Woman’s True Mission
March 18, 1883 — Frobisher’s Hall, New York City
In his last discourse the fashionable lecturer of Trinity Chapel almost disarmed criticism by the reverent acknowledgment he made of woman’s superiority over man. Indeed, so eloquent was he in his admiration of these “pure, true, sweet souls,” that we almost expected him to declare that it was their function to use their purity and loveliness for the benefit of the world and the improvement of men.
But no; after declaring that woman “Stands for the best that man can know, for the sweetest that he can enjoy, for the faith which is the life to his spirit, for the purity which is the shield of his soul;”* after saying all this he leaves off exactly where he began, by declaring her to be subordinate to man, and winds up his discourses by telling the ardent Christian women, burning to use their powers for good, to “Let the world alone; let things alone which do not concern you, and for which neither man nor God can hold you responsible.”
This last clause is true enough; women are not responsible for any of the disorders of the world, but we would like to have this acute churchman point out to us any fact of life, political or social, that does not equally concern women and men, and we think, with all his acuteness, it would puzzle him to discover it.
This is his trouble, however: that he cannot see the facts of to-day; all that he looks at is tinted to suit his fancy like the stained-glass windows of his church, and the light in his world is rose-colored, for certain things agreeable to his eyes, while other things less pleasing are shaded with deep purple, so as to be quite invisible; never a clear ray of to-day’s sunlight shines under those dusky arches.
And so this reverend “Mrs. Partington,” not seeing the world as it is, stands in his pulpit and endeavors to sweep back the tide of progress with his ecclesiastical broom. He is like the Pope that fulminated a bull against the comet, or the priests that cast the astronomer into prison, or rather like one of his clerical brethren of a few decades ago, the Rev. Dionysius Lardner. This reverend critic, like ours of to-day, did not believe in progress; he was especially opposed to the invention of steam, and wrote an elaborate article to prove that no vessels propelled by steam could ever live in the waves of the Atlantic, which made its appearance in a ponderous Quarterly on the very day on which the first steamer sailed into an English harbor after a safe voyage from America.
And so, while this worthy rector lectures and protests, women are moving on to a far wider mission than he believes is possible for them to take up.
To be sure, without directly saying so, he finds some excuse for holding them in subordination by reiterating a threadbare fallacy which is a favorite one with those who oppose the freedom of women. And this is the declaration that, while most women are better than men, when a woman is bad she is even worse than a very bad man. This is not true. It seems, indeed, to be true, for when you meet a woman untidy, drunken, or profane, you are filled with horror, and she seems far lower than the man who is equally vicious. Yet this is not because she really is lower than the man, but simply because the sight of such a woman is so rare, and the distance between her and a good woman so great, that the shock of seeing her thus is far more than the spectacle of a man in a similar condition would produce.
If you doubt this, ask yourself if you would not be more shocked to go home and find your mother smoking than to discover your father doing precisely the same thing. Or, if you would not be more horrified to see your sister drinking at a bar than to see your brother doing so; or, again, if a profane word from a lady you had always respected would not disgust you, while a similar word from a gentleman you would neither notice nor even remember.
The standard which woman has built up by her virtue is so high, that any deviation from it seems a thousandfold worse than man’s constant departure from the very low standard to which he has loosely bound himself — as to see a rose in the dust is so much more pitiful than to behold a pebble there.
It should always be remembered with regard to women that, no matter how degraded they may be, they are never brutal. In this they are always a shade better than a man correspondingly low. Lost they may be and foul, but still some trace of wo manliness remains that makes them less hardened than one of the other sex, and those having female criminals in charge say that there is never one who will not brighten or soften at the sight of a handful of fresh flowers or the look of a baby’s face.
In order to sustain his proposition, Dr. Dix cites several well-known historical characters as representing “the opposite poles of womanhood.” Yet, even in the cases of these women, whose names stand out for superlative wickedness, it should be borne in mind that they are remembered because female cruelty is so rare, and that, bad as these wo men were, they were not so bad as the men beside them. Herodias, who caused the death of one man, was not so cruel as Herod, who ordered the slaughter of hundreds of children; Margaret of Valois was less licentious than her brother, Henry III. The evil deeds of Frédégonde were remarkable in a woman, but the every-day acts of the men of that period and the Demoiselle Théroigne, was not so bloodthirsty as Danton or as Simon.
