the National Council of Women
of the United States
c.November 15-19, 1896 — First Convention of the National Council of Jewish Women, Tuxedo Hall, New York City
It had been my thought to stand here for a moment to present to you the greetings, not of the women of one organization, but of twenty united organizations making up the National Council of Women of the United States. That National Council is itself only one child in a larger family, called The International Council of Women, which includes not only the National Council of Women of the United States, consisting of twenty national societies like yours, only in many particulars not so beautiful and not so great, but it includes also national councils in England, in Denmark, in Germany, in Switzerland, in Italy, in New Zealand, and only yesterday I received the report of a national council of women organized in New South Wales. My heart prompts me to speak to you of all these women, in a sense outside women, yet there is another and a grander sense in which no woman and no class of women can be outside of that great warm throbbing heart of womanhood that is making of itself a bulwark against the evil and the sin and the shame of the world. We are all of one family, and there is no possibility of making any of us orphans. Certainly, we have learned to work within, and know what it is to work for womanhood through a national council of women everywhere. I should like to speak of all these women, but again I should like to speak only of Jewish women.
As I looked upon your leader here to-night, my heart went back through the centuries to Miriam, who said, “I will sing unto the Lord a new song.” The grandest thing that any human soul can ever do, is to sing unto the Lord, and to sing unto the Lord a new song. And I said, here they are after all these generations to sing to the Lord a new song. She said, “The Lord is my strength and my song.” She called on the people to praise Him, because, she said, “He hath triumphed gloriously.” And I said, surely He has triumphed gloriously, and these women of this generation, bridging over all these centuries, these women are ready to sing Him a new song, a song that means triumph over evil, over the temptations that beset the children in the home, over those things that in our national, political, and economical life are the evils with which even the women are beginning to grapple. There is going to be a glorious triumph over these things, and the women are going to have their share in it. You know a great many women are talking about that song of Miriam as if she wrote it, as if it was not a song that was sung by men who followed Moses in the wilderness march. We have to look out that we don’t leave out the men, and forget that their glorious voices sang the song before we sang it. But it is natural that we women should say, “Yes, yes, Moses’ followers sang the song, but Miriam was the woman who called the women together.”
And so down through the years we hear the women’s voices keeping time to the tinkling of the cymbals.
Then I thought again, as your President was speaking, of that other Jewish woman, Deborah, who not only led the hosts to battle, and not only judged people, but who said, too, “I will sing unto the Lord,” and who made her life music. And I don’t know whether the Jewish women are coming to where they are going to sit in judgment, but I do believe that the womanhood in the homes and the womanhood in the world everywhere is coming to where in its secret soul and by and by, by the utterance of its lips, it sits in judgment over everything that can pollute our religion, over everything that can stain a heart, the heart of our childhood, over everything that can degrade woman-hood, over everything that can bring our national life to be a shame and a disgrace. Silence is golden. Still it is not alone the women who talk that are going to help us in all this work, but it is the women who pray, and the women who are at home, and the women who work. To an organization of 300,000 women, who told me that they had appointed a day of prayer, I said a little while ago, All right; these hands folded in prayer, six hundred thousand hands, mean three hundred thousand women to go out and work with their hearts and their heads; they are six hundred thousand hands to work after the praying is done.
Judea had its judges, its women-judges. They are the judges of the evil; they have also open hearts and ready, quick, warm recognition of everything that is good. They are not going — nor are the women of the national councils in the world everywhere — to live the life that makes against manhood and against boyhood developing into manhood, that says practically in its praying or in its talking, if only we women had had the world to create, we should have made a different sort of thing from what we have, and if we can only get it into our hands, and away from the hands of the men, and out of the hands of the Lord, we shall have everything straight that is crooked, and everything made right that is wrong. It is an awful mistake for us as women to organize that we may organize against manhood. We should organize to be with manhood and to be for manhood. Why, don’t you remember how for generations woman sat at the feet of man, and he, kind and loving, gave her the gentle caress, and even lifted her to the knee and gave her the patronizing kindness that comes to a little child? But woman lifted herself up higher, and came to where she was on a level with man’s heart, and he took her in, and she became his helpmate and his friend and his strong support and his comfort and his inspirer. She had reached his heart. She has gone on a little higher still, not by pulling him down, but by the help of his kind hand and the help of his hospitable heart, which would even jostle his own pet prejudices and notions to make room and space for woman. She has crept up from his feet, up from his knee, up from his heart, up to where she stands the thinking, breathing, living exponent of the highest and best thing that he can dream in life, and of the greatest inspiration that can come either to man or to woman. And she stands there beside him, her level eyes looking out upon this world of sin and sorrow and misery. Their hands clasped together, not the hands of woman alone, are going to do the world’s work, are going to uplift and redeem it, and their two bowed heads together are going to receive the reward of a service and the benediction of their God.
There are a thousand principles touching these principles of unity, principles of sympathy, that might be presented to you here. They all belong to the idea of national council of women. I touch upon only one, when I say, no separation between the sisterhood and the motherhood of the world; no separation of creed; no separation anywhere between any of us of any race or of any faith who care for the blessedness and purity of the home, who care for the glory of our national life; no separation for us as women anywhere, but one underlying principle; no separation either from manhood and brotherhood and husband hood and sisterhood, and that which makes a perfect and complete home.
This is only one of forty underlying principles that are below women’s work, and to these the National Council of Women of the United States, including many organizations, is pledged. On that ground and on that platform I come here to-night to meet you and offer you their greeting. I believe that if every one of the 700,000 hearts represented by these councils in this country, and of the two hundred thousand hearts represented by the councils in the other countries, could make its utterance heard to-night, it would be found to be an utterance of welcome, of gladness, of inspiration; it would be like the outreach of all those hundreds of thousands of hearts, it would be like the unanimous throbbing of all those hundreds of thousands of hearts in unity with your purposes, in sympathy with you as women, and in prayer for the extension and development of your work.
Source: Proceedings of the First Convention of the National Council of Jewish Women, Held at New York, Nov. 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19, 1896 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society), 1897, pp. 48-51.