By Jenifer Nii
Suffrage was commissioned by Plan-B Theatre Company (Salt Lake City, Utah) and receives its world premiere 4–14 April 2013, directed by Cheryl Cluff and featuring April Fossen as Frances and Sarah Young as Ruth. Visit planbtheatre.org for details. Jenifer Nii has previously premiered her plays Wallace and The Scarlet Letter at Plan-B.
Suffrage is the story of Ruth (early 20s, the fourth of five wives) and Frances (a generation older, the second of five wives). The action takes place in Utah, from 1887 up until Utah attains statehood in 1896. The intention is that the play be performed on a nearly bare stage with all locations minimally suggested. Note: The symbol “//” indicates an overlap in dialogue.
For my brother Tracy Makoto Nii (1960–2012)
(Dialogue should begin before lights up, so when the characters enter they are mid-conversation.)
Ruth: Sister, I simply mean to say . . .
Frances: You mean to say? There is something you have left unsaid?
Ruth: Kindness doth not begin with thee.
Frances: Says the pugilist.
Ruth: Charlie Sims is despicable. The way he treats our son.
Frances: He is eight years old, Ruth. They are all despicable when they are eight years old. Even our little James, on occasion.
Ruth: Eight is old enough to have the Holy Spirit bestowed upon him. It is old enough to know right from wrong and to be held accountable. And if it is good enough for the Lord, it is good enough for that despicable Charlie Sims and his despicable, irresponsible father!
Frances: (Beat) His father is horrible.
Ruth: Which is why I bloodied his nose and not that of the demon child. Charlie Sims did not pluck those slurs out of the air. He was taught them.
Frances: And by the same token, our child learned today that it is acceptable—
Ruth: What was I to do? //What was I to do?
Frances: //That it is acceptable to answer insults with violence. And from a woman, no less!
Ruth: He called us godless perverts, Frances! Mindless, godless perverts. What was I to do?
Frances: Well, I believe it safe to say that pummeling a grown man on the steps of the church might not have been the most prudent thing.
Ruth: He waited for us to come out! Lying in wait like some kind of . . . It was a premeditated act of awfulness, and it had to be stopped.
Frances: I simply suggest that there might have been another, perhaps less violent way.
Ruth: Benjamin is gone. Who is left to defend us? Will it be you?
Frances: They were but words, Sister. Ugly words from an ignorant child.
Ruth: They put our husband in prison, Sister. With words identical.
Frances: (Rises quickly, change of pace) Which is why we must use softness to turn away wrath. We have a family to think of. You and I, we must stand strong for our children and our sister wives. This is no time for rashness.
Ruth: Yes, Sister.
Frances: I am serious.
Ruth: Of course. (Beat. Set Ruth in motion, engage in an activity. Speaking quieter) Though rashness can be quite gratifying.
Frances: Stop it. //Hush!
Ruth: (Continuing in fun) //Satisfying—to unleash the force of a thousand restrained rebuttals in one taut swing against a man so utterly//repellent.
Frances: //Right this instant!
Ruth: (Beat. Still soft, teasing) You will note that Bishop Jameson made no move to intervene until after I exacted justice.
Frances: In heaven’s name . . . “justice.” No one need wonder from whence our daughter inherited her imprudence.
Ruth: Do not speak to me of her.
Frances: We must. She cannot continue to do these things—
Frances: Then what do you propose to do?
Ruth: What have we not tried? What is there left to do?
Ruth: Were we so insolent in our youth?
Frances: You can better speak to matters of youth. But no, I daresay not. I am just relieved Brother Canfield did not take harsher measures against her. Stealing from a place of business! And this after all that nonsense with whatever that dreadful child’s name is. What has become of our children of a sudden?
Ruth: I do not know.
Frances: Three of the thirteen have already begun to stray! We must do better.
Ruth: Where are we lacking? What more can we do?
Frances: It might not be a matter of more . . .
Frances: There are times, Sister . . . when what you say to them, the whispered encouragements when there ought to be discipline.
Ruth: This is my doing?
Frances: No. But any encouragement—
Ruth: If I have encouraged them, it is only to speak the truth. I did not mean for them to plunge headlong into lunacy.
Frances: The distance is short between words and deeds, Sister. These are dangerous times. The shadow of the adversary grows and with it the temptation to follow unclean paths. Any move toward rashness is slippery and treacherous.
Ruth: I know as much.
Frances: Do you?
Ruth: You doubt?
Frances: Do not be angry. It is only that I worry for you. At times you seem quite . . . sad. I do not wish this for you, as a sister and a friend. If we are still friends.
Ruth: Of course. Of course. Forgive me. I fear that as much as I want to believe that I am a strong, independent woman, Benjamin’s absence has . . . unsteadied me.
Frances: It has all of us.
Ruth: Why is this happening, Frances? Why have they taken him from us? We are not evil. We are not even . . . disruptive! What threat pose we to them in asking simply to be allowed the freedom to follow our God? To love, and marry, and raise up our family? What threat is it to anyone who or how many a man chooses to marry?
Frances: I do not know.
Ruth: Why will they not leave us alone?
(Both enter. Ruth stays in one place. Frances busies herself with household chores.)
Ruth: Absolutely enthralling!
Frances: Very interesting indeed.
Ruth: I have never heard anything like it. Did you not find it stirring?
Ruth: Such a powerful argument in defense of womankind!
Frances: You did not find her a bit . . . caustic?
Ruth: She is from New York City. City people are “passionate.”
Frances: I do not question her passion.
Ruth: Then what?
Frances: It is late, and I do not wish to quarrel.
Ruth: I merely pose a question regarding your opinion of an experience we shared.
Frances: About which we were . . . differently moved.
Ruth: What are your objections?
Frances: I have no “objections,” per se.
Ruth: Then what?
Frances: We are different women, Ruth.
Ruth: Yes we are. Sometimes I wonder if we two can be called sisters at all.
Frances: Sisters; not twins. (Ruth “pshaws” the remark) Would you rather I bind my beliefs to yours—let alone Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom I do not know—without question or deliberation?
Ruth: Of course not. (Getting caught up in the drama again, lots of pacing) But some things are true, Sister, and the truth must ring through to the very depths! Miss Stanton’s call was like . . . it was like a revelation! A voice in the wilderness.
Frances: Oh, Ruth . . .
Ruth: (Frustrated and annoyed) What?!
Frances: I do not begrudge you your interests. Perhaps I even envy your zeal.
Ruth: Then please unpinch your face.
Frances: (Realizing that her face is, indeed, pinched) We must exercise our gifts. (Beat) Let us agree to peaceably disagree.
Frances: Then we are settled.
Ruth: Settled. If not satisfied.
Frances: I am glad. (Busying herself) So. Who is to help James with his letters?
Ruth: Oh, no. No, no, no. It is not my turn already.
Frances: I am afraid it is.
