Tried as by Fire;
or, The True and the False, Socially
For what purpose has this audience assembled; and what does it expect of me? Consider this question well now, since I propose to perform my duty regardless alike of approval or disapproval. In this duty you may listen to speech, such as, perhaps, you never heard from a public platform before.
You have been invited to hear the social problem discussed; to see it placed in the crucible of analysis to be tried by the hot flames of truth, the fire meanwhile fed by stern facts, and stirred to intensest heat, until the dross shall rise to the surface and gradually disappear in fumes which may be unpleasant to the senses, but leaving behind the purified residuum gathered, indicating clearly what is true and what false in the tested subject — the sexual relations.
This is my task, not to be explained as it progresses in terms of glittering generalities, or of poetic fancy, or in gingerly words that may leave any in doubt as to what is intended, but plainly, honestly and earnestly, so that no one can misunderstand; but which will clearly set forth the conditions requisite to the health of these relations and the ignorance and abuse producing their diseases, and show what all knew, well enough, but few dare acknowledge to themselves, even: that there is much that is rotten in Denmark.
You are here as my guests, knowing in advance upon what subject I should speak; and I shall expect from you, individually and collectively, that courteous treatment which would be my due under any other circumstances than these, in which I might be your hostess, and you my guests. I shall not utter a word, phrase or sentence, except such as I conscientiously believe to be true, and that ought, for the good of the race, to be uttered. Nor shall I, in the course of my speech, plain, bold, even bald as it may be, use any expressions that, by the remotest construction, trench upon the boundaries of the vulgar. I shall however, call things by their plain, Saxon names, holding that there is no part of the beautiful, human mechanism for which the pure in heart and thought ought be able to blush while it is under consideration.
I have asked this question and given this explanation for the purpose, at the outset, of permitting any here, who may not desire to listen to such plain speech as I have indicated, to retire now, so that others may not be disturbed, later in the evening, by their removal.
We now understand each other. It is not expected, it is not desired, that I withhold any fact I may have to offer, or advice I may have to give, regarding a subject which, more than any other, ought to commend the attention of all enlightened people; but which, from falsely conceived ideas and a wrongly educated public opinion, is, more than any other, anathematized by almost the whole world.
People may pretend to blush, and the editors may write of me as indecent and vulgar, and say I have no shame to speak as I shall, what they will not dare to print. But, after all, ought not they and you and I rather to blush with real shame that such things as I shall mention, exist to be spoken about? I say, shame upon the newspapers, upon the preachers, teachers and doctors, that it is necessary for me to tell you what they ought long ago to have freely discussed, and have thus relieved me of this unpleasant task! I say, shame upon them all! and if the papers must perforce reproduce this word, let them be honest enough to properly apply it to the existing facts that of themselves are obscene and vulgar, and not to the speaker, who deals with them, not because it is either her nature or pleasure, but because she desires, like Boards of Health dealing with nuisances, to abate them.
Therefore if any vulgar or indecent thoughts arise in the mind of any person when these things are discussed, they do not attach to the speaker, but belong wholly to the individual; hence whatever may be thought now, or said hereafter, by any of you, or written about them at any time, is, by no possible, farfetched construction, an insult or imputation offered me. On the contrary it is a degradation to their subjects or authors, indicating the moral standpoint from which they, and not I, view the subject; and an insult to their mothers, to be explained by bad rearing and worse moral teaching. So do not think that, when I pick up the paper and read the nasty things that are said of me, I feel insulted or hurt; but rather believe that I pity those who write them, and feel that they have need of a loving mother or a darling sister, to snatch them from a degradation in which they can see only vulgarity or vileness, where there is really nothing except purity and holiness.
If any of these mothers or sisters have such sons or brothers, let me beg of them to never let their yearning affections cease their efforts, nor their entreaties and tears to flow, until they are rescued — until they are restored to manhood.
No man who respects his mother or loves his sister, can speak disparagingly of any woman; however low she may seem to have sunk, she is still a woman. I want every man to remember this. Every woman is, or, at some time, has been a sister or daughter; and if she be now “out upon the cold world,” do not forget that some son or brother helped, perhaps forced her there. Nor can it be amiss for men to ask: “Am I pure enough to make my judgments just?”
Let these thoughts check the rising frown and the cruel words you would bestow upon any unfortunate woman, in whatever condition, and call forth your love and sympathy instead, in some practical way for her rescue or assistance.
[Thus preliminarily introduced, I pass to the consideration of the true and the false in the relation of the sexes:]
The sexual relations of humanity are fundamental to its continuous existence, and are, therefore, the most important into which men and women enter. It is vital that they should be entered into properly, that they should be understood clearly, and, still more so, that they should be lived rightly. Nevertheless, the world has virtually declared that this shall not be. It denies all knowledge of them to the young, and permits the youth and the maiden to walk blindfolded into their exploration, ignorant even of their own functions, only taking special care that the journey, once begun, may never be retraced or stopped. It has left the travelers, as it were, in the mid-ocean of what may be their eternal happiness, if the course pursued be right; or their certain destruction if the chosen way be wrong, without chart or compass, subjected to winds which drive them, they know not where, and to currents and counter-currents, for which no haven of safety is provided; and, alas! they too often go down to untimely graves, victims to a willful ignorance. Such are the results of modern social regulations.
I am conducting a campaign against marriage, with the view of revolutionizing the present theory and practice. I have strong convictions that, as a bond or promise to love another until death, it is a fraud upon human happiness; and that it has outlived its day of usefulness. These convictions make me earnest, and I enter the fight, meaning to do the institution all possible harm in the shortest space of time; meaning to use whatever weapons may fall in my way with which to stab it to the heart, so that its decaying carcass may be buried, and clear the way for a higher and a better institution.
I speak only what I know, when I say that the most intelligent and really virtuous people of all classes have outgrown this institution; that they are constantly and systematically unfaithful to it; despise and revolt against it as a slavery, and only submit to a semblance of fidelity to it, from the dread of a falsely educated public opinion and a sham morality, which are based on the ideas of the past, but which no longer really represent the convictions of anybody.
Nor is this hypocritical allegiance the only or the greatest or gravest consideration that is capturing the opinions of the really intelligent. It is rapidly entering into the public thought, that there should be, at least, as much attention given to breeding and rearing children, as is given to horses, cattle, pigs, fowls and fruit. A little reflection shows that the scientific propagation of children is a thing of paramount importance; as much above and beyond that of personal property as children are above dogs and cats. And this conviction, practically considered, also shows that the union of the sexes, for propagation, should be consummated under the highest and best knowledge, and in such manner and by such methods as will produce the best results. These considerations are so palpable that they cannot be ignored; and they look to the early supercedure of the institution of marriage by some better system for the maintenance of women as mothers, and children as progeny. This is as much a foregone conclusion with all the best thinkers of to-day as was the approaching dissolution of slavery, not more than ten years before its final fall.
But in the meantime men and women tremble on the verge of the revolution, and hesitate to avow their convictions; but aware of their rights, and urged by the impulses of their natures, they act upon the new theories while professing allegiance to the old. In this way an organized hypocrisy has become a main feature of modern society, and poltroonery, cowardice and deception rule supreme in its domain. The continuation of such falsity for a generation, touching one of the most sacred interests of humanity, will eradicate the source of honesty from the human soul. Every consideration of expediency, therefore, demands that some one lead the van in a relentless warfare against marriage, so that its days may be made short.
This is my mission. I entered the contest, bringing forward, in addition to the wise and powerful words of others, such arguments as my own inspirations and reflections suggested. No sooner had I done this, however, than the howl of persecution sounded in my ears. Instead of replying to my arguments, I was assaulted with shameful abuse; and I was astonished to find that the most persistent and slanderous and foul-mouthed accusations came from precisely those whom I happened often to know should have been, from their practices, the last to raise their voices against any one, and whom, if I had felt so disposed, I could have easily silenced. But simply as personality or personal defense, or spiteful retort, I have almost wholly abstained during these years of sharp conflict from making use of the rich resources at my command for this kind of attack and defence, and, passing the vile abuse which has beset me, have steadfastly pressed on in the warfare.
In a single instance only have departed from this course. Circumstances conspired to put me in possession of certain facts regarding the most prominent divine in the land, and from him I learned that he too was not only false to the old dispensation, but unfaithful to the new — a double hypocrisy, over which I hesitated many months, doubting if I should use it. It was not that I desired or had any right to personally attack this individual; but something had to be done to break down the partition walls of prejudice that prevented public consideration of the sexual problem, and fully to launch it upon the tide of popular discussion. This revolution, like every other that ever preceded it, and as every other that ever will follow it, must have its terrific cost, if not in blood and treasure, then still in the less tangible but equally real sentimental injury of thousands of sufferers. It was necessary that somebody should be hurt. I cast the thunderbolt into the very center of the socio-religiomoralistic camp of the enemy and struck their chieftain, and the world trembled at the blow. In twenty years not anybody will say that I was wrong, any more than anybody now says that the old leaders of the anti-slavery revolution were wrong in attacking slavery in the concrete.
My purpose was accomplished. Whereas, before, none had dared to broach the sexual question, it is now on everybody’s lips; and where it would have been impossible for a man, even, to address a public, promiscuous audience anywhere without being mobbed, a woman may now travel the country over, and from its best rostrums, speak the last truth about sexuality, and receive respectful attention, even enthusiastic encouragement. The world has come to its senses — has been roused to the real import and meaning of this terrible question, and to realize that only through its full and candid examination may we hope to save the future from utter demoralization.
But why do I war upon marriage? I reply frankly: First, because it stands directly in the way of any improvement in the race, insisting upon conditions under which improvement is impossible; and second, because it is, as I verily believe, the most terrible curse from which humanity now suffers, entailing more misery, sickness and premature death than all other causes combined. It is at once the bane of happiness to the present, and the demon of prophetic miseries to the future — miseries now concealed beneath its deceptive exterior, gilded over by priestcraft and law, to be inwrought in the constitutions of coming generations to mildew and poison their lives.
Of what in reality does this thing consist, which, while hanging like a pall over the world, is pretendedly the basis of its civilization? The union of the opposites in sex is an instinct inherent in the constitutions of mankind; but legal marriage is an invention of man, and so far as it performs anything, it defeats and perverts this natural instinct. Marriage is a license for sexual commerce to be carried on without regard to the consent or dissent of this instinct. Everything else that men and women may desire to do, except to have sexual commerce, may be and is done without marriage.
Marriage, then, is a license merely — a permission to do something that it is inferred or understood ought not to be done without it. In other words, marriage is an assumption by the community that it can regulate the sexual instincts of individuals better than they can themselves; and they have been so well regulated that there is scarcely such a thing known as a natural sexual instinct in the race; indeed, the regulations have been so at war with nature that this instinct has become a morbid disease, running rampant or riotous in one sex, and feeding its insatiable maw upon the vitality of the other, finally resulting in disgust or impotency in both.
Isn’t this a pretty commentary on regulation? Talk of Social Evil bills! The marriage law is the most damnable Social Evil bill — the most consummate outrage on woman — that was ever conceived. Those who are called prostitutes, whom these bills assume to regulate are free women, sexually, when compared to the slavery of the poor wife. They are at liberty, at least to refuse; but she knows no such escape. “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands,” is the spirit and the universal practice of marriage.
