We Must Be Free
October 23, 1850 — Women’s Rights Convention, Brinley Hall, Worcester MA
In our account of the work of Creation, when it was so gloriously finished in the garden of Eden, by placing there, in equal companionship, man and woman, made in the image of God, alike gifted with intellect, alike endowed with immortality, it is said the Creator looked upon his work, and pronounced it good — that “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Since that time, through the slow rolling of darkened ages, man has ruled by physical power, and wherever he could gain the ascendancy, there he has felt the right to dictate — even though it degraded his equal companion — the mother who bore him — the playmate of his childhood — the daughter of his love. Thus, in many countries we see woman reduced to the condition of a slave, and compelled to do all the drudgery necessary to her lord’s subsistence. In others she is dressed up as a mere plaything, for his amusement; but everywhere he has assumed to be her head and lawgiver, and only where Christianity has dawned, and right not might been the rule, has woman had anything like her true position. In this country even, republican, so called, and Christian, her rights are but imperfectly recognised, and she suffers under the disability of caste. These are facts that, in the light of the nineteenth century, demand our attention. “ Are we always to remain in this position” is a question we have come here to discuss.
The natural rights of woman are co-equal with those of man. So God created man in his own image ; in the image of God created he him; male and female, created he them. There is not one particle of difference intimated as existing between them. They were both made in the image of God. Dominion was given to both over every other creature, but not over each other. They were expected to exercise the vicegerency given to them by their Maker in harmony and love.
In contending for this co-equality of woman’s with man’s rights, it is not necessary to argue, either that the sexes are by nature equally and indiscriminately adapted to the same positions and duties, or that they are absolutely equal in physical and intellectual ability; but only that they are absolutely equal in their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — in their rights to do, and to be, individually and socially, all they are capable of, and to attain the highest usefulness and happiness, obediently to the divine moral law.
These are every man’s rights, of whatever race or nation, ability or situation, in life. These are equally every woman‘s rights, whatever her comparative capabilities may be — whatever her relations may be. These are human rights, equally inherent in male and female. To repress them in any degree is in the same degree usurpation, tyranny, and oppression. We hold these to be self-evident truths, and shall not now discuss them. We shall assume that happiness is the chief end of all human beings; that existence is valuable in proportion as happiness is promoted and secured; and that, on the whole, each of the sexes is equally necessary to the common happiness, and in one way or another is equally capable, with fair opportunity, of contributing to it. Therefore each has an equal right to pursue and enjoy it. This settled, we contend: —
1. That women ought to have equal opportunities with men for suitable and well compensated employment.
2. That women ought to have equal opportunities, privileges, and securities with men for rendering themselves pecuniarily independent.
3. That women ought to have equal legal and political rights, franchises, and advantages with men.
Let us consider each of these points briefly. Women ought to have equal opportunities with men for suitable and well compensated employment in all departments of human exertion.
Human beings cannot attain true dignity or happiness except by true usefulness. This is true of women as of men. It is their duty, privilege, honor, and bliss to be useful. Therefore give them the opportunity and encouragement. If there are positions, duties, occupations, really unsuitable to females, as such, let these be left to males. If there are others unsuitable to men, let these be left to women. Let all the rest be equally open to both sexes. And let the compensation be graduated justly, to the real worth of the services rendered, irrespective of sex.
However just and fair this may seem, it is far from actual experience.
Tradition so palsies public sentiment with regard to the comparative privileges and rights of the sexes, that but little even is thought of the oppressions that exist, and woman seems to have made up her mind to an eternal inferiority. I say eternal, because development constitutes our greatness and our happiness.
