The Story of a Great Conviction: or Why the W. C. T. U. of Illinois Seeks the Ballot.
My friend had met me at the railway station and we were walking toward her home discussing the State Convention from which many of us were just returning, when she said: "Oh, I did want to be there so much — and yet — " she hesitated, but finally went on, "I don't know what I should have done about the suffrage question. I should have disliked to vote against you. You are all so conscientious about it. Tell me a little. I'm open to conviction. You say this all came to you on your knees. That it is a conviction from on high. I don't understand it."
"Then you've never heard the true story of Home Protection," I queried, to which she gave a negative shake of her shapely head, set off to to good advantage with its English turban, pheasant-feathered and jaunty.
Soon we were cozily seated in her sunny parlor, and I began the story:
"Once upon a time," and that time nine years ago when Miss Willard was President of the Central W. C. T. U. of Chicago, and was holding daily Gospel Meetings in Lower Farwell Hall, her mind became greatly disturbed by a constantly recurring mental question to which she could get no satisfactory reply. Men were daily coming into those meetings in various stages of intoxication, were overshadowed by the power of the Spirit, brought to sign the pledge and led from the pledge to the cross. And yet, untaught in the way of faith, and weakened in moral force by long courses of sin, they went out on the saloon-lined streets and fell again and again under the fire of temptation. Watching with painful solicitude those repeated experiences, she said to herself — "In the kingdom of nature there is an antidote to every poison, in the kingdom of grace, a compensation for every loss; there must be somewhere in the realm of society a force that may be set over against the appetite of the drinker and the avarice of the saloon-keeper
3— What is it?" Over and over again this question was asked but no answer came. After several weeks had passed, one Sunday morning she went to her room to study the Bible preparatory to a Gospel Meeting she was to conduct in the afternoon. She laid her Bible open on the bed and knelt down by its side asking God for some message from His word to the hungry souls she should meet that day. An answer came, but she could not interpret it at once. It was not the one she was seeking, but a voice whispered to her spirit just as clearly as ever her mother's voice fell on her ear:
"SET OVER AGAINST THE APPETITE OF THE DRINKER AND THE AVARICE OF THE SALOON KEEPER THE UNDYING MOTHER LOVE OF THE HOME."
She was at a loss, to know what it meant. This was not her message for the afternoon surely — but presently the Spirit's utterance became clearer. This was the answer to her question of the days and weeks just past. She kept it in her heart like Mary of old and pondered. Out of that prayerful question and its answer came the famous Home Protection petition 1878-9, which you and so many of our grand women tramped night and day to circulate and which, denied us by two sessions of the Legislature, is now stored away in the rooms of the Historical Society at Chicago labelled, "Not to
4be unrolled till the prayer of the petitioners be granted."
Then all we asked for was a vote by signature. We only plead that before a saloon should be licensed in any community the would-be saloon keeper should secure the signatures of a majority of the men and women of the community, asking that the saloon be licensed. We were sure of the women on such a test as this, and good Senator Hinds introduced a bill in the Legislature embodying this plan. As I have told you it was voted down at two consecutive sessions. Then like the women of persistence, ingenuity and patience that we are, we set about "climbing up some other way."
And right here I was betrayed into a little bit of philosophical reverie that did not rise to my lips, yet seems to me nevertheless a part of the true story I am trying to tell. Sometimes and especially at this time "it is borne in upon me" as the friendly Friends, would say, that away back in the counsels of eternity it was ordained that women should take up and carry on to its successful issue, the temperance reform. And that all through the ages God has been preparing us for it in the quiet uneventful and seemingly unheroic lives we have led. For instance how better could the grace of persistence, which is the key note of our endeavor, have been secured than by the routine which
5began for our own country women that famous Monday on Cape Cod when our fore-mothers waded out from the Mayflower to the low lying strip of land and there inaugurated the first washing day? Ever since women have been washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday, cleaning on Thursday, sweeping on Friday, baking again on Saturday and so on fifty two weeks every year, and forty years to a lifetime. No wonder our legislators looked aghast as we appeared on the scene each session, saying scarcely under their breath "What, those women again? Why they never know when they are whipped." And so too for the wonderful accomplishments of ingenuity, what training could have been better adapted than the housewife's careful turning this way and that to bring new garments out of old, the changing back to front, upper side to lower, inside to outside and so on through the category that most women know so well, and which accounts for so much of the good appearance of household and inmates.
