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 fifth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 28, 1917:
She stuck by him through a succession of awfully lean years and bore him 13 children and, he says, “if they wasn’t no other argument, women has earned the vote just by endurin” – A hawk’s raid on a flock of chickens causes him to observe that “it’s the mother sect that fights the varmints the hardest, and she wants every weepon they is to fight away the varmints with. If I know anything about what the vote is fer, it’s to lick varmints with.”
In this, the fifth story which Mrs. Moyer-Wing has written for the Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine of her experiences in campaigning for suffrage in the Ozarks, she introduces a character whose opinions will be pleasing to all believers in the cause and who combines unconscious humor with sincerity. In him, she found an Ozark farmer who is uncommonly devoted to his wife and his eulogy of “Sally,” given in the vernacular is filled with human interest.
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
“Gee!” said a little St. Louis cash girl to another one broiling day: “I wish’t I had a snowball.”
“Me, too,” was the reply. “It’s a good time to think of ‘em, anyhow.”
So, maybe it will work on the other way round. When it is the season for snowing and blowing, maybe it’s a good time for summer stories. I’m going to try it, for it was a very warm afternoon in August when La Belle and I came upon the star performer of one of our very ordinary everydays.
With her usual diligence, La Belle had stopped of her own accord at every house we came to, and waited without protest til I had given out literature and conversed with the man or woman or both – with the entire family whenever possible – never showing a sign of impatience til she felt that we had tarried long enough. She knows that there are a great many people whom we wish to see and I never waste our precious time at one place or upon one person if she can prevent it.
And so, on this very ordinary day, in spite of the temperature, she hurried me along at our usual gait, which meant the covering of a long distance as we measure distance in the hills, so that when the last half of the afternoon came upon us, we had done a day’s work.
“Your conscience ought not hurt you now, La Belle,” I argued, “if we loafed the balance of the day. Besides, it is Saturday afternoon and people aren’t supposed to work hard on Saturday afternoon. We have put in a strenuous five days this week, and right this minute I shall begin looking for a place to stay tonight – and as soon as I find it, we’re going to stop. Do you hear.”
And then we spied our star performer.
His bare, bald head was shining in the August sun and his grubbing hoe, which was new, gleamed in it as he worked.
“These darned sassafras sprouts,” he said, straightening up and putting on his hat, which he fished out from a bunch of shrubs. “I’ve been fighting’ ‘em steady fer 30 year.”
“Yes, they’re still grownin’ here and thar after 30 years of sproutin’,” he said, when I expressed surprise that they could live through a long siege. “You ain’t acquainted with sassafras sprouts, I reckon. Why, they’s jist two sure ways of gittin’ even with ‘em-die and leave ‘em or let the land sell for taxes. I don’t aim to do nuther jist yet, so I”m still a whackin’ away at em.
“August is the time fer it. They never grow quite so big if you sprout ‘em off in August; leastways that’s what they say. I ain’t no hand to believe in sayin’s and signs, but I reckon they ain’t no harm in some of ‘em, and I do plant my pertaters in the dark of the moon and saw millet in the light of it, and they cain’t nobody beat me on raisin’ them two crops, but they might a been jist as good without the help of the moon. I’ve always kinder thought maybe that the first 12 days of January had somethin’ to do with the 12 months of they year; and if the sixth is dry, meanin’ that June will give us a chance to work our corn, and if the seventh and eighth days is sorter wet, meanin’ that July and August will give us enough rain to make it grow- well, maybe it’s all blamed foolishness, but I shore cain’t help feelin’ hoped up, even if it ain’t never come out that a way. And they’s some that believes that Christmas night has a heap to do with the corn crop. If it’s a awful dark night, it’s a shore sign, they say, of good corn the next summer. And, speakin’ of signs, once’t I put a pile of May snow in the chimbly corner to melt and we shore didn’t have no fleas that summer, but it might jist a happened that a way. And Sally, she jist never would burn her combin’s. She didn’t believe it would make her hair brittle, but she ‘lowed it was jist as easy to bury ‘em and her hair is as soft and even as a gal’s. And, O, well, you was raised in the hills yourself, I heerd, and you know how it is.”
His face has lighted up at the mention of “Sally” and I wondered whether I had accidentally discovered a native who was openly devoted to his wife.
“Do I believe in woman suffrage? Well, that’s another sign – a sign of the time, so to speak, and it happens to be one that I do take considerable stock in, so you needn’t waste none of your time on me. I’m already convarted.”
But I felt inclined to do just that. He was most interesting; my hurry for the week was over; so I encouraged the man who had grubbed sassafras sprouts for 30 years and who was “convarted” to woman suffrage, to talk.
“You were a born suffragist, I suppose?” I said, by way of leading him out.
“No, cain’t say as I was. .If my folks believed in it, I didn’t never hear ‘em say nothin’ about it. I wasn’t talked about much them days, in these parts. Nothin’ was. So I think it was jist livin’ with Sally. Say! I’ll show you Sally’s pitcher, the way she looked them days. You jist orter a seed her. Why, all the fellers was plumb hawk wild about her, and when she picked me out of the bunch–gen-tull-men! I jist ‘lowed that it couldn’t be so; but that if it was, I shore would die young, jist from bein’ too lucky to live.
