The Great Field of Knowledge
Winter of 1855-56 — Benefit for the library of Council Bluffs, IO
The present era in the history of the world is the most enlightened that has ever dawned upon the earth. It is the age in which each one of us, of our own choice, would have preferred to live. The greatest events in the history of mankind are now being performed. It is beyond all others the era of material and physical development. The occult powers of nature — the riches of the earth, the hidden treasures of the sea — are each being converted to the use of man, and made to minister to his happiness. Mind is asserting its supremacy over matter, and everywhere converting it to its use. There is no branch of knowledge which has not been boldly attempted, and there is none in which the most surprising progress has not been made.
In morals and religion, if men are not wiser than their fathers, yet there are far more fathers that are wise, than any other generation has produced. To say nothing of strictly religious progress, the wants of humanity were never before so fully understood, or generally recognized. Never before were there so many lunatic asylums, or asylums for the education of the deaf, dumb and blind —so many benevolent institutions, societies, and organizations for ameliorating the condition of suffering humanity. Never before was a wrong done to a single individual so universally considered as a wrong done to the whole race, and no matter whether it is [Lajos] Kossuth fleeing from Austrian despotism, Thomas Francis Meagher from a British prison, or Solomon Northup from American slavery, the sympathies of the race are sure to go with the panting fugitive.
But not to dwell longer upon these happy characteristics of our age; wherein consists, let me enquire, the great felicity of living in the middle of the nineteenth century?
To this enquiry it may be answered that the civilization of the present day ameliorates the condition of man, in whatever situation he may be found. The poor enjoy comforts, and the rich luxuries hitherto beyond the reach of either. The free man enjoys more real freedom, and the subjection of the serf and the slave is more endurable, and is filled with brighter hopes of ultimate redemption from thraldom and oppression. The truly educated mind drinks to their [sic] full extent of the rich treasures of knowledge, while even over the unlettered and untaught, they spread their genial and elevating influences.
But while it is thus certainly true that all classes in society are benefited by the ennobling tendencies of modern civilization, it is also true that the full measure of its triumphs, and its benefits, can only be reaped by those who have profited by the opportunities, and enjoyed the means of mental and moral culture which the age affords. The slave is none the less the property of his master because he lives in a republic. The man who cannot read his Bible is but little benefited by the pious labor of the colporteur, who leaves it in his dwelling; the wife who will not devote a portion of her time to peruse the volumes in her husband’s library is but little the gainer by being the companion of the man of letters; and the lines of telegraph which run across the fields of the farmer, are of but little profit to the husbandman so long as he will not, or cannot, peruse the columns of the newspaper wherein its messages are given to the world. Each of these classes, if they are to derive any substantial benefits by living in a land of freedom, of libraries, of Bibles, and of telegraphs, must be so benefited rather by the reflected light of others, than by any that shines into their own souls from the great fountain of knowledge and of truth.
It follows that the genial influences which characterize the progressive civilization of the age can only have their perfect development, and win their noblest triumphs, by securing to all nations and races of men — to all classes and conditions in society — the fullest opportunity for the acquirement of knowledge. The more people are taught to read, the better they are instructed to write, the more generally they are induced to think, so much the more reading, writing, and thinking there will be in the world; and when people once learn to do their own thinking, reading, and writing, so much sooner will the good time coming [sic], when men shall be estimated by the amount of their brains, rather than the number of their dollars, dawn upon the earth. And that man who is laboring for the diffusion of knowledge, whether in the humble school house or the richly endowed college, through the press, the pulpit, or the lecture room, is conferring a greater good upon his race than the services which have won for the warrior the proudest titles of earthly greatness.
I come not before you tonight with the hope of doing anything in so noble a work, but I come rather to ask your aid, and your influence, in securing for the women of our country more extended means of education; more ample opportunities for the improvement of their minds; and a larger field for the cultivation of their intellects. There is great reason why such an appeal in behalf of woman should be made, and certainly woman herself has the right to make it.
I have already shown that the blessings of knowledge can only be extended to their legitimate limits by increasing to their utmost extent the opportunities for its attainment, and that these opportunities should be brought within the reach of allclasses of the community, and enjoyed equally by both sexes. Self evident as is this position, it has yet for long ages been far otherwise, as the educational history of the past abundantly proves. The prevalent idea has rather been that knowledge should be confined to a few chosen ones, whom birth or fortune had elevated above the common mass, and that, of this few, man alone was worthy of the precious boon. It is not now my object to show the injustice of this false and long cherished opinion, farther than it relates to woman, and I therefore proceed without further remark to enquire:
Has woman a right to acquire knowledge? Does she enjoy that right now? And if deprived of it, what is the true remedy?