Of all the horrid brutalities of this age, I know of none so horrid as those that are sanctioned and defended by marriage. Night after night there are thousands of rapes committed, under cover of this accursed license; and millions — yes, I say it boldly, knowing whereof I speak — millions of poor, heart-broken, suffering wives are compelled to minister to the lechery of insatiable husbands, when every instinct of body and sentiment of soul revolts in loathing and disgust. All married persons know this is truth, although they may feign to shut their eyes and ears to the horrid thing, and pretend to believe it is not. The world has got to be startled from this pretense into realizing that there is nothing else now existing among pretendedly enlightened nations, except marriage, that invests men with the right to debauch women, sexually, against their wills. Yet, marriage is held to be synonomous with morality! I say, eternal damnation sink such morality!
When I think of the indignities which women suffer in marriage, I cannot conceive how they are restrained from open rebellion. Compelled to submit their bodies to disgusting pollution! Oh, Shame! where hast thou fled, that the fair face of womanhood is not suffused with thy protesting blushes, stinging her, at least into self-respect, and if not into freedom itself! Am I too severe? No, I am only just!
Prate of the abolition of slavery! There was never servitude in the world like this one of marriage. It not only holds the body to whatever polluting use — abstracting its vitality, prostituting its most sacred functions, and leaving them degraded, debauched and diseased — but utterly damning the soul for all aspiration, and sinking it in moral and spiritual torpor. Marriage not slavery! Who shall dare affirm it? let woman practically assert her sexual freedom and see to what it will lead! It is useless to mince terms. We want the truth; and that which I have about this abomination I will continue to give, until it is abolished.
It is useless to cry, “Peace! Peace! when there is no peace.” It is worse than useless to cry, Freedom! Freedom! when there is nothing but slavery. Let those who will, however, in spite of the truth, go home and attempt to maintain it there, and they will wake up to find themselves sold, delivered and bound, legally, to serve their masters sexually, but, refusing to do which, there will be a penalty, if not the lash. Now, husbands! now, wives! isn’t this true? You know it is. And isn’t it shameful that it is true?
Is this too sweeping? What was it that condemned slavery? Was it that all slaves were cruelly treated? Not the most ultra-Abolitionist ever pretended it! They admitted that the majority were contented, comfortable and happy. Can the same be said, truly, of the slaves to marriage, now?
But it was claimed and proven, as I claim and shall prove of marriage, that the instances of extreme cruelty were sufficiently numerous to condemn the system, and to demand its abolition. Proportionally, the instances of extreme cruelty in marriage are double what they were in slavery, and cover a much broader field, involving all the known methods by which the body can be tortured and the heart crushed. I could narrate personal cases of various kinds, for a week, and not exhaust my stock; but I cannot pause to do so. Judged by the logic of the past, this institution stands condemned, and will be soon relegated to the limbo of the past.
But there is another picture of this holy institution, scarcely less to be deprecated than are its actual cruelties; and little, if any, less degrading to womanhood: All men and women now living together, who ought to continue to so live, would so continue were marriage laws repealed. Is this true or false? This depends upon the truth or falsity of the following further propositions: Marriage may be consummated by men and women who love mutually; or, marriage may be consummated by men and women who have no love. If it be said that the former is false and the latter true, it is denied that love has anything to do with marriage — an affirmation, virtually, that they who hate may marry rightly; but if, on the contrary, the former is true and the latter false, it is agreed, constructively, that all I ever said or ever can say is true.
Now which is it? Has love, or ought it to have anything to do with marriage? Who will dare say that love should not be a precedent to marriage? But when this is affirmed, the legitimate corollary is not seen: That, since marriage should not begin without love, it should cease when love is gone. To accept the former, is to declare the latter. And no logician, however subtle, can escape it. Nor can you escape it; nor could I, although I labored for years to do so.
But if there are any who are in doubt as to what is right and true, I offer a test that will decide it. Let the married who live together, who would separate were the law repealed, rise! Not any here of that stripe; or, if there are, they are ashamed to make a public confession of it. I should be so, too, were I sailing the voyage of life in such a ship. Ask any audience, or any individual, this question, and the result would be the same. What is the inference? Clearly that, if people really do live together who do not love, they are ashamed of it, and, consequently, of the law that holds them; and that they want the world to think that they love each other, and choose to live together on that account, regardless of the law.
Who is there in the community who would like to have it understood that there is no love at home? Isn’t it the fact, on the contrary, that those whose homes are loveless, and who fight and wrangle and fuss continually take special pains to conceal these things from the world? Everybody knows it is. What more sweeping condemnation could there be than this, both of the law which compels it and the practice itself? None! It is the hot-bed of hypocrisy, deceit and lust, and is doing more to demoralize the world than all other practices combined.
I am justified, therefore, in concluding that all people who are not practical free lovers, living together for love, are theoretically so, and are ashamed to confess that their practices do not accord with their theories; or, in other words, are ashamed that their practice is enforced lust instead of free love. These are the alternatives, and the only ones, and I don’t intend that the people shall escape them. Every one of you — every one of the people generally — either practices Free Love, or enforced lust, and the world shall understand when people denounce me as a Free Lover they announce themselves as enforced lusters; and I’ll placard their backs and they shall walk up and down the world with this mark of depravity, as they have intended that I should do for having the moral courage, which they lack, to make my theories and practices agree.
There is but one objection, then, to the abolition of this last and greatest of all the slaveries, that, from the popular standpoint, has any validity whatever. This one is the dernier resort to which every opposing orator flies when driven from other positions: What will become of the children? Ah! That is the rub, is it? And it is asked with an air of nonchalance and self-complacency that seems to say, “Now I have you on the hip.” This is the question that everybody asks; but it is not seen that it is answered when the other position is abandoned. The assumption is this: if there were no marriage “the family” would cease to exist, and children would be left on the world. But this preposterous proposition is refuted by the denial and proof that “the family” exists by virtue of law. If the law were abrogated, and men and women should generally live on as now, which they say they would by denying that they live together on account of the law, what would be the difficulty about the children? And yet this bugbear has been pumped up into the imaginations of the people until it is regarded almost universally as an antidote to all allegations against marriage.
But aside from all this there are direct proofs, equally fatal to the children antidote. Are there men and women here who, in the face of this audience, or anywhere else, who, in the face of any other audience, would dare stand up and confess that they would abandon their children if the law of marriage were repealed? I have never been able to find such a person. If there are such here I want to see them. Barnum would pay a big price for such animals. I shall never be able to accept the doctrine of total depravity as applicable to any person until I meet such a specimen. The Darwinian order of descent acknowledges no such connecting link.
Oh, no! Of course we could never neglect our children under any circumstances, but we fear that our neighbors might, therefore it wouldn’t be quite expedient to give them an opportunity. If I were to go to your neighbors they would say the same of you. So the world goes on — one-half of it submitting to a semblance of law which they really despise, pretending that it is necessary on their neighbors’ account — the old pharisaical godliness, “I am holier than thou,” and I thank God that “I am not as other men are.”
If people are really honest, however, in this opinion of their neighbors they should settle the matter. Let them go to their neighbors and say, “Now, my friends, here is a law upon the statute books that is an expensive one to administer, which, so far as I am concerned, might as well be repealed; but I fear if it be done that you would abandon your children and perhaps do a great many other bad things that I, with my superior honor and manhood, could not stoop to do.” My opinion is that neighbors would help them out of doors much more rapidly than they entered, especially if there should be heavy boots ready for service, with this advice gratis, if in the rapidity of the movement it shouldn’t be forgotten: “You had better go home and take care of your own family, and you won’t have much time to worry yourself about mine.”
It is this stuff that is the matter with the world. Everybody, individually, is ready for freedom, but regards everybody else, collectively, as being in danger. Everybody is afraid that everybody else’s wife and daughters would go to the bad if social freedom were to obtain, and their children to the dogs if the leash of the law were to be let loose. And these are what are offered as arguments against the introduction of freedom into the social relations.
It is an imputation that neither you, nor I, nor anybody else would submit to for a moment were we to consider its insolence. It is an insult alike to the manhood of man and the womanhood of woman, and an outrage upon good sense and common decency.
But I would not leave the children question under the impression that I think their present conditions are by any means what they ought to be. Indeed I believe that they could not well be worse, and that an equally radical revolution is required in the methods of rearing and educating the young as there is in begetting them. But right begetting stands first in importance, hence the marriage question is the first one to be revolutionized.
Without going into details, such methods for rearing and educating children should obtain as will give to them the right to live to adult age, each having had equal advantages in all directions with every other child; that shall assure each the capacity and acquirements for good citizenship; and equal pecuniary endowments, so that all may begin adult life equal. Freedom without equality is a fraud; and both these, without justice, a snare. There is but one question to ask: How can children be born, reared and instructed to make them the best men and women, physically, mentally and morally. If the answer demand the abrogation of so-called parental rights and authority they must go. The best interests of children, at whatever cost, is the proper motto. It’s useless to waste time upon the present generation. Let it go; but its ignorance and stupid blundering should not be transmitted to the next.
Nor should one-half of all the children born continue to die before reaching the age of five years, sacrificed, as they now are, to the inexcusable ignorance of mothers — murdered, it ought rather to be said, by the popular barbarity which condones ignorance of sexual matters. This fact is a commentary upon our social relations that transforms them into horrid tragedies and stamps the mark of Cain upon every mother. When a ship founders at sea, with the loss of a few hundred lives, the whole world is shocked at the horror; but it sleeps quietly over the still greater horror of double that number of children — babes, almost — falling victims, daily, to these fell destroyers, the so-called safeguards of society, maintained by the canting hypocrisy of its fifty thousand ministerial frauds who know better, and the sham morality and mock-modesty of their willing dupes.
Some time ago, when lecturing in Massachusetts, a lady said: “Do you see that woman at the window opposite, weeping? She buried her daughter to-day — her only child, fourteen years old.”
Without thought, I asked, “What was the matter with her?”
She replied, “Can’t you imagine — a girl, and fourteen years of age? Last summer I carried one of your papers there, in which there was an article entitled, “Sexual Vice in Children.” After I had left, she took the tongs and threw it out of the window. Today she has buried her only child, because she did not read and follow the advice contained in that article. Six days ago her little daughter arrived at puberty. Ignorant of its meaning and frightened at what she could not understand, she, unknown to her mother, washed out her clothes, and put them on. To-day she is in her grave. Now, Mrs. Woodhull, what is your verdict against that mother?”
I replied, “It is the same that ought to be rendered against every mother in the land who can so criminally neglect the education of her daughters upon so vital a matter as this, whether, as in this instance, it is fatal or not: Murderer!”
Infancy and childhood ought to be the most healthy periods of life; but they are ten times more fatal than any other. Of this sickening fact there can be but one verdict: “Cut off at the age of from one day to five years, by maternal ignorance. This is still more evident when we remember that, from the very moment children begin to take care of themselves, the death rate diminishes. Think of these things, and then let it be said, if it can, that the social question ought not be discussed publicly! Why, there is nothing else worthy to be discussed, so long as this remains unsolved! It should be the topic of conversation at the breakfast table, at dinner, at supper — everywhere — until the whole matter is well understood by everybody.
Will the press dare, hereafter, to condemn me for pressing it upon the attention of parents — for showing them the fearful ignorance and its frightful results? No! not directly; but instead of reporting what I say, so that the public may learn, they will daub me with the feculence of their own thoughts, and say I am vulgar and indecent, and ought to be avoided by everybody: and the too-confiding people will repeat the villainous lies in good faith.