If we do not properly develope our human natures in this sphere of existence, it is a loss that can never be made up. Hence, for the sake of her angel-nature, her immortality, woman should have her inalienable rights. She cannot act freely, be true to her moral nature, or to her intellect ; she cannot gratify her charity or her taste, without pecuniary independence, that which is produced by suitable and well compensated employment. Woman, in order to be equally independent with man, must have a fair and equal chance. He is in no wise restricted from doing, in every department of human exertion, all he is able to do. If he is bold and ambitious, and desires fame, every avenue is open to him. He may blend science and art, producing a competence for his support, until he chains them to the car of his genius, and, with Fulton and Morse, wins a crown of imperishable gratitude. If he desires to tread the path of knowledge up to its glorious temple-summit, he can, as he pleases, take either of the learned professions as instruments of pecuniary independence, — while he plumes his wings for a higher and higher ascent. Not so with woman. Her rights are not recognised as equal. Her sphere is circumscribed not by her ability, but by her sex. The wings of her genius are clipped, because she is a woman. If perchance her taste leads her to excellence in the way they give her leave to tread, she is worshipped as almost divine; but if she reaches for laurels which they have in view, they scream after her, “You are a woman.” She is sneered at for her weakness, while she is allowed little or no chance for development. The number of her industrial avocations are unnecessarily restricted, far more than reason demands. And when she is engaged in the same occupations with men, her remuneration is greatly below what is awarded to her stronger associates. Those women who are married, and have the care of families, have duties and responsibilities that rest peculiarly upon themselves, and which they must find their highest pleasure in performing. But while they have disciplined themselves by faithfulness and attention to all these, say not to them — you have done all you may do, keep your minds and attention within that narrow circle, though your mature an ripened intellects would fain be interested in whatever concerns the larger family of man, and your affections strong in a healthful growth, yearn towards the suffering and the afflicted of every country.
And why not allow to those who have not become “happy wives and mothers,” those who are anxious of leading active and useful lives, of maintaining an honorable independence, a fair chance with men, to do all they can do with propriety?
At present it is well nigh a misfortune to a poor man to have a large family of daughters. Compared with sons their chances for an honest livelihood are few. Though they may have intellect of a high order, yet they must be educated to be married as the chief end of their being. They must not forget that they are females in their aspirations for independence, for greatness, for education. Their alternatives are few. The confined factory, the sedentary, blighting life of half-paid seamstresses, perhaps a chance at folding books, or type setting may keep them along until the happy moment arrives, when they have an offer of marriage, and their fears for sustenance end by a union with the more favored sex. This should not be so. Give girls a fair chance to acquaint themselves with any business they can well do. Our daughters should fit themselves equally with our sons, for any post of usefulness and profit that they may choose. What good reason is there why the lighter trades should not open with equal facilities for their support, and why their labor should not be well paid in any useful and profitable department? Is it fair that strong and able men capable of tilling the soil, should be paid high wages for light mechanical labor that is denied woman because she is a woman, and which she could with equal facility execute? The newspaper press, clerkships, and book-keeping, not now to mention different offices in Government, (whose duties are principally writing,) would, if they were equally open to our daughters, afford them an opportunity of well paid and congenial employment; would relieve them from the necessity of marriage or want, and thereby add dignity and energy to their character. What good reason is there why women should not be educated to mercantile pursuits, to engage in commerce, to invent, to construct, in fine to do anything she can do? Why so separate the avocations of the sexes? I believe it impossible for woman to fulfil the design of God in her creation until her brethren mingle with her more as an equal, as a moral being, and lose in the dignity of her immortal nature the idea of her being a female. Until social intercourse is purified by the forgetfulness of sex we can never derive high benefit from each other’s society in the active business of life. Man inflicts injury upon woman, unspeakable injury in placing her intellectual and moral nature in the background, and woman injures herself by submitting to be regarded only as a female.
She is called upon loudly, by the progressive spirit of the age, to rise from the station where man, not God, has placed her, and to claim her rights as a moral and responsible being, equal with man.
As such, both have the same sphere of action, and the same duties devolve on both, though these may vary according to circumstances.
