to the Eleventh National
Woman’s Rights Convention
May 10, 1866 — Eleventh National Woman’s Rights Convention, Church of the Puritans, New York City
For the last five years the women of the United States have held few public discussions. They have done wisely. Circumstances have proved their friend. Nothing ever had done, nothing ever will do again, so great a service to woman in so short a time, as this dreadful war out of which we are so slowly emerging. Respect for woman came only with the absolute need of her, and so many women of distinguished ability made themselves of service to the government, that we had no single woman to honor as England had honored Florence Nightingale. With us her name was legion. But, with the prospect of peace comes the old duty of agitation, and we find ourselves again summoned to a Convention, and again anxiously awaiting its results — anxiously, for a convention of women is an object which still attracts the gaze of the curious, and the smallest indiscretion on the part of a single speaker has a retrograde effect which few women seem able to measure.
Our reform is unlike all others, for it must begin in the family, at the very heart of society. If it be not kindly, temporately and thoughtfully conducted, men everywhere will be able to justify their remonstrances. Let us rather justify ourselves. My last report to any Convention was made to those called in Boston in 1859 and 1860. Between that time and 1858 I printed five volumes, which are nothing but reports upon the various interests significant to our cause. During the last four years I have watched the development of American industry in its relation to women, and have, through the newspapers, aroused public feeling in their behalf. My labor is naturally classed under the three heads of Education, Labor and Law. A proper education must prepare women for labor, skilled or manual; and the experience of a laborer should introduce her to citizenship, for it provides her with rights to protect, privileges to secure, and property to be taxed. If she is a laborer, she must have an interest in the laws which control labor.
In considering our position in those three respects, it is impossible to offer you a digest of all that has occurred during the last six years. What I have to say will refer chiefly to the events of the last two.
I wish it were in my power to furnish you with reports of the present condition of all the female colleges in the United States; but, while I receive from various foreign sources such reports, and am promptly informed of any educational movement in Europe, it never seems to occur to the government of such institutions in the United States that there is any necessary connection between them and the interests which this Convention represents. We are, consequently, dependent upon newspapers for our information.
The most important educational movement of the last year has been the formation of an American Social Science Association, with four departments, and two women on its Board of Directors. Subsequently, the Boston Social Science Association was organized, with seven departments, and seven women on its Board of Directors, one woman being assigned to each department, including that of law. Any woman in the United States can become a member of this Association. If the opportunities it offers are not seized, it will be the result of women themselves.
During the past Winter the Lowell Institute, in Boston, in connection with the government of the Massachusetts Technological Institute, took a step which deserves our public mention. advertised classes for both sexes, under the most eligible professors, for instruction in french, mathematics and natural science. As the training was to be thorough, the number of pupils was limited, and the women who applied would have filled the seats many times These classes have been wholly free, and have added to the obligation which the free Art School for women, had already conferred.
Elmira showed its enterprise last Summer, by a visit to Massachusetts, and Vassar College was organized and commenced its operations in September, with Miss Mitchell in the Chair of Mathematics, and Miss Avery in that of Physiology. I attempted to visit this institution last Summer, for the purpose of investigating the facilities its buildings and proposed courses might offer to foreign students. The reluctance of the Trustees to subject it to observation so early in its career, interfered with my plan, but I have since received a letter from Miss Mitchell, speaking of it, in the most encouraging terms.
“I have a class,” she says, “of seventeen pupils, between the ages of 16 and 22. They come to me for fifty minutes every day. I allow them great freedom in questioning and I am puzzled by them daily. They show more mathematical ability, and more originality of thought than I had expected. I doubt whether young man would show as deep an interest. Are there seventeen students in Harvard College who take mathematical astronomy, do you think?”
So Mr. Vassar’s magnificent donation, is drawing interest at last.
