Indeed It Was So Novel
[The first page is missing in Bloomer’s manuscript.]
. . . From that time on, with varying success, the cause has gone forward. Like all other progressive movements, it has from the first met with ridicule and opposition. Every conceivable objection has been brought forward against its claims — objections which if raised in a case against the enfranchisement of men would have been deemed weak and silly in the extreme. Its leaders have been misunderstood, misrepresented, belied and opposed. And yet this despised movement for the elevation and emancipation of the mothers of the nation has found friends and advocates among the learned, the intelligent, the rich and the noble of the land, who see that it is founded upon the eternal principles of right and justice, which must in the end prevail. And because it is so founded, neither opposition, reproach or ridicule have been able to stay it, but rather have swelled the ranks of its friends and compelled its recognition and consideration by men sitting in the high places of power and authority.
When the agitation of the woman question first commenced in this country, the laws were all against woman. The married woman had almost no rights at all that the world cared to respect. The old Common Law of England, which merged her very existence, in a legal point of view, in that of her husband, was then in full force and operation in nearly, or quite, every state in the Union. As to rights of property, she had almost none at all. Her personal estate, upon her marriage, at once, and by that very act, became the property of her husband; and he was also entitled to demand the rents and profits of her real estate, and could spend them all as he saw fit, whether in food and clothing for the family, or in whisky and tobacco and cards for his own personal gratification. I well remember the flutter of excitement caused by the introduction, some years ago, of a bill into the New York Legislature, giving the married woman the right to her own property — to property earned by herself before marriage, or that came to her by gift from her father, or other friend. It was an unheard of thing, and men talked and acted as though the passage of such a bill would lead to a general disruption of the marriage and produce all manner of strife and contention between husband and wife. They would not submit to such a law they said — they would have no divided interests in their families — they would not live with a wife who carried a separate purse — and all that sort of thing. The very idea of a wife having property that the husband could not control, and spend as he pleased, was perfectly shocking, and all manner of ills were to come with the change. There must be but one purse, and that always in the pocket of the husband, and when the wife wanted money she must go like a dependent — like a beggar — to him for what was really her own; and he could dole out to her [as] much or little as he pleased. The law passed but the terrible consequences predicted did not result from it. The married woman could make no contract. She could not be the guardian of her own children, and so far as any legal rights were concerned, she was little more than a servant in her husband’s house. Her person belonged to him, and he might administer personal chastisement. He could compel her to go where he pleased, whether willing or not, and if she left him and sought the protection of friends, he could compel her to return. If she refused to go he could take her by force. Her earnings belonged to him, and if paid to her, he might sue for and collect them over again; her children belonged to him, and he might take them from her at his pleasure, and give them away during his lifetime to others, or will them at his death and the law would sustain him. Such were some of the rights of married women twenty-five years ago — and such unhappily they are still in some of the states of this union.
Woman’s employments were restricted to the narrowest limits. Public opinion, which had the force of law, would not permit her to occupy any position of trust or responsibility beyond that of teacher in the lowest grade of our public schools, for which her salary was generally a mere pittance. She could sew, wash, iron and do housework generally, but when she went beyond these limits she went out of her sphere, and brought scandal upon herself. A few women, it is true, by the productions of their pens raised themselves above the great level of mediocrity, to which the whole sex seemed consigned, but these were set down as “blue stockings,” and rather to be shunned than courted, or even treated with due respect.
As for women speaking in public — except as actresses on the stage, the thing had never been thought of, and the first women who dared transcend the rule of exclusion were looked upon as curiosities of the rarest description, and attracted as much attention as Tom Thumb, or a cage of Barnum’s monkeys. Two propositions were made to me at that early day, by highly respectable parties in Boston and New York, to go over the country as a lecturer, with the assurance that a fortune awaited me if I would but go out and take it. The inducement was not sufficient to take me so far out of my sphere, or give me confidence to brave unpleasant criticism to that extent; and so the fortune escaped me.
