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Beauty and The Beast, and Tales From Home
by Bayard Taylor
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When the count was made, our party was far ahead. Up to this time, I think, the men of both parties had believed that only a few women, here and there, would avail themselves of their new right—but they were roundly mistaken. Although only ten per cent. of the female voters went to the polls, yet three-fourths of them voted the Republican ticket, which increased the majority of that party, in the State, about eleven thousand.

It was amazing what an effect followed this result. The whole country would have rung with it, had we not been in the midst of war. Mr. Wrangle declared that he had always been an earnest advocate of the women's cause. Governor Battle, in his next message, congratulated the State on the signal success of the experiment, and the Democratic masses, smarting under their defeat, cursed their leaders for not having been sharp enough to conciliate the new element. The leaders themselves said nothing, and in a few weeks the rank and file recovered their cheerfulness. Even Mrs. Whiston, with all her experience, was a little puzzled by this change of mood. Alas! she was far from guessing the correct explanation.

It was a great comfort to me that Mrs. Whiston was also elected to the Legislature. My husband had just then established his manufactory of patent self-scouring knife-blades (now so celebrated), and could not leave; so I was obliged to go up to Gaston all alone, when the session commenced. There were but four of us Assemblywomen, and although the men treated us with great courtesy, I was that nervous that I seemed to detect either commiseration or satire everywhere. Before I had even taken my seat, I was addressed by fifteen or twenty different gentlemen, either great capitalists, or great engineers, or distinguished lawyers, all interested in various schemes for developing the resources of our State by new railroads, canals or ferries. I then began to comprehend the grandeur of the Legislator's office. My voice could assist in making possible these magnificent improvements, and I promised it to all. Mr. Filch, President of the Shinnebaug and Great Western Consolidated Line, was so delighted with my appreciation of his plan for reducing the freight on grain from Nebraska, that he must have written extravagant accounts of me to his wife; for she sent me, at Christmas, one of the loveliest shawls I ever beheld.

I had frequently made short addresses at our public meetings, and was considered to have my share of self-possession; but I never could accustom myself to the keen, disturbing, irritating atmosphere of the Legislature. Everybody seemed wide-awake and aggressive, instead of pleasantly receptive; there were so many "points of order," and what not; such complete disregard, among the members, of each other's feelings; and, finally—a thing I could never understand, indeed—such inconsistency and lack of principle in the intercourse of the two parties. How could I feel assured of their sincerity, when I saw the very men chatting and laughing together, in the lobbies, ten minutes after they had been facing each other like angry lions in the debate?

Mrs. Whiston, also, had her trials of the same character. Nothing ever annoyed her so much as a little blunder she made, the week after the opening of the session. I have not yet mentioned that there was already a universal dissatisfaction among the women, on account of their being liable to military service. The war seemed to have hardly begun, as yet, and conscription was already talked about; the women, therefore, clamored for an exemption on account of sex. Although we all felt that this was a retrograde movement, the pressure was so great that we yielded. Mrs. Whiston, reluctant at first, no sooner made up her mind that the thing must be done, than she furthered it with all her might. After several attempts to introduce a bill, which were always cut off by some "point of order," she unhappily lost her usual patience.

I don't know that I can exactly explain how it happened, for what the men call "parliamentary tactics" always made me fidgetty. But the "previous question" turned up (as it always seemed to me to do, at the wrong time), and cut her off before she had spoken ten words.

"Mr. Speaker!" she protested; "there is no question, previous to this, which needs the consideration of the house! This is first in importance, and demands your immediate—"

"Order! order!" came from all parts of the house.

"I am in order—the right is always in order!" she exclaimed, getting more and more excited. "We women are not going to be contented with the mere show of our rights on this floor; we demand the substance—"

And so she was going on, when there arose the most fearful tumult. The upshot of it was, that the speaker ordered the sergeant-at-arms to remove Mrs. Whiston; one of the members, more considerate, walked across the floor to her, and tried to explain in what manner she was violating the rules; and in another minute she sat down, so white, rigid and silent that it made me shake in my shoes to look at her.