On the 25th June, 1865, the Ripley College, at Poultney, Vermont, celebrated its commencement. Seventeen young ladies were graduated. Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered the literary address, and two days were devoted to the examination of incoming pupils. Feeling very little satisfaction in the success of Colleges, intended for the separate sexes. I take more pleasure in speaking of the Baker University in Kansas, which was chartered by the Legislature of that State in 1857, as a University for both sexes. It has now been in active operation for seven years. A little more than a year ago, Miss Martha Baldwin, a graduate of the Baldwin University at Berea, Ohio, was appointed to the chair of Greek and Latin. She is but twenty-one years of age, but was elected by the government to make the address for the Faculty at the opening of the Commencement Exercises, and seems to have given entire satisfaction, during her Professors year. In France, The Imperial Geographical Society, which is in a certain sense a College, has lately admitted to membership, Madame Dora d’Istra — as the successor to Madame Pfeider. Madame d’Istra had distinguished herself by researches in the Morea.
On the 26th of October, 1864, a Working Women’s College was opened in London, with an address from Miss F. R. Malleson. It is governed by a council of teachers. In addition to the ordinary branches, it offers instruction in Botany, Physiology, and Drawing. Its fee is shillings a year; and the Coffee and Reading Room, about which its social life centres, is held every evening from 7 to 11.
But by far the most interesting Educational movement is Miss Nightingale’s “Training School for Nurses,” which has been in operation for three years in Liverpool. It was founded after a correspondence with her, in strict conformity to her counsel. As a Training School, it may be said to be self-supporting, but it is also a beneficent institution, and in that regard is sustained by Donations. A most admirable system of District Nursing is provided under its auspices, for the whole City of Liverpool, all of whose suffering sick become, in this way, the recipients of intelligent care, and of valuable instruction in cooking and all sanitary matters. It is too tempting an experiment to dwell upon, unless we could follow it, into its details. Its Report occupies 101 pages.
As regards, Medical Education, we know of two colleges, of rather of one college and one hospital, in Boston, where Education is given. There is one in Springfield and one in Philadelphia. We should be glad to get more statistics of this kind, for Cleveland where Dr. Zakrzewska took her degree, is no longer open to female students, and Geneva is contenting herself with the honor of having graduated Dr. Blackwell.
There is a female Medical Society in London. This society wishes to open the way for thorough medical instruction, which will entitle its graduates to a degree from Apothecaries’ Hall, and it offered lectures from competent persons in 1864, upon Obstetrics and General Medical Science. Madame Aillot’s Hospital of the Maternity, in Paris, still offers its great advantages to women, of which two of our countrywomen, Miss Helen Morton and Miss Lucy E. Sewall, have taken creditable advantage. They are both of them Massachusetts girls.
Miss Morton is retained in Paris, and Miss Sewall is the resident physician of the Hospital for women and children in Boston.
A very great interest has been felt in this country, in the success of Miss Garratt in obtaining her degree from Apothecaries’ Hall, after it had been refused to her by the Medical Colleges. We regret to say that this fact does not show any real advance in the public opinion of Great Britain, nor does it secure any permanent advantage for women. When the Apothecaries’ Hall refused her, Miss Garratt looked up its charter. She found the old Latin word indicating to whom degrees were to be granted, clearly indeterminate. Langues told her that the Hall must grant her a degree, or surrender its charter. She was wealthy and in earnest. She pushed her advantage. The Apothecaries Hall prescribed certain courses of instruction to be pursued and certified before the degree could be granted. These she attended in private paying the most exorbitant fees to her teachers. In one instance, in which a man’s fee would have been five guineas she paid fifty! I am credibly informed that the round cost of these preparatory steps must have been £2,000. All honor to Miss Garratt. Should her genius as a physician equal her energy and her wealth, she may yet gain something for the cause she has espoused. Apart from this, she may be said to have gained nothing. Bribery is not possible to ordinary mortals, and the conditions of the degree, make it generally impracticable until the lecture rooms are opened to students.
At present, to obtain thorough instruction in any branch, women are obliged to pay exorbitant prices, and receive as the results of their training, but half wages. In Boston, Dr. Zakrzewaka has again unsuccessfully asked permission to become a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Many physicians, however, extend the fellowship which the institution denies, and the Medical Journal expresses itself courteously on this point.
