We yielded, because we had grown accustomed to be guided by her; and, moreover, we had seen, time and again, how she could succeed-- as, for instance, in the Nelson divorce case (but I don't suppose you ever heard of that), when the matter seemed nigh hopeless to all of us. The history of 1860 and the following winter proves that in her the world has lost a stateswoman. Mr. Wrangle and Governor Battle have both said to me that they never knew a measure to be so splendidly engineered both before the public and in the State Legislature.
After the bill had been passed, and signed by the Governor, and so had become a law, and the grand Women's Jubilee had been held at Gaston, the excitement subsided. It would be nearly a year to the next State election, and none of the women seemed to care for the local and municipal elections in the spring. Besides, there was a good deal of anxiety among them in regard to the bill, which was drawn up in almost the exact terms used by Mr. Wrangle at the political meeting. In fact, we always have suspected that he wrote it. The word "male" was simply omitted from all laws. "Nothing is changed," said Mrs. Whiston, quoting Charles X., "there are only 201,758 more citizens in Atlantic!"
This was in January, 1861, you must remember; and the shadow of the coming war began to fall over us. Had the passage of our bill been postponed a fortnight it would have been postponed indefinitely, for other and (for the men) more powerful excitements followed one upon the other. Even our jubilee was thinly attended, and all but two of the members on whom we relied for speeches failed us. Governor Battle, who was to have presided, was at Washington, and Olympia, already his wife, accompanied him. (I may add that she has never since taken any active part with us. They have been in Europe for the last three years.)
Most of the women--here in Burroak, at least--expressed a feeling of disappointment that there was no palpable change in their lot, no sense of extended liberty, such as they imagined would come to transform them into brighter and better creatures. They supposed that they would at once gain in importance in the eyes of the men; but the men were now so preoccupied by the events at the South that they seemed to have forgotten our political value. Speaking for myself, as a good Union woman, I felt that I must lay aside, for a time, the interests of my sex. Once, it is true, I proposed to accompany Mr. Strongitharm to a party caucus at the Wrangle House; but he so suddenly discovered that he had business in another part of the town, that I withdrew my proposition.
As the summer passed over, and the first and second call for volunteers had been met, and more than met, by the patriotic men of the State (how we blessed them!) we began to take courage, and to feel, that if our new civil position brought us no very tangible enjoyment, at least it imposed upon us no very irksome duties.
The first practical effect of the new law came to light at the August term of our County Court. The names of seven women appeared on the list of jurors, but only three of them answered to their names. One, the wife of a poor farmer, was excused by the Judge, as there was no one to look after six small children in her absence; another was a tailoress, with a quantity of work on hand, some of which she proposed bringing with her into Court, in order to save time; but as this could not be allowed, she made so much trouble that she was also finally let off. Only one, therefore, remained to serve; fortunately for the credit of our sex, she was both able and willing to do so; and we afterward made a subscription, and presented her with a silver fish-knife, on account of her having tired out eleven jurymen, and brought in a verdict of $5,000 damages against a young man whom she convicted of seduction. She told me that no one would ever know what she endured during those three days; but the morals of our county have been better ever since.
Mr. Spelter told me that his State exchanges showed that there had been difficulties of the same kind in all the other counties. In Mendip (the county-town of which is Whittletown, Mrs. Whiston's home) the immediate result had been the decision, on the part of the Commissioners, to build an addition at the rear of the Court- House, with large, commodious and well-furnished jury-rooms, so arranged that a comfortable privacy was secured to the jury-women. I did my best to have the same improvement adopted here, but, alas! I have not the ability of Selina Whiston in such matters, and there is nothing to this day but the one vile, miserable room, properly furnished in no particular except spittoons.
The nominating Conventions were held in August, also, and we were therefore called upon to move at once, in order to secure our fair share. Much valuable time had been lost in discussing a question of policy, namely, whether we should attach ourselves to the two parties already in existence, according to our individual inclinations, or whether we should form a third party for ourselves. We finally accepted the former proposition, and I think wisely; for the most of us were so ignorant of political tricks and devices, that we still needed to learn from the men, and we could not afford to draw upon us the hostility of both parties, in the very infancy of our movement.