Alas! Poor Adam
June 1870 — Baptist Church, Des Moines IO
Among the many obstacles thrown in the way of woman’s progress and enfranchisement, there is a very serious one in the minds of many which I wish briefly to consider this evening. It is one that has not only made her submissive and in a measure contented in her inferior, subject state, but has in numberless instances caused her untold sorrow and made her life one of extreme bitterness. I allude to the prevalent idea and teaching that woman was created subject to man — an inferior being, incapable of self government — needing a protector and supporter, and that man was to rule over and govern her for all time. That the Bible not only sanctions but teaches this doctrine, and that woman must not question either its truth or its justice.
This idea and this teaching has, in my view, brought untold misery into the world by making that relation which should be an equal partnership, where the rights and feelings and interests of each should be considered and respected, a relation instead of master and slave — of tyrant and subject — of superior and inferior. Made the woman, who is often superior in intellect, in morals, in benevolence, in every good thing, to her husband, the victim of his whims and caprices, of his blows and curses and lusts.
You may believe all this teaching right and ordained of God, but I confess I do not believe it. It is contrary to all my ideas of the goodness and justice of the All Father, and I believe it cannot be sustained by the Bible. I do not know as I shall be able to throw any light on the subject or convince you, or those of you who believe, and teach, and act out this doctrine, that you have been misreading and misquoting the scriptures, but I wish you to examine with me some of the leading passages which are such a law to many and which are ever threateningly held over woman’s head.
First, then, we will go back to Genesis, where, in the very first account given of the creation of man, “God said, ‘let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
In all this we find nothing to show that God created the man superior to the woman, or that he gave him greater right, or power, or dominion than he gave to her, or that he assigned them to different spheres of action. On the contrary, we are clearly told that he gave her equal power and dominion, and united her jointly and equally with him in the great commission given for the temporal government of the earth.
But farther on we are told (in a chapter said to have been written and added several hundred years after the first account of the creation of man), of the fall of this first pair — of Eve eating of the forbidden fruit, after the serpent had overcome her scruples by promises of great knowledge and good to follow-and of Adam, who was with her, also eating, without any scruples of conscience or promises from her of great reward. Certainly in this transaction he manifested no superiority of intellect or goodness.
In reading this account of the fall of Adam and Eve, I cannot see wherein Eve committed the greater sin or showed the greater weakness. The command not to eat of the tree of knowledge was given to Adam by God himself before the creation of Eve, and we have no evidence that this command was repeated to her by the Creator. She probably received it secondhand from Adam. He being the one to whom the command was directly given, first created, and according to popular belief, endowed with superior intelligence, it was doubly binding on him to observe and keep it.
But how stands the record? Alas! poor Adam, while it required all the persuasive powers and eloquence of the subtle tempter, all the promises of wisdom, and knowledge, and power to seduce the so-called “weaker vessel” from the right path, all that was necessary to secure his downfall was simply to offer him the apple. He not only stood by and saw her eat, without a warning word, but ate himself without remonstrance or objection. And then, when enquired of by God concerning what he had done, instead of standing up like a man and honestly acknowledging his fault, he weakly tried to shield himself by throwing the blame on his wife — and his descendants of this day too often follow his example. How anyone can read the history of the fall and gather from it that the woman displayed the weaker intellect I cannot understand. I do not so read it.
The punishment inflicted upon our first parents for this transgression was certainly heavier upon the man than upon the woman. Her sorrows were to be multiplied — but he, too, was to eat his bread in sorrow and to earn it in the sweat of his face, amid thorns and thistles. To her no command to labor was given, upon her no toil was imposed, and no ground cursed for her sake. So far in the account of the creation and fall, surely man can claim no superiority over woman.
But we now come to the consideration of the first passage which seems to give woman a subordinate place, and which men have used as a warrant to humble and crush her, through all the ages that have passed since Adam and Eve were driven from the garden of Eden.
