Because We Are Females
June 20, 1792 — Valedictory Oration for the Young Ladies’ Academy, Methodist Church, Philadelphia, Philadelphia PA
The silent and solemn attention of a respectable audience, has often, at the beginning of discourses intimidated, even veterans, in the art of public elocution. What then must my situation be, when my sex, my youth and inexperience all conspire to make me tremble at the talk which I have undertaken? But the friendly encouragement, which I behold in almost every countenance, enables me to overcome difficulties, that would otherwise be insurmountable. With some, however, it has been made a question, whether we ought ever to appear in so public a manner. Our natural timidity, the domestic situation to which by nature and custom we seem destined, are, urged as arguments against what I have now undertaken: Many sarcastical observations have been handed out against female oratory: But to what do they amount? Do they not plainly inform us, that, because we are females, we ought therefore to be deprived of what is perhaps the most effectual means of acquiring a just, natural and graceful delivery? No one will pretend to deny, that we should be taught to read in the best manner. And if to read, why not to speak? For surely it cannot be a less necessary qualification for a young Lady to speak properly, than for her to read so, since she will, perhaps, rarely have occasion to read in public; tho’ she may almost every day be obliged to speak, not only in the circle of her friends and acquaintance, but even before strangers, who will not often make the allowances, which an awkward and uncouth mode of elocution would necessary require. But yet it might be asked, what, has a female character to do with declamation? That she should harangue at the head of an Army, in the Senate, or before a popular Assembly, is not pretended, neither is it requested that she ought to be an adept in the stormy and contentious eloquence of the bar, or in the abstract and subtle reasoning of the Senate; we look not for a female Pitt, Cicero, or Demosthenes.
There are more humble and milder scenes than those which I have mentioned, in which a woman may display her elocution. There are numerous topics, on which she may discourse without impropriety, in the discussion of which, she may instruct and please others, and in which she may exercise and improve her own understanding. After all, we do not expect women should become perfect orators. Why then should they be taught to speak in public? This question may possibly be answered by asking several others.
Why is a boy diligently and carefully taught the Latin, the Greek, or the Hebrew language, in which he will seldom have occasion, either to write or to converse? Why is he taught to demonstrate the propositions of Euclid, when during his whole life, he will not perhaps make use of one of them? Are we taught to dance merely for the sake of becoming dancers? No, certainly. These things are commonly studied, more on account of the habits, which the learning of them establishes, than on account of any important advantages which the mere knowledge of them can afford. So a young lady, from the exercise of speaking before a properly selected audience, may acquire some valuable habits, which, otherwise she can obtain from no examples, and that no precept can give. But, this exercise can with propriety be performed only before a select audience: a promiscuous and indiscriminate one, for obvious reasons, would be absolutely unsuitable, and should always be carefully avoided.
Having endeavored to defend the exercise in which I have been engaged, it is now incumbent to turn my attention to the Trustees of this Seminary.
Venerable Fathers and Guardians.
For your care, attention and patronage are due our most grateful and sincere acknowledgements. — you may be engaged in employments more illustrious than the education of youth, but what can you pursue that will produce more lasting and beneficial effects — For these atchievements the blessing of many will be your reward, and at the close of life you will review them with peculiar satisfaction. — Your patronage and circumspection will add dignity and give lustre to the rising generation, especially to the students of the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia.
And honored Sirs, give me leave to hail you as the first patronizers who have generously stepped forth in this glorious cause, as advocates for female literature; may your noble deeds be indelibly enrolled in the annals of fame, and still gaining lustre and brilliancy till times all cease to move.
But my worthy Tutor;
Your assiduity and abilities are two well known to need my commendation to render them more conspicuous; but I should neglect my duty if I did not at this time most gratefully acknowledge the kindness, tenderness, and friendship with which your demeanor towards us your pupils, has always been marked, and for the unwearied vigilance, attention and diligence, to which you have submitted, not only with respect to myself, but likewise for the instruction of my fellow students, by always appearing anxious to keep us in the track of learning, that we might find the path of science, and at last arrive to, and fully purchase the ample and spacious field of knowledge: which has been, and I am sensible will always be the reward of the studious. Permit me, dear Sir, to solicit the acceptance of our most grateful acknowledgments to you, our Friend, Guardian and PATRON.
