Let Woman Then Arise
January 8, 1856 — Nebraska Territorial Legislature, Omaha NE (also December 7, 1855, at a Methodist church in Council Bluffs, IO)
To most minds the subject of Human Rights presents a dry and forbidding aspect. Our people are so much occupied with the necessary and the practical that they will seldom turn aside to enquire either into the origin of the privileges they enjoy, or the evils under which they suffer.
They submit in quietness to the mandates of superior power, and too often only resort to temporary expedients to remove the abuses which under the best forms of government will sometimes grow up. I trust, notwithstanding this too prevalent leaning of the popular mind, that you will grant me a patient hearing while I present some aspects of this great question for your consideration.
Human rights are based upon the innate character of man and grow out of his wants, his wishes, and his necessities. His life is devoted to the great purpose of satisfying these wants and necessities, and in order to do this in the best manner, it is necessary that he should endeavor to understand fully what they are, and what it is they demand. And it is not the wants of the body only that are to be cared for, but of the mind also; and hence comes the necessity that he should study well the cravings of that immortal part of his nature, which performs such important functions in his being. And in doing this he will find it to be made up of moral and reasoning faculties, which unlike the brute creation, are not content with a simple existence, but yearn for a higher state of being, and a wider field of development. And while all minds are not alike, yet it will be found that they are separated by no impassable wall of partition and that the difference which really does exist between them is no more than a type of that variety which is diffused so universally through all created things and which “maketh one star to differ from another star in glory.”
And if we continue the examination into our inner being so far as to enquire wherein consist the great fundamental wants of man’s nature, we shall find these two leading ideas are common to the whole human family, viz. a desire to live — and a desire to be happy. And out of these desires of the human soul grow these two inalienable rights, viz. a right to existence — and a right to the pursuit of happiness. And hence it follows that any human ordinance which is subversive of either of these rights is contrary to natural justice. The Declaration of Independence mentions liberty as a third particular to be added to this list, but this rather springs from the pursuit of happiness—since without true liberty, no one can be really happy.
These rights do not depend upon any written guarantees for their existence. In the words of the immortal instrument I have just referred to, they are declared to be “inalienable,” and ten years before that instrument was penned the great English commentator Sir William Blackstone wrote as follows:
The rights which God and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. On the contrary, no human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them.
But it may be asked, does not man in becoming a member of society surrender up a portion of these rights for the common benefit of the whole? Certainly not; for in a society or community of men properly constituted, the great purposes of his existence can be more perfectly attained than they could possibly be out of it. Life is more secure, and happiness more certainly attainable. Moreover, man is a social being, and he finds all his wants and necessities best cared for in the companionship of his fellows. “All the laws of a just government,” says Judge Hulburt [probably Elisha Hurlbut, a New York judge], “will merely respond to the wants of humanity. They will emanate from the true wants and moral emotions of the human mind; they will prescribe such limits to human action as man’s nature prescribes for itself; they will deny no qualification which it denies not to itself; they will bear the express image of the human character; and have their foundation in the nature of man.”
With such laws it might, then, as the same writer further remarks, “be truly said that the citizen though loyal would still be free—obedient and yet be independent.”
In using the term man you will of course understand me as using it in its generic sense — embracing as it does both sexes. And this meaning of the term agrees with what we read in Genesis, “And God said, let us make man in our image after our likeness. . . So God created man in his own image — in the image of God created he him — male and female created he them.” Man then, male and female, is entitled to those rights which be inherited with his being. They belong to the race, and neither the man nor the woman has any superiority over the other. Each has the same claim to life and the pursuit of happiness, and any attempt of the one to rob the other of this claim is a violation of the first law of nature.
It has been by disregarding this principle of equality in rights between the two sexes that so great a disparity is suffered to exist between the positions they respectively occupy in modern society.