A step beyond marriage as a means to gain sexual relations reaches the relations themselves, their uses and abuses. Here a query arises: Which is the end to be gained? Is it marriage merely, regardless of the character of the relations which it legalizes; or is it proper, natural, healthful, useful relations, such as will bless the parties themselves and the children who result? In other words, is it happiness, and peace, and comfort, and health, and all the good which can follow; or is it the legal union regardless of results?
Let us see. There will scarcely be found in this late day any intelligent person who will maintain that marriage ought ever to be consummated by persons between whom there is no love. The argument is, that men and women who love each other may consummate that love after being legally married but not otherwise; and if either party refuse to consummate the marriage, it becomes void. This establishes the theory that the principal feature of marriage is legal. But this controverts the common consent that love is a necessary precedent. Almost the whole word is in a “mull” over the confusion of ideas caused by the attempt to make these contradictions harmonize — desiring to live out their interior convictions, but fearing to do so lest they incur the legal or social penalty; desiring that their natural instincts and sentiments should be their guides, but fearing to let them lest they be accounted followers of the baser passions.
The law, then, and the real convictions of the people are at variance; but since the latter are inherent in the constitution of man, while the former is a contrivance of his intellect, invented for specific purposes, it must be concluded that the latter ought to take precedence in determining the conduct of life. And when it is remembered that the law binds together only those people who otherwise would separate, this conclusion becomes inevitable.
After careful observation I have deliberately concluded that there are two classes only who have anything more than an imaginary interest in maintaining the marriage system: The hypocritical priests who get their fees for forging the chains and the blackguard lawyers who get bigger ones for breaking the fetters. The former have an average of ten dollars a job, and some of them a hundred jobs a year; while the latter, not quite up to the former in number, to keep even with them, raise their average price per job to two hundred and fifty dollars. A thousand dollars a year for the priests! How should people know whether they ought to marry or not without asking their consent? Of course marriage is divine! A thousand dollars a year for the lawyers! How could people be supposed to know whether they ought to separate or not until the lawyer has got his fee? Of course virtue must have a legal standard. How could morality and modesty be preserved unless the priest got his ten dollars; or how could husbands and wives be prevented from killing each other unless the lawyer got his two hundred and fifty? Will the priest ever cease his cant about the former, or the lawyer change the law about the latter so long as the people are fools enough to pay them fees? They who suppose they may, don’t yet understand how much divinity there is in this marriage business.
The real question at issue, then is one entirely apart from law, relating wholly to the conditions that make up the unity, whether they are such as judged by the results, warrant the unity that is sought. What are proper and what improper sexual relations is the problem to be solved, and it is that one which of all others is most fraught with the interests, the happiness and the real well-being of humanity. Upon these relations, as I shall show, depend not only the health, happiness and prosperity of the present generation, but the very existence of future generations.
That existence is involved in these relations. If they be pure and good and withal natural, which they must be to be pure and good, then the existence which they make possible will be of the same character; but if they be impure, bad, and withal unnatural, which if they are they must be impure and bad, then the existence which they make possible will be of like character. A pure fountain sends forth pure waters, but the stream flowing from an impure source will assuredly be unclean. To make the fountains of life — the sexual relations — pure, is the work of the reformer, so that the streams they send forth may flow through coming ages uncontaminated by any inherited contagion.
There are a few propositions necessary to be laid down that will become self-evident as the subject develops: 1. A man or woman who has perfect physical health, has natural and healthful sexual relations. 2. A man or woman, married or single, old or young, professional prostitute or roue, or a professed nun or celibate, who has bad general health — and suffers from any chronic disease — has unnatural and unhealthy sensual conditions. 3. A man and woman, living together, who have perfect physical health, have natural and healthful sexual relations, and will have healthy offspring. Such a union is God-ordained, if it do not have the approval of the law or the sanction of the priest; and no man can put it asunder. 4. If either or both of the parties to a union have generally poor physical health — suffer from any chronic disease — such parties have unnatural and unhealthful sexual relations, and their progeny will be puling, weakly, miserable, damned. Such a union is God-condemned, even if it have the approval of all the laws, and the blessing of all the priests in the world; and as corollary to all these, this: All diseases not to be attributed to so-called accidental causes are the result of improper, or the want of proper, sexual conditions; and this applies to all ages and to both sexes.
It may now be asked: What are proper sexual conditions? I reply: Sexual commerce that is based upon reciprocal love and mutual desire, and that ultimates in equal and mutual benefit, is proper and healthful; while improper sexual commerce is that which is not based upon reciprocal love and mutual desire, and that cannot, therefore, ultimate in equal or mutual benefit. Children begotten by the former commerce will never be bad children physically, mentally or morally; but such as are begotten by the latter commerce will inevitably be bad children, either physically, mentally or morally, or, which is more likely to be the case, partially bad throughout.
I desire to be fully understood upon this part of the subject. I have been generally denounced by the press as an advocate of promiscuousness in the sexual relations. I want you to fully comprehend the measure of truth there is in this charge. Hence I repeat that there is but one class of cases where commerce of the sexes is in strict accordance with nature, and that, in this class, there are always present, First, love of each by each of the parties; second, a desire for the commerce on the part of each, arising from the previous love; and third, mutual and reciprocal benefit.
Of improper sexual commerce there are several classes: First, that class where it is claimed by legal right only, as in marriage; second, where the female, to please the male, accords it without any desire on her own part; third, where, for money, for a home, for any present, as a payment for any claim, whether pecuniary or of gratitude, or for any motive whatever other than love, the female yields it to the male; fourth, where there is mutual love and desire, but where, for any reason, there is such want of adaptation as to make mutual consummation impossible.
This is the promiscuousness I advocate now, and that I have, from the first, advocated.
Will the representatives of the press, who have covered me with their abuse until I am regarded with horror all over the land as a person whose presence is contamination and whose touch contagion, correct their foul lies by stating these propositions, and, so far as they can at this late day, do me justtice? We shall see!
“But,” said a prominent woman of this country, with whom I was recently discussing these maxims in sexuality, “how are you going to prevent all this intercourse of the sexes which you condemn.”
“Ah!” said I, “that’s the question. I have no right nor has anybody else any right to prevent it in any such sense as you infer.”
This is a matter that must be remanded back from law, back from public interference, to individuals, who alone have the sovereignty over it. No person or set of persons, however learned and wise, have any right, power or capacity, to determine legally for another when commerce is proper or when it shall occur. It is not a matter of law to be administered by the public, but a question of education to be gained by individuals — a scientific problem to expound and elucidate which, should be one of the chief duties of all teachers and reformers. Every person in the world, before arriving at the age in which the sexual instinct is developed, should be taught all there is known about its uses and abuses, so that he or she shall not ignorantly drift upon the shoals whereon so many lives are wrecked.
I advocate complete freedom for sexuality the same as for religion. The charge of promiscuousness is laid in this fact, and some intelligent minds have thought it was a sound charge, until its inconsistency and utter absurdity have been pointed out to them. This is the proposition: I advocate sexual freedom for all people — freedom for the monogamist to practice monogamy, for the varietist to be a varietist still, for the promiscuous to remain promiscuous. Am I, therefore, an advocate of promiscuousness, variety or monogamy? Not necessarily either. I might do all this and be myself a celibate and an advocate of celibacy. To advocate freedom in sexual things and also the right of individuals to choose each for himself to which class to belong, is by no means synonymous with the advocacy of the class which he chooses. Advocating the right to do a thing and advocating the doing of that thing are two entirely separate and different matters.
Is not this too clear to be misunderstood? I will make it still clearer, lest some may not see it. As I said, I not only advocate sexual freedom, but also religious freedom. I claim that every individual has the right to be a Pagan, Christian, Jew, Mohammedan, Quaker, Oneida Perfectionist, Calvinist, Baptist, Methodist, Trinitarian, Unitarian, Universalist, or whatever else he has a mind or the will to be. Every person advocates the same right — the same freedom —and I am sure if an attempt were made to subvert this right in this country, every hand would be raised against it. I am, however, neither one nor any of these, but a Spiritualist, and I bend all my religious energies to the advocacy of Spiritualism.
Nobody would think of calling me a Romanist because I say that everybody has the right to be a Catholic; but, transfer the question from religion to sexuality, and because I advocate the same theory for this that I do for religion, I am denounced as an advocate of promiscuousness. Did any of you ever hear that I ever said that the monogamist has no right to practice monogamy? Was I ever known to assert that all people should be promiscuous, or varietists? No! What am I, then? I cannot be all of them. Why then class me as promiscuous? I will tell you why: Simply to brand me with supposed infamy, and to frighten the people so that they shall not come to an understanding of these things. That’s the reason, and the press knows it.
There is an honest difference of opinion among its advocates in regard to what will be the result of sexual freedom, but none in regard to freedom itself. Some thinkers of wide experience in social matters have concluded that ultimately there will be no constant sexual relation; that change will be the order of society. Others, equally honest and conscientious, believe that a select variety will be the order; while others, still, hold just as firmly that the perfected union of one man and one woman is the highest order. I do not remember ever to have made a speech on this subject in which I did not affirm my belief in the latter order. Not because I desired to soften the feeling against me by so doing, but because I conscientiously believe that in such conditions will be found the highest attainable happiness; and I urge education, discussion and enlightenment upon the subject, believing that they will tend to carry the people toward this condition. Therefore, while I advocate the right of the promiscuously inclined to be promiscuous if they will, I ought to be classed as a monogamist. But if freedom be right in the abstract it does not matter whether monogamy or promiscuousness be the ultimate, since let it be which it may it will be right.
I cannot illustrate the ridiculous ideas of promiscuousness better than by relating an incident that once happened to me while traveling from Washington to New York. I was approached by an intelligent woman, who, learning who I was, desired to hear my opinions for herself. In the conversation that ensued she remarked, “Oh, Mrs. Woodhull, is it true that you are a promiscuous woman?”
I replied, quietly, “Well, I do not know what you would call promiscuousness. Let me ask you a question, and then I may be able to determine.”
Looking her in the face I saw the figure 4 appear upon her forehead. I said, “Madame, I believe you have known at least four different men sexually. Is that true?”
“Oh, yes! I am now living with my fourth husband.”
Turning away from her with affected disdain I replied, “Madame, you are altogether too promiscuous for me.”
Society permits a woman to have a dozen men, legally, in as many years, and she is all right. She’s sound on the Goose Question. But if a woman live with her sexual mate without the payment of the fee, she is all wrong; she is a prostitute. And this is called purity, called morality! I say damn such morals. Such purity stinks. Logically, there is room for no other conclusion than this: That let the highest order of sexuality be what it may, the monogamists have no more right to enforce monogamy by law, as the rule of society, than the promiscuous have to enforce promiscuousness as the order to be observed. Society does, however, attempt to enforce monogamy, but it makes a bad failure.
The Oneida Communists, on the contrary, do not permit monogamic attachments. If they are found springing up, the parties are compelled to separate. If we are to judge which is the better rule by the results, nobody who has ever visited Oneida will hesitate a moment in the decision. Judged by its fruits — by its prosperity, its honesty, its morality, its health — Oneida is the best order of society now on the earth. Its enforced promiscuousness is preferable even to our enforced monogamy, and for very good reasons, which will become evident further on.
