Speech of Delegate J. S. Thurmond,
of Greenbrier County,
March 8, 1920

West Virginia Legislature
Journal of the House of Delegates,
Extraordinary Session, 1920

"MR SPEAKER: The amendment to our federal constitution, granting the right of suffrage to women, which we are called upon at this time to ratify, is one of such a grave nature and so important to our government, our people and our society, that it calls for our honest, loyal and best thought in its consideration. Amendments to that revered and time honored document known as the United States constitution, which has safely guided the ship of state through the angry billows of many a storm, have become all too frequent, and great danger of impairing its usefulness or destroying its fundamental principles, is clearly discernible to any well informed mind.

Our forefathers, the founders of our government, were wise, sagacious men and well did they lay the foundation for future generations to build upon, and were the lawmakers of today as wise, patriotic and farsighted as were they, more constructive legislation would be enacted into law, society better safeguarded, and fewer cornerstones would be torn from the original foundation.

No man can have greater respect, love and esteem for a woman than I, and were some great calamity about to befall her or some disaster approach her, no man would be quicker to risk his life to rescue her from the impending danger, than I, and the purpose of my few remarks shall be to enlist your support and sympathy, gentlemen, in the laudable undertaking of maintaining the womanhood of our country upon that high plane which she has occupied so long and which was prepared for her from the beginning.

Perhaps, millions of years before this world was hurled from the hand of God into infinite space and became habitable for man, the Creator in His wisdom had worked out every detail and had determined the function of every component part thereof.

Man was then created and his position in life established, but the crowning glory of all God's creation was woman - woman to fill the sphere in the world for which she is so eminently fitted; the mother of humanity, the great and mighty power to mould, direct and fit the young life, brought into the world through her, for the responsibilities of the life upon which it is just entering. A queen in the home and in the sick chamber an angel of mercy, she has most faithfully and wonderfully performed the duties of life.

As maidens they are loved, courted and married, as wives they are adored, protected and supported and, as mothers, they are revered, honored and obeyed.

Our great men can usually trace their success in life to the teaching of a good mother. For over six thousand years, woman has nobly filled her station in life with honor to herself and with such efficiency that she is considered upon a higher plane than man, a plane upon which, I sincerely hope the manhood of this country will preserve her and may I add that this high position has been attained without woman suffrage, and further that ample provisions have been made in our laws for her education and protection, and that man has no property rights that are not legally guaranteed to her also. This brings to my mind an incident which I shall here relate. After the women of the state of Colorado had been granted suffrage, they prepared a banquet to celebrate their victory (?) and amoung [sic] their guests was an eminent lawyer of Denver. When he was called on for a toast, in a very dignified manner, he arose and, lifting his glass, said: "Here's to woman, God bless her, once our superior, now our equal." Much truth is expressed in that toast. Oh, that the men of America could realize it! When our women have been handed the ballot and become elligible to seek and to hold public office and enter the arena of politics, all contaminated with fraud, slander, vituperation and all the methods used in hot political campaigns, can they emerge therefrom with their garments unspotted, and maintain that lofty height in which they have been held since the formation of our government?

Judging by the disgusting (I use this word advisedly, because it is used by most of the women in my section in speaking of this subject) tactics and methods employed by a few leaders, who have worked for equal suffrage, and observing their impertinent manner of thrusting themselves upon men in public life by their card indexing, picketing, threatening, bringing undue pressure to bear and many other things of like nature, it is very apparent, that the step will be downward and nothing short of a miracle will ever restore them to their former estate. But there is one redeeming feature to this dark picture. While these few leaders, consisting of a very small minority of our women, are going about the country like roaring lions, threatening, high officials, intimidating Congressmen and infesting legislative halls, there is another class of leaders, who, seeing the great thralldom, the deep abyss, into which they and their sisters - the great majority of the American womanhood - are about to be plunged, are humbly and earnestly pleading and praying that we may have the manhood and courage to rescue them. Will you do it ? May God help you to do it.

To my mind it is perfectly plain that a very large majority of the women of our state are not asking nor do they desire the privilege of voting, and should this amendment be ratified, it will impose upon them a duty they did not seek and a burden they do not wish to bear, and, further, it is my candid opinion that were the women of this state given an opportunity to pass on this question for themselves, it would go down in ignominous [sic] defeat. This opinion is based upon the fact that at least seventy-five per cent. of the women with whom I have talked on the subject bitterly oppose it, and for some time I have made it my business to find out how the women stand on this question. So far my plea has been for the woman, but now I wish to turn another phase of the question.