And it is because this principle has been thus set aside that it becomes necessary now to vindicate the claim of woman to an equality in rights and privileges with her brother. Hence we must use the term Woman’s Rights in discussing this subject — a phrase which in the true order of nature has no existence whatever, any more than its correlative Mans Rights, but we are compelled to use it because her rights have been so much overlooked in the discussion of human rights. Woman’s rights and man’s rights are the same, and in the settlement of any question affecting the rights of man they should be considered as identical.
But it has hitherto generally been otherwise, and therefore in the common acceptation of the term, Human rights has been considered to mean only Mans rights, and writers upon human rights have treated it as though the term was applicable only to one half of the human race. And herein lies our reason for presenting to you the subject of Woman’s rights for your consideration. It is because her claims have been overlooked — her wants and necessities disregarded by the so-called expounders of human rights — that it is necessary and just that her equality in rights and privileges common to the race should be asserted. And who can better do this than woman herself? Who should plead for her enfranchisement if she may not? “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.”
There are several aspects in which this subject may be considered, and in which it may be shown that woman has deeply suffered from the failure to recognize her equal claim to life and the pursuit of happiness….I therefore propose to consider at this time only those which relate to her exclusion from a participation in the enactment of the laws by which she is governed and the consequence of such exclusion, as seen in the unjust provisions of those statutes ostensibly made for her protection. It has already been shown that man is a social being, and that he finds his most perfect development and highest happiness as a member of society. Now every society that has ever existed, or ever will exist, has well-established ordinances by which it is governed, and to which all its members must conform. This is absolutely necessary to its existence; and hence it has ever been found that anarchy, or that state of society wherein all laws have been disregarded, is entirely subversive of human happiness. On the other hand, in that community where the laws are the most wisely framed, and most faithfully observed, there life is the most secure, the peace of families best protected, and the rights of individuals the most respected. But an important question here arises. By whom shall those rules and ordinances by which society is governed be framed? Shall they be made by a single individual, or by the concurring wisdom of each and all? Shall the few govern the many, or shall the common voice of humanity be equally listened to in the formation of those statutes to which its members are equally to conform? Among a people reared up under the influence of despotic principles, and especially among those who, as in monarchial countries, are subjected to the oppressions of uncontrolled power, I can well imagine that the voice of the majority would be silenced, and men would submit uncomplainingly to whatever decrees might emanate from the supreme power in the state. But in countries where representative governments are established, and especially here in republican America, where those who fill the offices and make the laws are but the servants of the people, a different principle is observed, and the laws are at least supposed to emanate from the people. Here, in theory at least, the constitutions and statutes by which society is kept together are but the collective expression of all its members, as made through the forms established for that purpose…. To the laws all must equally submit, and all therefore who have arrived at years of discretion, and who are not disqualified by some act of their own, or by some visitation of Providence — such as crime or insanity — have a right to take part in making those laws.
And wherever any portion of society is denied this right, there is a plain denial of the plainest principles of justice and a subversion of the fundamental doctrines of self-government. I have the same right to be heard in the enactment of the laws as you, my brother; and if you deny that right to me you are not only no good democrat, but you commit an act of unmitigated oppression, for which you have no other excuse than the old plea which oppressors have adduced for ages that “might makes right.” You would revolt against submitting to laws made without your consent by a foreign government, for instance, and yet you compel, in this country of boasted freedom, your sisters to submit to laws which they had no more voice in making than had the men of the revolution in making those which imposed a tax upon stamped paper and tea. It will not do to say that it is out of woman’s sphere to assist in making laws, for if that were so, then it should be also out of her sphere to submit to them.
As an intelligent being she should be required to submit to no law to which, either in person or by her representative, she has not given her consent, and with this immutable principle of right and justice before him, how dare man to impose upon her laws made both without her consent, and in despite of her entreaties? For him to do this is an act of oppression and usurpation for which no apology can possibly be offered . . .
I come next to consider the results which have followed from excluding woman from a voice in making the laws by which she is governed, and the kind of legislation which man has enacted for her protection. I regret that I have not time to enter upon this part of the subject as fully as it deserves, and that I can only indicate some of the leading features of our laws by which woman has been grossly wronged.