With regard to the instances of female virtue mentioned by the scholarly Doctor as showing how lovely women can be, he does not make a very obvious reflection. St. Elizabeth of Hungary was so superior in every respect to her rude husband, Louis, Landgrave of Thuringia, that a woman would naturally reflect how much better it would have been for the nation if she had governed in his stead. Instead of trying by her benevolence to alleviate the woes which his mismanagement and misrule brought about, if she could have held the sceptre of power, she might, like Deborah, have given the land rest.
But, no! good as he admits these and other wo men to be, Dr. Dix still has nothing to offer to them as active employment for their eager hands. “You can help and cheer us best, perhaps, just now, by your silent prayers.” So from the heights of his pulpit he says to the earnest women who are looking to him as their guide to usefulness.
We have nothing to say against prayer, which is so sovereign a balm to many a soul, but we would remind the learned gentleman of certain grand old words —
“Laborare est orare — To work is to pray;” and of other tender and true words:
“He prayeth best who loveth best
All things, both great and small.”
And now let us turn to the story of Deborah, with which the evening was opened, and see if here is not described a woman who had a grand mission well accomplished, and who believed both in work. and in prayer. What a wonderful history this is of how when Israel was in despair and slavery the nation was rescued by a woman!
For twenty years the Israelites had groaned un der the oppressions of the king of the Canaanites, and been forced to worship his gods. His great general, Sisera, by the magic of his name, rallied mighty armies to his standard, and his deeds of valor inspired such terrors that no one thought of opposing him till Deborah arose “a mother in Israel.”
This woman, whose wisdom inspired so much respect among her people that they came to her for judgment, left her home to lead them to victory and freedom. She was a wife — the wife of Lapidoth — yet it is nowhere asserted that she asked her husband’s permission to become a leader when her leadership was needed. If this good book teaches the subjection of women, why is it not recorded that she humbly asked his leave to go before the public? Why is there no reproof of her conduct? Why is it not stated that she should have been simply Mrs. Lapidoth, and not have had her name ban died about and spoken publicly “like a man’s?”
Not a word of all this appears, however, and, as Mr. Lapidoth was the keeper of the king’s ward robe, a sort of gentleman of the bed-chamber, it would seem as if the superiority lay decidedly with the wife.
She was the recognized judge of Israel, divinely called to take the leadership of her people in their terrible emergency. Unused to war, and representing the inspirational rather than the militant side of humanity, although she could not go to battle herself, she could inspire those who could, and she summoned Barak, the Jewish captain, to come to her for his orders.
What a picture is this, of the great female judge and commander! Across the centuries we seem to see her noble form, standing beneath the palm tree, the bright sun of the orient casting its brilliant rays on the commanding figure and the eager people who come to her for counsel. We see the Israelitish general bowing reverently before her, and listening to the words of wisdom which were to guide a nation to victory, and which fell from a woman’s lips.
Deborah commanded Barak to take with him ten thousand men, and go forth to battle with Sisera. And what did the great general say—that woman’s place was home? that women had no business in war’ that women could not fight and therefore ought not to vote? No, Barak, having never heard of Dr. Dix, replied to this woman that he would go forth to battle if she would give him the weight of her presence and the benefit of her guidance.
“If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou will not go with me, then I will not go.” These were Barak’s emphatic words.
It was, then, Deborah who planned the campaign and ordered the expedition. “She arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh;” and inspired by her presence the warriors of Zebulun and Naphtali came out to battle ten thousand strong.
And Sisera gathered together the men of his army, which mustered in a vast host with nine hundred chariots of iron, and with horsemen and mighty men of valor, all eager for the fray. Deborah ascended mount Tabor that she might from that height view the battle-ground, and when Sisera advanced to the attack she roused her general to action, saying, “Up ; for this day hath the Lord de livered Sisera into thine hand!”
And it was even so; the campaign which a woman planned was successful; the battle which a woman commanded was a victory. The story ends with an account of a nation redeemed and delivered; and the statement that under the beneficent rule of this female judge, “the land had rest for forty years.”