"I have made a great blunder," she said to me, that evening; "and it may set us back a little; but I shall recover my ground." Which she did, I assure you. She cultivated the acquaintance of the leaders of both parties, studied their tactics, and quietly waited for a good opportunity to bring in her bill. At first, we thought it would pass; but one of the male members presently came out with a speech, which dashed our hopes to nothing. He simply took the ground that there must be absolute equality in citizenship; that every privilege was balanced by a duty, every trust accompanied with its responsibility. He had no objection to women possessing equal rights with men—but to give them all civil rights and exempt them from the most important obligation of service, would be, he said, to create a privileged class—a female aristocracy. It was contrary to the spirit of our institutions. The women had complained of taxation without representation; did they now claim the latter without the former?

The people never look more than half-way into a subject, and so this speech was immensely popular. I will not give Mrs. Whiston's admirable reply; for Mr. Spelter informs me that you will not accept an article, if it should make more than seventy or eighty printed pages. It is enough that our bill was "killed," as the men say (a brutal word); and the women of the State laid the blame of the failure upon us. You may imagine that we suffered under this injustice; but worse was to come.

As I said before, a great many things came up in the Legislature which I did not understand—and, to be candid, did not care to understand. But I was obliged to vote, nevertheless, and in this extremity I depended pretty much on Mrs. Whiston's counsel. We could not well go to the private nightly confabs of the members—indeed, they did not invite us; and when it came to the issue of State bonds, bank charters, and such like, I felt as if I were blundering along in the dark.

One day, I received, to my immense astonishment, a hundred and more letters, all from the northern part of our county. I opened them, one after the other, and—well, it is beyond my power to tell you what varieties of indignation and abuse fell upon me. It seems that I had voted against the bill to charter the Mendip Extension Railroad Co. I had been obliged to vote for or against so many things, that it was impossible to recollect them all. However, I procured the printed journal, and, sure enough! there, among the nays, was "Strongitharm." It was not a week after that—and I was still suffering in mind and body—when the newspapers in the interest of the Rancocus and Great Western Consolidated accused me (not by name, but the same thing—you know how they do it) of being guilty of taking bribes. Mr. Filch, of the Shinnebaug Consolidated had explained to me so beautifully the superior advantages of his line, that the Directors of the other company took their revenge in this vile, abominable way.

That was only the beginning of my trouble. What with these slanders and longing for the quiet of our dear old home at Burroak, I was almost sick; yet the Legislature sat on, and sat on, until I was nearly desperate. Then one morning came a despatch from my husband: "Melissa is drafted—come home!" How I made the journey I can't tell; I was in an agony of apprehension, and when Mr. Strongitharm and Melissa both met me at the Burroak Station, well and smiling, I fell into a hysterical fit of laughing and crying, for the first time in my life.

Billy Brandon, who was engaged to Melissa, came forward and took her place like a man; he fought none the worse, let me tell you, because he represented a woman, and (I may as well say it now) he came home a Captain, without a left arm—but Melissa seems to have three arms for his sake.

You have no idea what a confusion and lamentation there was all over the State. A good many women were drafted, and those who could neither get substitutes for love nor money, were marched to Gaston, where the recruiting Colonel was considerate enough to give them a separate camp. In a week, however, the word came from Washington that the Army Regulations of the United States did not admit of their being received; and they came home blessing Mr. Stanton. This was the end of drafting women in our State.

Nevertheless, the excitement created by the draft did not subside at once. It was seized upon by the Democratic leaders, as part of a plan already concocted, which they then proceeded to set in operation. It succeeded only too well, and I don't know when we shall ever see the end of it.

We had more friends among the Republicans at the start, because all the original Abolitionists in the State came into that party in 1860. Our success had been so rapid and unforeseen that the Democrats continued their opposition even after female suffrage was an accomplished fact; but the leaders were shrewd enough to see that another such election as the last would ruin their party in the State. So their trains were quietly laid, and the match was not applied until all Atlantic was ringing with the protestations of the unwilling conscripts and the laments of their families. Then came, like three claps of thunder in one, sympathy for the women, acquiescence in their rights, and invitations to them, everywhere, to take part in the Democratic caucuses and conventions. Most of the prominent women of the State were deluded for a time by this manifestation, and acted with the party for the sake of the sex.