To the woman he said, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” This is generally regarded as a command, and binding for all time, as if He had said, “every woman henceforth who takes to herself a husband shall be in subjection to him as to a master, and every husband who takes a wife shall regard her as a subject and servant, not as a companion and equal, and shall rule over her.” Can we believe that it was God’s will, and pleasure, and command that such a state of things should exist in the marriage relation? If so, then we make Him responsible for all the quarrels and contentions and murders that ensue between husband and wife, for it is but following up the command that man shall rule his wife, and there is no limit fixed to his power over her. It can hardly be claimed that the Creator intended the woman to be always the meek, patient, silent subject — obeying implicitly and answering not — else He would have made her more patient under wrongs and dumb before her master, instead of endowing her with intellect, a keen sense of right, and in all respects like passions with man.
But I deny that there is any evidence to show that the words we have been considering had any binding force any farther than upon the parties to whom they were addressed. To Eve he said, “thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” Not a word of the future. Not a word of this law following her seed, as was the case when talking to the serpent. Then again these words were addressed to her, and not to her husband, and there is no evidence to show that he heard or knew of them. There is no command given to Adam to rule over his wife, and nowhere in the Bible can a passage be found where the husband is commanded to rule the wife — as we should suppose would be the case if such rule was intended.
In my view, the passages quoted are to be regarded in the light of prophecy or prediction and not of command. Substitute will in place of shall, which translators tell us may with equal propriety be done and often is done and all is clear enough. “He will rule over thee.” God foresaw what would follow and foretold it as a result. Eve would naturally feel humbled under a sense of wrong committed, sin incurred, the banishment imposed, and the lost favor of her husband, and would desire to regain that favor and make peace with him. This would lead her to cringe to, and subject herself unto him; and he, laying all the blame of the fall on her, and accusing her to her Maker to shield himself — to hide his own weakness and sin — was ready to vent his anger upon her, and to punish her with his tyranny. And so it has come that his male descendants, following his example, have ruled over woman through all past ages and still continue that rule, though in a lesser degree, at the present time. And woman has submitted-just as weak nations submit to stronger—not because she believes it just, not because she feels herself inferior, but because man has the power and chooses to exercise it, and because he has made her believe that he so rules by Divine command.
God has placed no ruler between woman and himself. If this were so — if it be true that man is her ruler and master, to whom she is to yield obedience, then she is answerable to man and not to God for her actions. Her own conscience and the will of her husband may sometimes conflict—who then is she to serve? Her husband, of course, if he is her ruler and she bound to obey him. It is a question with some whether woman has a soul! This has grown out of this same idea of woman being created solely for man — his subject and servant-to minister to his passions and pleasures. If she has a soul, and if this doctrine of implicit obedience to the husband be true, then the husband must be answerable to God for her. She cannot justly be held accountable to two masters.
We pass to the New Testament, and there we find several passages from St. Paul, which in the minds of the opponents of woman’s cause condemn woman to everlasting silence, submission, and nonentity. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but to be under obedience, and if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” “Wives obey your husbands. The man is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church.”
These I believe comprise all the utterances and rules laid down to govern woman’s action, and they have been a terror to awe her into a state of fear and submission during all the centuries that have passed since they were proclaimed. To me they have no such terror, for I regard none of them as spoken to, or of, me. Whatever rules may have been necessary for the action of women eighteen hundred years ago, has [sic] little to do with the women of our day. As well say that the men of this generation shall be, and do, as were, and did, the men of that olden time, as to say that the women of these days shall be bound by laws and customs in force eighteen centuries before their existence. . .
