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Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ingalls and Wilder on women voting

I don't have the book with me today, but near the beginning of Little Town on the Prairie there's a dialog at the Ingalls home on the scandal of alcohol and the negative influence of DeSmet's two saloons. Catherine remarks that if women just had the vote, they'd outlaw such things. Interestingly enough, by the time she penned these words, Laura had already seen women get the vote, and--in at least one case--vote to make their city even wetter than before. Even without women voting, though, Dakota Territory was able to outlaw the retail sale of alcohol--and it was one of the first laws passed in South Dakota, the new state of which DeSmet, with its two holders of $400 retail liquor licenses, formed a part.

In her Little-House takeoff Free Land, Rose Wilder Lane gives us the following conversation involving Eliza Wilder, Almanzo's bossy big sister, as they travel an inconveniently long distance to file their respective claims for free land:

"Well, I must say!" said Eliza. "It comes with a pretty grace from you men, finding fault with what you do yourselves." If women had the vote, she stated, things would be done differently.
"That shows how much you know," David retorted. Somebody in Washington decided where to put the land offices. [sic] "If you think voting has anything to do with it, you've got a bee in your bonnet."

Finally, another opinion along these lines was put in the mouth of Mrs. McKee in These Happy Golden Years:

"I don't know why the law makes us do this," she said. "What earthly good it does, to make a woman stay on a claim all summer."
"It's a bet, Pa says," Laura answered. "The government bets a man a quarter-section of land, that he can't stay on if for five years without starving to death.
"Nobody could," said Mrs. McKee. "Whoever makes these laws ought to know that a man that's got enough money to farm, has got enough to buy a farm. . . . All it means is, his wife and family have got to sit idle on it, seven months of the year. I could be earning something, dressmaking, to help buy tools and seeds, if somebody didn't have to sit on this claim. I declare to goodness, I don't know but sometimes I believe in women's rights. If women were voting and making laws, I believe they'd have better sense."

Alas, good sense is not the prerogative of either sex, and whatever sense people have tends to leave them once they get behind the reins of power. The problem here was one of the government giving away something that wasn't theirs to take, and yet the recipients of the government's largesse must grumble and complain about how much work it is to grab it before somebody else does, and then to hang on to it long enough to keep anyone else from being able to take it away.

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