Taking this story, then, for our text, let us consider what may woman’s true mission be: First we will speak of her proper place in the home; and here we find ourselves for once in accord with Dr. Dix; he says:
“Whatever it be, in thought, word, or deed that works among us now to break up the home, to make the home mean and contemptible,” “this is working against the best interests, the hope, the happiness of the human race.” This we emphatically believe. But we hold that it is true equally of men and of women, we believe that “a woman’s place is home,” and so is a man’s l That a man has no more right to go outside of his home to find his pleasures than a woman has to do precisely the same thing.
Yet it is very curious, considering how much is written and talked about the home as woman’s place, to reflect that in most of the States of the Union a woman has no home. A man will talk about “my house;” men said sometimes in the excitement about school suffrage for women: “If my wife votes she shall not return to my house !” as if the home were his alone, and unless specially deeded : to the wife, it is so: the homestead is the husband’s, while the law says that after a man’s death “his widow may remain forty days in her husband’s residence.” So that, practically, a large majority of women have no homes.
There are some of the States of the West where the homestead by law belongs to the wife, and thus things are arranged in accordance with the views of Dr. Dix? but these are but exceptions to the general rule, which gives no legal right to the home to women, who form the pauper sex and rarely have any money.
We would have, then, the wife and husband, joint owners of the common home, and joint guardians of the children, and to place the union on its fitting foundation to begin with, we would forever take out of the marriage service that word “obey,” which, doubtless, the rector of Trinity pronounces with much unction, but which is an anachronism and a disgrace since slavery was abolished. The idea of the lovely bride standing beside the husband, who has been her devoted admirer, and swearing to obey him, a frail human being no better, very likely not as good, as herself! Why, the usage be longs with the rude ages, when William the Conqueror wooed his wife by knocking her off from her horse!
Let the husband and wife, then, stand as equals in the home, each owing mutual and similar obligations of fidelity and devotion to each other and to their children. No longer with the perpetual preaching of the doctrine that it is woman’s “duty to make home attractive to her husband,” but with the understanding, also, that it is man’s duty to make him self attractive to his wife, and that in the creation and rearing of a family, the father’s function is as important as the mother’s.
Women have, however, so truly fulfilled every duty to home in the past, that there is no need of preaching on this part of their mission. Tet us see, then, if they have not also a wider mission, because they love their homes, and wish to make happier and better that world in which their homes are set, and by which they must be influenced. And we hold that in every department of government wo man has her appropriate place, which is not, and never can be, filled by men, but, in just so much as she is excluded from it, stands vacant to-day.
The State is but the larger family, and the nation al housekeeping is all out of order for want of that virtue, love of order, and, above all, conscientious ness, which woman especially represents.
You all of you know what sort of a place a house is without any women in it, or left in the charge of men, perhaps some of you have had experience of such places; or perhaps you have seen and know what happens in the absence of the mother of the family. The father, good, kind man, has-bidden her go away with an easy mind; he will look after every thing, and all will be as well-ordered as when she is at home; and confiding in the worthy man’s promises, the wife has gone away. You can fancy what condition of affairs she finds on her return. Dust and disorder everywhere, and neglect of many things which her watchful eyes would have seen; we do not blame the husband for this; he could not be expected to take care of the home as his wife did: he was “out of his sphere” in attempting it.
Just what happens, then, in the home during the absence of the mother, is taking place to-day in the nation for the want of woman’s influence. The national housekeeping is all in disorder for need of woman’s labors in her rightful province as organizer and care-taker. Let us consider some of the departments in which woman’s love of order and neat ness are particularly desirable. Take, for instance, the streets of our cities. Here is a department of public work eminently needing woman’s super vision.