In reference to the first of these enquiries, I will not insult your understandings by any extended argument to prove that woman’s right to the acquirement of knowledge rests on the same basis as man’s. Her perceptive faculties, at least, are the same as his, and the phrenologist will tell you that man has not a single mental faculty which has not its counterpart in woman and that the brain of the two sexes is formed exactly alike — is made up of the same congeries of organs and differs only in this, that some of the organs in the one are larger than the same organs in the other. They should, then, be evenly and equally developed.
Says President Tefft, of the Genesee College, New York, “we bear of such things as male and female education, but I have yet to learn any philosophical basis for this distinction. Do we know of any sexuality in our mental faculties? Do we know of any such thing as a male memory or a female memory? Do we know of any such things as male and femalereasons? Male and female imaginations? Or male and female wills? We speak, it is true, of the will of a female, but not of a female will. So we may speak of the mind of a female, or of the soul of a female, but never of a female mind or soul. The mind—the soul—is neither male nor female. It is simply the immortal part, essentially the same under both conditions and requiring essentially the same treatment. That portion of this human nature in which there is really a difference is not only physical, but exactly that part of the physical which comes not within the range of scholastic discipline. That which is common to both sexes, is what the world has proposed to educate, and this work is to be done, certainly, by a common course of training.”
And again the same writer says, “Intellectually considered, the woman is a man. She has all the mental capacities of a man. She has memory, reason, and imagination, which, as Bacon tells us, constitute all that belongs to mind. She has the same sensibilities, the same emotions, and desires, as man. She has a will entirely like his. The laws of all these functions of the soul are the same in both. The work of education, therefore, which consists in expanding all these common powers, is emphatically One.”
It is upon such principles as these that we rest the claim of woman to as full a development of all the faculties of her threefold nature, body, soul and heart, as is either claimed or possessed by man. And who shall say that this claim is not a just one? Surely not woman, for that would be to disown the gifts and endowments she has inherited with her being; and not man, for that would be to usurp to himself prerogatives to which he has only a claim in common with his sister. Nor should man do it for another reason. Woman was created to be his helpmeet — his companion — the mother of his children, his partner and associate in his journey through life. Does he wish to possess in such a companion, associate, and partner a being with inferior acquirements, capacities and powers to himself? Surely no true man could desire such an associate, for that would be to degrade his own noble nature to a level with that of an inferior and dependent.
And yet, in despite of these well-established truths, how sadly has the education of woman been neglected in all ages of the world. Against her admission, how uniformly and perseveringly have all the avenues to knowledge been closed! In Greece, the educator, as she has been called, of nations, this exclusion began, and its example has been closely followed by succeeding generations. In Greece, woman was studiously excluded from all the avenues to knowledge; and the study of philosophy, and the arts and sciences, for which that people are so famous in history, confined to the other sex.
True, we read that certain women disguised themselves in male attire and went to the Academy to listen to the discourses of Plato, but this very fact shows the extent to which the rule of exclusion was enforced. And yet, in spite of this, history has preserved the names of Sappho, Aspasia and Corinna, who, overcoming all obstacles, illustrated the genius of the female character. This, however, it must be confessed was too often done at the expense of their virtue . . . The Romans copied closely the civilization of Greece, and although in their history we meet with the names of women distinguished for their virtues, yet as a class they were deprived of the ennobling influences of philosophy and the cultivation of their mental faculties….
Throughout the dark ages, which succeeded the fall of the western empire, the situation of woman was most deplorable and was only mitigated by the prevalence of the spirit of chivalry, which arose at the era of the Crusades. Yet even in the extravagant devotion of that romantic age for beauty, there was implied a species of guardianship and protection on the part of man over woman, most degrading to her true nature. And this prevailing sentiment of the feudal ages in reference to woman is still too plainly to be seen in the legislation and the customs of modern times. The same sentiment which prompted the knights of the fourteenth century to fight, bleed, and die for their lady loves, prompts our knights of the nineteenth century to assume the control of the property, the life, the happiness and the intellectual existence of the whole female portion of society.
Paganism in every form is hostile to the happiness of woman, and wherever it has existed, it has trampled her to the earth. Where it has been modified by the advance of knowledge, as among the ancient Greeks and Romans, her situation was the less intolerable, but among savage and barbarous nations, it reduces her to a state of the most perfect vassalage, treating her as a beast of burden—as the abject slave of man’s passions and caprices.
