The Feminine in the Sciences
1884 — prepared (not delivered) for the 16th Annual National Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Washington DC
We must bear in mind the old theologic belief that the earth was flat, the center of the universe, around which all else revolved — that all created things animate and inanimate, were made for man alone — that woman was not part of the original plan of creation but was an after-thought for man’s special use and benefit. So that a science which proves the falsity of any of these theological conceptions aids in the overthrow of all.
The first great battle fought by science for woman was a Geographical one lasting for twelve centuries. But finally, Columbus, sustained and sent on his way by Isabella in 1492, followed by Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe twenty years later, settled the question of the earth’s rotundity and was the first step toward woman’s enfranchisement.
Another great battle was in progress at the same time and the second victory was an Astronomical one. Copernicus was born, the telescope discovered, the earth sank to its subordinate place in the solar system and another battle for woman was won.
Chemistry, long opposed under the name of Alchemy, at last gained a victory, and by its union of diverse atoms began to teach men that nature is a system of nuptials, and that the feminine is everywhere present as an absolute necessity of life.
Geology continued this lesson. It not only taught the immense age of creation, but the motherhood of even the rocks.
Botany was destined for a fierce battle, as when Linnæus declared the sexual nature of plants, he was shunned as having degraded the works of God by a recognition of the feminine in plant life.
Philology owes its rank to Catherine II of Russia, who, in assembling her great congress of deputies from the numerous provinces of her empire, gave the first impetus to this science. Max Müller declares the evidence of language to be irrefragable, and it is the only history we possess prior to historic periods. Through Philology we ascend to the dawn of nations and learn of the domestic, religious and governmental habits of people who left neither monuments nor writing to speak for them. From it we learn the original meaning of our terms, father and mother. Father, says Müller, who is a recognized philological authority, is derived from the root “Pa,” which means to protect, to support, to nourish. Among the earliest Aryans, the word “mater” (mother), from the root “Ma,” signified maker; creation being thus distinctively associated with the feminine. Tylor, in his Primitive Culture, says the husband acknowledged the offspring of his wife as his own as thus only had he a right to claim the title of father.
While Philology has opened a new font of historic knowledge, Biology, the seventh and most important witness, the latest science in opposition to divine authority, is the first to deny the theory of man’s original perfection. Science gained many triumphs, conquered many superstitions, before the world caught a glimpse of the result toward which each step was tending — the enfranchisement of woman.
Through Biology we learn that the first manifestation of life is feminine. The albuminous protoplasm lying in silent darkness on the bottom of the sea, possessing within itself all the phenomena exhibited by the highest forms of life, as sensation, motion, nutrition and reproduction, produces its like, and in all forms of life the capacity for reproduction undeniably stamps the feminine. Not only does science establish the fact that primordial life is feminine, but it also proves that a greater expenditure of vital force is requisite for the production of the feminine than for the masculine.
The experiments of Meehan, Gentry, Treat, Herrick, Wallace, Combe, Wood and many others, show sex to depend upon environment and nutrition. A meager, contracted environment, together with innutritious or scanty food, results in a weakened vitality and the birth of males; a broad, generous environment together with abundant nutrition, in the birth of females. The most perfect plant produces feminine flowers; the best nurtured insect or animal demonstrates the same law. From every summary of vital statistics we gather further proof that more abundant vitality, fewer infantile deaths and greater comparative longevity belong to woman.
It is a recognized fact that quick reaction to a stimulus is proof of superior vitality. In England, where very complete vital statistics have been recorded for many years, it is shown that while the mean duration of man’s life within the last thirty years has increased five per cent. that of woman has increased more than eight per cent. Our own last census (tenth) shows New Hampshire to be the State most favorable for longevity. While one in seventy-four of its inhabitants is eighty years old, among native white men the proportion is but one to eighty, while among native white women, the very great preponderance of one to fifty-eight is shown.
That the vitality of the world is at a depressed standard is proven by the fact that more boys are born than girls, the per cent varying in different countries. Male infants are more often deformed, suffer from abnormal characteristics, and more speedily succumb to infantile diseases than female infants, so that within a few years, notwithstanding the large proportion of male births, the balance of life is upon the feminine side. Many children are born to a rising people, but this biological truth is curiously supplemented by the fact that the proportion of girls born among such people, is always in excess of boys; while in races dying out, the very large proportion of boys’ births over those of girls is equally noticeable.
From these hastily presented scientific facts it is manifest that woman possesses in a higher degree than man that adaptation to the conditions surrounding her which is everywhere accepted as evidence of superior vitality and higher physical rank in life; and when biology becomes more fully understood it will also be universally acknowledged that the primal creative power, like the first manifestation of life, is feminine.
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Illustrated with Copperplate and Ogitigravyre Engravings in Four Volumes, Vol. IV, 1883-1900, “Perfect Equality of Rights for Woman: Civil, Legal and Political,” Ed. Susan. B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, (Indianapolis: The Hollenbeck Press), 1902.