A “Black Day” in the Campaign for Suffrage 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 third article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 26, 1916:

Farmer, whose sick wife was digging potatoes three miles away while he chewed tobacco and whistled, says he could do all the voting necessary in that family – “The grouch” declares women shouldn’t have the vote because “they ain’t got no sense” while the 17-year-old milkmaid is disinterested because she is about to be married.

This is the third story by Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing which has appeared recently in the Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine. Mrs. Moyer-Wing, who is a resident of St. Louis, has been campaigning in the Ozarks for some time for the cause of suffrage, her only companion being her horse, La Belle. She has met with a variety of experiences, some of them hopeful for the cause and others discouraging. She tells about some of the discouraging ones in the following story:

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

“La Belle,” I said, “you are true blue – the real patrician blue. I can depend upon you; pin my faith to you. From the tips of your dainty, pointed ears, to the shoes on your little, sure feet, there is not a drop of yellow in your sleek, brown body.”

This was an old story to La Belle. I had said things like that to her before, but it seemed particularly the right thing this morning. We were toiling over a 10-mile stretch of road which the natives aptly term the “devil’s washboard,” and with the assurance of the gazelle, La Belle was picking her way over and about a series of jolting stones, solid rock “jumpoffs” and washed-out gullies. It seems, now, that I should have recognized this as the prelude to a day that went down on the blackest page of my black book- but I didn’t.

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We had toiled on another hour when I knew, from the way La Belle sniffed, that we were nearing a human habitation. Curious to see where she would go to find any living soul in these desolate wilds, I gave her the rein. Without the slightest hesitancy, she turned into a trail that I never should have seen and within a few moments we came upon the place that she knew was near.

The head of the family was at home. The chill of the autumn morning had driven him to the sunny side of his rough board shanty. One of his unshaved cheeks bulged with a chew of “long-green” tobacco, and a sapling 10 feet away bore evidence of his marksmanship. Between shots, he was lazily and contentedly whistling the back-woods fiddle tune of “Casey Jones.”

“We’uns is all well as common, I reckon,” he admitted in reply to my salutation, “‘cept Mandy. She’s kinder down in her back and is a gruntin’ a right smart.”

“Then I’ll come in to see her,” I said, preparing to dismount.

“Oh, she ain’t in the house, She’s diggin’ pertaters out by the pond,” he explained. “The ground is mighty hard but the fall weeds and grass is about to take ‘em. They grow mighty fast, the weeds does, but the fodder is hauled in and she didn’t have nothin’ else to do.”

“The pond I passed about three miles back?” I asked. He nodded.

His type is a familiar one. He is what even his neighbors despise and designate as “ornery.” He never sees the use of exerting himself. He doesn’t need to. The poor soul he calls his “woman” is the pack horse of the family, toiling early and late, while her lord and master loafs, fishes, whistles and chews – always chews. I looked at him as he sat sunning himself, while his wife was digging potatoes three miles away and felt suddenly sick – sick with the nausea aversion.

“I heerd,” he said, “that you was gittin’ round into these parts, and I’m shore glad I didn’t miss seein’ ye. The patch where the pertaters is planted is the likliest spot around here an’ the ol’ woman ‘lowed it would be easier to raise em out thar than to grub out a patch nearer to the house, an’ her a gruntin’ with her back like she does. But hit ain’t necessary fer ye to see her. She ain’t no time to vote.”

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“But,” I argued, “think how little time it requires. Almost anybody can find time to vote once or twice a year.”

“That’s jist all that a woman knows about it,” he said with a grunt of satisfaction at what he considered a woman’s ignorance. “Why, it took me a plumb month one year, a parleyin’ around, but I shore got four bushel of corn fer it by hangin’ on.”

“For what?”

“Fer my vote, of course. Jist tell me how a woman would find time to go parleyin’ round that a-way. Mine wouldn’t.”

“And you elect lawmakers to legislate for me and for your wife and for other women. You – you’re a citizen! A voter!” I said, trying to express the contempt I felt.