Here in our own city of New York, is it too much to assert that the streets will never be properly cleaned nor the city kept in good sanitary condition until we have women in the police and health departments: For just look how the nominal work of street-cleaning is conducted by men to-day. You have all seen the process. First, laborers are sent out to sweep the dirt into heaps, where, after a slovenly performance of the job, the refuse is left in piles for many hours, often over night, so that the wind shall have an opportunity to blow a large portion of it over the streets again. When finally the carts do come to take the heaps away, they are in variably without covers, so that as they drive about still more dust is blown off onto the passers-by. What is left of the rubbish is taken down-town, put on scows, which are towed down the bay, and dumped so that a large portion of their contents is carried back by the waves onto the shores of Coney Island. This is man’s idea of cleaning the streets. However, they should not be blamed for it. They cannot be expected to do any better, it is not their “mission” to attend to this work. What intelligent woman would ever think of putting her husband and sons in charge of the house-cleaning?
It seems not unreasonable to claim that women would look after this matter better than men. In deed we have facts in proof of this claim. In Albany some years ago a lady did attend to the cleaning of some of the streets. Her husband had the con tract for this work in a certain district, but died before the task was begun, and his widow fulfilled the contract. It was said by all who resided in that part of the city that the cleaning was never so well or so thoroughly done before; indeed, so entirely successful was this lady’s superintending of the work, that when she again applied the following year for the contract, a petition in her behalf was signed by all the principal residents in the district, but of course she failed to secure the “job,” as she had no political power.
We may, then, consider it proved that women have a mission in this department of public works; no one will dispute that plenty of women need the money that could thus be earned, and are possessed of the intelligence and capacity to have the labor well performed. That women would accomplish it more economically than men no one can doubt, they are the trained economists of the world, and certainly if we had city mothers as well as city fathers, they would not allow the waste that now goes on, but would see that the refuse of the city, so valuable for fertilization, was used so as to pay for the labor of removing it.
The same necessity for woman’s supervision appears throughout the country, the roads everywhere need the attention of women. If we had women as road mistresses we should at once find an improvement in the condition of our highways. At present you find dangerous places where teams cannot pass safely, narrow places above hill-sides, bridges with broken planks or without side railings: all these things under man’s management. There are a few model villages in the country which are entirely controlled by women, volunteer associations of ladies, who have made the places in their charge models of neatness, health, and good order, thus proving woman’s capacity for just this work.
Nor can it be reasonably objected that women cannot attend to these duties because of their home cares: in every community there are to be found plenty of women of mature age, who have no families to occupy their time. Single women, widows, or women whose children are all grown and gone, and who, under the present arrangement of giving men everything and women nothing, are condemned to lives of uselessness in the fulness of their ripe powers. It might be reasonably claimed that women are the trained governors of the world, as she who for twenty years has superintended a well-ordered family of children and servants ought to be well qualified to govern in a larger community.
There is another most important department of the national housekeeping in which men have shown themselves not merely negligent but actually destructive: in the wanton levelling of our forests, which year after year is laying bare the land to the sun’s rays, drying up the soil, decreasing the rain fall, and rendering us liable to terrible floods in the spring and parching droughts during the summer.
In a recent elaborate work on the preservation of forests it was stated that to preserve the rain-fall there must be fifteen acres out of every one hundred in woodland. It has been surmised that the desert of Sahara was once a fertile region, as there can be now traced through its desolate sands what seem to be the courses of ancient rivers, indicating that at one time this must have been a well-watered country, and that then, probably, this desert “blossomed like a rose.” But in the desire to cultivate the fields the trees were cut down, the streams dried up, and where was once a happy population there is now only a desolate plain of shifting sand.
This sand has already encroached upon Europe: where in the time of Pliny vines covered the hills in southern Italy and Spain is at present an arid region over which yearly the African sirocco blows more fiercely.
Unwarned by these facts, reckless of the future in the desire for rapid wealth, the men of this country have hewn away the forests that once clothed our land with beauty. Of course timber is needed for building purposes and firewood, but this could be obtained every year by judicious thinning of our woods, whereas now, man in his greed, lays the axe not only on the lofty pine and stalwart oak, but also on the graceful birch and almost useless cottonwood.
As a result we have yearly long periods of drought, and as the forests around the sources of our rivers disappear, mad floods occur, like those which two years ago submerged all southern Louisiana, and this spring have carried death and desolation down the lovely valley of the Ohio. Women, who are the natural housekeepers of the world, will, if allowed their proper influence on these economic questions, be valuable conservators of public property. Hat-a-Su, the great Queen of Egypt, brought to perfection the extensive system of irrigation which redeemed her land from the desert; and Semiramis, the Empress of Assyria, first constructed roads through her vast empire, while Catherine the Great of Russia did more for the internal improvement of her empire than any sovereign of her realm.
