Three Speeches by Susan B. Anthony at Columbian Exposition, 1893
"Organization among Women as an Instrument in Promoting the Interests of Political Liberty": Speech by Susan B. Anthony to the World's Congress of Representative Women
20 May 1893
The program of the World's Congress Auxiliary at the World's Columbian Exposition opened on 15 May 1893 with a seven-day World's Congress of Representative Women. Drawing some of the largest audiences of any congress and crowding the new Art Memorial Building (now the Art Institute), the program provided hundreds of simultaneous sessions, many of them focused on a particular organization or profession of women. On the evening of May 20, Anthony addressed one session of what was called a general congress on the topic of organization. She shared the stage with several other speakers, all addressing the subject from different vantage points. Three thousand people found space in Washington Hall to hear her.
As published in the
Selected Papers, Volume 5
©2009 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
During the week of the presentation of the work of the various organizations that have been represented in this Congress, organizations from the Old World and the New, I have been curious to learn that "all roads lead to Rome." That is to say, it doesn't matter whether an organization is called the King's Daughters,1 the partisan, or non-partisan Woman's Christian Temperance Union; whether it is called a Portia club, a sorosis, or a federation of clubs; a missionary society to reclaim the heathen of the Fiji Islands or an educational association; whether it is of the Jewish, of the Catholic, of the Protestant, of the Liberal, or the other sort of religion; somehow or other, everybody and every association that has spoken or reported has closed up with the statement that what they are waiting for is the ballot.
Another curious thing I have noted as I have listened to their reports is, that one association, the Federation of Clubs,2 which is only three years old—not old enough to vote yet—can count forty thousand members;3 that the Relief Associations of Utah, which is perhaps a quarter of a century old, reports thirty thousand members; that the Christian Temperance Union, which is yet but a little past its second decade, can report a half- million members; that the King's Daughters, only seven years old, can report two hundred thousand members; and so I might run through with all the organizations of the Old and the New worlds that have reported here, and I will venture to say that there is scarcely one of them that does not report a larger number than the Woman's Suffrage Association of the United States. Now why is it? I will tell you frankly and honestly that all we number is seven thousand. This is the number that reported this year to the national organization, which is an association composed of all the State societies and local societies that are united and that pay a little money. These other societies have a fee, or I suppose they do. But I want to say that all this great national suffrage movement that has made this immense revolution in this country, has done the work of agitation, and has kept up what Daniel Webster called it, "the rumpus of agitation,"4 probably represents a smaller number of women, and especially represents a smaller amount of money to carry on its work than any other organization under the shadow of the American flag. We have known how to make the noise, you see, and how to bring the whole world to our organization in spirit, if not in person. I would philosophize on the reason why. It is because women have been taught always to work for something else than their own personal freedom; and the hardest thing in the world is to organize women for the one purpose of securing their political liberty and political equality. It is easy to congregate thousands and hundreds of thousands of women to try to stay the tide of intemperance; to try to elevate the morals of a community; to try to educate the masses of people; to try to relieve the poverty of the miserable; but it is a very difficult thing to make the masses of women, any more than the masses of men, congregate in great numbers to study the cause of all the ills of which they complain, and to organize for the removal of that cause; to organize for the establishment of great principles that will be sure to bring about the results which they so much desire.
Now, friends, I can tell you a great deal about what the lack of organization means, and what a hindrance this lack has been in the great movement with which I have been associated. If we could have gone to our State legislatures saying that we had numbered in our association the vast masses of the women; five millions of women in these United States who sympathize with us in spirit, and who wish we might gain the end; if we could have demonstrated to the Congress of the United States, and to the legislatures of the respective States, that we had a thorough organization back of our demand, we should have had all our demands granted long ago, and each one of the organizations which have come up here to talk at this great congress of women would not have been compelled to climax its report with the statement that they are without the ballot, and with the assertion that they need only the ballot to help them carry their work on to greater success. I want every single woman of every single organization of the Old World and the New that has thus reported, and that does feel that enfranchisement, that political equality is the underlying need to carry forward all the great enterprises of the world—I want each one to register herself, so that I can report them all at Washington next winter, and we will carry every demand which you want.
I want you to remember that Mrs. Rachel Foster Avery is to make the closing speech, and that this meeting is not adjourned; and I want all of you to bear in mind that the two young women who have made this Congress possible are my children. They were educated in this very small company, this small organization of which I am a member; and I am proud to say that that organization has graduated a great many first-class students, and among them none so near to my heart as May Wright Sewall and Rachel Foster Avery.5
May Wright Sewall, ed., World's Congress of Representative Women (Chicago and New York, 1894), 463–66.
Prepared for the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 5, Their Place Inside the Body-Politic, 1887 to 1895, ed. Ann D. Gordon (New Brunswick, N.J., 2009). ©Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
1 The International Order of the King's Daughters organized in 1886, incorporated in 1888, and added "and Sons" to its name in 1891. Interdenominational from the start, the order encouraged Christians to lend a hand through social services of each group's selection, such as day nurseries, homes for the aged, women's exchanges, and hospitals. (Sara F. Gugle, History of the International Order of the King's Daughters and Sons, Year 1886 to 1930 [Columbus, Ohio, 1931].)
2 The General Federation of Women's Clubs organized in March 1890 at the instigation of Sorosis, the New York City club, to bring clubs into communication and mutual assistance. (Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage [Rochester, 1902], 4:1050; Karen J. Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868–1914 [New York, 1980], 93–115.)
3 The National Woman's Relief Society was and is part of the central structure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, providing women with positions of leadership, albeit subordinate to the priesthood, and entrusting to them care of the needy and preparation against want. In the 1880s and 1890s, leaders of the Relief Society also led the effort to defend and regain woman suffrage in Utah. (Anthony and Harper, History, 4:1052; Cheryll Lynn May, "Charitable Sisters," in Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah, ed. Claudia L. Bushman, new ed. [Logan, Utah, 1997], 224–39; Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism [New York, 1992], 3:1190–1202.)
4 The phrase, reported incorrectly here, originated in an exchange between Daniel Webster and Wendell Phillips in 1852: when Webster dismissed the rub-a-dub of the abolitionist press, Phillips embraced the phrase, referring to "a 'rub-a-dub of agitation,' as ours is contemptuously styled." (Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters [1863; reprint, Boston, 1891], 36.)
5 May Sewall chaired the congress's committee on organization, and Rachel Avery was secretary to the committee.