In 1863, there existed in St. Petersburg a stringent regulation, which prohibited women from following the University courses. A Miss K., who had a decided taste for medicine, without the means to pay for instruction applied for such instruction to the authorities of Orenburg. Orenburg is partly in Europe, and partly in Asia, and its territory includes the Cossack races of the Ural. These people have a superstitious prejudice against male physicians, and are chiefly attended in illness by sorceresses. Miss K. offered to put her medical knowledge at the service of the Cossacks, and received permission to attend the Academy of Medicine. The Cossacks promised her an annual stipend of 28 roubles, but when she passed the half yearly examination as well as the male students, they sent her 300 roubles as a token of good will.
In France, a Mademoiselle Reugger, from Algeria, lately passed a brilliant examination, and received the degree of Bachelor of Letters. She appealed to the Dean of the Faculty at Montpelier for permission to follow the regular course, and was refused on account of her sex. She then turned to the Minister of Public Instruction, who granted it on condition that she should pledge herself to practice only in Algeria, where the Arabs, like the Cossacks, refuse the attendance of male physicians. Unlike our Russian friend, she refused to give the pledge. She threw herself upon her rights, and appealed in person to the Emperor. This was in December last, and I have not been able to find his decision. It was doubtless given in her behalf — for Louis Napoleon will always yield as a favor, what he would stubbornly refuse as a right. The physicians of this country have been occupied this Winter in discussing the discovery by one of their number of the active infeciant in fever and ague. It has been found in the dust like spores of a marsh plant, the Pamella. In Paris, at the same time, a woman of rank claims to have discovered the cause of cholera, in a microscopic insect, developed in low and filthy localities. Her details were so minute, that the Academy of Science, which began by laughing at the introduction of the matter, has been compelled to listen, and the subject is now under investigation.
In spite of the bitter words of warning which John Ruskin has thought it his duty to speak to such women as enter upon theological studies, a good many women in Great Britain and this country have engaged in what is properly the work of the Christian ministry. The only ordained minister whose work has come under our notice since the marriage of Antoinette Blackwell, is the Rev. Olympia Brown, settled over the Universalist Society at Weymouth Landing, Mass. Her ministry has been highly successful, and is to be mentioned here, chiefly on account of a legal decision to which it has given rise. The church at Weymouth Landing made an appeal to the Legislature, last Winter, as to the legality of marriages solemnised by her. The Legislature gave the same general construction to the maacuitne relatives in the enactment which the English law gave to the old Latin word in the Charter of Apothecaries’ Hall, deciding that marriages so solemnized are legal, and no further legislation necessary.
The advance of women, as regards all sorts of labor, in the United States, has been such as might be expected by watchful eyes, and yet reports on the general question will not read very differently from those published ten years ago. In New York, women are still reported as making shirts at 75 cents a dozen, and overalls at 50 cents. These women have two protective unions of their own, not connected with the workingmens’ union, and most of them have naturally enough sympathized with the eight hour movement, not foreseeing, apparently, that the necessary first result of that movement would be a decrease of wages, proportioned to the limitation of time. Ever since the beginning of the war, women have been employed in the public departments, North and South. It has been a matter of necessity, rather than choice. The same causes combined to drive women into field labor and printing offices. All through Minnesota and the surrounding regions, women voluntarily assumed the whole charge of the farms, in order to send their husbands to the field. A very interesting account has been recently published of a farm in Dongola, Ill., consisting of two thousand acres, managed by a highly educated woman, whose husband was a cavalry officer. It was a great pecuniary success. In New Hampshire, last Summer, I was shown open-air graperies, wholly managed by women, in several different localities, and was very happy to be told that my own influence had largely contributed to the experiment. In England, field labor is now recommended to women by Lord Houghton, better known as Mr. Monckton Milnes, who considers it a healthful resource against the terrible abuses of factory life. At a meeting of the British Association, last Fall, he produced a well-written letter from a woman engaged in brick-making. This letter claimed that brick-making paid three times better than factory labor, and ten times better than domestic service. In addition to persons heretofore mentioned in this country, as employing women in out-door work, I would name Mr. Knox, the great fruit-grower, who, on his place near Pittsburg, Pa., employs two or three hundred. I have seen it stated that, during the last four years, twenty thousand women have entered printing-offices. I do not know the basis of this calculation, but, judging from my local statistics, I should think it must be nearly correct.
