How a Woman Viewed it All

Bryan commissioned journalist and author Elia W. Peattie to cover the joint debates. One of a small number of women in the audience, Peattie explains "how a woman viewed" the candidates' respective speeches, political views, manners, and fashion.

How a Woman Viewed it All.

Mrs. Peattie Writes of the Impressions Given a Feminine Mind.

Fifteen thousand persons crowded into the gigantic Coliseum last Thursday evening for the purpose of hearing two honorable gentlemen differ with one another concerning the tariff and the force bill. To every fifty men there was one woman. And the women had their point of view as well as the men. In some respects that point of view must necessarily be different from that held by the men.

To begin with, a woman instinctively idealizes everything she touches. She takes her politics sentimentally, as she does everything else. She is a democrat, a republican or a populist for reasons of heart—because one or the other seems pre-eminently, unquestionably right, or because the father she loved, and who is dead, stood for the principles represented in one of these parties, or because her husband stands for those principles, or because she has thrown a glamour about one of the leaders of those parties.

At the same time, in spite of her sentimentality, a woman does not necessarily suppose that others are as intense as herself. And she indulges in a little curiosity concerning a crowd like that which massed itself at the Coliseum the other evening—the largest crowd, undoubtedly, that ever assembled in Omaha. What was the reason for their meeting? Was it mere idle desire for amusement? Did these men meet that they might enjoy listening to a debate? Was it an intellectual impulse? Or was it purely a political one, in the true sense of the word? Was it possible that these men all concurred in believing that politics were responsible, primarily, for the prosperity or depression of the country, and was it concern about their financial future, and apprehension about their industrial liberty that brought them together?

It was the stuff of which republics are made—that crowd. Every male member of it was conscious of his vote. He showed in his demeanor that he attached importance to himself and his opinion. The men who were addressing him, disputing as to which represented the cause most worthy of sustainment, were indeed his servants—his emissaries—his spokesmen. Women have not got so accustomed to the process of making government, as to view it subjectively. They still take an objective view of it. It diverted them to see how deliberately these thousands of men submitted themselves to laws of their own making—how conscious they were that the voices of men meant confusion, but that the voice of law meant order.

It amused the women, too, to observe with what unanimity the partisans agreed each with their spokesman. That two large bodies of men, representing two diametrically opposed sets of ideas, should each have considered themselves right, and should each be so proud to serve under the banners of their parties is not a new thing. It is as old as human difference. Yet, the psychological interest of it is ever new. Doe sit not make right and wrong seem to be maters of opinion, like beauty, or taste? Can there be a positive quality to right, when two bodies of earnest and conscientious men disagree to it? For how shall right be determined except by conscience? And who doubts the conscientiousness of the mass of our political partisans? Truly a curious thing this difference of opinion. It may be that it was devised by an All-see God to keep men from being bored to extinction.

However that may be, the men were sufficiently partisan the other evening. They believed that they stood for the principles that would save this nation from financial ruin. Many of them believed that they were standing for the principles that would save their wives and children from starvation. The times, which no one understands, and which can hardly be the result of mistakes of American legislation, since they are common to the whole world, weighed upon these men, and they reached out with eager, finite minds for some solution of their difficulties. They shouted as liberated slaves might shout. They shouted, too, because they were men—good strong animals, with lungs and a vote and a right to howl if they wanted. It was glorious to them to feel the friction of minds. They liked the contest. They liked the flag above them. They liked the great national game of politics. The looked forward with childish excitement to the match in November. They were glad they were alive! They rejoiced that they were republicans! They exulted at being democrats! Populism was a religion with them! Whoop! Hurrah! Thurston! Bryan! Majors! Hit 'um agin, John! Who's getting' it now! Hi-yi-yi! Such is politics.