Mohammedanism is but little in advance of Paganism and condemns woman to perpetual seclusion in this life, if it does not actually exclude her from its heaven in that which is to follow. Judaism, corrupted by the example of its Pagan enemies, and prone to copy their idolatries, adopted too many of their customs and went so far in the wrong direction as to banish woman, in their religious worship, from the society of man. Hence no woman was admitted within the Jewish synagogue to hear the law read, and I have sometimes thought it was because St. Paul had been educated amidst the influences of this custom that he commanded the women to stay at home and learn of their husbands, a command which, for the honor of Christianity, has been universally disregarded.
Christianity is the only system of religious belief that has done justice to woman, for it is the only one that has proclaimed the great principle of the entire oneness of the race. This it has done in various ways, but chiefly by the promulgation of the golden rule, “whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them,” and still more clearly in the words of the apostle, “for ye are neither bond or free—male or female — but all one in Christ Jesus.”
But Christianity has never yet had its perfect way among men. Professed though it be by so large a portion of mankind, yet how few have lived up to its teachings, and how much of the old leaven of paganism is still intermingled with its pure and sublime doctrines! Hence it is that the institutions of modern, civilized, and Christianized nations have never done entire justice to woman. Hence it is that she has never enjoyed, and does not now enjoy, those opportunities and advantages for the development of the intellectual and spiritual portion of her nature enjoyed by man and to which she is entitled equally with him.
As she was excluded from the schools of Plato in ancient Greece, so now is she excluded from the colleges and universities of modern times. As she was excluded from the higher developments of Roman philosophy, poetry and art, so at this day have the avenues to all the higher institutions of learning, in which the mind of man receives its fullest development, been sacredly guarded against her admission.
It was remarked by Hannah More more than sixty years ago, that the then prevailing system of female education tended to weaken the principles it ought to strengthen and to dissolve the heart it ought to fortify. That instead of directing the grand and important engine of education to attack and destroy vanity, selfishness and inconsideration, the combined powers of education were sedulously confederated in confirming their strength and establishing their empire. And this remark will hold good at the present day. Woman is educated, not to be the helpmeet and companion of man, but to be his doll and plaything; not to be the mother of his children, but the amusement of an idle hour; not to be the associate with him in cares, duties and relaxations, but the silent and thoughtless spectator of his busy and continued struggle with the sterner realities of life. By our system of female education woman must be accomplished—but in what? She must be able to sing and to dance, to dress exquisitely, to descant glibly upon the last novel, although some are not able to do that, and to understand the mysteries of fashion and fashionable life. She must be able to read French, whether she can read her own language intelligently or not; to draw charmingly, whether she can write a legible hand or not; and to describe the several constituent parts of a rose, although she may be utterly ignorant of the physiology of her own being. And thus woman is educated for show, and not for use — for time, and not for eternity! She is educated as though she was never to grow old — as though she was forever to spend her days surrounded by admirers, with wealth at her command, and with the voice of flattery ever pouring its incense into her too-willing ears. Alas! When all these things pass away—when beauty fades, when wealth vanishes, when admirers disappear, and when the voice of flattery is no longer heard, how miserable is the fate of woman thus educated! How wretched is her life, and bow soon does it come to an end.
Nor is the force of these remarks confined to the improvement of the mind merely — that of the body is perhaps even more neglected. It is admitted on all hands that physical education is of almost as much importance to the health and mental activity of the brain as intellectual or moral improvement, while to the health and vigor of the body it is indispensable. However much this important branch of education may be neglected in man, we know it is still more so in woman. The physical training of the boy commences with his earliest youth. No sooner does he acquire the art of locomotion than he begins to use it in a variety of ways. He is allowed and encouraged to run, jump, and exercise his limbs in almost every conceivable manner; to climb and to swim; to make the hammer, the axe, the whip, the sled, the hoop, and the wheelbarrow his playthings. Meantime, the little girl is confined in the house and denied all these invigorating sports. She can play with a doll, look at pictures, rock in the cradle or sleep on the carpet; but the free pure air and the exercise of her limbs is carefully forbidden, lest she should soil her dress, or make a “tomboy” of herself. As they grow older, the boy can play ball; the girl can build play-houses. The boy can shout till his lungs are expanded to their utmost tension; the girl must lisp and talk nice. The boy can dress with comfort and be left to grow in nature’s form, till his system is fully developed; the girl must be girted in whalebone stays, to give her a fashionable, wasplike waist, till all life and energy are crushed out of her.