Fathers and mothers have sacred duties and obligations devolving upon them which cannot belong to others. These do not attach to them as man and woman, but as parents, husbands, and wives. In all the majesty of moral power, in all the dignity of immortality let woman plant herself side by side with man on the broad platform of equal human rights. By thus claiming privileges, encouragements, and rights with man, she would gain the following results:
1. A fair development of her natural abilities and capabilities, physical, intellectual, economical, and moral.
2. A great increase of self-respect, conscious responsibility, womanly dignity, and influence.
3. Pecuniary competence, or the ready resource for acquiring it in some department of human exertion.
4. A far higher moral character, etc.
Now take a survey of things as they are. The general opinion that woman is inferior to man, bears with terrible and paralyzing effect on those who are dependent upon their labor, mental or physical, for a subsistence. I allude to the disproportionate value set upon the time and labor of men and women. A man engaged in teaching can always, I believe, command a higher price for his services, than a woman, though he teach the same branch, and though he be in no respect superior to the woman. It is so in every occupation in which both engage indiscriminately. For example, in tailoring, a man has twice as much for making a coat, or pantaloons, as a woman, although the work done by each may be equally good. In the employments which are peculiar to women, their time is estimated at only half the value of that of men. The washer-woman works as hard in proportion as the wood-sawyer, yet she makes not more than half as much by a day’s work. Thus by narrowing the sphere of woman, and reducing her remuneration of labor so unjustly, her resources are few and she finds it hard to acquire an honorable independence. Necessity, we are compelled to believe, cruel necessity, often drives her to vice, especially in our large cities; as the only alternative from starvation! Deplorable and heart sickening as the statement is, I have good authority for saying that more than half of the prostitutes of our towns are driven to that course of life from necessity! M. Duchatelet, in his investigation in Paris, established this fact in the clearest manner. In his work, Vol. I., p. 96, we read the following statement: “Of all causes of prostitution in Paris, and probably in all large towns, there are none more influential than the want of work and indigence resulting from insufficient earnings. What are the earnings of our laundresses, our seamstresses, our milliners? Compare the wages of the most skillful with the more ordinary and moderately able, and we shall see if it be possible for these latter to provide even the strict necessaries of life. And if we further compare the prices of their labor with that of others less skillful, we shall cease to wonder that so large a number fall into irregularities, thus made inevitable! This state of things has a natural tendency to increase in the actual state of our affairs, in consequence of the usurpation by men, of a large class of occupations, which it would be more honorable in our sex to resign to the other. Is it not shameful, for example, to see in Paris thousands of men in the prime of their age in shops and warehouses, leading a sedentary and effeminate life, which is only suitable for women ?”.
M. Duchatelet has other facts, which show that even filial and maternal affection drive many to occasional prostitution as a means, and the only means left them, of earning bread for those depending on them for support. He says, “It is difficult to believe that the trade of prostitution should be embraced by certain women as a means of fulfilling their filial or maternal duties. Nothing, however, is more true. It is by no means rare to see married women, widowed, or deserted by their husbands, becoming abandoned, with the sole object of saving their families from dying with hunger. It is still more common to find young females, unable to procure, from honest occupations, adequate provision for their aged and infirm parents, reduced to prostitute themselves in order to eke out their livelihood. I have found,” says he, “ too many particulars regarding these two classes, not to be convinced that they are far more numerous than is generally imagined.” Had I time, I could read you pages from the London “Morning Chronicle,” on the Metropolitan Poor, where the most affecting cases are stated of poverty and of destitution, enough to melt the heart of steel, where poor creatures have been driven to vice from absolute starvation, — suffering remorse and self-loathing the most intolerable. Poor outcasts! — miserable lepers! Their touch even, in the very extremity of human suffering, shaken off as if it were a pollution! They seem to be considered far more out of the pale of humanity than negroes on a slave plantation, or felons in a Pasha’s dungeon! It is thought to be discreditable to a woman even to know of their existence.
