“The idea that the husband is the political representative of his wife is a fallacious one.”

Lavinia Goodell, May 1871

In another of her series of articles refuting commonly held beliefs about why women should not be allowed to vote, Lavinia Goodell rebutted the notions that there was no need for women to have the franchise because men already represented their views and that allowing women to participate in political decisions would create dissension in the home. She began:

As to the notion that man represents woman, Lavinia said that this was just another theory “added to the already too numerous ones for lowering the standard of marriage” since women would then be tempted to wed, not just to gain a home, social position, or financial support, “but for the object of securing a representative in the government.” She found the idea that a husband is, or can be, the political representative of his wife a fallacious one since representatives are chosen for a short term of office to insure obedience to the will of the people he represents. Marriage, she said, was a different institution altogether:

Since it will scarcely be considered practicable for a woman to change husbands every year, or every few years, it will be perceived that the fundamental principles of matrimony and of representation are totally different from and inconsistent with each other.

Lavinia said that while it may have been the case in the past that women trusted that their husbands would represent them wisely in political decisions, due to the progress of education and women’s increasing interest in public questions, “it is impossible that she should longer be satisfied with the neutral position which she has hitherto held.”

As to the belief that allowing women to vote would create conflict in the home, Lavinia noted that the same objection might be lodged, with much greater force, against women having any religious opinions since “upon no other subject are people so sensitive as upon their religion.” She said although it would seem that a divergence of opinion on religion would be a most dangerous element to introduce into a family, that had not proven to be the case:

Presbyterian husbands and episcopal wives have not torn each other’s hair, nor have Methodist husbands and Congregational wives dug out each other’s eyes. Even believers and unbelievers have lived together in peace and harmony. Reasoning from analogy, Democratic husbands and republican wives will neither make each other miserable nor disorganize society. If, as time passes, and women become more intelligent, and more deeply interested in the important movements of the day, and yet are granted no power in guiding them excepting indirectly by influencing their husbands, difficulty may be apprehended. two opinions with but one vote would clash, while two opinions with two votes would go their ways in peace.

Read the entire piece here.

Sources consulted: “Womanhood Suffrage No. 5. A Review of Objections,” written by Lavinia Goodell. Published in Woman’s Journal, Vol. 2, no. 21, May 27, 1871, seq. 168, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

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