“The Victory is Won, An Inspiration for Future Work,” suffrage speech by Rev. J. M. Maxon on May 1, 1915

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

The Fayette County Equal Rights Association celebrated National Suffrage Day in 1915 with an automobile parade starting at Gratz Park, winding its way through downtown Lexington and then out to Duncan Park on North Limestone Street. The keynote speech on that morning of March 1, 2015, was given by Reverend J. M. Maxon, former rector of St. John's Episcopal Church and president of Margaret College in Versailles, KY. His speech was reprinted in The Lexington Herald the next day - the reporter indicated that it was well-received by the audience. This speech serves as a valuable resource for understanding how the argument for woman suffrage was framed in Kentucky politics. It is transcribed below so that H-Kentucky subscribers can read it and then reply with their own ideas on how the politics of the day informed the Reverend's rhetoric - and how his speech may have impacted the progress of the movement overall here in Kentucky.

Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman:

In response to your much appreciated invitation, I have left the ordinary pursuits of a very busy life to be present with you here today, and to take part in this celebration. Some way or another, in tradition, song and story, the month of May has always been associated with woman. It is in a peculiar way the woman’s month. And of all the months of the year, none is more beautiful, none is more glorious, none is more suggestive of the thoughts which inspire. It was fitting then that this of all the months of the year should have been chosen as the one in which to celebrate the cause which above all others is of greatest moment and interest to women. Of the days of this beautiful month none has come down to us so full of the suggestion of the beautiful and the happy as the first day. It has come to be called May Day. May Day is woman’s high festival day of the year. And so, Madam Chairman, fitting and proper, indeed is it that on this glorious May Day we should leave for the moment our accustomed work and turn aside from the routine of ordinary life to the Queen of the Home, the Queen of Society, upon this Queen of Festivals.

The world certainly does move. Progress is in the air. Step by step we are reading out to larger life and high libery. How many changes the past few years have brought about. A dozen years ago such a celebration as we are holding today would have been well nigh impossible. Nowhere in all our land, with the exception of a very few of the larger centers of population, would it have been possible to have gathered together for such a purpose as that which brings us together today so large and representative a gathering as I see before me here. A dozen years ago it is doubtful if one merchant in this city would have taken the time or shown sufficient interest to have decorated his place of business. The interest merchants take in any organization or cause is largely gauged by the power wielded by that organization or cause. When business takes cognizance of any person, organization or cause, it is a pretty sure indication that the person, organization or cause so recognized “has arrived.” It is the recognition of a fact already accomplished. The fact of this celebration, the fact of the splendid recognition of this celebration by the merchants and hundreds of other interested people of this community, is not so much a promise of something in the future, as the recognition of something already existing. The hour has struck. The world in which we live recognizes the fact that the hour has struck. Woman is coming into her own. I might almost better have said that woman has come into her own. Woman is recognized today. And recognition is always followed by the granting of rights and opportunities which belong with that recognition. One by one the states of the Union are granting the suffrage to women on equal terms with men. Wyoming was the pioneer state in granting the suffrage in 1869. Colorado followed in 1892. Utah and Idaho joined the number in 1896. In rapid succession since 1910 Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Illinois, Alaska, Montana and Nevada have followed. Within the next eighteen months the opportunity of becoming enrolled among those which have reached out for the larger liberty will be accorded the voters of New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa, West Virginia and South Dakota. Already, at this very time, there are only fifteen states in which woman has not some share in suffrage. In thirty-three states and the territory of Alaska she had either partial or entire suffrage. The victory is already won. I mean the moral victory. It is but a question of a few short years and the full ripe fruits of many, many years of patient toil and willing sacrifices will be gathered. The budding time has passed. The flowering period has come and gone. The fruit has formed upon the tree. Some has ripened and been gathered in. All the rest is rapidly a-ripening. And I venture here to prophecy that there will not be a wormy wind-fall in the whole lot. So we congratulate ourselves and one another on these wonderful results already accomplished. And we have every reason for congratulation. I take it that the very purpose of this occasion is congratulatory. Victories past are the basis for the confidence with which we look to the future. So strongly rooted is this conviction with us that even the most fearful among us do not hesitate to express it as our firm belief that the year 1925 will see woman accorded the right of suffrage, to which by all the law of God and right she is entitled, for every office from that of President of this great Republic down to pathmaster, in every state from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

And so upon this occasion we arise and take courage. We gird ourselves anew, not to prosecute some failing battle, but that we may view with a clearer eye the vast land of promise upon which we are entering, that we may appreciate more deeply the surpassing opportunities which it offers, and that we may renew our vows to take neither respite nor pause until we shall have reached the goal of these years of anxious but hopeful labor.