I know that the great English commentator I have before mentioned declares it as his opinion that the female sex is a great favorite of the laws of England, but I think you will venture to dissent with me from that opinion when we come to understand more fully what those laws are.
And at the outset let it be remarked that the first result of excluding woman from all share in legislation has been that man has settled the question of supremacy, as between the two sexes, entirely in his own favor. The whole Common Law of England is based upon this assumption, that man is superior to woman, and justly entitled to rule over her perpetually. This decision of his may be wrong or it may be right, but whether it be the one or the other, before the question could be fairly settled, representatives of both sexes should have had a fair chance to be heard, and the arguments of each have been impartially considered. If, after fair argument, it had been shown that woman was in truth the weaker vessel, both in intellect and in person, and for that reason born to be oppressed and trampled upon, why then so let it be. But until there has been such a fair discussion and settlement of the whole question, it is an act of the grossest injustice and oppression for man to assume and exercise that supremacy which the laws and customs now assure to him.
And it is because man has thus settled this question of supremacy in his own favor that woman has been so long and so cruelly oppressed — for had she been looked upon and treated as an equal, he would never have dared, with all his boasted courage, to have treated her as he has.
This then is the first great wrong that has been done to woman, that man has assumed and exercised this supremacy without either consulting her wishes, or deigning to listen to her remonstrances. Woman now asks that this may be re-examined in all its bearings, and before it shall again be settled that she shall be fully and patiently heard upon it.
There is a great disparity in the laws as they affect woman before and after marriage. In the former case, she is entitled to share in many rights and privileges secured to the other sex, of which she is totally deprived after marriage. The right of a “spinster” (by which very polite appellation she is known among lawyers before marriage) to the possession of property is full, and absolute. She may buy, sell, trade, speculate, and dispose of her property at her pleasure. She may even manage her own farm, drive her own horse, command her own ship, if she will, and man has no right to call her conduct in question. Still she cannot vote; her property must be taxed without her consent; and public opinion, which often has the force of law, debars her from entering into a variety of employments for which she is eminently fitted.
But whatever may be her right as a “spinster,” the moment she enters the marriage state she becomes altogether a different being. Henceforth the law takes her under its “protection” and guards her every footstep. It watches over her person and her property—it passes upon every act of her life with the keenest and most scrutinizing vigilance. Verily, marriage is for woman the great event of her life. It converts her who had before been sought after on the bended knee into the veriest slave of the man whom she has promised to obey. It takes her from a life of comparative independence to become the instrument of the law’s injustice, and it is only because man is so much better than the laws he has made that her fate is not always as wretched as the odious provisions of those laws seem to have designed it should be. An English writer, Mr. [Alexander] Walker, declares that, “wives in England are in all respects, as to property, person, and progeny, in condition of slaves,” and an able writer of our own country thus presents the great change wrought in woman’s condition by her union with man in the holy tie of marriage. “She was before,” he says, “his equal — she is now his inferior. She existed before as a distinct moral being, full of rights, and bounden by duties; that existence is now merged in her husband, and in the eye of the law she exists not at all. But from her legal tomb he gains an accession of power, dignity and rights. Her submission exalts the throne of his power; her legal insignificance elevates his dignity; and her lost rights are appropriated to himself.”
This may be called strong language by some, but when we come to examine the provisions of our laws relating to married women, I think no one will be prepared to pronounce it untruthful.
These laws I propose to consider under the threefold aspect of property, person, and offspring.
And at the outset of my remarks on this part of my theme I wish to say that they were prepared with special reference to the Common Law of England, as judicially recognized, and in force in this country, almost without any modification until within a few years. Within the last three or four years, laws have been passed in several of the states making material changes in regard to the property of married women. These changes have been the first fruits of the agitation of the subject of Woman’s Rights, and are yet to be followed, I trust, by others of far greater importance, which will fully emancipate her from the thraldom of ages of unjust legislation.