My dear School mates;
Before I bid you adieu, you will claim my particular attention; that I should endeavour to animate you in the prosecution’s of your studies; and that I should offer you my advice in a manner; which, at any other time, might be deemed arrogant, but which, the solemnity of the occasion may possibly justify. — We must be sensible, that we are favoured with opportunities of improvements, of which thousands of our sex are dee. This ought surely to inspire us with gratitude to the Author of the Universe, who hath distinguished us in a manner so singular, and with reverence and affection toward our parents and guardians, who, in many instances, have given us the advantage of instruction superior to that, which they themselves have enjoyed. We ought doubtless to emulate their virtues. — But, shall we equal them? If we do not, ignominy and reproach will inevitably be our portion. It is our duty then nobly to exert ourselves, and to shew, that the labour and care which have been bestowed upon us have not been bestowed in vain; and to prove that the female mind will reward the most assiduous culture. Our utmost efforts, however, will give us but a small portion of knowledge; and our improvements will be best shown in the exercise of humility. Charity and modesty are the best evidences of a highly cultivated mind. Yes for these virtues we are not to mistake an affected and languid delicacy, which the misjudging have falsely called sensibility. There is a firmness, and there is an independence of sentient, which, if tempered with an unaffected softness and gentleness, are peculiarly suited to the female character; — They give it a lustre which no borrowed charms can bestow; they are really necessary as the friends of virtue, and as a shield against the attacks and insinuations of artful flattery, of vice and of folly; — their charms are irresistible. There can be no occasion for me to urge the necessity, of reverence and obedience to your parents, your teacher and superiors. Time will teach you that these virtues are indispensably necessary. The precepts of your teacher, you will particularly regard. He knows and will attend to your interest. However difficult some parts of your studies may be, in him you will always find attentive and willing assistance, ready to mitigate your labour, and smooth the path of science. In the most flowery and beautiful, we often meet with some small obstruction and difficulty, which i some measure, retard our glorious progress. But there are few difficulties we may not overcome by pursuing industry. That you will persevere, I persuade myself, that you may enjoy the fruits of your virtuous exertions, is my most sincere wish and the fondest hope of heart. And ow I trust you will always bear me in mind that I shall ever be solicitous for your happiness.
Should I be so fortunate as to merit your esteem and regard, I should account it one of the greatest earthly gratifications at which the summit of my wishes could aim. But before I take my seat, must remind you of the one thing needful. The Prophets, the Apostles, and the best of departed spirits, have marked our way to heaven. Let the wheels of nature and time tool on apace in their destined way. Let suns and moons arise and set, and light a lonesome traveller onward to his home. But blessed Jesus! be thou our living guide — may virtue and its tract be our daily and delightful path, which leads upward to the regions of love and joy. — how can we dare to wander from the fame, least we loose its heavenly direction. O! may the influences of heaven descend from above, and establish and guard our pious resolutions; may the divine energy of religion be our continual strength, and the well grounded hope of eternal blessedness our never-failing support; till we are dismissed from this prison of flesh, and summon’d to ascend the regions of Paradise, and there to join the celestial choir of the spirits of the just made perfect, and bid adieu to all mortality, and take up our abode with our God, and with our adored Saviour. There may we join the angelic host, to sound forth all praise, to the Father, and the Son. And with this pleasing prospect, my dear girls, permit me to bid you a sincere and affectionate FAREWELL.
Source: The Rise and Progress of the Young-Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia: Containing an Account of a Number of Public Examinations & Commencements; The Charter and Bye-Laws; Likewise, A Number of Orations delivered by the Young Ladies, and several by the Trustees of Said Institution (Philadelphia: Stewart & Cochran) 1794, pp. 212-213.