Indeed it was so novel, and so improper a thing at that time for a woman to speak in public, even on temperance, that the authorities and the owners of halls, fearing some sort of disturbance, as in the early anti-slavery agitation, stationed policemen about the halls whenever a woman was to speak, to preserve order. But crowds flocked to bear what the women had to say, and while on the one hand many were ready to admit the justice of their claims, and their right to be heard, on the other they were met by decided opposition and regarded as monstrosities who had in some way escaped from their sphere and needed to be remanded back to the narrow limits from whence they came. An instance or two which came under my observation will serve to show the spirit of conservatism as late as 1852 and 1853, on the subject of woman speaking in public. At that day temperance was very popular, and temperance organizations and temperance (men) speakers abounded. Women being interested in the question had become active workers in organizations of their own, though never having any part in those of men, except to sit as silent listeners of man’s eloquence, and contributing their money when called upon.
There existed in New York a State Temperance Society, which employed agents to go up and down yearly through the state, giving temperance lectures, and soliciting memberships to the society, at one dollar per head. Men and women were alike asked for their dollars, and they alike contributed them, asking no questions. The officers and leaders in this society were many of them clergymen, and all of the old conservative school. Though opposed generally to the secret societies springing up at that day, yet the Sons of Temperance, Good Templars, and kindred societies, had become so strong and powerful, they were compelled to recognize and fellowship them. And so in a call for a State Temperance Convention, to be held in Syracuse in July 1852, the State Society invited all temperance societies of whatever name, to send delegates.
Acting upon this call, the Daughters of Temperance and the Woman’s State Temperance Society, in common with all others, appointed delegates to the meeting, and among those so delegated were several women who attended the convention in that capacity. But when it became known on the morning of the convention that such women were present, the officers of the society took the alarm, and to prevent any recognition of these women delegates they determined that credentials should not be called for at all, even from men, intending thus to exclude the women from any recognition or participation in the meeting.
But alas, for their hopes, their plan did not carry as they intended. Though no woman had any part in the proceedings, yet one woman was the cause of stirring up a terrible commotion. Burning with temperance zeal, and having a request [The word “favor” is penciled in above “request.”] to make to the State Society, she [Susan B. Anthony] arose in her place and addressed the chair. But she got no farther than “Mr. President,” when she was called to order by the Reverend [Philemon Halsted] Fowler of Utica, who was quickly on his feet, and who denied her right to speak in that meeting. That brought other men to their feet who claimed that the woman should be heard. And then followed a scene that baffles description. Several talked at once; some insisting that she had a right to speak, that the call invited her there and she came duly authorized, that she was a grand worker in the temperance cause, that she was a member of that society and her rights under the constitution were the same as men, etc. while others as stoutly denied her right, talked of woman’s sphere, quoted St. Paul to her, [Bloomer changed this from “threw St. Paul at her.”] and insisted that she should not speak on that floor.
And so the quarrel went on. All talked at once, and such a Babel of sounds, and confusion of tongues, I think were never before heard. The president could not control the meeting, and several times left the chair in anger and disgust. Almost the entire day was consumed in this disgraceful proceeding, to the entire exclusion of the subject that had called them together. Finally the question of woman’s right to speak in meetings of that society was left for decision with the chair. The chair decided that though the letter of the constitution would admit women to all the rights and privileges of any member, he thought the spirit of it would not, inasmuch as at the time the society was organized, such a thing as a woman speaking, and voting, was not thought of; therefore, he decided against the women.
Here the clamor commenced again. The friends of woman would not yield, and they appealed from the decision of the chair to the convention. At last, after another lengthy quarrel, the question was submitted to the convention, and the chair was sustained by two votes — every man present voting, whether he was a delegate or not. Numbers of women arose when a standing vote was called for, but they were passed by and not counted, their right to vote being denied, although they had made themselves members of the society by the payment of their dollars.
And thus ended the most disgraceful scene it had ever been my fortune to witness. And it was all carried on by men — no women saying a word. I am sorry to say the thing was started, and carried on throughout, on the part of the opposition, mainly by Reverend Doctors of Divinity occupying high position, who manifested more of the spirit of Satan than of Him whose disciples they professed to be.
They could only be characterized, as they were by many, as reverend rowdies, outdoing in venom and vulgarity the low politician and barroom orator.
They hoped by their action to silence women, and, as they said, “crush out the rising movement.” But the result was quite the contrary. An impetus was given it by their action that it could not otherwise have attained. During the discussion, or powwow, arrangements had been quietly made by some liberal-minded men, who were ashamed and outraged by the proceedings, for a meeting at the Baptist Church in the evening, and immediately on adjournment notice of this meeting was given, and two of the women delegates announced as speakers. This meeting was held, and the church crowded to its utmost capacity, while the old fogies who had attempted to crush out the woman movement, were left by themselves in peace at the hall without an audience.
