Enfranchisement of Women
May 12, 1869 — Annual Meeting, Equal Rights Association, Steinway Hall, New York City
I stand here to-night full of faith, inborn faith, in the rights of woman to advance boldly in all ennobling paths. . . In my former sphere of life, the equality of woman was fully recognized so far as the kind of labor and the amount of reward for her labor are concerned. As an actress, there was no position in which I was not fully welcomed if I possessed the ability and industry to reach it. If I could become a Ristori, my earnings would be as great as hers, and if I was a man and could become a Kean, a Macready, or a Booth, the same reward would be obtained. If I reach no higher rank than what is called a “walking lady,” I am sure of the same pay as a man who occupies the position of a “walking gentleman.” In that sphere of life, be it remembered, I was reared from childhood; to that place I was so accustomed that I had no idea it was a privilege denied my sex to enter into almost every other field of endeavor.
In literature also I found myself on an equality with man. If I wrote a good article, I got as good pay; and heaven knows the pay to man or woman was small enough. In that field, for a long time, I did not feel an interest in the subject of women’s rights, and stood afar off, looking at the work of those revolutionary creatures, Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony. The idea of identifying myself with them was as far removed from my thoughts as becoming a female gymnast and whirling upon a trapeze. But once I wrote a lecture, and one night I delivered it. Adhering to my practice of speaking about that which was most familiar, my lecture was about the stage. I lectured, simply because I thought the pay would be better in that department; the idea that I was running counter to anybody’s prejudice, never entered my head. And I was so far removed that I never read a page of The Revolution in my life, and, what is more, I did not want to; and when Miss Anthony passed down Broadway and saw the bills announcing my lecture she knew nothing about me, and what is more, she did not want to. She made a confession to me afterwards. She said to herself, “Here is a lady going to lecture about the stage,” looking through her blessed spectacles, as I can see her — and I can hear her muttering “a woman’s rights woman.” That is not so very long ago, a little over a year. Since this great question of woman’s rights was thrust upon me, I am asked to define my position; wherever I have traveled in the fifteen months I have had to do so. A lady of society asked me, “Are you in favor of woman’s rights?” I had either to answer yes or no, and “Yes,” I said. . . .
I met, in my travels, in a New England town, an educated woman, who found herself obliged to earn her livelihood, after living a life of luxury and ease. Her husband, who had provided her with every material comfort, had gone to the grave. All his property was taken to pay his debts, and she found herself penniless. What was that woman to do? She looks abroad among the usual employments of women, and her only resource seems to be that little bit of steel around which cluster so many associations — the needle — and by the needle, with the best work and the best wages, the most she can get is two dollars a day. With this, poor as it is, she will be content; but she finds an army of other women looking for the same, and most of them looking in vain. These things have opened my eyes to a vista such as I never saw before. They have touched my heart as it never before was touched. They have aroused my conscience to the fact that this woman question is the question of the hour, and that I must take part in it. I take my stand boldly, proudly, with such earnest, thoughtful women as Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Stanton, and Anna Dickinson, to work together with them for the enfranchisement of woman, for her elevation personally and socially, and above all for her right and opportunity to work at such employments as she can follow, with the right to such pay as men get. There are thousands of women who have no vital interest in this question. They are happy wives and daughters, and may they ever be so; but they can not tell how soon their husbands and brothers may be lost to them, and they will find themselves destitute and penniless with no resources in themselves against misfortune. Then it will be for such that we labor. Our purpose is to help those who need help, widows and orphan girls. There is no need to do battle in this matter. In all kindness and gentleness we urge our claims. There is no need to declare war upon man, for the best of men in this country are with us heart and soul. These are with us in greater numbers even than our own sex. Do not say that we seek to break up family peace and fireside joy; far from it. We interfere not with the wife or daughter who is happy in the strong protection thrown around her by a father or husband, but it is cowardice for such to throw obstacles in the way of those who need help. More than this, for the sake of the helpless woman, to whose unhappiness in the loss of beloved ones is added the agony of hard and griping want. For the sake of the poor girl who has no power to cope with the hard actualities of a desolate life, while her trembling feet tread the crumbling edge of the dark abyss of infamy. For the sake of this we are pleading and entertaining this great question, withhold your answer till at least you have learned to say, “God speed.”
Source: The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. II, eds. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Mathilda Joslyn Gage, (Rochester, NY: Charles Mann Printing Co.) 1881, pp. 385-386.