‘Uncle Josh’ and His Ozark Neighbors Their View on Suffrage ‘Fer’ and ‘Agin’ 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 fourth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 7, 1917:

Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing’s fourth article on spreading the tidings of equal rights in the mountains of Southeast Missouri – Rural postman “plumb” opposed to ballot for “Bible reasons,” while postmaster is “plumb” in favor, also for “Bible reasons” – Ex-sailor in navy demolishes argument of woman’s inability to do military service, and the “village oracle” is lured as far as the “mourner’ bench”

Readers of the Sunday Post-Dispatch Magazine who have relished the rare humor and keen penetration into the character displayed in three previous articles by Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing, will need no introduction to the fourth, which appears below. As will be remembered, Mrs. Moyer-Wing is conducting a campaign on behalf of equal suffrage among the denizens of the Ozark Mountains, the only companion of her labors being her horse, “La Belle.” This article deals piquantly with her home on the edge of the wilderness and some of her picturesque neighbors.

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

Of course you have to have a place to hang your hat no matter what you are doing. Even if you are a worker for woman suffrage you have to have a headquarters – a place to call home where you can do as you please once in a while. And so, there is a certain shack where I can hang my hat and take a day off. The picture of it shown here was taken at a distance. There is a reason: distance lends enchantment – so much, that I could almost delude you into believing that those growing things in front are beautiful flowers, when, in reality, they are merely the ambitious “sprouts” of fallen oak giants, springing up to contend for possession of the land of their sires.

IMG_20181225_182615

The building to the right is La Belle’s barn, where, on a “day off,” she munches hay and plans further adventures, coming to my window whenever the spirit moves her, to gaze wisely in as I work at my desk.

The trees you see at the back are the beginning of a wood where the big timber wolf has his habitat. You know he is there, because he keeps you awake at night with a howl that makes your hair stand on end from its uncanniness. It is a meaningful sound – this howl of the big wolf – and may be given divers interpretations. If you are romantically inclined, you may read it as a great wail of anguish and heartbreak over the encroachment of man, and, consequently, the ultimate extinction of its race. And you lie awake listening, with shivery thrills chasing one another up and down your spinal column, just from the woolly wildness of it, and with absurd inconsistency you wish the doleful sound would immediately cease, and devoutly hope that it might forever continue.

O, it’s more exciting that the “Perils of Pauline” and other movie things- and you have the advantage of lying comfortably in bed while the entertainment goes on.

But, of course, I am not the only human being in these “pairts” – consequently I have neighbors and it is they who are to figure in this story. Of course I know something of the sentiments of my neighbors on woman suffrage, but not until they see themselves in this story will they know that I’m telling.

IMG_20181225_182716

I’m going to begin on Uncle Josh, carrier of the U.S. mail. All the way from the capital city of the country comes Uncle Josh three times a week to bring us our letters and papers, and for one brief hour, three times a week, he makes us feel our kinship with the big outside. He is the connecting link that keeps us welded to the world.

IMG_20181225_182649

But (O, that there were no “buts!”) Uncle Josh is – can you believe it? – Uncle Josh is an anti-suffragist! I’ll have to admit that our Uncle Samuel sets him a bad example in some sad respects, but that is no excuse for Uncle Joshua. He ought to know better – but he is “plumb agin it.” First he cites “Bible reasons,” and it doesn’t do any good to point out to Uncle Josh that Paul also said something else further along, just because he anticipated an unequal construction upon what he said at first. And it is time thrown away to tell him that in the beginning of things the Creator probably knew what he wanted when He gave dominion unto “them.” I have tried it and I know. Uncle Josh still has “Bible reasons.

His other objection is “jist general principles.” Now, what do you think of that as a sweeping assertion? And just tell me what a person is to do when confronted with “gineral principles.” “Why?” as another neighbor puts it, “gineral principles ain’t got no handle. You cain’t even git a tail holt; and there you are.”