You may not mention them in public. You may not allude to them in a book without staining its pages. Our sisters, whose poverty is caused by the oppressions of society, who are driven to sin by want of bread, — then regarded with scorn and turned away from with contempt! I appeal to you in their behalf, my friends. Is it not time to throw open to women, equal resources with men, for obtaining honest employment? If the extremity of human wretchedness — a condition which combines within itself every element of suffering, mental and physical, circumstantial and intrinsic — is a passport to our compassion, every heart should bleed for the position of these poor sufferers. I have the authority of Dr. Ryan, and of Mr. Mayhew, persons of well known integrity, who have investigated most faithfully and patiently the matter, — though it was a difficult and painful task, which they prosecuted with the most unwearied benevolence, sometimes travelling ten miles to ascertain the characters of women who made their statements to them, — and they publicly affirm, that nearly all were driven to dissolute lives because there were no means open to them of obtaining an adequate maintenance. The writer in the Edinburgh Review, who presented extracts from the elaborate researches of Duchatelet, in Paris, says, “We believe, on our honor, that nine out of ten originally modest women who fall from virtue, fall from motives or feelings in which sensuality and self have no share. Aye, we believe that hard necessity, — that grinding poverty, — that actual want, induced by their scanty resources, drive them to vice.” Now let me present his statistics.
Of the 5,183 Parisian prostitutes, his investigations show that: — 2,690 were driven to the profession by parental abandonment, excessive want, and actual destitution; 86 thus earned food for the support of parents or children; 280 were driven by shame from their homes; 2,181 were abandoned by their seducers, and had nothing to turn to for a living! You may say, this may be the case in the old countries, but not in our own cities. Very little difference exists in the state of actual society here. Women are the same proscribed class here as elsewhere. The same difference is made between male and female labor. Public opinion surrounds them with ten thousand restrictions. The law disfranchises them. Christianity, to whose influence alone woman is indebted for all social dignity that she now enjoys, is appealed to, as sustaining the present degree of dominion over her, and tortured to prove her inferiority. Thus the cause exists, and why may not the evil also? It does exist to a fearful degree. And, painful though the contemplation of the sad picture may be, it is nevertheless our duty to investigate and seek its cause — then to apply the remedy — and to do now what we may to educate a different public sentiment.
I come now to my second proposition.
Women ought to have equal opportunities, privileges, and securities with men for rendering themselves pecuniarily independent. And why not? Can woman be independent, free, and dignified without the means? Can she provide for future wants, exercise proper economy, without the means for so doing? Without a certain degree of pecuniary independence, it is impossible for man or woman to rise in usefulness, excellence, and enjoyment to the height of their natural capabilities. Women at present are cramped, dwarfed, and cowed down. Mothers, with large families of girls, though they may see in them intellect and genius, which, were they boys, might open to them in the future the pathway to independence and perhaps to fame, find that to girls nearly all avenues are closed. There are some branches of the fine arts, if they are very remarkably gifted, where they may find brilliant and dazzling success, as in the case of Jenny Lind. They may perhaps excel as poets and as painters. But these are the exceptions. Greatness is rare. Though they may see in their daughters the large reasoning powers that would enable them with much advantage to pursue the study of the law, yet Blackstone and Coke must be shut to them. The bright pinions of their intellect remain unfolded, and they are perhaps permitted to learn the trade of a milliner, already crowded to excess, and miserably paid. For men, too, have monopolized the profits in that business, and hire their milliners at the lowest possible wages. Very few girls can acquire money enough to compete with the aspirants of the other sex, and so they must submit to their destiny. Again, the mother may see largely developed in her daughter qualities that might fit her eminently for a physician. A distinguished doctor once said, “there are no diseases, there are diseased people;” and this fact explains the claim of women to the profession of medicine, for who understand so well as women the peculiarities of individual character? Their marvellous powers of observation, their tenderer sympathies, their greater caution, render them peculiarly qualified for the position; yet whoever heard of a female M. D.? And that mother would run the risk of incurring the world’s laugh, who should avow the design of having her daughter prepare herself