By EDWARD L. BERNAYS
WOMEN'S ACTIVITIES AND PROPAGANDA
WOMEN in contemporary America have achieved a legal equality with men. This does not mean that their activities are identical with those of men. Women in the mass still have special interests and activities in addition to their economic pursuits and vocational interests.
Women's most obvious influence is exerted when they are organized and armed with the weapon of propaganda. So organized and armed they have made their influence felt on city councils, state legislatures, and national congresses, upon executives, upon political campaigns and upon public opinion generally, both local and national.
In politics, the American women to-day occupy a much more important position, from the standpoint of their influence, in their organized groups than from the standpoint of the leadership they have acquired in actual political positions or in actual office holding. The professional woman politician has had, up to the present, not much influence, nor do women generally regard her as being the most important element in question. Ma Ferguson, after all, was simply a woman in the home, a catspaw for a deposed husband; Nellie Ross, the former Governor of Wyoming, is from all accounts hardly a leader of statesmanship or public opinion.
If the suffrage campaign did nothing more, it showed the possibilities of propaganda to achieve certain ends. This propaganda to-day is being utilized by women to achieve their programs in Washington and in the states. In Washington they are organized as the Legislative Committee of Fourteen Women's Organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Federation of Women's Clubs, etc. These organizations map out a legislative program and then use the modern technique of propaganda to make this legislative program actually pass into the law of the land. Their accomplishments in the field are various. They can justifiably take the credit for much welfare legislation. The eight-hour day for women is theirs. Undoubtedly prohibition and its enforcement are theirs, if they can be considered an accomplishment.
So is the Shepard-Towner Bill which stipulates support by the central government of maternity welfare in the state governments. This bill would not have passed had it not been for the political prescience and sagacity of women like Mrs. Vanderlip and Mrs. Mitchell.
The Federal measures endorsed at the first convention of the National League of Women Voters typify social welfare activities of women's organizations. These covered such broad interests as child welfare, education, the home and high prices, women in gainful occupations, public health and morals, independent citizenship for married women, and others. To propagandize these principles, the National League of Women Voters has published all types of literature, such as bulletins, calendars, election information, has held a correspondence course on government and conducted demonstration classes and citizenship schools.
Possibly the effectiveness of women's organizations in American politics to-day is due to two things: first, the training of a professional class of executive secretaries or legislative secretaries during the suffrage campaigns, where every device known to the propagandist had to be used to regiment a recalcitrant majority; secondly, the routing over into peacetime activities of the many prominent women who were in the suffrage campaigns and who also devoted themselves to the important drives and mass influence movements during the war. Such women as Mrs. Frank Vanderlip, Alice Ames Winter, Mrs. Henry Moskowitz, Mrs. Florence Kelley, Mrs. John Blair, Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, Doris Stevens, Alice Paul come to mind.
If I have seemed to concentrate on the accomplishments of women in politics, it is because they afford a particularly striking example of intelligent use of the new propaganda to secure attention and acceptance of minority ideas. It is perhaps curiously appropriate that the latest recruits to the political arena should recognize and make use of the newest weapons of persuasion to offset any lack of experience with what is somewhat euphemistically termed practical politics.
As an example of this new technique: Some years ago, the Consumers' Committee of Women, fighting the "American valuation" tariff, rented an empty store on Fifty-seventh Street in New York and set up an exhibit of merchandise tagging each item with the current price and the price it would cost if the tariff went through. Hundreds of visitors to this shop rallied to the cause of the committee. But there are also non-political fields in which women can make and have made their influence felt for social ends, and in which they have utilized the principle of group leadership in attaining the desired objectives.
In the General Federation of Women's Clubs, there are 13,000 clubs. Broadly classified, they include civic and city clubs, mothers' and homemakers' clubs, cultural clubs devoted to art, music or literature, business and professional women's clubs, and general women's clubs, which may embrace either civic or community phases, or combine some of the other activities listed.
The woman's club is generally effective on behalf of health education; in furthering appreciation of the fine arts; in sponsoring legislation that affects the welfare of women and children; in playground development and park improvement; in raising standards of social or political morality; in homemaking. and home economics, education and the like. In these fields, the woman's club concerns itself with efforts that are not ordinarily covered by existing agencies, and often both initiates and helps to further movements for the good of the community.
A club interested principally in homemaking and the practical arts can sponsor a cooking school for young brides and others. An example of the keen interest of women in this field of education is the cooking school recently conducted by the New York Herald Tribune, which held its classes in Carnegie Hall, seating almost 3,000 persons. For the several days of the cooking school, the hall was filled to capacity, rivaling the drawing power of a McCormack or a Paderewski, and refuting most dramatically the idea that women in large cities are not interested in housewifery.
A movement for the serving of milk in public schools, or the establishment of a baby health station at the department of health will be an effort close to the heart of a club devoted to the interest of mothers and child welfare.
A music club can broaden its sphere and be of service to the community by cooperating with the local radio station in arranging better musical programs. Fighting bad music can be as militant a campaign and marshal as varied resources as any political battle. An art club can be active in securing loan exhibitions for its city. It can also arrange travelling exhibits of the art work of its members or show the art work of schools or universities. A literary club may step out of its charmed circle of lectures and literary lions and take a definite part in the educational life of the community. It can sponsor, for instance, a competition in the public schools for the best essay on the history of the city, or on the life of its most famous son.
Over and above the particular object for which the woman's club may have been constituted, it commonly stands ready to initiate or help any movement which has for its object a distinct public good in the community. More important, it constitutes an organized channel through which women can make themselves felt as a definite part of public opinion.
Just as women supplement men in private life, so they will supplement men in public life by concentrating their organized efforts on those objects which men are likely to ignore. There is a tremendous field for women as active protagonists of new ideas and new methods of political and social housekeeping. When organized and conscious of their power to influence their surroundings, women can use their newly acquired freedom in a great many ways to mold the world into a better place to live in.