It has always been understood in our form of government that officials are the servants of the people and not their masters and when the will of a majority is well known as touching any matter it has always been considered a breach of trust on the part of the representatives of the people when they refuse to adhere to the desires of their constituents. As the representatives of the West Virginia electorate, have we the right or authority to ratify this amendment? Or, on the other hand is not the will of the people well known on this question? And have we not been very forcibly impressed with the fact? Let us see. In the one thousand nine hundred and fifteen session of the West Virginia Legislature, of which body some of you gentlemen, and myself also, were members, a constitutional amendment, granting equal suffrage to women was submitted to the people for their ratification. At the following general election in one thousand nine hundred and sixteen, it was voted on and defeated by the enormous majority of more than ninety-eight thousand, being, so far as my knowledge goes, the largest majority by which any measure was ever defeated in the history of the state. Having had no advice from the people on this question since that time, do you feel authorized to vote for the amendment? Is it not the part of wisdom to conclude that that judgment remains in full force and virtue? Believing as I do, that an overwhelming majority of our voters are still opposed to it and conscientiously of the opinion that it is my duty to loyally support them, I am impelled to vote against it and to use every honorable means at my command to defeat it.

Mr. Speaker, there is another feature of this subject to which I should like to invite the attention of the House, and that is, why this sudden stampede to the cause of equal suffrage, in the congress and in so many state legislatures? I will undertake to answer this question myself by stating that politics are at the bottom of it all. The leaders of the dominant parties of our country are thinking much more about their tenure of office and strengthening their chances for re-election than they are studying about the good of the people Whom they represent and, when they survey the field and conclude that woman suffrage will give them some slight advantage in the election, they "fall for it."

As a matter of fact there will be no appreciable change in the political complexion in any state or in the United States and while the vote will be increased one hundred per cent. and the cost of holding elections doubled, no advantage will have been gained by any political party, unless it be the Socialists. I will quote from a United States senator who had been won over from his opposition to woman suffrage. "Three-fourths of the senators who have come out in favor of the amendment are against it in their hearts. They have been politically sand bagged." I believe I can truthfully say that three- fourths of the members of this House are against it in their hearts, and it only remains to be seen whether they will obey the dictates of their better judgment and the desires of their hearts or yield to the lash of the whip.

Furthermore, I was bred, born and reared with that innate principle of states rights indellibly stamped on every fibre of my anatomy and infused into every drop of my blood, and, although this great principle has been infringed upon, in some respects, I am still standing unflinchingly, unalterably and immovably upon it, and in this stand I believe I am upholding the intention and will of our forefathers, the men who threw off the yoke of British bondage, enunciated a bill of rights and adopted a constitution which grants the right to every state to enact its own laws, govern its own internal affairs and be a free and sovereign state. This is Democracy.

Our country entered, fought and won the great world war with "World Democracy" as the battle cry. Our boys returned from the battlefield only to find their home-land torn from center to circumference, by unrest, high cost of living, labor strikes, general disorganization, Socialism and Bolshevism. What has the government done to remedy these troubles? Congress has been in session many months and about all it has done is to engage in a shameful political fight and pass the woman's suffrage amendment to the constitution which is undemocratic and will add to the troubles above enumerated. Had this time been spent by them in determining whether it is farther from the earth to Mars than it is from Mars to the earth, the country would be as well or better off.

In conclusion, I will say, that for those poor women who have so persistently and eneregetically [sic] worked to secure something that the great majority of their sex does not want, my heart goes out in deep sympathy, and in the language of our dying Lord I pray, "Father forgive them, for they know [not] what they do."

Have we reached the zenith of our national integrity and turned our face to the setting sun? Are we, Samson like, to be lulled to sleep on the lap of a Delilah while our locks of national strength are shorn? Be men! Be courageous! and carry the strength of your convictions with your vote.

When in the future the power of our great democracy begins to wane and all can see their woeful mistake, and this frail body of mine rests under the sod on the green hillside, I want the stranger as he passes by to point to the marble slab that marks my last resting place and be able to say: 'There lies a man who had the moral courage and strength of character to vote against woman suffrage.' "


West Virginia Archives and History