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The Story of a Pioneer
Drama in the lecture field


My most dramatic experience occurred in a city in Michigan, where I was making a temperance campaign.  It was an important lumber and shipping center, and it harbored much intemperance.  The editor of the leading newspaper was with the temperance-workers in our fight there, and he had warned me that the liquor people threatened to "burn the building over my head'' if I attempted to lecture.  We were used to similar threats, so I proceeded with my preparations and held the meeting in the town skating-rink-- a huge, bare, wooden structure. Lectures were rare in that city, and rumors of some special excitement on this occasion had been circulated; every seat in the rink was filled, and several hundred persons stood in the aisles and at the back of the building.  Just opposite the speaker's platform was a small gallery, and above that, in the ceiling, was a trap-door. 

Before I had been speaking ten minutes I saw a man drop through this trap-door to the balcony and climb from there to the main floor.  As he reached the floor he shouted "Fire!'' and rushed out into the street.  The next instant every person in the rink was up and a panic had started.  I was very sure there was no fire, but I knew that many might be killed in the rush which was beginning.  So I sprang on a chair and shouted to the people with the full strength of my lungs: "There is no fire!  It's only a trick!  Sit down! Sit down!'' The cooler persons in the crowd at once began to help in this calming process.

"Sit down!'' they repeated.  "It's all right! There's no fire!  Sit down!'' It looked as if we had the situation in hand, for the people hesitated, and most of them grew quiet; but just then a few words were hissed up to me that made my heart stop beating.  A member of our local committee was standing beside my chair, speaking in a terrified whisper: "There IS a fire, Miss Shaw,'' he said.  "For God's sake get the people out--QUICKLY!'' The shock was so unexpected that my knees almost gave way.  The people were still standing, wavering, looking uncertainly toward us.  I raised my voice again, and if it sounded unnatural my hearers probably thought it was because I was speaking so loudly.

"As we are already standing,'' I cried, "and are all nervous, a little exercise will do us good.  So march out, singing.  Keep time to the music! Later you can come back and take your seats!''      

The man who had whispered the warning jumped into the aisle and struck up "Jesus, Lover of My Soul.''  Then he led the march down to the door, while the big audience swung into line and followed him, joining in the song.  I remained on the chair, beating time and talking to the people as they went; but when the last of them had left the building I almost collapsed; for the flames had begun to eat through the wooden walls and the clang of the fire-engines was heard outside. As soon as I was sure every one was safe, however, I experienced the most intense anger I had yet known. My indignation against the men who had risked hundreds of lives by setting fire to a crowded building made me "see red''; it was clear that they must be taught a lesson then and there. 

As soon as I was outside the rink I called a meeting, and the Congregational minister, who was in the crowd, lent us his church and led the way to it.  Most of the audience followed us, and we had a wonderful meeting, during which we were able at last to make clear to the people of that town the character of the liquor interests we were fighting.  That episode did the temperance cause more good than a hundred ordinary meetings.  Men who had been indifferent before became our friends and supporters, and at the following election we carried the town for prohibition by a big majority.

There have been other occasions when our opponents have not fought us fairly.  Once, in an Ohio town, a group of politicians, hearing that I was to lecture on temperance in the court-house on a certain night, took possession of the building early in the evening, on the pretense of holding a meeting, and held it against us.  When, escorted by a committee of leading women, I reached the building and tried to enter, we found that the men had locked us out.  Our audience was gathering and filling the street, and we finally sent a courteous message to the men, assuming that they had forgotten us and reminding them of our position.  The messenger reported that the men would leave "about eight,''  but that the room was "black with smoke and filthy with tobacco-juice. 

"We waited patiently until eight o'clock, holding little outside meetings in groups, as our audience waited with us.  At eight we again sent our messenger into the hall, and he brought back word that the men were "not through, didn't know when they would be through, and had told the women not to wait.'' Naturally, the waiting townswomen were deeply chagrined by this.  So were many men in the outside crowd.  We asked if there was no other entrance to the hall except through the locked front doors, and were told that the judge's private room opened into it, and that one of our committee had the key, as she had planned to use this room as a dressing and retiring room for the speakers. 

After some discussion we decided to storm the hall and take possession.  Within five minutes all the women had formed in line and were crowding up the back stairs and into the judge's room.  There we unlocked the door, again formed in line, and marched into the hall, singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers!' There were hundreds of us, and we marched directly to the platform, where the astonished men got up to stare at us.  More and more women entered, coming up the back stairs from the street and filling the hall; and when the men realized what it all meant, and recognized their wives, sisters, and women friends in the throng, they sheepishly unlocked the front doors and left us in possession, though we politely urged them to remain. We had a great meeting that night!