To the Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, on the eight hour movement, the following towns report concerning the wages and labor of women:
BOSTON. — Glass Co., wages from $4.00 to $8.00 a week. Domestics, from $1.50 to $3.00 per week. Seamstresses, $1.00 a day. Makers of fancy goods, 40 to 50 cents a day.
BROOKLINE. — Washerwomen, $1.00 a day.
CHARLESTOWN AND NEW BEDFORD are ashamed to name the wages, but humbly confess that they are very low.
CHICOPEE — pays women 90 per cent the wages of men.
CONCORD — pays from 8 to 10 cents an hour.
FAIRHAVEN — gives to female photographers one-third the wages of men.
HADLEY — pays three-fourths; to domestics, one-third; seamstresses, one-quarter to one-third.
HOLYOKE — in its paper mills, offers one-third to one-half.
LANCASTER — pays for pocket-book making from 50 to 75 cents a day.
LEE — pays in the paper mills one-half the wages of men.
LOWELL — The Manufacturing Co. averages 90 cents a day. The Baldwin Mills pay 60 to 75 cents a day.
NEWTON — pays its washerwomen 75 cents a day, or 10 cents an hour.
NORTH BECKET — pays to women one-third the wages of men.
NORTHAMPTON — pays $5.00 a week.
SALISBURY — for sewing hats, $1.00 a day.
SOUTH READING — on rattan and shoe work, $5.00 to $10.00 a week.
SOUTH YARMOUTH — half the wages of men, or less.
TAUNTON — one-third to two-thirds the wages of men.
WALPOLE — pays two-thirds the wages of men.
WARKHAM — pays to its domestics from 18 to 30 cents a day; to seamstresses, 50 cents to $1.00.
WILMINGTON — pays two-thirds the wages of men.
WINCHESTER — pays dressmakers $1.00 a day; washerwomen, 12 cents an hour.
WOBURN — keeps its women to work from 11 to 13 hours, and pays them two-thirds the wages of men. On the better side of the question, Fall River testifies that women, in competition, earn nearly as much as men.
LAWRENCE — from the Pacific Mills, that the women are liberally paid. We should like to see the figures. The Washington Mills pay from $1.00 to $2.00 a day.
STONTHAM — gives them $1.50 per week.
WALTHAM — reports the wages of the watch factory as very remunerative. In 1860 I reported this factory as paying from $2.50 to $4.00 a week. Here, also, we should prefer figures to a general statement.
BOSTON — has now many manufactories of paper collars. Each girl is expected to turn out 1,800 daily. The wages are $7.00 a week. In the paper-box factory, more than 200 girls are employed, but I cannot ascertain their wages, and therefore suppose them to be low. I know individuals who earn here $6.00 a week, but that must be above the average.
The best looking body of factory operatives that I have ever seen are those employed in the silk and ribbon mills on Boston Neck, lately under the charge of Mr. J. H. Stephenson, and those at the Florence Silk Mills in Northampton, owned by Mr. S. L. Hill. The classes, libraries and privileges appertaining to these mills, make them the best examples I know, and this is shown in the faces and bearing of the women.
We are always referred to political economy, when we speak of the low wages of women, but a little investigation will show, that other causes co-operate with those, which can be but gradually reached, to determine their rates.
The wilfulness of women themselves, which when I see them in positions, I have helped to open to them, fills me with shame and indignation.
The unfair competition, proceeding from the voluntary labor, in mechanical ways of women, well to do.
For the first, we cannot greatly blame the women whom employers chiefly choose for their good looks for expecting to earn their wages through them, rather than by the proper discharge of their duties. Their conduct is not the less shameful on that account, but I seem to see, that only time, and death, and ruin will educate them.
For the second, we must strive to develop a public sentiment, which, while it continues to hold labor honorable, will stamp with ignominy any women who in comfortable country homes, compete with the workwomen of great cities. There are thousands of wealthy farmer’s wives to-day, who just as much drive other women be sin and death, as if they led them with their own hands to the houses in which they are ultimately compelled to take refuge. Still further it has come to be known to me, that in Boston, and I am told in New York also, wealthy women who do not even do their own sewing, have the control of the finer kinds of fancy work, dealing with the stores which sell such work under various disguises. I cannot prove these words, but they will strike conviction to the hearts of the women themselves, and I wish them to have some significance for men, for if there women had the pocket money, which their taste and position require, they would never dream of such competition. One thing these men should know, that such women are generally known to their employers, and their domestic relations are judged accordingly.