First, then, in relation to property. You all know that except in a few states where special laws have been passed, such a thing as separate right to the ownership and possession of property in the wife is altogether unknown. When woman enters into marriage, her property vests in her husband, and is henceforth subject to his exclusive control. This results from the general principle of the Common Law, by which the husband and wife are regarded as one person, and her legal existence is suspended during the continuance of the marriage; and therefore in the words of Chancellor [James] Kent, “the general rule is that the husband becomes entitled upon such marriage to all the goods and chattels of the wife, and to the rents and profits of her lands.” Hence it follows that the wife by the Common Law can own nothing, even though she brought thousands to her husband at their marriage. She can neither buy, nor sell, sue or be sued, hold property or convey it away without the consent of her husband. Even her wearing apparel may be taken from her and squandered to minister to the beastly appetites of her lord and master. Many a woman who has brought a fortune to her husband and has been compelled to see this fortune wasted within a few years by his profligacy and intemperate habits, and herself and children reduced to beggary without the means of arresting the ruin that threatens them.
Then again the husband is entitled to all the property which the wife acquires by her labor, services, or skill during her marriage. If her wages are paid to her at the conclusion of her hard day’s work, he may sue for and compel the payment of them over again to himself. Hence, the husband seizes not only whatever property the wife possessed before marriage, but also that which she may earn thereafter. Whatever property may be acquired during marriage, even though it be so acquired wholly by the industry or mental abilities of the wife, belongs solely to the husband; and he may, by will, make such disposition of it as he sees fit — a right which is wholly denied to the former, for the law expressly declares that neither “idiot, lunatics, or married women shall have the power of making wills!” This rule, it may be proper for me to state, has been so far modified in a few states as to allow a woman to dispose, by will, of property which she owned before her marriage. But nowhere to my knowledge has she any right to the control of the property she earns after marriage. It belongs to the husband, and he may appropriate it to himself or will it away at his pleasure. And if the husband does not so dispose of it, the law steps in to do it for him—for it gives the property to his heirs, serving only to the wife a life interest in one third of the real estate, and about an equal proportion in the personal property, should there be any. And when death overtakes the husband or wife, how differently does the law deal with them. If it is the wife that dies, the household remains together; the family domicile continues in the occupancy of the husband; the children remain under his control; the property was all his before, and it is his yet; and in due time he brings into his home a new mistress, and thus all goes on as smoothly as though no event of any importance had occurred. But if the husband dies, how marked the change! Then the law steps in at once to take her, her children, her all, under its control. After allowing her to occupy the family residence for the whole term of forty days, it then turns her out, divides the property, places the children it may be under the guardianship of strangers, and sends her forth into the world heartbroken and sorrowful, with but the smallest pittance to buffet with the stern realities of life. Oh! if this be justice, then tell me, friends, what do you call injustice!
Secondly, the husband by marriage acquires almost absolute control over the person of his wife, so that, to a certain extent, her very existence as an intelligent being is surrendered into his hands. This necessarily grows out of the favorite dogma of the Common Law, and its expounders, that the husband and wife are regarded as one person. Blackstone says, the “very being, or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least incorporated or consolidated into that of her husband, under whose wing, protection, or cover she performs everything, and is therefore called in our law, a femme covert — is said to be a covert baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, baron or lord.”
Chancellor Kent says, ”The husband is the guardian of the wife; the law has given him a reasonable superiority and control over her person, and he may put gentle restraint upon her liberty, and by the old law he might administer moderate chastisement.”. . .
Such is the control which the husband may legally exercise over the person of his wife. That it amounts to little less than the ownership which he exercises over his cattle and his horses, any one can see who examines it for a moment. In the language of Judge Hulburt, the husband,
sits in judgment upon the hourly actions of his wife; arbitrarily determines whether she has performed her duties to her lord; measures the extent of her submission to his will; and whether he be good or bad, just or unjust, calm or raging; whether he loves or hates her he has the power to decide in his own case; and to seize her person, to restrain her of her liberty; to use every act of physical coercion which may not endanger her life or health.
