Are Women People?

by Lili Loofbourow

There’s nothing like a sunny Tuesday morning to lure you out of bed and into the closet where you keep your desktop. From there you dive into Project Gutenberg, which you plunder, full of matutinal enthusiasm, for things to put on your Kindle so that you can fulfill a longtime fantasy: reading with scones on the lake. (This, by the way, is *the* reason to get an e-reader — not the lake bit, but the sheer bounty, the gems you’ve never heard of on Project Gutenberg, which are yours, for free, and which will break you with gratitude.)

I’d downloaded some forty books for my morning read (in the course of which morning had become afternoon) when a title caught my eye. It was this:

Are Women People?

The beauty of Project Gutenberg, as those who use it know, is that it gives you no context. All you have is a title and an author and — possibly — a time period.

The time period was 1915.

The author was one Alice Duer Miller.

I downloaded the offending document (grimly, I don’t mind telling you) and steeled myself for whatever nightmare of social engineering lay ahead.

I opened the book. Under Are Women People? it said “A BOOK OF RHYMES FOR SUFFRAGE TIMES.” Oh God, I thought. This is going to be bad. Suffragists-are-ugly-inhuman-manhaters bad. The dedication read: “To V.B.W. SLAVE-DRIVER AND FRIEND.”

Worse and worse.

I groaned at the grief ahead. The dream of reading breezily on the lake evaporated. (It was 3:15 anyway, and I was hungry.) I helped myself instead to some old bread, sat down in my disgusting kitchen, and prepared for the worst.

Now, anybody who knows anything about anything (which I didn’t) would have recognized that a) 1915 is way too late for “slave-driver” to carry the absolutely literal dark meanings I read into it, and b) that “Are Women People?” had come, thanks to this very book, to be a famous suffragist catchphrase. They might also know that Alice Duer Miller studied mathematics and astronomy at Barnard (in 1895!), that several of her stories were turned into movies, that she herself wrote screenplays, and that she’s listed in the VERY FIRST ISSUE of The New Yorker as an advisory editor.

She is, in point of fact, a magnificent maven, and Are Women People? is a collection of all the brilliant satirical poems she wrote mocking the anti-suffragists — poems that were published in the New York Tribune.

And just like that, my nightmare turned back into a dream.

We’ll start with a few so you can get a flavor and feel the same wave of relief wash over you that washed over me. (The parentheticals are all hers — except for this one.) Then you will marvel, and then — THEN — you will decide that there’s nothing for it: the time has come to write sing-songy poems about John Boehner’s stand on abortion, because nothing makes the opposition look as vacuous and morally bankrupt than putting their arguments in rhyme.

It’s fitting, since Alice Duer Miller published these in a newspaper, that we start with one mocking the Gray Lady.

“Oh, That ‘Twere Possible!” With apologies to Lord Tennyson. (“The grant of suffrage to women is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature. It runs counter to human reason, it flouts the teachings of experience and the admonitions of common sense.” — N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 1915.)

Oh, that ‘twere possible
After those words inane
For me to read The Times
Ever again!

When I was wont to read it
In the early morning hours,
In a mood ‘twixt wrath and mirth,
I exclaimed: “Alas, Ye Powers,
These ideas are fainter, quainter
Than anything on earth!”

A paper’s laid before me.
Not thou, not like to thee.
Dear me, if it were possible
The Times should ever see
How very far the times have moved
(Spelt with a little “t”).

Women (With rather insincere apologies to Mr. Rudyard Kipling.)

I went to ask my government
if they would set me free,
They gave a pardoned crook a vote,
but hadn’t one for me;

The men about me laughed and frowned
and said: “Go home, because
We really can’t be bothered
when we’re busy making laws.”

Oh, it’s women this, and women that and women have no sense,
But it’s pay your taxes promptly when it comes to the expense,
It comes to the expense, my dears, it comes to the expense,
It’s pay your taxes promptly when it comes to the expense.

I went into a factory
to earn my daily bread:
Men said: “The home is woman’s sphere.”
“I have no home,” I said.

But when the men all marched to war,
they cried to wife and maid,
“Oh, never mind about the home,
but save the export trade.”

For it’s women this and women that, and home’s the place for you,
But it’s patriotic angels when there’s outside work to do,
There’s outside work to do, my dears, there’s outside work to do,
It’s patriotic angels when there’s outside work to do.

We are not really senseless,
and we are not angels, too,
But very human beings,
human just as much as you.

It’s hard upon occasions
to be forceful and sublime
When you’re treated as incompetents
three-quarters of the time.

But it’s women this and women that, and woman’s like a hen,
But it’s do the country’s work alone, when war takes off the men,

And it’s women this and women that and everything you please,
But woman is observant, and be sure that woman sees.


