Marianne Parker Dascomb
The Oberlin Women's Suffrage Debate - 1870
Despite Oberlin's progressive tradition, not all reforms received the full support of the community. In particular, the women's suffrage question generated heated debate. In March of 1870, one hundred and forty married women of Lorain County petitioned the state legislature, protesting efforts to grant women suffrage. Among the notable signers was Mrs. Marianne Parker Dascomb, Principal of the Female Department at the College. The petition read:
We acknowledge no inferiority to men. We claim to have no less ability (?) to perform the duties which God has imposed upon us, than they to perform those imposed upon them.
We believe that God has wisely and well adapted each sex to the higher performance of the duties of each.
We believe our trusts to be as important and sacred as any that exist on earth.
We feel our present duties fill the whole measure of our time and abilities; and that they are such as none but ourselves can perform.
Their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to compel us to assume those obligations which can not be separated from suffrage: but which can not be performed by us without the sacrifice of the highest interests of our families and of society.
It is our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who represent us at the ballot box. Our husbands are our [unreadable] and one with us. Our sons are what we make them.
We are content that they represent us in the corn field, the battlefield, and at the ballot box, and we them in the school room, at the fireside, and at the cradle; believing our representation even at the ballot box, to be thus more full and impartial than it could possibly be were all women allowed to vote.
We do therefore respectfully protest against any legislation to establish "woman's suffrage" in our land, or in any part of it. (Lorain County News, March 17, 1870)
Community leaders offered cautious, measured responses to the petition. College President James Fairchild urged women to recognize the social importance of traditional roles and duties. He also acknowledged a growing dissatisfaction among women and asked the community to consider calmly their complaints. Richard Butler, editor and publisher of the Lorain County News, refused to endorse or reject women's suffrage. Rather, he questioned women's true commitment and asked that they prove their mettle:
Our principal object is saying all this is to find out whether the women of our land are really anxious to have the rights and privileges which some of them claim. It seems to us that this mighty clamor about "man's oppression of women" comes not from the mass of American females. The most of them seem to be contented with the lot they hold. And if they are not, we trust that every editor in the country will take the grounds we occupy in urging them, from the least to the greatest, to step forward and speak for themselves, if it be but only one word; and when they have spoken we trust that every editor will use his influence to help their cause. Is that fair? (Lorain County News. April 14, 1870)
Women responded in earnest to calls for independent action. A town resident writing as "An Enquirer" in the Lorain County News bemoaned that Oberlin, enlightened birthplace of coeducation, was the site of this conflict. She questioned the purpose of the anti-suffragists:
"What of the night?" In other days we were wont to look to Oberlin for the "breaking" of the morning. Has her light become darkness or do we "having eyes see not?" We have waited long and patiently for her advance in the cause of women suffrage and be sure that we were coming up to the help of the Lord in the work of truth and righteousness...that "protest "signed by the principal of the female department and the wives of the professors of Oberlin College carried blight to the hearts of many of its toiling daughters from four to eight years in its classic halls to fit themselves for display in the parlor or labor in the kitchen, according to the arguments there stated. (Lorain County News, April 14, 1870)
Soon after, one hundred and fifty Oberlin citizens organized a "Women's Suffrage Association." The group met at First Church on April 29, 1870. Members were asked to pay twenty-five cents. Invited speaker Mary Ashton Rice Livermore called Oberlin's attitude towards women's suffrage behind-the-times.
Lorain County News: March 14, 17, 24, 26; April 14, 21; May 5, 1870
Biggleston, William E., Oberlin: From War to Jubilee, 1866-1883. Oberlin: Grady Publishing Company, 1983.