And so up through all the successive periods of youth, there is this marked difference between the physical education of the boy and the girl, and the result of all this is that when the former arrives at manhood he is stout, robust and athletic, while the latter is weak, frail, and well-prepared for those premonitory symptoms of consumption and other disease which so soon follow. It is a query in the minds of men why the women of present day are all so sickly. Let them find their answer in the defective physical, moral, and intellectual education of the sex.
The primary cause of the inferior, secondary and unsubstantial education vouchsafed to woman arises, first, from the old pagan idea of the inferiority of woman — an idea utterly at war with both nature and the teachings of revelation. Differences between man and woman do undoubtedly exist, but as we have already shown, they affect not the intellectual or moral faculties, for in these they are found to be identically the same . . .
Akin to this false and unfounded theory of the inferiority of woman — a theory adopted and adhered to without any effort to test its correctness by the standard of reason or of experience — it has also been uniformly assumed, and acted upon, that woman’s true position in the world was not only different, but inferior in importance, to that of man.
Although woman is the mother of the human family, yet man, with a strange perverseness, has insisted that he derived his existence from a being possessed of secondary powers to his own. Not only has he done this, but he has also acted upon the maxim that it was of little or no importance what was the character of that mother, or whether or not her mind was improved by education and culture. It is therefore true that of all the nations of the world, ancient Sparta is the only one of which we have any account that considered the education of woman worthy of its attention.
The laws of Lycurgus provided most carefully for their instruction, and their education was constantly conducted with reference to the fact that they were to be the mothers of a nation of heroes. Hence it was that they exerted an influence, maintained a dignity, and enjoyed a deference unknown among other nations of antiquity. When a woman of another country said to Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas, “You of Lacedaemon are the only women in the world that rule the men,” she answered, “We are the only women that bring forth men!”
The nations of modern times have followed the example of Athens and rejected that of Sparta. They have carefully provided for the education of the sons, but have overlooked in a great measure that of the daughters of the land, and this constitutes the third cause of woman’s inferior intellectual attainments. For the education of the former, colleges have been endowed and universities established, almost without number, but until within a brief period not one for the latter.
The world is full of schools of law, of medicine, of theology, of astronomy, and of every department of human knowledge, for man; but it has few, very few, for woman. Old England has the universities of Oxford and Cambridge—renowned for centuries as the seats of learning and literary greatness — yet not a single woman has ever been admitted to partake of their privileges. So it is in this country. Harvard University—the mother of American colleges — is closed against her. So are the other colleges of New England and of almost the entire Union.
In 1851 it was ascertained that of two hundred and fifty literary colleges, theological institutions, law schools and medical colleges in the United States, not half a dozen, all told, and these not of the highest class, admitted woman to their privileges. Things have improved a little since then, but still the course of legislation and of popular opinion is all against her, and she continues to be deprived of the necessary means for intellectual culture, so freely and liberally provided for her brother.
And what makes this exclusion still more unjust is the fact that nearly all of the higher institutions of learning have been chartered by the state and have received, and still continue to receive, large benefactions from the public treasury. The public monies of the people have been liberally voted for their support; the general government has made large grants of public lands for the same object; and the state governments have vied with each other in the extent of their munificence. The property of woman has been taxed to sustain schools and colleges from which she is excluded, and the scanty estate left to many an orphaned girl has been assessed to sustain institutions from whose halls she has been turned with contemptuous sneers. . .
Woman has been signally unjust to herself in this matter. She has given freely for the endowment of collegiate institutions, although admission to their precincts was denied to her sex. She seems to have taken a pride in elevating her brother in the scale of intellectual attainment, while she has forgotten her sister. The liberally endowed universities of Oxford and Cambridge received large benefactions from Queen Elizabeth, although she never made any provisions for the education of the youth of her own sex, nor have other female sovereigns been any more regardful of the rights and claims of woman to the same opportunities for intellectual improvement as man. So great a wrong cannot be justified, whether practiced by male or female sovereigns, by monarchial or republican governments. . .
The next, and last cause which I shall notice as having contributed more powerfully than all the rest to bring about this intellectual and mental enslavement of woman is the false and wicked idea so long held, and so firmly persisted in, that man and woman — the boy and the girl — must not be educated together. This, I am convinced, is the cornerstone upon which rests this whole doctrine, that it is not equally the duty of the state, and of the people, to provide the same education for the two sexes. If we can tear this away, or if we can show the sandy foundation upon which it rests, the whole edifice of wrong and injustice must fall to the ground.