Ruth: It is May’s turn! (Beat. Frances looks at her knowingly) May should have a turn!
Frances: (Softer, in case anyone is listening) Once again, Sister: There is a reason May does not have a turn.
Ruth: They could learn together! Teach one another! (Another knowing look from Frances. Ruth sighs, resigned) I will attend to James. (Beat, pouting) Miss Stanton would have much to say about May.
Frances: Back again to Miss Stanton.
Ruth: (Exuberant, awestruck) Oh, Frances.
Frances: Miss Stanton seemed to have much to say//
Ruth: //She. Is. Fascinating.
Frances: //about a great many things. (Sighs) What were you two twittering about afterward? Such excitement on your faces.
Ruth: You will be pleased to know that she firmly disapproves of those who persecute us.
Frances: She defends us?
Ruth: She does. She concedes that the roots of polygamy are in Holy Scripture. (The following sentence should start slower and build up speed.) And while she believes that all of Christianity and religion in general are delusional and that marriage is a manifestation of patriarchal oppression, it is absolutely unjust for society to use its laws to empower one delusion over another just because they for whatever reason feel threatened. (Small beat to breathe) And that monogamy actually traces back to Pagan Rome.
Frances: (Beat) My goodness.
Frances: Pagan Rome . . .
Ruth: We are at the head of a rising movement, Frances! There is much to be done.
Frances: You might start with laundry. We are all filthy and spotted.
Ruth: How can you speak of . . . Sister, why do you not see?
Frances: See what?
Ruth: All that might be attained if only we women would stand and claim what is our right?
Frances: What right is that?
Ruth: To speak, and have our voices heard!
Frances: We have that already.
Ruth: Not as equals! Not as individuals and citizens.
Ruth: (Mocking) We are delicate flowers, to be shielded from the unsavoriness of lawmaking.
Frances: You have witnessed the delicacies of “lawmaking.” It reeks with a stench.
Ruth: That may be so, but—
Frances: Good men going this way and that against principle and promise—all to gain favor and power. If only in their own estimation.
Ruth: Which we women will combat!
Ruth: Do not make light of this, Frances. Is it not true that while we may own property, pay taxes, and assist in supporting the government, we have no right to say who shall disburse those taxes or how that government shall be conducted? We have no right to say who shall decide on a question of peace or war which may involve the lives of our sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands. If we have voice, it is a whisper only. We deserve to be heard. We deserve the vote.
Frances: And what are you willing to risk to gain it? Miss Stanton said it herself that the suffrage issue is but part of the “Mormon Question.” Polygamy is intertwined with it, our lives are intertwined with it, and there are those who would use the vote to attack us.
Ruth: So we will fight them on both fronts.
Frances: But why now? Women had the vote for twelve years before it was taken from us. What did it change? Were we more free then? Did women rise up and claim what you now say we lack? There were no woman lawmakers, no councilmen, no governors. Nor were women enslaved or their way of life impinged. We were free then as we are now to use the gifts God has given us—as helpmeets to our husbands and counselors and teachers to our children.
Ruth: It is different!
Frances: They use the same arguments. They are motivated by the same nefarious designs.
Ruth: We have gained strength since 1870. We have the National Woman Suffrage Association, and the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah. We have Brother Brigham’s wife. Apostle Richards’ wife. Sarah Kimball. Even the brethren of the Church supports us! They said as much in the newspaper! (Finds the newspaper; waves it in the air; finds the page; reads) George Q. Cannon and Brigham Young: “Under the laws of Congress a woman born in the United States is a citizen just as much as a man . . . If woman is entitled to the name and position of a citizen, should she not also be invested with the rights and privileges of a citizen, so far as she is capable of properly exercising them?” These are God’s chosen who have spoken for all to hear. Surely this proves that our cause is just. We will use these attacks against us to prove that women are not lambs being blindly led about by our husbands.
Frances: Is that how you feel about your marriage?
Ruth: (Smallest beat) Of course not.
Frances: A relief to hear.
Ruth: Are you satisfied with yours?
Frances: You would ask this?
Ruth: I wonder whether you have questioned.
Frances: (Beat) You are young.
Ruth: (Protesting) I am//
Frances: //If you were not so young, you would know that anyone who has reached my age and years in marriage has asked more questions than you have yet thought of. Do not presume otherwise. What you know of life . . . What you know of life . . .
Ruth: Respectfully, Sister, what if it can be better than what we have now? Should we not claim it if we can? It is true that I am . . . subordinate . . . but might I not still ask? How shall we know whether progress is possible if we do not try? (Beat) You say women did nothing when they had the vote. I say there are those among us today who were not of age then, and we are determined.
Frances: Very well: Would I like the vote restored? Yes. But what I would like even more is for our lives to be ours. For our children to be unburdened from condemnation they are too young to bear. More than casting a ballot, I want to know that the ones I love have enough food and are kept safe from harm and cruelty and taught what they need to know to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as noble and exalted sons and daughters of God. I want to know that they are happy. This, to me, is more important than any vote—be it by a man or a woman.
Ruth: I too wish for our children a righteous, honorable life. And that while they are here are on earth, they might realize a portion of that by exercising the freedom we will fight to obtain.
Frances: And if you lose?
(Frances visits Benjamin in jail. She holds his hand in his.)
Frances: Samuel sends his love. Of course. He would never say as much. He is becoming quite a man. You would be so proud. He has taken to following the sisters and me around, offering to lift every heavy thing. And then when he thinks himself alone flexes his muscles in all reflective surfaces. (Laughs) This morning I found our windows stripped of curtains, which I soon found on the backs of our brave son and May, who were engaged in fierce, cloaked battle for your freedom. Proper soldiers always have cloaks and broom-handle bayonets. And May, of course, was with him step for step. It was a sight to see . . . He tries to be strong. He believes it now his responsibility. Angeline is . . . heavy laden. She does all that she is able, though it grows more and more difficult seemingly by the day. She misses you dearly. As do May and Ruth. And I.
Yes, I have spoken with him. Malignant man. We have, at least for the moment, reached an agreement in principle. I blame you, you know. That we are beholden to such a ghastly creature for our house and home. (Beat) We manage. It is not easy.
Are you well, my love? Well, they will have a piece of my mind. That is hardly enough to sustain a grown man. I will bring a roast. (Scoffs) “Rules.” I will bring enough for the guards. Perhaps they will share. (Softer, concerned) Are you well treated, Benjamin? Do they see to your needs—aside from the drivel they feed you? You should not be made to suffer at the hands of beasts. (Reacts to Benjamin’s rebuke) No! I will not! Such a man as you should not be treated so. Such a man should not be imprisoned, or put on trial. For what? What right have they to pass judgment on you? On us? (Feeling a bit foolish at her outburst) Were it up to Ruth, we would take up arms against them. You can imagine, coming from Ruth. (Beat) I will reason with her. Of course. (Gaining speed and energy again) But to hear them speak, Benjamin! To hear what they would do . . . They snarl about as if we were worse than the basest . . . (Another reprimand) Of course. (Benjamin asks about the children) They are . . . Of the children, I do not—(Frances is interrupted by the guard, who proclaims their visit over.)