to be a physician! All the education she is allowed, all the resources opened before her, have for their object marriage, that is to say, a husband. “She was made only for man,” is the idea, and of what use will this or that be to her, when she is married? To develop all her faculties, as an individual, is not thought of. Does not a woman live for herself, then? Is she not a member of the race, an immortal being, unless she is married? O yes, for above these titles of wife and mother, which depend upon circumstances, accidental and transitory, are suspended by absence and perhaps broken by death, there is for woman a title, eternal, inalienable, preceding and rising above all, — that of human being, co-existent with man; and with him she can demand the most complete development of heart and mind. In the name of eternity, then, in behalf of the race, we ask her elevation. Do you acknowledge this ? Do my sisters here feel that they have relations to the Universe, — capabilities to be developed for immortality? In the name of eternity, we ask our brothers no longer to proscribe our sphere. I say, then, that we are cramped, dwarfed, and cowed down, for the want of pecuniary independence. Is not this a miserable doctrine, that woman is subject to the man, that she must, if married, ask her husband to dole out her charities for her, to say when she may sign a petition, when she may speak out for the dumb, when she may plead for the poor, when she may visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction? Does it not compel her to take off the crown of her womanhood, and lay it at man’s feet? No; give her her right to the disposal of her own property, to the disposal of her own earnings. As a wife, do not compel her to explain all her needs to one who can scarcely apprehend them from his want of attention to her situation and comforts, but let her have an equal right to the disposal of her earnings, equal privileges with man to acquire, hold, and manage property. The rightfulness of this is beginning to be felt and acknowledged. Laws have been recently passed by many of the States, giving to wives the right to control property owned before marriage; and would it not be equally just to give to them also some well protected rights regarding what they may save and acquire by a faithful discharge of their duties as wives and heads of families.
Thus, employment and occupations being opened, as contended for just now under the first head, let all other opportunities, privileges, and securities of law, custom, and usage, follow. Then woman, at every step, becomes greater, in all respects; more free and dignified; less the plaything, and more a fit companion for man, — a truer and better wife and mother, more influential for good everywhere, in all the relations of life. Thus marriage, generation, education, man, the race, — all rise higher and higher. Look again, and see how things are, and the consequences. Woman degenerates, physically and intellectually. By thus narrowing their sphere, and curtailing their rights and resources, women are doomed to an endless routine of domestic drudgery, to an indoor sedentary life, with little or no stimulus to great or noble endeavors. They feel, indeed, with their narrow views and narrow interests, and their weakened bodies, that they are overcrowded and overdone with cares and labors. Dooming women to satisfy their love for excellence in household arrangements only — their love for beauty in dress, etc., is a great injury to both soul and body. We are so constituted, that exercise and great exertion, with high and soul-arousing objects, are potent to give us strength and powers of endurance. Witness wives in the times of our Revolution, think of the privations, hardships, and toil our grandmothers endured; compare them with the sickly race of wives and mothers whom modern improvements and labor-saving machinery in cloth-making are relieving from so much exertion, yet reducing their physical strength in proportion!
My remedy for this increasing degeneracy in health and consequent weakness of mind, is: — give woman her rights; acknowledge her equality with man in privileges for the improvement of all her gifts; lift off the incubus weight, that crushes half her rights; allow her to feel that she has other obligations resting upon her than the eternal routine of domestic affairs. The beautiful home duties she will none the more neglect, but with new-springing happiness she will, with new strength, perform them, stimulated and cheered by the new relations she is sustaining. Change is rest; and woman will so find it when she allows her mind to change from the narrow circle of home duties to take a general survey of the vast machinery of affairs, where she too has responsibilities and interests. If married women have too little stimulus and objects, how much less have young girls, whose very dreams of the future are restricted to getting married! Having no encouragement for great endeavors, excluded from the liberal professions by the law, how many poor victims, who are not obliged “ to labor” but only “ to wait,” are yielded up to be the prey of that frightful disease called ennui.