Suffice it, here, that promiscuous sexuality among people who have no love attachments, is not so debased a condition as is that which prevails so widely, in marriage, where passion in the male, vents itself at the expense of disgust in the female. I know these are bitter pills for those to swallow who think that purity consists in fidelity to marriage. But whether bitter or sweet, they are true; and though I may be cursed now, if they purge the people of their false and absurd notions about sexual purity, I shall some day have their thanks for administering them. I offer you the remedy of Free Love as an antidote for enforced lust, and the world will have to take it before the disease can be cured.
So much for promiscuousness. But what of prostitution, what of love and what of lust? Terrible words are these in the vocabulary of modern society, but still more so in that of social reform! The question with it is, not as to what is the popular meaning of these terms, but what is their natural, their scientific significance as tested by exact analysis the stern logic of experience?
Prostitution is popularly applied to certain kinds of sexual commerce but it has a much wider application, extending to every faculty, function and capacity of the body and mind. It means a perverted, unnatural or excessive use of capacity. A person who overworks his body or brain is a prostitute. The unhealthy use of anything is its prostitution. They prostitute their stomachs who over-eat or over-drink. Therefore, prostitution, sexually, means a great deal more than intercourse obtained in houses of ill-fame for money. In a scientific sense, it means all sexual commerce that has not a proper basis in love and desire. There may be prostitution in marriage, and proper commerce in the bawdy house. It depends upon the specific conditions attending the act itself, and not where or how it is obtained.
In the exact sense, the woman who sells her body promiscuously is no more a prostitute than she is who sells herself in marriage without love. She is only a different kind of a prostitute. Nor are either of them any more prostitutes than are the countless wives who nightly yield their unwilling bodies to lecherous husbands, whose aim is sexual gratification without regard to the effect upon their victims. The difference is this: In the latter cases the men have legal permission to use the women whether they desire or object, while in the former the woman consults her own wishes —it is a slip of paper costing twenty-five cents and upward, good during life, that a man carries about with him to save the expense of purchasing, from time to time, elsewhere.
It’s a sharp trick played by men upon women, by which they acquire the legal right to debauch them without cost, and to make it unnecessary for them to visit professional prostitutes, whose sexual services can only be obtained for money. Now, isn’t this true? Men know it is. Those who haven’t a wife know very well that they procure for money what they would otherwise have by law. And what is more disgraceful still, is that thousands of men marry because they cannot afford the cost of satisfying their sexual demands with prostitutes. You and I and everybody else know that what I say is true, and yet the sanctity of marriage — the holy sacrament — is talked of as if it had existence! Bosh! It’s an insult to common honesty to trade in such stuff and call it holy. Holy! To me it is nastiness; or if there is any worse name, call it that.
I know hundreds of wives who confess privately that they would not live another day with their husbands if they had any other method of support; and yet pass the poor prostitute as though her touch were leprous. As between the two, the legal prostitute is the more depraved at heart. It is axiomatic, that only those women are really pure whose sympathies go out to the unfortunate whom society has driven to the street and brothel by its unjust anathema; who can visit them without contamination; whose virtue is so assured that it is above suspicion. If there is any sister in this place so low that no other woman will visit her, tell me; there will my feet wend their way. If there is any child so wretched that none will care for it, there will my mother’s heart wander.
Why should Christian women shun the outcast of society? The Master whom they profess, habitually made them His companions. What excuse can they offer for a departure from His example? None! But it adds to their long lists of crimes the sin of hypocrisy. Let them beware lest the harlots get into the Kingdom before them.
What a commentary upon the divinity of marriage are the watering places during the summer seasons! The mercenary “mammas” trot out their daughters on exhibition, as though they were so many stud of horses, to be hawked to the highest bidder. It’s the man who can pay the most money who is sought; it makes no difference how he got it, nor what are his antecedents. It doesn’t matter if he is just from the hands of the physician, cured of a loathsome disease; if he have the cash he is the man, To him who bids highest, in the parlance of the auctioneer, the article is knocked down.
Everybody knows that this is the ruling spirit, not at watering places only, but in so-called best society everywhere. Marriages of love become rarer year after year, while those of convenience are proportionately on the increase. How much better is this than the actual exposure and sale, of Oriental practice? Yet we boast of superior intelligence, purity and morals! and we prate of the holy marriage covenant! Verily, we “make clean the outside of the platter, but within are dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness.”
I respect and honor the needy woman who, to procure food for herself and child, sells her body to some stranger for the necessary money; but for that legal virtue which sells itself for a lifetime for a home, with an abhorrence of the purchaser, and which at the same time says to the former, “I am holier than thou,” I have only the supremest contempt. If there is anything that is vulgar it is a modern fashionable marriage. The long retinue, the church, the priest — all to do what? To give the bride, sexually, to the bridegroom. It is a public notice that these people, who have been everything else to each other, are now united sexually. Why, modesty itself should forbid such a parade!
But would you break up that which is called prostitution? The women can do it if they will. The virtuous women of an eastern city recently made an effort. They called secret meetings, and resolved to visit “the houses” and learn who it was that supported them, and then afterward to ostracize them. The visiting began. The New York papers were filled with the matter; day after day column after column was devoted to this crusade. After a week it suddenly stopped. The press was mystified. What was the matter? Had the women succeeded? Nothing could be learned. Finally one of the keenest of the metropolitan Bohemians determined to solve the matter. He visited this inland city; but not a word from the recently zealous women. They said they had abandoned the project; but would give no reason. At last he visited the keepers of the houses, and from them he got the key to the sudden closing of the campaign. “The women,” they said, “pressed their investigations until they pressed themselves into the faces of the best men of the city, some of them their husbands and brothers; and considering that they could not ostracize this class of persons they went home and delivered ‘Candle Lectures’ instead.”
Now I will tell you wherein they failed, and why they were not honest. When they found their best men — their husbands and brothers — were supporting these women — consorting with them of course — they should have taken them home and seated them at their tables beside their companion, and said: “If you are good enough for our husbands to consort with, you are good enough to sit at our tables with them, and to occupy their homes with us, and to visit where we visit, and generally to be our companions.”
If the women, in every city where there are professional prostitutes, would organize, and agree to bring the women home to the men who visit them, prostitution, so called, would be abolished at once. It is the women who stand in the way They, knowing that their husbands visit these women, continue to live on, doing their best to damn the women, but saying nothing about the men. They probably forget that the wife who consorts with the man whom she knows consorts with prostitutes, is just as bad as they are.
But where is prostitution in its greatest luxury? At Washington. There are to be found the most elegant mansions, most sumptuously furnished. Why all this magnificence? Why, indeed! Because in Washington there are assembled the best, the most brilliant men in the nation — the men to whom the people have committed the national interests and who conduct the national affairs. Of course there should be all the elegance that wealth can furnish for the accommodation of such men. And there is; of course there is. And they know how to appreciate it, I can assure you.
Everybody knows what the “third house” in Washington is. It consists of the lobbyists who are there to obtain legislation — to push this little scheme, or that small appropriation. Large sums of money are expended by this lobby. When a particular scheme is to come up, its friends distribute ten, fifteen and even twenty thousand dollars among the mistresses of these houses. Why? To secure their influence with Representatives and Senators. You needn’t take my word for this; anybody who will inquire can learn the truth. Of course none of these gentlemen ever visit these houses to get under this purchased influence. Oh no! It is exerted upon them by these women magnetically, from afar off, of course it is.
I say it boldly, that it is the best men of the country who support the houses of prostitution. It isn’t your young men, but the husbands and fathers of the country, who occupy positions of honor and trust. It is not the hard-working, industrial masses at all, but those who have money and time to expend for such purposes, who are really the old hoary-headed villains of the country. The young haven’t money enough to support themselves. So when you condemn the poor women, whom you have helped to drive to such a life, remember to visit your wrath upon the best men of the country as well.
And when legislators discuss Social Evil bills let the women demand equality for their outraged sisters. These bills are professedly to prevent the spread of venereal diseases, and they provide for the medical examination and registration of women to effect it. Now if they really wish to stop these diseases and make the business safe, why not register and examine every man who visits these houses before he is admitted. A house of prostitution, free from disease cannot be contaminated, except through the visits of diseased men. Examine the men, then, and deny admission to the diseased, and there will be an end of the business. How many Social Evil bills would be passed under such conditions? Echo answers, “How many?”
But we are told that prostitution is a “necessary evil,” and long articles are published tending to establish this proposition. Necessary for what? So that men may satiate their sexual demands. This is the plain English of it! Mothers, what does this say to you? This, and it is a blotch of infamy upon womanhood that can never be effaced except by woman herself rising in the dignity and divinity of her maternal nature and making a falsity of the damning fact: that you must yearly contribute a certain percentage of your daughters to fill the infernal maw of prostitution; give them up to be sunk in infamy, to be abhorred of their sisters and despised of their brothers; in a word, to walk the prostitutes’ road to hell.
Necessary evil! Necessary indeed! Isn’t it rather your shame, and my shame, and the dishonor of womanhood and the disgrace of manhood that should make the stones weep to contemplate — a million of innocent, virgin girls of from twelve to sixteen years of age — your daughters, mine, perhaps — sacrificed to this “necessary evil” every fifteen years! Think of it, mothers, and let the blush of shame never fade from your cheeks until this infamy is blotted from existence; or until you have made the victims of this “necessary evil” as respectable as its promoters and supporters.
Statistics inform us that there are two hundred and fifty thousand professional prostitutes in the country, nearly one-tenth of whom are in New York City; and that these are visited and supported by not less than two and a half millions of men — one-third of the voting population of the country. Think of it! A quarter of a million professional female prostitutes and two and a half millions of professional male prostitutes, or ten men to one woman. And yet Congress is wonderfully concerned about Utah. Consistency is a jewel which Congressman don’t seem to carry about with them. They must be jealous of the Mormons. If the proportions were reversed so that there would be ten women to one man on their side of the question, they would probably let Brigham alone, and think it rather a nice thing to be a Mormon; but Brigham has got the better of them; ’twas very wicked of him to go and do such a thing; very, very wicked that he should, in a small way, presume to initiate both the meekest and the wisest of the Biblical fathers.
But love and lust are terms equally misapplied even by the most brilliant minds. Love is an universal principle. It is the life of the universe. It is that power called attraction which holds all things together. It is that force which unites the two elements from which water is formed and the two natures of which a sexual unit is composed. It uplifts the mountains and depresses the valleys; causes the water to flow and the clouds to float; the lily to blossom and the violet to bloom; the dew to fall and the storm to descend; it is the living and motive power of the world; it is God.
The Christian tells the same story, but he speaks in a language which he does not understand¾ God is Love. If this be so, then Love is God; then all the love there is, is God; but this love they tell us is free. I have been endeavoring to convince them of the truth of their own most cherished, though heretofore meaningless proverb, so that they may appreciate its beauty and bask in its glory, and for my pains I am dubbed “the Devil.” I have tried to show that all love must be as they say that God is ¾ Free; that love cannot be confined to the limits of a man-made law any more than God can be shut up in a creed. Attempt to put the limits of a written law about love, saying, thus far and no farther, and love is destroyed. It is no longer love, because it is limited, and love, being God, cannot be limited.
When a limit is placed upon anything that be nature is free, its action becomes perverted. All the various attractions in the world are but so many methods by which love manifests itself. The attraction which draws the opposites in sex together is sexual love. The perverted action of sexual love, when limited by law or otherwise, is lust. All sexual manifestations that are not free are the perverted action of love¾are lust. So, logically, the methods enforced by man to ensure purity convert love into lust. Legal sexuality is enforced lust. All the D. D.’s and LL. D.’s in the world, though they have all the mental gifts and the tongues of angels, cannot controvert the proposition.
