Her Proper Sphere
May 14, 1853 — Whole World Temperance Convention, Broadway Tabernacle, New York City
GENTLEMEN AND LADIES — The question has been asked, within a few days past, “What have the efforts of the New-York State Temperance Society for the past two years amounted to? What has this Society done?” I answer: First, it has maintained an active position for more than a year. Secondly, it has done what it could. I speak most truthfully when I say that the New-York State Temperance Society has done what it could to ameliorate the evils growing out of the Liquor Traffic. And who shall say that we have not done well? If we have done what we could, what more could we have done? Let it be remembered that we are to-night thrown on the defensive. We do not wish to praise ourselves, or laud our own doings: we rather wish our works to tell what we are doing. But I may be pardoned for making a few plain statements. Our Society has sustained in the field during the last year four active agents. It has enrolled in its membership about 2,000, and has raised about $2,000. It has published and distributed 50,000 pages of Temperance Tracts; and it has carried, by my hands, during the last winter, into the State Legislature, a petition signed by 28,000 women, and obtained, in all, 100,000 signatures. Unwomanly as it may have been, we have, nevertheless, influenced the result of the election. Not that we have been to the polls ourselves, but we have used our influence upon those who are not thus restricted in their franchise. Allow me for a moment to direct your thoughts to the position of the Temperance Reform in the past. Only one-third of a century has passed since this reformation originated. And what has been the result? Where are we to-day? A glorious advancement has been made — an advancement which is an honor to those who have labored so faithfully in the cause. But does nothing remain to be done to-day? The condition of your great metropolis is a sufficient answer. During the past year, if I am rightly informed, New-York has had its 8,000 grog-shops; and these have been sending forth their blighting influences around you. Now, let me ask, why is it that we find the Temperance Reform to-day no further advanced? Why was it that the State Legislature last winter would not give us the Maine Law? Is it because Woman has walked to the polls, and cast her influence in favor of the Liquor Traffic? Is this the reason? No, certainly not. Woman has been shut out from every active reformatory measure. The moment she has proposed to act effectively, by laboring for the removal of the cause rather than contending with its effects, it has been discovered that she was “out of her proper sphere.” I firmly believe, that the future will amply demonstrate this, and that a capital mistake has been made. The feminine element must be actively infused into this reform. It is not sufficient that it be passive — it must act as leaven upon the mass; Woman’s energy, her depth of sensibility, her fortitude and strength of purpose, her incentive to action, her efficiency in action, and her capacity in the execution of plans, when once the Woman is roused, greatly need to be brought into active service. Men have folded their arms in the utmost unconcern as to Woman’s sufferings from the liquor traffic for three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, and on the three hundred and sixty fifth with all the pride and pomp of conscious importance and chivalrous bearing he has walked to the ballot box, and given that support, without which the productive cause of all this suffering would cease to exist. And cannot my lord Sir Knight, allow to woman to labor as freely and as publicly, for the suppression of the traffic, as in durance of his pleasure she has suffered from it; and not by your toleration, for it is her right? It makes the blood chill in my veins when I hear men, whose philanthropy is as cold as their spirituality is frigid, talk about woman’s being out of her proper sphere, when she pleads for competent protection for her sex, from the destroying power of the Liquor Traffic. Has it ever occurred to them that the wives of the 30,000 drunkards who annually go into their graves, are out of their proper sphere? Has it ever occurred to them that the thousands of women of intelligence and refinement, once the idols of doting parents, now suffer at the hand of brutal violence, a living death, are out of their proper sphere? Has it very occurred to them that the thousands of women of delicate sensibilities and cultivated mind, in intimate companionship with vile, profane and obscure sots, are out of woman’s proper sphere? Have they ever discovered any impropriety in woman’s occupying such a position? Have they ever discovered any indelicacy in such a position? No; they have never dreamed of it. That is a phase of the question to which their short-sighted vision, blurred by prejudice and selfishness, has never attained. They are quite oblivious as to the fact of these thousands being out of their proper sphere; but where ten or a dozen women, out of seven hundred thousand in our State, appear upon the rostrum of the lecturer to vindicate the right of the seven hundred thousand women to the protection of their most sacred interests, which exist upon earth, they are shocked at the impropriety of the movement. They call Woman weak, and talk gravely of her need of protection, of the delicacies of her nature, of the peculiar sphere of Woman, of the indelicacy of her occupying a public position. Is there anything corrupt or degrading in action, in character, or in language which such associations with the vile does not reveal to women? Who, in God’s name is more intimately associated with all that is vile, corrupting and debasing in intemperance, than the drunkard’s wife? The niggardly meanness of this spirit might rouse indignation, if contempt were not the proper emotion. Poor, weak Woman! She has always been weak. She has always need of being looked after and protected. Has it not been so from the beginning? Did she not first yield to temptation? Was she not first in the transgression? Ah! yes!
Eve could conquer old Adam — poor elf!
But to conquer the woman, took Satan himself!”
The arguments advanced to silence Woman’s voice on this subject are, perhaps, quite as strongly supported by the Holy Scriptures as those drawn from the same source to sustain the orthodox of that climax of abominations, American Slavery, and the Divine right of kings!
But, my friends, I promised at the commencement to detain you but a few moments, I purpose to detain you no longer.
Source: New-York Daily Tribune, May 16, 1853, p. 6