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 ninth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 8, 1917:
She has twin boys- just 21- and if they have to go she’ll give them without a whimper, and yet “I ain’t the kind of mother who can be glad to send her boys to war- who can offer ‘em even before she’s asked” – How she shattered John Buddrick’s argument about ballots and bullets.
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
They were weeding the onion bed when I first caught sight of them – this mother and daughter. At the sounds of La Belle’s hoofbeats on the stony lane that led up to their gate, they came quickly to meet me, the plump, pretty little woman of 40 and the slim 19-year-old girl.
“I don’t reckon I ever was gladder to see a stranger,” said the mother. “Funny, but me and Polly Ann was jist a-talkin’ about you and was a-wishin’ you would git around here fer the night. It’s 4 o’clock, and I reckon you’ve done enough fer one day, seein’ that I know what kind of fellers you’ve had to deal with. On, you don’t need to tell me what they said. I know ‘em frum away back. My own man died 12 years ago. ‘Tillie,’ he said, the night before he went, ‘if ever there was a woman calculated to be both father and mother and do a good job of it, it’s you.’ And I shore run the farm by myself till the boys was big enough to help and I’ve got along, but they is times when I’d jist give the world to talk things over with Billy. He was shore different, Billy was.
“But as I was sayin’, I know jist what kind of a time you’ve had today. There’s John Buddrick, who ain’t walked a step in 10 year. He says that a woman ortn’t to vote because she cain’t fight. ‘How do you know we cain’t fight?’ I says, ‘If it was necessary you would see whether we could fight or not. Jist because we ain’t done it shore ain’t no reason fer thinkin’ that we cain’t.’ ‘But you ain’t supposed to fight,’ he says, ‘and therefore, you cain’t.’
“Ain’t that a plumb sight of a reason?
“‘Ever ballot,’ he says, ‘has got to be backed up by a bullet. Yessir,’ Ever’ ballot has got to be backed up by a bullet.’
“John shore liked the sounds of that ballot and bullet business. I reckon he had read it somewheres, but I got kinder riled up by the time he had said it a dozen times or more, and I says:
“‘You shore mean that, do you, John?’ ‘I shore do.’ he says, ‘Allright , then’ I says, ‘we’ll jist have to take the vote plumb away frum you right straight. You cain’t even walk to the polls, much less march to war. And that ain’t all.’ I says, ‘We would have to take the vote away from a heap more of the men in this here country than you’d think, if any store was set by sich foolishness as that – men that cain’t fight, and yet air good citizens jist like yourself,’ I says, ‘When you git to sayin’ that the vote jist belongs to them that can fight, you git into deep water right straight,’ I says, ‘clean up to your eyes,’ I says, ‘and all riled up and muddy.’
“‘Why-why-why,’ stuttered John. ‘I reckon, Tillie, that I hadn’t never thort of it that-a-way before.’
“‘No,’ I says, ‘I reckun you hadn’t. Besides,’ I says, ‘it’s a heap bigger job to bear soldiers than to bear arms. I’m a-thinkin’, and you cain’t twist things around no which a-way so as to make it out that women don’t do their share, and more’n their share, in war. We don’t only furnish the soldiers, but we shoulder the burdens the men lays down when they leave us and carry ‘em right along with the loads we already had. And jist let me give you a piece of advice, John.’ I says, ‘seein’ that we’re neighbors and have always knowed each other; Don’t never, never make that silly remark about ballots and bullets ag’in. It makes you ‘pear plumb foolish. Jist think it over a mite and you’ll see fer yourself.’
“And I heerd over the phone,” she continued, “that you also bumped up agin Jim Seever this mornin’. Oh, well, the grouches will all come to their senses, I reckon, when we git the vote in spite of ‘em. The nation lets us pay taxes and do most everything else, so I reckon that votin’ ain’t so awful fur away.”
She gazed out over the valley a moment before she repeated her invitation to spend the night with her and Polly Ann.
“Polly’ll take keer of La Belle,” she said. “The clover meader is plumb fine after the first cuttin’. The boys has gone to the swamp a-fishin’ and we’ll shore be proud to have your company. Oh, yes, they’ll be gone all night. They’ll bring back a keg of salted fish. That’s the way we git all our fish fer winter. They air great fishers, them boys is, and hunters – don’t talk! And they work hard on the farm, too. They’re plumb wonderful in a heap of ways. One day last week they was fishin’ at a picnic and had their pitcher tuck in their Sunday clo’es and some borrowed pipes. I’ll show ‘em to you.
“Polly Ann has jist got back from the State Normal at Springfield. Don’t you notice the new style of her shirt waist? The boys and me has been awful determined that Polly gits an edication.”
When supper was over and the chores done, we carried our chairs out to the front porch, just as we had carried them in when supper was announced. We were quiet for a time, the two women and myself, thinking, and listening to the night noises. There were whippoorwills and owls and katydids and from across the hollow, over on the other ridge, there came the mournful howl of a timber wolf.
The mother broke the silence.
“I’m plumb glad,” she said in her soft voice, “that I’ve got somebody to talk to about it – this war. This is a time when I’d give the world to have Billy to talk to. Me and Polly, we jist cain’t git it straightened out somehow. We want to do somethin’ fer our country. We want to give somethin’ to it, but I jist cain’t feel willin’ to give the boys. They’re twins, you know, and jist 21. I just cain’t feel willin’ to give’ ‘em,” she repeated, “and I’ve wondered if there’s somethin’ wrong with me, I read in the paper about a mother who had give her two sons to the war and had wrote the President that she had a third one to give. I cain’t understand it, somehow, I know that I ain’t that kind of a mother. I jist know that the war is here and that the fault ain’t ourn. I know we’ve got to stand by the President, and I shore aim to stand by him – but I jist cain’t give my boys willin’. Of course, if they have to go I will have to give them, and I ain’t goin’ to say a word, neither. They won’t be a whimper frum their mother when the time comes. I know there is times when our country must come first and that this is one of the times. I realize all this, and yet, I ain’t the kind of mother who can be glad to send her boys to war – who can offer ‘em even before she’s asked. You have a boy of your own. You know what I mean, don’t you?”
I said I did.
“And you don’t think I ain’t patriotic or loyal to my country, do you?
I said I did not. And then Polly Ann spoke.
“It seems to me,” she said quietly but intensely, “that the greater the sacrifice the greater the gift. When a woman gives more than her own life- well it seems to me that her patriotism is greater than those who give easily.”
The older woman had walked to the end of the porch in the darkening twilight, she turned and smiled, “Ain’t a boy beautiful in his early twenties?” she said, “Manly and grown up, and yet so boyish and young that it don’t seem no time, hardly since his little head was layin’ on your breast.
“Oh, yes: I talk woman suffrage ever’ chance I git. The nation gives women the right to work. It lets ‘em sew and knit and plant and till the soil, and, as I said before, it lets em pay taxes. It lets some of us give our lives in hospitals and fever camps and it demands something much more precious than life when it asks fer our boys. And I’m goin’ to be awful sorry if it jist gives us the vote as sort of ‘leventh-hour wages, like they have done in some countries of Europe, after the women has done a heap more than jist to die fer their country. Dyin’ ain’t the hardest thing they is to do.
“Say, if you put this in the paper, please don’t let anybody think that I ain’t patriotic or that I don’t love my country and want to help it. Do you think they will understand?”
And I said I did.