To suffer with pain, and to be exhausted with toil, are evils, doubtless very great afflictions, but from these we do not shrink, for they are the necessary consequences of life; but ennui, — that scourge of existence, that living death, that conscious annihilation, that painful, aching nothingness, — that it is which corrodes and destroys the soul. Painful, though true, our country abounds in young ladies whom forced idleness condemns to this torture. I say forced, because a false public sentiment restricts and condemns woman to a few crowded avocations, so that she has nothing to stimulate her ambition or to encourage her hopes. Thus she yields to her slavery, her imprisonment. Ah, it is work, approved, creditable, well-paid work, that would reanimate these wretched existences. There are hard trials on this earth, but God has appointed labor, and all are cured. Work is a pleasure unequalled in itself; it is the preserver of all other pleasures. All may abandon us, — wit, gaiety, love, — but industry may still be ours; and the deep enjoyment which it produces, brings with it life’s greatest pleasure, the approval of a good conscience. It is of this good that woman is deprived. She is accused of being too imaginative, and yet she is left a prey to reverie. She is complained of for being easily impressed, and yet society does its utmost to increase that susceptibility. This is cruel, oppressive. Dispute our rights, envy us our claim as mothers, but leave us our privilege to labor. Give us our just remuneration. Allow us a fair and equal chance, if you would see the genius of woman rising in its peculiar beauty, its free and natural manifestation.
The soul needs some aliment, if it is not to be left to prey on itself. What is called instruction will not serve the purpose. What is study without an object, knowledge without practice? Instruction enlarges the circle of woman’s wants, without bringing anything to satisfy them; gives thirst, but supplies no drink; for to live is not to learn, but to apply. When so large a share of the public business is writing, why are so many maiden middle-aged ladies restless with ennui, having nothing to do? Why are overseerships in female prisons, in manufactories, in asylums, filled so entirely by men? Because women are a proscribed caste, the weaker sex, invidiously called, and men, in their
great wisdom, triumph.
I come now to my third proposition.
Women ought to have equal legal and political rights, franchises, and advantages with men. Why not? Our laws ought to respect and protect all their rights. They ought to have an equal voice in constituting government, in administering it, in making and executing laws. Why not? This follows as the climax of what we have contended for. There may be some offices more suitable to males than females, and let matters be arranged accordingly. These are details of convenience; but for the rest let them be equal. Why not? If a woman may earn property freely, hold and dispose of it freely, etc., should she not have a free and equal voice in the government which regulates and protects her rights? She must, or be a mere ward under guardianship, a serf, a plaything, an appendage. And why should she not? Has she less at stake? Has she less moral sense? Has she less regard to the common good? Would she degrade and brutalize the exhibition at the polls? In the legislature, at the bar, etc., would the State be worse governed than it is by man alone? It is absurd to suppose it.
Is there any sound reason why women should be excluded from all political functions? At present she has no legal existence. Dr. Follen, in his Essay on Freedom in our own country, says: “Woman, though possessed of that rational and moral nature which is the foundation of all rights, enjoys among us fewer legal and civil rights than under the law of continental Europe.”
Blackstone, in his chapter entitled Husband and Wife, says: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, — or at least is consolidated into that of her husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs anything.” So, the very being of a woman, like that of a slave, is absorbed in her master! All contracts made with her, like those made with slaves by their owners, are a mere nullity. Her legal disabilities are too well known to render it necessary to quote many of the laws respecting them. That she sustains the same relation that slaves do to our government is well known. That the laws are unjust towards her is believed by all who candidly give their attention to the subject.