This practice of separation of the two sexes is directly at war with the entire order of nature. Throughout the whole universe the male and female principle[s] exist together. Animate and inanimate nature acknowledge the existence of these two great elements in the universe. Not even the tree of the forest will spring up and flourish without its mate. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the animals that exist on the earth live, move, and have their being in accordance with the great principles of sexuality.
Male and female they have their being together, drink of the same fountains, are nourished by the same protecting hand, inhale the same vital atmosphere, rejoice in the same glorious sunlight, and draw all the sources of their existence from one and the same great storehouse, prepared alike for all.
How absurd it would be to talk of male and female atmospheres, of male and female springs and rains, of male and female sunshine! And yet is it not equally absurd to talk of male and female mind, of male and female soul, of male and female education? . . . In early childhood the two are nourished and increase in strength together. They have the same desires, participate in the same sports, if left unrestricted, and shed tears over the same deprivations.
In mature life, man and woman are again united in the closest bonds of union, have the same hopes, the same cares, the same anxieties. But in youth — in that period of life when they are fitting themselves for its graver duties, and more chastened and enduring joys — they are separated as by a wall of fire. When the education commences, then also this rule of exclusion commences, not again to be broken down until the training of the mind is completed. In the follies and vanities of life they are allowed to mingle together freely, at parties and dances, and other amusements by night and by day, and little thought taken for their morals, but in the all important work of intellectual culture parents fear their association will have an immoral tendency, and hence their paths must diverge as wide apart as the poles. And when the time for a reunion comes, how differently are their minds prepared for the future duties of life! Man comes forth in the full maturity of his strength, with all the capacities of his mind fully prepared for the duties that await him. The preparatory school, the college, the lecture room are each brought into requisition to perfect his education, to develop his intellect, and store his mind with the seeds of future usefulness. And at a comparatively mature age, he comes upon the stage of life prepared for its stern realities. But bow is it with that sister of his who set out in life with him? The first years of her brief educational probation were spent in the select or common school, where together they pursued the same studies — for thank heaven the common schools are not closed against woman. Then she may have spent a year or so at a fashionable boarding school, and received instruction in music, and possibly in French from a private teacher; and then at the age of sixteen or seventeen her education is finished! She has acquired an imperfect knowledge of mathematics; has learned a little of a single foreign language; knows a little of history; can sing, and play on the piano; can read quite charmingly and write a delightfully small and attenuated hand—although her sentences may show their author to be lamentably deficient in the rules of orthography. And yet this young lady of sixteen or seventeen, with this sadly imperfect and superficial education, is to be the companion of the man whose education commenced where hers ended—who when she left the seminary to go home to flirt in the parlor, entered the college or the university to continue his studies. And yet this woman, so educated, is reproached because she does not compete in intellectual strength and power with her brother, and her whole sex is reproached because they have not done as great things in the field of literature and science as man!
I am glad to see that light is breaking on this subject of educating the sexes together. But recently my eye fell on the following remarks in Emerson’s Magazine. The writer is speaking of some of the colleges of the country and in the closing paragraph says,
There is no just reason why girls should not be admitted freely to the benefits of their instruction. They should appear, at the hour appointed for recitations, and retire to their rooms for study, without comment or stricture. We believe the morals of the people would be elevated much if this practice prevailed. The miserable jealously which so many young men evince of the talents of women would be exchanged for a manly emulation. Instead of envy, and unmanly criticism, and idle depreciation, these youth would feel that the path to a true manliness is not to under value a woman, but to prove their own superiority by the highest and best exercise of their own talents.
Such sentiments as these, after the unadulterated old fogyism that is monthly hashed up for us on woman’s rights, womanly propriety, woman’s education, etc. in the columns of Harper’s Magazine and various other publications are truly refreshing, and we accept them gratefully. . .
And let no one imagine that this refusal to woman of equal opportunities for mental culture with man is fraught with evil alone to her. Far otherwise. Upon man also its depressing influences are most keenly visited — condemning him as it does to the companionship of a being whose mind has been unimproved, and who is therefore unfitted for the highest manifestations of true womanhood. No fact in physiological research is more true than that the mind of the parent is deeply impressed upon that of the offspring. And it is equally true that this impression is oftenest derived from the mother. The greatest men the world ever knew were more indebted for their greatness to their mothers, than to their fathers. For proof of this I would point you to a Lord Bacon, a Henry the Fourth, a Sir Philip Sidney, a Lichtenberg, a Novalis, an Edmund Waller, a John Wesley, a Napoleon Bonaparte, and a George Washington! The mothers of all of these are known to have possessed great strength of character, lofty and ingenious spirits and ennobling virtues. Who speaks of the fatherof Washington? While be remains unknown to fame, Mary, the mother of Washington, is ever mentioned with reverence and admiration, and her memory will be enshrined in the hearts of all future generations. . .
