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“Woman Wants Bread, Not the Ballot!”

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the US, we highlight a radical speech from Susan B. Anthony on women's suffrage as one step in a greater economic revolution.

Verso Books26 August 2020

“Woman Wants Bread, Not the Ballot!”

Susan B. Anthony was an American social reformer and women's rights activist who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement.

My purpose tonight is to demonstrate the great historical fact that disfranchisement is not only political degradation, but also moral, social, educational and industrial degradation; and that it does not matter whether the disfranchised class live under a monarchial or a republican form of government, or whether it be white working men of England, negroes on our southern plantations, serfs of Russia, Chinamen on our Pacific coast, or native born, tax-paying women of this republic. Wherever, on the face of the globe or on the page of history, you show me a disfranchised class, I will show you a degraded class of labor. Disfranchisement means inability to make, shape or control one’s own circumstances. The disfranchised must always do the work, accept the wages, occupy the position the enfranchised assign to them.

And then again you say, “Capital, not the vote, regulates labor” . . . but no one with eyes to see and ears to hear, will concede for a moment that capital absolutely dominates the work and wages of the free and enfranchised men of this republic. It is in order to lift the millions of our wage-earning women into a position of as much power over their own labor as men possess that they should be invested with the franchise. This ought to be done not just for the sake of justice to the women, but to the men with whom they compete; for, just so long as there is a degraded class of labor in the market, it always will be used by the capitalist to checkmate and undermine the superior classes.  

In this lesser-known, extraordinary speech, famous American feminist Susan B. Anthony highlights an argument much debated between the suffrage and socialist movements at the time: was women’s suffrage an end in itself, or was it one step in a greater economic and political revolution? Here, Anthony argues against the degradation of labor—by race, gender, or nationality—and describes how capitalism uses these divisions to oppress us all.

Filed under: feminism, history