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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

First-Class Carriages

Title:     First-Class Carriages
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

In a hotly contested municipal election, the other day, an active political manager was telling me his tactics. "We have to send carriages for some of the voters," he said. "First-class carriages! If we undertake to wait on 'em, we must do it in good shape, and not leave the best carriages to be hired by the other party."

I am not much given to predicting just what will happen when women vote; but I confidently assert that they will be taken to the polls, if they wish, in first-class carriages. If the best horses are to be harnessed, and the best cushions selected, and every panel of the coach rubbed till you can see your face in it, merely to accommodate some elderly man who lives two blocks away, and could walk to the polls very easily, then how much more will these luxuries be placed at the service of every woman, young or old, whose presence at the polls is made doubtful by mud, or snow, or the prospect of a shower.

But the carriage is only the beginning of the polite attentions that will soon appear. When we see the transformation undergone by every ferryboat and every railway station, so soon as it comes to be frequented by women, who can doubt that voting-places will experience the same change? They will soon have--at least in the "ladies' department"--elegance instead of discomfort, beauty for ashes, plenty of rocking-chairs, and no need of spittoons. Very possibly they may have all the modern conveniences and inconveniences,--furnace registers, teakettles, Washington pies, and a young lady to give checks for bundles. Who knows what elaborate comforts, what queenly luxuries, may be offered to women at voting-places, when the time has finally arrived to sue for their votes?

The common impression has always been quite different from this. People look at the coarseness and dirt now visible at so many voting-places, and say, "Would you expose women to all that?" But these places are not dirtier than a railway smoking-car; and there is no more coarseness than in any ferryboat which is, for whatever reason, used by men only. You do not look into those places, and say with indignation, "Never, if I can help it, shall my wife or my beloved great-grandmother travel by steamboat or by rail!" You know that with these exemplary relatives will enter order and quiet, carpets and curtains, brooms and dusters. Why should it be otherwise with ward rooms and town halls?

There is not an atom more of intrinsic difficulty in providing a decorous ladies' room for a voting-place, than for a post-office or a railway station; and it is as simple a thing to vote a ticket as to buy one. This being thus easily practicable, all men will desire to provide it. And the example of the first-class carriages shows that the parties will vie with each other in these pleasing arrangements. They will be driven to it, whether they wish it or not. The party which has most consistently and resolutely kept woman away from the ballot-box will be the very party compelled, for the sake of self-preservation, to make her "rights" agreeable to her when once she gets them. A few stupid or noisy men may indeed try to make the polls unattractive to her, the very first time; but the result of this little experiment will be so disastrous that the offenders will be sternly suppressed by their own party leaders, before another election day comes. It will soon become clear, that of all possible ways of losing votes the surest lies in treating women rudely.

Lucy Stone tells a story of a good man in Kansas who, having done all he could to prevent women from being allowed to vote on school questions, was finally comforted, when that measure passed, by the thought that he should at least secure his wife's vote for a pet schoolhouse of his own. Election day came, and the newly enfranchised matron showed the most culpable indifference to her privileges. She made breakfast as usual, went about her housework, and did on that perilous day precisely the things that her anxious husband had always predicted that women never would do under such circumstances. His hints and advice found no response; and nothing short of the best pair of horses and the best wagon finally sufficed to take the farmer's wife to the polls. I am not the least afraid that women will find voting a rude or disagreeable arrangement. There is more danger of their being treated too well, and being too much attacked and allured by these cheap cajoleries. But women are pretty shrewd, and can probably be trusted to go to the polls, even in first-class carriages.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: First-Class Carriages