Nonfiction, Philippine Suffrage

This is an essay written by suffragist Trinidad Fernandez Legarda, editor of The Woman’s Outlook and President of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs (NFWC). NFWC led the campaign for suffrage in the Philippines in 1921. The essay presents a summary of the Filipino suffragists’ argument for the vote.

The Philippines were an American colony from 1901 to 1935 and a Commonwealth from 1935 to 1941. The American government promised independence after a period of democratic tutelage, so Filipino men were allowed to participate in local and national politics. American colonial powers were willing to grant Filipino women the franchise, but Filipino men opposed the idea. In 1912, American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt visited Manila in the hopes of starting a suffrage movement, but there was not much interest before NFWC activity began in 1921.

Filipino suffragists did not challenge cultural constructions of the feminine (as moral guardian, beauty queen, wife, and mother). Mrs. Legarda was Carnival Queen in 1924 (beauty queen of the annual Manila Carnival, the precursor to the Miss Philippine Beauty Pageant), and was a noted civic worker. In this essay written for the Philippine Magazine, a mainstream publication with a primarily male audience, Legarda articulates the feminist position. Legarda’s essay draws out the differences between Western and Filipino feminism, stressing the non-militancy of the Filipino movement. Their strategies involved appealing to male reason rather than by violent protest (unlike British suffragists). She labors the point that they were already qualified to become doctors and lawyers and therefore, since women had been given access to tertiary education, it was incongruous that they be able to practice law but not be given the right to vote. Note especially that the essay shows quite clearly how much the suffragists were plugged into the global suffrage movement.

Source: Legarda, Trinidad F. “Philippine Women and the Vote” Philippine Magazine, Vol 28, No. 4, (1931), 163-165, 196-200.

Philippine Women and the Vote

“Never wilt peace and human nature meet
Till free and equal man and woman greet”

The time seems to be most opportune for a dispassionate discussion of the question of woman suffrage in order to bring home to our people the reasons why we believe the ballot can be safely entrusted into the hands of the Filipino women.

The complexion of the new legislature is very apparently pro-suffrage. We are lucky to count among our law makers a considerable number of progressive and broad-minded men who are heartily in accord with our aspirations, and rightly so. For woman suffrage is a just and honorable cause, and the reasonableness of our demand is its best recommendation. . . .

We have been accused of being lukewarm on the subject of woman suffrage just because we have made no visible agitation for the fulfillment of our aspirations. This attitude, it seems to me is the best proof for our capacity to exercise the suffrage. We believe in our cause but we do not believe that to attain our end we have to resort to violent and drastic methods which would only reflect upon ourselves. We are of the conviction that good manners and soft words will bring the most difficult things to pass. In the words of George Washington, we will not allow our campaign to exceed a decent warmth but will submit our sentiments quietly, knowing full well that a dictatorial manner, though it may carry conviction, always arouses resentment.

We are arraying ourselves not as foes of men but as friends, demanding, not an empire but friendship and equality, and wishing to reign, not over men, but over ourselves.

I am fully aware that in this cause some of our worst foes are found within our own sex. But I am aware that some of our best friends are to be found among the men. I am not deluding myself into the belief that our women are solid for suffrage. What I do know is once they are shown the justness and the reasonableness of our demand, they will most naturally side with us, for Euripides has rightly said that woman is woman’s natural ally. Even granting that among our women there are more who are opposed to it than those favoring it, it is still to our advantage, for we can then say with Chesterton, “To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school.”

A woman, above the accident of her sex, is, first of all a human being. Like every human being she is potentially heir to every human faculty and achievement. As attested to by an eminent psychologists, there is no mate and female mind anymore than there is a male and female lung or liver. Sex is merely a division of gender, not of intellect or capacity.

Equality knows no difference of sex. The law of equal freedom necessarily applies to the whole race, female as well as male. As Plato said, “Either sex alone is but half itself.” The human race, like the human body, can advance only by the joint motion of its limbs.

The citizens of this country are Filipinos and women form one-half of our population. Our nation is created, not by one sex alone, but jointly by men and women. If it is to be presumed that the right of suffrage inheres in men solely because they are part of the “people,” the same right also inheres in women simply and solely because they are part of the people.

We are classed as citizens of this country. We help in our country’s struggle for economic freedom and for political liberty just as much as men do. There is no campaign, no demonstration, no undertaking for the motion and the welfare of our country that we have not gladly shared in with our men. Yet when election day comes around, a discrimination is set up against us just because we are women. and we are unwittingly classed among the minas, criminals, and lunatics of this country! But while the child will become a man and a voter, the lunatic may be cured, and the criminal may be pardoned, no amount of wisdom, no age, no peculiar fitness, no public service rendered, however great, no effort, can remove from woman the extraordinary disability because of her sex. This is contrary to natural justice and to the most enlightened political philosophy. It is manifestly unjust to exclude one-half of our people from political influence, because woman has as many interests to work for as man, and she is quite capable of caring for her rights. In the words of Victor Hugo: “She who bears half the burden ought to have half the rights. Half of the human race is deprived of equality and it must be given to them.”

