Taking the Ozarks Preacher at His Word by Alice Curtice Moyer Wing

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. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s seventeenth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 2, 1917:

He had said that woman’s place is in the home, so the woman who was president of the Ladies’ Aid Society, organist and superintendent of the Sunday School just stayed away, with the result that the congregation came near to disruption – In a day’s journey Mrs. Moyer-Wing hears six men argue against suffrage and learns something about masculine “consistency”

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

Of all the interesting personages of this very interesting and puzzling autumn day, Dorothy deserves first mention.

For more than an hour, La Belle and I had traveled beside the little stream at our right. It had small, quiet pools at intervals, and over these was just a suspicion of thin, autumn ice. The sycamores were stretching their bare, ghostly arms above our heads, while to our left, the hillside was a solid mass of gorgeous autumn colorings. There were purples, greens, golds, browns and crimsons, all blended together in one great intoxicating display, and when our path led us away from the stream and up the hill, it transformed itself into a colorful, bewildering, enchanted thing, luxuriously threading its way amidst a riot of beauty, impossible to any season save autumn. One who has seen and felt the magic of it will know.

“God’s own art galleries.” I said aloud. “We can’t stand much more of it, can we, La Belle, and live to tell the tale. It is just bursting our hearts with emotions that we cannot express.”

Our lives at that moment were mercifully saved by a change in the scene-different but none the less beautiful. It was Dorothy.

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There was a glimpse first of a little flash of scarlet, darting from the gate to the house we had come upon, and then a very demure little maiden appeared at the door to greet us-so very demure that the fun and frolic of her real self shone out from behind the dimpling mouth and laughing eyes.

Yes, she lived there. She and her daddy and mother had come from Illinois when she was 2; she was 5 now. Of course, I would understand that she had grown a lot since she was 2.

No, her mother was not at home. Didn’t I see her on my way from the village? Of course I knew her mother; everybody did. Why, nothing could be done anywhere without her mother. She was president of the Ladies’ Aid Society, she was organist at the church, she was superintendent of the Sunday school. And she always “got up” the entertainments for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Did she stay alone when her mother was away? Oh, no. Maggie was always there and daddy was in the field and mother never stayed late.

And here the imp of fun shone out. “One time,” she said, “our minister, he preached a great big sermon about what women ought to do. He said a woman’s place is the home and that they all ought to stay there. And then he kept on saying it every Sunday and every Sunday, till my mother, she just took him at his word. She didn’t go to church and there wasn’t any music. She didn’t go to Sunday school, and there wasn’t any superintendent. She didn’t go to the aid society, and it went down awful, because all the others quit going. The minister wrote to her, but she didn’t answer his letter. The members called her up, but she didn’t tell them anything. And then one day when the minister came all the 12 miles just to see her, she laughed and told him she wanted him to see how things would be with the women staying at home like he told them to do.”

She came a little nearer and said, confidentially: “When I grow up, I’m going to help make laws. They’ll be good laws. All little children don’t have good mothers and daddies like mine and the laws will be for them.”

“La Belle,” I said, as we turned to wave another good-by to the little red-robed figure at the gate, “once upon a time somebody told of his reverence and respect for the boy, “because,” he said, “one never knows what possibilities are buttoned up under his jacket.

“Might it not be as seasonable and as reasonable to wonder about the possibilities of the girl’s equal mental attributes, her warm heart and her humane tendencies, and to consider them in a broader sense than people have been in the habit of doing? Who can fathom the changes the next 25 years will bring to this country- and women’s part in it?

“But let us not become too serious, La Belle. I’ve often noticed that a period of homesickness follows an attack of intense seriousness-and we don’t want to quit short and start for home in the middle of a day like this. Consider that fine suffrage argument back there-the reply of Dorothy’s mother to the minister-which we can count among our assets for the day’s work that has just begun. Not a bad beginning, is it? Cheer up!”

Our path led us out to the “big road”- a public highway from a county village to the county seat- and there we came upon the “doctor feller.” It wasn’t any wonder that I recognized him. Goodness knows I had heard enough about him.

“Purty nigh all the girls is plumb crazy over him,” one rural beauty had confided to me the day before, “all but me and a few others. I don’t set no store by the fact that he’s from Chicago. I wouldn’t give Jerry fer a dozen like him- and when Jerry is all dressed up in his Sunday clo’es, this here doctor feller cain’t hold a candle to him fer good looks, noways. But, of course, they ain’t but one Jerry, and”- She hesitated.

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“Of course,” I said, encouragingly.

“Well, they ain’t,” she defended.

“Surely not, I repeated. “I know just how it is. There couldn’t possibly be another. When the angels designed the pattern for him, it was just an experiment. Then, when they saw what they had done, they didn’t dare make any more. He was too perfect. So they just destroyed the heavenly pattern.”

“Why, I didn’t reckon you knowed Jerry. When did you see him?”

“I haven’t seen him,” I said, “I am merely describing how every woman feels at some time about some one man.”

She looked at me a moment, puzzled, and then laughed understandingly.

“Well, this here doctor feller frum Chicago ain’t much of a believer in woman suffrage. He don’t say much about his reasons to us girls. Jist ‘lows he’s agin it. And some of the girls is afeerd to say what they believe fer fear of gittin’ the doctor down on ‘em. He’s got a orter, the doctor has, and has took some of ‘em ridin’ in it. They ain’t much roads that a orter can run on in these parts, but he ain’t got much practice yet, so he takes ‘em ‘round on the level spots, and they’re just plumb crazy. That is, some of ‘em.”