It is matter of rejoicing that a more liberal and enlightened public sentiment in regard to woman is beginning to prevail. To woman herself belongs the honor of having initiated this sentiment. Notwithstanding the crippled, dependent and subordinate condition in which she has been kept for ages, she has at last risen superior to her position, and uninvited and unencouraged forced her way to an honorable recognition by man. She has within these few years boldly proclaimed her wrongs and sternly demanded her rights. She has seen and felt that she possessed powers within herself for great and noble action, but that by a false system of training and education and a false and unjust code of laws those powers have been crippled and well nigh crushed out of her. She has keenly felt the injustice of all this and has determined, in spite of public sentiment, to assert her right to use and improve in such manner as best pleased her, the talent committed to her keeping.
In pursuance of this feeling, we find her writing books, practicing medicine, seizing the painter’s easel, the sculptor’s tools, the astronomer’s instruments, the editor’s chair, the lecturer’s rostrum — and filling various other departments of business. The larger portion of new publications issued by the book press are written by women; while as writers for newspapers, they occupy a prominent place. There are no more popular writers in our country at this day than Mrs. Stowe and Fanny Fern.
As painters, women are winning great triumphs. In London there is a gallery devoted to the works of lady artists, which now contains over three hundred pieces — some original, and some copies of the great masters — and all spoken of in high terms of praise.
The “Horse Fair,” acknowledged on all hands to excel the works of the greatest masters in animal painting, is the work of a woman, Rosa Bonheur. In sculpture, Harriet Hosmer, and others who have followed her, are winning golden praises for the success which has attended their efforts. The sleeping “Beatrice la Cenci” of Miss Hosmer is regarded as a triumph of art, and various other works of hers are named as possessing great merit. Mrs. [Abigail Hutchinson] Patton, as is well known, has studied navigation, and it is not long since the papers throughout the country were making most honorable mention of the fact that she had navigated a vessel from New York to San Francisco!
The fame of Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, has spread far and wide among scientific men, as is cherished with pride by all Americans. The observatory and collection of instruments on Nantucket Island has been purchased by scientific men for presentation to Miss Mitchell — the greatest astronomers in the country having expressed strongly their opinion that valuable results to science cannot fail to be realized by furnishing so skillful and diligent an observer the proposed aids to her researches. Miss Mitchell is now in Europe, visiting the principal observatories and astronomers there. A gold medal was presented to her by the King of Denmark for her discovery of a new comet.
As a tamer of horses, Madame Isabelle, of France, until the past year stood at the head of the profession. The papers tell us that, “In consequence of her great success in breaking horses for the Russian army, the French Minister of War authorized her to proceed officially before a commission composed of general and superior officers of cavalry, with General Regnault de St. Jean d’Angely at their head, to a practical demonstration of her method on a certain number of young cavalry horses. After a few days’ training, the horses were so perfectly broken in that the minister no longer hesitated to enter into an arrangement with Madame Isabelle to introduce her system into all the imperial schools of cavalry.” Most people will think, no doubt, that the profession of this lady is a very unfeminine one, but I introduce her here with others, simply to show the strength of woman’s mind, and to prove that her powers and capacities are as many and various as those possessed by man.
Among the one hundred (and over) regularly educated lady physicians of the present day, Elizabeth Blackwell, stands out bright, and prominent before us, as a skillful practitioner in medicine and surgery. This lady has an extensive practice in the city of New York and has recently founded there a hospital for the sick and wounded of her own sex. This hospital is presided over, in all its departments, by female physicians; and the students of female medical colleges have here an opportunity, not afforded them elsewhere, of acquainting themselves with hospital practice. As a successful and untiring nurse, all the civilized world is ringing the praises of Florence Nightingale, who sacrificed wealth, the society of friends, and the comforts of a luxurious home, and went on the long and dangerous journey to the Crimea, to nurse and comfort the sick, the maimed, and the dying soldiery. But it is needless for me to multiply, as I might do, the names of honorable women who have overcome all obstacles and distinguished themselves for great and worthy deeds. It is this outbursting of hitherto crushed and dormant powers, and her public discussion of great and important truths, that have arrested the attention of the people and forced from them a tardy acknowledgment of woman’s genius and capacity, and the necessity of elevating the standard of woman’s education.