Another reminiscence may not be out of place. We were working for a prohibition amendment in the state of Pennsylvania, and the night before election I reached Coatesville.  I had just completed six weeks of strenuous campaigning, and that day I had already conducted and spoken at two big outdoor meetings.  When I entered the town hall of Coatesville I found it filled with women. Only a few men were there; the rest were celebrating and campaigning in the streets.  So I arose and said: "I would like to ask how many men there are in the audience who intend to vote for the amendment to-morrow?'' Every man in the hall stood up. "I thought so,'' I said.  "Now I intend to ask your indulgence.  As you are all in favor of the amendment, there is no use in my setting its claims before you; and, as I am utterly exhausted, I suggest that we sing the Doxology and go home!''

The audience saw the common sense of my position, so the people laughed and sang the Doxology and departed.  As we were leaving the hall one of Coatesville's prominent citizens stopped me. "I wish you were a man,'' he said.  "The town was to have a big outdoor meeting to-night, and the orator has failed us. There are thousands of men in the streets waiting for the speech, and the saloons are sending them free drinks to get them drunk and carry the town to-morrow.''

"Why,'' I said, "I'll talk to them if you wish.''

"Great Scott!'' he gasped.  "I'd be afraid to let you.  Something might happen!''

"If anything happens, it will be in a good cause,'' I reminded him.  "Let us go.''

Down-town we found the streets so packed with men that the cars could not get through, and with the greatest difficulty we reached the stand which had been erected for the speaker.  It was a gorgeous affair.  There were flaring torches all around it, and a "bull's-eye,'' taken from the head of a locomotive, made an especially brilliant patch of light.  The stand had been erected at a point where the city's four principal streets meet, and as far as I could see there were solid masses of citizens extending into these streets.  A glee-club was doing its best to help things along, and the music of an organette, an instrument much used at the time in campaign rallies, swelled the joyful tumult. 

As I mounted the platform the crowd was singing "Vote for Betty and the Baby,'' and I took that song for my text, speaking of the helplessness of women and children in the face of intemperance, and telling the crowd the only hope of the Coatesville women lay in the vote cast by their men the next day. Directly in front of me stood a huge and extraordinarily repellent-looking negro.  A glance at him almost made one shudder, but before I had finished my first sentence he raised his right arm straight above him and shouted, in a deep and wonderfully rich bass voice, "Hallelujah to the Lamb!'' 

From that point on he punctuated my speech every few moments with good, old-fashioned exclamations of salvation which helped to inspire the crowd.  I spoke for almost an hour.  Three times in my life, and only three times, I have made speeches that have satisfied me to the degree, that is, of making me feel that at least I was giving the best that was in me.  The speech at Coatesville was one of those three.  At the end of it the good-natured crowd cheered for ten minutes.  The next day Coatesville voted for prohibition, and, rightly or wrongly, I have always believed that I helped to win that victory.

Here, by the way, I may add that of the two other speeches which satisfied me one was made in Chicago, during the World's Fair, in 1893, and the other in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1912. The International Council of Women, it will be remembered, met in Chicago during the Fair, and I was invited to preach the sermon at the Sunday-morning session.  The occasion was a very important one, bringing together at least five thousand persons, including representative women from almost every country in Europe, and a large number of women ministers. These made an impressive group, as they all wore their ministerial robes; and for the first time I preached in a ministerial robe, ordered especially for that day.  It was made of black crepe de Chine, with great double flowing sleeves, white silk under- sleeves, and a wide white silk underfold down the front; and I may mention casually that it looked very much better than I felt, for I was very nervous.

My father had come on to Chicago especially to hear my sermon, and had been invited to sit on the platform.  Even yet he was not wholly reconciled to my public work, but he was beginning to take a deep interest in it.  I greatly desired to please him and to satisfy Miss Anthony, who was extremely anxious that on that day of all days I should do my best. I gave an unusual amount of time and thought to that sermon, and at last evolved what I modestly believed to be a good one.  I never write out a sermon in advance, but I did it this time, laboriously, and then memorized the effort. 