. . . From such brutalities of the law who does not turn away in horror and disgust? Who does not see in them abundant reasons for all that woman is doing and saying in vindication of her rights, and in spreading her wrongs before the community? And will any one pretend that the power thus given by the laws to the husband over the person of his wife is never exercised? Ah! would that it were indeed so! Would that all husbands had too high a sense of justice to permit them to exercise the powers which such august laws give to them. But we know that it is not so. We know that there are cruel, hard-hearted men who rule their households as with a rod of iron. Lucy Stone tells us of an instance that come under her own knowledge in Massachusetts, where a man has imprisoned his wife for three years within his own dwelling, not once allowed her in all that time to go beyond it, locking the door upon her in his absence. That wife, though in the prime of life, has grown old with sorrow and despair, but there is no redress for her wrongs, for the law makes her husband her master. An instance occurred in New York where a wife was prevented by the coercion of her husband from attending the church of which she was a member. She applied to the court for a divorce, on the ground of cruel treatment, but Chancellor Kent solemnly decided that the husband’s conduct was both legal and justifiable and therefore refused her application.
But it is needless to adduce instances of this kind. The law secures to the husband this control over the person of his wife, and so long as there are cruel, hard-hearted, intemperate and vicious husbands, so long will this power continue to be exercised. Again, in one of the western counties of New York, a wife fled from the brutalities of her husband and sought protection with kind friends. Her husband not only compelled her return to his miserable abode, but demanded and, by the operation of a suit at law, compelled those friends to pay him the value of her wages for the time during which she was an inmate of their house. Said the New York Daily Times, “It is a startling fact, not perhaps generally known, but more credible on mature reflection, that of all those minor crimes which are so terrible in their social effects, there is none so prevalent as that of ill treatment of wives by their husbands. If like Don Cleofas [from the satiric novel “El diablo conjuelo, novela de la otra vida,” by Luis Velez de Guevara] we could employ some ingenious demon to unroof each house in the surrounding city in order that we might pierce its domestic secrets, the record of our observations would be an appalling commentary on the brutality of man.” It is with the wife just as it is with the slaves. There are some kind, indulgent masters, but vastly others more that are exacting and oppressive. With husbands I would fain believe that there are many more of the former than the latter, but this does not impair in the least the shameful truth that our laws give to an overbearing, tyrannical unfeeling head of a household, full power to visit upon its members, whether it be wife or children, the full effects of his cruel, heartless, and drunken caprices.
Lastly, our laws secure to the husband exclusive authority not only over his wife’s person, but also over the persons and education of their children. Yes, over the children whom the mother has nursed in infancy, and watched over in advancing youth, she has, in the eye of the law, no more control than a stranger or foreigner.
Poets have sung and orators declaimed of the social virtues of woman — of her quiet meekness, her uncomplaining submission to wrong—and above all of her beneficent influence over the social circle. Indeed there is a class of men who attempt to make up for their denial to woman of some of the clearest rights, by their fulsome laudations of her virtues as a mother and a wife. Home they tell us is her sphere, and that within that circle she exercises an influence more powerful than that of the most potent legislator. For her to step beyond that sphere, they would fain make us believe, is to transgress the laws of her being and trample upon the immutable laws of Omnipotence.
If then home be indeed the sphere of woman, why has man so wholly failed to make her supreme within its limits? If the domestic circle comprise within it the whole sphere of woman, why has she not been made secure in the exercise of her authority over it? If the intellect of woman is to be wholly expended in rearing and educating her offspring, and if it be true, as it is affirmed to be, that her sway over the youthful mind is so potent and enduring, why has her authority over her offspring been so cramped and restricted? And instead of being made only the agent of another, why has she not been made secure in its exercise from the interference and control of the impure and vicious?