So Uncle Josh wraps himself up in “gineral principles” and won’t say any more about it. And there you are.

But if Uncle Josh is unyielding, the postmaster and his able assistant, who is also his other and better half, soothe my wounded feelings with the healing balm of sympathy. For they are “fer” it on the same grounds that Uncle Josh is “agin” it. They, too, have “Bible reasons” – Bible reasons for their belief in the supreme equality of the sexes: also they are for it on “gineral principles.”

IMG_20181225_182725

“When we was married,” said the postmaster, looking out reminiscently over his prosperous possessions, “we had exactly 35 cents in cash. Rene has carried her end of the load and sometimes a little more; she’s as smart as I am and sometimes a little smarter. It would be pretty hard to make us believe that our one little girl is not equal to any one of her brothers. Yes: you just bet that this family is for woman suffrage.”

And there is the ex-sailor and his family. You have heard the silly old “war reason” against woman suffrage – that women are not fitted or required to fight, hence they should not vote? And you know the very good answer we have always given? Well, the ex-sailor has an answer that is entirely new. For a number of years he traversed the world of waters on a man-o’-war in the service of Uncle Sam and has ideas of his own as to what women can or cannot do, and agrees with the specialists who say that it is all in the training. He points to the participation of women in the European conflict in support of his theories, and this, according to my sailor neighbor, knocks that silly old argument square on the head.

IMG_20181225_182743

My very nearest neighbors are Frank and Emmie, a couple of newlyweds. There isn’t any shily-shallying about woman suffrage with the newlyweds. Even Ned, the dog, recognizes the principle of individual rights, and stands back without a protest till the cats have had their share of the feast, before he goes in to finish it.

And there’s Rosie, the little blue eyed Hungarian who wears overalls when she works in the field. This story couldn’t be told without her. Her big, blond, Swedish husband is up in Chicago, earning the sinews of war, while Rosie wages a campaign on the native shrubbery, carving out, with the true pioneer spirit, a home in the wilderness for “Gus” and herself. Rosie is a devout believer in woman suffrage.

IMG_20181225_182749

I have other neighbors, but there is space in this story for just one more – the one I have saved for the last, so as to leave you with a good taste in your mouth. The “Bell Sheep” – that’s what they call him – might have inherited his trait of leadership. Maybe it was brought up from Bear Creek by his father, who settled on the place where the bell sheep was born and still resides. Be that as it may, wherever you go, you hear the tinkle of his bell in his quoted opinions, his lauded judgment, his model farm methods and his phenomenal luck with the razorback “hawg.” There are those who contend that, as a farmer, he missed his calling, and proclaim loudly his fitness for the cloth.

One neighbor is especially eloquent on the subject. “He’s built fer runnin’,” he declares, “and he’s built for wadin’. He’s a good forager, a good hunter and a keen trader. You can’t beat him in a hoss swap and he jist looks like a circuit-ridin’ parson. And there’s the bell: it jist natcherlly hung itself onto his neck. And then, there’s his name.”

Which is a fact. There’s his name. Ever notice how boys named George Washington or Benjamin Franklin grow up? Well, the “parson” was named Benjamin Franklin – called “Hardy” for short – and the bell “jist natcherlly hung itself onto his neck.”

His picture proves it all – and more. And since it isn’t my fault that he didn’t live up to his natural possibilities, and since every well-regulated neighborhood has got to have a “parson.” the “bell sheep” in this story of my neighbors must represent the neighborhood “circuit-ridin’” parson.

But the best part of the story is yet to come: The “parson” has gotten as far as the mourner’s bench on the subject of woman suffrage – and that means that his conversion is assured – for when a man or a woman begins seriously to seek the light on that subject, just that moment is he or she going to “come through” with a glorious conversion and live forever after in the faith of votes for women.

And so, these are some of my neighbors – and the shack where I hang up my hat. And the latchstring is out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s