(To guard) We were to have thirty minutes. I was told . . . And it has certainly not been thirty minutes. I am sorry, but while I may be just a “lil’ country woman,” I am able to tell the time. Oh, for pity’s sake, this is a prison! What life-and-death obligations must you attend to in the next fifteen minutes? Lunch? Sitting? What matters of timely, grave importance would anyone with any sense leave to you? Who is your supervisor? I will have words with him. (To Benjamin) I am sorry, Benjamin, but this is simply too much. Again and again we are interrupted, eavesdropped upon, our visits cut short. I will have my time with my husband! (To guard) Do you hear me? I will have my time! (The guard is unmoved. To Benjamin) We will speak about the children more next week. (Louder, so the guard will hear) If we are permitted more than a passing glance and half a syllable. Pray for them, that the Lord will guide them and hold them close. They want for their father. (She is gently pulled from her seat. Pulls away) I can stand on my own. (To Benjamin) Benjamin. Husband. Pray for us all.
(Ruth stands, addressing the audience as if at a suffrage gathering. Frances is at the sheriff’s office. The action takes place simultaneously.)
Frances: (Pulls up a chair, sits.) Thank you. A glass of water would be very nice, yes. Wait. No, I am sorry. No need. (Gathering herself) I am sorry, Sherriff. I am afraid I am quite upset. Appalled, really. We are all just appalled.
Ruth: My dear sisters in Zion—and sisters and brethren (Points to a man) in the cause of suffrage—it is an honor to stand before you today. I am humbled and not a little afraid, for I am not as so many of the speakers who preceded me, or who will follow. I am not as educated as they are, or sophisticated. I am not an orator or philosopher. The only quality I can claim that is of any merit here today is that I believe. And I pray that my belief in this most important cause may overcome my shortcomings.
Frances: I have no idea what has gotten into Julia. To say that we did not raise our daughter to commit these kinds of acts is of no use now, but . . .
Ruth: Thank you for this honor. I will serve you and the Woman Suffrage Association with all that I have.
Frances: Of course. We will comply with whatever punishment befits this kind of behavior. We will make restitution. And she will restore the property to its original state. It is inexcusable. I simply cannot understand.
Ruth: Let there be no mistake about what this movement for suffrage really means. This is a call to be—and be honored for—who we truly are. Men and women. None of us wants to turn the world upside down, or to convert women into men, or supplant the will of God. Rather, we desire women to be free to add the totality of their virtue—to contribute what is uniquely ours—not only to our families, but to our communities, cities, states, and nation.
Frances: I do not expect leniency for her. First thievery, and now this.
Ruth: Where much is given, much is expected. Let women have the same opportunities for education, observation, and experience and see if she is not equally endowed with man and prepared to bear her part on all general questions—socially, spiritually, and politically.
Frances: She is sullen of late, and angry. She questions everything, and will not hear answers. The only time she seems at all herself is when she is permitted to visit with her father. Though those occasions are rare, and brief, and terrifying in their own way. Children should not see their parents imprisoned. It has been hard for her—for all of us. But she seems especially shaken.
Ruth: Let it be known that we do not wish to take the place of men. Enfranchisement will not allow women to become any but who and what we are.
Frances: She does not understand. I do not understand, Brother Canfield. Sheriff. I do not understand why we are pursued and punished.
Ruth: There are those who bind our call for woman suffrage with that of polygamy. They believe, and they have said as much, that they will use this issue to criminalize the way of life for many families in this community. Including mine. My own husband is imprisoned; I know not what risks I take by speaking publicly. We shall see.
Frances: This is not directly your concern, I know, but why are so many people—some who are thousands of miles away—so concerned with how we create our family? You know us, Sherriff. You know my husband. He has done nothing to injure them, nor would he ever wish to.
Ruth: Others proclaim restoring the vote to women will increase the power of the Church—for surely we submit to our husbands in all things.
Frances: If our lives are a sin, let them condemn us where they worship.
Ruth: But I know of no more independent woman than one who lives the law of polygamy—for she must hold herself up among many, and care for the needs of more. That said, if you doubt us, let us prove it. Given the vote, we will study. We will learn, and we will act. For ourselves, and for our families.
Frances: Let them bring us before their God, and let him pass judgment.
Ruth: To our sisters who believe in their heart—who fear in their heart—that suffrage is an affront to the will of the Almighty, I say only that the sole goal of our movement is equality under the law. True partnership with men in shaping the rules that govern us, and to ensure that they are fair.
Frances: We are good people. We live and work and love like any other. Our hearts are the same, and our desires. For ourselves, our children, and our fellow man. We are people of faith, which faith distinguishes us from others. But are we so alien as to warrant this?
Ruth: We offer up to God what is his, acknowledging his supremacy in all things. And it is for this reason—because God himself has created us as partners to our husbands and stewards of the earth—that we engage in this work.
Frances: Having said that, I will ensure that my daughter pays her penance.
Ruth: So I am honored that you have such faith in me, and I dedicate myself to this great cause, and to you. We cannot fail. (Ruth and Frances come together, having left their respective appointments. Frances is walking quickly, agitated.)
Ruth: Well? What did he say? (Frances turns and glares.) Frances, I have said that I am sorry. I have said it again and again.
Frances: Yes you have.
Ruth: Will you not forgive me?
Frances: I am sure I will. (Ruth screams in frustration. Overlap) You were not there! You left me there to grovel on behalf of our child, and then escort her home from the office of the sherriff. Alone.
Ruth: I know, and I am sorry.
Frances: She is not of your blood, it is true. But we have taken a vow before God to serve as stewards and protectors of our children. And they are all our children, Ruth// blood or not.
Ruth: //I know!
Frances: Then where were you?
Ruth: I have been given a tremendous responsibility. I could not not be present to accept it.
Frances: Apparently not.
Ruth: (Drawing closer to Frances. She is earnest) What did Sherriff Wilson say?
Frances: (Softening) There will be no formal punishment, provided she repairs and repaints the damaged fence. Which she will do. Straightaway. Without help. If she can pull it down, she can put it up.
Frances: We should meet to decide the rest of her repentance.
Ruth: She will offer a personal apology, at minimum.
Frances: Oh, there will be more. There is much more in store for that young lady, rest assured. Much much much much more.
Ruth: I see that.
Frances: Will you see that she follows through with the repairs?
Ruth: Of course. (Beat) Sorry, when?
Frances: (Knowing where this is going) Oh, Ruth!
Ruth: It is only that I am to preside at a //
Frances: // Just . . . Go. Go! (Shoo-ing her away) //Go!
Ruth: //Go where?
Frances: Anywhere! Accept an award. Change the world. But right this instant, I cannot look at you.
