The Awful Slavery
of Women in Modern Times
May 20, 1870 — Wigan, England
I had just returned from abroad when I heard that these Acts had been passed, and it was some time before I could believe it. When at last convinced that our country was to be thus degraded and made like most of the Continental countries, it seemed as if a thunderclap had broken on my head. I was filled with the deepest agony of soul. For nights I could not sleep; my pillow was literally wet with my tears. I thought if this was to be the case God has indeed forsaken our country. The pain which it has given me to stand up and speak, as I am now compelled to do, is nothing to the anguish I endured when I found that vice was acknowledged as a necessity, and license to sin had obtained the sanction of law. I am the mother of a family of sons growing up into life, and, rather than that they should live to grow up under the foul influences which such laws engender, I would see them die in their purity and innocence. . . .
Such, my friends, is the history and character of the awful slavery of women in modern times. It is a slavery and a slave trade as hideous as that which England so nobly contributed to put an end to in America and Africa. Shall the same country which paid its millions for the abolition of negro slavery now pay its millions for the establishment of white slavery within its own bosom? the country of Wilberforce and Clarkson, and the noble heroes of the anti-slavery cause, now endure to see women degraded as the negro women in the plantations of Carolina? My friends, it is not England that has done this thing, it is not my country which has established this shameful, impious, and oppressive law in our midst. That it is not England which has done it, is proved by the strong, steady, holy, indignation which has burst from the heart of the people, by that distant murmur which we hear of rising wrath coming nearer and louder every day. No, the conscience of England is not dead — her heart is not stone. I thank God still that England is my country, and the land of the free, not the slave. The people had no voice in making this law, which has been now established for several years in some of our towns. It was secretly made, and has been secretly administered, by persons who seem to have lost the power to discern good and evil; and yet, these persons seem to have had doubts as to what they were doing. In the year 1866, one of them, Mr. Acton, spoke the following words before the Harveian Society of London privately — he did not intend them to be heard by all England — but England must hear such words now, for this man, and others with him, planned and studied (though, of course, with the best motives, as we are told) to enslave women, to deprive them of civil rights and of sacred rights over their persons, which at all times have been granted to women as God’s inalienable gift. His words were these: “What I should advise is that we should not go too fast. If any little mistake were to be made, there is no doubt that the Puritan party would raise such an outcry, that probably the practice would have to be given up.” After citing horrors which occur in Paris, he added, “such a thing occurring in London could not fail to excite the zeal of that portion of the religious party who are at present sulkily acquiescent, but may be easily roused if we are not careful.” They have imagined a narrow, fanatical clique, a set of poor, religious, fools, who would oppose their beloved system. Sir Henry Storks said before the Parliamentary Committee that the hypocrisy which objected to this system must soon come to an end. Ah! it is easy for men so blind, so materialistic, so accustomed to look on men and women as mere tools, to think that the obstacles imposed by a poor little puritanical party will be soon beaten down; but they are beginning now to learn another lesson, the force of the nation’s conscience, the purity of the nation’s heart. It is no one religious party which has risen up in condemnation of their impure devices, but all religious parties combined, all men and women who have any belief in God, and in the rights and dignity of human nature. Puritan party indeed! the puritan party, it seems, numbers, by tens of thousands, nay, by millions from among the middle classes in every town and village, to raise their protest against this law; from, trades unions and guilds, and municipalities, and schools and colleges, as well as from the homes and firesides; — an army of puritans, Mr. Acton, as strong in moral strength as ever were Cromwell’s Ironsides, and with a species of gunpowder at command, which will, if needful, bring any Government to an end, which, in spite of the protests of the people, shall continue, and defend, this unprincipled and oppressive law.
Source: Shield, 13 June 1870, pp. 124-125.