Justice May be Tardy,
But it Will Surely Come
May 26, 1852 — 3rd Women’s Rights Convention, Baptist Meeting House, Massillon OH
Urged by warm friends of the cause, and impelled by my own earnest impulses, I have, with many misgivings as to my ability greatly to interest or edify those so much longer enlisted, and so much better informed upon the subject of woman’s position and duties, ventured to offer my views upon the main points of the question as far as tangible to myself, and as well as in the brief time I may be able to do: Premising, that since among us, the appearing of woman in public is conceeded without hesitation, and in so many ways enjoyed, it must be purely a matter of taste in what manner any shall use the right; and that we, who choose thus to present earnest thoughts in calmness and courtesy, and in all purity of motives, may surely trust the verdict of candid and thoughtful minds, as tranquilly as those, who, obeying the call of their genius, and necessity, or both, delight their audiences with the concord of sweet sounds, or realize to them the ideals of the great masters. And assuredly with more confidence than the vast multitude of our sex, who, flitting from their hearths and homes at, it may be, the mere promptings of vanity or of idle craving for variety and relief from the ennuie of a listless life, crowd for long weeks together the Halls of Saratoga, Newport, Niagara, or Washington. A public sentiment that will tolerate the one, and condemn unsparingly the other, is too puerile for our regard, too senseless and vitiated to claim our respect, or endure the test of discriminating analysis. Conscious of our own integrity of purpose, confident of the approval of our Creator, and the gratitude of the future, we may well forego the worthless praise of the ignorant and unthinking. For myself, while I can but mourn the necessity for any such womanly efforts and vindication, and shrink with all the pain of a highly sensitive nature from the reproach and personal embarrassment of such a course, I cannot but rejoice that any have arisen valient enough to utter an indignant protest against the frivolity of life and aim, to which woman, as a sex, has been so long condemned, and it would be false in me, a pitiable cowardice, to withhold the sympathy and zeal I cannot but feel in the efforts and aims of such.
But coming to the question before us. To me it seems important that the first claim we make, and indeed the only one we need make as underlying and justifying all others, should be for a full recognition of the individuality of woman — her right as a human being, to recognition as such. As a simple proposition, it may seem self evident, that none would have the hardihood to deny its truth; but practically, its denial meets us on every hand, and from this error, I conceive all the evils which obtain in society every where will be found to flow. In law, in politics she is no citizen, but classes with idiots, imbeciles, and negroes; and even in religion, with few exceptions, is recognized only as “the lady” of one who may not in any wise correctly represent her in mind, manners, or morals. It is true, that if the husband be not altogether stern and self-sufficient, she may at times, if she have ability and courage, influence him to the Right and the True as developed in her own mind. But that is how few cases this remains to her, we may realize when we remember how inveterate the prejudice, and how vigilant the efforts against the merest suspicion of being influenced by a woman. So universally is this true, that to none but men of the strongest minds and purest hearts, who in their reverence for Truth and the Right gladly grasp and acknowledge them everywhere, is the vulgar fear of “being ruled by a woman” unknown. And so low in the scale has the idea of woman fallen practically, through this legal, social, and ecclesiastical classification and valuation of her, that the veriest sot or vagabond, having either by natural or legal ties become the father, husband, brother or son of a woman who may be immeasurably his superior, may capriciously torment and annoy her to the verge of the grave, may be the heartless and faithless steward of all her rights, her self-constituted representative and legislator, or may squander her hard earned gains upon his appetites, and all by mere virtue of a manhood which he has utterly degraded and disgraced until he has forfeited all claim to its title. Or, in other cases, assuming no tie, but weaving insiduously through all her being, that strongest of all bonds, a love that will sacrifice friends and honor, body and soul to the beloved, may spurn her at last with loathing to utter neglect and untimely death; and for all this, there is neither the shadow of prevention, nor tribunal of redress. And yet, this is the “angel” of the rhymer, the divinity of the lover, and the “better-half” of mankind in the abstract! But alas, alas, exposed to the arts of the stranger without hope or helper, well may she exclaim, “Heaven shield me from my friends!” and be pardoned if she sometimes turns indignantly from the homage of a sex which deify her with words, but deny and stifle her humanity, and turn from her in her need.