Ruth: I am sorry! (Frances fumes.) Frances!
Frances: (Beat. Collects herself) There are priorities in life, Ruth.
Ruth: I know.
Frances: Then please do not make me ask which are yours.
Ruth: Now just a minute—
Frances: If you had seen the look in her eyes when I went to collect her . . . I have never seen such emptiness in one so young. The way she sat. The heaviness of her shoulders. She is too young to feel such pain, Ruth! And she is far too young to believe she must face it alone.
Ruth: She is not alone.
Frances: Clearly, she believes she is.
Ruth: I will speak with her.
Frances: She listens to you. Looks to you as a guide and an example.
Ruth: I know. (Small beat) I will see that she mends the fence.
Frances: (Softening, sincere) Thank you.
(Ruth rushes in. Frances is at table, bent over a ledger.)
Ruth: We are under siege.
Frances: Sister . . .
Ruth: Have we not endured enough? The harassment. The assassinations. But then . . . Then! The Cullom Act. The Edmunds Act. And now . . . Do you know what they mean to do now?
Frances: Clearly not.
Ruth: It was not enough for Edmunds to target polygamists. No. The distinguished senator of Vermont and congressman of Virginia propose to disenfranchise all Utah women. Deprive all of any right to vote.
Ruth: Yes. And that is not all. Would you like to know what else our Congress is considering for us?
Frances: I . . .
Ruth: Our Congress now proposes . . . I have it here! (Whips out the newspaper report, waves it in the air.) I would not have believed it myself, but I have it here. The vile, putrid . . .
Ruth: The Edmunds-Tucker Act! Introduced to wide acclaim, this bill seeks to: (She reads) “Disincorporate the Church. Require an anti-polygamy oath for all prospective voters, jurors, and public officials. Prohibit the practice of polygamy and punish it with a fine and imprisonment of up to five years. Abolish the common-law spousal privilege for polygamists, requiring wives to testify against their husbands.” This is only part of what they would do to us, Sister. It goes on.
Frances: This is . . . not right.
Ruth: It is not.
Frances: I did not believe they would go so far.
Ruth: They will go as far as we let them, Frances.
Frances: They would eradicate our religion entirely, by law?
Ruth: They would purge us as a scourge.
Frances: They, whose own ancestors fled—
Frances: Crossed land and sea to escape the very same—
Ruth: The very same.
Frances: But . . . what of the Constitution?
Frances: Our founding principles?
Ruth: Trivial compared to the threat we pose to the soul of humankind. And because we do not have the vote, we are powerless to stop them. (Beat) Do you believe me now?
Frances: Will it succeed?
Ruth: It might. The movement has support from powerful people who wield their power like a scythe.
Frances: God will not allow it. (Taking it in) No. God will not allow it. He will not allow the Kingdom on earth to fall at the hands of . . . Congress.
Ruth: It seems to me he has allowed a great many things.
Frances: Do not say that. Do not say that! How is he to bless us if we do not have faith?
Ruth: Suffrage is a right that should be claimed by every citizen of this country. In this we should not have to rely on a “blessing.” From God or anyone else.
Frances: You walk dangerously, Ruth.
Ruth: We are in danger.
Frances: My concern is for you.
Ruth: This is about me! And you! (Frances begins to protest. Ruth pushes ahead) I will gather the women. I can stop this.
Ruth: Yes! We must come together now. There is no more time.
Frances: You. You can stop this.
Frances: (Her face reflecting profound sorrow) That evil is before us, I cannot deny. I do not doubt your report. But I believe that the Lord will provide passage to safety, as he did Moses and the Israelites. Whether that is through suffrage or some other way, I do not know. But our God is the God of Heaven and Earth, and for the faithful and humble he parted the sea, sent manna from heaven, and restored his church in these latter days. Faith is not faith if every step is made clear and smooth.
Ruth: Faith without works is dead.
Frances: True. And perhaps there is more that I must do to manifest his will. If this is the case, then I am willing. But Sister, I look at you and—I fear. (Ruth begins to defend herself.) No, please. Let me speak. Like the army of Helaman—
Ruth: All men.
Frances: —we are called to fight the adversary. I am ever your sister in this. But it would do well to remember: the Stripling Warriors attributed their victories to their mothers. But you . . . That people look at you, and listen to you, and come to stand behind you ready to follow. The speeches are rousing. And you have become quite a skilled performer. But I fear you have lost your way, Sister. You envision yourself a warrior, and forget the source of their strength.
Ruth: (Seethes) Without “warriors” like me, Sister? You are banished.
(Ruth and Frances are seated, exhausted, numb, talked out. A long silence.)
Frances: Bishop Jameson will speak to the brethren to see what aid is available. Sister Richards, also, from the Relief Society.
Ruth: Yes. Very kind.
Frances: Lucy will collect the younger children. Perhaps Angeline can see to the others if she is well enough. Family meeting following evening meal.
Ruth: A few months awaiting trial is injustice enough. But two years he is to be imprisoned! Longer for polygamy than for robbery!
Ruth: How will we live so long without him?
Frances: We will do what we must.
Frances: We will find work, those of us who can. The rest will shoulder the other duties.
Ruth: I don’t . . .
Frances: We will discuss specifics tonight.
Ruth: What are you//
Frances: And while the brethren may offer some assistance, we cannot place too great a burden on them. Since the passage of Edmunds-Tucker, federal marshals have taken away even more of our men, and there is no end in sight. We are not the only family affected, and there will be great need. To be safe, we must rely only on ourselves. Angeline is first among us, and of course will speak first. But . . .
Ruth: Frances . . .
Frances: We must all come to an agreement.
Ruth: Frances, look at me.
Frances: We cannot rely on . . . her health.
Ruth: Please look at me.
Frances: You must help me. We must stand together, you must help me.
Ruth: (Beat) What will we do?
Frances: We will go on. We have no choice.
Ruth: (Beat. Nods, gathers herself) Angeline . . .
Ruth: In her state, she cannot lead. Were it solely a matter of age . . . that would be enough. She cannot withstand.
Frances: Would that the trail had been kind to her. I was a child, cared for and coddled as much as was possible, and yet it was almost too much. Angeline suffered so. I truly thought she would not survive Winter Quarters. And then Wyoming . . .
Ruth: She has endured much.
Frances: Which is foremost the reason I cannot be seen to be fomenting mutiny against her.
Ruth: I shall help in any way that I can, but I am fourth. To speak out of turn would be—
Frances: May—and even Lucy—are loving mothers and wives, but they are not so strong as you. They will need us both to carry on.
Ruth: We will care for them.
Frances: We both of us must find work. The mortgage holders have been forgiving so far of our obligation. They believed as we did that the trial would end in our favor. But now we must pay.
Ruth: I can take in mending, pressing, other needlework. (A resigned chuckle) Sadly these are my only skills.
