“The one element lacking in our government is women.”

–Lavinia Goodell, October 1878

 Lavinia Goodell was a lifelong proponent of women’s suffrage. She said she could not remember a time when she did not believe women should have the right to vote.     

Lavinia frequently wrote and spoke on the suffrage question. Some of her writings may be found here. In October of 1878, she gave a one hour speech at a gathering of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association  in Providence, Rhode Island. Although we have not found a manuscript of Lavinia’s full remarks, the Providence Journal ran a lengthy article praising the speech:

Miss Goodell’s commenced by remarking that we did not talk of things now as we did twenty-five years ago. Then we said “woman’s rights; “now we say merely “woman suffrage.” 

Twenty-five years ago a Woman’s Congress, such as was held last week, would have been sneered at, ridiculed and perhaps mobbed; today a respectful consideration, at least, was accorded. The speaker had been brought up in a school which prepared her mind to accept this question.

When women first came to the platform, thirty years ago, they were pointed at with the finger of scorn, and called unwomanly. Those were brave women, and they came to the front in the cause of humanity; these, too, were the women who came forward today and wanted to vote. The speaker rehearsed some of the old time arguments that were brought against women taking part in the more active duties and labors of life. But, she said, years have rolled on. The question of equal pay for equal work is rapidly adjusting itself. Women were now settled as pastors, were acting as physicians, as editors, as lawyers, and still the world moved on, and men and women were still married and given to marriage notwithstanding all that had been said about women’s incompetency to do these things. If the governing power gets its just right from the consent of the governed, then women should be taken into consideration. The Declaration of Independence, it would have to be conceded, included women as well as men.

Miss Goodell presented arguments against the plea against woman suffrage, founded on the fact that women do not bear arms. She then remarked that the one element lacking in our government was women. Womanly influence was needed in the prisons and reformatory institutions, which now seldom accomplished any good. Motherly hearts were needed to reform laws and to guide the young criminals into right paths. She wished she had a thousand votes that she might do good in this matter, and that she might close up the liquor saloons, which lured the prisoners again into vice after they had been allowed their freedom.

It was useless for the women to ask the men to legislate for these reforms, as her own experience in attempting to get a prohibitory law, a law with reference to boys in prison, and get other legislation enacted, had forcibly taught her.

We were often told that women’s sphere was home, and that her duties there would take all her time and attention. This was not true. A woman could never do so well in her household when she had no thought beyond it, as when her heart and mind were broad and large enough to take in the great questions of the hour. A general idea seemed to pervade the masculine mind that women spent the whole of their time in rocking cradles, washing dishes and darning stockings. This was not true either. Some women spend a good deal of their time, however, keeping up with the fashions, and of all the devices of the adversary none was more utterly absurd and yet successful than to make her take her dresses to pieces and put them together again every six months. Yet this was a thing that was being done, by conscientious Christian women who thoroughly believed they were doing God service; and there were the “home duties” that would suffer if women had the ballot. For her own part the speaker would greatly rejoice to see the time when the questions of the day would so engage the attention of women that as the latest pin back would not be considered of so great importance. Another argument brought against woman suffrage was that woman would lose her charms if she came into politics. This was just as absurd. It was so said when women commenced to come out to lecture and to practice at medicine and at the bar; but still the saying had not proved true by any means. As long as the speaker could remember, there had always been a feeling among men that woman would lose her charms when she undertook to do anything they did not want her to do. The argument that good women would stay away from the polls and only man vote, even if woman suffrage was granted, was an assumption too absurd for serious consideration. Women who could go to the liquor stores and pray, and to the polls and exhort their husbands to vote for prohibition, would not be afraid to go to the polls, when they have a ballot in their own hands.

The speaker did not agree to the argument that women did not want the ballot. On the contrary, she believed that most thoughtful women did want the right of voting. In conclusion, she called on her hearers to break the fetters of time … and cease to serve the world, the flesh, and the other partner in the same concern. Then, she said, you will find time to serve the Master and to develop higher types of character.

Sources consulted: Woman’s Journal, Vol. 9, No. 43 (October 23, 1878); Providence Journal, October 19, 1878.

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