Her Voice Should be Heard
1872 — Third Annual Meeting of the Edinburgh Branch of the National Society of Woman’s Suffrage, Edinburgh, Scotland
In the beginning man and woman were created equals, made in the same divine image. God blessed them unitedly, and gave them conjoint dominion over the world. The distinctive characteristic differences that mark the sexes were intended to complement each other and blend in one harmonious and perfect unity, not to lead to the usurpation of power by the one over the other. But sin came and changed this natural order of things, by converting the precedence — necessarily taken by the protector — from a matter of expediency, into a sovereignty that increased with exercise, until mere physical power established a supremacy that has existed in a greater of lesser degree until now. Under this arbitrary rule woman has been more or less degraded to the position of a slave; been treated in many respects as a mere chattel, and she has rarely, if ever, been in a position fully to develop and freely to use the powers which God has gifted her. Political men have taken upon themselves the right of legislating for women, without any direct reference to their feelings and pains — without any direct acknowledgment of the truth that they are reasonable beings like themselves. So also socially. Men have arrogated to themselves in general the right to dictate to women what they should and should not be, and do, and learn; what is befitting for them, what unseemly, apparently quite unconscious that, in so doing, they treat them both unjustly and insultingly.
But the very fact of such a protest being made, proves forcibly and conclusively, that neither in spirit nor in capacity is she a mere servile appendage to man . . .
She claims the right to belong to herself, as a self-contained individual existence — the right that every soul, stamped with the divine image, has of striving to perfect itself by the free exercise of its own faculties; the right to refuse submission to the sovereign rule of a fellow-creature, weak and erring as herself: the right to perfect liberty in fulfilling her duties to the world in accordance with nature’s teachings and her own convictions: in short, her right to live up to the full measure of her capacities, to reach up to the highest and more useful standard she can attain . . .
As her interests are co-extensive with human interests, wherever they extend her voice should be heard. The widest political questions affect her well-being as much as that of men . . .
Source: Women in Public, 1850-1900: Documents of the Victorian Women’s Movement, ed, Patricia Hollis (Boston: G. Allen & Unwin) 1979, pp. 294-295.