These I grant to be extreme cases, but the greater includes the less, and these will serve to suggest those which may, and must occur with various modifications of severity and circumstance. Since these things are so, it seems best to me that we do not urge any one right as prominent, but going to the root of the matter, direct our efforts first to a correction of that false estimate of woman which virtually denies her humanity its true and full expression any and everywhere, insisting, that if woman be a human being, she have recognition as such, and if not, it be said manfully, and that so another’s shall be henceforth the guidance of her reason not only, but the responsibility of her action. — Whatever shall be the decision of the long mooted question of the mental equality of the sexes, that of the rights of woman as a human being is not at all effected thereby. In regard to the first, it will be prejudging the case altogether, to assert her inferiority until at least a fair field shall be given her for the trial. While in regard to the second, we take our stand upon the broad ground of her humanity, and claim by virtue of that, her right to an individual representation, socially, politically, and religiously, and to the full, unhindered cultivation and use of all the faculties with which she has been gifted equally in kind, if not in degree, with man. The degreeaffects not at all her title to the right, else would many a lord of creation be shorn of his; and if her development be now a weaker one, it may be well to enquire whether man would have reached a higher degree, under so partial and enervating a training and every way so adverse circumstances.
And upon herself, the reaction of such public sentiment has been fearfully manifested, creating of necessity in most cases the very abject, weak, superficial creature mentally and physically, who is afterward with such magnanimous consistency refused her proper position as unfitted for it! How should she be otherwise than unfitted? Are not all the motives to a pure ambition, and a holy striving denied her? Why should she cultivate the powers that may have no full individual expression? Since she is expected to be vain and puerile, and but half developed, and since this suffices to secure a life of present ease, why should she put forth useless efforts? especially, since all such efforts are certain to bring upon her the reproach of being obliged to labor for a livelihood, and with that, but the poor compensation of a miserable moiety of what any man beneath her might earn? Or if not that, the taunt of a masculine nature, and perchance with utter loss of caste. Is it a marvel that under all these and kindred discouragements she should sink into apathy, and so few now are found who ever dream of a better fate, or yearn for a fuller and higher life? And is it logical to argue from the content of the many, that there can be no wrong involved? The slaves upon a southern plantation may not be conscious of their fetters, or unhappy under their bondage; and is freedom therefore not desirable to them, not a right above, and irrespective of all considerations? Such apathy to woes that are deeper and darker than mere physical evil, is, to the just and compassionate, a louder and more imperious call for knowledge and freedom.
We do not claim that the present position of woman is fraught with unmixed evil to all; we know there are many excellent wives and mothers living up to the full measure of their duties as such, as far as manifest to them, and many of them desiring nothing more. And while we honor such, and while we acknowledge the beauty of all these relations, and would not annul one of them, we also know that there is a large class who can be all this and much more, who would give to these relations a broader scope and deeper significance, or, unfitted for them, would adorn and brighten life in other ways. We know too, that already many of these, overcoming the restraints of their own timidity, and the opposition of the world about them, have won a name, and achieved a position above the biting pains of poverty, and the constraint of custom. But they only know the sharpness of the conflict and the bitterness of the struggle. And we plead for these others, the timid ones, who linger under burdens they can illy bear, fearing to rush to others that they know not of¾those who faint by the wayside, dismayed by the first perils of the path, and the greater ones they fear; and for all who shall live after us, our daughters, and kindred by all holy ties. And we may well be pardoned, if feeling still at times the roughness of the way, and the weight of the cross we bear, we yet dare the martyrdom in view of the ultimate gain, and glory which ahead brightens the horizon of our faith, and for the sake of those upon whom it shall yet fully dawn.