“Say! You’re goin’ to have your hands full around here .They’s a heap of fellers in this settlement that’s plumb agin it. Thar’s Buck Mingo, down on the river. He’ll be at the meetin’ tomorrer, and I want you to hit him good and hard. He ‘lows that the Almighty is kinder down on women. ‘She was the first to transgress, and got the first cu’s laid on her,’ he says,’ and the biggest one,’ he says. ‘Adam wouldn’t never a eat the apple,’ he says, ‘if it hadn’t a been for the woman.’ he says. And he says, ‘what a easy time we’d all a had, jist settin’ around, eatin, and never a thing to do.’ He made me so mad, the lazy cuzz, and I reckon he is still nussin’ his skinned head. If I could git hold of ol’ Adam I’d give him a dose of the same kind of medicine.
“And thar is Skid Lightner, won’t let his little gals go to school – says the Bible is agin it. It says fer a woman to larn at home ‘of her husband,’ he says, and he don’t aim to lay hisself liable by lettin’ ‘em larn before they git husbands.” he says.
“And Chub Lumley, he moved to town so’s his wife could git washin’ to do. Chub, he says he’s too awful chiviyrous to let women vote. Why, he says, ‘we want women up on a high pedestral,’ he says, ‘ so we can look up to ‘em and worship ‘em,’ he says, ‘away up high, where they cain’t git down to dabble around in the common things of life,’ he says. And all the time his woman is dabblin’ in the washtub, makin’ a livin’ for Chub and the children.
“The ornery cusses!”
Here we stopped to watch a hawk that was circling about over a flock of chickens. There was a loud, warning cry – and the elders made ready to fight while the young ones scurried for cover.
“No, I don’t reckon I was born that a way,” he resumed. “It was jist livin’ with Sally. My father, he give me this sassafras farm, which was give to his father before him, whose father before him come up from Virginny and got hold of a whole passel of it, enough to divide up with all his children, when they wasn’t nobody much around here but wild animals.
“I built me a cabin up where the new house now stands and me and Sally shore ‘lowed we had the world by the tail and a downhill pull when we set up house-keepin’.
“But say! Ain’t a shore-’nough youth a awful thing when they ain’t nothin’ to depend upon but jist what the ground’ll give you? It’s plumb heartbreakin’ to see the corn curl up and the garden truck wither and die, jist fer a drink of water. Gen-tull-men! And the stock! I’ve seed ‘em starve in these here Ozarks hill. One winter we couldn’t even save a milk cow fer the children. And the hawgs jist nathelly run theirselves to death lookin’ fer the acorns that didn’t grow.
“Well, they was a string of jist sick years right after me and Sally was married, and the way she buckled down to endurin’ things and makin’ the best of ‘em, and the little strangers a comin’ so fast that we couldn’t hardly find names fer all of ‘em-gen-tull-men! Thirteen of ‘em. Yessir! Thirteen and all of ‘em livin’. Not that we calculated on havin’ so many – but they jist come.
“Maybe it ain’t proper to say it to a lady, but if us men had to take turns at this here little stranger business- gen-tull-men! Why, we grunt our heads off over a tick bite or a sore toe, and then expect women- but say, words caint express it! And when I see a man gittin’ all swelled up with his own importance and talkin’ loud about women’s places in the world – say! If I don’t lick that feller, it’s jist because I cain’t.
“Yes, it’s a sign of the times, and I believe in it. If they wasn’t no other argument, women has earned it by endurin.” And they think straight! Yessir! Heaps of times when I’ve been all riled up over somethin’, first thing I know, Sally has it all studied out for me. She jist leaps plumb over the obstercles, somehow, jist like a bareback rider at a circus, and comes down with both feet at the right place every time and has it lookin’ so plumb easy fer me – but that’s the way with women. They think straight.
“Oh, yes! Thar’s onreasonable women, and spendthrift women and some mighty pore excuses fer wives, but darn me, if I don’t believe that most women’ll be good wives if they had jist half a show. It’s jist natchelly in ‘em to make a nest, and to scratch fer the brood and to fight off the varmints. Did you notice the mothers of that flock awhile ago? Ever darned one of ‘em had their feathers raffled up and makin’ fer that thar hawk.
And say! I ain’t a goin’ to poke any fun at my own sect, as the feller say, but – haw! haw! haw! Did you notice that darned old gawk of a rooster? He’d been amusin’ hisself all day by callin’ up the hens to see what a fat bug he’d found, then gobblin’ it up hisself, jist as they all come runnin’ to git a bite. It was him that raised the first yell, allright. But, darn him, when the hawk was plumb thar, did you see what he done? Well, blamed if I’m goin’ to tell on the ol’ cuss, but you didn’t see him out fightin’ the hawk, did you?
“Now, ‘course, we ain’t all that a way. If we was, the world would a been a heap wuss-off than it is. But it’s the mother sect that fights the varmits the hardest. It’s jist in the nature of things.”
And all of sudden I quit hating Kipling. I was even glad of the deadliness of “the female of the species” – and Kip could say it again if he wished.
“And the human mother,” continued this prime defender of woman and our star performer of this ordinary day, “don’t feel safe with things like they air, and she wants every weepon they is to fight away the varmints with. She wants the home a safer place fer the children and the world a safer place fer the home, so to speak. And if I know anything about what the vote is fer, it’s to lick varmints with.”