The recent investigations into factory labor in England concern rather the condition than the wages of the women. At flower-making, 11,000 girls are employed from fourteen to eighteen hours daily. In Hardware, shops and factories, they work from six years of age fourteen hours daily. In Glass Factories, 5,000 women are employed from nine years of age and upwards, eighteen hours daily. In Tobacco factories, 7,000 women are employed under conditions of great physical suffering. As Knitters, from six years old, they work fourteen hours daily for 1s. 3d. a week!
This terrible state of things is partly owing to competition with the labor of French machinery. A great deal of ignorant prejudice against machines is one of its results. In Sheffield files are still made by hand, while here in America, we make watches by machinery! The disposition of the whole community both here and in Great Britain, towards this labor question is kindly. It has become a momentous social problem. During the fifteen years, that my attention has been riveted to this subject. I have seen a great change in public feeling.
I have received the Sixth Annual Report of the Society for the employment of women, of which the Earl of Shaftesbury is President, and Mr. Gladstone a Vice-President. This Society has trained some hair-dressers, clerks, glass-engravers, book-keepers, and telegraph operators, but its greatest service consists in the constant issue of tracts, to bias, developing public opinion. Such an association should be started in New York.
I should have been glad to inaugurate in Boston, during the last six years, several important industrial movements. The war checked the enthusiasm, I had succeeded in rousing, and I have not been able to pause in my special work of collecting, and observing facts, to stimulate it afresh, or to solicit personally the necessary means. How easy it would be for a few wealthy women to test these experiments.
I would first establish a Mending School, and having taught women how to darn and patch in a proper manner, I would scatter them through the country, to open shops of their own. As it is, I do not know a city, in which a place exists to which a housekeeper could send a week’s wash, sure that it would be returned with every button-hole, button, hem, gusset and stay, in proper condition. These mending shops should take on apprentices, who should be sent to the house, to do every sort of repairing with a needle.
I would open another school to train women to every kind of trivial service, now clumsily or inadequately performed by men. If for instance, you now send to an upholsterer to have an old window-blind or blind fixture repaired, his apprentice will replace the entire thing, at a proportionate cost, leaving the old screw holes to gape at the gazer. I would train women to wash, repair, and replace in part, and to carry in their pockets, little vials of white or red lead to fill the gaping holes. Full employment could be found for such apprentices.
The number of laws, passed the last six years, affecting the condition of women has been very small.
The New York Assembly in February, 1865, passed a law, putting the legal evidence of a married woman on the same basis as if she were a “feme sole.” The Massachusetts Legislature have legalized marriage ceremonies, performed by an ordained woman, and in January, 1866, Mr. Peckham of Worcester moved for a joint Special Committee, “to consider in what way a more just and equal compensation shall be awarded to female labor.” On the 4th of April just passed Samuel E. Sewall and others, petitioned for leave to appoint women on School Committees. It is difficult to conceive on what ground, such petitioners had leave to withdraw. These things are only valuable as indicating that public attention is still alive. Some remarkable illustrations of the absurdity of old laws, might be recorded. One of these is to be found in the family history of Mad. de Bedout, recently dead at Paris.
A very important convention, came together at Leipsiz, in September, 1865. One hundred and fifty women assembled, pledged to assert the right to labor, and to bridge the gulf between the compensations of the two sexes. Madame Louise Otto Peters opened the conference in an able speech. She stated that there were five millions of women in Germany, who could each earn, if allowed, three thalers a week. A thousand women might find employment as chemists, on salaries of one hundred and fifty thalers a year, exclusive of board and lodging. Another thousand might be employed as boot closers. The foundation of industrial and commercial schools was urged. The weak point of the speech as reported, appeared to be, that it took no cognizance of the fact, that an influx of five million of laborers, must necessarily lower the current rate of wages she proposed. I mention this convention in a legal connection, believing that it was intended to remove some local, legal barriers.
