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Are Women Intelligent?1


EVENTY years ago, in a little town in the Middle West, a Methodist minister in good standing in his community beat his wife with a horsewhip. He was not drunk; she had not failed in her duties as household drudge any more than drudges always fail. She had eight children and an incredible number of chores. It was simply that she needed discipline on general principles, and she got it every two weeks. She was likely to be "cross," it


The most nefarious law in history was that English common law whereby a man had complete control over his wife, and in spirit regarded her as a body without a soul. Says Blackstone, "He is her baron or lord, bound to supply her with shelter, food, clothing and medicine, and is entitled to her earnings and the use and custody of her person wherever he may find it."

rights. Their appearance in public life brought upon them the reverberating condemnation of church and state.

The "new woman" dates from antebellum times. Immediately following the Revolution, women voted in Virginia. New Jersey specifically secured this right in 1776, which held for a quarter of a century.

But these traditions of an earlier freedom were soon lost. In the quarter of the century before the Civil War women were hedged about by curtailments and taboos comparable in their incapacitating effect only with the rigid costumes which they wore. In the day of the hampering long skirt, in the day of the English common law, whereby man and wife were one, and that one, man, the few intrepid women who ventured a protest in behalf of women were indeed striking to their times. Matters of common human justice seemed destructive measures. Yet the activities of women preceding and causing the declaration of "their rights" in 1848 strike harmlessly enough on modern


The first woman to lecture on politics from a public platform was Frances Wright. In 1828 arose the "Christian party in politics," which, in Old-World style, aimed at the union of church and state. Frances Wright, although a woman, saw here a great danger to the country, and from the lecture platform uttered warning and denunciation. A woman talking politics and religion? Why, she must be an infidel. Off with her head!

The suffrage movement had its origin in the attempt of women to obtain a reasonable justice, in order that they might have protection in the home. Vitally concerned in the liquor question, they wanted to take part in the temperance cause. Their quick sympathies went out to another class of the oppressed the slaves. The history of the origin of the movement for the ballot on the part of women is the history of their timid and high-minded endeavor to aid in the great causes of humanity. In the rebuff of their efforts by the men who were the guardians of their needs, in the injustice of the laws made for their "protection," in the realization of A little later that brilliant Polish their anomalous position in the govern- exile, Ernestine Rose, lecturing ably on ment of the people, by the people, and the science of government, met with no for the people, they found the compell- more subtle interpretation in the minds ing motive for revolt. Out of their of her peers. Men and women alike activities before and during the Civil were thrown into a perfect panic of War arose their demand for political sentimentality. The mental mechanism

1 "The History of Woman Suffrage" quoted by the author as an authority, was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, and published in 1881 by Fowler & Wells; New York.

by which anything new is instinctively associated with everything wrong was in good working order in the early forties. Ernestine Rose was a lady; she was made out a monster of human depravity.

In the meantime a woman had indeed secured from the New York State legis

Frances Wright

lature the first governmental aid in the United States for the education of women, a forecast of the fatal respectability afterward to stamp teaching as a profession for women. But when Emma Willard, at her school in Troy, held the first examination for her pupils in geometry, a storm of ridicule burst forth not outdone by any since that day.

In 1836 Elizabeth Blackwell, while in prison for debt, wrote the first medical botany. The obscurity of both her writing habitat and her subject doubtless protected her for a time. She was later to be the subject of ten days' debate at the hospital for maternity in Paris as to whether or not, with a degree from a medical college of Geneva, she might be accepted as a pupil!

In a newspaper of the day, under the caption, "American Doctress," appeared the following: "Some of them [her critics] think Miss Blackwell must be a Socialist of the most radical class and

that her undertaking is the entering wedge of a systematic attack on society by the whole sex." by the whole sex." That argument, coined early in the struggle, was to ring the counterfeit changes for nearly a century. We are not done with it yet.

The attitude of "tender females" toward the "doctress" was summed up in the words of one of them: "Oh, it is too horrid! I'm sure I never could touch her hand. Only to think that those long fingers of hers had been cutting up dead people!"

Objections were not confined to the masculine sex. Bolder still, Pauline Wright Davis in 1844 began to lecture to women on physiology. The manikin she used for demonstration produced such an impression of indelicacy and vulgarity upon the ladies of her audience that many of them dropped their veils, while several supersensitive ones fainted. So shrinking was the modesty of the elegant "female" in the early forties! Thus did she justify man's protective attitude.