Then too the endowment of patience — nay the working of patience which mothers know who have lain all night in a position of torture, catching sleep as they could, for fear of waking the fretful and worn little sufferer at their breasts — who have wakened morning after morning as weary as when they laid down to rest, only to
6hush the turbulent household into quietness in the early morning, still for the loved sufferer's sake, and to speak the sweet and loving words which should calm the disturbances natural to the noisy self-asserting boys, and the querulous, tantalizing girls — all the agonies that only mothers endure, are going into the solution of this great problem of evil. They — of all God's moral creation — can understand the moral throes which come before deliverance from sin. They can face these with the equanimity with which men march up to the cannon's mouth. God grant that they may see of the travail of their souls and be satisfied!
But to take up my story again as I was rehearsing it to my friend that bright October day. It was a consecrated ingenuity that came to the front at this juncture and insisted that if the larger legislature failed us there were the smaller legislatures of cities and villages to which our state has committed with absolute authority the whole question of license. A strong legal mind was brought to bear on this, suggestion, and the result was a Home Protection ordinance, which we were to petition for and press upon municipal councils and boards of trustees. The ordinance provided for an election in which all the adult inhabitants should participate, and which should decide the question of License or No License. The Legal
7logic on which this ordinance was based was on this wise:
The legislature has committed to the municipal authorities all power to license, restrain or prohibit the dram shop. Then these municipal authorities are at liberty to condition their action in any manner they may choose. We will ask them to condition it by the expressed will of all the people.
In twelve towns of our state, by the efforts of the W. C. T. U., this ordinance was made law. In each of these twelve towns, the combined vote of the order-loving men and women carried the day for no license. In only one of these towns was it considered that the same end might have been gained without the aid of women. But all of these towns were small villages, and it was argued by our well meaning opposers, "This sort of thing may do for a village, but it would never work in cities." Then we prayed God for a demonstration of its power in cities, and soon the W. C. T. U. of Rockford, a city of 14,000 inhabitants, announced that the experiment would be tried at the spring election for city officers.
I wish there were more space here to tell of the heroic persistence of the women of Rockford, of their patient tramp from house to house and street to street for signatures to their petition for the ordinance, of their successful suit
8with the City Fathers, led and championed by such men as Mayor Wilkins, Congressman Lathrop and others, of their efforts on election day, and other preparations for the triumphant vote for Prohibition. There were places of rendezvous in every precinct, where the timid women might rally, and from which they might go to the polls in company; there were carriages to bring the sick, infirm and aged women, and then a bevy of fair young girls, not old enough to vote, who, anxious to do somewhat for the great issue of the day, said, "We will go to the homes where there are little babies, that the mothers may go to the polls." There were women of fashion and social leadership who drove through the streets all day, bringing women voters to the ballot boxes, their carriages placarded with such legends as "Vote for Home Protection." — "Vote for your Homes this day." There were strong cries and tears in many a home for the success of No License and mothers plead with sons, wives with husbands and daughters with their fathers that every ballot might be a pure one, a vote for the safety of the street, the school, the church and the home. In every voting place there were two ballot boxes — one for the reception of votes cast by men and women for License or No License, the other for votes of men only, for municipal officers. Over the former lady judges were appointed by the
9City Council. At night when the ballots of the first box were counted it was found that No License had triumphed by a large majority. It was also found that more than 2000 women had voted at this extraordinary election and only two of the 2,000 had voted for License. This, coupled with the fact that not more than 2500 votes are polled at the ordinary election when only men vote, indicated the general movement to be expected of the women of this and every city when so vital an issue is presented. The Scandinavian women, the German and the Irish women ranged themselves by the side of their American sisters in the prohibition ranks, and against the enemy which has done so much to make their homes uncomfortable, and their lives desolate and dreary. Katrina came with her ballot, as determined to save Fritz from his beer as Bridget to keep whiskey from Patrick. And so in the might and love of motherhood and wifehood 2000 women marched to the polls and — delivered the city? Nay, verily. There was the other ballot-box to be opened, which done, it was found that the votes of the male citizens had elected the License ticket, so far as the councilman were concerned, and this council at its first session repealed the Home Protection ordinance and made the expressed will of the people of none effect.