Dr. Hunt, and a few other women, have continued their annual protests without intermission. In somewhat the same way have petitions recently been sent to Congress in behalf of Universal Suffrage. We had no expectation that any favorable reception would await such petitions, but it was a duty to put them on record, if we could do it without perplexing public business. What fate they met in Congress, you have so recently heard, that I have no occasion to record it. Minnesota, New York, and other States, have petitioned their legislatures to the same effect.
The real gain of a reform, starting from the heart of the family, must necessarily be very slow. I remember that some years ago, when I printed my book on labor, one of my kindest critics congratulated the public, that of my nine lectures, I had published only these. He thought it was useless to contend for more book-learning for women — and the subject of Civil Rights still disgusted his sensitive ear. The common sense of the book on labor ought to have shown him how I should treat the subject of education. He could not understand how the woman who gets an education, which does not make her a “bread-winner” is essentially detranded, nor how a woman well paid for her labor, is essentially wronged, when she is denied the privilege of protecting it by her vote. There is, however, a surely growing sense of this, shown in the substantial advance of her civil rights.
1. In the early part of 1865, the people of Victoria, in Australia, assembled to elect a member of parliament, were surprised to find the whole female population voting. Some quick-sighted woman had discovered that the letter of the new law permitted it, and their votes were accepted and wisely given. The London Times, in the month of May, says, that in a country like Australia, it can easily believe that such an extension of the franchise, will be a marked improvement, and thinks that the precedent will stand!
2. The government of Moravia, has also, within the past year, granted the municipal franchise to widows who pay taxes.
3. In January 1854, the Court of Queen’s Bench in Dublin, Ireland, restored to woman the old Right of voting for Town Commissioners. The Justice (Fitzgerald) desired to state that ladies were entitled to sit as Town Commissioners as well as to vote for them, and the Chief Justice took pains to make it clear that there was nothing in either duty, repugnant to womanly habits.
4. The inhabitants of Ain (or Aisne) in France, lately chose nine women into their municipal council.
5. At Bergeres, they elected the whole council, and the Mayor, not being prepared for such good fortune, resigned his office.
6. A very remarkable autograph note of the Queen of England, attracted my attention in 1865. It expressed to Lord John Russell, the queen’s dissatisfaction with Lord Palmerston. It was a very distinct assertion of her regal prerogative, and as such Lord Palmerston submitted to it.
7. Our cause has found able advocates in John Stuart Mill, the New York Evening Post, and Theodore Tilton. If I were asked whether in connection with this gain, we have lost any ground, I should reply that we have decidedly lost it in connection with the daily press. I do not know any newspaper — if I except the Boston Commonwealth, which will print a letter touching civil rights, from any woman precisely as it is written. I think what we need most is to purchase the right to a daily use of half a column of the New York Tribune.
RECORD AND OBITUARIES.
I have been accustomed to connect with reports of this kind, some honorable mention of distinguished women recently dead. I cannot do this at any length, after a pause of so many years, but a few names must be mentioned, a few facts recorded.
1. I had occasion, some years ago, to commemorate the services of Maria Sybilla Merian, painter, engraver, linguist and traveller, who published, at Amsterdam, two volumes of engravings of insects and sixty magnificent plates, illustrating the metamorphoses of the insects of Surinam. I did not at that time know that some of her statements had been held open to suspicion. In the first place, she asserted that a certain fly, the Fulgoria Lantanaria, emitted so much light that she could read her books by its aid. Still further, that one of the large spiders called Mygale, entered the nests of the humming bird in Surinam, sucked its eggs and snared the birds. To all the contention which arose over these statements, Mad. Merian could oppose only her word. Men who knew that her statements in regard to Europe were indisputable, decided that her word could not be taken in Asia. A very common folly, but two hundred years have passed, 1866 arrives, and her justification with it. An English traveller named Bates, has recently rescued quite large finches from the Mygale, and poisoned himself with its saliva, in preparing them for his cabinet.