While many of the clergy still hold these injunctions warningly over our heads and think it an abomination for a woman to speak or preach, yet they have constantly violated them and caused them to be violated. They hold up St. Paul against a woman preaching or teaching, yet they not only suffer but they encourage and urge her to teach the scriptures in Sunday Schools and in tract visitations. By a late report in a religious paper we learn that Bible classes, on Sunday afternoon, have been started by certain women in the metropolis of London for the instruction of young men and young women. The services at these Bible meetings are usually conducted entirely by the women, but occasionally they invite some clergyman to deliver an address — and strange as it may seem, the clergy cheerfully respond to such invitations, and never once tell the women that they are violating St. Paul’s command, “I suffer not a woman to teach.” And so all over the world we find men inviting women into various fields of religious labor in disregard of St. Paul. There is really more teaching the gospel by women in Sunday schools and Bible classes than by ministers in their sermons.
Again, “Let women keep silence in the churches.” Some are so strict to observe this that they forbid women to preach or pray, or read the gospel in the Church, yet they not only permit, but encourage and request them, to sing psalms of praise and prayer for the glory of God and the pleasure of the congregation. How is this keeping silence in the church? I may be all wrong, but I see no more sin — no more violation of St. Paul’s injunction in a woman standing in the desk reading God’s word in an intelligible manner, and giving her opinion on texts of scripture intelligently, than I do in her standing in the gallery, or elsewhere, and tuning her pipes to the highest key and rendering the most fashionable church music for the entertainment of the congregation. If one is a violation of St. Paul’s command, so is the other, for silence in the church is not maintained in either case.
As to women learning of their husbands at home, this would seem to preclude the necessity of their attending upon the services of the church at all . . . I fear the women of our day would be very ignorant of gospel truth if they depended on their husbands alone for knowledge, and ministers would have but few listeners, and the church few supporters, if women obeyed the injunction of St. Paul and staid at home. We never hear this rule enjoined upon women by the clergy of our day. I do not recollect ever hearing a sermon preached from the text, “wives if you would learn anything ask your husbands at home.” Men in St. Paul’s time must have attended church more generally than they do now, if they were capable of instructing their women in religious matters. At the present day, I imagine women would be far more capable of imparting such knowledge to men.
“I suffer not a woman to usurp authority.” There is nothing said here against a woman being in authority — only she must not usurp it — must not seize and hold what belongs to another — must not forcibly displace another and usurp his rights. Well, men need not tremble lest women usurp authority. A few women have entered the ministry and are discharging its offices to the satisfaction of their congregations, and we believe acceptably to God, and to the salvation of souls—but we are not aware that they have displaced any men or usurped any authority. There is room for all to work in God’s harvest without one usurping authority over another, and the time will come when men will invite woman to a more prominent place, in the church as well as the state.
“Wives obey your husbands!” Oh! what a bugbear those four words have been to woman! How they have crushed, and belittled, and enslaved her! What a power for evil they have been to man, and how cruelly he has sometimes exercised it, domineering over and beating, even unto death, her whom he has chosen for a life partner and whom he is commanded to love even as his own self. To say nothing of the condition of women in past ages, and in pagan countries at this day, the newspapers of our own country and time teem with accounts of the most brutal tyranny, the most cruel oppression, and heartrending incidents growing out of the exercise of this power. Can we believe that St. Paul ever commanded or sanctioned such doings? Nay, I believe could be have looked into the future and foreseen all the sorrow and strife, the cruel exactions and oppressions on the one hand, and the blind submission and cringing fear on the other, that these words have sanctioned and caused, he would never have uttered them. . .
Admitting for the sake of argument this passage to have been a command, binding upon woman for all time, as is the general belief, yet it does not have the weight that is usually given it. It only reaches women who have husbands. Unmarried women and widows are free from it. And since married women are to be in obedience to the will of their own husbands only, if a woman’s husband approves of her preaching and talking in public, and of her voting and holding office, as very many husbands do, she is just as much bound by St. Paul’s injunction to do all this, as another woman is to refrain from doing it at her husband’s command. If my husband tells me that it is right for me to vote, and it is his wish that I exercise that right, I am as much bound to listen to and obey that wish as my neighbor is to obey her husband who denies her that right and forbids her exercising it. As each woman is only to be in subjection to her own husband, and not to other men, she has only to consult the pleasure of her own husband in the matter of her conduct. If he approves, no other has a right to object. There are many men in these days, notwithstanding the supposed license given by St. Paul’s words, who do not care to exact obedience and servility from their wives, and who are willing that their wives should exercise the powers and improve the talents entrusted to their keeping by the All Father, and hence we see women talking on various subjects in public, preaching the gospel, and entering many fields of responsibility and trust, with the sanction and approval of their husbands. As this command of St. Paul reaches only married women, how it can affect the doings of thousands of women who have no husbands to obey, or learn of, I do not clearly see.