Well, then, why should women be denied the elective franchise? It must be for one of two reasons. The first is that, though they constitute one half of the human race, women have no interest in the government under which they live, and whose laws they are bound to obey. Or, they are incapable of the degree of intelligence or the amount of knowledge presumed to be possessed by those who vote. The first objection, perhaps, few will attempt to maintain. For the answer to the second, let us look around on the first assemblage of independent electors who may happen to meet. Why is there such apathy, such indifference on this subject, manifested by women? Not more than one woman in a thousand feels the slightest interest in the subject. Are we willing forever to be thus disfranchised? The justice of this question was well stated by Condorcet, in a passage quoted by M. Legouve, though his argument was, of course, applied to France, a country that admitted universal suffrage. “In the name of what principle, of what right,” he says, “ are women in a republican state to be deprived of public functions? The words “national representation,” signifies representation of the nation. Do women, then, form no part of the nation? This assembly has for its object to constitute and maintain the rights of the French people? Are women, then, not of the French people? The right of election and of being elected, is founded for men, solely on their title as free and intelligent beings. Are women, then, not free and intelligent? The only limits now placed to that right is condemnation to an infamous punishment, or minority. Are women, then, to be regarded as criminals, or are they all minors? Will the argument be taken upon the ground of the corporeal weakness of women?
In that case, we ought to make our candidates pass before a medical jury, and reject such as have the gout every winter. Shall we object to women for their want of instruction, their deficiency in political genius? It appears to me that many of our representations manage to do without either!” He proceeds to say, “The more we interrogate common sense and republican principles, the less reason we find for excluding women from political existence. The capital objection which is found in all mouths, and which assumes with it, at first, an appearance of solidity, is that to open to them the career of politics would be to snatch them from their families. This does not apply to women who have never been wives or who have ceased to be such. But all this appears an unreasonable objection. Would the exercise of the elective franchise once or twice in a year be likely to prevent a woman’s properly fulfilling her important home duties? Would not the recognition, publicly, of her claims as an intelligent member of society, or any measure that would equally tend to raise the character of women, greatly contribute to the dignity and comfort of many a home, by giving to the wife and mother some better object to fill her vacant hours than unnecessary shopping or idle visiting?”
People echo the cry of “danger to home ” without stopping to inquire whether any such danger exists. Our grandfathers saw great danger to home and to the female character in the decline of household spinning. No, no, you do not endanger home by giving woman her true position as equal companion in the affairs of the nation as in the administration of home. So far from these new functions interfering in the least with the sacred and holy duties of wife and mother they would be rather their reward and crown. Plutarch relates that the Gauls called into their councils, on great occasions, the elite of the women of the nation. Lycurgus gave to virtuous women a part in great public celebrations. The festivals of Proserpine and Ceres reserved certain political and religious functions for wives and mothers of spotless reputation. And our imagination looks forward to the time, with pleasure and hope, when experienced and virtuous matrons, who have passed through years of domestic duties with fidelity and care, shall sit in the Councils of the Nation wisely to control and direct their deliberations, to speak from their deep maternal love for the suffering and oppressed, to blend with the sterner element of Government that true affection for the suffering and the erring, which only woman knows, to suppress by their presence that undignified and unworthy ruffianism, which so often disgraces the councils of the nation, and finally to encourage decision, haste, and despatch of business, as only women can do, who are attracted home by an ever abiding love, that with them would be an influence far stronger than eight dollars a day.
I think you must all feel that women’s rights as human beings are greatly encroached upon, that they suffer a degree of tyranny the world over, unworthy the nineteenth century, that in view of their degraded position, women are called upon loudly to remonstrate, that patience has ceased to be a virtue, that it is time we demand our rights. Are we willing to be denied every post of honor and every lucrative employment — to be reckoned as the inferior sex, and but half paid for what we do — to feel that we are a proscribed caste, in all our aspirations for excellence and great and noble exertion, and to receive in return the fulsome, and sickening flattery of perverted taste — to be complimented about our shrinking delicacy, our feminine weakness, our beautiful dependence! And shall we with complacency receive and smile on such praise, bought by the sacrifice of our rights, our noblest endowments, while we know that he who thus compliments us for shrinking and dependence, is but a frail mortal like ourselves, and that to cower before man is to be recreant to God, false to our higher angel natures, and basely slaves! Is there a woman here, who is willing to be disfranchised, to be taxed without representation, to feel that she has no part or lot in the Government under which she lives — that she is a mere thing!