“I shore am,” he returned proudly. “Never miss a chance. Once I voted twicet the same day an’ got 50 cents fer it both times.

“And to think that I must ask creatures like you for this privilege of exercising my rights of citizenship,” I said.

“If you mean votin’, you shore do. We’ve got things in our own hands and we ‘low to keep ‘em thar. But as I was sayin’, you ain’t no call to wait fer Mandy. She mayn’t git back till dark and she an’t no time to spar fer nothin’.”

“No,” I said, “the ‘spar’ time is all yours. Your wife tends the corn and hauls in the fodder. She hoes the garden and digs the potatoes, walking three miles to reach them because she wasn’t able to grub out a place nearer home. The pain in her back will never get any better.”

I hesitated here, wondering whether there was any way to touch him, and then added: “And some of these times it will be so much worse than she will never, never have it any more.”

“Do you mean that Mandy might – might”-

“Die,” I said. “Yes. I mean just that.” rejoicing to see that I had waked him up at last. But my joy was short-lived.

“‘Taint such a awful hard job,” he said “to find another woman. They’re thick an’ willin’ in these parts. But losin’ Mandy,” he admitted, “might make me a leetle more keerful with the second one. It sometimes is that a-way.”

He delivered a few center shots at the much-enduring sapling and continued:

“Reckon I kinder got ye riled up this mornin’. Sorter hot under the collar. Huh?”

He had. I mentally admitted it. I had, finally, allowed his kind to “get on my nerves” and I was sorry.

“I heerd,” he said caustically, “that you was a plumb angel an’ thet the devil hisself, couldn’t make you mad.”

Swiftly I recalled a story I heard. A little girl who loved cats, had a mother who abhorred them and who out-talked her tiny daughter each time the subject of a pet kitten was discussed. But the daughter fell ill and to obtain her consent to an operation, she was promised, if she would take the anesthetic “like a little lady,” she should have a fluffy pet kitten for her very, very own.

With this promise in mind, the tiny daughter did behave “like a little lady,” but as she came out from under the influence of the anesthetic, she was heard to murmer, “That’s a [unreadable] way to get a cat.” But she got the cat.

The person before me was just a part of my medicine. I had got to swallow him. That the dose was unhomeopathic, was just a circumstance of conditions. “Maybe it’s a bum way to get a vote,” I said half aloud, “but it’s just a part of the game – and eventually I’ll get the vote.”

He spoke again:

“Hit wouldn’t make no difference, though, if you had stayed an angel. I’d a said the same thing. I reckon I know what a woman’s place is an’ I ‘low I’m man enough to keep her thar.”

And then I took it all back – all my repentance. I was glad that for once this lank, lazy son of the hills had heard something about himself. I left him with the charitable hope that he might not live too long and that the next generation would be an improvement.

Our next prospect is down in my memory as “the grouch.” His expression indicated his disposition as I came upon him at work in a clearing, and his frist words were in keeping with his expression.

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“Women,” he said sagely, “ain’t got sense enough to vote. I am livin’ with my fifth one and I oughter know. They jist natcherly ain’t got sense enough.” He said it with such finality, that, for the moment, I wondered about the condition of my own gray matter – or whether I really had any.

“My pay says,” put in the lad who was hired, to help the grouch, “that they was at least five women that didn’t have no sense, ‘cause why, they married him.” indicating the grouch.

“Shet up!” said the grouch.

“And my ma says,” continued the youngster, unabashed, “that it ain’t no wonder thet four of ‘em died.”

Wisely ignoring this last remark, the grouch turned to me: “Hit ain’t no use to go on up to the house to see the woman. She ain’t at home nohow, and if she was, she wouldn’t have no time to talk to ye.”

“But why,” I asked, “do you think that women haven’t enough sense to vote? You vote, do you not?”

“That’s different. Women jist ain’t sense enough.”

“But”–

“Don’t ax no more questions,” he said wearily. “They jist ain’t sense enough to vote and that’s all thar is about it.”

“Why”–

“I tell ye they ain’t got sense enough. They jist ain’t.”