These were eddies. In the decade preceding the guns on Fort Sumter two great questions were agitating the minds of thoughtful men and women, slavery and temperance, the one to be settled in that century, the other in the present. They were the indirect causes of the woman-suffrage movement.

The first temperance society, early in the nineteenth century, was comprised entirely of reformed drunkards. Then organizations called the Sons of Temperance began to work for a license act, and these allowed subsidiary bodies to organize, called the Daughters of Temperance. Women were occasionally admitted to the men's meetings, much as slaves were to antislavery conventions, to sit on the platform as pitiful victims of the wrong. Women began to resent having no voice in the "world" conventions. Before matters could come to a head in these bodies, however, the great world antislavery conference in 1840 had taken place, and the women's-rights movement had begun.

To antislavery matters women were early awake, and so long as they expressed their convictions privately, the abolition of slavery, as advocated by women, was smilingly attributed to that


tenderness inalienably their rightful charm. Women were not long contented with fireside utterances or pathetic public exhibition. Abby Kelly began it by lecturing against the slavery of the negro. Then woman's tenderness of heart failed to stand her in good stead. There were cases of both men and women who were

Elizabeth Blackwell

expelled from their churches for listening to this woman, on a public platform, talking about freedom for "niggers." But the movement went on.

Presently came the wealthy sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, straight from the emancipating of their own slaves on a Southern plantation. Angelina was an orator of the first water. Allying themselves with William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionists, they spoke and wrote constantly upon the evils of the slave system, attacking with special vigor the biblical argument that slaves and women were degraded by the will of God. Their fiery eloquence made even men wish to listen to them.

The women organized, and in 1837 held a first national antislavery convention. As they began taking part in the regular antislavery conventions run by men, they were immediately confronted with the denial of the clergy, and indeed some of the most rigid abolitionists, of their right to vote, speak, or serve on

committees. The issue caused a split in the convention.

Then came the call, extended to all societies, for a world antislavery convention in London. Six women were chosen as delegates by certain American organizations. When it became known in London that six women were crossing the seas, the agitation into which Godfearing Englishmen were thrown was simply tremendous. A fleet of hostile vessels sighted in the English Channel could not have been more cataclysmic. These women had addressed "mixed" audiences, had petitioned august legislators, and had taken up "masculine" dress. Was John Bull disappointed or relieved when the lovely Lucretia Mott, in her exquisite Quaker gown, with her high-bred manners and her royal ease, stepped calmly ashore? Yet reverend gentlemen began pointing out that their reception would be "not only a violation of the customs of England, but the ordinance of Almighty God." At that time only men had the power to summon the Deity to the ouija-board.

The ladies were urged to withdraw. The lovely Quakeress stood firm. After a whole day had been spent in anxious debate, the women delegates "If ye have tears, prepare to shed them now"were placed behind a bar and curtain for the remainder of the convention. Whereupon William Lloyd Garrison, delayed at sea, refused to take his seat as a delegate, and retired to the gallery. The ladies, it is said, kept up their end at their hotel, so that one gentleman moved, and another was wont to fortify himself of a morning with six eggs. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, walking London streets together, vowed they would hold a women's-rights convention upon their return. The convention of 1848 was assured.

The immediate provocation, however, was the meeting of the New York legislature for the purpose of revising its constitution. Principles of government were widely discussed, including woman's civil rights under the English common law. Her condition was that of Simple Simon: she had n't any. Seneca Falls, in 1848, a body of distinguished women passed the "Declaration of Sentiments," which rolled up no



mean record of the crimes of man, and contained, from another point of view, the reference to God, too popular with the ruling sex, "He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God." What a thunder-bolt!

The only resolution not immediately adopted by the convention had to do with the franchise. In the first formal expression of their demands, women who were in advance of the majority of their sex cared nothing for political rights. They did not yet see in the vote the only sure means of expression. They were concerned, in the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with "settling in the minds of the masses that woman has a right to stand on an even pedestal with man, look him in the face as an equal, and rebuke the sins of her generation."