Another instance of like character occurred at the World’s Temperance Convention in New York City. Here again all temperance organizations, of whatever name, throughout the world, were requested to send delegates. The Good Templars among others responded by sending many of the sisters as well as brothers of the Order to this great gathering of the world’s temperance hosts. The credentials of these women were received, and all for a time went smooth and fair. But unluckily, in the course of the deliberations, a lady delegate from Rochester [the Reverend Antoinette Brown] rose from her seat and addressed the chair. The president, Neal Dow, author of the Maine Law, invited her to the platform. Meeting her as she came there he enquired her name, then politely led her forward and introduced her to the immense audience. But alas, he knew not what a bombshell he had thrown into the camp. She had scarcely given utterance to a word before she was called to order, and her right to speak denied. This was the signal for a general outbreak, and a repetition of the Syracuse quarrel and powwow — intensified if possible — was enacted. A score of men all over the hall talking at the same time, each insisting on his right to the floor, each demanding his right to be heard. Some favored the woman, insisted upon her rights under the call, and thought the treatment of her shameful; others denounced her and denied her right, talked of her sphere, and quoted the Bible and St. Paul to demolish her. For a time the woman stood and faced the crowd — Neal Dow standing beside her. When there came a lull in the storm, she would essay to speak, but was quickly silenced again by being called to order, and by the noise and confusion that followed which entirely drowned her voice. After several vain attempts to say the few words she wished to say for temperance, she turned and took a seat, and then the excitement quieted down, though the ill feeling engendered rankled long.
Here again the ringleaders in this disgraceful riot bore the title of reverend — the most noisy and offensive of them all being the Reverend John Chambers of Pennsylvania. The woman he so insulted was a highly-educated, refined Christian lady, on whose words of eloquence many an audience afterwards hung enraptured.
The action of leading temperance men in regard to women taking part in their meetings resulted in the calling of another convention, styled “The Whole World’s Temperance Convention,” thinking under such a call women could be let in. And so they were. The convention was held in the same city, and same hall, and the immense audience was ably addressed by both men and women.
Such results ever attended the early attempts to crush out the woman’s movement. Let those who think we have gained little or nothing compare that day with this, and they will see that the world moves, and that men and women move with it. Then we only attempted to be heard on the subject of temperance, and had not yet, to any extent, demanded suffrage. Now we may talk not only on temperance but on anything we please, and are not only permitted but cordially invited to do so. And we have clergymen for listeners, too, and they dare not, even if they would, attempt to silence us. The difference between then and now is truly amazing.
Instead of such treatment leading us to yield up any rights, it awakened us more fully to a sense of our wrongs, showed us of how much we were deprived, and led us to demand with greater earnestness than before the full recognition of woman as a citizen, entitled to all a citizen’s rights.
Before the agitation of the woman question it was thought highly improper for a young lady, or school girl, to take any part in the speaking at a school exhibition, or even to read her own composition. Usually the compositions were read by the male teacher, or by some clergyman selected for the purpose. Or if read by the girl herself, it was done in a low, trembling monotonous tone, with the head hung down over the paper, and never lifted. The audience were never any the wiser for her composition, as no word she uttered ever reached their ears. The boys could declaim and interest the hearer, while doing credit to themselves, but for the girls to face an audience and speak up with a loud, clear voice would have been considered indelicate and improper in the extreme, and no girl dared, or was allowed, to venture upon such a thing.
School exhibitions, concerts, cantatas, tableaux, debating societies and like performances, which have since come into vogue and in which our little misses and those of larger growth figure so largely on the platform, were unknown in that day altogether, and the thought of them would have caused serious propriety — spasms to the fathers and mothers of a past generation.
But all these things have been, and are, preparing the coming women for the parts they are to play in life’s drama, and for the new duties which may await them in the future. Had the tendency of these exhibitions been foreseen by old fogyism, great efforts would undoubtedly have been made to prevent this putting forward of the girls and giving them such educational facilities as they now enjoy. Such efforts would have been made in vain, for woman’s mission leads her forward into the world’s work, and none but the Almighty arm can stay her, or fix a limit to her steps.