There was but one conclusion possible from such premises. The W. C. T. U. of Rockford
10accepted it as has the W. C. T. U. of the State: WOMEN MUST VOTE IN BOTH BOXES! They must vote for the men as well as the measures — for the officer behind the ordinance — for the law and for the law-enforcer.
Conservative women, who had believed in the temperance ballot only, now became convinced that the temperance ballot is the whole ballot.
Conscientious Christian women, many of them came to believe for the first time that God's plan for the overthrow of the liquor traffic includes THE FULL BALLOT FOR WOMAN.
When I had finished, my friend said quietly, "Let us pray," and poured out her soul in tearful prayer to God for the Spirit of Truth, and for the WILLINGNESS TO BELIEVE, which it is hoped may characterize all who read this true story of Home Protection.
The W. C. T. U. of Illinois seeks the ballot for no selfish ends. Asking it only in the interest of the home, which has been and is woman's divinely appointed province, there is no clamor for "rights," only prayerful, persistent plea for the opportunities of duty. The fear in our hearts is not of unwomanly action, but of responsibility unfulfilled. The dreadful shadow of a gigantic evil is over us. Up to this time the efforts of good men have failed to cut it down or repress it. Year by year it grows
11faster than our nation's growth, and no power has yet been applied to check its fearful encroachments. The National Association of Brewers has given us a clew to the agency which they fear. At their annual session held in the city of Chicago, October, 1881, the following resolution was passed:
"Resolved, that we oppose, always, and everywhere the ballot in the hands of woman, for woman's vote is the last hope of the Prohibitionists."
The Illinois Woman's Christian Temperance Union passed at its last annual convention, held at Alton, in October, 1883, the following resolution:
"Law is declared to be the expression of the average public sentiment, but we claim that this sentiment has never been expressed in our state regarding the liquor traffic, and never can be until the women of Illinois add their ballots to those of the men. We are, therefore, committed to work for an amendment, to the state constitution extending the elective franchise to women, so that our local option law may have such a constituency back of it as well give us practical prohibition by the No License vote of the majority, and by the election of officers pledged to the enforcement of the people's will. To this end our auxiliaries are instructed to work to secure the election of a legislature in 1884, pledged to the submission of such an amendment. Our utmost efforts shall be put forth to secure the passage of a state law requiring in all schools, supported by public money, systematic instruction,
12concerning the physiological effects of alcoholic stimulants and narcotics."
The Italics are my own, and are designed simply to emphasize this embodiment of a history and conviction, which I have endeavored to transcribe upon these pages.
Men of Illinois, will you call us to your side in this irrepressible conflict without weapons for the fight? We ask only to help you in the overthrow of this universal enemy of the home. You have called us queens of home, and home, the woman's kingdom. But we are uncrowned even there while this foe menaces us.
A few months ago, our newspapers were filled with the story of a wondrous pageant. It was the crowning of the sovereign of Russia as Czar of all the Russias. At a certain point in the ceremony the emperor took the imperial crown from his own head, and placed it for just a moment on the brow of the empress — the sweet and gentle Maria Dagmar who knelt before him. Just a moment it rested there and then he restored it to its rightful place and gave her her own queenly diadem. It was but a touch, but it halved the empire of Russia and made Maria Dagmar empress of all the Russias.
We do not ask your crowns but what we want is just this touch of the kingly power which shall halve the empire of home and make us sovereigns in deed as well as name.
We kindle not war's battle fires,
For truth and justice, reason, law,
We claim the birthright of our sires."