Male and Female Created He Them
May 28, 1851 — Universalist Church, Second Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, Akron OH
I am at a loss, kind friends, to know whether to return you thanks or not, for the honor conferred upon me. And when I tell you that I have never in my life attended a regular business meeting, and am entirely inexperienced in the forms and ceremonies of a deliberative body, you will not be surprised that I do not feel remarkably grateful for my present position. For though you have conferred an honor upon me, I very much fear I shall not be able to reflect it back. I will try.
When our forefathers left the old and beaten paths of New England, and struck out for themselves in a new and unexplored country, they went forth with a slow and cautious step, but with firm and resolute hearts. The land of their fathers had become too small for their children. Its soil answered not their wants. The parents shook their heads, and said with doubtful and foreboding faces, “Stand still, stay at home.” This has sufficed for us — we have lived and enjoyed ourselves here. True, our mountains are high, and our soil is rugged and cold; but you won’t find a better; change, and trial, and toil, will meet you at every step. Stay, tarry with us, and go not forth to the wilderness.
But the children answered, Let us go. This land has sufficed for you, but the one beyond the mountains is better. We know there is trial, toil and danger: but for the sake of children, and our children’s children, we are willing to meet all.
They went forth, and pitched their tents in the wilderness. An herculean task was before them — the rich and fertile soil was shadowed by a mighty forest, and giant trees were to be felled. The Indian roamed the wild, wide hunting-grounds, and claimed them as his own. He must be met and subdued. The savage beasts howled defiance from every hill top and in every glen. They must be destroyed.
Did the hearts of our fathers fail? No, they entered upon their new life, their new world, with a strong faith and a mighty will. For they saw in the prospection a great and incalculable good. It was not the work of an hour, nor of a day — not of weeks or months — but of long struggling, toiling, painful years.
If they failed at one point, they took hold at another. If their paths through the wilderness were at first crooked, rough and dangerous, by little and little they improved them. The forest faded away, the savage disappeared, the wild beasts were destroyed, and the hopes and prophetic visions of their far-seeing powers in the new and untried country, were more than realized.
Permit me to draw a comparison between the situation of our forefathers in the wilderness, without even so much as a bridle-path through its dark depths, and our present position. The old land of moral, social, and political privilege seems too narrow for our wants; its soil answers not to our growing, and we feel that we see clearly a better country that we might inhabit. But there are mountains of established law and custom to overcome a wilderness of prejudice to be subdued; a powerful foe of selfishness and self-interest to overthrow; wild beasts of pride, envy, malice, and hate to destroy. Bu for the sake of our children and our children’s children, we have entered upon the work, hoping and praying that we may be guided by wisdom, sustained by love, and led and cheered by the earnest hope of doing good.
I shall enter into no labored argument to prove that woman does not occupy the position in society to which her capacity justly entitles her. The rights of mankind emanate from their natural wants and emotions. Are not the natural wants and emotions of humanity common to, and shared equally by, both sexes? Does man hunger and thirst, suffer cold and heat more than woman? Does he love and hate, hope and fear, joy and sorrow more than woman? Does his heart thrill with a deeper pleasure in doing good? Can his soul writhe in more bitter agony under the consciousness of evil or wrong? Is the sunshine more glorious, the air more quiet, the sounds or harmony more soothing, the perfume of flowers more exquisite, or forms of beauty more soul- satisfying to his sense than to hers? To all these interrogatories every one will answer, No!
Where then did man get the authority that he now claims over one half of humanity? From what power the vested right to place woman — his partner, his companion, his helpmate in life — in an inferior position? Came it from nature? Nature made woman his superior when she made her his mother; his equal when she fitted her to hold the sacred position of wife. Does he draw his authority from God, from the language of holy write? No! For it says that “Male and female created he them, and gave them dominion.” Does he claim it under law of the land? Did woman meet with him in council and voluntarily give up all her claim to be her own lawmaker? Or did the majesty of might place this power in his hands? The power of the strong over the weak makes man the master! Yes, there, and there only, does he gain his authority.
In the dark ages of the past, when ignorance, superstition, and bigotry held rule in the world, might made the law. But the undertone, the still small voice of Justice, Love, and Mercy, have ever been heard pleading the cause of humanity, pleading for truth and right; and their low, soft tones of harmony have softened the lion heart of might, and, little by little, he has yielded as the centuries rolled on; and man, as well as woman, has been the gainer by every concession. We will ask him to yield still; to allow the voice of woman to be heard; to let her take the position which her wants and emotions seem to require; to let her enjoy her natural rights. Do not answer that woman’s position is now all her natural wants and emotions require. Our meeting here together this day proves the contrary; proves that we have aspirations that are not met. Will it be answered that we are factious, discontented spirits, striving to disturb the public order, and tear up the old fastness of society? So it was said of Jesus Christ and His followers, when they taught peace on earth and good-will to men. So it was said of our forefathers in the great struggle for freedom. So it has been said of every reformer that has ever started out the care of progress on a new and untried track.
We fear not man as an enemy. He is our friend, our brother. Let woman speak for herself, and she will be heard. Let her claim with a calm and determined, yet loving spirit, her place, and it will be given her. I pour out no harsh invectives against the present order of things — against our fathers, husbands, and brothers; they do as they have been taught; they feel as society bids them they act as the law requires. Woman must act for herself.
Oh, if all women could be impressed with the importance of their own action, and with one united voice, speak out in their own behalf, in behalf of humanity, they could create a revolution without armies, without bloodshed, that would do more to ameliorate the condition of mankind, to purify, elevate, ennoble humanity, than all that has been done by reformers in the last century.
Source: The Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at Akron, Ohio, May 28 and 29, 1851. (Cincinnati: Ben Franklin), 1851, pp. 3-7.
Also: Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776—1936, ed. Dorothy May Emerson (Boston: Skinner House), 2000, pp. 35-37.