The “natural right” of a woman to vote is just as clear as that of a man, and rests on the same ground. Since she is called on to obey the laws, she ought to have a voice in making them. . . .

We all admit that women were created to be the mothers of the race. This is an unequivocal fact. Women bear the world. Women make it. The souls of little children are marvelously delicate and tender things, and keep forever the shadow that first falls upon them, and that is the mother’s, or at best a woman’s. The suffrage that we ask for is, in the words of Carrie Chapmat Catt, one which we hope to make worthy of the best and highest womanhood by insisting upon honesty and nobility in our politics; by providing that a mother is a better mother when she is also a citizen.

To be more practical, are women less concerned than men in having clean streets, decent sewers, untainted milk, good schools, charities properly administered, hospitals put on a proper footing? Yet we can not have to do with any of these things without taking part in politics, pure and simple. “Not one whit of glory would I withdraw,” said Henry Ward Beecher, “from the picture of the mother in her home where we are told she should stay. But I aver that her power to teach her children largely depends upon the influences that surround the household. Every true Christian woman is bound to have a thought for the village, the country, the state, the nation.” . . .

Said Theodore Roosevelt, “I believe in the rights of the women just as much as I do in those of men and, indeed, a little more. . . . She can do the best work in her home if she has healthy outside interests and occupations in addition”. “Neither do I believe that the evil effects to the home and to the family and to the womanliness of woman would follow woman suffrage, which its opponents prophesy,” said Robert Erskine Ely. “On the contrary, political duties and privileges will have an educational influence upon women from which their homes and the children will greatly benefit.”

The majority of women will always be homemakers in spite of woman suffrage. As an old Hindu proverb says, “A hundred men make an encampment. One woman makes a home.” Yet in the words of John Bright, “Yes, yes, it is all very well, but one just law is worth a million soup kitchens.”

Surely, the duties of the home, especially in these times of labor saving devices and new discoveries, are not so rigorous as to prevent the most domestic of women from leaving her fireside once every three years or so to record her vote! . . .

Women will become more satisfactory friends and helpmates of men when they have learned self-reliance by depending on themselves, self-protection by protecting themselves, self-reverence and self-control and the courage of their convictions by freely and openly sharing on equal terms with men in the responsibilities of the government. “There can be no real marriage worthy of the name and a help to civilization save on a basis of political, social, and economic equality.” says Jesse Lynch Williams.

The most flimsy argument against woman suffrage is that it will mark the end of chivalry and destroy the woman linen of our women. . . .

Some men say that a great many women will not wish to vote because they will think it is not “lady-like”, or whatever the proper term may be. Are there a great many men who abstain from politics because they think it ungentlemanly?

Suppose the majority of women do not wish to vote—is that a reason for depriving one woman, who is taxed, of her equal representation? . . .

Our opponents are dreadfully exercised for fear the vote will unsex women. They say we are too delicate—women are such “fragile flowers”—yet men get these delicate blossoms to undertake at the lowest possible wages the intolerable toil of the rope-walk. Women make bricks, girls are driven, when not driven to something worse, to being scullions and boarding-house slaves. Women are graciously permitted to sweat in factories and over other people’s washing when they should be caring for their babies. Still others of these fragile flowers work on the roads, make bridges, build houses, and plough the fields to keep alive. Yet a vote in their hands would soil them and destroy their womanliness! . . .

It is alleged that women are already represented by men. When was the choice made? “ If I am told they are virtually represented,” said George William Curtis, “I reply with James Otis that no such phrase as virtual representation is known in law or constitution.” The pronouncement that women are represented by their husbands is entirely inadequate. It is fortunate for those who have husbands to represent them but unfortunate for the great number of unmarried women and widows who may still need representation at the polls. And brothers and fathers may answer the last summons before their women folk, and thus leave a family wholly unrepresented in the machinery of our government.

The American colonies were said to be represented in the British Parliament but the colonies were not content with such representation. “Neither are women contented to be represented by men,” says James Freeman Clarke. What can be more to the point than the old defense of republics, “Taxation without representation is tyranny?” . . .

A frequent argument against woman suffrage is that since women can not become soldiers, they ought not to vote: in other words, that behind every vote there must stand a bullet ready to defend it.

Always some woman risks her life whenever a soldier is born into the world. “For years,” describes Lucy Stone, “she does picket duty by his cradle. Later on, she is his quartermaster and gathers his rations. And when that boy grows to be a man, shall he say to his mother, ‘If you want to vote, you must first go and kill somebody?' That is a coward’s argument.”


There are many arguments against woman suffrage, but no reasons. The more we interrogate common sense, the less reason we find for excluding women from political existence.

Let us then exclaim with Abraham Lincoln. “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duties as we understand them.”