It’s treating a woman politely
As long as she isn’t a fright:
It’s guarding the girls who act rightly,
If you can be judge of what’s right;
It’s being — not just, but so pleasant;
It’s tipping while wages are low;
It’s making a beautiful present,
And failing to pay what you owe.

What Every Woman Must Not Say

“I don’t pretend I’m clever,” he remarked, “or very wise,”
And at this she murmured, “Really,” with the right polite surprise.

“But women,” he continued, “I must own I understand;
Women are a contradiction — honorable and underhand —

Constant as the star Polaris, yet as changeable as Fate,
Always flying what they long for, always seeking what they hate.”

“Don’t you think,” began the lady, but he cut her short: “I see
That you take it personally — women always do,” said he.

“You will pardon me for saying every woman is the same,
Always greedy for approval, always sensitive to blame;

Sweet and passionate are women; weak in mind, though strong in soul;
Even you admit, I fancy, that they have no self-control?”

“No, I don’t admit they haven’t,” said the patient lady then,
“Or they could not sit and listen to the nonsense talked by men.”


“Mother, what is a Feminist?”
“A Feminist, my daughter,
Is any woman now who cares
To think about her own affairs
As men don’t think she oughter.”

If They Meant All They Said

Charm is a woman’s strongest arm;
My charwoman is full of charm;
I chose her, not for strength of arm
But for her strange elusive charm.

And how tears heighten woman’s powers!
My typist weeps for hours and hours:
I took her for her weeping powers — 
They so delight my business hours.

A woman lives by intuition.
Though my accountant shuns addition
She has the rarest intuition.
(And I myself can do addition.)

Timidity in girls is nice.
My cook is so afraid of mice.
Now you’ll admit it’s very nice
To feel your cook’s afraid of mice.

A Sex Difference

When men in Congress come to blows
at something someone said,
I always notice that it shows
their blood is quick and red;

But if two women disagree,
with very little noise,
It proves, and this seems strange to me,
that women have no poise.

The Logic of the Law

In 1875 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in denying the petition of women to practise before it said: “It would be shocking to man’s reverence for womanhood and faith in woman … that woman should be permitted to mix professionally in all the nastiness which finds its way into courts of justice.” It then names thirteen subjects as unfit for the attention of women — three of them are crimes committed against women.

The Bundesrath of Germany has decided to furnish medical and financial assistance to women at the time of childbirth, in order “to alleviate the anxiety of husbands at the front.” How strange this would sound: “The Bundesrath has decided to furnish medical assistance to the wounded at the front, in order to alleviate the anxiety of wives and mothers at home.” When a benefit is suggested for men, the question asked is: “Will it benefit men?” When a benefit is suggested for women, the question is: “Will it benefit men?”

Fashion Notes: Past and Present

1880 — Anti-suffrage arguments are being worn long, calm and flowing this year, with the dominant note that of woman’s intellectual inferiority.

1890 — Violence is very evident in this season’s modes, and our more conservative thinkers are saying that woman suffrage threatens the home, the Church and the Republic.

1900 — A complete change of style has taken place. Everything is being worn a l’aristocrate, with the repeated assertion that too many people are voting already.

1915 — The best line of goods shown by the leading anti-suffrage houses this spring is the statement that woman suffrage is the same thing as free love. The effect is extremely piquant and surprising.

Why We Oppose Pockets for Women

1. Because pockets are not a natural right.

2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.

3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.

4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.

5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.

6. Because it would destroy man’s chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.

7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.

8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.

Why Educating Women Damns Their Souls and Hurts Men

The Protected Sex

With apologies to James Whitcomb Riley. (“The result of taking second place to girls at school is that the boy feels a sense of inferiority that he is never afterward able entirely to shake off.” — Editorial in London Globe against co-education.)

There, little girl, don’t read,
You’re fond of your books, I know,
But Brother might mope
If he had no hope
Of getting ahead of you.
It’s dull for a boy who cannot lead.
There, little girl, don’t read.

This might be the strangest argument of them all — the “girls are bad at math” narrative might have had its start back when girls were discouraged from studying math because of its, er, corrupting influence:

The Maiden’s Vow (A speaker at the National Education Association advised girls not to study algebra. Many girls, he said, had lost their souls through this study. The idea has been taken up with enthusiasm.)

I will avoid equations,
And shun the naughty surd,
I must beware the perfect square,
Through it young girls have erred:
And when men mention Rule of Three
Pretend I have not heard.

Through Sturm’s delightful theorems
Illicit joys assure,
Though permutations and combinations
My woman’s heart allure,
I’ll never study algebra,
But keep my spirit pure.

The Antis!

Some of the best ones lampoon the anti-suffragists. Here are a few:

Warning to Suffragists (“The Latin man believes that giving woman the vote will make her less attractive.” — Anna H. Shaw.)