It may be that the large class of our sex who now denounce these efforts, would still be unwilling to avail themselves of the privileges thus secured. If so, one fear now greatly urged will be found to have been vain, that “so many silly women ushered into full equality of social and civil rights, would do a deal of mischief;” and moreover, the wants of those of the other sex, who shrink with horror from the thought of companionship with so monstrous a being as a woman fully alive to the widest and best interests of humanity, would still be met. So while we urge the right of woman to an independent recognition, as a mere matter of justice apart from all consideration of consequences, we yet do not hesitate to express our most entire confidence that all such results could not but be in every sense desirable and happy. The very frivolity which men now mock or mourn according to their mood, would be removed by an earnest, enlightened interest in the graver questions which so delight, absorb, and develope the intellects of statesman and philanthropists. The acquiring of an education which should fit her for independence and self reliance, and give her a steady aim in life, would banish the hours of unrest and listlessness which now prevail; and more than all else would rescue the most holy of all relations ¾ the beautiful sacrament of marriage — from being profaned to a necessity, and becoming a curse. And in all the relations of life would the benefit of an enlarged and generous culture be eminently manifest. — The consciousness of a life thoroughly lived out, of a fitness for all its needs and emergencies, and of a just estimate in the scale of being, would be, to those who could so well appreciate them, immeasurable blessings. Suffered to assert herself, not echo another, to reverence the image and voice of her God in and about her, limited to the copy of no imperfect model, and thwarted by the will of no erring mortal, woman, with her high aspirations and heroic endurance, would attempt all the possible in Goodness and Truth, and earth would behold a being of higher beauty and loftier proportions than poets have ever yet dreamed. So great is my faith in the mission of woman and her fitness for it, that I cannot fear that any results of glaring impropriety or narrow indescretion shall ensue from granting the full freedom of her being. Certainly her innate sense of propriety, and all of purely selfish ambition would forbid any unbecoming egotism of place or power, and even her present state of cultivation, and admitted superiority of moral nature, would fit her for comparison, to say the least, with many, who by virtue of mere manhood have, and hold supremacy over her.
I am well aware of the considerations which avail to hinder the co-operation of those who cannot gainsay the arguments, or deny the facts urged by the advocates of this question, and many of whom, cannot but have as women and as thinkers, a hearty interest therein. With some, it is a lack of sympathy with different shades of opinion advanced; with others, a spirit of caste that shrinks from contact with the personal and social position of many of those engaged. But it would not be wise to seek, nor well to find a perfect unanimity of views in the counsels of any who aim at evolving the highest good. This could only be obtained by a compromise of individuality neither desirable nor becoming; or a uniformity of mental organization totally unlike that ordained by the wisdom of the Creator. And the exclusive spirit which cannot recognize each fellow laborer who is efficient and true in any department of useful effort, is beneath a human creature, impossible to an earnest unselfish soul, and must, if generally applied, paralize and prostrate all efforts and institutions.
It is also objected that no practical good can be accomplished by the assembling of conventions; but to me it seems much if we can but reiterate by the voice of multitude upon the public ear, the right of woman to an individual hearing. For herein our land, no man can be truthful to the genius of our so vaunted institutions, who shall deny to any being that first right of all; and by urging the alternative of granting woman a moral agent, and all the rights and freedom of one, or consistently denying both, we shall rouse him to his present injustice; for I am not of those who would denounce as wilfull oppressors, those who have heretofore been thoughtlessly unjust. I cannot believe that the many, bound by the ties of near relationship to loving, dependent women could systematically wrong them. And to such as these, stating our arguments fairly, and presenting our claims kindly, we may confidently appeal. Justice may be tardy, but it will surely come.
And we ask only of the opposition that it be a manly one ¾ measuring weapon by weapon in open conflict, rather than by the cowardly thrust in the dark, and the easy but weak sneer. We know it has been assumed legitimate among women of superficial minds and perverted intuitions,
“To wink a reputation down,”
but we have yet to learn that “the eternal years of Truth,” can be thus easily obliterated. Indeed, it were to be hoped for the mere credit of their own ability, that those who have the honor to represent the Ancient family of the Opposition to all which transcends the low lines of former vision, or exceeds the bounds of past efforts, should at least spare us the repetition of the olden farce, over which, from the time of Galileo, and Harvey, and Des Caus,
“Has pealed the loud laugh of the world.”
For no more now than then, can facts be disproved by ridicule, or earnest investigation silenced by neglect. Enquiry, now no longer a timorous fledgling, mounts with bold strokes on tireless wing in magnanimous search after the ultimate in Goodness and Truth, and vain are all attempts to fetter or stay that dauntless flight. Courage, disdaining its earlier and brutal manifestation upon the battle field, is doing its nobler work ¾ lighting the eye, nerving the hand, and swelling the heart of even pale faced maidens, and meek-eyed matrons, for deeds of high endeavor and holy triumph. Sisters;
“Ye dare not fear, ye cannot fail;
Your destiny you bind
To that sublime, eternal law
Which rules the march of mind.
It yet shall tread the star-lit path
By highest angels trod;
And pause but at the farthest world
In the universe of God.”
Source: Anti-Slavery Bugle (Lisbon, OH), June 5, 1852, p. 3.