vote. And always there were those who piously claimed that the Bible “was agin’ it” – and I had preached suffrage sermons and interpreted St. Paul till I was dizzy.
Of course, these were the people I was looking for. It was because of such as these that I was making this campaign. It was these identical objections that I reveled in arguing away. But there can be too much of even a very good thing, and the smiles of Janey and Pansy were the welcomest signs I had seen for seven long days, and already in my mind’s eye I, beheld a sapling looming on my horizon.
“They shore did,” Janey was agreeing, “and, you picture took with us, right atween us, is jist the proof we want. They have been tellin’ us that suffragettes is jist stuck up city women and that they wasn’t anybody but society women workin’ fer it and that they air workin’ fer it jist as a fad and that they would drap it soon and take up with somethin’ else.”
“Janey is up from Arkansaw,” said Pansy, “visitin’ me this summer. She’s my cousin and she’s traveled around a right smart; been to Little Rock and Fort Smith; and she says that city people looks jist like other people, ‘cept that there’s too many of ‘em. And I say to the fellers that was bettin’ with us, ‘What do I keer if you’ns is right, just so they work fer it? And if they drap it after awhile, the rest of us will be jist that much ahead, fer what they done will help along a heap.’ But Janey says that the women that’s got time and money for society air workin’ fer it because the women that needs it the worst is the workin’ women, and the workin’ women ain’t got no time that they would drap it to work for it theirselves, and that the people who has been sayin’ that women is women’s worst enemy has shore got to draw in their horns with this kind of proof a showin’ ‘em what a big lie that sayin’ is. I’m shore glad you brung your kodak with you. We heerd you run agin a settlement of antis last week. Of course them’s the people you’re after, but it must give a person a right bad taste in the mouth to not see any other kind.”
“It shore must,” agreed Janey.
Janey, “jist up from Arkansaw,” was slim and tall and pleasing and her sentences turned up at the end like sled-runners. “Bet I’ll shore be a sight in the picture,” she drawled. “I jist know I grinned somethin’ awful. I was thinkin’ how beat them boys will be. But take it from me about Pansy. I’ll bet she was thinkin’ about how good lookin’ she is and was posin’ to beat the band.”
“You go ‘long,” said Pansy. And then to me: “If you git round to Bill Stanley’s, jist remember us to young Bill and his brother, Jake, and tell ‘em we’re ready fer ‘em. You’ll shore find it pleasanter round here. We heerd ‘em braggin’ over the phone about how hot they made it fer ye up on the Hawgback.”
“Wait a minute,” called Janey as as I was leaving. “You and La Belle look plumb like goddesses of liberty on your way to the Promised Land.”
“You shore do,” said Pansy and added proudly: “Janey knows a heap about the Bible.”
“We heerd that you was an Ozarker yourself,” said Janey, “ and that you was awful partial to the Ozark people.”
“Say!” called Janey as I was leaving the second time, “What I said about goddesses of liberty jist now ‘minds me of somethin’. You’re from the city. Maybe you could tell us why liberty is represented by a woman. Do you know?”
I said I didn’t.
“Me an’ Janey has talked about a heap of things this summer,” said Pansy, “and that is one of ‘em, and we’ve kinder ‘lowed that it is jist one of them kind of jokes that men peeform, a’tryin’ to make women b’leeve somethin’ that ain’t so. You know what I mean?”
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” I quoted, half aloud. Then I told Pansy that I did know what she meant and said good-bye a third time.
It was a beautiful morning, cool and balmy, with a hint of autumn in the air, promising just such a day as latter August does sometimes give us in a fit of eleventh-hour repentance over what she has made us suffer all the other 27 days of her broiling existence.
“And we’re on our way to the Promised Land, La Belle,” I said happily. “As a perfectly good suffragist you’re bound to admit it. And don’t forget, either, that we are goddesses – goddesses of liberty. Surely that, alone, should forever save us from the ‘blues,’ no matter what happens.” And I fell to thinking again of what Janey and Pansy had “kinder ‘lowed” about the woman and liberty – and the jokes that men “peeform,” and presently we overtook a young woman driving a team harnessed to a farm wagon. Her gingham sunbonnet shone starchily and her practiced right hand rested firmly on the brake. There was a big double-deck coop of chickens in the back end of the wagon box. I rode beside her when the road was wide enough and behind her or in front when it was too narrow.
She was taking her chicks to Poplar Bluff, 40 miles away. Yes: she raised them herself – and yes; she had sowed and threshed the oats that fattened them. Yes: it was butter she had in the tub. Yes, she had churned it and had milked the cows, seven of them – and yes; it was eggs she had in the crates: nothing like oats to make hens lay; beats wheat all to pieces. No; she couldn’t reach Poplar Bluff in one day. She would camp out by herself and sleep in the wagon the night she would be on the road. Yes, she had a husband.