This "declaration" met with jeers and incredulity. The condition of public sentiment may be shown by the fact that Susan B. Anthony herself, still only a teacher, smiled at the idea of "ladies' rights." The concluding stanza of Mrs. Chapman's satiric poem, written in the furor created by the Grimké sisters, perhaps embodies the consternation of those who took the thing seriously:

Oh! shade of the prophet Mahomet arise!
Place woman again in "her sphere,"

And teach that her soul was not born for the


But to flutter a brief moment here.

This doctrine of Jesus, as preached up by


If embraced in its spirit, will ruin us all.

Yet woman was merely asking for educational, political, civil, professional, and religious opportunity. She wanted above all the privilege of constructive criticism. Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton's declaration that habitual drunkenness should be grounds for divorce was considered too revolutionary by women who supported the declaration itself. Equality of work was the demand most kindly considered. Women who were opposed to the ballot immediately began to train for professional activity. Women gradually became ministers, doctors, and teachers in great numbers. A

few formed the first suffrage society. What happened in New York State happened simultaneously everywhere. Women in all States declared rebellion. The clergy shook their Bibles. The foundations of society rocked. The cradle was eclipsed.

The last straw on the whole big bonfire was the "Bloomer" costume. This was devised by a man, oddly enough, a wealthy philanthropist and senator, Mr. Gerrit Smith, whose daughter, Elizabeth Smith Miller, adopted the dress during her father's term in Washington. Now, a Mrs. Amelia Bloomer had a paper called "The Lily." "The Lily" advocated the new costume, which was forever called "Bloomer," after the unfortunate editor. Amelia, at what might well be the age of thirty, looked like one's grandmother. They all did, even when quite young. One's grandmother always looks "womanly." "The Cleve

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next to impossible for women to do any kind of work. Yet Susan B. Anthony considered the new costume an agony, and gave it up at the end of four years. Many masculine friends of the cause protested against the innovation. Wendell Phillips, where are you now? Have you a good place in the gallery of the dead? Never train your opera-glasses on women of to-day.

Thus did women appear in public life. They were few. The chief means of expression for the great mass of them was the foreign missionary society. Until the outbreak of the Civil War these noble pioneers struggled to make their cause heard and understood. Their work was by no means confined to women's-rights conventions. Temperance was again made a burning question, in 1851, by the repeal of the license law. Drunkenness had no check even from public opinion, and the wife of the brutal drunkard might not even claim the custody of her children or the use of her own earnings or divorce.

In the field of temperance in 1852 appeared a new figure, that mighty

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

woman, Susan B. Anthony. We first find her refused speech at a meeting of the Sons of Temperance to which the Daughters had been invited. She got up a rival session across the way, and

issued a call for the first woman's state temperance convention. This was the first of the incredible number of meetings called, managed, and financed for fiftyodd years by this indomitable woman. In the same year she discovered at a teachers' convention, although three fourths of those present were women, that not one dared to take any part in the proceedings. She accordingly added teachers' conventions to her list. Elizabeth Cady Stanton says of her, "Whenever I saw that stately Quaker girl cross my lawn, I knew that some happy convocation of the sons of Adam were to be set by the ears with our appeals, our resolutions," and she did not overstate the case.

In 1852 for the first time in the history of New York a body of women, headed by Susan B. Anthony, appeared before the New York legislature, asking either for the ballot to protect them, or for a prohibitory law. They were contemptuously received. When women were obliged to leave the world temperance convention of 1853, one clergyman referred to their exit as the removal of the "scum" of the convention. Such treatment it was that made Miss Anthony eventually forsake all causes for that of the ballot. With conventions, with petitions, with lectures, with county canvasses, were the causes pushed up to the very threshold of the war. If the men called a "world convention," as they did for temperance in 1853, when the Reverend Antoinette Brown, after a debate of an hour and a half, was compelled to leave the hall, the women very pertinently called a "whole world" convention, in the same block, if possible. At the same time they would have a women's-rights convention. To these came distinguished gentlemen, Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, William Ellery Channing, and William Lloyd Garrison. Horace Greeley printed favorable reports.

How slow was the work of educating the public mind is shown by the reply of the Senate Judiciary Committee of New York State to a petition, presented to the legislature in 1856, asking equal property and guardianship rights for men and women. The reply, composed in a facetious vein, contained the following:

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