banner logo

Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:


SUFFRAGE (Women's right to vote)

Over the years, Mark Twain changes his mind about female suffrage:

I think I could write a pretty strong argument in favor of female suffrage, but I do not want to do it. I never want to see the women voting, and gabbling about politics, and electioneering. There is something revolting in the thought. It would shock me inexpressibly for an angel to come down from above and ask me to take a drink with him (though I should doubtless consent); but it would shock me still more to see one of our blessed earthly angels peddling election tickets among a mob of shabby scoundrels she never saw before.
- Letter to St. Louis Missouri Democrat, March 1867

Women, go your ways! Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges. Content yourself with your little feminine trifles -- your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting--and let your natural bosses do the voting. Stand back -- you will be wanting to go to war next. We will let you teach school as much as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware! we don't want you to crowd us too much.
- Letter to St. Louis Missouri Democrat, March 1867

Our marvelous latter-day statesmanship has invented universal suffrage. That is the finest feather in our cap. All that we require of a voter is that he shall be forked, wear pantaloons instead of petticoats, and bear a more or less humorous resemblance to the reported image of God. He need not know anything whatever; he may be wholly useless and a cumberer of the earth; he may even be known to be a consummate scoundrel. No matter. While he can steer clear of the penitentiary his vote is as weighty as the vote of a president, a bishop, a college professor, a merchant prince. We brag of our universal, unrestricted suffrage; but we are shams after all, for we restrict when we come to the women.
- "Universal Suffrage" speech delivered to the Monday Evening Club about 1875. Reprinted in Mark Twain: A Biography, edited by A. B. Paine

At home, a standing argument against woman suffrage has always been that women could not go to the polls without being insulted. The arguments against woman suffrage have always taken the easy form of prophecy. The prophets have been prophesying ever since the woman's rights movement began in 1848 -- and in forty-seven years they have never scored a hit.
- Following the Equator

I know that since the women started out on their crusade they have scored in every project they undertook against unjust laws. I would like to see them help make the laws and those who are to enforce them. I would like to see the whiplash in women's hands.
- quoted in The New York Times, January 21, 1901

Suffrage scrapbook photo
By 1909 suffragists considered Clemens an avid supporter. This portrait appeared in the Boston publication WOMAN'S JOURNAL, Dececmber 26, 1908. The quote has not been verified. (Photo from Library of Congress of Congress, American Memory collection.) After seeing the magazine, Elizabeth Bacon, president of Connecticut's Woman Suffrage Association wrote to ask Clemens to sign a petition being presented to Congress to request the submission of a 16th amendment giving women the right to vote. Clemens wrote on the back of the letter:

I am very glad to sign the petition but I am in terror lest I should be asked to do something, for I don't do anything now, but rest after 73 years of activity.
- quoted in Mark Twain in the Company of Women, by Laura Skandera-Trombley, p. 121.


suffrage petition
Editorial cartoon from the WASHINGTON POST, October 31, 1909. Mark Twain signed the petition.

I not only advocate it now, but have advocated it earnestly for the last fifty years. As to the militant suffragettes, I have noted that many women believe in militant methods. You might advocate one way of securing the rights and I might advocate another, they both might help to bring about the result desired. To win freedom always involves hard fighting. I believe in women doing what they deem necessary to secure their rights.
- interview in Chicago Daily Tribune, December 21, 1909, p. 5

early feminists?
Three young women dressed as men aboard an inland rivers houseboat. From an undated and unpostmarked photo post card from the early 1900s. On the back is pencilled "From Mary Vanpattan (to) Miss Irma Carpenter Sandford, Ind." The names of the young women were written in pencil above the heads of each. Mary Vanpattan is on the right; Ethel Hay is in the middle. There's an indecipherable squiggle in front of the name Broeff above the woman on the left. From the collection of Dave Thomson.

banner logo

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search