If there is a woman who is willing to be in this position, I do not envy that woman her spirit, and no wonder that such mothers have dough-faced children. I am happy to feel that in the little Commonwealth where I live, all persons have equal rights, in public deliberations. Men and women are alike recognised as having a common interest in public officers and public measures. Hence our annual meetings and elections are quiet and orderly, the business is soon despatched, for our women never forget their homes to wrangle and discuss business points of minor importance, and I have never, in the small State of Hopedale, heard of one home being neglected, or one duty less thoroughly attended to by allowing women an equal voice.
I could not vote under the present wicked Constitution of the United States, but I ought to have the privilege of coming out from that Government, and of bearing my testimony by a free and voluntary choice.
In view of all these oppressions, — this undervaluing our labor, — taking from us our right to choice in our industrial avocations, — infliction of pecuniary dependence, — shutting us from the trades, and the learned professions — wresting from us our legal rights, — denying us political equality, — denying us the right of free speech, — chaining us to a prescribed sphere, — we say that these, and other usurpations, demand our speedy remonstrance. “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” No matter if the yoke we wear is soft and cushioned, it is nevertheless a yoke. No matter if the chain is fastened by those we love, it is nevertheless a chain. Let us arise then in all the majesty of renewed womanhood and say, we must be free. We will attend to our previous home duties faithfully, cheerfully, but we must do it voluntarily, in obedience to our Maker, who placed these responsibilities more especially upon us. If the affairs of the nation demand the attention of our fathers, our husbands, and our brothers, allow us to act with them for the right, according to the dictates of our own consciences. Then we will educate our sons and our daughters as equal companions, alike interested in whatever concerns the welfare of the race. Our daughters, equally provided for the serious business of life, shall no longer be dependent upon the chances of marriage; teaching them not to live wholly in their affections, we will provide for them, as for our sons, a refuge from the storms of life, by opening to them the regions of high intellectual culture, of pecuniary independence, and of moral and political responsibilities. Parents, I appeal to you: are you willing to train your daughters with reference only to marriage? Are you willing they should be the prey of that sickly sentimentality, that effeminate weakness, which is produced by making that one idea the focus of life?
Husbands, are you willing to urge the cowering obedience of that being whom you admit is your “better half,” especially when you consider your own frailties, and oftentimes misguided judgment? Will you assume to be her lawgiver and ruler? Are you proud to see her bend her soul to man? Brothers, are you willing to see your sisters, whose sympathy and communion in childhood was the sweetest solace of your life, prevented from future companionship, by the threatening scowl of a narrow, and heathenish public sentiment that must blast their highest aspirations — palsy the wings of their genius — dim the crown of their womanhood, and make them slaves? Again, I say — give us an equal chance. Allow us one free choice. Talk not to us of weakness when you have so long broken our spirits by the iron hand of oppression. Lift off that hand — give us our rights inalienable, and then a new era, glorious as the millenial morning, will dawn on earth, an advent only less radiant than that heralded by angels on the plains of Bethlehem.
“What highest prize hath woman won
In science, or in art?
What mightiest work by woman done,
Boasts city, field, or mart?
She hath no Raphael! Painting saith —
No Newton! Learning cries;
Show us her steamship! her Macbeth!
Her thought-won victories.
“Wait, boastful man! Though worthy are
Thy deeds, when thou art true, —
Things worthier still, and holier far,
Our sisters yet will do.
For this, the worth of woman shows
On every peopled shore,
That still as man in wisdom grows
He honors her the more.
“O, not for wealth, or fame, or power,
Hath man’s meek angel striven;
But, silent as the growing flower,
To make of earth a heaven!
Soon in her garden of the sun
Heaven’s brightest rose shall bloom;
For woman’s best is unbegun!
Her advent yet to come!”
Source: The Proceedings of the Woman’s Rights Convention Held At Worcester, October 23d & 24th, 1850, (Boston: Prentiss & Sawyer) 1851, pp. 20-36.