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 tenth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 12, 1917:
“The job of the housewife,” she says, “is a great job, but it ain’t any more possible fer all women to want to do it more than anything else in the world than it is possible fer all men to be plumb crazy about farmin’ or doctorin’ – What I’d like is to see it possible fer women to have something else in their lives, if they want it, without havin’ to stay single”
Mrs. Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing is still in the Ozarks, where for more than a year she has traveled among these interesting Missouri folk on her horse, La Belle, and spread the gospel of suffrage. Her days are busy ones, but she still is finding time to write those stories of her experiences which have become so popular with readers of the Post-Dispatch Sunday Magazine.
It must have been gratifying to Mrs. Moyer-Wing to encounter the little woman of whom she tells in the following lines. Long before the writer met her she had rad up on suffrage and thought about it, and here she tells why she became a convert.
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
“Yes,” she said, thoughtfully, “I reckon I’m a suffragist. I’ve been readin’ up lately and I see that it is the next step fer women to have. I didn’t think much about it till the last year or two. Before that time I just couldn’t see how it would do a woman in my place any good or how it could do any other ordinary woman in the ordinary home any good. But I’ve been thinkin’ different lately, since I find that that is the argument people used a hundred years ago, when women asked for education. They said then that it would everlastingly spoil the women for motherhood if they was educated and that it couldn’t possibly do them any good in the homes, provided there was such a thing as a home, when girls generally got to goin’ to school.
“They said the same sort of foolish things when women asked to own their own property and the same thing when they asked for control of their own wages. And when all these things came about and it didn’t hurt nobody – just made the women all the better because they were happier and freer – then they centered their forces on votin’ and are saying the same silly things about that that they have always said about everything else that women have wanted. I reckon they said the same things when women got up the courage to ask fer souls. I read that there was a time when men had a corner on souls and wouldn’t allow that women had ‘em, and said that if women ever got to heaven it would be through the godliness of their husbands. Ain’t that plumb laughable? It all dates back, I reckon, to the time when men discovered that they could handle the biggest clubs and hit the hardest licks and just took all the world for theirselves and give the women the crumbs.”
“Where-where” – I stammered and then asked: “Did you always live here?”
“Oh, yes, But I was at the State Normal a spell and I visited my aunt in Illinois before I was married and I have read ever since I was 5 years old. Why,” proudly, “I never did go to school in a first reader. I was in the second when I started, and I was only 6. And last summer, after the cattle was sold, Joey and me took a trip to Colorado and I looked around a right smart and talked with a lot of people out there where women have voted for nearly 25 years, and, say,” her eyes twinkling, “there was just as many fat, sleek, pampered husbands to the square inch out there as anywhere and just as many children and just as many homes. And the women’s opinions are respected out there more because they have something to say in the government. And that is what I want to see everywhere – women’s opinions respected in the government. We sure do carry our share of its burdens. And as I was sayin’, votin’ is the next step for women to take and maybe, some day, there’ll come a time when we can think our own thoughts and work out our own ideals the same as men and-and”-
I urged her to continue.
“Well, you see, it’s this way. The day I left school I was married. I didn’t stop to think just what it would mean, which is the way of young folks. I just knew that I loved Joey and that to live without him wouldn’t be livin’ at all. Joey felt the same way about me, but with him it was different. He could have me and a career, both, and I could just only have him.
“Oh, I know what people would say to that. They would tell me that my career is makin’ the home and raisin’ the children and the good Lord knows I wouldn’t want to be without them, but there ought to be a way, somehow, fer women with ideas to carry them out and have the home and the husband and children the same as men. It ain’t fair. And I believe it will be worked out some of these days. I may not see it myself, and my baby girl may not, but maybe her children will see it. Of course, there are heaps of women who don’t want anything in life but their home and family. And let them that’s satisfied just stay that way. It’s all right. You know there is heaps of men who don’t want nothin’ but what they was raised with and who just live along, satisfied, from one year’s end to another. And that’s all right. Let ‘em alone. But there is also men with big ideas to work out, and they can go ahead and foller them up and still have all these other things like Joey. He goes away to school every little while to git more pointers on his stock and sheep raisin’ and comes back so full of enthusiasm and life that it makes me plumb sick to go, too. Why, I’d give two years of my life fer just one of ‘em in school. And then – O, well! Maybe I’m foolish to dream dreams.”
She stopped and I asked whether she was unhappy, in the meantime, as people often say of women who have aspirations aside from the daily routine of home life.
“I should say not,” was the prompt reply. “That’s another fairy tale the people loves to tell. I’m getting a lot of happiness out of life as I go along and I sort of satisfy my ambition by doing my everyday work well – at least I keep it from eatin’ me up. I get a lot of pleasure in cookin’ better than I was raised to cook. I do better cannin’ and preservin’ than the majority of women and I don’t let my babies drink coffee and eat corn and beans by the time they can hold up their heads. I keep them well by scientific feeding, much to the disgust of my neighbors who boast that their babies eats anything that the family eats, and then wonder why they are sick all the time.