In pursuance of this feeling, and in consequence of her demands, a few medical and literary colleges have been opened for her admission. These schools, though far superior to those of any former time, do not, by any means, meet the demands of the age, being only second or third rate, and their whole course of study only about equal to what completes the sophomore year in our best colleges. Woman will not be content with this half-way reform. She needs, and has a right to demand, more. She will insist that the doors of Harvard and Yale shall be opened to her, and that she be freely admitted to a full participation in all the privileges that pertain to the highest institutions of learning throughout the country. Nothing short of this will satisfy her, and until it is granted, she will continue to proclaim against the great wrong done her, by exclusion from their halls!
This then is the demand, and the right of woman, that she be permitted to enjoy the same educational advantages as man; that such education be as thorough and comprehensive as his; that it be pursued in the same schools, colleges and institutions of learning; and that the public funds and benefactions of the state be applied with an equal hand for the benefit of both sexes.
Secure to woman these advantages, and then for the first time in the history of the world will she be placed in a position in which she may fairly compete with man in the extent of her intellectual attainments and in the benefits which such attainments confer on the world. In saying this, I by no means admit that she has not already shown to the world the possession of intellectual powers qualifying her in all respects for the discharge of the highest duties. With such women before us, in addition to those I have already mentioned, as Catherine of Russia and Elizabeth of England, distinguished for their statesmanlike qualities; Harriet Martineau and Madame De Stael, for their literary attainments; Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville, for their scientific researches; the question of woman’s capacity is no longer an open one; it has already been decided in her favor. And if, with all the disadvantages under which she has labored, she has already placed her name high on the rolls of fame, may we not justly anticipate for her a higher career or usefulness when she shall be made secure in the enjoyment of all her inherent rights?
Let the great field of knowledge be opened in all its length and breadth to the admission of woman, and be assured she will enter upon it and win for herself a name that shall not be eclipsed by the most illustrious of her brothers. Admit her to your schools of philosophy, of law, of medicine, of theology, and of rhetoric, and she will succeed in each of these departments of learning in winning for her sex the highest honors which the pursuit of knowledge can bestow.
But it is not because it will gain for woman a great name, or because it will make her a great philosopher, lawyer, or orator, that I chiefly urge her claims for more enlarged opportunities for the attainment of knowledge, but because it will make her great as a woman—as a wife and mother—because I believe she needs a more healthful training, a more thorough, practical education, to fit her for the discharge of the responsibilities particularly devolving upon her in each of these relations.
To say nothing of her increased capacity to fill those posts of influence, trust, and profit now claimed as belonging to man alone — but to the honor and emoluments of which she is equally entitled — I may well assume the position, that with woman properly educated, she would be better fitted for the discharge of those duties, which, even in the most restricted sphere assigned her by the narrowest minds, are considered as exclusively hers. It is the concentrated spirit of old fogyism that says that woman’s place is to take care of her husband, to watch over his children, and manage the affairs of his household. . .
Let it be granted for the sake of argument that these are the sole duties of woman, yet I ask would she not be vastly better qualified for the performance of these duties were her mind cultivated and expanded by the treasures of knowledge and genius? Would she not be a better companion for man and more truly come up to the great purposes of her creation? I appeal to you, my brothers, whether you would not prefer for a life-long companion one whose mind was enriched by all the advantages which a liberal education and judicious training could confer, to one whose mind is a desert waste, who has no higher aspirations than to shine in the ballroom, to dress in the height of fashion, to give the largest and most extravagant party, and to be supported in a style that will not require her to soil her delicate hands with work? Would not the educated woman be better fitted to become the sharer alike in your joys and your sorrows? The kind and sympathizing friend? The ready counsellor in your hours of trial and perplexity? The intelligent companion alike of your hours of leisure and of study?
Alas! How often do we see a man of educated mind and commanding genius allied to a wife who is utterly unable to mingle her thoughts with his or to appreciate the higher, nobler impulses by which he is guided. She has no taste for the books that he reads; she thinks not the thoughts that he thinks; and shares not in the high intellectual labor in which he finds his greatest enjoyment. How unfitted for each other’s companionship are two minds of such opposite characters! How little real social enjoyment can they find in each other’s society!