I had no idea, however, what the practical result of this movement would be, until, a few weeks before election, I was calling upon Mrs. Buckwalter, and happened to express my belief that we Republicans were going to carry the State again, by a large majority.

"I am very glad of it," said she, with an expression of great relief, "because then my vote will not be needed."

"Why!" I exclaimed; "you won't decline to vote, surely?"

"Worse than that," she answered, "I am afraid I shall have to vote with the other side."

Now as I knew her to be a good Republican, I could scarcely believe my ears. She blushed, I must admit, when she saw my astonished face.

"I'm so used to Bridget, you know," she continued, "and good girls are so very hard to find, nowadays. She has as good as said that she won't stay a day later than election, if I don't vote for HER candidate; and what am I to do?"

"Do without!" I said shortly, getting up in my indignation.

"Yes, that's very well for you, with your wonderful PHYSIQUE," said Mrs. Buckwalter, quietly, "but think of me with my neuralgia, and the pain in my back! It would be a dreadful blow, if I should lose Bridget."

Well—what with torch-light processions, and meetings on both sides, Burroak was in such a state of excitement when election came, that most of the ladies of my acquaintance were almost afraid to go to the polls. I tried to get them out during the first hours after sunrise, when I went myself, but in vain. Even that early, I heard things that made me shudder. Those who came later, went home resolved to give up their rights rather than undergo a second experience of rowdyism. But it was a jubilee for the servant girls. Mrs. Buckwalter didn't gain much by her apostasy, for Bridget came home singing "The Wearing of the Green," and let fall a whole tray full of the best china before she could be got to bed.

Burroak, which, the year before, had a Republican majority of three hundred, now went for the Democrats by more than five hundred. The same party carried the State, electing their Governor by near twenty thousand. The Republicans would now have gladly repealed the bill giving us equal rights, but they were in a minority, and the Democrats refused to co-operate. Mrs. Whiston, who still remained loyal to our side, collected information from all parts of the State, from which it appeared that four-fifths of all the female citizens had voted the Democratic ticket. In New Lisbon, our great manufacturing city, with its population of nearly one hundred thousand, the party gained three thousand votes, while the accessions to the Republican ranks were only about four hundred.

Mrs. Whiston barely escaped being defeated; her majority was reduced from seven hundred to forty-three. Eleven Democratic Assemblywomen and four Senatoresses were chosen, however, so that she had the consolation of knowing that her sex had gained, although her party had lost. She was still in good spirits: "It will all right itself in time," she said.

You will readily guess, after what I have related, that I was not only not re-elected to the Legislature, but that I was not even a candidate. I could have born the outrageous attacks of the opposite party; but the treatment I had received from my own "constituents" (I shall always hate the word) gave me a new revelation of the actual character of political life. I have not mentioned half the worries and annoyances to which I was subjected—the endless, endless letters and applications for office, or for my influence in some way—the abuse and threats when I could not possibly do what was desired—the exhibitions of selfishness and disregard of all great and noble principles—and finally, the shameless advances which were made by what men call "the lobby," to secure my vote for this, that, and the other thing.

Why, it fairly made my hair stand on end to hear the stories which the pleasant men, whom I thought so grandly interested in schemes for "the material development of the country," told about each other. Mrs. Filch's shawl began to burn my shoulders before I had worn it a half a dozen times. (I have since given it to Melissa, as a wedding-present).

Before the next session was half over, I was doubly glad of being safe at home. Mrs. Whiston supposed that the increased female representation would give her more support, and indeed it seemed so, at first. But after her speech on the Bounty bill, only two of the fifteen Democratic women would even speak to her, and all hope of concord of action in the interests of women was at an end. We read the debates, and my blood fairly boiled when I found what taunts and sneers, and epithets she was forced to endure. I wondered how she could sit still under them.