They must sacrifice their beauty
Who would do their civic duty,
Who the polling booth would enter,
Who the ballot box would use;
As they drop their ballots in it
Men and women in a minute,
Lose their charm, the antis* tell us,
But — the men have less to lose.

*antis = antisuffragists

Here’s a ditty lampooning the anti-suffragists — specifically, their lady-like pride at keeping themselves out of public discourse:

A Suggested Campaign Song (“No brass bands. No speeches. Instead a still, silent, effective influence.” — Anti-suffrage speech.)

We are waging — can you doubt it?
A campaign so calm and still
No one knows a thing about it,
And we hope they never will.

No one knows
What we oppose,
And we hope they never will.

We are ladylike and quiet,
Here a whisper — there a hint;
Never speeches, bands or riot,
Nothing suitable for print.

No one knows
What we oppose,
For we never speak for print.

Sometimes in profound seclusion,
In some far (but homelike) spot,
We will make a dark allusion:
“We’re opposed to you-know-what.”

No one knows
What we oppose,
For we call it “You-Know-What.”

Such Nonsense (“Where on earth did the idea come from that the ballot is a boon, a privilege and an honor? From men.” — Mrs. Prestonia Mann Martin.)

Who is it thinks the vote some use? Man.
(Man is often such a goose!)
Indeed it makes me laugh to see
How men have struggled to be free.

Poor Washington, who meant so well,
And Nathan Hale and William Tell,
Hampden and Bolivar and Pym,
And L’Ouverture — remember him?

And Garibaldi and Kossuth,
And some who threw away their youth,
All bitten by the stupid notion
That liberty was worth emotion.

They could not get it through their heads
That if they stayed tucked up in beds,
Avoiding politics and strife,
They’d lead a pleasant, peaceful life.

Let us, dear sisters, never make
Such a ridiculous mistake;
But teach our children o’er and o’er
That liberty is just a chore.


Then there’s the move where you take the opposition literally and follow their logic to its ultimate conclusion by, say, following your husband to his corner bar because a judge ruled that wherever he happens to be is “home”:

Home and Where It Is (An Indiana judge has recently ruled: As to the right of the husband to decide the location of the home that “home is where the husband is.”)

Home is where the husband is,
Be it near or be it far,
Office, theatre, Pullman car,
Poolroom, polls, or corner bar — 
All good wives remember this — 
Home is where the husband is.

Woman’s place is home, I wis.
Leave your family bacon frying,
Leave your wash and dishes drying,
Leave your little children crying;
Join your husband, near or far,
At the club or corner bar,
For the court has taught us this:
“Home is where the husband is.”

Or taking the language of chivalry seriously:

On Not Believing All You Hear (“Women are angels, they are jewels, they are queens and princesses of our hearts.” — Anti-suffrage speech of Mr. Carter of Oklahoma.)

“Angel, or jewel, or princess, or queen,
Tell me immediately, where have you been?”
“I’ve been to ask all my slaves so devoted
Why they against my enfranchisement voted.”
“Angel and princess, that action was wrong.
Back to the kitchen, where angels belong.”

Or thinking through what it would look like if men actually — in practice — respected what their wives thought, and represented them (which was one reason offered for why women didn’t need the vote):

Representation (“My wife is against suffrage, and that settles me.” — Vice-President Marshall.)


My wife dislikes the income tax,
And so I cannot pay it;
She thinks that golf all interest lacks,
So now I never play it;

She is opposed to tolls repeal
(Though why I cannot say),
But woman’s duty is to feel,
And man’s is to obey.


I’m in a hard position
for a perfect gentleman,
I want to please the ladies,
but I don’t see how I can,

My present wife’s a suffragist,
and counts on my support,
But my mother is an anti,
of a rather biting sort;

One grandmother is on the fence,
the other much opposed,
And my sister lives in Oregon,
and thinks the question’s closed;

Each one is counting on my vote
to represent her view.
Now what should you think proper
for a gentleman to do?

And, taking that one step further, looking at how the courts use the language of romance to justify refusing to extend legal protections to women:

Partners (“Our laws have not yet reached the point of holding that property which is the result of the husband’s earnings and the wife’s savings becomes their joint property…. In this most important of all partnerships there is no partnership property.” — Recent decision of the New York Supreme Court.)

Lady, lovely lady, come and share
All my care;
Oh how gladly I will hurry
To confide my every worry
(And they’re very dark and drear)
In your ear.

Lady, share the praise I obtain
Now and again;
Though I’m shy, it doesn’t matter,
I will tell you how they flatter:
Every compliment I’ll share
Fair and square.

Lady, I my toil will divide
At your side;
I outside the home, you within;
You shall wash and cook and spin,
I’ll provide the flax and food,
If you’re good.