And after awhile, when I asked her if she believed in votes for women, she reined the team in the shade of a tree and looked at me straight and hard. “Do I believe in it? Well, I reckon I ortn’t, fer if they is anything in the whole wide world that men is willin’ to do by theirselves, I reckon I ort to be willin’ fer ‘em to do it. But I ain’t. They’re jist so skeered fer fear we’ll want to vote and fer fear that we’ll git to, that I’m mightily in favor of it. Yes. You jist bet I want to vote. They must be somethin’ in it er they wouldn’t be so mighty anxious to keep it all to theirselves.”
I had dinner at the home of the “purtiest girl in the county.” That’s what everybody called her. She had bright dark eyes and a pile of brown hair and I wondered as I looked at her whether she might be of the clinging vine type, and was dreaming at that very instant of hanging about the neck of some sturdy oak, with never an idea except as reflected by him – not realizing how many splendid oaks are annually strangled by the inane hellplessness of the vine woman. Dreading to have my day spoiled, I hesitated to ask her what she thought of woman suffrage.
But I didn’t have to ask her. She put on her prettiest clothes to be “snapped,” and said: “Some of my girl friends is afeerd to say what they they think fer fear the boys won’t like ‘em and that it will spile their chances to get married. I ain’t one of them kind. I have figured it that if a feller is wuth shucks, he will think all the more of a girl fer havin’ idees of her own, even if he don’t agree with her, and as fer the other kind, it don’t matter about them, nohow.”
Glory be! Another believer and another unique reason uniquely given. This day was going to be different from all others, surely. It was beginning to look like a real red letter day. And immediately my sapling became a full-fledged tree and I could fancy myself sitting securely upon its tip-top branch, high and dry and safe from all life’s petty annoyances, far, far down below me – so queerly does the mind run sometimes – and then I remembered the long afternoon that was still before me.
I stopped at a couple of sawmills and found the men all in favor of it. All of them were coming to hear me speak the following Sunday. Not that they needed it, they said, but because they wished “to load theirselves with argymints.”
Along toward the latter part of the afternoon I was directed to Bill Stanley’s as the only place where I could likely spend the night – and remembering the messages of Janey and Pansy I was suddenly chilled. I thought again of the past week. I thought back over all the years I had stood for suffrage and argued for it, either privately or publicly, and was sure the gods could not blame me for wanting just one perfect, harmonious day, and I just didn’t want to spend the night at Bill Stanley’s. But upon further inquiry I found there was no alternative. Bill Stanley’s was the only place where they “was fixed fer company.”
Of course, there was the woods, but remembering how the wolves had howled the night before, I shuddered at the thought of the woods. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to La Belle. La Belle was tired: she was hungry: she must travel tomorrow – and I decided in favor of Bill Stanley’s.
But there are occasional pleasing surprises, even for hard-working suffragists.
“You see,” said young Bill, when I had delivered the messages of the morning, “you see, me an’ Jake ain’t so sot as we might seem. We ain’t agin it so you could hardly notice it. In fact, I reckon we ain’t at all. But we’re a-thinkin’ an’ a-lookin’”
“Fer to git married,” put in Jake. “What’s the use of beatin’ about the bush?”
“None,” replied Bill. “Not a darned bit. You see, we has our idees, me an’ Jake, about the kind o’ girl we want to get spliced with, an’ she ain’t the kind what runs down her own sect, as the feller says.”
“Onc’t, Bill, he quit a girl cold fer callin’ another girl a cat an’ fer speakin’ of a woman as a ol’ hen, an’ bemeanin’ women in gen’ral,” said Jake.
“A woman what blames women fer everything under the sun an’ runs ‘em down an’ calls ‘em names is shore jist describin’ herself when she does it,” said young Bill, “an’ a feller what takes the trouble to think, knows that she’s pizener than a rattlesnake er a copperhead an’ll run fer his life ever time she gits close to him. She shore is some varmint.”
“Me an’ Bill is gittin’ kinder inter-rested in them two girls,” said Jake, “an’ when we got ‘em started t’other day about you an’ about women in gen’ral – say! Did they tell what we said about you?”
“Well, you jist orter a heerd ‘em. Heaps of girls would ‘ave j’ined in with us, thinkin’ we’d a liked ‘em better, but not Pansy an’ Janey. No-sir-ree!”
“We’re shore on the right track this time, as the feller says,” declared young Bill, “an’ if you was to happen this way about Christmas, maybe they would be some weddin’ cake to pass around.”
“They shore might,” said Jake, “if they’ll have us.”
“We’re both old enough to vote,” said young Bill, “an’ when the question is up agin in ol’ Mizzoo, you can count on us.”
“You shore can,” echoed Jake.
“Oh, you wonderful Red Letter Day,” I said, happily, as I fell asleep on the parlor feather bed. “You’ll keep me cheered for many a day to come.” And the next thing I knew another day was staring impudently in at me through the uncurtained window.
I returned the stare with impudent, compound interest and said: “Bring on your antis! I’m ready for ‘em.”