To make her position worse, the adjoining seat was occupied by an Irishwoman, who had been elected by the votes of the laborers on the new Albemarle Extension, in the neighborhood of which she kept a grocery store. Nelly Kirkpatrick was a great, red-haired giant of a woman, very illiterate, but with some native wit, and good-hearted enough, I am told, when she was in her right mind. She always followed the lead of Mr. Gorham (whose name, you see, came before hers in the call), and a look from him was generally sufficient to quiet her when she was inclined to be noisy.

When the resolutions declaring the war a failure were introduced, the party excitement ran higher than ever. The "lunch-room" (as they called it—I never went there but once, the title having deceived me) in the basement-story of the State House was crowded during the discussion, and every time Nelly Kirkpatrick came up, her face was a shade deeper red. Mr. Gorham's nods and winks were of no avail—speak she would, and speak she did, not so very incoherently, after all, but very abusively. To be sure, you would never have guessed it, if you had read the quiet and dignified report in the papers on her side, the next day.

THEN Mrs. Whiston's patience broke down. "Mr. Speaker," she exclaimed, starting to her feet, "I protest against this House being compelled to listen to such a tirade as has just been delivered. Are we to be disgraced before the world—"

"Oh, hoo! Disgraced, is it?" yelled Nelly Kirkpatrick, violently interrupting her, "and me as dacent a woman as ever she was, or ever will be! Disgraced, hey? Oh, I'll larn her what it is to blaggard her betters!"

And before anybody could imagine what was coming, she pounced upon Mrs. Whiston, with one jerk ripped off her skirt (it was silk, not serge, this time), seized her by the hair, and gave her head such a twist backwards, that the chignon not only came off in her hands, but as her victim opened her mouth too widely in the struggle, the springs of her false teeth were sprung the wrong way, and the entire set flew out and rattled upon the floor.

Of course there were cries of "Order! Order!" and the nearest members—Mr. Gorham among the first—rushed in; but the mischief was done. Mrs. Whiston had always urged upon our minds the necessity of not only being dressed according to the popular fashion, but also as elegantly and becomingly as possible. "If we adopt the Bloomers," she said, "we shall never get our rights, while the world stands. Where it is necessary to influence men, we must be wholly and truly WOMEN, not semi-sexed nondescripts; we must employ every charm Nature gives us and Fashion adds, not hide them under a forked extinguisher!" I give her very words to show you her way of looking at things. Well, now imagine this elegant woman, looking not a day over forty, though she was—but no, I have no right to tell it,—imagine her, I say, with only her scanty natural hair hanging over her ears, her mouth dreadfully fallen in, her skirt torn off, all in open day, before the eyes of a hundred and fifty members (and I am told they laughed immensely, in spite of the scandal that it was), and, if you are human beings, you will feel that she must have been wounded to the very heart.

There was a motion made to expel Nelly Kirkpatrick, and perhaps it might have succeeded—but the railroad hands, all over the State, made a heroine of her, and her party was afraid of losing five or six thousand votes; so only a mild censure was pronounced. But there was no end to the caricatures, and songs, and all sorts of ribaldry, about the occurrence; and even our party said that, although Mrs. Whiston was really and truly a martyr, yet the circumstance was an immense damage to THEM. When she heard THAT, I believe it killed her. She resigned her seat, went home, never appeared again in public, and died within a year. "My dear friend," she wrote to me, not a month before her death, "I have been trying all my life to get a thorough knowledge of the masculine nature, but my woman's plummet will not reach to the bottom of that chaotic pit of selfishness and principle, expedience and firmness for the right, brutality and tenderness, gullibility and devilish shrewdness, which I have tried to sound. Only one thing is clear—we women cannot do without what we have sometimes, alas! sneered at as THE CHIVELRY OF THE SEX. The question of our rights is as clear to me as ever; but we must find a plan to get them without being forced to share, or even to SEE, all that men do in their political lives. We have only beheld some Principle riding aloft, not the mud through which her chariot wheels are dragged. The ways must be swept before we can walk in them—but how and by whom shall this be done?"

For my part, I can't say, and I wish somebody would tell me.

