Petition to the Indiana Legislature
January 6, 1859 — Joint session of the Indiana Legislature, Indianapolis IN
We come before you with the humble voice of petition, asking that you consider, investigate, and discuss the subject matter of our petition, which is signed by fathers and mothers, by husbands and wives, by sons and daughters, by brothers and sisters.
Whence the necessity of this petition? Why come we here, asking of the right to exercise our God-giv[en] rights? We come to you, gentlemen, because you have legal authority – the power to redress grievances is vested in you. As mothers, as wives, as daughters, as sisters, and lastly as human beings, alike responsible with yourselves to God for the correct use of the rights bestowed on us, we come to you, humiliating as it may be to ask these rights at the hands of others possessing no more natural rights than ourselves.
All we claim for woman is the removal of the interdict, accept her as a citizen. Now she is denied the right of citizenship, and all the lumbering legislation of centuries will not adjust her relations harmoniously in the world until this injustice is removed. Woman can not be protected fully until she is thus recognized. She can not reach the true dignity of her being till she is invested with the sanctities and privileges of citizenship. If the exercise of this right is necessary to the perfect development of man’s mind and whole being; if he feels himself dwarfed, intellectually, by being deprived of that right, will not the same argument apply to woman? And if the mind makes the man – if it is the emanation from the Deity, by cramping this mind or refusing to let it operate in the way God designed, you frustrate the designs of that creation, that mind, and thus assume to yourselves a fearful responsibility. Remove the interdict; make your wives, mothers and sisters at full age citizens, that they may vote or not vote as our brothers do. We do not ask to make them vote, but give them the right of choice, which naturally belongs to every intelligent human being, and I venture the assertion that they will use it with as much discretion and judgment as many who now do.
I do not say that to carry a vote is the most desirable thing in the world, party-ridden as our country is, but every right-minded man feels himself invested with new dignity when he carries his first vote to the ballot box, and thus sanctions or denies public measures. So our fathers and brothers tell us, and I claim that a woman has the same natural, inalienable right, to exercise a like mode of expressing herself on questions which are of vital interest to her, inasmuch as she is held amenable to the laws of her country ; HER country did we say? She has no country, by the right that men have a country we are as aliens in our native land. I felt my whole soul stirred within me, yesterday afternoon, in this Hall, when a gentleman on my right said we, the sovereign people, created this Legislature, and sent them here to do our bidding. They are our servants. A married woman in point of law is a nonentity. No matter how noble minded, intelligent, or intellectual she may be, she has no legal existence, she is a nonentity. Therefore, we can not say “we, the people,” instruct you, as our representative, to do thus and so.
Because we are not known in the politics of the country we can only come to you as humble petitioners, asking that you give us a candid hearing, and our petition at least a respectful consideration. And this we feel assured you will do, as you have extended to us the courtesy of addressing both branches of the Legislature, assembled on this occasion. For this privilege we thank you on behalf of the women of Indiana. The petition is not signed by women alone, but a large number of the signers are legal voters of the State, who feel the need of the reform for which they have petitioned. We do not ask that woman may fill offices in the Cabinet, or represent the army and navy; these would be revolting to her sense of propriety and refinement. We do not urge them to command ships, (though the case of Mrs. Patton Jones, proves that even here woman is equal to the emergency,) and we find that in all the emergencies of life, woman is true to herself and equal to the duties she is called on to perform. We do not ask them to build railroads, or any kindred occupation; to harangue in public places; these are matters to be left entirely to human capabilities, trusting that when both sexes shall have reached a higher state of culture and development, these will all regulate themselves. When woman shall be free to establish her own relations on the stage of action, we fondly hope, and have reason to believe that a nobler sense of fitness, a higher realization of the beautiful, and appropriateness in all things will be the result. We are willing to leave all these matters to the dictates of an intelligent and enlightened future. But we do ask that no legal disabilities shall be attached to us as women, any more than our brothers, in regard to political rights. If we aspire to them and prove ourselves incompetent the world will readily learn the fact, just as it learns, eventually, to detect any incompetenc[e] in the other sex.