Partners, lady, we shall be,
You and me,
Partners in the highest sense
Looking for no recompense,
For, the savings that we make,
I shall take.

Women in the Workplace

The Gallant Sex (A woman engineer has been dismissed by the Board of Education, under their new rule that women shall not attend high pressure boilers, although her work has been satisfactory and she holds a license to attend such boilers from the Police Department.)

Lady, dangers lurk in boilers,
Risks I could not let you face.
Men were meant to be the toilers,
Home, you know, is woman’s place.
Have no home? Well, is that so?
Still, it’s not my fault, you know.
Charming lady, work no more;
Fair you are and sweet as honey;
Work might make your fingers sore,
And, besides, I need the money.
Prithee rest, — or starve or rob — 
Only let me have your job!


Said Mr. Jones in 1910:
“Women, subject yourselves to men.”

Nineteen-Eleven heard him quote:
“They rule the world without the vote.”

By Nineteen-Twelve, he would submit
“When all the women wanted it.”

By Nineteen-Thirteen, looking glum,
He said that it was bound to come.

This year I heard him say with pride:
“No reasons on the other side!”

By Nineteen-Fifteen, he’ll insist
He’s always been a suffragist.

And what is really stranger, too,
He’ll think that what he says is true.

The Range of Political Convictions

One of the most interesting parts of the book voices the position of the old-fashioned woman who’s fed up, despite her conservative tendencies, with men bloviating about womanhood. Gotta love it when mother revolts!

The Revolt of Mother (“Every true woman feels___” — Speech of almost any Congressman.)

I am old-fashioned, and I think it right
That man should know, by Nature’s laws eternal,
The proper way to rule, to earn, to fight,
And exercise those functions called paternal;
But even I a little bit rebel
At finding that he knows my job as well.

At least he’s always ready to expound it,
Especially in legislative hall,
The joys, the cares, the halos that surround it,
“How women feel” — he knows that best of all.
In fact his thesis is that no one can
Know what is womanly except a man.

I am old-fashioned, and I am content
When he explains the world of art and science
And government — to him divinely sent — 
I drink it in with ladylike compliance.
But cannot listen — no, I’m only human — 
While he instructs me how to be a woman.

To the “you will distract us” argument some men advanced against women in the workplace — still one of the most frequently-cited arguments for why women shouldn’t be allowed to serve on the front lines (or in submarines).

Watch Ms. Duer Miller strip Mr. Bowdle’s logic of its flattery and expose the loopy misogyny.

Lines to Mr. Bowdle of Ohio (“The women of this smart capital are beautiful. Their beauty is disturbing to business; their feet are beautiful, their ankles are beautiful, but here I must pause.” — Mr. Bowdle’s anti-suffrage speech in Congress, January 12, 1915.)

You, who despise the so-called fairer sex,
Be brave. There really isn’t any reason
You should not, if you wish, oppose and vex
And scold us in, and even out of season;
But don’t regard it as your bounden duty
To open with a tribute to our beauty.

Say if you like that women have no sense,
No self-control, no power of concentration;
Say that hysterics is our one defence
Our virtue but an absence of temptation;
These I can bear, but, oh, I own it rankles
To hear you maundering on about our ankles.

Tell those old stories, which have now and then
Been from the Record thoughtfully deleted,
Repeat that favorite one about the hen,
Repeat the ones that cannot be repeated;
But in the midst of such enjoyments, smother
The impulse to extol your “sainted mother.”

And then there’s just pure distilled satire, dripping with vitriolic wit:

Our Idea of Nothing at All (“I am opposed to woman suffrage, but I am not opposed to woman.” — Anti-suffrage speech of Mr. Webb of North Carolina.)

O women, have you heard the news
Of charity and grace?
Look, look, how joy and gratitude
Are beaming in my face!
For Mr. Webb is not opposed
To woman in her place!

O Mr. Webb, how kind you are
To let us live at all,
To let us light the kitchen range
And tidy up the hall;
To tolerate the female sex
In spite of Adam’s fall.

O girls, suppose that Mr. Webb
Should alter his decree!
Suppose he were opposed to us — 
Opposed to you and me.
What would be left for us to do — 
Except to cease to be?

In 1917, she wrote a follow-up to Are Women People? titled Women Are People! YAY!

So now we know, and I strongly advise everyone to get a copy and go read the whole thing, scone in hand, by a lake. And then, next time you read a news article that delivers the drivel I expected when I first downloaded this (fool that I was!) — grab your rhyming dictionary and start scribbling.

Lili Loofbourow is a writer living in Oakland. She writes about 17th-century ideas of reading and digestion, cognitive science, Chile, and femscularity. She blogs for Ms. Magazine and Excremental Virtue.