Speech before U.S. House Judiciary Committee, March 8, 1884 in “Congressional Hearings and Reports of 1884,” The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol IV. Susan B. Anthony & Ida Husted Harper, eds.
Publisher. Susan B. Anthony, 1902
Annotation: This speech in 1884 was one of the earliest public orations on record by a Kentucky woman before a legislative (male only) group. Mary Barr Clay had also spoken in public as a delegate to a convention of the Michigan Prohibition Party where she was one of only two women present. This speech was collected from the group of National Woman Suffrage Association lobbyists to accompanied Susan B. Anthony to address the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Clay’s basic premise in the speech transcribed below was that women in the U.S. deserved to be included the republican tradition of equal rights. Women, like men, were born into natural state of freedom, i.e., with unalienable rights to liberty. Without the right to vote or serve on a jury of peers, women then were the civil and “political slaves” of men. She also emphasized the positive components of women’s shared experiences as a marginalized group — arguing that men need women to participate in politics because women have a different perspective that ls needed “for all that is just, merciful and good in government.”
Mrs. Mary B. Clay (Ky.): We do not come here to plead as individual women with individual men, but as a subject class with a ruling class; nor do we come as suffering individuals — though God knows some of us might do that with propriety — but as the suffering millions whom we represent…
We are born of the same parents as men and raised in the same family. We are possessed of the same loves and animosities as our brothers, and we inherit equally with them the substance of our fathers. So long as we are minors the Government treats us as equals, but when we come of age, when we are capable of feeling and knowing the difference, the boy becomes a free human being, while the girl remains a slave, a subject, and no moral heroism, no self-sacrificing patriotism, ever entitles her to. her freedom. Is this just? Is it not, indeed, barbarous?
If American men inte.nd always to keep women slaves, political and civil, they make a great mistake when they let the girl, with the boy, learn the alphabet, for no educated class will long remain in subjection. We are told that men protect us; that they are generous, even chivalric in their protection. Gentlemen, if your protectors were women, and they took all your property and your children, and paid you half as much for your work, though as well or better done than your own, would you think much of the chivalry which permitted you to sit in street-cars and picked up your pocket handkerchief?
Each one of you is responsible for these laws continuing as they are, and you can not avoid responsibility by saying that you did not help to make them. Great injustice is done us in the fact that we are not tried by a jury of our peers. Great injustice is done us everywhere by our not having a vote. Human nature is naturally selfish, and, as woman is deprived of the ballot, and powerless either to punish or reward, man, loving his bread and butter more than justice, will ever thrust her aside for the benefit of those who can help him, those with ballots in their hands.
….All that is good in the home, and largely the highest principles taught in your youth, were given by your mothers. How then it is possible for you to return this love and interest, as soon as you are capable of acting, by riveting the chains which hold them still slaves, politically and civilly?
You need woman’s presence and counsel in legislation as much as she needs yours in the home; you need the association and influence of woman; her intuitive knowledge of men’s character and the effect of measures upon the household; you need her for the economical details of public work; you need her sense of justice and moral courage to execute the laws; you need her for all that is just, merciful and good in government. But above all, women themselves need the ballot for self protection, and as we are by common right and the laws of God free human beings, we demand that you no longer hold us your subjects — your political slaves.