Hard to believe with as many advances as we’ve made that Indianapolis–and lots of other cities, and states for that matter–have yet to elect a female leader. Considering tomorrow’s Mayoral Election, and the possibility of Melina Kennedy changing that for Indianapolis, this seemed the most fitting topic for today’s Ladies Lounge. And while I will leave the political dissection, opinion and commentary to the pundits, I will share my eagerness to see more women in political and other leadership roles.

For anyone who has ever been a daughter, had a daughter or ever may have a daughter– you surely share the concern that our American culture needs to work harder to improve the messages we ingrain and to inspire young ladies to be  (in the words of Girls, inc.)  “smart, strong and bold.” It seems that endeavor must start with self-respect and self-care, and at least partial rejection of the many unrealistic expectations put forth by the media, in particular. How is this issue to be addressed and solved? Some of us spend inordinate amounts of time working on an answer to that layered and provocative question.  And though the undoubted knee-jerk reaction to questions about women’s capabilities is typically along the lines of “we can do anything a man can do,” it often sounds more like a conditioned answer than a deep-rooted and fully-realized belief. We can, but will we? (Oh, and a Happy Birthday to Madame Marie Curie, born this day in 1867, while we’re on the subject of smart, strong, bold women who set a great example).

In that vein, and with big thanks to one of our sponsors, Yuspie, for getting this arranged, please mark your calendar for Thursday, November 17, 2011 at Butler University of “Miss Representation” –check out the  preview here

Among other things, statistics assert that women represent 51% of the population and only 17% of congress. How far have we really progressed? Consider this article, and ask yourself what you imagine your reaction or side would have been in the following discussion. (And I hope to see at least 51% of my favorite ladies representing).

From The Indianapolis Star, “With the Club Folk” December 5, 1909-

With the ever-increasing interest in woman’s suffrage, the last meeting of the Fortnightly Literary Club was of special interest, as the subject for the the meeting was a debate on the question, “Are Women Qualified to Hold Office?”

The speakers included some of the brightest women of the club and the wives of some prominent lawyers ad politicians. Mrs. John Worth Kern, whose husband was the recent Democratic candidate for the vice presidency, was the leader on the affirmative, and the negative was led by Miss Nelly Colfax Smith assisted by Mrs. Kate Milner Rabb, Mrs. Winfred C. Wolf and Mrs. Edward White.

Mrs. Kern took up for us, ladies. Shown here, bottom right.

Mrs. Kern led off the debate and her chief argument was drawn from the fact that experiment has qualified to hold a political office. She cited instances where women have shown their capabilities in this direction and spoke also of the competent men who have been put into office mainly through the votes of women. As a specific case, Mrs. Kern mentioned Judge Lindsey of Denver. Another point which Mrs. Kern emphasized was the fact that women really are needed in public affairs to promote the necessary reforms toward a clean city, good sanitary conditions, and other civic improvements, which affect not only the community as a whole, but the individual home. Another idea which Mrs. Kern brought out was the actual necessity for women in political affairs. She thought that the presence of women and their influence would be one way of rooting out much fo the present corruption in politics.

Mrs. Ella Lathrop Gavin was the second speaker on the affirmative side of the question. Mrs. Gavin made a special point of the capabilities of women in public affairs as has been demonstrated by women rulers such as Queen Victoria, Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Elizabeth. While these Queens were guided by their counselors, they wielded as much power as has any King who preceded or followed them. Mrs. Gavin also brought forth the argument in answer to the point that woman is supposed to give her time and efforts toward training her children, and the fact that there are many, many women who never have a child under their care, and these, if no others, might certainly give themselves over to political office.

Mrs. George H. T. Scribner’s arguments were based on the intellectual part of the question and she brought out the fact that woman is man’s intellectual equal, and that, while her mind may not now be trained in political lines, a woman could learn to comprehend the subject equally well as any man. Mrs. Anna Gray Davis argued that as boys and girls are trained in the same schools and the same colleges the one would be as well fitted to enter the political field as the other. Mrs. Davis pointed out the fact that in no subjects in schools or colleges is there any leniency shown the young woman when the time for the examinations comes around, and if a girl is expected to make as high a grade as the boy in all of her work why is she not his intellectual equal?

Miss Nelly Colfax Smith was the first speaker to advance the negative side of the question, and her point was that women are not physically able to cope with man in the political field. She argued that women are too emotional, too easily swayed by personal prejudice and lacking in the same judgment of the man. Mrs. Rabb, who was  the next speaker on the negative side of the question, also argued that women are physically weaker than men and that the personal feelings are too easily swayed.

Mrs. Edward N. White opened her argument for the negative with the statement: “I doubt if Mr. Kern could go into the kitchen and cook a meal, or if Judge Gavin could darn stockings, and I shudder as to what would be the condition if Mr. White should try to keep house.” In comparison, Mrs. White argured that woman was much in the same position in the political field. not that she could not learn, any more than it is true that the man could not learn to be the housekeeper, but for generations conditions have kept the woman at home and the man abroad and as the questions now stands it must be answered in the negative.

Mrs. Winfred C. Wolff, also argued from the standpoint of physical weakness of women and made her chief point that it would be impossible for woman to harmonize the duties of the nursery and the Senate.

The debate aroused much interest among the members, but just what argument for or against the question of the day might be gleaned from the effect of the debate on the members is a question. Before the debate the president of the club, Mrs. Charles N. Thompson, called for a vote on the question, resulting eighteen in favor and twenty-five against the question. Following the debate the vote was taken again with the same result. Now whether this argues that a woman would have her ideas on a subject and refuse to be convinced and how that would be a factor for or against her fitness for office is an open question.