This brings us to a still more serious part of my subject. Remember I am to withhold nothing — no fact, no advice. We are now face to face with the most startling and the most common fact connected with the miseries of marriage. But I know of no author, no speaker who has dared to call attention to, or to suggest a remedy for it, or even to hint at it as needing a remedy, or to recognize its existence in any manner.
It will be remembered that early in the evening I showed that marriage when analyzed, is a license to cohabit sexually. Now I am going to show that the enforcement of this method eventually defeats the original object. I state it without fear of contradiction by fact or of refutation by argument that it is the common experience among the married who have lived together strictly according to the marriage covenant, for from five to ten years, that they are sexually estranged. There may be, I know there are, exceptions to this rule, but they are the exceptions and not the rule. It is a lamentable fact that all over this country there is a prolonged wail going up on account of this condition. Sexual estrangement in from five to ten years! Think of it, men and women whom Nature has blessed with such possibilities for happiness as are conferred on no other order of creation — your God-ordained capacity blasted, prostituted to death, by enforced sexual relations where there is neither attraction or sexual adaptation; and by ignorance of sexual science!
Some may assert, as many do, that failure in sexual strength is intellectual and spiritual gain. Don’t harbor the unnatural lie. Sexuality is the physiological basis of character and must be preserved as its balance and perfection. To kill out the sexual instinct by any unnatural practice or repression, is to emasculate character; is to take away that which makes what remains impotent for good — fruitless, not less intellectually and spiritually than sexually.
It is to do even more than this. From the moment that the sexual instinct is dead in any person, male or female, from that moment such person begins actually to die. It is the fountain from which life proceeds. Dry up the fountain and the stream will disappear. It is only a question of time, and of how much is obtained from other fountains, when the stream will discharge its last waters into the great ocean of life.
Others again seem to glory over the fact that they never had any sexual desire, and to think that this desire is vulgar. What! Vulgar! The instinct that creates immortal souls vulgar! Who dare stand up amid Nature, all prolific and beautiful, whose pulses are ever bounding with the creative desire, and utter such sacrilege! Vulgar, indeed! Vulgar, rather, must be the mind that can conceive such blasphemy. No sexual passion, say you? Say, rather, a sexual idiot, and confess that your life is a failure, your body an abortion, and no longer bind your shame upon your brow or herald it as purity. Call such stuff purity. Bah! Be honest, rather, and say it is depravity.
It is not the possession of strong sexual powers that is to be deprecated. They are that necessary part of human character which is never lacking in those who leave their names standing high in the historic roll. The intellect, largely developed, without a strong animal basis is never prolific of good in any direction. Evenly balanced natures, in which there are equal development and activity of all departments are those which move the world palpably forward for good; but if superiority of any kind is desirable at all, let it be in the animal, since with this right, the others may be cultivated to its standard. If this be wanting, however, all possible cultivation, intellectually, will only carry the individual further away from balance, and make the character still more “out of tune” with nature. These are physiological facts inherent in the constitution of mankind, and they cannot be ignored with impunity. No reliable theory of progressive civilization can ever be established that does not make them its chief corner stone, because they are the foundation upon which civilization rests.
It is the misuse, the abuse, the prostitution of the sexual instinct that is to be deprecated. Like all other capacities, it needs to be educated, cultivated, exercised rightly, and to do this is to live in accordance with nature and as commanded by the higher law, that law which every one finds deep-seated in his soul, and whose voice is the truest guide. When the world shall rise from its degradation into the sphere of this law, when the sexual act shall be the religion of the world, as it is now my religion, then, and then only, may we reasonably hope that its redemption is nigh.
What other religion so near alike to God — the all-loving, all-creating Father; or so much in harmony with Nature — the ever-receptive and ever-evolving Mother. Let your religious faith be what it may if it do not include the sexual act it is impotent. Make that act the most divine of all your worship. Let it be unto you without spot or blemish. Let it rise unto God a continual incense of piety and holiness, and be henceforth resurrected from the debauch in which the ages have sunk it. This is my religion — the fundamental principles for the generation of the race. Let it be yours and all mankind’s, and with no other, the salvation long sought, long prayed for, long prophesied and long sung will soon be found. Discard it, put its life and health-giving blessings aside, and all the other religions ever conceived or dreamed, or that may be conceived of dreamed, combined, will be impotent to usher in the glad time.
Oh! that my lips were smitten with the inspiration of an archangel, that I might reach your hearts and show you the better life; that I might pierce your understandings and force in upon them the mighty import of these truths. Oh! that I could so appeal to my brothers everywhere, that forever after they would regard women as of angelic order, to be approached only as they would approach the enthroned Goddess of Purity, upon whose presence none would dare presume, and whose favors it is theirs to merit and receive, rather than to command and appropriate, Look not upon her for selfish purposes, but rather to bless her, let that blessing depend upon what it may, even if to bless is not to possess. Other love than this is selfishness, and a profanation of the Holy Word. That is love which will bless the object, even if to do so is to yield it. Remember that it is a pretension and a fraud to think of ownership in, or control over, the person of a woman. This is her inheritance, never to be bartered, never to be sold, never to be given away, even; but only to be exchanged, blessing for blessing, when an all-absorbing, all-embracing, all-desiring love points out the way.
And my sisters. Oh! what shall I say to them; how awaken them to realize the awful responsibilities conferred through their maternal functions. How shall I arouse, how startle them into a comprehension of the divinity of maternity; how sting them, if nothing else will do it, into self-respect? How shall I show them the destruction they have sown broadcast over the earth; how exhibit the black damnation, the sin, misery, shame, crime, disgrace, that come home to them as mothers; how stab their hearts with the awful monstrosities with which they have desecrated the earth; how bring to their hearts, to wring them in bitter anguish, the wild ravings of the maniac, the senseless drivel of the chattering idiot, the horrid delirium of the drunkard, the desolate moans of the “outcasts,” the heart-sobs of criminals, the dreaded spectacle of the murderer, face to face with death? Ah! how adequately shall I bring these things — all these —home to the mothers of humanity; but make them feel the horrid misery that they have wrought by the outrage and desecration of their divine maternal functions?
Oh! mothers, that I could make you feel these things as I know them. I do not appeal to you as a novice, ignorant of what I speak, merely to excite your sympathies, but as one having learned through long years of bitter experience. Go where I have been; visit the prisons, insane asylums and the glittering hells that I have visited; see the maniac mother at the cell door of her son, to be hanged in the morning, as I have seen her — cursing God, cursing man, cursing until nothing but curses filled the air, and until their fury flecked her face with foam, that her crime should be visited upon her poor, poor boy. Follow her home, and when the agony of the gallows has come and gone, ask her the meaning of all this, and she will tell you, as she has told me: “That boy was forced upon me; I did not want him; I was worn out by child-bearing; and I tried, in every way I knew, to kill him in my womb. I thought of nothing else until it was too late to think of that. I failed. He was born; and I have made him a murderer. He committed the deed, and has suffered an ignominious death; but I am the real criminal.
“But I did not do this willfully. I had never been taught any better — never been told the fearful effect of such acts and deeds upon the unborn child. I followed the common practices of my friends. I did not know I was stamping my child with the brand of Cain. But all this did not save him. He was hanged for my crime.”
But look upon another scene. Go home with me and see desolation and devastation in another form. The cold, iron bolt has entered my heart and left my life a blank, in ashes upon my lips. Wherever I go I carry a living corpse in my breast, the vacant stare of whose living counterpart meets me at the door of my home. My boy, now nineteen years of age, who should have been my pride and my joy, has never been blessed by the dawning of reasoning. I was married at fourteen, ignorant of every thing that related to my maternal functions. For this ignorance, and because I knew no better than to surrender my maternal functions to a drunken man, I am cursed with this living death. Do you think my mother’s heart does not yearn for the love of my boy? Do you think I do not realize the awful condition to which I have consigned him? Do you think I would not willingly give my life to make him what he has a right to be? Do you think his face is not ever before me pressing me on to declare these terrible social laws to the world? Do you think with this sorrow seated on my soul I can ever sit quietly down and permit women to go on ignorantly repeating my crime? Do you think I can ever cease to hurl the bitterest imprecations against the accursed thing that has made my life one long misery? Do you think I can ever hesitate to warn the young maidens against my fate, or to advise them never to surrender the control of their maternal functions to any man! Ah! if you do, you do not know the agony that rests here. Not to do less than I am doing were madness; it were worse than crime; it were the essence of ten thousand crimes concentrated in one soul to sink it in eternal infamy.
Nor is this all that urges me onward. A few months ago I laid a beautiful sister away in Greenwood. Above her is written, “Cut off by marriage at thirty-one years.” She had always opposed my social theories, though I knew her life was being sacrificed to a legal marriage. When on her death-bed she called me to her and said, “My darling sister, I am going to die. Oh! if I could have had the moral courage to have stood by you and to have broken loose from my thralldom I should not have been here. I know you were right; but I could not endure the obloquy that the ungrateful were heaping upon you. Knowing that I am to die I wanted to see you alone and ask your forgiveness for the anguish I have caused you by joining with the world to crush you out. It is meet that I should be sacrificed. I deserve it. It is just. But I shall soon be freed from the galling chains I dared not break myself, and will then be near you to make bold and strong, and in so far as I can, repair the injury I have done.”
My brothers and sisters, I never walk upon a platform without feeling the presence of that darling sister; and I now see her beautiful face flitting above me, hear her sweet voice encouraging me, and feel her magnetic power inspiring me to do my duty. “Cut off by marriage at thirty-one” rings in my ears, and I repeat it to the world as the mournful refrain of millions of wives, who, like her, were its victims; who, like her, after suffering untold miseries for years, went down to untimely graves murdered by the men to whom marriage sold them sexually.
When I review the conditions under which humanity is born I am surprised, not so much that it is so bad, but that it is so good. I do not wonder that there are all classes of criminals, that there are all sorts of diseases, that there are all grades of intellect; I do not wonder that debauchery and drunkenness meet us at every hand, and that lust in adults and sexual vice in children are sapping the life of the people; nor that in summing them all up and calculating their effects that the conclusion is reached that unless there soon come a change the American people will be blotted out. And then tell me that I shall not discuss the sexual question! I should like to see the power or law that can prevent me.
You remember that little game was tried in New York, and failed. When I published the biography of the American Pope, the United States authorities, urged on by the minions of the Church — the Y.M.C. Assassination Association — swooped down upon me and carried me off to jail, not for libel on the Pope, but for obscenity. I remained there quietly enough for some weeks, trusting that the outrage upon the freedom of the press and free speech would rouse the people to my defense against such an unwarrantable act. But Beecher was bigger than a free press — of more consequence than free speech. His danger cowed the whole country into silence; and the people sneaked after the trail of the popular preacher, in abject submission. “It was well worth the while of the United States to protect the reputation of a revered citizen,” said District-Attorney Noah Davis; and the whole country complacently repeated it.
What was a little woman, in jail, compared with Mr. Beecher! What if a free press and free speech were imprisoned with her — were struck down in her person! What were they to the American people when Mr. Beecher was in danger; and through him the whole rascally set of fifty thousand preachers; and through them, again, the Christian Church everywhere! If she were to rot in jail, what was that beside the necessity of “hushing things up;” of strangling the scandal before it should spread into other churches all over the country and show them all rotten? Simply nothing.