Another cause of congratulation today is the changed attitude of the world toward this movement for the emancipation of woman. I use that phrase emancipation of women advisedly. For back of all this struggle in which we have been engaged, lo, these many years, there is but one purpose. And that purpose is emancipation. Man has struggled throughout the ages, from the dim historic past down to the present hour, yes, even at this very hour half the world is engaged in a titanic contest, with but one end in view. And that end is emancipation. It is freedom he seeks. It is freedom he prizes above every other object of earthly ambition. And he desires that freedom as his bonus in order that he may have proper means of self-expression. He can never be a full grown man, and measure up to all the aspirations implanted in his inmost soul by his Creator, unless he has self expression. I have been impressed more and more as the years have passed in my experience that it is well nigh impossible to do anything for another. The utmost one soul can do for another, the supreme service one man can perform for another, the one thing the parent can do for his child, or the teacher can do for his pupil, or the minister can do for his people, or the husband can do for his wife, or the wife can do for her husband, or the state do for its citizens, is to allow that soul to grow and develop along the lines of its own truest being until it come to the fulness of the measure of the stature of its highest ideal of manhood. It is for self-expression that we all are struggling, and that struggle will continue until, untrammeled and unfettered, we all are free. We are beginning to get over the idea that we can patronize any one. It was Diogenes of whom it was said that, when Alexander the Great visited him, sitting in his tub on a favorite street corner, and asked him what he could do for him, he replied: “Get out of my sunlight.” It is not patronage the cause of woman’s freedom wants. It is simply that the patronizing powers of vested rights, so-called, shall move along and get out of its sunlight. We are not asking the favor of the electorate. Oh, no, nothing of the kind at all. We are asking that it shall get out of the sunlight of opportunity of the right which every soul has, that of self-expression. The ballot is the one and only means of self-expression a citizen of a democracy like ours has. It is the one and only means of registering for the faculty which makes a man a man, or a woman a woman – the human will. So long as the will of a man or woman is fettered or is hindered in expressing itself, just so long is that man or that woman not a free agent. No matter how gilded the fetters, no matter how strongly vested in tradition the restraint, that person is not free. A nation cannot exist, a wiser person tha I has long since said, half bound and half free. The very genius of a free government demands the freedom of expression of every soul in it. No nation in the history of the world has ever endured with half of its citizens bound and half free. No more can these great United States. The men of larger vision in this country are beginning to see this great axiomatic truth. They are beginning to see it in increasing numbers. And the increasing numbers of the manhood of our country with the vision of the higher life and the larger liberty are the grounds for our belief in the near consummation of our labors, and in the basis of our confidence in the speedy triumph of our cause. Freedom and anarchy are antithetical. And anarchy is the foul son of coercion. I care not whether that coercion be gently or brutally expressed. I care not whether it be the coercion of the state over its citizens, or the teacher over this pupil, or the father over the child, or the husband over the wife, or the church over its communicants or the man over the woman. It is all one and the same thing however it may be exerted or expressed. And just so long as practically one-half of the citizenship of this state, and that by no means the least intelligent half, is denied the God-given right of every human creature, self-expression, just so long may we expect the anarchy in the social body which we are experiencing in Kentucky today to continue. I am glad to note that the sneering smirk, by no means disguising the satisfied feelings of patronizing self-sufficiency, which has so often characterized the attitude of many otherwise excellent people, whenever the cause of the right of woman was mentioned, has all but disappeared. The deep lying seriousness of this great struggle has at last taken possession of most fair-minded men and women. They are beginning to see that the ballot itself is not an end. It is but a means, the only means which lied ot hand by which woman can find her highest and most worthy expression as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a homemaker, as a citizen. And because they are beginning to see this great truth, they are moving in greater and ever greater numbers to demand that this right be given her. And so we congratulate ourselves today on the fact that the attitude of men and women everywhere towards us and our cause has changed from unconcealed good-natured contempt to downright conviction that our claims are worthy of recognition and our demands are just.

The nation and its government exists to protect that social institution – the home. Sociologists, economists and statemen are just beginning to discover the fact that government, to all practical intents and purposes, is but the problem of home-making. It touches the home on every side. There can be no such thing as a nation in which there is no stability of the home. Wreck the homes of any nation today, and tomorrow that nation will cease to exist. All civilized life centers around the home, and grows out of the home. Men have combined under the forms of government to make homes, to provide for homes, to protect homes. All the problems of government deal with one or another of these three phases of the life which we call the home life. Who makes the homes of this great State of Kentucky? The men? Let us not deceive ourselves. It takes a woman to make a home. Whether she be rich or poor, whether she occupy a high or a lowly station in the social body, whether she be educated or unlearned, yet, it takes a woman to make a home. Who provides for the home? The man? Yes he does his share. But how many untold thousands are there of the homes of old Kentucky today in which the woman is bearing her share of the labor of providing and in how many homes is she carrying the burden alone! Who protects the home? The man? Yes he does his share. But how many men are there in Kentucky today who would be alive and in the enjoyment of health if it were not for the unfailing and intelligent labor of the woman in preparing wholesome food, and in warding off the insidious attacks of man’s greatest enemy – disease? His very life, the lives of his children depend upon the vigilance of the protecting care of the wife and mother.

If upon woman devolves the labor of the solution of at least half of the problems connected with government; if in dealing with these problems she has shown intelligent understanding of them and a ready ability and resourcefulness in meeting them; upon what plea, or by what process of reasoning, can the conclusion be arrived at that she should be denied the one great means whereby alone she can measure up to the highest possible efficiency and usefulness in working them out? These things, I say, men and women are beginning to see. They are catching a glimpse of this vision of larger opportunity and greater usefulness. And this, it seems to me, Madam Chairman, is the greatest cause of congratulation we have today.

And so, with these thoughts burning in our hearts, let us go forth from this place filled with the inspiration which this occasion brings to us, with a firm and renewed determination to do our share, to pray, to speak, the work, to sacrifice, until “come it may, as come it will, for all that, that man to man, the world o’er, shall brother be, for a’ that.”