2. I do not know how many years Madam Baring, the mother of the great banker, has been dead. It is only recently that I have ascertained, that to her prudence, activity, and business habits, the family attribute the sure foundation of their habits. Matthew Baring came to Larkbeare, near Exeter, from Bremen. His wife superintended in his day, the long rows of “burlers,” or women who picked over the woollen cloth he made. Her sons, John and Francis, sought a wider field for the fortune their father left, but did not forget to erect a monument to their mother’s industry.
3. When I first investigated the labor of woman. I was told that the great manufacturing interest, represented by the button factories at Easthampton, Mass., had its origin in the persevering industry of a woman. Last Summer I went personally to see the factories and their proprietor, and it was a pleasant surprise to find the woman of whom I had heard still living. Samuel Williston told me that he did not usually gratify the curiosity of his visitors, but added that if I thought it would be any stimulus to the industry of other women, he should be glad to tell me the story. About forty years ago he had been an unsuccessful speculator in Merino sheep, and his wife strained every nerve to help her family. On going one day to the country store for a supply of knitting, she expressed so much disappointment on being told that there was none for her, that a tailor in the establishment asked her if she would cover some buttons for him. She soon found that certain kinds of buttons were in steady demand. They were then made wholly by hand. She provided herself with materials, took the farmers’ daughters for apprentices, and her husband went to Boston, Hartford and New York to solicit orders. From this small beginning arose one of the most lucrative industries of Massachusetts.
4. About a year since, Eliza W. Farnham laid down her weary head. I did not know her, nor did I sympathize in her theories. They were sustained by her imagination rather than her reason; by her impulses rather than any practical judgment. No moral superiority can justly be conferred on either sex of a being possessed of intellect and conscience. God has conferred no such superiority; yet I gladly name Mrs. Farnham here as a woman whose life, — a bitter disappointment to herself, — was useful to all women, and whose books, published since her death, show a marvellous mental range. I name her with sympathy and admiration.
5. During the last year Madam Charles Lemonnier has died in Paris. She devoted her life to the professional education of women. For six years she found it so difficult to raise the necessary funds, that she had to content herself with sending her pupils to institutions in Germany. In 1862 the Society for the Professional Instruction of Woman was at last constituted, and opened a school in the Rue de Perle. Two other schools have since been opened. One in the Rue de Yal Sainte Catherine, the other in the Rue Roche. The morning is occupied in these schools with general studies. The afternoon with industrial drawing, wood engraving, the making up of garments, linen, etc. She died after initiating a thoroughly successful work.
6. In July, 1865, there died at Corfu a Dr. Barry, attached to the Medical Staff of the British army. He was remarkable for skill, firmness, decision, and great rapidity in difficult operations. He had entered the army in 1813, and had served in all quarters of the globe, with such distinction as to ensure promotion without interest. He was clever and agreeable, but excessively plain, weak in stature, and with a squeaking voice which provoked ridicule. He had an irritable temper and answered some jesting on this topic by calling out the offender and shooting him through the lungs. In 1840 he was made Medical Inspector and transferred from the Cape to Malta. He went from Malta to Corfu, and when the English government ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece, resigned his position in the army and remained at Corfu. There he died last Summer, forbidding, with his latest breath any interference with his remains. The women who attended him regarded this request with the shameless indifference now so common, and unable to believe that an officer who had been forty-five years in the British service, had received a diploma, fought a duel, and been celebrated as a brilliant operator, was not only a woman, but at some period in her life a mother; they called in a Medical Commission to establish these facts. A sad, sad picture which those of us, who enquire into the fortunes of women, can readily understand.
7. Last November deprived us of Lady Theresa Lewes and Mrs. Gaskell. Mrs. Gaskell has perhaps done more than any woman of this century, not confessedly devoted to our cause, to elevate the condition of her sex, and disseminate liberal ideas as to their needs and culture. The first part of her career was one of those brilliant successes which startle us into surprise and admiration. It was checked midway by the publication of her life of Charlotte Bronte, the best and noblest of her works. Checked, because condemned in that instance without a hearing. She could never afterwards feel the elastic pleasure, which was natural to her, in composing and printing, and for three long years afterwards never touched her pen. I would not allude to this subject if every notice of her since her death had not done so, repeating the old censure, as a matter of course. Here in America we may exculpate her. The public was wrong in the first place, inasmuch as it has come to demand biography before biography is possible. The publisher was wrong in the second, for he ought to have known, and could easily have ascertained, now plain a statement the English law would permit. The public was still further wrong when it attributed mis-apprehension and carelessness to a woman, whom it very well knew to be incapable of either. I for one shall never forgive nor forget the officious censure of the Westmissier Resless Censure given by one who must have known that the legal apology tendered in Mrs. Gaskell’s absence to protect her pecuniary interests, had the unfortunate effect to put her in a position where explanation and self-defence were alike impossible. Mrs. Gaskell had deserted the steady confidence of the public.
