June 21, 1915 – Women’s Suffrage Speech by Anna Howard Shaw: “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic”

Anna Howard Shaw (1847 – 1919) was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. She was born in the U.K., but her family emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Massachusetts when she was four. She was intelligent and ambitious, but continually had career paths closed off to her because of her gender. She persevered, however, and eventually became not only a physician but also one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. Because of her experiences, she became an outspoken advocate of political rights for women.

Anna Howard Shaw

Anna Howard Shaw

Shaw first met Susan B. Anthony in 1887. Anthony encouraged her to join the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and beginning in 1904 and for the next eleven years, Shaw served as the president of NAWSA.

During the early 20th century, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, NAWSA members, began employing “militant” techniques (e.g. picketing the White House during World War I) to fight for women’s suffrage. But Shaw maintained that she was “unalterably opposed to militancy, believing nothing of permanent value has ever been secured by it that could not have been more easily obtained by peaceful methods,” and in 1915, she resigned as NAWSA president and was replaced by her ally Carrie Chapman Catt.

Anna Howard Shaw with Carrie Chapman Catt in 1917

Anna Howard Shaw with Carrie Chapman Catt in 1917

She continued to speak out for women’s rights, however, and the speech she delivered on this date at the City Opera House in Ogdenburg, New York iduring the New York State equal suffrage campaign is considered to be one of the top 100 speeches of the Twentieth Century.

Some of the highlights of her speech:

If woman’s suffrage is wrong, it is a great wrong; if it is right, it is a profound and fundamental principle, and we all know, if we know what a Republic is, that it is the fundamental principle upon which a Republic must rise. Let us see where we are as a people; how we act here and what we think we are.”

And God said in the beginning, “It is not good for man to stand alone.” That is why we are here tonight, and that is all that woman’s suffrage means; just to repeat again and again that first declaration of the Divine, “It is not good for man to stand alone,” and so the women of this state are asking that the word “male” shall be stricken out of the Constitution altogether and that the Constitution stand as it ought to have stood in the beginning and as it must before this state is any part of a Republic. Every citizen possessing the necessary qualifications shall be entitled to cast one vote at every election, and have that vote counted. We are not asking as our Anti-Suffrage friends think we are, for any of awful things that we hear will happen if we are allowed to vote; we are simply asking that that government which professes to be a Republic shall be a Republic and not pretend to be what it is not.”

We have our theories, our beliefs, but as suffragists we have but one belief, but one principle, but one theory and that is the right of a human being to have a voice in the government, under which he or she lives, on that we agree, if on nothing else.”

You can read the entire speech here.


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