And so, when La Belle and I came upon a trim young fellow, just alighting from his “orter,” out on a level spot in the “big road,” it was as easy as a b c to guess who he was. He was good looking. Awfully good looking. I could easily see why some of the girls were “plumb crazy” about him.

“No,” he said, in reply to my inquiry. “No, I don’t believe in it. I’m against it because the women themselves do not want it. The woman of today is too excitable, and too frail, to take upon herself this additional burden. She has the good sense to know it and just doesn’t want it. Being a physician, I know what I am talking about. Why, I should greatly fear for the reason of all my women patients if the vote were given to them. It would render them hysterical and temporarily unbalanced- perhaps, in many cases, it would not be temporary. Too excitable. Entirely too excitable. Extremely dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

“No. I do not wish to discuss it. Just put me down, please, as one opposed. Good-by.”

“Well, of all the airy dismissals.” I said to La Belle as we watched him disappear in his “orter.”

But La Belle and I didn’t mind dismissals. In fact, we should be lonesome without a certain number of rebuffs. And the “doctor feller” hadn’t even ruffled our feelings.

Our next “prospect” wore his hat on the back of his head. His face was round and ruddy, and one could see from the way he held the lines he knew as well as anybody that he drove a pair of mighty good looking horses. “He’ll probably want to talk ‘swap,’” I thought, “just to let me know that he wouldn’t trade off either of his precious possessions. Not even for La Belle.”

He drew up as I approached and began the conversation even before I had time to say good-morning. “It won’t do no good to talk to me,” he said, “I’m plumb agin women votin’. Reckon I’d jist nacherly take the rag off the bush if they was to try it. My main reason is because women, theirselves, don’t want it. They ain’t fitted fer it. They’s too ca’m – and they know it. A heap too ca’m to take to it. Why, I don’t reckon they’d ever in the world git worked up to the pint like some of us fellers does on ‘lection day. You can do a heap better job if you git a right smart worked up, so’s you can whoop and yell and throw your hat up in the air and cavort around a little. It’s shore a help and I’m afeerd that the women wouldn’t never git worked up to it. No-sir! They’re too ca’m. I heap too ca’m to make a good job of it.”

La Belle and I were thoughtful as we wended our way onward. And quiet. Very quiet. Two vehement gentlemen had vehemently declared certain things that seemed to back away from each other, though both were supposed to be the great unanswerable argument against one certain thing. It was puzzling.

We crossed a ravine and climbed another hill, still puzzled, and came upon the man who never hurried. He told us that, himself, therefore it must be true- and he looked the part. His chair was tilted back against the sunny side of his oak-board shack. He wore a contented smile, a pair of overalls and a small round hat.

“I’m as solid ag’in it as the rock of Jibberalter,” was his reply to the question I never failed to ask. “For why? Jist because the good women will all stay at home on election day and the bad ones will all rush pell mell to the polls and sell their votes to them there city grafters. No-sir! No women votin’ fer me. Hey, Sam,” he called to a neighbor who was passing. “Stop a minute and tell the votin’ woman why you ain’t fer it.”

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“Shore,” said Sam. “Reckon I don’t keer a cuss who knows that I’m ag’in it, and I don’t aim to hesitate when I’m axed why. The Bible says to always be ready to give a reason fer the hope that you’re a-wishin’ fer, er somethin’ like that, so it’s jist this here way with me: I don’t know how about them bad city women, but I’ve thought a heap and have figured that maybe they won’t vote at all. But I know that everywheres the good ones will. They’ll all be so cussed conscientious about it that they cain’t git to the polls fast enough. And I don’t want my women folks to git no sich habit.”

“Why-why,” stammered the man who never hurried. And I left them to fix things up between themselves.

Uncle Josh Grainger “‘lowed” that it was “jist a fad-this idee of women votin’. Jist because,” said he, “the is a few of ‘em votin’ in Chiny or Coloraydo or summers else, they is a few more in this country that is gittin’ idees about it theirselves. It’s jist gittin’ to be the style, is all. Most women would ruther be dead than to be out of style, and they’re all plumb hawg wild about fads.”

But Uncle John’s nearest neighbor was “plumb sartin’” that women wouldn’t vote, even if they had a chance, because “they’d too much ginniwine sense to swoller any sich new-fangled fad as women votin’. If they is anything that women hates,” he declared with much emphasis, “it’s them fool things called fads.

“It belongs to a man’s rellum,” he said, “Votin’ does. And thank the Lord women is too old-fashioned to git into a man’s rellum. They is men’s work and they is women’s work,” he continued piously, looking out where his wife and daughter were grubbing out a new field. “The Bible plainly p’ints it out, and I don’t aim to have my women folks a-tres-passin’.”

“This day has been a regular information bureau, La Belle,” I said, as we journeyed onward. “Let us see. It would seem, up to the present time, that women ought not to have the vote for the following good and sufficient reasons:

“They are too excitable; also, they are too ‘ca’m;’ the good women will all stay at home on election day: the good women will all rush out and vote on election day; woman suffrage is just a fad and women are crazy about fads and about getting into a man’s place; also, because women hate fads and refuse to trespass into a man’s ‘rellum.’ Seems to me, La Belle,” I said, “the it reminds me of something-an old story I used the hear.”

And all that night I dreamed about the Kilkenny cats, so antagonistic to each other that both were destroyed without even a grease spot to mark their graves.

 

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