Let us consider now another department of the national home in which women have a far wider mission to fulfill than has ever yet been accorded to them, and that is the department of education. There was a time when all instruction in the higher branches and much even of that in the lower, was given by men. Formerly the pedagogue was a familiar figure in every community, to-day he has everywhere given place to the school-mistress. But although nine tenths of the teachers in our cities, and seven eighths of those in the country, are women, yet their sex is not represented in the board of education in New York and most of our large cities.
That women are eminently qualified for these higher positions their admirable influence where ever so employed abundantly proves. In England all the lady candidates for trusteeships have been, again and again triumphantly elected, and by their efforts schools for girls have been greatly improved and the whole system of education modified. In Boston Miss Peabody has made an excellent school officer, and in our own State among over one hundred women trustees exceptional capacity has been shown for their duties. While men trustees have been some of them disgracefully ignorant, at least one of them insane, and a great many of them drunkards, no such cases can be found among the women, who in every instance, where employed, have brought with them order, economy, and good government.
Yet, after all, although a step has been taken in the right direction, still women have not their appropriate influence in this important sphere of usefulness. The consequence is that the administration of our schools to-day is masculine in every respect. What is the result? That the gentleness, the tenderness, and the morality of women have little or no effect on the discipline of the public schools. Rigid order is enforced by a rule of harshness; little creatures are overcrowded in class-rooms and are crammed with study. More lessons are demanded in each week than there are hours to give them in, and the girl-teacher, overworked and under-paid, dares not remonstrate lest she lose her place, to have it quickly filled from the horde of her sex forced by denial of employment in other directions to scramble for a vacancy in the school teachers’ ranks.
Another most important reflection. Dogmatic theology has been very properly excluded from our schools, where we have children of all creeds, but no ethical instruction has taken its place, and so a child may be ten years in a public school and hear never a word of his duty to others, of love, of charity, of honor, of kindness, of the great virtues which make good citizens. Had we educated women in our boards of education — mothers, or at least, with the mother instinct — we should have a broader, better, and greater mode of instruction than men alone can ever devise.
There is another wide field of influence for women in the department of charities and corrections. The very name of this department, indeed, suggests the thought that energetic mothers would be well placed in it. Yet obviously proper as it is that we should have women in charge of women wherever they are, every proposition to give them places where they might be of use to the community, and be paid for their work, has been met with the most violent opposition. Last winter, in this State, two measures looking in this direction were defeated by the withholding of the Governor’s signature. The first was a proposition to place women in the boards of trustees in our State charitable institutions, the other a bill to provide for the appointment of public matrons to look after female prisoners in the station-houses of our large cities. We will first consider the need of women in these places and next the reasons for denying these positions to them.
To our descendants, when there shall no longer be any discrimination against an individual on account of sex, it will seem a self-evident proposition that women should have a voice in the care of the unfortunate or criminal of their own sex. And yet no woman has a position in control of any charitable or reformatory institution in the State of New York, although in other States they have demonstrated their capacity by successfully taking charge of the woman’s prison near Boston, the reformatory in Indiana, and the State prison in Kentucky. In each of those institutions the ladies in charge have shown marked capacity in conducting the prisons economically and with great comfort to those under their charge. Despite these proofs of the qualification for their work, in this State of New York, where Dr. Dix advises women “to do nothing,” women are care fully excluded from every position of influence in these departments. It is true that there are two la dies holding offices (non-salaried) on the State Board of Charities, but thus far their efforts, unsupported by any power as they are, has done little in many directions where they have wished to produce reform.
In lifting up those of their own sex who have fallen, in bringing a purer condition into the ad ministration of our public prisons, in preventing the horrors of which we annually hear, is there not a fitting mission for Christian women?
With regard to the other reform of having women in the police-stations of our cities, it is one which has always enlisted my most ardent sympathies and which, as many of you know, I have earnestly advocated, thus far absolutely without result, though the briefest consideration of the subject shows the reasonableness of the measure.
