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 twelfth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 9, 1917:
Her mother didn’t vote and her grandmother didn’t vote, and her grandmother wouldn’t let her girls get any book larnin’; therefore the old ways was good enough for her, but when she discovered that a really truly suffragist could have a grandson who was almost the living image of her daughter’s little Silas her mind “jist natchelly changed, that’s all”
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
She gave me a cold, hard look, and her voice was like icicles.
“Well,” she said, “you ain’t sich a awful bad lookin’ woman, not so plumb awful. Least-ways,” she qualified, “I’ve saw ‘em wuss, sometimes. But I’m jist plumb certain that thar’s a screw loose somewhars.”
It was dog days. Remember the kind we used to have when we were youngsters? I wouldn’t undertake to say how many years ago – but you remember them? Well, it was one of those. There was the same warm sizzle in the air, the same heat waves that dazzled your eyes and sent streams of perspiration trickling down your spinal column.
You remember, don’t you, how you were told to stay out of the water during dog days? It was all covered over, you know, with a green scum when it stood in the deeper holes of the small streams, and it was haunted by the old, outcast snakefeeder. Remember how you used to follow this old reprobate, and how you imagined you detected him in the act of his nefarious calling as he darted hither and thither just ahead of you? For the life of you, you could never understand how the rattlers and boaconstrictors could hide themselves so swiftly and secretly nor why so harmless at these times – but that was just part of the game, of course, and you accepted it as such.
And there was the devil’s darning needle that would sew up your early if you didn’t watch out! Remember him?
Well, it was a day to encourage all these things to happen, that is, if you chance to dwell in a land where pools and children and snakefeeders live happily together.
All the long, hot morning La Belle and I had panted from thirst in a waterless region of the Ozark Flat Woods. We followed dim, worn trails, passed old, deserted cabins and abandoned clearings, each the pitiful evidence of a struggle between man’s desire to sit under his own fig tree and the stern forbiddingness of the region – and the latter had won.
“La Belle,” I said finally, as we stopped in the shade to breathe a moment, “I am beginning to think that a plague, or something, has stripped the globe of all its inhabitants and that you and I are the only living creatures left upon its sweltering surface,”
And then something happened to us when we least expected it, which is often the case, and as is also often the case, La Belle directed the act. Pulling a free use of the rein, she left the trail, selected the most favorable way through the trees and underbrush, and in 10 minutes had brought us to a spot where man, and not the region, had prevailed.
There was a comfortable old log house and some prosperous fields. There was a barn to our left and some farming utensils scattered about. And it was noon. I imagined I caught the odor of biscuits and frying bacon, and I saw La Belle looking with covetous eyes at some sheaf oats in the barnyard.
But alas for human expectations! The first part of the story describes the greeting we received.
“Yes,” she repeated, frowning, “thar must be a screw loose somewhars. Besides, this is washday and we wasn’t expecting strange company. And another thing, I don’t want to vote. My mother didn’t vote and my grandmother didn’t. My grandmother wouldn’t let her girls git any book larnin’ nuther, and they growed to be nice women and good mothers. I didn’t go to school none myself, and Joshy Joe and me purty nigh parted when he sent our Marthy to town to high school. Joshy Joe is plumb nigh sighted in some things. I was a-tellin’ him this mornin’ what I thought about you, jist a-lowin’ you would be along some of these times, and he says: ‘Susie,’ he says, ‘my grandfather plowed the first field of this here farm with a ox team and a old wooden plow. I am a-plowin’ the same field with a good span of mules and a ridin’ plow. I git a heap more corn than my grandfather and I git it with a heap less work. They’s new ways and they’s old ways,’ he says, ‘But jist give me the new ways,’ he says, ‘ev’er time.’
Joshy Joe is shore aggervatin’.
“And I jist says to him: ‘It don’t make no difference,
Joshy Joe, what you say,’The old ways is still good enough for me. I don’t want to vote. My grandmother didn’t vote, any my mother didn’t, and I don’t aim to nuther, unless I change my mind, which I don’t aim to do.’”
A baby trotted out and caught her dress. She bent to lift him in her arms and looked at me again, keenly.
“Of course you cain’t never have a grandchild,” she said condescendingly.
For the first time that long forenoon I laughed.
“Not havin’ any children, of course you cain’t.” she said, with an air of satisfied finality.
“His name is Silas,” she continued proudly. “Good old Bible name.”
“It is,” I agreed. “Mine is named Paul.”