“Oh, I don’t mean to belittle the job of the housewife. It’s a good job, but it ain’t any more possible fer all women to want to do it more than any thing else in the world than it is possible fer all men to be plumb crazy about farmin’ or doctorin’. What I’d like is to see it possible fer women to have something else in their lives, if they want it, without havin’ to stay single. There’s a heap more things in the world to make women stay single than you’d think.
“Well, by and by – when the babies are older – well, I’d a heap rather have dreams of the future that include myslef than not to, and some day women will make use of all this trainin’ that the ages have give us. We have learned patience. We have mastered the details that men has dispised, and when our time does come, this will be a new world and there will be a new race – and there won’t be any more wars.”
I had “felt it in my bones” before starting out that morning that we should have an interesting day, and now it has happened. I thought at intervals all that forenoon of this remarkable little woman of the hills, with her unexpected and advanced ideas and remarked to La Belle that if we didn’t find another single thing of interest our day had already been a profitable one.
I ate a few scattering blackberries for lunch and La Belle nibbled the grass that grew with them by the roadside, and I was still so engrossed in thought as we continued our way that not until La Belle stopped to eat the white yard clover that had grown out into the road did I notice that we had come upon an old, abandoned homestead. The ancient split-rail fence was down to the ground and the fields were overgrown with sprouts of the native trees that the settler had never been able to subdue. Wild flowers and shrubs grew abundantly in the dooryard. Nothing was left of the house place, except the old stone chimney and leaning against the weather-beaten fireplace was a man. I thought he seemed dejected and I was just in the mood to imagine that his shoulders shook from repressed emotion. “La Belle,” I said in a low voice, “you never know what you are going to stumble onto. That little woman back there has gone as far with her theory as the thinker with much more time for thought and much better opportunities for work – and see where we found her. Then, before we have recovered from the surprise of it, here we find ourselves in the midst of a tragedy. Poor old fellow! There isn’t a thing left of his old home and nothing but dead embers to gaze into.”
I unstrapped my kodak for a snapshot and as we turned to go, La Belle’s hoof sounds aroused him.
“No don’t rush off in the heat of the day without your blanket,” he called. “Hain’t that jist like a woman? Wait a minute. I’ve got some of the blamedest arguments fixed up to down you with when you speak tomorrow that you’ve ever heerd. You jist as well give up right now, fer you shore can’t git around ‘em. I’d be plumb sorry fer ye if I wasn’t again ye. Jist been a rehearsin’ ‘em, as the feller says, jist a sayin’ ‘em over here, all to myself, as it were.”
“Why-why”– I was stammering again. “Haven’t you just returned? Isn’t this your old home? Haven’t you just come back for a last look at it?”
“Old home? Just come back! Say, who told you that thar- and me that has lived in this country all my life and that never come back frum nowhar, ‘cept my son’s house, three mile away, whar I’ve started now, all dressed up fer the meetin’ tomorrer. Me and the ol’ woman lives jist a mile down the creek.”
For some distance I hadn’t a word to say. Neither had La Belle. There are times when one’s feelings are too deep for language. This was one of the times. It was La Belle who finally broke the silence. She stopped short in the road, lifted her head a little higher and sniffed in the way she does it when the intruder is human. It’s different when the intruder is an animal.
A bend in the road brought us upon a plump, pretty girl, with a wide smile and a lot of fluffy brown hair.
“We heerd over the phone,” she began, “that you was comin’ this way, and Aunt Mollie, she sent me down to the road to ax you to come up to the house and stay all night. She wants fer to ax you some questions about this here woman suffrage. So does Uncle Si. But before I go I got a few of my own to ax. First one is, have you ever been to any of the states where women votes?”
I said I had.
“Is any of them women married?”
“Most all of them,” I told her.
“Ain’t it so, then, that men won’t marry women that votes?”
I said that was one of the most absurd things the anti-suffragists had ever imagined. I assured her that there were fewer unmarried women, according to population, in the Western states, where women have full suffrage, than in the East, where they do not vote at all. And then I told her about her very remarkable little neighbor a number of miles back and the observations she had made for herself when out West.
“Well,” she continued, still half doubtingly, “Uncle Si, he heerd that they wasn’t any women married in them states and that the people all lived in wigwams because the women didn’t have no time to keep house. Me and Aunt Mollie, we ‘lowed that they wouldn’t vote ‘cept when votin’ time come round, same as the men, and it ortn’t to take all their time, we reckoned, seein’ that men can carry on their work and vote, too. But Uncle Si, he said that we didn’t know women, and that, as fer him, he was plumb shore that they didn’t do nothin’ but vote.
“Aunt Mollie, she didn’t have much more to say, but jist ‘lowed that we would invite you up to the house fer to stay all night and find out fer ourselves jist what kind of a person you was that is wantin’ to vote. Uncle Si, he was willin’ and as fer me, why I’ve been down here ever sence dinner time fer fear you’d git by- fer I’d shore like to git married and vote, too.
“I don’t know where Uncle Si heerd about all these things, but when he was a-talkin’ to us he said he knowed ‘em for a fact. And now I’m powerful glad you’re in this neighborhood. You come right on up to the house an’ you tell Uncle Si a few things. Me and Aunt Polly, in particular, are mighty glad you’ve come.”