So far from her authority over the domestic circle being thus recognized and sustained by the laws of the land, we find that she possesses no legal authority whatever over either, and that whatever control she does exert over either is solely by the sufferance and at the pleasure of her husband. The husband is regarded as the head of the family, and he has power to do with it and manage it as to him shall seem best….
True, the wife is allowed to retain her child under her care during the period of its earliest infancy, for then as the lawyers say it needs a mother’s care, but no sooner does it arrive at an age when it may go abroad amidst temptations and dangers, and when it more than ever needs a mother’s watchful care and guidance, than it may be ruthlessly torn from her and committed to other hands. This is indeed the very refinement of cruelty. More merciful would it be to take the babe from the mother’s breast in its infancy, ere she had time to entwine her affections about it, than to thus leave it with her for a brief period and then tear it away forever.
And this control of the father over his children continues not through life only, but after his death. True, the mother, after the death of the father, is considered the natural guardian of her child, but this natural guardianship may be defeated by the act of the father, and the claims of nature made to give way to the superior authority of man. Accordingly, the father has power to commit the guardianship and control of the children, by his last will, to some person other than his wife.
An instance of this kind was recently made known to me. A father on his death bed was requested to give away two of his three little boys. The mother was consulted but absolutely refused to listen to or consent to such a proposition. She was told that it would be for her advantage to give them up, as she would thus be relieved of the care of providing for their support. But her answer was such as any true mother would have given—she would toil early and late to earn them bread, but she would not part with them. And so she considered the matter settled—and it was not until she returned to her desolate home after having deposited her husband in the grave, that she learned through him who claimed the children, that the husband had been prevailed on by his last will to make over the two little boys to strangers, under the pretence of doing the mother a kindness of relieving her of their support.
And thus was the sorrow-stricken woman rendered at once widowed and almost childless. And she lived to see one of those boys go down to a drunkard’s grave, and the other incarcerated in the walls of a prison; and then the poor broken-hearted mother was borne to her grave by him, the youngest son, who alone had been left to her, and who under her watchful care and guidance had grown up honorable and respected.
And in case, too, of the separation of the husband and wife during their lifetime for adultery or cruelty, or other causes, the law gives the custody of the children to the father in preference to the mother. Hence it happens that the wife will so long continue to cling to a worthless, brutal or profligate husband, for she knows that in separating from him she must give up her children also, unless the court should be so merciful as to award them to her on account of the vices and crimes of the father.
But some who hear me may say that many mothers do, notwithstanding all this, exercise control over the actions of their children as full and ample as that of the father. Ah yes, it is true they do, but how do they do it, and by what authority? Let me give the answer in the language of the lawyers. Blackstone says that a mother, as such, is entitled to no power over her children, but only to reverence and respect. And Reeve says that mothers during marriage have no legal authority over their children, but in the eye of the law so far as they do exercise authority over them they are considered only as the agents of their husbands.
Such my friends are the laws which man in his wisdom has made for the protection of his sister and his wife. I am ashamed, almost, for man’s sake, to stand up here and spread out their provisions in all their odiousness to the public gaze. Ashamed that man should be so unjust to woman—that he should so far smother the dictates of his own conscience, and refuse to listen to the plainest teachings of justice, as to thus reduce woman to a state of complete and slavish dependence upon his own will. He has, as we have seen, confiscated her property, enslaved her person, and robbed her of all control over her offspring. Surely such legislation can be justly designated as little less than barbarous. In truth, it originated in a barbarous age of the world, and the advancing light and civilization of the present century has not been able to remove the dark cloud of error, superstition, and injustice that has so long rested over the life, the hopes, and the happiness of woman.
How then stands the question? By nature, woman has the same right to the exercise of the elective franchise—or in other words, to a voice in the government of the world, as man. But man has denied her that right, and has voted, and for ages, legislated and governed for her. We have seen what is the character of his laws, and how unjust they are to woman in all the relations of wife, mother, and citizen. Thus man, with the whole power to make laws in his own hands, has not only failed to do justice to woman, but has actually robbed, oppressed, and degraded her to the condition of a menial. And this has been done too by the fathers, brothers, husbands and sons of woman — the very persons whom some would have us believe are to make better laws for her than she could possibly make for herself. They have failed to understand her wishes, appreciate her position, or to respect her rights.
