Put Woman on a Par With Man
c. October 6-8, 1853 — National Woman’s Rights Convention, Melodean Hall, Cleveland OH
I would yield the floor to any one who has anything to say at this time, and would gladly do it. I approve of the suggestion which has been made, that we should be limited as to time, for we are such imitators of men and customs around us, that perhaps we may forget that we are not upon the floor of Congress, and so may inflict long speeches upon the people.
I am gladly you have had presented before you, in the address you have just heard, a synopsis of the laws in relation to women, and the sentiments of some of the commentators upon those laws; and I want you to observe, (for it stands in proof of what our brother said this afternoon,) that there is a constant advance in truth, a constant uprising and appreciation of that which in the earlier days of an enterprise was not anticipated. So in this movement; Blackstone stated what was then regarded Law, (for it did not then appear to be understood, although he too defined it,) as a “means of sustaining justice and the right”–but in giving a statement of what was Law, it was received by the people as tantamount to Gospel; for Law and Gospel, Church and State, have been thus united. But it is to be broken up as regards woman, just as the religionists of our country have attempted to break it up, and have succeeded in the Church, as applicable to men. Our more modern expounders of the Law, in many cases, present to the public the degraded position of women in society, because of such enactments, claiming to be. Law. — Of these are a Hulburt, in an essay on Human Rights, and a Walker, I think, who first presented the fact to the public — or in the reader, not so public as I wish it was — that the Law has made the man and wife one person, and that one person the husband! and Mr. Hulburt has presented the condition of woman in a light which cannot fail to be striking to those who will read his essays.
Look also at the Philosophers of the present time, and the Revolutionists of the last upheaving in Europe. Why, when woman went forth at the last effort to establish a republic through the provisional government in France, and claimed to have equal representation with man, some of the greatest statesmen acknowledged the justice of her request, and responded to it, that she had sat in darkness long, that this claim of women would have to be respected; that woman had too long been suffering under a night-mare of oppression. It was to me a striking comparison at the time I read it. The only cause of the failure of the revolution of 1779, was that it was presented by only one half of the intelligence race — an intelligence differing it is true, in some of its peculiarities, but from that very difference calculated to form a truer republic. Victor Hugo in alluding to this effort on the part of woman for the redress of the wrongs and grievances under which she had suffered, says, that as the last age was notable for the effort to gain Men’s Rights, so the present generation would aim to create a revolution in public sentiment which should gain the independence of woman.
Now these steps are beginning to be followed out everywhere — The Westminister Review, one of the cleverest journals in England, gave a very fair and interesting notice of the first National Woman’s Convention in Worcester, and that article has been republished in this country in pamphlet form. There have been repeated notices also in the best of our own periodicals, encouraging women to go on and advocate their claims.
But, we are told sometimes that we are satisfied; that it is not woman who is urging this movement, and that she really does not wish any change in society. Has the slave been oppressed so long that he cannot appreciate the blessings of Liberty? and has woman been so long crushed, enervated, paralysed, prostrated by the influences by which she has been surrounded, that she too is ready to say she would not have any more rights if she could? Why she does not know her position, and whereof she affirms. A clergyman [?] Auburn, N.Y., soon after the Syracuse Convention, delivered a sermon pronouncing it an infidel convention, — for you know that is the usual weapon of defence against whatever appears to conflict with accepted creeds. He said the ladies of his congregation, he was happy to state, were not sensible of any chains binding them, not sensible of any liberties taken from them. Now this is the common boast–there are persons in your own city who stated on being invited to come to this convention, that they had other engagements, they had to sew at the Home Missionary Society; and if they had not other engagements, they had all the rights they wanted, and did not care to come.
I heard not long since of some one who had several hundred acres of land left him by his father; a friend was speaking to him about the profitableness of his estate; he replied, the profits were not so great as might be supposed; the expenses of the family were large, for he had to keep his mother a good many years, and she lived to be ninety years old! He was asked if she were an active industrious woman in her early days. O yes! in those days she was a very industrious woman. His father and she commenced life poor, but gathered together this great estate by their united industry. How is it then that you can say that your expenses have been increased by having to keep your mother? He felt rebuke much afterwards, and such was the impression it produced, and so great was the change in his views that in his will he recognized no difference between his sons and daughters. He saw the injustice of his past position, and was disposed to make some redress for the wrong done his own mother in making her, in her old age, dependent upon him.
Now, in this particular, there has been a great change in our country. The doing away the laws of primogeniture has opened the eyes of the people, to much evil on all sides, for we cannot begin to look at and redress any one of the wrongs done to mankind in the past, without being carried farther than we imagine, in our first attempt. It was a true philosophy that Jesus uttered, when he said “He that has been faithful over a little, shall be ruler over more.”