But in all honesty and candor, we fully believe that the time has come for the women of Indiana to assert their rights as human beings, as the emanation from the same great author of existence from which man emanated, and in pursuance of this conviction, we ask our brothers in the Senate and House of Representatives to solemnly consider the responsibility that rests on you in this matter. Whether you came by it rightfully, justly or not, society accords to you the right to make laws to govern women, and although we can not, as the sovereign people, instruct you with regard to duty, it is our duty to our God, to ourselves and to posterity, to petition you to use the legal power vested in you to remove the political disabilities which crowd our pathway at every step, and retard our progress, in fulfilling those high and holy duties which pertain to us in virtue of our humanity. Children, who a few years ago began to hear these doctrines discussed, have grown to be men and women; society has progressed; public opinion, now sanctions in women, the performance of duties which it would not tolerate a few years ago. I do not believe the Legislature of Indiana would then have granted us the respectful attention it now does, in this Hall, dedicated as it is to learning, talent and wisdom, nor would a member of this House, in discussing a great moral question, include women as co-workers with man, as did the Hon. Mr. Gordon yesterday afternoon, on this floor, in discussing the temperance movement. Men are not now shocked at a woman speaking in public, or turn with horror at the idea of woman attending college to store her mind with its richest treasures. They are constrained to admit that in many instances women can transcend all obstacles in the achievement of deeds of noble daring. A Mrs. Patton can sail a ship; Mrs. Mitchel discover stars and planets; Mrs. Peabody and Mrs. Willard write school books; Mrs. Stowe can produce a sensation throughout the literary world by her “Uncle Tom;” Miss Hosmer chisel statues; Rosa Bonner and Lily Martain paint pictures; Lucy Stone, Frances D. Gage, and other women can lecture; Lucretia Mott, Antoinette L. Blackwell and Mrs. Jenkins can preach the gospel in American pulpits; women can edit newspapers with ability; while scores of ladies make fortunes as merchants, and last, though not least, your humble petitioner with hundreds of other lady physicians in our country, can follow the calling of the medical profession with the approval of the refined and intelligent among men and women.
Thousands of women in public positions are practically living down the old stereotyped insult to women, that restriction alone can keep her virtuous; and tens of thousands of women teachers are educating the children under their charge in the new and progressive feeling, that woman is capable of governing herself, and help[ing] to govern others. The terrible monetary crisis of the past year, has called into action the latent energies of thousands of women in this country, to take position in society as laborers, for their own sustenance, and the support of their children, who had heretofore been dependent on the labor of others for their mental and physical food; and, consequently, in this respect, it has been a blessing to women, by calling to the sphere of usefulness many who shrank, in former times, from assuming any responsibility. And they who once denounced us as fanatics, have, through absolute necessity and trial, learned to feel and to acknowledge that woman has not all the rights she needs. Taxation, without representation; the exclusion from the ballot box of meritorious women; the law which deprives her of her right to property, and the guardianship of her own children, in case of the death of her husband, and authorizes court officials to deal out to her a part of that which should be her undivided possession; even to desolate her home, every article of which is rendered sacred by the memory of him who shared it with her, and while her heart is yet bleeding at every pore, with the sore affliction which none but a widowed heart can feel; her affections turned back in their channel; the agonies of soul no tongue can portray; and yet, in addition to all this, the law, with its ruthless hand, undertakes to “settle her business for her,” when she had no voice in making that law.
These, and a host of other wrongs growing out of the deprivation of the political rights which every man in the State of Indiana feels are essential to his development as a true human being – these, we ask you, in the most respectful but earnest manner, to consider and remove by your votes in this hall – these legal disabilities which you alone have the power to remove. This political oppression is crushing woman, and we feel to repeat that the time has come when the women of Indiana should calmly and dispassionately assert their right to the elective franchise, and the privileges growing out of it, as the basis of all the other rights. Man will be benefited equally with woman. The true interests of the sexes are intimately interwoven with each other that one cannot suffer without the other suffering also.
And in this matter there need be no fear of woman neglecting her maternal duties. No, the mother’s obligations are too deeply rooted in the soil of the human sympathies and affections to ever be injured by the acquisition of knowledge or the exercise of political rights. The maternal office has stood the test of fashionable life untarnished, and no fears need be entertained that the useful will interfere with the discharge of these duties. On the contrary, the more women become acquainted with human life and prepare to discharge its responsibilities, the more interest they will feel in carrying out all the relations of life. Samuel Adams says:
If taxes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects to the state of “tributary slaves.”
And here we rest our argument, confident of the verdict of all candid minds; for, having taken our stand upon the broad basis of woman’s undeniable humanity, and claimed from thence its rights as a matter of strict justice, we have virtually forestalled all answer and all objections. If she be granted human, with human faculties and human needs, then are the rights of humanity for the protection of these faculties, and the supply of these needs, assuredly hers – and no accident of sex, no prejudged inferiority, no plea of expediency, or fear of confidence, can at all militate against the soundness of the argument, modify the injustice of withholding or the rightfulness of granting such rights. We have, moreover, fortified the main argument by adducing the evils which have arisen from the heretofore false theory and practice, and incidentally suggesting the inevitable gain and good of the right.
And now, in conclusion, permit me to say that however some of this large and attentive audience may consider me out of woman’s sphere in thus addressing you, I feel it right to say that not one who has heard these thoughts expressed, but feel a living response in the inmost recesses of their souls, and we ask kindly to consider you duty in reference to the matter, and act accordingly.
Source: Journal of the Indiana State Senate During the Fortieth Session of the General Assembly Commencing Thursday January 6, 1859 (Indianapolis: John C. Walker), 1859, pp. 186-190.