When it was first suggested that there should be at each police-station a decent woman to care for female prisoners and lodgers, the proposition seemed so reasonable, so entirely in accordance with the dictates of morality and propriety, that the public and the press warmly welcomed the reform as most needful. Had it rested with the people of New York to make the appointments, they would at once have been made. The opposition came wholly and solidly from the Police Department.
We who were interested in the question made the first application, as was proper, to this body, but were refused a hearing there, and were thus driven to the Legislature, where the measure met with a hearty support. A bill for the appointment of police matrons in all the large cities of the State, was passed promptly by the Senate, and later by the Assembly, the vote in the latter body being 97 to 6, but the Governor refused to sign the bill and it failed to become a law.
The need of some womanly supervision in our station-houses becomes evident after a brief examination of the question. An average of five to forty women spend every night in the cheerless cells and rooms of the police-stations, the number varying according to the locality and the season. Some of these women are very low, very degraded; but who shall say that their womanhood is so completely destroyed that they cannot be still further brutalized: while others of these women, and in many instances the larger number, are simply poor, unfortunate beings who have gone down in the hard struggle of life, and who are moneyless, friendless, and, saddest of all words to a woman’s heart, homeless. These have no lodging in the cold nights of winter but such wretched shelter as these stations can give.
Another class of female inmates are those who are for the first time accused of disorder and crime, some of whom are always innocent sufferers, while it may happen to any lady, in case of accident or sudden illness, to be conveyed to a police-station for temporary shelter.
All these women are, under our present system, entirely in the hands of men. Sick or sad, innocent or guilty, raving with drunkenness, or weeping with desperation, there is no woman’s hand to arrange their disordered dress, no woman’s heart to dictate a word of comfort or hope; and most shameful of all, in case a woman is accused of theft, the needful search of her person is made by a policeman. Are such things creditable to our humanity or to our civilization?
In London every police-station has attached to it a matron, whose duties are to keep the cells tidy, to look after female prisoners, and to search women accused of theft. This is all we ask for here.
That such women are needed in our city the most casual reader of our papers must know. Here, for instance, within the week, is the account of the arrest of a woman for murder, and in describing her first examination the paper says: “Surrounded by twenty men in the station-house she told her story.” No woman was present to guard this young creature, to help her to a better life if she were really guilty. Here is another account of a woman found on the street insensible, taken to a station-house, and put into a cell over night. Only in the morning was it discovered that she was not drunk, but that her face was covered with bruises, and that she was dreadfully wounded. She was taken to a hospital, but it was too late; she died without recovering consciousness. Had there been a police matron there would not she have discovered what the woman’s condition really was?
Such stories and darker and sadder ones might be related to you. Twelve years ago, when the first appeal was made in behalf of this reform, the then Superintendent of Police, Capt. Jordan, himself told me that he had known a case where a woman was brought in on a charge of drunkenness and put into a cell, and that in the morning she lay there dead with a dead baby beside her.”
There is no need to darken this picture further; there is surely a mission for women here. In Brooklyn, where there is a solitary police matron, the Police Department reported favorably on the work as follows:
“One hundred and sixty women and young girls have been committed to her charge during the past month. The matron visits the families of women in prison, supplies food and clothing to the needy, finds homes for those who would have to return to the streets, gives advice and encouragement, and makes the unfortunate committed to her care under stand that they are not beyond the pale of human sympathy. The Police Justices approve of the work.”
You will naturally ask why do the police justices of Brooklyn approve and the police justices of New York disapprove of the same services? To this the answer is easy. The matron in Brooklyn is not paid by the city. Her salary is met by the temperance ladies of that place, and this is the reason why there is only one such official, who, with all her energy, is of course quite unable to meet all the requirements of that great city. The ground of opposition to the appointments of these women in New York was that the payment of their salaries would call for such a large sum of money. Now the amount asked for was only $500 a year salary — it was not expected that the matrons would be idle, fine ladies, but respectable, tidy women, over thirty years of age, able-bodied, and of good moral character, who would see that the cells were kept clean and attend to what might be properly called the woman’s department, as well as look after the female prisoners and lodgers. To secure the services of a proper person a respectable sum must be paid, and while the lowest salary given to a policeman is $800 a year, only $500 was asked for a matron.