It was the United States that held me illegally imprisoned. It was the people everywhere, you among the rest. But you did not raise a single voice at the outrage. You left me powerless in the cell of the State while the Church carried the key. But if you were dead to the infamy, I was not. I saw it was useless to wait for the people to protest, so I gave battle alone. I went into the combat single-handed against both Church and State led on by all their minions, and with the aid of honest Judge Blatchford, I whipped the whole cowardly crowd. I will speak what I will; and I will publish the truth about any professional hypocrite when I think I can render the world a service by so doing. I have just come from a second fight with them. In the first it was free press and free speech, that triumphed. In the second it was Free Love, and the victory in both instances was complete. I don’t think they will try it over again; but if they do, I’ll fight them again, armed with truth and with justice, and have no fears for the result.
But to return from this digression, let us inquire the real end to be gained by reform. The pretense of every reform ever advanced has been to better the condition of the people. But first and last —one and all — they have dealt with existing conditions — with effects — endeavoring to mitigate and cure evils, instead of preventing them. No sooner is one evil cured than the causes that produced it send forth another that requires to be cured; and thus reform, traveling in circles, has made but little real advance, except in the direction of intellectual development, in which a different practice has prevailed. People are better, intellectually, than they were; but not so physically or morally.
There can be a better race only by having better children. If they are bad, good men and women are impossible. There can be better children only through better conditions of generation; a better understanding by women of the processes of gestation, and better methods of rearing and education. These propositions are self-evident, and point directly to the sexual relations as the place to begin the work of improving the race. All efforts in other directions, however promising, will prove futile for permanent good. The necessity for regeneration be must be replaced by proper generation. If all women in the country were to join the temperance crusaders they might, for the time, decrease drunkenness; but the moment they should cease their efforts it would return. Now let these women go home and breed no more drunkards, and the remedy will be effectual. And so of all other vices and crimes.
Not long ago, when passing through Janesville, Wisconsin, a young man who had heard me lecture about the pre-natal effect of the mother’s conduct upon the child, came and asked me to look at his breast. I did so. It was covered with bottles. When his mother was carrying him she was in the habit of going into her uncle’s liquor store and tasting his liquor. The result was she “marked” him with bottles. Of course this young man is a confirmed drunkard. He might be importuned into signing the pledge a hundred times, but he would always break it at the first opportunity. And what is true of him is also true of nearly every other drunkard. They are made so by their mothers, or else they inherit it from their fathers. The temperance crusade, then, must begin in the home, in the marriage bed, in begetting children, and in proper surroundings and influences for the mother during gestation. Nothing else will ever cure the world of drunkenness, or any other vice.
The power of the mother over the unborn child, for evil, is too well attested by too many facts to need further elucidation. But it teaches a lesson of mighty import which ought to receive universal consideration. If her powers for ill are so marked, what must they be for good, when exercised under an enlightened understanding! Nothing is more certain than that mothers can make their children just what they want them to be, limited only by the inherited tendencies of the father.
There are, then, but two questions in this whole matter of reforming the world; but they are vital and inseparable. The first is, to discover and develop the science of proper generation, so that all the inherited tendencies may be good; and the second is, that the germ life, once properly begun, may not subjected to any deleterious influences, either during the period of gestation or development on to adult age.
This is the meaning of social reform. It means better children, and it doesn’t care how they are to be obtained — only to obtain them. Any methods that will secure them are good, are true, are pure, are virtuous methods. The question to be asked of the mothers of the future will not be, “Who is the father?” but, “How good is the child?” If it be not good it will be a disgrace to the mother, no matter if the father is her legal husband.
I say it, and I want the world to know that I say it, that a woman who bears a dozen or less scraggy, scrawny, puny, half-made-up children, by a legal father, is a disgrace to her sex and a curse to the community; while she who bears as many perfect specimens of humanity, no matter if it be by as many different fathers, is an honor to womanhood and a blessing to the world. And I defy both the priests and the law to prove this false. Every sensible man and woman will have to admit it. It is a self-evident proposition.
In August, 1873, at the Silver Lake camp meeting, I said, before fifteen thousand persons, that no one knows who his father is. Think of it for a moment, and you will see how impossible it is that he should know, Can any person make oath that he knows who it was who, in unity with his mother, was his father? He may swear that he has been told so, but that does not amount to knowledge. I made this statement, not specially to declare this fact, but to enforce the argument that it doesn’t make any difference who may be the father of any child, if he is only a good child and an honor to his mother. I have repeated this statement a hundred times since, and never a hiss. Hasn’t the sexual question grappled with the thoughts of the people? This is an evidence not to be misunderstood.
But among all the radical things I have never quite equaled one recently published in The Popular Science Monthly, in an article written by Mr. Herbert Spencer, the acknowledged philosopher of the age. Quoting from an eminent English surgeon, he says: “It is a lamentable truth that the troubles which respectable, hard-working married women undergo are more trying to the health and detrimental to the looks than any of the irregularities of the harlot’s career.” What a commentary is this on the marriage institution! Much the larger part of the married women of the world in a worse condition, as to health and looks, than are the harlots! Take that home with you, and think of it, and see if you can come to any other conclusion than that an institution that produces such results in women, needs to be replaced by something better. Now don’t forget that these are not my words, and say that I advocate prostitution; but remember that they are the words of the highest authority in philosophy and science now living, published in the most popular monthly in the country, and give them weight accordingly.
There are many popular fallacies about prostitution. Statistics inform us that the average life of prostitutes is about four years; but this does not show the real causes of such fatality. It leaves it to be inferred that it is in the fact of prostitution merely. It does not say that it is caused by dissolute living, and drinking, and by the diseases which usually accompany promiscuous intercourse.
The real truth about this is that those prostitutes who never drink, and who never permit themselves to become diseased are among the healthiest of women, and hold their beauty and vigor to an advanced age. Is this a startling assertion? Anybody who will take the trouble can easily confirm it. I do not make it without the most unmistakable proof, which is open to all inquirers, as it was to me, to obtain. It was necessary for me to know by personal investigation, and it shows me as it will everybody else that what Herbert Spencer writes in The Popular Science Monthly is true: that the promiscuous life of the harlot is less detrimental to health and beauty than is the common life of the married slave. The reason is simple and clear. Promiscuous intercourse, when sexual conditions are imperfect, when the act is not based on mutual love and desire, is better than so-called monogamic intercourse under the same conditions, made more intolerable by a deep-seated disgust. But by no means is this an argument against monogamy. It is an argument against legal monogamy when the monogamy of nature is wanting; and, as such, is the most convincing that can be offered in favor of monogamy founded upon love. Free relations of any kind are better than any can be that are enforced. These are the logical deductions from the facts. I did not create the facts, so if you have fault to find, find it with them and not me. I merely offer them to you for consideration, so that you may think of and discuss this subject understandingly.
I have already said that the salvation of the world can come only through better children. This fact has been widely recognized by all so-called Christian denominations. Each is very anxious to get hold of the children. The Romanist says: “Give me the children for twenty-five years and I will make the world Catholic,” True enough. They have taken a step in the right direction, but only a step. They say: give me the children, good or bad. The reformer, who shall really save the world, must go another step and see that there are none but good children born. Then the root of the matter will be reached.
But how to accomplish this is now the vital question. Many may think that I am too severe on my sex — on the mothers; but I wish I could be ten times more so, because, and I say it in sorrow, this is a work for the mothers, to the fearful importance of which I fear they cannot be roused. They have a terrible responsibility resting upon them and a fearful preliminary task to perform. They have got first to conquer their sexual liberty, so that their maternal functions shall be under their own control at all times; and next to guard them from contamination, so that their children may be pure.
I do not complain of women as willfully sending the race onward to destruction, I only wish to show them that they are doing it, and to urge them by every argument that my woman’s nature can suggest, or my mother’s heart conceive, to stop the desolation. What can I say? How shall I plead with them to reach their hearts and rouse them into consciousness upon this terrible theme? Shall I remind them again of the death of one half of their children? Shall I show them the still-born babes, strangled at birth because they are not wanted? Shall I tell them that the birth-rate among the more intelligent classes has decreased one-half in twenty years by abortions; and that, unless these things cease, the race will ultimately be blotted out?
Or shall I turn to the other side of the picture and show them the awful fact that nine women in ten are so diseased, sexually, as to make them unfit to become mothers, brought to this condition by their efforts to prevent pregnancy, or to procure abortions, or by continually submitting to undesired intercourse until the sexual instinct is dead; and that if these conditions go on for twenty years it will be impossible for women even to become pregnant?
Or, again, shall I ask them to look on the faces of their children and see the history of sexual vice indelibly written — their boys and their girls, the former in the first stages of self-abuse, or, having too late discovered their danger, in the last stages of spermatorrhea; and the latter, pale, yellow and dejected from irregularities, or having too late discovered their cause, prostrated by leucorrhœa and prolapsus uteri?
And having done this, shall I ask them if they wonder that these things are so, when they remember that they were constantly debauched by the insatiable lust of their husbands during the whole period in which they were bearing these children beneath their hearts? What else can be expected than premature and precocious development of the sexual passions in children when, during their gestation, the influence of this passion is continually forced upon them; or what else than that this passion should be vented in vicious ways which carry their victims down to certain destruction?
Or what other pictures can I bring to lay at the feet of mothers to show them the horrors they are working for humanity by this willing sexual slavery in which they slumber as if nothing were the matter? Oh! let me plead with mothers in the name of future generations to rescue your divinely ordered maternity from the horrid debauch in which it is plunged. Let me implore you for your own soul’s future happiness to emancipate yourselves, at whatever cost, from the awful crime of sexual slavery, so that you may dedicate your lives to the good of future generations rather than to expend them in ministering to the lustful demands of legal masters. Let me urge upon you, for your own sakes, the strict observance of the laws of your sexual natures, and to never permit their divine instincts to be trifled with or debauched by any man, whether he be husband or lover. Let me beg of you, for humanity’s sake, to rescue yourselves from this thralldom of license, snatch yourselves from the rude grasp of lust, and elevate yourselves from the quagmire of disgust into which license and lust have cast you, so that womanhood may once more become Queen of purity, nobility and virtue.
Instead of supporting churches and sending missionaries to the heathen; of praying and singing to convert the liquor-sellers, of building and supporting hospitals for foundlings and for women about to become illegal mothers; of erecting penitentiaries, insane asylums, alms-houses and gallows, let the women come together in solemn conclave and register an eternal vow that they will never bear any more children to fill these places. Let them swear by the God of humanity that they will never again become pregnant of an undesired child, Let them enter a solemn oath that they will never again surrender their sexual or maternal functions to be outraged by undesired commerce. Let the women come together and do these things in earnest and the world will be saved from that time.
I repeat that I do not complain of women as willful perpetrators of all these crimes; but I charge it home upon the intelligent men, upon the teachers, preachers, and doctors especially, that they willfully keep the rest of the world in ignorance of the truths about sexual debauchery. But still more specially do I hurl this indictment against the editors. They know these truths, but they know also if women generally come to a knowledge of them that the sexual domination of man will cease. Hence by blackguarding me they hope to frighten the women away, so that I may not reach their ears. But, thank heaven, they cannot entirely shut them out. Some there are who, having suffered, and knowing there is something wrong somewhere, have the moral courage to come for the facts, and they go away and repeat them to others, until there is a general inquiry among women all over the country to offset this attempt at suppression on the part of men. Some papers also dare sometimes to hint at the facts; sometimes publishing what I say, but taking care to condemn me editorially, so as to make the editorial censure wash the reportorial facts.