For reasons needing no explanation no woman can look at a contest without permitting her sympathies to influence her judgment more or less. That is to say, she is inevitably interested to a greater or lesser extent in the champion, as well as in the cause for which he stands. This may be so with men, too. But it can hardly influence them as much as it does women. From the great law of Sex it is impossible to escape. No woman-or at any rate very few women-can watch a combat of any sort between two men without selecting her favorite. And this favoritism has its base in the simple law of selection. She is guided by admiration. She admires the man who seems to her the most heroic. And it is not utterly impossible that when we get in politics, as we will some day, that campaigns may be governed by the shape of a man's nose, or the turn of his leg! Esthetics, not polemics, will be the guide. The color of a man's hair will decide the fate of a ward. The flash of his eye may overthrow governments.

However, joking aside, there is no doubt that the American woman who witnesses a contest is influenced, as the Roman woman used to be when she looked upon the gladiatorial contests, by the personality of the men who are fighting. And last Thursday presented an interesting study in personality.

Mr. Thurston looked secretive; Mr. Bryan frank; Mr. Thurston was thin, with drooping shoulders; Bryan stalwart, with square shoulders, suggestive of protection; Mr. Thurston, exceedingly intellectual, rather cautious, and full of reservation; Mr. Bryan essentially candid, very argumentative, and fascinatingly impulsive; Mr. Thurston with a small head, not comely, with thin straight hair, a quiet, cold, but penetrating eye, and a manner that is not ingratiating. Mr. Bryan, with a massive head, like that of an old Roman, curling dark locks, a "front of Jove," a firm, large, yet emotional mouth, a bright and sometimes mischievous eye, and a compelling magnetism in his presence. Mr. Thurston suggested conservatism. Mr. Bryan suggested the opposite. One had the temperance and the incision of experience. The other the dash and fury of youth. One fought coldly. The other hotly. Mr. Thurston seemed like the advocate of his cause. Mr. Bryan like the prophet of his. One said that which he considered to be the best policy for his party. The other eloquently poured forth that which he considered to be true. One was conscious of being a consistent partisan. The other aspired to be the defender of right. One dealt out old platitudes, well arranged, neatly put, and serenely conscious that they were so familiar that they would be understood. The other tried to encompass in his speech a mass of new, strange, and disturbing truths. He endeavored to show the meaning of these fresh conditions. He tried to make his listeners see things as they are and not as men like to think they are. The task of Mr. Thurston was a very light one compared with the task of Mr. Bryan.

Men always laugh at and applaud old minstrel jokes. They recognize and are glad to hear them. A new joke falls flat. It is something the same as politics. The old theories are dear. The new facts are distressing. Men may look the facts straight in the face and refuse to see them. They have been hypnotized by the old theories. They will see nothing that these do not permit them to see.

Thurston has galvanic movements, veins which stand out on his head, a sallow complexion and a wretched little trick of rising up and down on his toes, and of making awkward obeisances with his knees when he wants to make a period. Bryan stands square. His complexion is fresh. His face confesses to no strain. His musical voice rolls out of his great body in delightful intonations. No effort is apparent. He shakes his large head back and forth when he is excited. But he does not try to gesticulate with his legs.

Both of them ought to be particular, when they appear before an audience like that, to wear trousers that do no bag at the knees.

Mr. Thurston needs to take lessons in vocal culture. Mr. Bryan requires lessons in caution. Both can save expense by studying these branches with the other. Mr. Bryan can show Mr. Thurston how to save his throat. Mr. Thurston can show Mr. Bryan how to keep a steady guard.

Mr. Thurston is a remarkably clever man and a very adroit one. He is past master of the art of what not to say. Mr. Bryan has a spark of genius which would make any cause popular which he espoused, and which, if he used it as a sacred thing, for the good of his fellow man and the glory of God, will yet make him one of the great men of the nation.

"Prophecy is a dangerous thing," Mr. Bryan said the other evening, and in the face of that one is perhaps rash to attempt it, even in connection with Mr. Bryan. But then, why not incur danger? A life without it would be dull indeed.

The editor of this paper asked for a woman's point of view of the debate of last Thursday. Setting aside a woman's opinion of the question involved in the discussion—concerning which no one would be interested—the foregoing is what the editor desired, as one woman, at least, saw it.

About this Document

  • Source: Omaha World Herald
  • Citation: 11
  • Date: October 21, 1894