The night before the sermon was to be delivered Miss Anthony asked me about it, and when I realized how deeply interested she was I delivered it to her then and there as a rehearsal.  It was very late, and I knew we would not be interrupted.  As she listened her face grew longer and longer and her lips drooped at the corners.  Her disappointment was so obvious that I had difficulty in finishing my recitation; but I finally got through it, though rather weakly toward the end, and waited to hear what she would say, hoping against hope that she had liked it better than she seemed to.  But Susan B. Anthony was the frankest as well as the kindest of women.  Resolutely she shook her head. "It's no good, Anna,'' she said; firmly.  "You'll have to do better.  You've polished and repolished that sermon until there's no life left in it.  It's dead. Besides, I don't care for your text.''

"Then give me a text,'' I demanded, gloomily.

"I can't,'' said Aunt Susan.

I was tired and bitterly disappointed, and both conditions showed in my reply. "Well,'' I asked, somberly, "if you can't even supply a text, how do you suppose I'm going to deliver a brand-new sermon at ten o'clock to-morrow morning?''

"Oh,'' declared Aunt Susan, blithely, "you'll find a text.''

I suggested several, but she did not like them. At last I said, "I have it--`Let no man take thy crown.' ''

"That's it!'' exclaimed Miss Anthony. "Give us a good sermon on that text.''

She went to her room to sleep the sleep of the just and the untroubled, but I tossed in my bed the rest of the night, planning the points of the new sermon.  After I had delivered it the next morning I went to my father to assist him from the platform. He was trembling, and his eyes were full of tears. He seized my arm and pressed it. "Now I am ready to die,'' was all he said.

I was so tired that I felt ready to die, too; but his satisfaction and a glance at Aunt Susan's contented face gave me the tonic I needed.  Father died two years later, and as I was campaigning in California I was not with him at the end.  It was a comfort to remember, however, that in the twilight of his life he had learned to understand his most difficult daughter, and to give her credit for earnestness of purpose, at least, in following the life that had led her away from him.  After his death, and immediately upon my return from California, I visited my mother, and it was well indeed that I did, for within a few months she followed father into the other world for which all of her unselfish life had been a preparation. Our last days together were perfect.  Her attitude was one of serene and cheerful expectancy, and I always think of her as sitting among the primroses and bluebells she loved, which seemed to bloom unceasingly in the windows of her room.  I recall, too, with gratitude, a trifle which gave her a pleasure out of all proportion to what I had dreamed it would do.  She had expressed a longing for some English heather, "not the hot-house variety, but the kind that blooms on the hills,'' and I had succeeded in getting a bunch for her by writing to an English friend. Its possession filled her with joy, and from the time it came until the day her eyes closed in their last sleep it was rarely beyond reach of her hand. At her request, when she was buried we laid the heather on her heart--the heart of a true and loyal woman, who, though her children had not known it, must have longed without ceasing throughout her New World life for the Old World of her youth.

The Scandinavian speech was an even more vital experience than the Chicago one, for in Stockholm I delivered the first sermon ever preached by a woman in the State Church of Sweden, and the event was preceded by an amount of political and journalistic opposition which gave it an international importance.  I had also been invited by the Norwegian women to preach in the State Church of Norway, but there we experienced obstacles.  By the laws of Norway women are permitted to hold all public offices except those in the army, navy, and church--a rather remarkable militant and spiritual combination.  As a woman, therefore, I was denied the use of the church by the Minister of Church Affairs. The decision created great excitement and much delving into the law.  It then appeared that if the use of a State Church is desired for a minister of a foreign country the government can give such permission.  It was thought that I might slip in through this loophole, and application was made to the government.  The reply came that permission could be received only from the entire Cabinet; and while the Cabinet gentlemen were feverishly discussing the important issue, the Norwegian press became active, pointing out that the Minister of Church Affairs had arrogantly assumed the right of the entire Cabinet in denying the application. 

The charge was taken up by the party opposed to the government party in Parliament, and the Minister of Church Affairs swiftly turned the whole matter over to his conferees. The Cabinet held a session, and by a vote of four to three decided NOT to allow a woman to preach in the State Church.  I am happy to add that of the three who voted favorably on the question one was the Premier of Norway.  Again the newspapers grasped their opportunity--especially the organs of the opposition party.  My rooms were filled with reporters, while daily the excitement grew.  The question was brought up in Parliament, and I was invited to attend and hear the discussion there. By this time every newspaper in Scandinavia was for or against me; and the result of the whole matter was that, though the State Church of Norway was not opened to me, a most unusual interest had been aroused in my sermon in the State Church of Sweden. When I arrived there to keep my engagement, not only was the wonderful structure packed to its walls, but the waiting crowds in the street were so large that the police had difficulty in opening a way for our party. I shall never forget my impression of the church itself when I entered it.  It will always stand forth in my memory as one of the most beautiful churches I have ever visited. 