It is for the following generation to go on and make yet other advance steps. Such advances are beautiful when we come to look at them. Those of the past have given some Theologians noble ideas; they have come to have more expanded views and to rejoice in the belief of the continued advance of humanity. How much better the Theology which has resulted from these great movements. They have led us to read our Bibles better. Many cannot so read Christ, that progress is going to break up the foundations of society. Why, our own society which has been supposed to make greater strides than others, especially for the rights of man — and they have upon the questions of the ministry and the marriage covenant — has been affected by these advances. As regards the ministry, they did not see so clearly, that is must embrace women also. They took only the ground that ordination must not take the form of a human ceremony; that it was God alone who could appoint to the ministry. Well, they found that this God ordination was manifest in their women also. They began to look at their Bibles, and found there that women were sent forth to minister to the people, as in ancient time. When Deborah was Judge in Israel, when the Captain would not lead the army, and a woman had the glory of the conquests made. Again, when they were in exigency, they went to Huldah, and she counselled them.
It is not Christianity but priestcraft that has subjected woman as we find her. The Church and State have been united, and it is well for us to see it so. We have had to bear the denunciations of these revered (irreverend) clergymen, as in New York, of late. But if we look to their authority to see how they expound the text, quite likely we shall find a new reading. Why, when John Chambers returned to Philadelphia, from the World’s Temperance Convention, at New York, he gave notice that he would give an address, and state the rights of woman as defined by the Bible. Great allowance has been made by some of the speakers in this Convention, on account of his ignorance, and certainly this was charitable. But I heard this discourse. I heard him bring up what is called the Apostolic prohibition, and the old Eastern idea of the subjection of wives; but he kept out of view of the best ideas in the scriptures.
Blame is often attached to the position in which woman is found. I blame her not so much as I pity her. So circumscribed have been her limits, that she does not realize the misery of her condition. Such dupes are men to custom, that even servitude, the worst of ills comes to be thought a good, till down from sire to son it is kept and guarded as a sacred thing. Woman’s existence is maintained by sufferance. The veneration of man has been misdirected, the pulpit has been prostituted, the Bible has been ill-used. It has been turned over and over as in every reform. The temperance people have had to feel its supposed denunciations. Then the antislavery, and now this reform has met, and still continues to meet, passage after passage of the Bible, never intended to be so used. Instead of taking the truths of the Bible in corroberation of the right, the practice has been, to turn over its pages to find example and authority for the wrong, for the existing abuses of society. For the usage of drinking wine, the example of the sensualist Solomon, is always appealed to. In reference to our reform, even admitting that Paul did mean preach, when he used that term, he did not say that the recommendation of that time, was to be applicable to the churches of all after time. We have here, I had liked to have said, the Reverend Intoned Brown. She is familiar enough with these passages to present some of them to you; for it is important when the Bible is thus appealed to, and thus perverted, that it should be read with another pair of spectacles. We have been so long pinning our faith on other peoples sleeves that we ought to begin examining these things daily, ourselves, to see whether they are so; and we should find on comparing text with text, that a very different construction might be put upon them. Some of our early Quakers not seeing how far they were to be carried, became Greek and Hebrew scholars, and they found that the text would bear other translations as well as other constructions. All Bible commentators agree that the Church of Corinth, when the Apostle wrote, was in a state of great confusion. They fell into discussion and controversy; and in order to quiet this state of things, and bring the Church to greater propriety, the command was given out that women should keep silence, and it was not permitted them to speak, except by asking questions at home. In the same epistle to the same Church, Paul gave express directions how women shall prophesy, which he defines to be preaching, “speaking to men” for “exhortation and comfort.” He recognized them in prophesying and praying. The word translated servant, is applied to a man in one part of the scripture, and in another it is translated minister. Now that same word you will find might be applied to phebe, a Deaconess. That text was quoted in the sermon of John Chambers, and he interlarded it with a good deal of his ideas, that woman should not be goers abroad, and read among other things “that their wives were to be teachers.” But the “wives” properly translated would be “Deaconesses.” It is not so Apostolic to make wife subject to the husband as many have supposed. It has been done by Law, and public opinion since that time. There has been a great deal said about sending Missionaries over to the East to convert women who are immolating themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands. I know this may a very good work, but I would ask you to look at it. How many women are there now immolated upon the shrine of superstition and priestcraft, in our very midst, in the assumption that man only has a right to the pulpit, and that if a woman enters it she disobeys God; making woman believe in the misdirection of her vocation, and that it is of Divine authority that she should be thus bound. Believe it not, my sisters. — In this same epistle the word “prophesying” should be “preaching” — “preaching Godliness, &c.” On the occasion of the very first miracle which it is said Christ wrought, a woman went before him and said, “whatsover he biddeth you do, that do.” The woman of Samaria said, “come and see the man who told me all the things that ever I did.”