“Paul is shore a funny name fer a horse – er maybe it’s a dog.”
“It’s my grandson that’s named Paul,” I explained.
“Your grandson! I reckon you’re a-foollin’. You shore ain’t no grandmother.”
I handed her a snapshot picture that I carried about with me. His name was written at the bottom. “P-a-u-l,” she spelled out. “It shore looks like that was his name,” she admitted. “Is he shore enough your grandchild? Can he walk and talk? How old is he? Why that’s jist the age of mine – 17 months. Paul and Silas! Ain’t that a plumb sight?”
She looked at me again and this time her stare was a little less hard. “How old air you?” she asked abruptly.
I stammered a little and told her.
“You shore don’t look it,” she said.
“Neither do you,” I returned.
“My daughter, “ she continued presently, “is here with her baby, spendin’ the summer with us. All the way from Pennsylvany,” she added proudly.
“It’s odd, but mine’s from the same State,” I said, “and she and the baby are in the woods with us this summer.”
“Law! You shore cain’t expect me to believe that It jist cain’t be so, that things could be exactly alike that a-way. Could it? Still, strange things shore do happen. And Paul and Silas! It don’t look like it could be the truth. They was in jail together, wasn’t they?
“Say! I had most fergot that babies could be so sweet. But this little feller, why I don’t believe half the time, hardly, that he’s human. Seems like he must be jist a-a”-
“Cupid,” I said. “Or a little angel, perhaps.”
“That’s it,” she agreed. “And he’s so funny, too, always a-smilin’ and a-laughin’ and cuttin’ up little tricks and a-lookin’ so cute. Sometimes I shore think he’s jist some kind of a little somethin’ that-that”-
“That lived in the woods,” I suggested, “and that was captured while out driving in his butterfly chariot.”
“Shore! That’s him.”
“Or, maybe he’s just a little curly-haired wood nymph that rode into our garden on the back of a bumble bee.”
“Shore! And already he tries to throw rocks at the calf, and him sich a little tike.”
“And his favorite toy is probably some such ridiculous thing as an old stocking darner,” I suggested.
“Shore! Leaves all his other playthings in the shade. Jist carries it around by the handle, a-whackin’ ever little thing he comes to.”
“And he has a funny little trick of hiding things in a knothole that goes through to the ground, out in the storeroom,” I said.
“Shore! That’s Silas to a T.”
“It’s Paul I”m trying to describe,” I said.
“It shore couldn’t be nobody but Silas,” she declared. “And say! They’s been jist two other babies in the world that ever did come up anywhars nigh to him fer cuteness and they was babies more than 20 years ago. One of ‘em is my grandchild’s mother and the other is her brother.”
“I’ve said the same thing dozens of times,” I said laughing.
“Is his curls yaller?” she asked, scritinizing the picture.
“Something like gold,” I said, “only more beautiful.”
“And he has little bangs in front like Silas. And dressed cool fer summer like Silas. Say! their pitchers tuck dressed the same way ort to look purty nigh like twins.”
“Of course,” she resumed, breaking a short silence, “I ain’t saying that any baby anywhars can come up to Silas in looks, but”-
And then we looked at each other – understandingly- and laughed together in a way that made us kin.
“Say! she said, “I put on a big kettle of cornfield beans this mornin’ and we’re goin’ to have fresh beets to eat with ‘em. And they cain’t nobody come up with Marthy makin’ corn bread. She jist stirs it up, kinder careless like, with sour cream and eggs and bakes it quick. It jist natchelly melts in your mouth. We’ll give La Belle some oats and pump some fresh water fer her.
“And say!” confidentially, “I reckon Joshy Joe was right. He said all the time he’d bet you was a shore enough woman. And he says that women has jist natcherly got to take some interest in things outside the home or the home, itself, will have a big chance for goin’ to the devil. He says they ain’t much encouragement tryin’ to raise up your children right and then have to turn ‘em loose in a world where women ain’t no say-so. I jist reckon likely, that I’ve made a plumb gawm of the whole thing and have been a-barkin’ up the wrong tree all the time.
“You know, I said I wouldn’t never want to vote till I had changed my mind. Now don’t say a word about it to Joshy Joe. I’ll tell him myself when I git round to it and am good and ready. But I’ll tell you fer fear I don’t git another chance: My mind is changed. A person that can have a grandchild like Silas! Well, my mind is jist natchelly changed, that’s all. If women can vote an’ be grandmothers, too, I’m fer it.”