There are in New York City thirty-two station houses: two women at each station would of course require $32,000 a year to be paid. The amount annually paid to policemen here is $2,500,000, and this year there was a call for $750,000 additional, and yet the small sum of $32,000 for the protection of women was refused. Considering that as there are more women than men in New York, they pay more than half the indirect taxes of the city, besides a large amount of the direct taxes on real and personal estate, it would seem that common justice would have approved the expenditure of this small sum at their request. But there are twenty-five hundred voters in the Police Department, and no voters at all among the women of the city. Mr. Cornell expected to be renominated for Governor and hoped to be re-elected, and the will of those men was of more weight than the wishes of women.
This winter similar causes have again operated to defeat the measure. It was passed by a large majority through the Assembly, but killed in committee in the Senate by strong remonstrances from the Police Department.
Let us now consider another branch of public duty in which women have a most appropriate mission. This is the performance of their military service in time of war. And here, as in all other departments of the public home, there is a woman’s appropriate duty, as there is a man’s.
It is true women cannot serve the nation by shouldering a musket and carrying a knapsack, on Decoration Day — which is about all the military duty that most of our warriors are now called upon to perform. But in every period of actual war how faithfully have women responded to the call of the nation for the services of her children! Through all our history there is a grand record of what women have done in times of war. In that terrible struggle of twenty years ago that many of us can remember, when the electric messages flashed over the land to summon aid to save the life of the Republic, how nobly did the women of the country respond — In every town and village, in every home in the land, willing fingers toiled early and late for the soldiers. Women met together to organize their labors, and in sanitary fairs raised $13,000,000, but this was a mere nothing compared to the enormous amount of money’s worth that was never computed, and that was sent with constant devotion from the homes of the nation to the army. Soldiers who went through those campaigns have said that the comforts supplied by the women saved thousands of lives. Nor was it only a woman here and there who labored for the nation, as it was here and there a man who fought for it, but every woman performed some part of her military duty, from the old grandmother who knit stockings in the chimney-corners to the little girl who staid at home Saturday afternoon to pick lint.
And there were other women who, leaving their homes and their firesides, went out to perform their military duty in the hospital service of the nation, enduring hardship and danger, Sometimes wounds and death; many of these faithful ones laying down their lives in the service of the nation as truly as any soldier who lies buried with the flag of his country wrapped about him.
Even in those terrible hours after a battle, when the soul grows sick that must look on the horrors that man’s cruelty has wrought, even in such scenes there were women with their gentle influences. On fields which the dreadful havoc of war had converted into charnel-houses, where the dew that drenched the springing grass was the dew of blood, and the air was heavy with the low moans or long drawn groans of the wounded who were dying in agony, women came to bring comfort and hope to alleviate, so far as they might, the sufferings for which men were responsible.
Many of you will remember the names of some of these heroic workers. There was Mother Bickerdyck, who, in her prime, gave her services for four years to the army in the West, who went out into battle-fields, where her feet were dabbled in blood, to succor the wounded. And what is her re ward to-day ? Mother Bickerdyck is an old woman now, and she is earning her living at the wash-tub. No pension for her $100,000,000 to be paid in pensions to men, and not one dollar for the women who did their military duty so faithfully!
Among the women who, in this period of the nation’s distress served the Republic in public labors, should be held in grateful remembrance, Miss Dorothea Dix, the aunt of this same prelate who tells women they must “do nothing,” and keep out of the world. This lady held a commission as major in the volunteers. She spent most of those four years in Washington, organizing hospital and sanitary service, and her labors, together with those of Miss Clara Barton and other devoted women, ought not to be forgotten.
Yet who remembers them to-day? You look among the honored names of the nation and you may search in vain for a woman’s. Dorothea Dix, and Clara Barton, and Mother Bickerdyke are unrecorded, and after that cruel struggle was over the loyal women of the North received precisely the same portion that was meted out to unpardoned rebels — disfranchisement.