Well—after seeing our State, which we used to be proud of, delivered over for two years to the control of a party whose policy was so repugnant to all our feelings of loyalty, we endeavored to procure, at least a qualification of intelligence for voters. Of course, we didn't get it: the exclusion from suffrage of all who were unable to read and write might have turned the scales again, and given us the State. After our boys came back from the war, we might have succeeded—but their votes were over-balanced by those of the servant-girls, every one of whom turned out, making a whole holiday of the election.

I thought, last fall, that my Maria, who is German, would have voted with us. I stayed at home and did the work myself, on purpose that she might hear the oration of Carl Schurz; but old Hammer, who keeps the lager-beer saloon in the upper end of Burroak, gave a supper and a dance to all the German girls and their beaux, after the meeting, and so managed to secure nine out of ten of their votes for Seymour. Maria proposed going away a week before election, up into Decatur County, where, she said, some relations, just arrived from Bavaria, had settled. I was obliged to let her go, or lose her altogether, but I was comforted by the thought that if her vote were lost for Grant, at least it could not be given to Seymour. After the election was over, and Decatur County, which we had always managed to carry hitherto, went against us, the whole matter was explained. About five hundred girls, we were informed, had been COLONIZED in private families, as extra help, for a fortnight, and of course Maria was one of them. (I have looked at the addresses of her letters, ever since, and not one has she sent to Decatur). A committee has been appointed, and a report made on the election frauds in our State, and we shall see, I suppose, whether any help comes of it.

Now, you mustn't think, from all this, that I am an apostate from the principle of Women's Rights. No, indeed! All the trouble we have had, as I think will be evident to the millions who read my words, comes from THE MEN. They have not only made politics their monopoly, but they have fashioned it into a tremendous, elaborate system, in which there is precious little of either principle or honesty. We can and we MUST "run the machine" (to use another of their vulgar expressions) with them, until we get a chance to knock off the useless wheels and thingumbobs, and scour the whole concern, inside and out. Perhaps the men themselves would like to do this, if they only knew how: men have so little talent for cleaning-up. But when it comes to making a litter, they're at home, let me tell you!

Meanwhile, in our State, things are about as bad as they can be. The women are drawn for juries, the same as ever, but (except in Whittletown, where they have a separate room,) no respectable woman goes, and the fines come heavy on some of us. The demoralization among our help is so bad, that we are going to try Co-operative Housekeeping. If that don't succeed, I shall get brother Samuel, who lives in California, to send me two Chinamen, one for cook and chamber-boy, and one as nurse for Melissa. I console myself with thinking that the end of it all must be good, since the principle is right: but, dear me! I had no idea that I should be called upon to go through such tribulation.

Now the reason I write—and I suppose I must hurry to the end, or you will be out of all patience—is to beg, and insist, and implore my sisters in other States to lose no more time, but at once to coax, or melt, or threaten the men into accepting their claims. We are now so isolated in our rights that we are obliged to bear more than our proper share of the burden. When the States around us shall be so far advanced, there will be a chance for new stateswomen to spring up, and fill Mrs. Whiston's place, and we shall then, I firmly believe, devise a plan to cleanse the great Augean stable of politics by turning into it the river of female honesty and intelligence and morality. But they must do this, somehow or other, without letting the river be tainted by the heaps of pestilent offal it must sweep away. As Lord Bacon says (in that play falsely attributed to Shakespeare)—"Ay, there's the rub!"

If you were to ask me, NOW, what effect the right of suffrage, office, and all the duties of men has had upon the morals of the women of our State, I should be puzzled what to say. It is something like this—if you put a chemical purifying agent into a bucket of muddy water, the water gets clearer, to be sure, but the chemical substance takes up some of the impurity. Perhaps that's rather too strong a comparison; but if you say that men are worse than women, as most people do, then of course we improve them by closer political intercourse, and lose a little ourselves in the process. I leave you to decide the relative loss and gain. To tell you the truth, this is a feature of the question which I would rather not discuss; and I see, by the reports of the recent Conventions, that all the champions of our sex feel the same way.

Well, since I must come to an end somewhere, let it be here. To quote Lord Bacon again, take my "round, unvarnished tale," and perhaps the world will yet acknowledge that some good has been done by

Yours truly,

JANE STRONGITHARM.



[Footnote 1: Little Boris.]

THE END

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