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 Thirteenth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 30, 1917:
When only the gizzard is left on the platter, the Oldest Inhabitant seizes the opportunity to shove home her final arguments, and although the Man from the City was unconvinced because he had “made up his mind and never changed it,” it was the opinion of the woman crusader who heard of the discussion that he had been bested all the way through.
By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing
There were hoofbeats behind us – rapid ones – and as they slowed down to the gait, at which I was holding La Belle, over a spot of particularly rugged road, a pleasant enough voice accosted me.
“I am travelling this road a couple of miles myself,” it said.
One could see at a glance that he was a man of the city and that he had an air of one who commands. “Perhaps an employer of many people,” I thought. “Perhaps”-
But here he continued: “I heard your speech last Sunday. By the way, isn’t this a fine Indian summer morning?”
“Glorious,” I agreed. “I was just thinking of the days when I used to associate Indian Summer with Apaches and would shy at thickets of underbrush lest a horde of them come out and scalp me.”
“And it was just about this time of the year when a fellow was started to school with a tin lunch pail hanging to him. The pail was considerably lightened, I remember, by the time he reached the schoolhouse. Gee! He just had to have something to console him on the road, feeling himself a sad martyr to the cause of education.”
“Oh, were you reared in the country, too?” I asked with interest.
“Just a little. And it was so long ago that I remember only a very few of the sensations. Indian Summer and the district school are among them.
“But, as I was saying, I heard your speech last Sunday and have just been waiting for a chance to, personally, record my objections. First of all, I want to say that I voted against suffrage in your last campaign in this State, and I instructed all my men to do so. And when”-
“You instructed your men?” I interrupted hotly. “You instructed your men! And ‘your men’ probably thought they were living in free America! They are men who, no doubt, would fight desperately at the idea of being ruled by Kings, but were afraid to have an opinion of their own with you as their employer.”
“But about my objections,” he continued with experienced exasperation. “One of them is the fact that women will not vote when they have the opportunity. And another (without giving me a chance to protest) is because all women do not want to vote. Another is, that women will be insulted at the polls. And another is this: it will make the women mannish to vote. I hate to see women trying to imitate men. I must leave you at this turning. Don’t get all fussed up, now, over my not giving you a chance to combat these objections. You couldn’t convince me, no matter what you said. My mind is made up and I never change it. I am boss in my own house, and I mean to remain boss. No woman suffrage for me. Good-by.”
“By the way,” he called, looking over his shoulder, “you are not the first person who has heard these objections of mine. I’m doing all I can against you.”
“Then why didn’t you come out in the open and declare yourself last Sunday, when I asked for a discussion of the question publicly, if you are so eager to have your views known?” I asked.
“That isn’t my way of fighting, if you want to know,” he replied.
“And they say that it is women who will die for the last word, La Belle,” I said wrathfully. I drew up and looked after him as he galloped away. “If only he would let me reply,” I said. “You could overtake him, La Belle, with both eyes closed, if we were to suddenly remember that that is also our road- but it’s no use. He wouldn’t listen. I have seen people like him before. People who make statements – just statements – and then refuse to prove them. Let’s forget him.”
But all day he was in my mind. His insolent, exasperating manner had “riled” me, as my Ozark friends would say, more than I liked to admit. I kept thinking of the replies I should have liked to make and kept hoping that somebody would have a chance to combat him.
We spent the night at the home of the oldest inhabitant of the neighborhood. This oldest inhabitant had lived in this section of the Ozark country long before its settlers had seen a railroad; when “road agents” were hair-raising realities and travelers were taking their lives in their hands to make a journey.
She kept up a lively chatter about these old, perilous, primitive days and she laid the table for supper. “Some people wonders that I can git about so well,” she said. “I reckon it’s because I’ve never had time to give up and stop. I’d a heap ruther wear out than rust out, I tell ‘em, so I’ve jist kept a-goin.”
There wasn’t a word said about woman suffrage till we drew up our chairs before the fireplace for a talk.
“The children won’t git home till sorter late,” she explained, “maybe 9 o’clock. It’s a long way to town. Takes ‘em all day and part of the night to make the trip.”
She threw on another pine knot. “The nights is shore gittin’ chilly awful early. I look fer a early frost and a long, cold winter. I never seen the corn shucks as thick as they air this year. All the signs pint to a hard winter.”
There was silence for a moment. My hostess poked at the fire, brushed some ashes from the hearth and said thoughtfully: “They’s a heap of people that thinks that aged folks lives in the past and don’t want to see new things come about. But it all depends upon the person. Some of the biggest howlers fer them good old days that people love to take on about is young people. They don’t know why they howl, but they jist do. When things go wrong, it’s plumb the fashion to blame the times for it, and to hanker fer the days that’s gone – and a heap of people would ruther be dead than out of fashion. Why, I can remember hearin’ my great-grandfather beraitin’ the times he was livin’ in and pinin’ fer the days that was gone. People has always done it. But I’m sure glad that I ain’t that a-way myself.
“But what I’m aimin’ to tell you is that that feller frum the city had dinner here today. I don’t reckon you’ve run across him. He’s the one that’s jist a-ridin’ around fer his health (a-lookin’ at timber land and a-talkin’ his head off). I heard all about him and I shore laid a trap fer him. I wasn’t goin’ to let him git away with all the argyment on his side like he has been a-doin’ around here. They’s a heap of us in this settlement that believes like you do, and this feller, he just cain’t stand it. Seems like he ain’t happy unless he puts a little drap of pizen here and a little drap there, tryhin’ to undo it all. He happened in about 11 o’clock and as it was a right smart piece to the next house he was willin’ enough to stay fer dinner.
