Select Page

The Principles of the Woman’s Rights Movement

September 20, 1855 — Business Committee, New England Meeting, Women’s Rights Convention, Meionaon Hall, Boston MA


Resolved, That the principles of the Woman’s Rights Movement are not antagonistic to existing institutions, social, civil, or sacred, among us; are not responsible for any misapprehension of them which may imply such antagonisms; but legitimately reach only to the correction of the abuse and injustice of such institutions, and are simply a broader expression of the philanthropy of past organized Christian charities, and a specific application of the golden rule of the Christian code.

In making the unqualified assertion that the principles of our movement are antagonistic to no existing institution among us, it can scarcely be necessary to explain that no reference is had in such statement to that remnant of brute force and barbaric times among us, which is sometimes dignified with the equivocal name of the ” peculiar institution” — a system which, in its utter outrage of the first principles of law, and justice, and mercy; and its insult to all humanity, whether in freedom or in chains, is so peculiar as to forfeit all claim to recognition as an “institution” under a government the basis of all whose legitimate institutions is the equality and essential freedom of man.

Aside from this, I repeat, our movement, rightly understood, aims at the overthrow of no recognized institution among us. In the church, it would proclaim only equal freedom of position and of utterance for woman, as she may be fitted for, or moved thereto by the equal Father, with whom, in the bestowal of gifts, and in the fulness of bleasing, there is neither male nor female.

In the family — the ark of blessing to the race — it would remove only the anomaly and abuse of caste, — the bondage of the assumed inferior, to the self-constituted superior — reiterating throughout all the multiplicity of its interests, social and pecuniary, and the intimacy of its companionship, — the self-same word of the same Gospel — “Do unto the other as ye would that they should do unto you. “

In government, it would assert for woman the rights of citizenship, the application to her of the “self-evident truths” so fully accepted in regard to man — no just government without the consent of the governed; no righteous taxation without representation; endeavoring to fortify the assertion by the argument, many-worded and many-sided, but briefly this, — that the enacting of injustice toward woman, is as flagrant a wrong, and as vital an injury, as toward her brother.

In society, our movement would level all distinctions of sex in regard to the choice of occupation, the labor to be performed, and its remuneration; leaving them all to the operation of the law of demand and supply, to the taste and fitness of the individual, the value of the work, and the skill of the worker; — above all, securing to the individual worker, the earnings of its own hands, whether in marriage or out of it.

It would thus substitute justice for that charity, which, in caring for the widow, and orphan, and destitute, deals now mainly with effects — by striking a fatal blow at a class of the causes which make widows helpless, which paralyze the maternal arm, or make fruitless its most earnest efforts, and leave to our asylums a perpetual legacy of orphaned childhood and dependent womanhood.

It would thus also offer a remedy for the monotony of an aimless life, a resource for the despair of an illy-adjusted one, and stimulate woman to the highest possible development and achievement.

So much, and nothing more, of malice or of mischief, hath our movement; and if, in the weakness of personal suffering under injustice, the narrowness of a limited selfish vision, or the sternness of a keenly aroused sense of justice on behalf of other sufferers, any have added thereto, it is not of the principles we have announced that it has come to pass, but of the very lack of their prevalence. And we would beg of all, in judging questions so grave and momentous, to use a wise discrimination.

Annihilation of marriage, with the sweet sanctities and tender relations of the home, would not remedy woman’s legal and social wrongs. Polygamy, whether of the ancient or modern type, would but add to them a thousand fold.

Destruction of the priesthood would only result in a newer form of the same authority and service, until man and woman are strong enough, and have sufficient respite from the toil and care of life, to be each one kings and priests unto God.

Let us have justice, and freedom, and purity — but not utter anarchy, and indiscriminate destruction, branding our age with a worse barbarism than that of Goth or Vandal, or Iconoclast, destroying not only the idols of undue reverence, but the very shelters of the conscientious worshippers — the very refuges of sweet virtue and honest faith.



Source: Caroline Maria Seymour Severance, in Reports on the Laws of New England, Presented to the New England Meeting Convened at the Meionaon, Sept. 19 and 20, (1855), pp. 34-35