Is it any wonder that it seems to many of us unjust to exclude from all active power precisely that portion of humanity which most needs the protection which the ballot alone can give? We have seen, in tracing out each of these great developments of public usefulness which women have already filled or should fill, that the denial to them of their proper influence can be traced directly to their want of political power.
The Rector of Trinity talked much on Friday evening of the dangerous “drift of the age,” but utterly failed to comprehend that the force of the current that is setting with resistless power towards anarchy can be checked only by the influence of woman released at last from centuries of bondage, and that thus alone can the progress of disorder be arrested. Men have done their part in the world well; they excel in strength, and in enterprise, and with their mighty powers they have conquered the wilderness and built up the civilization of the world. They have also constructed governments, but these governments rest on force alone; the gentle, the tender, the motherly power is entirely excluded from all voice, and yet to-day, more than ever before, the attempt to control by force alone is proved to be a failure.
There was a time when a few bayonets could hold a nation in chains. That day has passed away for ever, and in the complex development of modern society the old clumsy methods, man’s methods, of enforcing order, are proved to be absolutely inadequate to grapple with the dangers of political and social disorder. Of what use are man-devised measures of coercion and repression? In England the arrest of the Phoenix Park murderers is followed by the destruction of the government offices, and the answer to the death penalty is dynamite.
In this country we hang our convicts — with what result? That the burglar who is hung on Friday is followed to his grave on Sunday * by a larger crowd than would honor a great philosopher, and within two days four of his friends are arrested for bur glary. Evidently there is something radically wrong in a social system where such things exist. A rule of force alone only awakens still more force in retaliation, and yet Dr. Dix preaches silence and inaction to that half of humanity which represents gentleness, order, purity, and peace.
For the present condition of things women can in no wise be held to blame. We look on what goes on about us and are absolutely helpless to change anything. To prate of indirect influence is absurd. The women of this nation are in it just as a party of Americans would be in Russia were they passing the winter there. They would not be responsible for the evils they saw about them; they would have no power to change anything. With no right of suffrage and no official positions, what responsibility can attach to that class who thus live as strangers in their own land, and are in truth women without a country?
What we ask, what we believe alone can redeem the world is the giving of direct power to women, so that they can come among men, not to sit subordinate as women so often do now, when they are associated in public work with men, but with authority as the mother comes among her boys, or as Deborah came among the people of Israel.
Throughout our land there are thousands of women who see and feel that their highest mission is to minister to humanity at large, who are longing to be able to use their powers for the cause of morality and of all that is best in Christianity, with freer hands than they have to-day.
In closing, let me tell you of one woman who felt these things deeply. She had been all her life an active laborer for others in Temperance and other reforms. A devoted wife and mother, she had seen her children and her grandchildren grow up around her, and the time came when she had much leisure from family cares. In her work for the world, to which she devoted her energies, she found her efforts so hampered by the want of direct power, her cherished plans so often defeated, that when at last she heard that the women of the State had the right of school suffrage, though it was but the small fraction of the freedom that should be theirs, she earnestly desired to cast a vote. But the seasons had grown many in her life, she was ninety three years old, feeble, and worn with long labor, and feared she had not strength for the effort.
A wealthy friend who heard the aged lady’s desire, called for her in her carriage and drove her to the polling-place. It has been sometimes said that if women went to vote they would be insulted. Does any man think so poorly of his sex as to suppose that this venerable woman, dowered with her long life of virtue, was insulted as she approached the polls?
No! Every man there felt to her as a son to his mother. There were tender hands outstretched to assist her from the carriage, and bear her reverently to the place where the ballot-box stood. With trembling fingers she dropped the tiny bit of paper into that urn which has been called “the palladium of American liberty,” and, realizing how much this act, trifling in itself, signified of hope for the future for her sex and for humanity, as she turned away she said: “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!”
Throughout our land there are many women, earnest women, prayerful women, Christian women who for the sake of virtue and morality are asking a wider mission to-day.
Source: Woman’s Place To-Day: Four Lectures, In reply to the Lenten Lectures on “Woman” by The Rev. Morgan Dix, D.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York, (New York: John W. Lovell Company) 1883, pp. 135-172.