Frances: I will see about bookkeeping. With so many men imprisoned, there may be opportunities.
Ruth: What of the smithy? Mr. Samuelson has retained Benjamin’s position only while we awaited trial.
Frances: I will speak with him.
Ruth: Good. He does not like me.
Frances: (Weary smile) He fears you. As is wise.
Ruth: He fears all members of the Church. And all women. It is not only me.
Frances: You are the only one who has accosted him in the public square. He reserves a special terror for you.
Ruth: (Pouts) Then you will speak with him. (Small beat) What will you say?
Frances: I do not know. What can one say in such a circumstance?
Ruth: We are alone.
Frances: Would that we were, Sister. Were it we two alone, I would have confidence in our fate. But there are sixteen who depend upon us, and we with limited means to care for them.
Ruth: (Gathering herself) I will do my part.
Frances: You are needed. Here.
Ruth: I understand. (Frances looks at her doubtfully.) I do.
(Ruth is seated, mending a man’s sock. Scattered newspapers tempt her from the table. Frances opposite, at what she hopes will be her new job.)
Ruth: Brother Anderson, what grotesque toes you have. Devouring your stockings like ten tiny horned demons. (Puts the sock on her hand. In the low voice of a demon sock puppet) You do not know the horrors we endure, good Sister Ruth. Pierced by dagger-sharp toe nails, tearing, tearing . . . Smelly ooze seeping into our skin, choking every last thread. Have mercy on us, Sister! Let us die here, while we are clean and the air is thick with the scent of—burning in the oven! (Jumps up, panicked. Sock still on her hand, she grabs a kitchen towel and scurries to fan the contents of the oven, which have burned. It is futile. She slumps. The sock puppet speaks again) Perhaps the brethren can use it in the construction of the new meetinghouse. It is said they want for bricks. (Pokes the puppet, takes it off. Resumes mending. Puts it down. Sees the papers. Picks one up. Puts it down. Starts to pick up her mending; puts it down. Finally gives in, taking the paper and a writing instrument. Reads. Crosses out a word, then a paragraph, then the whole page)
I was not. Meant. To. Mend. (Looks around at a pile of mending waiting for her) Stockings. Trousers. Blouses. Gloves! This is not—Yet here I am, and here they are. Piles and piles of them and for whom, I ask you? The very same people who secretly and not secretly would have us rounded up, tarred and feathered like the Prophet Joseph. Perhaps I should conscript myself into slavery. (Realization) I have! That is what I have done! Would I do so if I were a man? No. I would not have to if I were a man. I would have rights! The world would be open to me to create and live according to the laws of God and the will of my fellow men who would listen to me because I too was a man and therefore worthy of respect and a fair hearing. But because I am a wife and a mother and a woman, I am what? Property! Mindless, fragile property not fit for anything but prayer and procreation and childrearing. This cannot be right. This cannot be righteous! (Sits again at table. Throws the sock puppet. Takes up writing implement and paper and begins writing in earnest. Continues writing, crossing out, writing more, starting new pages, etc. while Frances speaks)
Frances: (With ledger, to Brother Fisk, her potential employer) I do have a few questions . . . In looking at the ledger, there are a few items that . . . well here, for example, the amount owed does not match that of the same item on this line, ordered for a different customer. In this case, they purchased the same quantity, from the same manufacturer, during the same harvest. There are a number of similar inconsistencies, as well as many simple mathematical errors. I have prepared a revised account for the past six months reflecting the savings that could have been achieved, and the difference in revenue. You will see that they are significant. (Beat, listens) Interest and education, Brother Fisk. I was never one for dolls. Benjamin was very patient while Angeline taught me how not to scorch everything. As it happens, though, mathematics is helpful in many settings—even cooking is at least in part a matter of numbers. Though admittedly not as invigorating to me as a column in a ledger like this . . . a series in search of a solution. There is something elegant here. None of the willy nilly nature of muffins or casserole. I am told cooking is something of an art, but I think it closer to a culinary conspiracy. (A honky laugh to herself. She made a funny. Gathering herself, referring back to the book.) You’ll see the differences circled here in red. (Listens) I am pleased that you have found my work satisfactory. If we might turn to the matter of wages, assuming you wish me to continue. (Listens) Forgive me, but I do not understand. Of course this was a trial period, and you are free to decide however you choose. This was our agreement. However, I believe I have demonstrated my abilities, and the potential benefit to your establishment of bringing me on. Is there something more I might have—Of course. (Rises) Please do not—I can see myself out. I will gather my things and be gone within the hour.
Ruth: (Stands, now at a gathering of suffrage supporters.) They mean to push us? We will push back. They call our lives, those of us who have chosen lives under the covenant of plural marriage, one of the “twin relics of barbarism.” The other being slavery. And they use this argument to deprive women of the recognition we deserve and on a daily basis earn. They use it to threaten our admission as a state. They use it to issue orders of extermination, for there are those who would rather kill us than allow us to live and worship as our conscience and our God dictate. These are horrors snaking up from the very depths of evil, and we will meet them with all the courage that defines us. We demand change, and as citizens we will not run ashamed into the darkness of bigotry and malice. (Holds up a document) I have here a petition, drafted and signed by the foremost Mormon women of the suffrage movement. Here we dare call these machinations what they are: inexcusable, high-handed oppression. Not only of polygamous women, but all Utah women. Well. We demand better. We demand justice and fairness in and under the law. Here is my signature. Will you add yours?
Frances: (Perhaps an hour later. Frances enters to find a meeting in progress of anti-suffragists. They have been discussing Ruth, the last part of which she has overheard.) Hello? Brother Fisk? It is Frances. I know it is past closing, but the door was open and—(Sees that there is a meeting in progress) I was nearly halfway home when I realized I’d left my bonnet. It is three-quarters of an hour back again, so I thought it worth chancing that you were still here. Please forgive the intrusion. I was not aware you were holding a meeting . . . I will just—(collects her bonnet) Good evening, Brother Butler. Brother Jensen. (Looks around, seeing several more faces she recognizes) Forgive the intrusion. (Turns to leave. Hesitates. Turns back. Shaking her head) No. I am sorry, but I believe as I entered that I heard my sister Ruth’s name mentioned with a tone of some hostility. (Waves off objections) True or no, it is clear she was the subject of this little gathering. And while I was not invited to join you and so may be imposing a bit on what you hoped to discuss, neither was she. And it seems, if you will forgive my candor, it seems at the very least in poor taste to speak about a person if you are unwilling first to speak to them. (To Brother Fisk) I do see more clearly now why you believe me unfit for your employ, Brother. However, given your concern for my sister’s psychological well-being and moral character, I wish you had not wasted my time in what you must have known was a futile exercise. I have a family to care for, a family that includes Ruth. If I had known your objections to her involvement in the suffrage movement, I would have sought work elsewhere. I am not naïve. I know there are those who do not believe that women should have the vote. Now, or perhaps ever. And perhaps Ruth is a bit overzealous in her approach. But I can say this about her: what she does, she does honestly, and what she believes she is not afraid to proclaim publicly. She is courageous and forthright in her convictions, enough to present them for open debate. And while I may have questions and even concerns about whether the course she advocates is prudent, I will stand with her against all who collude in secret or wish her ill simply because she dares to speak. I need work. My children must eat. But I will not feed them using money earned from cowards. (Straightens her skirt) This has been a most enlightening evening. It behooves me to know your names and faces. I will give Ruth, Benjamin, my sisters and our children your regards. (Turns and leaves. It is a confident, defiant march.)