Twenty-five years ago the married woman had no civil rights. She could not bring a suit in the courts in her own name — and the idea of any woman, whether married or single, appearing in the courts as an advocate, would have horrified all the judges and lawyers in the land. It was denied even that she was a citizen, or that she had any status at all under the Constitution, more than had the minor, the idiot and the slave. . . .
Public opinion, too, was then altogether on the side of those who held that the position occupied by woman was the right one for her, and that it should endure for all time, without change. It was argued that the laws alike of God and man were against the new claims of equal rights set up by the advocates of woman’s enfranchisement. St. Paul and the Bible, as well as Blackstone and the Common Law, were quoted over and over again to sustain the fortifications of wrong and injustice by which woman had been completely surrounded. Hence all who essayed to break the chains were assailed with bitter calumnies. They were denounced as “agitators,” as “strong-minded,” and “discontented bodies,” as “mannish,” as “infidels” and “heretics.” I sometimes wonder that they were not all made infidels, by the arrogance and uncharitableness of those who claimed to be orthodox. But they had faith in their movement — believed it to be of God, and that in His own good time it would triumph, and so they could pity their opposers and pray then, as now, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” while they pursued the even tenor of their way, undeterred by threats, or frowns, or ridicule.
But little more than a quarter of a century has passed, and lo! How wonderful the change. The little handful has increased to a mighty host, and numbers in its ranks many of the best intellects of the age. None are too high to do honor to the despised cause, and its ranks are swelled by men and women from every condition in life. Woman may now securely hold up her head and justly claim a place among the favored lords of creation. Her sphere of labor has been greatly enlarged, and there is hardly any honest employment from which she is now excluded. She may not only teach in the primary schools but also in the higher departments, and is not infrequently placed at the head of some of our most important institutions of learning, and is even elected superintendent of public instruction. And in all this her remuneration is increased ten, twenty, fifty, a hundredfold over the wages she received as teacher twenty-five years ago.
She enters our public offices and discharges their duties with ability and fidelity. She is seen behind the merchant’s counter and presiding over his ledger. She is often the proprietor of extensive business undertakings and is found capable of managing the most intricate affairs. She sets type, prints newspapers, and edits them too, and the productions of her pen are sought after with avidity by press and people, and have added vastly to the wealth of the current literature of the age. She is seen in the pulpit and on the rostrum, and her appearance in these positions, while it excites the harmless frowns of old fogyism, is really hailed by the most intelligent classes in the community as a harbinger of good to humanity. Even the political arena is open to her, and politicians have been glad to do her honor, and to avail themselves of her eloquence and powers of persuasion in securing the triumph of their favorite measures and candidates.
Institutions of learning, which before this agitation commenced were closed against the daughters of the country, have slowly but surely opened their doors for their admission, and everywhere facilities are afforded for their education which were not thought necessary or desirable twenty-five years ago. Law and medical schools are found in more than one state ready to receive them to their halls, and their lectures; and several medical colleges, for their especial benefit, have been established. Young women compete with young men for excellence in literature and in the learning peculiar to their professions. Many women are engaged as medical practitioners, and some have secured a large practice and laid up money thereby. Not a few have been set apart as ministers of the gospel, while here and there we hear of one who has ventured to intrude within the charmed circle of the bar.
A great change has taken place in the laws, as well as in public sentiment, relating to woman. In most of the states the laws have been greatly modified, and the absurd provisions against the property rights of married women almost totally repealed. In New York, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and many other states, married women may now hold property separate and apart from their husbands, may engage in business in their own names, may collect their own earnings, may sue and be sued in their own names, and may make their own wills, and have a voice in the disposition of their own children.
By the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution woman has become a citizen, and therefore entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizenship. The slavery of the Negro has passed away, and by the same provision the way has been prepared for the complete enfranchisement of woman. Many believe, and this opinion is held by many eminent jurists, that by the peculiar language of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, she is now justly entitled to the elective franchise; but others hold to the opinion that this last, and greatest, boon, which when secured will bring with it all other needed reforms, can only be secured by an additional amendment to our national or state constitutions.