8. In Paris, recently, died Mrs. Severn Newton. She was the daughter of the artist Severn the friend of Keats, and now British Consul at Rome. About five years since she married Charles Newton, Superintendent of Greek Antiquities at the British Museum. She was a person in whom power and delicacy were singularly blended. Ary Schœffer was accustomed to hold up her work as a model for his pupils. Her renderings of classic sculpture were so true that they were termed translations, and she had recently devoted herself to oil painting with great success. She died of brain fever at the early age of thirty-three, the most honored of female English artists.
9. I have kept till the last the name of Fredrika Bremer, whose good fortune it was to secure lasting benefits to her sex. God sent to her early years dark trials and privations. Her father’s tyrannical hand crushed all power and loveliness out of her life. At first she rebelled against her sufferings, but when he died in her girlhood she was see that they lent strength to her efforts for her sex. It was the rumor of what we were doing in this country for women that first drew her hither. It is not the fashion for Miss Bremer’s friends, fully to recognize her position in this respect. I owe my own convictions on the subject of suffrage to the reflections she awakened. When I told her that my mind was undecided on this point, she showed her disappointment so plainly, that I was forced to reconsider the whole subject. Miss Bremer did not hurry her work. She had a serene confidence that she should be permitted to finish what she had begun. She secured popularity, by her cheerful humor, her genuine feeling, her true appreciation of men, and her insight into the conditions of family happiness, before she made any direct appeal against existing laws. Those who will read her novels thoughtfully, however, will see that she was from the first intent upon making such an effort possible. From the beginning she pleaded for the social independence of wives; asked for them a separate purse; showed that woman could not even give her love freely, until she was independent of him to whom she owed it. To a just state of society, to noble family relations, entire freedom is essential.
Under her influence, females had been admitted to the Musical Academy. The Directors of the Industrial School at Stockholm had attempted to form a class, and Professor Queenstromm had opened his classes at the Academy of Fine Arts to women. Cheered by her sympathy, a female surgeon had sustained herself in Stockholm, and Bishop Argardh endorsed the darkest picture she had ever drawn, when he pleaded with the state to establish a girls school. It was at this juncture that Miss Bremer published Hertha. This book was a direct blow aimed at the laws of Sweden, concerning women. By this time, she had herself become in Sweden what we might fitly call a “crowned head.” She was everywhere treated with distinction, and her sudden appearance in any place, was greeted with the enthusiasm usually shown by such nations only to their princes. She said of her new book, — “I have poured into it more of my heart and life than into anything which I have ever written,” and verily she had her reward. She was at Rome, two years after, in 1858, when the glad news reached her, that king Oscar, at the opening of the Diet, had proposed a bill, entitling women to hold independent property at the age of twenty-five. All Sweden had read the book, which moved the heart of the king, and the assembled Representatives rent the air with their acclamations.
In the following Spring, the old University town of Uppsala where her friend occupies a chair, granted the right of suffrage to fifty women owning real estate, and to thirty-one doing business on their own account. The representative their votes went to elect was to sit in the House of Burgesses. Miss Bremer was not ashamed to shed happy tears when this news reached her. If she had ever reproached Providence with the bitter sorrow of her early years, she was penitent and grateful now. Then was fulfilled the prophecy which she had uttered, as she left our shores: “The nation which was first among Scandinavians to liberate its slaves, shall also be the first to emancipate its women!”
Source: Report to the Convention, in Proceedings of the Eleventh National Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at the Church of the Puritans, New York, May 10, 1866 (New York.: Robert J. Johnston, Printer) 1866, pp. 59-67.