Women Must Have
Equal Rights With Man
May 12, 1869 — Annual Meeting, Equal Rights Association, Steinway Hall, New York City
I wish to ask if rights have their source in ability, in functions, in qualities? No, certainly; for we see that all men, however they may differ in endowments, have equal rights. What, then, is the basis of rights? Humanity. Consequently, even if it be true that woman is inferior to man in intelligence and social ability, it is not desirable that she shut herself within what is called woman’s sphere. In a philosophical light, the objections brought against her have no bearing on this question. Woman must have equal rights with man, because she is, like him, a human being; and only in establishing, through anatomical or biological proof, that she does not belong to the human race, can her rights be withheld. When such demonstration is made, my claims shall cease. In the meantime, let me say that woman — whether useful or useless — belonging to humanity, must have the rights of humanity.
But is it true that the equality of man and woman would not be useful to society? We might answer this question in the affirmative were the sexes alike, but for the very reason that they differ in many respects, is the presence of woman by the side of man, if we desire order and justice, everywhere necessary. Is it graceful, I ask, to walk on one leg? Men, since the beginning of history, have had the bad taste to prefer a lame society to one that is healthy and beautiful. We women have really too much taste to yield longer to such deformity. In law, in institutions, in every social and political matter; there are two sides. Up to the present day, man has usurped what belongs to woman. That is the reason why we have injustice, corruption, international hatred, cruelty, war, shameful laws — man assuming, in regard to woman, the sinful relation of slaveholder. Such relation must and will change, because we women have decided that it shall not exist. With you, gentlemen, we will vote, legislate, govern — not only because it is our right, but because it is time to substitute order, peace, equity, and virtue, for the disorder, war, cruelty, injustice, and corruption which you, acting alone, have established. You doubt our fitness to take part in government because we are fickle, extravagant, etc., etc., as you say. I answer, there is an inconsiderable minority which deserve such epithets; but even if all women deserved them, who is in fault? You not only prefer the weak-minded, extravagant women to the strong-minded and reasonable ones, but as soon as a woman attempts to leave her sphere, you, coward-like, throw yourselves before her, and secure to your own profit all remunerative occupations. I could, perhaps, forgive your selfishness and injustice, but I can not forgive your want of logic nor your hypocrisy. You condemn woman to starvation, to ignorance, to extravagance, in order to please yourselves, and then reproach her for this ignorance and extravagance, while you heap blame and ridicule on those who are educated, wise, and frugal. You are, indeed, very absurd or very silly. Your judgement is so weak that you reproach woman with the faults of a slave, when it is you who have made and who keep her a slave, and who know, moreover, that no true and virtuous soul can accept slavery. You reproach woman with being an active agent in corruption and ruin, without perceiving that it is you who have condemned her to this awful work, in which only your bad passions sustain her. Whatever you may do, you can not escape her influence. If she is free, virtuous, and worthy, she will give you free, virtuous, and worthy sons, and maintain in you republican virtues. If she remain a slave, she will debase you and your sons; and your country will come under the rule of tyranny. Insane men can not understand that where there is one slave there are always two–he who wears the chain and he who rivets it. Unreasonable, short-sighted men can not understand that to enfranchise woman is to elevate man; to give him a companion who shall encourage his good and noble aspirations, instead of one who would debase and draw him down into an abyss of selfishness and dishonesty. Gentlemen, will you be just, will you preserve the republic, will you stop the moral ruin of your country; will you be worthy, virtuous, and courageous for the welfare of your nation, and, in spite of all obstacles, enfranchise your mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters? Take care that you be not too late! Such injustice and folly would be at the cost of your liberty, in which event you could claim no mercy, for tyrants deserve to be the victims of tyrants.
[After her address, Madame de Hericourt submitted to the Convention a series of resolutions for the organization of Women’s Leagues:
1st, That we form a League of all women claiming their rights, both in America and Europe.
2d. The aim of this League, which shall be called the “Universal League for Women’s Rights and Universal Peace,” is to extinguish prejudice between nations, to create a common interest through the influence of woman, in order to substitute the reign of humanity for the divisions and hatred and causes of war, and to give aid to the women of all nations in securing their rights.
3d. That in every country Emancipation Societies shall be organized, that a National Union may be formed which shall be in constant communication with other countries by means of journals, pamphlets, and books.
4th. That every year a General Assembly of delegates from every country shall meet in one of the capitals by turn. These capitals might for the present be Washington, Paris, London, Florence, and one of the central cities of Germany.
5th. That at the stated meetings of the League there shall be an exhibition of works of art by women.
6th. That, in traveling, women should everywhere find friendship and aid in pursuing the end which they propose. Women, being sisters and daughters in the ranks of humanity, must feel themselves at home with their sisters of all nations. Among us there can be no foreigners, since we are not citizens.]
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume II, 1861-1876 (New York: Fowler & Wells) 1882, pp. 394-396.