These things are worthy of note. I do not want to dwell too much upon scripture authority. We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth, we are infidel to truth, in seeking examples to overthrow it. The very first act of note that is mentioned when the disciples and apostles went forth after Jesus was removed from them, was the bringing up of an ancient prophesy, to prove that they were right in the position they then assumed. On the occasion when men and women were gathered together on the holy day of Pentacost, when every man heard and saw those wonderful works which are recorded. Then Peter stood forth some one has said that Peter made a great mistake in quoting the prophet Joel — but, he stated that “the time is come, this day is fulfilled the prophesy, when it is said I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” &c–the language of the Bible is beautiful in its repetition — “upon my servants and my hand-maidens I will pour out my spirit and they shall prophesy.”–Now can anything be clearer than that?
It has sometimes been said that if women were associated with men in their efforts, there would not be as much immorality as now exists, in Congress, for instance, and other places. But we ought, I think, to claim no more for woman than for man; we ought to put woman on a par with man, not invest her with power, or claim for her superiority over her brother. If we do, she is just as likely to become a tyrant as man is; as with Catherine the Second. It is always unsafe to invest man with power over his fellow being, “Call no man master” — that is the true doctrine. But, be sure there would then be better rule than now; the elements which belong to woman as such and to man as such, would be beautifully and harmoniously blended. It is to be hoped there would be less of war, injustice and intolerance in the world than now. Things are tending fast that way, and I hope we shall all be prepared to act. These Conventions ought to give encouragement to the steps of advancement. Now that women are capable of reading, and beginning to be their own painters and historians, you see how much is brought out from history. I heard a lecture last year which astonished me with its number of remarkable women, not only in medicine, but in the Law and jurisprudence, farther back than the twelfth century — all this is encouraging women to go forward in this movement. Why only lately a woman stood forth in England, or France, and plead her own cause and gained it.
And the more her powers are cultivated, the more woman will see the light in which she has been regarded, and when she comes to unite herself in that most holy marriage relation, she will not submit to the authority the church now binds upon her. Women are bound by the church on one hand, and acknowledge subjection to the laws and to the husband under the church and the law, on the other part. I cannot bear to hear woman blamed. She is taught that she must promise that she will be obedient to her husband. I know some ministers now who make a little change in this respect. A minister said to me the other day, that he did not make the parties promise to obey. He used the word “dutiful,” for the wife; “well then” I said, “you will make it apply to the husband also, will you not?” he replied perhaps he would hereafter.
I alluded to my own society making no difference between man and woman in the ministry and the duties of the marriage covenant. It seemed to be a great step for those early reformers, William Penn and George Fox, moving as they did in fashionable society, amid the universal veneration for power in that country. It was a great step for them to take — making the marriage relation entirely reciprocal–asking no priest to legalize their union, but declaring their own marriage, and themselves invoking the Divine aid.
When woman shall be properly trained, and her spiritual powers developed, she will find in entering the marriage union nothing necessarily degrading to her. The independence of the husband and wife should be equal, and the dependence reciprocal. But Oh! how different now! The so-called church, and the state together, have made her a perfect slave. Talk of the barbarous ages! Why the barbarous ages are now! Even now, she may be yoked with the beasts of burthen in the field. In France, she loads herself most heavily with the baggage of passengers. The Irishwoman now goes about barefoot, the husband with shoes and stockings; — she with her child in her arms, he carrying nothing. I have seen these cases again and again in a little travel of a few months in the old world; and what might those see who go throughout the continent. Woman is not considered there as out of her sphere in pitching hay upon the stack; when the coach stops for relays of horses, the coachman does not leave the box, but a woman comes out and takes the four horses, leads them away, and returns with the other four from the stable. Talk of the barbarous ages! They are now!
