Social Purity —
Its Relation to the Dependent Classes
c. October 14-16, 1895 — The National Purity Congress, Park Avenue Friends’ Meeting House, Baltimore MD
Friends, I need not tell you that I belong to a race which more than thirty years ago stood on the threshold of a new era. A homeless race to be gathered into homes, a legally unmarried race to be taught the sacredness of the marriage relation, and learn to plant around their firesides their strongest batteries against the sins that degrade and the vices that demoralize. It has been said that “The precious things of life lie all around our feet, It is the distant and the dim that we are sick to greet.”
And I hold that no woman loves social purity as it deserves to be loved if she only cares for the purity of her daughters and not her sons; for the purity of the young girl sheltered in the warm clasp of her arms, and not for the servant girl beneath the shadow of her home.
In your homes to-day are women in whose arms your babes are nestling, who are holding up their baby footsteps on your pavements, and who are leaving the impress of their hands upon your children during the impressible and formative period of their young lives; and when the degradation of one class is a menace to the peace and welfare of the other, no mistress of a home should be morally indifferent to the safety of any inmate beneath her roof, however humble her position may be. As crime has neither sex nor color, so its prevention and remedies should not be hampered by either race or sex limitations. Sometime since in one of the slums of our city I found a woman who had drifted downward. I went to a midnight Mission and asked if a colored girl could be admitted, and was answered “no;” and yet I do not think there was a Charity in our city that talked more religion in its advertisement than this one. At another time I went to that same Mission with a degraded white girl whom I had found with one or more colored persons; for her the door was opened and a ready admittance given. Black and white could sin together, but they could not be rescued in that home together. It was as if two women were caught in the quicksands, and the deadly sands were creeping up to their lips, while other women stood on the shore with lifelines in their hands; to one they threw out their ropes of deliverance, but for the other there was not one strand of salvation. In rescuing the perishing we need a religion which is a living power, and not a spent force.
A religion clear sighted enough to look beneath the darkened skin and see the human soul all written over with the handmarks of Divinity and the common claims of humanity, which recognizes in every one who steps on the threshold of life, the child of the King. While in these days of religious unrest, criticism and investigation some are ready to relegate the story of the Annunciation to the limbo of myth and fiction, but there is a lesson in the story which could not be received aright into the world’s great heart without making life higher, better and more grandly significant. Has not every prospective mother a right to ask for the overshadowing of the same Spirit, and has not that Spirit been promised as freely as we give good gifts to our children; and what is the use of believing in one incarnation if we do not believe that the same Spirit may be inborn into every soul that is open to receive it? Had all the mothers of the present generation, when a new life was throbbing beneath their hearts, sought and dwelt beneath the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, would it have been possible for slavery to have crushed us with its crimes, or intemperance degraded us by its vices?
Would the social evil still have power to send to our streets women whose laughter is sadder than their tears, and over whose wasted lives death draws the curtain of the grave and silently hides their sin and shame? Oh, Christian women of America, God commits into your hands great privileges and glorious opportunities. It is for you to instruct the ignorant, warn the wayward and guide the inexperienced. To write upon the hearts of those who live within the range of your influence thoughts that you will not blush to see read in the light of eternity and printed amid the archives of heaven, that the young may throw them as bulwarks around their lives and bind them as amulets around their hearts, that when they tread amid the snares and dangers of life the voices from home may linger around their hearts like angels of guidance around their steps. What mother would permit her child to enter any section of a city where the diphtheria or cholera might be raging?
But are there not immoral conditions in all our large cities “worse than fever, plague, and palsy and madness all combined,” and yet are there not many mothers who fail to warn their children against the danger of gathering the flowers of sin that blossom around the borders of hell, and of impressing upon them the intrinsic value and true nobility of a life which shall be a moral and spiritual force, a life hid with Christ in God amid the sin, the sorrows and disorders of earth?
Source: The National Purity Congress, Its Papers, Addresses, Portraits: An Illustrated Record of the Papers and Addresses of the First National Purity Congress, Held Under the Auspices of the American Purity Alliance, in the Park Avenue Friends’ Meeting House, Baltimore, October 14 15 and 16, 1895, ed. Aaron M. Powell (New York: The American Purity Alliance), 1896, pp. 328-330.