The scientific journals and monthlies are filled with articles leading directly to the solution of this question where ten years ago there was not so much as a word to be seen in any publication about sexual subjects, even hinting in the remotest manner that there was anything rotten sexually. If I do nothing else I know that I have awakened investigation on this subject. If all I have said is error; if the truth lie in altogether different directions from those in which I point, out of the discussion now going on the truth will be evolved.
But what is more surprising to me than everything else is that the Chicago Times — a paper in which I have been perhaps more vilely abused than in any other — in its issue of April 5th, published, editorially, the following statement: “Could society by some omnipotent fiat determine that, from to-day no sexual intercourse should occur, save in cases where there is a mens sana in corpore sana (meaning sound minds in sound bodies) less than a half a century hence would witness the closing of hospitals, saloons, penitentiaries and ‘houses;’ the extinction, almost to a man, of physicians; and the cessation of nearly every movement whose purpose is the lessening of human suffering and vice. Taxes would sink to the minimum; men and women would tread the earth with the springy, buoyant steps of perfect health; and the millennium would commence its glorious reign upon this our sin-bestridden and disease-cursed earth.” I have never said more than this. If you will not listen to my pleading, accept those of the most influential and widely-circulated journal of the great North-West, and I will rest content to let it speak for me.
Now can you understand for what I have been made the victim of such vile abuse? The truths which I have presented to you are those I have always sought to enforce, I have always contended that, if there is to be any ostracism for prostitution, the men should suffer equally with the women; that the seducer should be held up to the same scorn and contempt that is visited upon the seduced. I have asked for equality — nothing more; and I will accept nothing less for my sex, let them heap whatever contumely they may upon me.
It would appear from their opposition that women do not want the ostracism of male prostitutes, or to be deprived of them as companions; that they do not want the seducer debarred from their society, and he is usually a “lion” among them; that they do not want to own and control their maternal functions and instincts; that they do not want to have the right to say when they shall bear children and when not; but, on the contrary, that they want to be owned, want to be supported by men, in return for the sexual favors which they can confer. They don’t want reform; they want things to remain as they are.
Isn’t this a legitimate conclusion? Think of it, women of the nineteenth century! Shall your names go down to posterity in such connection? Let me warn you this is where they are going. In September, 1872, I said, before a convention in Boston: I believed that, in twenty years, the daughters of to-day, then grown, would regard their mothers as having been the real prostitutes of this time. If what I have presented are facts, wouldn’t it be a just verdict?
A popular objection against Free Love is, that it breaks up families. My answer to this indictment is, that a family which falls in pieces when Free Love strikes it, is already broken up, and waiting for a loophole out of which to escape; and as the press have coupled my name with this role, the discontented think it a good thing to shift whatever opprobrium there may be connected with their cases, upon Woodhull. Thus I become the pack-horse for thousands who have no more conception of Free Love than a donkey has of mathematics.
But I’ll tell you what I do. If a husband or a wife get discontented and uneasy, and chafe in their bonds, I advise such to seek out the ulcers, come to a mutual understanding, talk out the hidden and corroding cause, sum up the difficulties and grievances and see if they are of such character and magnitude as to preclude all hope for peace and happiness, and not under any circumstances call in the services of a blackguard lawyer.
I ask men and women to be honest with each other. If any find their attachments growing cold — their love waning — say so, and not continue the pretense while the real love is lavished elsewhere. I ask men and women to be thoughtful of each other’s needs and desires. If a wife find her husband spending his evenings away from home, let her be sure there is something wrong; and when he goes again, put on hat and shawl and accompany him. If it is to the club, the bar-room, the billiard table, the theatre, the opera or the house of ill-fame, tell him that any place which he frequents is good enough for you to visit. Face him in his discontent, and say: “What is the matter, my darling? What is it in which I fail that you must spend your evenings away from me? Has your love for me gone, or what is the matter? Tell me? It is useless to continue an unhappy life when there is so easy a remedy. If you do not love me any longer, take me into your confidence; let me be your friend and adviser.”
If there is any basis of hope left, this course will develop it; and there are hundreds of families who owe their present unity and happiness to having followed it. It is an error into which people naturally fall who think that my supporters are among the dissatisfied families. It is precisely the reverse of this. It is the families which cannot be separated or broken up which believe in the efficacy of freedom as a regulative element. My most bitter opponents among my own sei, are the professional prostitutes who know I am going to break up their business, and the ignorant wives who read little and think less, and who are in constant fear of losing their “Paw,” over whom they have none except a legal control; and among the opposite sex, those who are habitually unfaithful to marriage, and the ministers who know their nice arrangements will be spoiled, and the lawyers, whose divorce business will be ruined by freedom. Ask any of these, when found denouncing Mrs. Woodhull, if they ever heard her speak, or ever read her paper or speeches, the reply will be, “No! and I don’t want to.”
But I would remind these exceedingly virtuous people that the Catholic says, that every one who was not married by the Catholic method is living in prostitution. So please remember when they cast their epithets about so freely, that there is a greater authority than they are, which denounces them in equally opprobrious terms. This class say that those living together who are not married as they are, are prostitutes; the Catholic Church looks at them, and, because they are not married as it marries, calls them by the same name.
For my part I look beyond the ceremony and the law, and observe the facts; and if I find people living together in hate and disgust, whether married after the Protestant fashion or the Catholic style, I say they are prostituting their sexual functions, and in sight of the God of Nature are prostitutes.
Let us consider briefly the doctrine of stirpiculture, hinted at in the Times quotation. Nobody, more than I, feels the need of scientific propagation; but there is something in men and women of which science can neither take cognizance or control. Men and women are more than animals; and this additional quality must be recognized in any successful theory about this matter. Stirpiculture, popularly understood, means that the best men and women, physically, produce the best children. This theory may be, and doubtless is, true as applied to animals; but observation does not bear out its truth among men and women. Many physically perfect men and women bear bad children. With them, the theory as stated needs to be supplemented as follows: Provided love exists between them.
Women cannot bear their best children except by the men they love best and for whom they have the keenest desire. If these are for the best men, physically, so much the better. There are instances where the husband or the wife, and some, where both, from inherited causes, have bad health, who rear families of robust children; but in these cases there is a sexual unity which exalts the creative act far above the possibility of inherited contagion; while others whose children should apparently rank high, physically and mentally, are remarkably deficient in both regards. Nothing is more common than mediocre children in families representing the intellect and morality of the age; nor the brightest gems where none would think of finding them.
These facts are too common to be ignored; and they lead unerringly to the conclusion that this science, as applied to animals, cannot be practiced by men and women. It would find an insuperable argument in the repugnance which exists instinctively in women against consorting with men for whom they have no love. Women would revolt against such a theory, and the disgust that would accompany its practice would have a deleterious influence upon the intended result far outweighing any benefit that might be anticipated from mere physical perfection. This alone is a fatal objection, and makes it necessary that other considerations should enter any successful theory for the scientific breeding of humanity.
But of what use is it to talk of stirpiculture while marriage exists? The very first necessity is freedom for woman, sexually. What can a woman do with a theory so long as she belongs, legally, to any man? It is preposterous to think of it. Argue stirpiculture to a woman who is compelled to submit herself, sexually, to a legal master whenever he demands it, even to the extent of brutality! It is simply nonsense. Talk of scientific propagation to a woman bound to a man whose system is loaded with venereal, scrofula, or other loathsome disease! It is absurd. Present any theory of sexual intercourse for the observance of women, so long as they have no control over their maternal functions! It is insanity. When men do not and will not respect either the wishes or desires of their wives, or the remittant bodily conditions peculiar to women, nor their physical health, however bad it may be — of what use is it to offer women a theory to regulate reproduction! Better spend breath asking the sun to stand still or the moon to visit the earth, than commit the absurdity of offering stirpiculture to married women.
When any of the old-fashioned religious denominations have revivals, they extend a general invitation to sinners to come forward and relate their experiences and be converted; to tell how bad they were before they were better. If this is a good thing to do religiously, why would it not be equally good socially? I’ll take the first six married women anywhere, and if they are forced to tell the whole truth about their sexual experience, there would be no further argument necessary to prove that it’s idle to talk of stirpiculture so long as women do not own and control their sexual organs; therefore, the first thing for women to do, is to declare themselves free; to assert their individual sovereignty sexually. Until they have the moral courage to do this, and therefore to rescue themselves from prostitution, stirpiculture will do for those to play with who dare not touch the main question.
I have been shown, instinctively, as you would call it, clairvoyantly as I would say, the solution of this whole matter; but have not yet been able to reason it out so as to demonstrate it logically. But when impregnation takes place under perfect conditions of love and desire and their mutual consummation, the same process occurs regarding physical impurities as related to the new germ life, that takes place when water is changed to ice. For instance, ice formed from salt water is not salt ice. Salt is a foreign substance to water, and in its natural changes is cast off. So impurities of the human system are foreign substances which, in perfected sexual conditions, form no part of the transmitted qualities. These conditions are to be found only where there is that perfect sexual exaltation which blends two beings in one — “two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one,” that thought and beat being to reproduce their counterpart. Into such an act, no impurity can enter. It is God’s sublimest creative impulse; and he who can think of it except in reverence, awe and gratitude, is unfit to enter its sacred chambers. Who can think of its wonders and beauties; its bliss and its holiness, and not worship Him who hath given such possibilities to man!
If this be so, and I feel I know it is, the doctrine of heredity and transmission will have to be remodeled, or rather abandoned, and the solution sought by them obtained in the science of sexuality—which is the science of life. I am the more inclined to this theory from the fact that some men, while sexually poisonous to some women, are a life-giving element to others. The private histories of the divorced and remarried, offer many facts of this kind, and they must form a part of any basis upon which a sexual science can be built.
I should be glad to follow stirpiculture further, but I must leave it by making these propositions, which to me are self-evident:
First — The highest order of humanity results from sexual relations in which love and desire are the only elements present.
Second — The lowest order of humanity results from sexual relations where there is disgust instead of delight, and endurance instead of reciprocity.
Third — The intermediate orders of humanity result from various modifications of these two extremes.
What then is to be inferred from all this, is the purity at which I aim, and to which sexual freedom, as I believe and teach it, will lead. Can any who have heard me, conceive that what I have said tends toward greater sexual debauchery and degradation than now exists? If there are any such they have misconceived the natural tendency of freedom. To pretend to believe that the giving of freedom to woman will plunge her deeper in vice, is to insult all womanhood; it is to pronounce upon woman the verdict that she is by nature inclined to sexual change, and this every woman knows is a lie. I hurl the infamous insinuation back in the teeth of whoever dare make it, as a libel upon my sex, based upon the practices of men and not upon the natural instincts of women.
