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 fifteenth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 28, 1917:
First there was Rose, native of a country now most ‘unfriendly to the United States, who exclaimed “Oh dis beautiful, big America!” and who was willing to sacrifice her Gus if he was called to the army – “Long” Jess Sawyer, too young for the Civil War and too old now, makes the best of it as long as he has Honey, while Bill is going, though the thought of leaving Lottie makes him swallow hard.
By Alice Curtice Moyer Wing
“It’s just a doll house, La Belle,” I said, when first we caught sight of it. “Just a quaint little doll house, all nestled down in that pretty green valley.
“It has a cornfield back of it and a vegetable garden and a chicken house. Except for these very human evidences I should know, for a certainty, that the Kewpies or Brownies live there. I am not wholly convinced, even as it is, for how should I know that fairy creatures do not delight in human necessities and human luxuries. Why, there’s even a barn – a nice little barn, just your size, La Belle, and even at this distance I can see a sheaf of oats sticking out from the haymow.”
Mrs. Kewpie was at home. Her name was Rose and she was glad to see us. She wore a little fringe of “bangs” on her forehead and was pretty, with a strange, foreign prettiness – for Rose had belonged to a country now most unfriendly to the United States. She smiled as she talked. And she was in love, deeply and tenderly in love – with her husband.
I shall never be able to say things just as she said them. It would be impossible to put into cold type the accent and the quaint terms of her charming, softly-broken speech. But I’ll do my best and must leave the rest to your imagination.
“Sure,” she said. “I get lonely here all with myself day and night and day and night again. Sure I do. But it is fer Gus. We work and we work in the city and the money, it went for rent and went for everything. But we save and we save, little by little. And soon, down here, we have a little home where pigs and chickens grown and grow, if high cost of living, or now, keep on. And den we be all time togedder. Work togedder. Gus, he stay longer a little while, way off in Chicago, and send money a little more. I spend it for something that show where it is gone. I get a few more stock and clear a few more acre. Den he come. Oh, dis beautiful, big America!
“And we believe in women’s vote. Sure we do. Ain’t womens side by side with mens when dey is trouble and when dey is work? Gus, he proud for me to vote.
“The war? Oh, dis awful, dreadful war! Sure Gus will go if they say so. America, it give us our living. We don’t believe to put the old country dat did not do anything for us, above the new country dat has done so much for us. And we both tink dat dose peoples dat do, ought for to be made go back and live dere where dey come from. Dey would soon long for big, fine America.
“Sure, you can have my picture, but please not by myself. Let it be with Gus. I want Gus in everything where I am. We belong togedder. Dis picture was made last time I visit him in Chicago. Sure you can put dem in the paper. But Gus must be in with me. He’s the best lookingest man in all the world, Gus is.”
“Bless her heart,” I said to La Belle as we rode away after a longer visit than it was our habit to make. “Bless her big, loyal, tender heart and her sweet, gentle face. And bless Gus, too. Mrs. Kewpie would never forgive us if we didn’t.”
“Long” Jess Sawyer was the next interesting person who ought to be put into this story. We found him resting and smoking on the front porch of one of the few log houses of this neighborhood.
“When lumber got cheap,” said “Long” Jess , “‘count of the saw mill comin’ into these parts, a heap of the neighbors tore down their old log houses and built new ones of lumber. I could have done the same thing, but by gravy, if there’s any one thing I do hate, it’s bein’ jist perzactly like everybody else. It shore is. And, anyhow, I set a heap of store by by this old log house. I hewed every log in it, all by myself. They was jist one room when me an’ Honey was married. We’ve built onto it as we got crowded, ‘count of the children, and we ain’t nuther of us goin’ to give it up fer any common old lumber house. Not by a jig full we ain’t.
“Hear a heap about the war as you go about it, don’t you?”
I said I did.
“I’d give my head to go,” said “Long” Jess, wistfully. “But fate has been agin me. By gravy, it has! I wasn’t quite old enough fer to git into the Civil War – though I run away frum home twicet, tryin’ to git in – a young, little tike I was, jist 13, and small fer my age. And I missed out on the Spanish-American trouble. And here I am now, too old fer this big world business. Ornery trick to play on a feller. By gravy, if it ain’t!
“You don’t need to ask me if I believe in woman suffrage. I have always had a sneakin’ kind of a idee that the Declaration of Independence meant what I said and knowed what it was talkin’ about. And, if that’s so, then they cain’t nothin’ more be said. If I believe in my country I got to believe in equal rights fer all its people.