(Night/early morning. Ruth enters. Perhaps she has a shawl around her. Frances is at the table. She is worried.)
Ruth: It is early, Sister. Even for you.
Ruth: Are you unwell?
Frances: I am fine. Simple fatigue.
Ruth: You work too hard. Shall I make you some—(rises)
Frances: There is nothing.
Ruth: Do not be ridiculous. (Beat. Realization.) It was my week to go to the market.
Frances: Please, sit down.
Ruth: I will go at first light. Let me—(rushes to do something)
Frances: Sit, Sister. We have much to discuss before the others wake.
Ruth: (Sits) You are unwell, then.
Frances: We must decide what to do.
Frances: (Gathers her thoughts) It is again left to you and me to find the way forward.
Ruth: I do not underst—Sister, please!
Frances: We are at risk of foreclosure.
Frances: It is not a surety, but—
Ruth: What do you mean, foreclosure?
Frances: You know the term.
Ruth: Of course I know the term.
Frances: Then you know the meaning.
Ruth: How did this happen?
Frances: (A loud whisper) How? We have no money! We have no husband, and we were not rich even when we did! But now, the debts he left us have doubled and our expenses are growing because we have boys who eat like mules and girls who grow three inches in a month and nobody but me bringing in anything resembling a wage and even that, because of you . . . It cannot continue! (Beat) Say something!
Ruth: (Quiet, steeling herself) Because of me, what?
Frances: I simply . . . I cannot continue like this.
Ruth: I have worked . . . what of the money I have given?
Frances: A dollar here. Five dollars there. This is not “money.” You have not “given.”
Ruth: That is not—because of me, what?
Frances: You spend day and night with your band of radicals campaigning for “woman suffrage,” talking about granting women their rights and all the while your children—in blood and under God—go hungry and endure the grossest indignities.
Ruth: That is not true.
Frances: How would you know?
Ruth: Because I fight for them!
Frances: You have left them to fight for themselves. To defend themselves against enemies on both sides—those who would make our lives a crime and now those who see their mother as a militant, determined to upset everything we have worked to build. These many weeks and months, have you looked at your children? You preach “suffrage.” (Motions around, indicating home and children) They suffer, Ruth. Your own children suffer. We. Suffer.
Ruth: All right! (Small beat) Perhaps for the moment I am neglectful. For the moment I am delinquent. But everything I do is to build for those children a future that is theirs. I am not content to stay silent. I will not bury my head in housework.
Frances: No, you are a warrior. “Let women speak,” you say. “Let them act according to their conscience. Let them live, finally, honoring the dictates of their own minds. And in this, let them fulfill the true measure of their creation.” All women. Except women like me.
Ruth: All my life I have followed. I have obeyed. I have done everything that has been asked of me without question or protest. And I have done well and honorably—by Benjamin, the children, and you. I am a good wife. I am a good mother. But now, finally, I can be more.
Frances: Oh yes. Now you have your great cause, which you say is not just for women, but all of humankind. And those of us who do not share your passion and outrage care nothing for posterity and what will become of us. But every day—every day—I do what must be done to ensure this future about which you . . . speak so long and eloquently. I am out there fighting for our livelihood, fighting because no one will hire someone—nevermind a woman—associated with such a threat and a menace. (Ruth laughs in disgust) That is what you are called, did you know that?
Ruth: I could care less what those people—
Frances: No you do not. But while you are out there caring less about those people, while you are out meeting and speaking and petitioning on behalf of women, I am here. Trying with all my might to fulfill what my faith tells me is a woman’s most sacred calling: teaching and strengthening those souls who will fail and founder without mothers like me. And this work, which you have come to dismiss as subservient, is not only for today or tomorrow or even one-hundred years from now. It is for eternity. And you would have me shrink before you? Caty Stanton? Your beloved Susan Anthony? You would have me apologize and abandon my work for yours? No. I have a home to save, and children who are on the precipice and leaning out into nothingness. And so, I might add, do you.
Ruth: What do you want me to say?!
Frances: Nothing! I want you to do. Before it is too late. (Beat) They ask for you, each in their own way. James I heard trying to read alone the stories you read to him at bedtime, through tears because he cannot do it as well as you. Samuel and Martha reenact suffragette protests, though neither has an idea what “snuffrage” is. Inevitably there are knights on horseback.
Frances: Even Julia, angry as she is at all of us, I found trying on your dresses and shoes, looking into the mirror for the smallest glimpse of you.
Ruth: Stop it, Frances.
Frances: (Overlap) The twins are too young for any of that, but even they fuss more and ask to be held. But none of us can comfort them because it is not us they want. David—
Ruth: All right! (Beat, softer) Enough.
Frances: Come back to us, Ruth. Please. Before it is too late.
(Ruth addressing a gathering of women, a public, town hall-style meeting in which there are both pro- and anti-suffragists. She is more drawn and tired.)
Ruth: We have been called slaves, mindless followers, “dupes of the priesthood.” We have been caricatured, mocked, patted on the head, and told that we cannot help but submit to man’s every whim—spiritual, physical, and political. God forbid that we should think for ourselves. Speak for ourselves. Act for ourselves. But He does not forbid. In the Church we are called brother and sister—not master and servant. In all matters pertaining to the Church, we women cast our votes equally. We raise our hands and sustain, or we raise them to object. In each, we are counted. We should not expect less elsewhere, or indeed accept less. Capitulation leads to capitulation, and we must not capitulate, lest we be driven from place to place again and forever. We demand only what we deserve. (Beat) That is all.
(Ruth enters, sits heavily. She removes her bonnet and smoothes her hair. Sighs. Frances enters after a beat.)
Frances: (Addressing the children) Go upstairs. Change out of your good clothes. Hang them up and put them in the closet. Good stockings put away. I do not want to see anything on the floor when I come up there. Are you listening? (To the air) No. They are not. (Back to the children) Wash your face and hands. I want you clean when the sisters arrive with dinner. (To Ruth) What are the chances they will do any of those things?
Ruth: They do not know what to do, so they will do all except what we ask.
Frances: We shall see them in patched school trousers and Sunday shirts. One shoe. Not their own.
Ruth: The sisters will understand. (Beat) I think Angeline would have liked the service.