Notwithstanding all these things, women in this country will not come to our conventions to hear Women’s Rights. They may be the mere toys and playthings of society, and do not therefore feel these things. They can amuse their husbands, and brothers, and fathers by beautiful notes of music or by the dance, and I do not say that these things are not very well when practiced at home instead of in public places, and not continued till late hours of the night. When we consider the character of the romance, the sickly sentimental yellow covered literature that she reads, we cannot except that she will be much. Then in other cases, she has too much to do to be a fine show. These are the extremes. We want woman to come forth and walk in a higher sphere than either of these. Let her come forth and fill it, and she will certainly show forth the beauty of higher aims in life. Why, to-day, a woman at one of your most respectable hotels, dressed in a fashionable manner, saw one of our women in the street dressed in a Bloomer costume. She tho’t it “an insult to decency,” and expressed herself very indignantly. But how was she dressed herself? Why, laced so tight that she could scarcely breathe, and her clothes so long that when she went out into the dusty streets her garments formed a kind of broom to gather up the dust. This is beautiful! This is fashionable!
But blessed be the advance of the age, for it is teaching woman the principles of physiology. Many are going forth teaching this science to ears annointed to hear, and finding eyes skillful to see, and souls wise to so observe the Laws of health, that they may not be subject to disease, or require so much of miserable medical treatment. Then again many are availing themselves of the profitable occupations of society, in the way of mercantile business. In Philadelphia it is no uncommon thing to see women behind the counter. To be sure if they are only employed see the merchant can rob them of half their wages. But they are becoming capitalists, and setting up their own stores. In some of the works of the Artizan, in Jewelry, in Daguerreotyping, and in many other departments, women are coming forward and showing themselves apt scholars; that they can do something besides stitching wristbands and making samplers. In early days, how many hours were employed in making emery strawberries, in foolish fancy work, and in overworked samplers. Women are now beginning to learn that men can do without so much stitching. Indeed, so greatly is Discovery progressing, that machines are already doing a large portion of this work. A woman in the Crystal Palace sits by a sewing machine to show the visitors how one woman, in a day, can perform the work of thirty or forty women in the same time! On the Island of Nantucket — for I was born on that Island — I can remember how our mothers were employed, while our fathers were at sea. The mothers with their children round them — ’twas not customary to have nurses then–kept small groceries and sold provisions, that they might make something in the absence of their husbands. At that time it required some money and more courage to get to Boston. — They were obliged to go to that city, make their trades, exchange their oils and candles for dry goods, and all the varieties of a country store, set their own price, keep their own accounts; and with all this, have very little help in the family, to which they must discharge their duties. Look at the heads of those women; they can mingle with men; they are not triflers; they have intelligent subjects conversation.
This then is what we ask for woman, that she may be so prepared for life’s duties, that can be fill her walk in life respectably, and show that she can be something more than a slave, on the one hand, or a toy, or an effeminate being on the other. She is giving the proof of this. She is doing this to-day. Go on then and encourage her, O! my brothers. I have no idea that there is on the part of man, or the race, such a disposition to love the wrong, as many suppose. We have been so much accustomed to false Theology, that we might think the whole race were really fallen, if we did not know better. Why, this very afternoon, I heard quoted in the Temperance Convention — but there is no such passage in the Bible, “The heart of man is prone to evil, and that continually.”
Now we know that man is prone to good, and that continually. Job stated that “man was prone to trouble, as the sparks to fly upwards.” But how has Theology perverted it! Man is prone to evil! Why the very evils there are in society around us, are greatly mitigated by the goodness of heart, that is natural in man. His inherent love of justice, right, mercy, and goodness, are ever operating upon him, and leading him to act aright. Why is it that good works have such great success all over the world? Translate that sermon on the Mount into all languages, and the response to it, is world wide. Why is it that Harriet Beecher Stowe has had such success throughout the wide world? Because her work reaches the sense of right in the universal human heart.
Did Elizabeth Fry, of England, neglect her family? No! After rearing her eight or ten children, she went forth and did the things that Howard did, and greater. See Dorothea Dix, and what a ministering angel she has been! Look at the licentiousness of our own city of Penn, and see how Myra Townsend went forth and established a reformatory house for her sisters; see how she gathered them there and improved their situations, and awakened in them a desire for a better life. The other day I had a letter from a young married woman, who told me she had heard a woman say that when she had eleven children, she had less trouble with them, than when she had but four, for as the older ones grew older, they were a help to her in caring for the younger. She wrote to me putting five or six questions to me on the subject of woman’s rights. She was going to deliver a lecture in Pennsylvania. She had advantages that we did not have in our day. She had been a little accustomed to speak in public, and tho she had the care of her little children, and with her own hands had to make the bread for a family of twenty, yet she was ready to do what she could. She had hard work to do where the lectured, for many of her auditors were ignorant Dutch women.
Source: Proceedings of the National Woman’s Rights Convention held at Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, October 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1853 (Cleveland: Gray, Beardsley, Spear & Co.) 1854, pp. 56-67.