All these beneficent reforms and improvements in the condition of woman, in the eye of the law and in the public sentiment of the country, have been brought about by the earnest, persistent, and consistent efforts of the early champions of the cause. Notwithstanding the abuse and misrepresentation that have been so freely heaped upon them, they have gone steadily forward in the work they then so feebly undertook; and if complete success has not yet crowned their efforts, as it certainly has not, yet they have achieved victories over the combined forces of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, of which the most sanguine reformers might well be proud. And what they have already achieved is but an earnest of greater triumphs yet to be attained, and which are destined to place woman in the possession of all those rights and immunities to which she is entitled by the great law of her creation, as the equal governor of the universe.
In some respects our triumphs may be regarded as local, and it may be transitory. We would make them permanent and universal. We desire to make the liberal code of Iowa and New York, in reference to the property rights of woman, the law of every state in the Union. We are not content that the universities at Ithaca, Ann Arbor and Iowa City should open their doors to the equal admission of both sexes to the advantages of collegiate education, but we would have the same generous policy control all the colleges and universities in the country. The doors of Harvard, Yale, and Union, in this country, and of Oxford and Cambridge, in England, should be also open to woman and the contest will not be ended until this is accomplished. Everywhere, and in every form, the just claims of woman to equal educational privileges must be ultimately acknowledged. And not only this, but we claim that she shall nowhere be debarred from any form of industry or any sphere of labor for which she has capacity, and when she accomplishes as much by her day’s work as a man does by his, that she shall be paid the same price.
This work of agitation will be continued until all the professions are open to the admission of woman upon terms of entire equality with her brother. Though opposed now, I believe the day will come when she will be not only permitted, but invited, to teach the truths of the gospel of the Son of God, to men and women, from the sacred desk, as she now does to boys and girls in the Sunday School and Bible class.
She can plead eloquently in behalf of justice and right, and should be heard on the forum, and at the bar, whenever and wherever her heart may prompt her to plead for the wronged, the defenseless and the oppressed. She is faithful and successful in the care of the sick, and should be endowed with all the knowledge that medical skill can impart that she may be enabled the more intelligently to discharge her duties at the bedside of the suffering.
But with all these things gained we ask for one thing more, which we deem of the greatest importance of all, and without which all else is little worth, and is liable at any time to be taken away. We claim our right to the ballot, or in other words, the right to a voice direct, clear, and potential in the laws by which we are governed. We are citizens of the United States; we are entitled to be governed by just laws, and we should have something to say about those laws. We are taxed for the support of the government and to carry on improvements, and should therefore be heard in the imposition of taxes. We have children, and should have the right to protect them from the wiles of the drunkard-maker, the gambler, and every other agent of the great destroyer.
We love our country and desire to promote its welfare and prosperity. When that country suffers, we suffer. We feel keenly the horrors of war, and we ardently desire to aid in so shaping and guiding legislation that war, with all its attendant train of evils, may be forever banished from the earth. Woman is crushed to the earth by the demon of intemperance and suffers all the accumulated sorrows that it is possible for the rum-power to inflict and she demands the right to be heard on this matter, that she may if possible rescue her loved ones from the destruction that too surely awaits them.
With these truths before us, it is still sometimes asked why do women want to vote? Let me ask why do men want to vote? Would they be willing to delegate all their rights to women? I suppose men want to vote because in that way they make their voice heard in the election of public officers, and in the formation of constitutions and laws under which they live. Because it gives them protection, power and influence.
And it is for this very reason that women want to vote. The high prerogative of citizenship is a cheat and a mockery until the ballot goes with it. The Negro was emancipated, was made a citizen, and given equal civil rights with his white brother. But men did not stop here. They said, and said truly, that all this would be of little avail unless he was also made a voter — and they passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution for his especial benefit, and he now stands the political peer at the ballot box of the proudest and noblest in the land.
And will men be less magnanimous towards woman? Towards their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters? In the words of another, “The ballot in this country is the final, supreme arbiter of every question that can come before the people. It is the key to the whole circle of individual power and advancement. It makes presidents, congressmen, judges, legislators and governors. It enacts and repeals laws at its pleasure. It builds up and tears down. It levels all distinctions, and makes all men equal before and in the eye of the law. It is the great court of appeal, and the citizen who possesses it, wields a power mightier than the sword, and greater than the sceptre of Kings.”
Is it so strange then that women want this power for their own protection, and for the protection of their homes and loved ones?
Why was the Negro made a voter? Because, until he became such, there was no guarantee that his emancipation from slavery would not prove a cheat and a fraud; no certain guarantee that he would not be reduced to a state of subjection and dependence as degrading as that from which he had escaped. But with the ballot, he becomes a power in the nation, that courts, and legislators, and politicians acknowledge and respect.