Frances: (In Angeline’s voice) “Keep it short! No sentimental jibber jabber! Sing a song, eat a ham, and get back to work!” (Beat) I will miss that grumpy growl.
Ruth: As will I. She was a sister and a mother to me.
Frances: To us all. (With resolve. She puts on an apron) Come. Let us prepare for the guests before May and Lucy get home. We cannot have them sobbing over uncooked sweetbread.
Ruth: (Rises, smoothes out her dress, preparing to work) It was good that Benjamin was allowed to attend.
Frances: (Fury) In shackles. What did they think he was going to do? Launch an escape at his wife’s funeral?
Ruth: His suit was too loose. He is thinner, even, than last week.
Frances: He is not fed. The guards, you’ll notice, get fatter and fatter. May they soon explode.
Ruth: I cannot bear seeing him so sad. Such a man should not have to endure so much suffering alone.
Frances: He loved her dearly. She was his first love, and there is no love like the first for men like Benjamin. (Beat) He proposed to her when he was ten years old, did you know that? Still a boy, drowning in his father’s mended trousers. Of course she said “no.” I believe she even kicked his shins.
Ruth: Good for her!
Frances: But he waited, and from his telling, he “grew on her like a fungus in springtime.” They were married as soon as they came of age. Praise God he is a patient man. (Beat) He was right to choose her. She was among the elect. Truly she has earned her salvation and her place at the right hand of God.
Ruth: Does he love us so much, Frances?
Frances: I believe he loves us . . . differently. But we cannot compare. To ask such things can only lead to grief and doubt.
Ruth: Of course. We will comfort him as best we can. He needs us more than ever.
Frances: I do not know how or what good we can do for him from here.
Ruth: You are first among us now. We will follow your lead.
Frances: (A tired laugh) Then we are doomed.
(Frances, alone in silhouette. Reading from the Woodruff Manifesto.)
Frances: “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I heareby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
“There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1890.” (Frances, crosses, begins to pack her things. Ruth enters, watches.)
Ruth: What will you do?
Frances: Benjamin has made his choice, and he has chosen May.
Ruth: For reasons passing understanding.
Frances: Come now.
Ruth: Yes, yes. She is beautiful. She is kind. Obedient. Faithful. Long-suffering. Happy.
Frances: Virtues, all.
Ruth: Dumb as a houseplant.
Frances: Stop it.
Ruth: It is true!
Frances: Not a houseplant.
Ruth: She is not you.
Frances: Or you. Or Lucy. Benjamin was within his rights to choose, and he chose her. May is his lawful wife now, so I cannot stay. The Manifesto has forbidden me and called my children bastards.
Ruth: This is an abomination.
Frances: It is the proclamation of God’s prophet. And a decision by our husband.
Ruth: It recognizes current families as they are.
Frances: As mistakes. To be glossed over. I do not wish to be viewed as anyone’s well-intentioned error.
Ruth: You are not.
Frances: Then what am I? What are we, if not persons whose situation and standing the Lord has disavowed? What is our marriage, except something the Bretheren deny ever teaching?
Ruth: (Frustrated) I don’t . . . Please! Stay.
Frances: And do what?
Ruth: We will find a way. You are as much family as I, or May.
Frances: I was.
Ruth: Are! Your children are my children, and Angeline’s and Lucy’s and May’s.
Frances: What will you do?
Ruth: Stay. Fight. What else can I do?
Frances: And Benjamin?
Ruth: (Makes a sound that sounds like “Ugh”) Benjamin.
Frances: He cannot acknowledge you.
Ruth: Whether he will or will not is up to him. But he can—and will, if he is half the man I believed when we married.
Frances: Ruth . . .
Ruth: What? You defend him?
Frances: I believe in his . . .
Ruth: Oh, Frances!
Frances: To be in his position . . .
Ruth: Is to face difficult choices. Which a man does.
Frances: I believe he has.
Ruth: Then we believe differently.
Frances: What would you have us do? What is the right answer, according to you?
Ruth: Stand! Stand for something! Anything, at this point! But stand. Up.
Frances: I warned you there were dangers. Consequences that would affect us all. And so there are.
Ruth: We can change it! Frances! This is surrender! President Woodruff has bowed to political pressures only. He has . . . (Desperate to find the argument that will convince) God will right it.
Frances: That may be so, but for now we are banished. As you said.
Ruth: Wait. A year, maybe two. Thousands have been affected by this. We will band together and overturn it.
Frances: It is not for you to overturn the will of the Lord. We have rendered unto Caesar what is his.
Ruth: This cannot be what God wants! He is not fickle! As you said, He does not bow to the will of men! (Small beat) I need you.
Frances: You need faith.
Ruth: In what? Wilford Woodruff is no prophet. He cannot speak for God.
Frances: Do not, Ruth. Do not disparage the mouthpiece of the Lord. This is blasphemous. It is sin.
Ruth: Then I am a sinner!
Frances: Your anti-suffragist foes were transparent in their wishes. For years they have shouted their views from the pulpit and podium and the halls of Congress. They have accused and disparaged and threatened the Church. And yet you are surprised. What was President Woodruff to do? Allow senators and representatives to wipe the Church from the earth?
Ruth: The prophets of old have stood firm against stronger foes. President Woodruff is weak, and the Lord will censure him in time.
Frances: It is not for you to question or judge. Perhaps we cannot risk forty years in the wilderness. Perhaps there is no more manna. Do not risk your salvation. We must have faith.
Ruth: You ask me to believe the unbelievable. To hope that a wrong may in fact be right somehow.
Frances: I do not ask it. The Lord does.
Ruth: I cannot—(She breaks off, not knowing what else to say. A pleading look.) Please, Sister . . .
Frances: Perhaps I will return to Illinois. I have not seen my sister in years. They will help, though what is to be done with someone in my state I do not know. I will find work.
Ruth: Work! Frances! Your life is here.
Frances: It was here.
Frances: You would have me stay, to watch all that I have loved . . . Was it worth it, Ruth? These changes you worked so hard to attain?
Ruth: This is not that change.
Frances: It is the path to statehood, with suffrage in tow. You will have your vote.
Ruth: This is not that change!
Frances: Yes, it is! Do you not see? Will you not finally see? This is what happened. And now I can face only what is before me, with as much dignity as I am able.
Ruth: (Reacting at the ridiculousness, in her mind, of Frances lacking dignity) Frances.
Frances: I have lost my heart, Ruth. Do you understand? He held my heart—I gave it to him freely and completely, and he filled the whole horizon. Everything I saw—of life and love and hope, I saw in his face. I saw eternity there. And he is gone. I want to believe his intentions are pure, that there is righteousness in them. I want to believe that choosing May was a decision inspired by God, and that there is a reason—that of the four of us, it is she who will blossom into the best eternal companion for him. For he is Benjamin. (Recovering) So. There is no longer room in my life for causes or dreams beyond what the Lord himself reveals.