On every side were monuments of dead heroes and statesmen, and the high, vaulted blue dome seemed like the open sky above our heads.  Over us lay a light like a soft twilight, and the great congregation filled not only all the pews, but the aisles, the platform, and even the steps of the pulpit.

The ushers were young women from the University of Upsala, wearing white university caps with black vizors, and sashes in the university colors.  The anthem was composed especially for the occasion by the first woman cathedral organist in Sweden--the organist of the cathedral in Gothenburg--and she had brought with her thirty members of her choir, all of them remarkable singers. The whole occasion was indescribably impressive, and I realized in every fiber the necessity of being worthy of it.  Also, I experienced a sensation such as I had never known before, and which I can only describe as a seeming complete separation of my physical self from my spiritual self.  It was as if my body stood aside and watched my soul enter that pulpit. 

There was no uncertainty, no nervousness, though usually I am very nervous when I begin to speak; and when I had finished I knew that I had done my best. But all this is a long way from the early days I was discussing, when I was making my first diffident bows to lecture audiences and learning the lessons of the pioneer in the lecture-field. 

I was soon to learn more, for in 1888 Miss Anthony persuaded me to drop my temperance work and concentrate my energies on the suffrage cause.  For a long time I hesitated.  I was very happy in my connection with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and I knew that Miss Willard was depending on me to continue it.  But Miss Anthony's arguments were irrefutable, and she was herself, as always, irresistible. "You can't win two causes at once,'' she reminded me.  "You're merely scattering your energies.  Begin at the beginning.  Win suffrage for women, and the rest will follow.'' 

As an added argument, she took me with her on her Kansas campaign, and after that no further arguments were needed.  From then until her death, eighteen years later, Miss Anthony and I worked shoulder to shoulder. The most interesting lecture episode of our first Kansas campaign was my debate with Senator John J. Ingalls.  Before this, however, on our arrival at Atchison, Mrs. Ingalls gave a luncheon for Miss Anthony, and Rachel Foster Avery and I were also invited.  Miss Anthony sat at the right of Senator Ingalls, and I at his left, while Mrs. Ingalls, of course, adorned the opposite end of her table.  Mrs. Avery and I had just been entertained for several days at the home of a vegetarian friend who did not know how to cook vegetables, and we were both half starved.  When we were invited to the Ingalls home we had uttered in unison a joyous cry, "Now we shall have something to eat!''  At the luncheon, however, Senator Ingalls kept Miss Anthony and me talking steadily.  He was not in favor of suffrage for women, but he wished to know all sorts of things about the Cause, and we were anxious to have him know them. The result was that I had time for only an occasional mouthful, while down at the end of the table Mrs. Avery ate and ate, pausing only to send me glances of heartfelt sympathy. Also, whenever she had an especially toothsome morsel on the end of her fork she wickedly succeeded in catching my eye and thus adding the last sybaritic touch to her enjoyment.

Notwithstanding the wealth of knowledge we had bestowed upon him, or perhaps because of it, the following night Senator Ingalls made his famous speech against suffrage, and it fell to my lot to answer him.  In the course of his remarks he asked this question:  "Would you like to add three million illiterate voters to the large body of illiterate voters we have in America to-day?''  The audience applauded light-heartedly, but I was disturbed by the sophistry of the question.  One of Senator Ingalls's most discussed personal peculiarities was the parting of his hair in the middle.  Cartoonists and newspaper writers always made much of this, so when I rose to reply I felt justified in mentioning it.

"Senator Ingalls,'' I began, "parts his hair in the middle, as we all know, but he makes up for it by parting his figures on one side.  Last night he gave you the short side of his figures.  At the present time there are in the United States about eighteen million women of voting age.  When the Senator asked whether you wanted three million additional illiterate women voters, he forgot to ask also if you didn't want fifteen million additional intelligent women voters! We will grant that it will take the votes of three million intelligent women to wipe out the votes of three million illiterate women.  But don't forget that that would still leave us twelve million intelligent votes to the good!'' The audience applauded as gaily as it had applauded Senator Ingalls when he spoke on the other side, and I continued: "Now women have always been generous to men. So of our twelve million intelligent voters we will offer four million to offset the votes of the four million illiterate men in this country--and then we will still have eight million intelligent votes to add to the other intelligent votes which are cast.''