“ ‘Grandma,’ he says, helpin’ hisself to the third piece of chicken, ‘I don’t reckon you take any stock in this here worman sufferage that is goin’ the rounds in these part.’
“ ‘Why not?’ I asks.
“ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘wouldn’t you ruther have the times like they was when you was young? Don’t you long fer the old days?’
“ ‘Young feller,’ I says, I ain’t makin’ the days and I ain’t responsible fer the time passin’ ner fer things changin’. It’s jist the nature of things that they must be changin’ all the time. I don’t want the old days back agin. They wouldn’t fit. And besides, they wasn’t nigh so good in a heap of ways as the ones we’ve got now. They was jist different. That’s all. Jist different. And if a person goes along with things as they come and don’t try to draw theirselves up in a shell, they ain’t goin’ to lay awake nights wishin’ the world would move back a peg.’
“ ‘But,’ he says, tryin’ to sigh. ‘It shore makes me sad to see women tryin’ to imitate men.’
“ ‘In Chiny,’ I says, ‘a woman is accused of tryin’ to imitate men if she jist wants the use of her natural feet. In turkey they air accused of it if they go without a veil. And I can remember when women right in this State, was accused of tryin’ to be like men if they wanted to go to college.’
“ ‘But,’ he says, ‘women won’t vote if they git a chance,’ he says. ‘And if they won’t use it, they ortn’t to have it,’ he says.
“I jist happened to remember a few things I had read in the papers and I says to him: ‘What air you a-goin’ to do with the men that won’t vote? Will you take the vote away frum ‘em?’
“ ‘They ain’t many that don’t,’ he says.
“ ‘In your own city,’ I says, ‘they is about 150,000 men that can vote if they want to, and they’s about 40,000 that don’t. And not so very long ago they was a special election that ort to have brung out all the voters they was, but they was only about 70,000 that took the trouble to go to the polls.’
“He drawed in his horns a mite at bein’ answered back, it bein’ his habit not to give anybody a chance to argy with him.
“ ‘But you see, grandma,’ he says, ‘all the women don’t want to vote, and I ain’t the kind to force somethin’ upon ‘em that they don’t want.’
“He looked out to where his hoss was pickin’ clover, and I could see that he was hankerin’ to be gittin’ along, but I knowed he wasn’t goin’ to leave that pile of fried chicken jist yit. I was calculatin’ on that when I fried it. That was the trap I set fer him – that plate of fried chicken. So I says right back: ‘All the people ain’t never wanted the same thing at the same time since the world commenced, and as long as it stands they never will. But as to whether the majority of the women wants the vote, the best proof is the say they take keer of it after they git it,’ I says. ‘It jist happens that I have children livin’ in states where women has voted a right smart while, and the fact that they vote as ginerally as the men and sometimes a little more so, is proof to a person with jist half a eye that they do want the vote, and wanted it all along, even when some of them thought they didn’t. A hundred and fifty years ago,’ I says, ‘the big majority of people didn’t keer nothin’ about the American Revolution. It was jist a handful that was interested in independence. But see how they tuck to it when they once got it. And I can remember the time when a argyment that some people used agin doin’ away with slavery was the fact that so many of the slaves objected to their own freedom. If the world was guided by the keerlessness of the great mass of people, it shore would slip back a cog or two ever few minutes,’ I says.
“ ‘But women would be insulted at the polls,’ he says. ‘I shore don’t want my women folks goin’ to vote and bein’ insulted at the polls,’ he says.
“The back and gizzard and one leg was still on the dish and I knowed he wasn’t going to leave ‘em, so I says, sort of thinkin’: ‘Let’s look into that matter a mite. That has been one of the biggest boogers they ever skeered up agin it, but my folks out in Colloraydo and Wyomin’ ain’t never been insulted fer votin’ and they never knowed a woman that was, and it wouldn’t be any different, I reckon, in this country. The men we see at the votin’ places would be the same men we see at church and neighborhood gatherin’s. Jist our neighbors and friends. But to hear some people talk, you would think that our neighbors and friends and husbands and brothers and sons is all of ‘em changed at votin’ times into some sort of ravenous beasts that jist go about seekin’ whom they may devour. If you men jist knew how you was insultin’ your own selves by sayin’ sich as that, and how plumb foolish it makes you, you’d shore quit it.’
“ ‘I’m boss in my own house,’ he says, all swellin’ up, ‘and I don’t want my women folks votin’.
“The gizzard was still on the platter, so I lit into him agin:
“ ‘When I hear a man braggin’ like that,’ I says, ‘I know right straight that he is either skeered to death of his wife or that he is jealous ‘cause she is smarter than he is.’
“ ‘Well,’ he says, gittin’ insultin’, ‘they may be a few Rubes that’ll vote fer it, but you won’t never git it frum the men of the city.’
“ ‘You must be awful mad,’ I says, ‘to make sich a remark, but I reckon you’re talkin’ about country people. They’re jist too independent to suit you. Their jobs don’t depend upon the way they vote,’ I says. ‘All bosses look alike to them. The pigs and calves go right on growin’ in spite of ‘em, and when election day comes they go to the polls as free American citizens and vote like men havin’ opinions of their own and not afeerd to live up to ‘em. And the big things of life is always brung about by the people that ain’t afeerd.’
“ ‘I ain’t in the habit,’ he says, ‘of lettin’ anybody answer back or argue with me,’ he says. ‘But it don’t make no difference what you say. My mind is made up and I never change it.’
“ ‘Some people ain’t got no mind to change,’ I says right back, ‘and, of course, in a sad case like that, they ain’t expected to change it.’”
A familiar whinney out at the barn broke into the satisfied silence that fell upon us. I went to the door. “La Belle,” I said, “don’t stay awake any longer thinking about it. He’s been downed in the argument.”