I will not say that they have done this purposely, or, as the lawyers say, with malice aforethought. No, that has not been the cause of their failure, but it has been because it is so ordered in the economy of the universe that one human being cannot fully understand all the wants or satisfy all the wishes of another human being. When, therefore, laws are to be made for the whole community, every class in that community must have a voice in their enactment, or injustice will be done to that class which is not represented.
All history, as well as experience, proves the truth of this. To secure, therefore, full and exact justice to woman, she must be heard in making those laws. It is her right to be thus heard, and it is not safe, as we have seen from examining the laws which man has already made, to longer forego its assertion.
Let woman then arise and demand the restoration of her heaven-born right of self-government. Let it no longer be said of her, as it was said of the women of Massachusetts, that they do not desire to be free, but let her voice go up to our legislators—let it be heard among the people everywhere, claiming the recognition of this inalienable right, of such inestimable value to her, and formidable to tyrants only.
The enfranchisement of woman will be attended with the happiest results, not for her only, but for the whole race. It will place society upon a higher moral and social elevation than it has ever yet attained. Hitherto, the variously devised schemes for the amelioration of the world have been designed mainly for the benefit of man. For him colleges have been established, and universities endowed. For his advancement in science and the arts, professorships have been founded, and lecture rooms opened. And above all, for securing to him the widest field for the full display of his abilities, republican institutions have been proclaimed and sustained at a vast sacrifice of toil, of bloodshed and civil commotion.
Although the doctrine of innate equality of the race has been proclaimed, yet so far as woman is concerned it has been a standing falsehood. We now ask that this principle may be applied practically in her case also; we ask that the colleges and universities, the professorships and lecture rooms shall be opened to her. This done we ask for her admission to the ballot box, for then she will be qualified for the discharge of its solemn responsibilities.
We demand also for woman a wider field of employment, and a better remuneration for her labor, that she may have the opportunity for the development alike of her moral, intellectual and physical being, and for securing to herself the means of an honorable independence.
And when woman shall be thus recognized as an equal partner with man in the universe of God — equal in rights and duties — then for the first time will she in truth become what her Creator designed she should be, a helpmeet for man.
With her mind and body fully developed, imbued with a full sense of her responsibilities and living in the conscientious discharge of each and all of them, she will be fitted to share with man in all the duties of life, to aid and counsel him in his hours of trial, and rejoice with him in the triumph of every good word and work in which he may be engaged. And with woman thus educated, thus employed, thus developed, think you, my brothers, she would be any the less fitted for your companionship — any the less prepared to assume and faithfully discharge the duties of wife and mother?
Ah! no. Indulge no such fears, but rather rejoice with her that the day approaches when she is to be emancipated from the thraldom of ages, and stand forth in all the native dignity, purity, and excellence of her being.
When that day comes, she will be more truly woman, a more faithful wife, and a more devoted mother than now. In each and all of these relations she will far more faithfully, nobly and truly discharge her duties as an intelligent, immortal being.
So far from becoming “depraved in her sensibilities and impulses” as some have fears that she will, and thus lead to the degeneration of both sexes, she will by the “benignance of her modest and virtuous example,” improved, cultivated, and expanded as it will be by the wider opportunities which she will enjoy, elevate man himself in the scale of his being; point out to him a higher and nobler destiny; and prepare the way for the coming of that happy and glorious day when peace and happiness, liberty and virtue shall universally prevail, and when, in the words of inspiration, we shall be no longer bond or free, male or female, but all one in the discharge of the duties of this life and the higher and more exalted duties of Heaven.
Copyright 2019. Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, NY. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Source: Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, ed. Anne C. Coon (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press), 1994.