“But what reason have you for your assertion?”

“Reason! Don’t need no reason. They jist ain’t.”

I had heard such logic before – and it hadn’t always been in the backwoods.

A little farther on we found a prosperous appearing spot, such as one does come upon at times, in the most unexpected places. We were greeted by a maiden clad in a big apron and carrying a milk pail on her arm.

She was “doin’ up the chores” early, she told us, because she was “goin’ to the singin’” down on the lower creek and it was a “right smart piece” to go.

“I ‘lowed,” she said, “that you’d be gittin’ round here this week, some time, but I hain’t got no time to talk to ye. I don’t want to vote, nohow. I don’t keer nothin’ about what you call bein’ a citizen. I’m jist a girl and girls don’t do nothin’ but git married and work. Say! ain’t I lucky to be gettin’ married at 17? My cousin Ellie has about to give up all hopes. She’s 20.”

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“But, my child,” I said, “as a married woman, you’ll be all the more responsible. You’ll”–

“Shucks! I don’t keer. I don’t want to vote. Ever’thing is all right with me. I don’t want to change nothin’. Why, I got two feather beds; picked ‘em off my own geese. And I got 16 quilts. Made ‘em myself. And my hoss is the biggest and fastest of any girl’s around here. We raised him from a colt. And my pa, he’s goin’ to give me $500 in cash when I git married. I didn’t waste none of my time goin’ to school, nuther. My pa and ma says I don’t need no schoolin’. They didn’t have none and they know. All I need is money and property.”

“But,” I agrued, “all girls are not so comfortable as you. There are thousands of women and girls who are compelled to work away from home for a living, and who need the power of the vote just the same as the working men need it.”

“What do I keer? Let ever’body look out for theirselves, is my motter. Long’s I’m all right I don’t aim to worry nary grain about others. But I cain’t talk to ye no longer,” airily dismissing me. “My feller’ll be along in jist no time and I got to milk nine cows. Three of ‘em is mine. Their calves’ll bring me $30 apiece at weanin’ time and I’m aimin”–

But La Belle and I were gone.

“Her city prototype would be shocked to hear her.” I said. “But they’re twin sisters when it comes to self-centeredness. They may express themselves differently but it means the same thing, exactly the same thing.”

At a bend in the road we met three men in a wagon. No; they didn’t believe in “wooman sufferage:” they didn’t want any literature, they “didn’t know nothin’ about it and didn’t want to know; they jist knowed they was agin it; they wan’t comin’ to the meetin Sunday: they was in a hurry, anyhow, and must be gittin’ on.”

It was 5:30. La Belle had not shared my persimmon lunch and I knew she was hungry. I was hungry myself. We just had to find a place to spend the night and that very soon. All day the atmosphere had been smoky from the distant woods fire, and there was a chilly darkness settling down.

Another half hour, and we saw the glimmer of a light through the trees as it shone from the craks of a windowless one-room sawmill cabin.

“It’s shore better than sleepin’ out anyhow,” said the woman. “I’ll make a pallet fer ye thar by the stove an’ you can git into it while my man puts your hoss in the company’s stable. They wasn’t nothin’ left from supper and it’s too late to cook agin. We don’t believe in your doctrine, but I reckon you’re human, maybe, and anyhow, I wouldn’t turn nothin’, not even a dawg, out o’ doors chilly night like this. I”ll put this here hot flat iron to your feet and open the oven door to let the heat out on you. Lucky it’s a cook stove.” and in 15 minuts I was dreaming that it didn’t matter that I was too tired to think and that I had had nothing but persimmons to eat since morning because time had ended for me, and, in response to the summons, I was riding La Belle straight up to the place of judgment.

We went very quickly, it seemed, for in just a twinkling we were there and I had handed my card to an attendant.

“This is Alice, the Ozark suffragist.” said the attendant.

“Ah!” replied the good Saint, and I thought I detected a note of sympathy in his tones. “Ah, Alice, the Ozark suffragist. My boy, pass her in. Pass her in – and no questions asked.”

 

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