“And then, there’s Honey. Why, if you jist knew Honey! Ain’t it a plumb shame that she’s jist happen to be away on the day you got around, when she’s been afeerd to leave the house fer more’n a week, fer fear she’d miss seein’ you?
“Well, she’s jist like thousands and hundreds of thousands of other women in the world, women who jist stand up and take their share of life’s hardships. If it’s earnin’ a livin’ in bisiness or by keepin’ the house and raisin’ the children, they’re right on the job. Wouldn’t I be a plumb sorry kind of an upstart to say that the Declaration of Independence didn’t mean nobody but men? By gravy! I shore would.”
It was late afternoon when we reached the home of Bill and Lottie, where I had been invited, by letter, to spend the night. The sun was drowsy from its nearness to bedtime and looked on but dimly as my host and hostess hurriedly prepared themselves for the benefit of its last rays in the kodak snapshot I had promised to make for them, posing on the front step of the old place that Bill’s grandfather, as a young man, had hewed from out the wilderness when this section of the Ozark country was yet in swaddling clothes.
“I reckon I could have it took with my arm around her.” Bill suggested, “and I’d like to have a extry picture to take along with me if I go. It would be proper, wouldn’t it, to have my arm around her?” he repeated.
“Quit your foolin’, Bill,” said Lottie. “Of course it wouldn’t be proper.” But she put up her hand and held his fingers on her shoulder as she said it.
“You see,” said Bill, “I reckon it’s jist in the blood to fight. My kinfolks away back was in the revolution and I cain’t remember the time when I wouldn’t set up till any hour of the night, listenin’ to my grandfather tell stories of the Civil War. Grandpa ain’t never got over some of the war injuries and I’m a-goin’ into this one without promisin’ myself that I’ll fare any better. There ain’t no use to make believe they ain’t no danger. It’s a heap more sensible to face the truth and jist make up your mind that no matter what comes, it’s all right. I ain’t goin’ to pretend that I”m crazy about goin’, nuther. That’s another mistake that they ain’t no need of makin’. If we’d tell the truth, we’d all a heap ruther not go. The good Lord knows I hate to leave bad enough” – here he looked at Lottie and swallowed hard – “but they’s times when a feller’s country comes ahead of his fambly and this is one of the times. If Uncle Sam needs me, I’m his’n: I aim to do my best and I’ll come back if I can. If I don’t, it’s all right.
“Shore I believe in woman suffrage. Ain’t this war goin’ to be jist as hard on the women of this country as on the men, and maybe a little drap harder? Ain’t they sharin’ and bearin’ the nation’s burdens the same as the men? Why, they ain’t no argument agin women votin’ that’ll hold a drap of water. They’re all plumb leaky. But some people has quare idees about things. A feller says to me yisterday, ‘Ain’t you chivlyrous enough to do purty nigh everything Lottie asks you to. What more could she git if she had a vote? I’ll bet a dollar you’ll put on a necktie and collar to git your picture took tomorrow.’
“‘Shore I will,’ I says.
“‘But the minute it is took, you’ll jist see how fast you can git ‘em off.’ he says.
“ Shore thing,’ I told him.
“‘Well, could Lottie git any more out of you than that? Would you keep ‘em on if she was a voter?’ he says. ‘Would you pertect her any more than you do if she could go to the polls?’ he says. ‘Would you be any more chiviyrous,’ he says, gittin’ louder and louder.
“He was plumb disgustible, and I says right back at him: I’m shore sick and tard of heerin’ sich foolishness. That’s jist been the trouble right along all the time,’ I says. ‘Men a-standin up and a-talkin’ about chiviyry: men a-actin’ as hippercritinly perlite as a basket of chips; men a-takin’ off their hats and a-bein’ so darned good that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths; men a-fallin’ all over theirselves to do jest little things fer the women folks, like breakin’ their necks to git ‘em a bunch of posies – and what does it a’l amount to? I ain’t sayin’ that these little things ain’t all right. They air. But they belong to their own place. They don’t cost nothin’ to give and they don’t bring the women a darned thing that counts when the pinch comes. Anybody with jist half a mind knows that us men ain’t always been fair to women and children when it comes to makin’ the laws, and a heap of ‘em still wants to jist sail along on the surface and keep the women blinded like they done fer so many hundred years. Why, it’s jist like the Bible says about faith: ‘Faith without works is dead,’ it says. Well, chiviyry without justice ain’t chiviyry at all. The vote is a power to git things with and it ain’t nothin’ but fair that all citizens has it.”