It is curious to observe how much deference is paid to these new voters — how they are courted, and flattered, and perhaps purchased, by politicians who once could not tolerate their presence or look upon them without the utmost contempt. But few years ago the whole nation was agitated with the question whether the President of the United States had not insulted the Negro, Frederick Douglass, by not inviting him to his table. And more recently the question was agitated whether or not Negroes should be admitted to inauguration balls. Once the mere suggestion of such a thing would have been deemed an insult, and the question, if broached, would have received a scornful and indignant negative. Now the Negro is a sovereign, and his vote must be considered, and the question assumes a new shape.
Now I claim that woman needs the ballot for the same reason that men need it — because “the right of suffrage is the foundation and guarantee of all other rights.” And it will do for her what it has done for the white man and the Negro. It will elevate and ennoble her, and make her the equal of man in all questions of civil rights and civil power.
It is admitted by all that the power possessed by the working man in this country, so far in advance of his position in monarchial countries, is owing to the fact that his vote counts just as much as his employer’s. That gives him importance, and influence, and secures him fair wages for a good day’s work.
And the ballot will do the same for woman. When our school boards, for instance, come to understand that their election depends just as much upon the votes of women, as upon those of men, they will no longer pay women only about half as much salary as they do men, for doing precisely the same work. And so will it be throughout the whole domain of industrial employments.
And why is woman deprived of this precious boon — this high privilege — the ballot? Not because she is not a citizen, for the Fourteenth Amendment has positively declared that she is one. Not because she has not sufficient intelligence to vote discreetly, for she has at least as much intelligence as the Negro. Not because her voting would interfere with any of her peculiar duties or responsibilities, for women now attend political meetings, county and state fairs, and many other public gatherings and private social entertainments, without any neglect of duty, and without exposing themselves to censure or disrespect. Not because her exercise of the ballot would augment the flood of corruption and intrigue that now attend elections, for it would do quite the reverse and make men behave more decently at the caucus and at the election precinct, as they do everywhere in the society of women. Not because she is now represented at the polls by her husband, because many women have no husbands, and some that have do not always think just as their husbands do. In other matters, a woman’s husband does not bear her share of responsibilities and duties, and how can he in this? He cannot relieve her from moral responsibility, or save her from accountability to her Maker. How then should he be able to speak and act for her in civil matters, and relieve her from her responsibilities to her children, and her country?
Woman is denied her right of suffrage simply because she is a woman simply because in the dark ages of barbarism, she was regarded and treated as a mere chattel and excluded from all participation in the affairs of men; and men have not yet fully outgrown the idea that she was created their inferior and subject. . .
Better days dawned upon woman with the light of Christianity, and from that day her condition has been steadily changing and improving. But she has not yet reached the high position to which she will attain, and he who throws himself in the way of the world’s progress will be beaten and overthrown in the contest.
Woman is excluded from the ballot box, and denied her right of self-government, because she is a woman. But this will not always be. The All Father who created her endowed her with an intellect, and moral faculties, and along with them gave the right to their use, and He is speeding on for her the day when she shall be fully emancipated from the thraldom of the past, and stand before the world in her native, individual womanhood, the peer of the greatest and noblest of earth, and the inferior and subject of none.
Many of the wisest and best men now earnestly champion woman’s cause and warmly advocate her enfranchisement. Some of the ablest writers and thinkers, both in England and in America, are on our side in the great contest against the injustice and intolerance of ages.
Just as fast as the world has become enlightened, woman ‘s position has been improved and elevated. Civilization and Christianity go hand in hand in this work, and as the mists of barbarism are dispelled before their steady progress, so do the chains fall from woman, and she resumes her proper place in the Great Universe of God.
The world is calling for her on all hands to take a more active part in the great humanitarian and religious movements of the age. Florence Nightingales are needed in the hospitals; Van Cotts, Smileys and Hanafords [Margaret Ann Newton Van Cott; Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford] in the church. As teachers, workers, writers, speakers, sculptors, painters, doctors, lawyers, women are everywhere called for and given position. And think you this work is going to stop here? That it is going back to the obscurity from which it emerged? With so much gained will woman now be content? And will men, who desire her progress, be content? And will the Lord, who is leading her up out of bondage, rest with this halfway work? Not so dealt He by the Negro. Not so will He deal by woman. Her steps move onward, and the supreme goal only will bound them. Nothing short of a citizen’s rights, and a citizen’s privilege will suffice her.
