Mark Twain Was a Feminist

Day 207 of Colourisation Project – November 30

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

So uttered Huck Finn in the opening line of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Chances are you don’t know about Samuel Langhorne Clemens without you’ve read his famous 1901 speech, Votes for Women, in which he pressed for the granting of voting rights to women.

 Mark Twain

Photographer Unknown – Mark Twain – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, November 30, 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was a towering figure of American literature but what is not so well known about him is that he was a feminist and an outspoken advocate of Women’s Suffrage.

The title of Twain’s speech, Votes for Women was the popular slogan adopted by the campaign for women’s suffrage throughout the United States and Europe. It is considered one of the most famous speeches in history, yet not many people have read it or even heard of it. In this speech, Twain predicted that within twenty-five years, women would have the ballot. He was proven correct.

In 1919 the American Congress Passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (Women’s Suffrage Amendment), granting women the right to vote. It was just a shame that Twain did not live to see it. He died in 1910 at the age of 74.

In the later part of his life, Mark Twain, the father of three daughters, was known for his liberal views on women’s rights and civil rights. He was also a staunch supporter of abolition writing many articles and essays on the subject and speaking publicly in favor of equal justice for non whites.

Twain didn’t always hold these liberal views. As a young man he leaned tentatively but innately towards the prevailing Southern racist and sexist mentality (he was born in Missouri) that he railed against later in life. It was through his marriage to Olivia Langdon, who came from a wealthy but liberal family, that he mixed with abolitionists, socialists, atheists and activists for women’s rights and social equality. And it was these associations that had a profound impact on reshaping his views on various issues, particularly around social justice.

Twain was a a popular celebrity in his day and one of America’s best and most beloved writers. As a white male, Twain was a pioneer in supporting the civil rights movement and to have a male of his calibre behind the women’s movement was of immense value to the cause.

The full transcript of the speech is provided below.


Votes for Women  ~  by Mark Twain

Delivered at the annual meeting of the Hebrew Technical School for Girls ~ January 20, 1901

Ladies and Gentlemen, — It is a small help that I can afford, but it is just such help that one can give as coming from the heart through the mouth. The report of Mr. Meyer was admirable, and I was as interested in it as you have been. Why, I’m twice as old as he, and I’ve had so much experience that I would say to him, when he makes his appeal for help: “Don’t make it for today or tomorrow, but collect the money on the spot.”

We are all creatures of sudden impulse. We must be worked up by steam, as it were. Get them to write their wills now, or it may be too late by-and-by. Fifteen or twenty years ago I had an experience I shall never forget. I got into a church which was crowded by a sweltering and panting multitude. The city missionary of our town — Hartford — made a telling appeal for help. He told of personal experiences among the poor in cellars and top lofts requiring instances of devotion and help. The poor are always good to the poor. When a person with his millions gives a hundred thousand dollars it makes a great noise in the world, but he does not miss it; it’s the widow’s mite that makes no noise but does the best work.

I remember on that occasion in the Hartford church the collection was being taken up. The appeal had so stirred me that I could hardly wait for the hat or plate to come my way. I had four hundred dollars in my pocket, and I was anxious to drop it in the plate and wanted to borrow more. But the plate was so long in coming my way that the fever-heat of beneficence was going down lower and lower — going down at the rate of a hundred dollars a minute. The plate was passed too late. When it finally came to me, my enthusiasm had gone down so much that I kept my four hundred dollars — and stole a dime from the plate. So, you see, time sometimes leads to crime. Oh, many a time have I thought of that and regretted it, and I adjure you all to give while the fever is on you.

Referring to woman’s sphere in life, I’ll say that woman is always right. For twenty-five years I’ve been a woman’s rights man. I have always believed, long before my mother died, that, with her gray hairs and admirable intellect, perhaps she knew as much as I did. Perhaps she knew as much about voting as I.

I should like to see the time come when women shall help to make the laws. I should like to see that whiplash, the ballot, in the hands of women. As for this city’s government, I don’t want to say much, except that it is a shame — a shame; but if I should live twenty-five years longer — and there is no reason why I shouldn’t — I think I’ll see women handle the ballot. If women had the ballot to-day, the state of things in this town would not exist.

If all the women in this town had a vote today they would elect a mayor at the next election, and they would rise in their might and change the awful state of things now existing here.


“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”  –  Mark Twain

This entry was posted in American Literature, Colorization, Colourisation, History, Literature, Photography, USA, Women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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