I make the claim boldly, that from the very moment woman is emancipated from the necessity of yielding the control of her sexual organs to man to insure a home, food and clothing, the doom of sexual demoralization will be sealed. From that moment there will be no sexual intercourse except such as is desired by women. It will be a complete revolution in sexual matters, in which men will have to take a back seat and be content to be servants where they have been masters so long. The present system is at variance with everything in nature, Everywhere, except among men and women, the female has supreme authority in the domain of sex, and the male never pretends to oppose it, nor to appeal from its decisions. Compare men and women with the animals and see how far below them they have fallen in this regard. Yet among animals the principle of freedom is thoroughly exemplified. Why are they not degraded, debauched and diseased? Simply because the female is the dominant power in sex. What would be the result among animals were the barbarous rule of marriage enforced; were the female to be compelled to submit herself without reserve to the lecherous instincts of the male? It would be the same that has obtained among women — disease everywhere, until there is scarcely a sexually healthy woman past the age of puberty to be found. This is the purity, this the morality, this the divinity of marriage. Oh, God! is there no power that can restore woman to the level of the brutes? Is their nothing that can rescue her from this shameless condition, from this pollution, this nastiness?
To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery into freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold; then may men and women, like the beasts or the birds, if they will, herd together, and the instinct in woman, by the law of natural attraction and adaptation, rouse in man its answering counterpart, and its counterpart only.
This is the purity at which I aim; this is the holiness to which I would have woman and, through her functions, the sexual relations elevated; this is the glory with which I would have woman crowned; this is what it means to be virtuous; this is what it means to be pure. Again I ask, is there a man or woman who hears me who will ever dare hereafter to associate this doctrine with the debased and the low, and call it an attempt to descend further into lust and license?
Oh, woman! would that the beautiful, the shining, the redeemed of heaven could come to you in their white-robed purity and sing in your ears the blessed song of the angels who “neither marry nor are given in marriage,” and who live in their own natural element of freedom. Oh! that they could come to you as they have to me, and show how, through you, as represented by Eve — through your sexual slavery to men — has sin, and misery and crime been introduced into the world; and how through the assertion and maintenance of your sexual freedom and purity only, can “the seed of the woman bruise the serpent’s head,” and humanity be restored to its original sexual purity, the Scripture fulfilled and the millennium ushered in.
Instead of opposing this doctrine, the Churches should see that through its propagation only can their sacred prophecies be realized. Instead of denouncing me the ministers ought to be my most earnest advocates, not merely because through the theory of Free Love only can their lives be justified, but because by its practice alone can salvation come to the world. They have been working at the wrong end of salvation; they have been trying to save souls while their bodies were damned. Now let them save bodies, and the souls will take care of themselves. I should be glad to believe that these clerical persons are honest, but I cannot. They know the sad lives of thousands of women, suffering and yearning for comfort and sympathy; these women go to their pastors for relief, and I have the very best of reasons for believing, indeed, I know that in numerous instances, they not only get that for which they yearn, but also that further comfort and sympathy to which the others naturally lead, and which the ministers know they can so safely administer. This is another reason to be added to the matter of fees, which I have already mentioned, why this class do not wish the marriage relations disturbed. The ministers, lawyers and doctors have a monopoly of this field, and they intend to keep it.
The world will have a genuine surprise some day when it shall awaken to the truth, as I know it, about the churches; to a knowledge of the kind of currency in which lawyers often receive their divorce fees. As this, however, is none of my business, I shall let the world take its own time about it. But I sometimes think it would be only a just reward for their stupidity were husbands to be shown why it is that their wives are so earnest in religious matters. Everybody knows that the churches would totter and tumble if it were not for the woman. Men have mostly grown out of churches, and attend them because their families wish it, so that the “pew rent” may be paid. There are many churches besides Plymouth in which half the women are in love with their pastors; and in these cases I think it safe to say, as it is in that of Plymouth, it is usually reciprocated.
But as to the difficulty of freedom for woman: There is but one, and that is pecuniary independence. I know that opposers refer to the condition of women in Greece and Rome, when there were few restrictions sexually, and use it as an argument against freedom now. But it doesn’t apply, and I will show you why. In those times it mattered not whether there were marriage laws or not. In either case woman was dependent upon her sex for support; if married, then upon her husband; if not married, then upon her lover.
So the mere abolition of marriage does not necessarily mean sexual freedom for women. I do not hesitate to admit that marriage has played its necessary part in the evolution of society; nor that among a people where women have a very limited position in the industrial organization, that it provides them a support. I will go so far even as to say that, so long as women prefer to depend upon the sale of their sexual favors rather than upon their industrial capacities for support, that marriage may be deemed a sort of protection. But I also hold that, to a woman who prefers rather to rely upon her own talent for support, marriage is intolerable.
This is the same argument that was used by the slaveholders. “Slaves,” they said, “were better off as slaves than they could be, free. They need to be taken care of; and until they are capable of self-support it is best that slavery continue.” The slaves themselves generally coincided with this idea. Only a few of the more intelligent saw that the argument was a deceit.
So now do most women coincide with the same argument as applied to marriage. Only a few who have solved the question for themselves, see that it is fallacious. In spite of the argument the anti-slavery revolution came, and violently cast the slaves upon their own resources. Who is there who now dare say their condition is not improved? So will it be with women. They will hesitate to take the responsibility of freedom. They will say: “I prefer to rely upon my sex a little longer.” But the revolution will come eventually, and thrust them upon their own resources; and in ten years nobody will be found to doubt that their condition has been improved.
But the old argument as applied to women is fallacious in still another way, as I will show. Suppose that all the women in the land, on a given day, should arise and throw off the yoke of marriage, and declare and hold themselves free, how long would it be before the men would accede to any terms? Do you think it would be a month — three weeks — two weeks? I haven’t the slightest idea that they would hold out a single week? Women are entirety unaware of their power. Like an elephant led by a string, they are subordinated by a writing, drawn up by just those who are most interested in holding them in slavery. I am sometimes almost out of patience at the servility with which women fawn upon their masters, when they might lead them by the nose wherever they please.
It is sometimes asked: “If what you say is true, and that marriage is a curse, why did not the deprecated results obtain years ago?” I will show you why. It will be remembered that it used to be said by the slaveholders, that the moment a slave got the freedom crotchet into his head he was no longer of any account. A negro was a good slave so long as the idea of freedom was not born in his soul. Whenever this birth occurred he began to feel the galling of his chains.
It is the same with women. So long as they entertain the idea that their natural destiny is to be owned and cared for by some man, whom they are to repay by the surrender of their person, they are good, legal wives; but from the moment the notion that they have an individual right to themselves — to the control of their bodies and maternal functions — has birth in their souls, they become bad wives. They rebel in their souls, if not in words and deeds; and the legal claims of their husbands become a constant source of annoyance, and the enforcement of their legal rights an unbearable thing.
It is this repugnance, this sexual rebellion, that is causing the degradation and widespread disease among women, sexually; and this reacts upon man, and degrades him. The mind, in rebellion at the enslaved condition, has such an effect upon the sexual act that it becomes impossible for its subject to respond or reciprocate; and the organs suffer the natural penalty.
In speaking of this almost anomalous condition in woman, Dr. John M. Scudder, Professor of the Diseases of Women in the Cincinnati Medical College, says: “If the act is complete, so that both body and mind are satisfied, no disease arises, though there be frequent repetitions; but if the act be incomplete, the organs being irritated merely, and the mind not satisfied, then disease will surely follow. There is no doubt that the proper gratification of the function is conducive to health and longevity; or that its abuse leads to disease and shortens life. Therefore,” he adds, “the wife should not lose control of her person in marriage. It is hers to rule supreme in this regard. This is a law of life, and is violated in no species except in man.”
What better confirmation could there be of all that I have been trying to enforce upon you, than these words from this large-hearted man and widely-experienced physician? Every wife should obtain the book from which I quote these words, and study it carefully. It is entitled, “The Reproductive Organs,” and has just been published by Wilstach, Baldwin & Co., of Cincinnati, Ohio.
I said at the outset that I am endeavoring to effect a revolution in marriage, or rather to replace the institution by a better method of providing for women as mothers and children as progeny. Everybody admits that our social system is far from perfect. Society, like everything else in the universe, evolves by natural laws. Marriage is not the perfect condition. It will be replaced by another and more perfect, which will be a legitimate outcome of the old. As republicanism in politics is a legitimate child of constitutional monarchy, so in socialism shall personal freedom be the offspring of legal limitation; and when it shall come, not anybody will doubt its parentage or question its legitimacy.
Sexual freedom, then, means the abolition of prostitution both in and out of marriage; means the emancipation of woman from sexual slavery and her coming into ownership and control of her own body; means the end of her pecuniary dependence upon man, so that she may never even seemingly, have to procure whatever she may desire or need by sexual favors; means the abrogation of forced pregnancy, of ante-natal murder, of undesired children; means the birth of love-children only, endowed by every inherited virtue that the highest exaltation can confer at conception, by every influence for good to be obtained during gestation, and by the wisest guidance and instruction on to manhood, industrially, intellectually and sexually.
It means no more sickness, no more poverty, no more crime: it means peace, plenty and security, health, purity and virtue; it means the replacement of money-getting as the aim of life by the desire to do good; the closing of hospitals and asylums, and the transformation of prisons, jails and penitentiaries into workshops and scientific schools; and of lawyers, doctors and ministers into industrial artizans; it means equality, fraternity and justice raised from the existence which they now have in name only, into practical life; it means individual happiness, national prosperity and universal good.
Ultimately, it means more than this even. It means the establishment of co-operative homes, in which thousands who now suffer in every sense shall enjoy all the comforts and luxuries of life, in the place of the isolated households which have no care for the misery and destitution of their neighbors. It means for our cities, the conversion of innumerable huts into immense hotels, as residences: and the combination of all industrial enterprises upon the same plan; and for the country, the co-operative conduct of agriculture by the maximum of improvements for labor-saving, and the consequent reduction of muscular toil to the minimum. And it means the inter-cooperation of all these in a grand industrial organization to take the places of the present governments of the world, whose social basis shall be all people united in the great human family as brothers and sisters.
So after all I am a very promiscuous Free Lover. I want the love of you all, promiscuously. It makes no difference who or what you are, old or young, black or white, Pagan, Jew, or Christian, I want to love you all and be loved by you all; and I mean to have your love. If you will not give it to me now, these young, for whom I plead, will in after years bless Victoria Woodhull for daring to speak for their salvation. It requires a strong and a pure woman to go before the world and attack its most cherished institution. No one who has not passed through the fiery furnace of affliction, and been purged of selfishness by the stern hand of adversity, and become emancipated from public opinion, could stand the load of opprobium that I have been forced to carry. I sometimes grow weary under its weight and sigh for rest, but my duty to my sex, spurs me on. Therefore I want your sympathy, your sustaining love, to go with me and bless me; and when I leave you for other fields of labor and stand upon other rostrums, fearing I may not be able to do my duty, I want to feel the yearnings of your hearts following me with prayers that my efforts may be blessed. I want the blessings of these fathers, the affections of these sons, the benedictions of these mothers and the prayers of these daughters to follow me everywhere, to give me strength to endure the labor, courage to speak the truth and a continued faith that the right will triumph.
And may the guardian angels who are hovering over you carry the benign light of freedom home to your souls to bless each sorrowing heart, to relieve each suffering body, and to comfort each distressed spirit as it hath need, is the blessing which I leave with you.
Source: Tried as by Fire; or, The True and the False, Socially. An Oration Delivered by Victoria C. Woodhull, in all the Principal Cities and Towns of the Country during an engagement of ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS, TO AUDIENCES TOGETHER NUMBERING A QUARTER OF A MILLION OF PEOPLE (New York: Woodhull & Claflin) 1874, pp. 3-44.