I venture to predict that the next political issue in this country will be the question of impartial suffrage, which means suffrage for woman as well as men. Upon what other question can a political issue be made up? Slavery is out of the way, and neither that, or the questions growing out of it, can longer form a dividing line between contending parties. Reconstruction is an accomplished fact. Our banking system all parties seem pleased with. All agree that the interest and principal of the national debt should be paid — the former as it accrues each year, and the latter as rapidly as the resources of the country will admit. To this end, taxes must be levied both on customs and excise; and so there can be no dispute on any of these points; while as to Civil Service Reform all parties profess to be in favor of it.
What then is left but “Impartial Suffrage?” That is the great forthcoming issue before the American people. In its favor will be arrayed the liberal, the cultured, the enlightened, the thinking and reading classes — the great progressive party of the age. Against it we shall have the conservatives, the bigoted, the intolerant and ignorant classes; men who on the one hand imagine that religion will be in danger if women vote, and on the other that our homes will be deserted, and the children neglected, if women leave them long enough to go the polls.
But in this contest right and justice will triumph, and in this free land woman will for the first time in the history of the American people be permitted a voice in the selection of her rulers, and in the formation of laws by which she is governed.
And what will be the effect of giving woman the ballot? It will make our elections more orderly and respectable. It will put both men and women on their good behavior; it will secure a better class of candidates for office and give us better rulers. It will secure the practical abolition of a multitude of abuses now tolerated in community. It will lead to the enactment of just and righteous laws as between man and woman. “It will give depth and breadth and dignity to womanhood.” It will lead to greater self-respect and more enlightened views on the part of woman herself. Admitted to the privileges of citizenship, her mind will be raised above the petty round of duties that now engross her, and while she will neglect none of these, she will use them only as a means to a higher end. While the affairs of the family will be duly attended to, so will also those duties which pertain to the welfare of the state. And as it is now generally conceded that “genius and talents come to men from their mothers, that the ablest man that ever lived could have no son like himself if that son’s mother were a stupid, or commonplace character.” So we may expect with the elevation and enlightenment of woman and the greater opportunities she will enjoy that she will stamp a better impress upon her children, and give to the world a better and nobler class of men. It will lead to greater happiness in the marriage, and in the domestic relation, by doing away with the prevailing idea of man’s right of property in woman, and by making them equal partners in the life union—equal in rights, duties, and responsibilities.
And it is because I believe that the elevation of woman to an equality of rights with man will produce greater happiness in the marriage, and prevent much of discord and divorce, that I chiefly urge her claim to all the privileges of citizenship. There can be no true happiness in a partnership where one of the parties assumes rights over the other; where there is petty fault finding and dictation; where one is the master and the other the subject; one superior and the other inferior and dependent; one to rule and the other to obey. In such partnership, quarrels and contentions and separations must come, and stricken hearts be the result. So long as women are endowed with the same intellects, and passions, and consciousness of rights, as men, they cannot submit tamely and happily to such a partnership. Before marriage they are free and independent, and they cannot be made subjects and dependents without resistance. In barbarous countries, where women are kept in abject ignorance and slavery, this may be done, but in civilized Christian countries, where women are educated and enlightened, they cannot long be kept in subjection or held as unequal before the law. But let men be the lovers after marriage that they are before, let them fulfill o woman the promises they made, let them treat the wife as an equal partner in the firm, let her opinions and wishes be consulted, her feelings considered, and her rights respected — let all laws giving him superior rights, md all marriage ceremonies wherein she promises to serve and obey, be abolished; in short, strip him of that relic of barbarism, the idea of ownership — of mastership of the woman — and greater happiness will most certainly follow. Let the individual rights and feelings of each be considered md respected, and then will come no wish to break the tie that binds them in a life partnership. Such unions are the truly happy ones, and in such families all is harmony.
For woman to vote then, is to elevate her in the scale of humanity, and give her a place among the sovereigns of the earth. And her elevation will carry with it the elevation and well being of the race. So we believe, and so we pray, God speed the day of woman’s enfranchisement!
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: Greenwood Press), 1994.