But, my friends, the passages we have been reviewing have nothing whatever to do with the question of Woman Suffrage — nothing to do with her talking and acting outside the church. Search the Bible through and you can find nothing against her sharing in political affairs, or enjoying political rights. They relate only to the church — and to the church of other times. Let woman set her heart at rest on this point, and cease to feel that God created her an inferior and subject, and that she must not claim her rights and hope to better her condition in this life. That condition has been steadily improving since the introduction of Christianity, and the end is not yet.
Woman has a right to vote for civil officers, to hold civil office and to rule over men. If any law exists against it in the Bible, it has been violated by Divine Sanction. Deborah ruled over Israel forty years, and instead of being told that she was out of her sphere — that she had usurped authority over men — we are assured that she was highly approved, that she ruled wisely and well and Israel had peace during her reign. . .
No one calls in question the right of queens to rule over their kingdoms, and the queens mentioned in the Bible are nowhere condemned or reproved for being in authority and ruling over their people. At the coronation of Queen Victoria, the highest authority in the Church of England, the Bishop of Canterbury, was present and crowned her queen. How dared he do this if the Bible forbids woman being in authority and ruling over men?
What was right for Deborah — what is right for Victoria, is right for every other woman capable of intelligently filling a like position. If it was right for Deborah to judge Israel, it is right for Victoria to judge Britain; and if it is right for Victoria to sit on the throne of England, then it is right for American women to sit on the judge’s bench, or occupy the president’s chair. All they need is votes enough to elevate them to posts of honor and trust, and ability sufficient to discharge their duties.
Those who are quoting scripture against the woman movement [sic] tell us in a triumphant manner that woman was created a helpmeet for man, and they argue from it that she was therefore made solely for bis use and pleasure to occupy a different sphere and to be in all things subservient to him. But God tells us no such thing. He simply says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmeet for him.” And when he brought her to the man he said nothing of her being inferior and subservient. We have nothing to object to this as it came from the Creator, but we deny the construction put upon it by men. Woman was not created a subject and servant — not made to fill an inferior position — not assigned to particular or inferior duties. She was made a helpmeet for man, his assistant, companion, and counsellor. Not a helper in any particular sphere, or duty, but in all the varied relations of life. Not the frail, clinging dependent vine which falls helpless with the oak when it is riven by the thunder bolt, but to take the place, if need be, of the sturdy oak by her side and bear upon her shoulders all the burdens which as true helpmeet and companion fall to her lot. Not an idle helpless drone in the hive, but a sharer with him in all that his hands or his head finds to do.
Some argue that because man was first created he was therefore superior. “Adam first, then Eve,” they say. To this we reply, “animals first, then Adam.” If things first created were superior, then Adam must give way to the life which preceded him. But not so. We find that the Creator took no backward step but progressed in each successive work of his hands. Woman, being the last creation, became the crowning glory of all his works. So we are not ready to concede any superiority to man on the ground of prior creation. Not a helpmeet in the domestic relation merely, but also in the government of the earth and in the councils of the nation. It was not to him but to them that God gave power and dominion over the whole earth. . .
Clearly, all this is a matter with which we have nothing to do in our advocacy of Woman Suffrage. Whatever rules St. Paul found it necessary to lay down for the women of certain churches eighteen centuries ago, we are no more bound by them in this matter than men are bound to observe all the laws and customs of the same period, which we know that they do not.
