The Right to Speak Her Convictions
May 24, 1892 — High school class oration, Kingston OH
. . . woman with Christian man, the ancient world with modern, the Eastern world with the Western, it is plain that in every case the advance in public order in material comfort, in wealth, in decency and refinement of manners among the whole population in country has been accomplished by a greater respect for woman, by a greater freedom accorded to them by a fuller participation on their part in the best work of the world.
Americans point with justice and pride to the position their women hold as an evidence of the high level their civilization has reached certainly working in the country is more characteristic of the particular type their civilization [has] taken.
As respects the legal rights of women, these of course depend on the legislature enactment of each state in the union, for in no case has the matter been left under the rigour [sic] of the common law.
With much diversity in minor details, the general principals in all are nearly all of the states are similar.
Women have been placed on an equality with men as respects all private rights.
Married as well as unmarried women have long since obtained full control of their own property whether obtained by gift, by descent, or by their own labor.
This has been deemed as important a point that instead of being left to ordinary legislature as has in several states been directly enacted by the people in the constitution.
Women have in most, though perhaps not in all states, rights of guardianship over their own children which the law of England denied them until the Act of 1886.
The law of divorce, is in some states, far from satisfactory, but it always aims at doing equal justice as between husbands and wives.
Special protections as respects hours of labor is given to women by the law in several states and aa good deal of recent legislation has bee passed by the law in many states with the intent to benefit them, though not always by well chosen means.
Women have in most though not all issues have made their way into the professions more than in England.
In many northern cities they practice as physicians and seem to have found little or no prejudice to overcome.
Medical schools have been provided for them in some universities.
It was less easy to obtain admission to the bar yet several have secured this and the number of female lawyers is increasing.
They mostly devote themselves to the attorneys part of the work rather than to court practise [sic]. With great acceptance several have entered the christian university, though I think only in what may be called the minor sects, and not in any of the five or six denominations whose spirit is so conservative.
Several have obtained success as professional lecturers.
One hears little of them entering engineering or in journalism.
They are seldom to be seen in the offices of hotels but many more than in England are employed as clerks or secretaries, both in some of the government departments, and by telegraphic and other companies, as well as in publishing houses and other kinds of businesses where physical strength is not needed.
They form an overwhelming majority of teachers in public schools for boys as well as for girls, and are thought to be better teachers, at least for the younger sort than men are. The total number of teachers given by the U.S. bureau of Education report for 1887 was 104,249 [men?] + 191,439 women.
No class prejudice forbids the daughters of clergymen or lawyers in the best standing to teach in elementary schools.
Taking one thing with another it was less easier [sic] for women to find a career, to obtain remunerative work of an intellectual as of a commercial or mechanical kind, than in any part of Europe.
Popular sentiment is entirely in favor of giving them every chance in the new constitution of several western which expressly provides that they should all be equally admissible to all professions or employment.
Women were among the earliest, most zealous and most effective apostles of the antislavery movement.
They have taken an equally active share in the temperance agitation.
Some years ago, during what was called women’s whiskey war, they forced their way into the drinking saloons [bearded the dollars?] and adjured the tipplers to come out.
The charity organization societies of the great cities are very largely managed by ladies, and they enjoy a certain freedom coupled with a knowledge of business, less frequently found among the European women.
And it is very strange that nothing can be very well done unless the women have something to say about it or take some part in the work. And women are taking high ground in business affairs as well as the men. And where it became necessary after the war to find teacher [sic] for the Negroes in the institution which was founded for their own benefit in the South it was chiefly the Northern girls who volunteered for the duty and discharged it with a single minded zeal.
The great majority of daughters of mercantile and professional men especially of course in the west receive their education in the public high schools; and it is remarkable that the number of girls who continue their education in the higher branches, including the ancient classics and physical science up to the age of 17 or 18, is as large in some places larger, the latter being drifted into practical life, while the former indulge the more lively interest in the things of the mind.
Co-education answers perfectly in institution[s] like Antioch + Oberlin where manners are plain and simple, and where the students all come from a class in which the intercourse of young men and young women is easy and natural, and where there is a strong religious influence [pervading?] the life of the place no moral difficulties are found to arise. Each sex is said to improve the other, the young men become more refined, the young ladies more [?]
Custom allows to women a greater measure of freedom in doing what they will and going where they please more than in any European country expect perhaps in Russa. [sic]
But doing what they will and going where they please is not always the best.
Social intercourse as between youths and maidens es every where more easy and unrestrained than in England or in Germany.
There they make up a large party to take a trip to the mountains or some beautiful grove to spend the summer.
They spend their time in fishing, in reading, in taking walks or boating riding on the lake in the beautiful moonlight night.
And sometimes they they do not desire a boat ride they gather round the big fire and spend the evening in conversation.
An European can not spend an evening in an American drawing room without preceiving [sic] the attitude of men to women as not that with which he is familiar at home.
The better bred women do not preceive [sic] their sex, and the are of good breeding is always widening.
Nothing so quickly incenses the people as any insult offered to women. Wife beating and indeed any such rough violence is [?] among the rudest class than it is in the Old World.
If women have on the whole gained it is clear that the nation gains through them.
As mother they mould [sic] the character of their children while the function of giving them the habits of society rests greatly in their hands.
One thing seems to be wanting to free the women from all the chains with which the barbarous past has loaded her. The rights to speak her convictions and have them counted. The rights to stand beside her father, and husband, and brother, and cast her ballot with them for the cause of home and native land.
This right she will, doubtless, soon enjoy for the day cannot be far when the president in the US will proclaim as the sixteenth amendment to the constitution.
Source: Schlesinger Library, On the History of Women in America Collection, African American Women, Harvard Radcliffe Institute.