The audience seemed to enjoy this. "The anti-suffragists are fairly safe,'' I ended, "as long as they remain on the plane of prophecy. But as soon as they tackle mathematics they get into trouble!'' Miss Anthony was much pleased by the wide publicity given to this debate, but Senator Ingalls failed to share her enthusiasm. It was shortly after this encounter that I had two traveling experiences which nearly cost me my life. 

One of them occurred in Ohio at the time of a spring freshet.  I know of no state that can cover itself with water as completely as Ohio can, and for no apparent reason.  On this occasion it was breaking its own record.  We had driven twenty miles across country in a buggy which was barely out of the water, and behind horses that at times were almost forced to swim, and when we got near the town where I was to lecture, though still on the opposite side of the river from it, we discovered that the bridge was gone.  We had a good view of the town, situated high and dry on a steep bank; but the river which rolled between us and that town was a roaring, boiling stream, and the only possible way to cross it, I found, was to walk over a railroad trestle, already trembling under the force of the water. There were hundreds of men on the river-bank watching the flood, and when they saw me start out on the empty trestle they set up a cheer that nearly threw me off.  The river was wide and the ties far apart, and the roar of the stream below was far from reassuring; but in some way I reached the other side, and was there helped off the trestle by what the newspapers called "strong and willing hands.''

Another time, in a desperate resolve to meet a lecture engagement, I walked across the railroad trestle at Elmira, New York, and when I was half-way over I heard shouts of warning to turn back, as a train was coming.  The trestle was very high at that point, and I realized that if I turned and faced an oncoming train I would undoubtedly lose my nerve and fall.  So I kept on, as rapidly as I could, accompanied by the shrieks of those who objected to witnessing a violent death, and I reached the end of the trestle just as an express-train thundered on the beginning of it.  The next instant a policeman had me by the shoulders and was shaking me as if I had been a bad child. "If you ever do such a thing again,'' he thundered, "I'll lock you up!'' As soon as I could speak I assured him fervently that I never would; one such experience was all I desired.

Occasionally a flash of humor, conscious or unconscious, lit up the gloom of a trying situation. Thus, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the train I was on ran into a coal-car.  I was sitting in a sleeper, leaning back comfortably with my feet on the seat in front of me, and the force of the collision lifted me up, turned me completely over, and deposited me, head first, two seats beyond.  On every side I heard cries and the crash of human bodies against unyielding substances as my fellow-passengers flew through the air, while high and clear above the tumult rang the voice of the conductor: "Keep your seats!'' he yelled.  "KEEP YOUR SEATS!'' Nobody in our car was seriously hurt; but, so great is the power of vested authority, no one smiled over that order but me.

Many times my medical experience was useful. Once I was on a train which ran into a buggy and killed the woman in it.  Her little daughter, who was with her, was badly hurt, and when the train had stopped the crew lifted the dead woman and the injured child on board, to take them to the next station.  As I was the only doctor among the passengers, the child was turned over to me.  I made up a bed on the seats and put the little patient there, but no woman in the car was able to assist me.  The tragedy had made them hysterical, and on every side they were weeping and nerveless.  The men were willing but inefficient, with the exception of one uncouth woodsman whose trousers were tucked into his boots and whose hands were phenomenally big and awkward.  But they were also very gentle, as I realized when he began to help me.  I knew at once that he was the man I needed, notwithstanding his unkempt hair, his general ungainliness, the hat he wore on the back of his head, and the pink carnation in his buttonhole, which, by its very incongruity, added the final accent to his unprepossessing appearance.  Together we worked over the child, making it as comfortable as we could.  It was hardly necessary to tell my aide what I wanted done; he seemed to know and even to anticipate my efforts. When we reached the next station the dead woman was taken out and laid on the platform, and a nurse and doctor who had been telegraphed for were waiting to care for the little girl.  She was conscious by this time, and with the most exquisite gentleness my rustic Bayard lifted her in his arms to carry her off the train.  Quite unnecessarily I motioned to him not to let her see her dead mother.  He was not the sort who needed that warning; he had already turned her face to his shoulder, and, with head bent low above her, was safely skirting the spot where the long, covered figure lay. Evidently the station was his destination, too, for he remained there; but just as the train pulled out he came hurrying to my window, took the carnation from his buttonhole, and without a word handed it to me.  And after the tragic hour in which I had learned to know him the crushed flower, from that man, seemed the best fee I had ever received.


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