Men are commanded to “love their wives even as their own selves,” but somehow they very often overlook or forget this command. If they would observe it, women would not find it hard to obey, for as all men love themselves, and do not willingly inflict any wrong upon themselves, so if they loved their wives as themselves they would do them no wrong, but ever treat them with kindness, consideration and respect, and regard them as in all things their equals. Such a ruler it would be easy to obey. “The man is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church.” Christ, as head of the church, is a kind and loving Shepherd. He even offered up his life to promote the happiness and welfare of mankind. Let men imitate the love and tender compassion of Christ, in their headship, and there will be few to resist their authority.
But instead of being the head of woman, as Christ is head of the church, we find man assuming the position of a master over a subject — often ruling and tyrannizing and treating with the greatest injustice her whom he is commanded to love and honor. We do not believe in such headship. Christ never sanctioned it, nor can any authority be found for it in the Bible. Oh! that men were as ready to search out and apply passages written for their own guidance, and rule of life, as they are to crush woman and place her in a lower and more humiliating position than her Creator designed her to occupy. Then we should not have ministers of the gospel leaving their proper work, to write books and sermons and go up and down through the land, lecturing women on their duty, pointing out their sphere, and holding St. Paul as a terror over their heads to keep them within its bounds. I say it with shame that there are a number of such who have left their legitimate work, and the care of their flocks, to admonish women that St. Paul forbids them to speak or to aspire to any position but the one of silent subjection they occupied two thousand years ago. This teaching will do much harm, be pernicious in its effects, and is to be deplored. Some accept it as words of Holy Writ, addressed directly to themselves, and while they may sometimes question its justice, and wonder why woman was given a tongue and a brain, if not for use, they submit with all humility, and believe they are obeying and serving God thereby. Others openly rebel, pronounce St. Paul an old bachelor and hater of women, and so reject his authority and disregard his teachings altogether. Their ideas of a just God—their knowledge of woman’s intelligence and capacity, and of man’s weakness and fallibility, forbid their acceptance of such doctrine.
Others there are, and among these I number all the prominent advocates of Woman Suffrage, men and women, clergy and laity, who read St. Paul as words of history — who see in his rules and injunctions to women a probable necessity of the day and time in which he lived, but which are not in all respects the law for us, in the last half of the nineteenth century. . .
Whether right or wrong woman has progressed, her condition has gradually changed, ever since the introduction of Christianity. And this work—this change—is not of herself, not of man. We must recognize in her course the direction and guidance of a Higher Power. If this progress, this change, tend to evil, as its opponents predict, then He who rules and over rules is, for some wise purpose of His own, bringing such evil upon the world. But if, as we believe, it is for the good, not only of woman but of humanity, then, too, we should recognize the Higher Power that so orders it, and do what we may to help forward His work. In either case we cannot, by opposition Bible argument or indifference, stay His work and will. Woman has a part to play in life that St. Paul never dreamed of, and he who lives in the next generation will see greater changes than the past one has produced. Compare her condition now with what it was in St. Paul’s day, and then say if our predictions regarding her future are strange, impossible, or improbable. The world moves and woman must move with it. She inherits the same spirit of liberty that descends to her brothers and for which her fathers fought and died. . .
I by no means include all the clergy, or all good Christian people, among the opponents of a more enlarged sphere for woman. We have a noble array of Christian men and women, and many of the ablest minds among the clergy, as warm supporters and advocates of the cause we labor to promote. And the number is daily increasing who see that this is God’s cause, and that it is bound to triumph. That to fight against it is like fighting against the emancipation of the slave. As the chains of the latter were broken and the oppressed set free in spite of opposition and Bible argument, so will the All Father in His own good time bring about the emancipation of woman, and make her the equal in power and dominion that He proclaimed her to be at her creation, that we may have
Everywhere two heads in council, two
beside the hearth, two in the tangled
business world, two in the liberal
offices of life.
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.