And to the man of business this great want of appreciation and sympathy on the part of his wife is most sensibly felt. Uneducated to habits of application, of industry and thought, she takes little interest in his business and remains through life in blissful ignorance of his affairs. If her parlors are elegantly furnished, her wardrobe well supplied, and her purse kept well filled, it is all she asks for or cares to know. The unhappy effect of all this is often seen in the bankruptcy of husbands. Or in the case of the death of the husband, in the utter helplessness of the wife and her inability to investigate his affairs and save the wreck of his property from being swallowed up by the harpies of the law.
Woman is herself greatly to blame in this matter, since she seldom manifests a desire or exhibits a capacity for thinking upon such subjects. Yet upon man must rest the greatest blame for not giving her a proper education, and for making no effort to interest her in, or inform her of, those matters which are peculiarly interesting to him. How different a being would she become under the different training and education that we claim for her! Give her incentives to action — treat her as an intelligent, independent being — and she would not be content to pass through life the mere toy, the plaything, or the drudge of man, but she would be prepared to meet with him the stern conflicts of life and to honorably fulfill all its duties. Then would that union formed by marriage prove one of incalculable benefit to both—for it would be a union of equals—and all down through life their pathway would be strewn with the richest blessings. Man would be better because he would have a wise and worthy companion, and woman would be better and wiser because she would unite to those gentle virtues peculiar to her sex a higher sense of the value of her being and a fuller appreciation of the duties she owes to herself, to the world, and to God.
As a mother, the virtues and knowledge of the educated woman would have their greatest influence and produce the most beneficial results. The influence of the mother over the minds of her children is said to be ineffaceable. How important then that her influence be of the right character, and how can it be of the right character so long as her own mind is undeveloped and unimproved? Woman should be, in a great degree, the educator of her children, yet how can she teach if she is herself untaught? If she knows nothing of the mysteries of her own being, of the laws of her own mind, or of the structure of her physical frame, how can she communicate knowledge upon those subjects to her children? Ignorant, as she now too often is, of the great responsibilities and duties of life, or the higher teachings of eternity, how can she fit those consigned to her care for the discharge of the one or the enjoyments of the other? But let her be properly educated, let her individual sovereignty be acknowledged, and then we may safely commit to her the training and education of a nation of freemen! Then her sons will grow up useful and honored, and her daughters will be ornaments to society and the virtuous and honored guardians of public morals and private worth.
Let woman be thoroughly and properly educated, and she will exercise a genial and lifegiving influence over society generally that would prove of the most ennobling and elevating character. She will banish from her presence the petty gossip, the idle scandal, and the unmeaning commonplaces that now disfigure society, and render its puerilities absolute[ly] insufferable to a mind truly chastened and enriched by the choice fruits of thought and study. Then no longer would the “Potiphar Papers” be acknowledged as a correct daguerreotype of our fashionable society; nor could the Booseys, the Mrs. Potiphars and the Cream Cheeses find their counterparts in every city and town in the land. Then no longer would the fashionable party be voted a bore for its dullness, for then it would not be necessary to exclude all subjects of conversation except those of the most trivial and unmeaning character, because women were not qualified to converse on or to appreciate more sensible subjects. Then no longer would men demean themselves, or insult woman, by playing the clown, or the fool, for her amusement, because they believed there was no way of entertaining, except by amusing her. Then our eyes would not be pained and our cheeks made to blush by such frequent allusions to woman’s weakness of intellect, and propensity for gossiping, as now stares us in the face from the page of nearly every newspaper in the land and which meets us in some form at every step in life.
Let woman be educated, and the vices and crimes which now curse society would in a great measure cease to exist. The fetters of the slave would be broken, and the great destroyer, intemperance, would be chained, and himself destroyed. Her high moral influence exerted upon the minds of her children, and on community, could not fail of leading to so desirable a result; for instead of the animal passions and appetites which now so greatly predominate in our children, we should have those more refined and spiritual in their natures, and in whose presence vice could not exist.
Finally, let woman be educated, and she will possess within herself unfailing sources of enjoyment. She will realize the almost unlimited capacities of her own soul and rise to the contemplation of the sublime truths of her existence and the exalted purposes for which she was created. No longer a dependent, but an equal amidst the most exalted of earth’s inhabitants, she will study for herself the history of the past, investigate the realities of the present, and look forward to the future with a firm reliance on her own perceptions of right and her own convictions of duty. She will walk steadily forward with a path that reason — enlightened by revelation — shall mark out before her, and having done her duty in this life she will be prepared to enjoy in all the fruition of its glories, the life that is to come.
[The end of this speech is missing.]
Copyright 2019. Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, NY. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Source: Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, ed. Anne C. Coon (Westport: Greenwood Press), 1994.