Ruth: Oh, the Lord, the Lord! Will you never—Can you not believe in me? In us? Stay. Let the Lord work within us and make his will known that way. Surely he would have us use our agency for the common good in all things, spiritual and temporal. Do you not think it so, Frances? Can it not be so? Will you not try? (Takes Frances in a fierce, desperate embrace) Please, Sister!
Frances: Oh, how I love you, Ruth.
Ruth: Do not leave me here alone.
Frances: You are not alone. Nor shall you ever be. There are many who will cleave unto you and look to you for guidance. If you believe in your heart that you walk in truth, then do so with courage. But I must go and do likewise. I must provide for my children, and I cannot do that here. Please try to understand, and wish me well. As I do you.
Ruth: I will try.
Frances: (Gathering herself) What of you? Will you marry again?
Ruth: (Laughs) What decent man would have me?
Frances: This is true. You are a troublemaker.
Ruth: A rebel.
Frances: A malcontent. (Takes her arm) But as lovely as you are disruptive.
Ruth: (Smiles, takes it in) When will you go?
Frances: As soon as I am able to secure passage. Until then, I have taken rooms at the boarding house in town. They are small but clean, and the proprietors have agreed to take me on in the kitchen.
Ruth: Benjamin will not approve . . .
Frances: Benjamin is made aware. That is enough.
Ruth: You are ready then. And I the last to know.
Frances: The last, the hardest to tell.
Ruth: I will visit you every day while you are there. You will not be rid of me yet.
Frances: Please do not. I would—I feel that a clean break would be best, for me and the children. That is why I have chosen to go into town. Fewer familiar faces and pitying looks.
Ruth: You ask too much.
Frances: It is what we need. Please grant us that. It will be hard enough as it is. Julia and David are furious.
Ruth: They are our family, too.
Frances: That has changed. You must account for this. Will you allow Benjamin and May to adopt the twins?
Ruth: Yes. They deserve a home. But these abominable laws will not keep me from fulfilling my role as a sister-mother of sorts. I will find a place nearby and haunt them like a ghost. May is . . . May, but she is a good mother. Better than me, I think.
Frances: Not so.
Ruth: But perhaps I may also study. Learn a skill, like you. I must be self-sufficient now. I will earn my way forward. Practice what I preach.
Frances: (Takes Ruth in a gentle embrace) You are a peculiar woman, dear one. You have my heart. Always. (Pulls away, smoothes Ruth’s hair) Be well.
(1896. Utah has been admitted to the Union, and with it women have gained their enfranchisement. Ruth on one side of the stage, Frances on the other. They see each other, come together. Take hands.)
Frances: You are beautiful still.
Ruth: (Laughs) You do not lie well.
Frances: I do not lie.
Ruth: You are well?
Frances: Well enough. Not so beautiful.
Ruth: You do lie.
Frances: (Motions for Ruth to sit) So. Tell me. What news? Are you well?
Ruth: Well enough, I suppose.
Frances: Still fighting the good fight?
Ruth: (Laughs) “Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Once more!”
Frances: Well played, Shakespeare. (Beat. Rises. Does something so she can turn her back as she asks) What of Benjamin?
Ruth: He is ever Benjamin. Strong and steady. (Beat) May has learned to cook.
Frances: (Turns) No.
Ruth: She brought a roast the other day, and it was delicious. Tender, with potatoes, carrots, and onions. Followed by pie.
Frances: The universe tilts.
Ruth: I do not know if this is progress, or the apocalypse.
Frances: The children are well?
Ruth: You would not recognize the twins.
Frances: (Reacting to the thought that she would not recognize her own children. The children of her sisters are her children) I am sure I would.
Ruth: (Realizing, too late) I am sorry.
Frances: T’is fine, Sister.
Ruth: You are missed.
Frances: As are you.
Ruth: Lucy sends her love. I see her often. She has taken another husband. A widower nearly ten years her senior. He snorts.
Frances: Oh . . .
Ruth: Yes. But he seems a good man. Constant and kind.
Ruth: (Beat) It is not the same.
Ruth: Benjamin sends fond greetings.
Frances: I am glad he is well.
Ruth: I often think of punching him in the face.
Frances: Grudges are not beautiful, Sister.
Ruth: I could not care less about me. But I wound those who betray my Frances. At least in my mind.
Frances: (Laughs) I have missed you.
Ruth: Come home.
Frances: I am home.
Ruth: Your house is there, not your home.
Frances: You would have no time for me. A star ascendant in the movement, I hear. A force to be reckoned with.
Ruth: And so I am reckoned with. Relentlessly, it seems.
Frances: Are you well, Sister? Are you happy?
Ruth: I am busy. There is much to be done. Still.
Frances: Always. (Beat) I would rather you were happy.
Ruth: Because you love me.
Frances: Lord help me, I do.
Ruth: (Serious) Thank you, Frances.
Frances: (Takes her hand) You are my sister. (They separate, not wanting to let go. To opposite sides of the stage. Addressing the audience, though they are aware of the other.)
Ruth: We have won. Statehood and suffrage.
Frances: I am very proud. I know. “Pride.” But I shan’t deny what is true, and I am, in fact, ridiculously proud.
Ruth: With it, we have cast votes in impressive numbers, sought election—and even won, in some cases.
Frances: My dear Julia has emerged from her rebellion, attained an education, and is at this very moment serving an apprenticeship with the most prestigious firm in town. She is very smart.
Ruth: We have done what others said we could not, ought not, must not do. And they will not take it from us again. We women have proven ourselves strong in the hottest fire and firm amid the fiercest storm. We will not stand down.
Frances: My son David grows taller and taller each day, each day bringing him nearer and closer in resemblance to his father. I show him the etching so he believes.
Ruth: I have come to see my sister suffragettes as family. They cannot take the place of those we have lost along the way, of course. (Soft) No. (Beat. Gathers herself) But we are bound together, and there is safety and solace in that.
Frances: Mind you, I would love my children regardless. I do love them regardless. They are my life. The reason I wake, work, and hope. There is nothing else. (Beat. Gathers herself) And so: Pride! Yes. I am proud—regardless of the fact that they are bright, creative, handsome individuals. I am proud because they are good and know that they are loved and that there is a plan for them to achieve true happiness through the eternities.
Ruth: Soon, a woman will be governor. President! I know it. Because we will not stop at ballot casting. We will get beyond legislating the height of hats in theaters. One must start somewhere, I tell myself again and again, in my regulated hat. A woman will lead, and the country will be better for it.
Frances: I do get lonely sometimes when I stop long enough to think about it. So I do not stop. (Beat) It has not been easy.
Ruth: I myself have not sought office. After all . . . I am . . . tired. It has not been easy.
Both: It is never easy.
Frances: But I believe.
Ruth: I still believe.
Frances: It will all be worth it. In the end.
Ruth: It will. Will it not?
Frances: Be worth it?
Ruth: In the end?