WOMEN IN 19th CENTURY
In the first half of the 19th century was a man's world. Most high schools and colleges were closed to females. Women were barred from most professions, from speaking in public places, and even from offering prayers at religious services. They could not vote or hold public office. Within the family, the husband was lord and master-he had to be obeyed. Laws recognized the husband as head of the family. If a woman brought property into a marriage, her husband took full control of it. If a married woman held a job, her wages legally belonged to her husband. Laws even allowed a husband to beat a wife who disobeyed. In the eyes of some, such laws gave women a legal position comparable to that of a slave.
Of course, the way women were treated and the rights they had varied from family to family and from place to place. On the frontier, especially, women tended to come closer to equality with men.
Our scene is Seneca Falls, a small town in northern New York Stare. Lucretia Mott has come from to visit her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton. See if you can understand why the two chose the framework of the Declaration of independence to express their grievances. Which of the goals of their declaration have since been achieved?
ELIZABETH STANTON: Lucretia, I'm so glad you could come to Seneca Falls.
LUCRATIA MOTT: I'm happy to see you again. Your letter was so exciting. I've dreamed about a women's rights convention for a long time.
ES: Right! At our convention we women will talk about our problems and tell the nation what we want and what we expect. Women must be equal to men. Now, let's plan the convention. I am not going to ask organizations to send delegates because there aren't many women's groups. We'll just have individuals come on their own. My feeling is that we should meet for two days. On the first day, the meeting will be for women only. On the second, men can take part too.
LM: That sounds fine. We must invite men-we need all the help we can get. We mustn't forget that men control the political machinery. We have to win over enough of them to change state and national laws.
ES: We must tell the world what the women's rights movement stands for. What do you think about taking the Declaration of Independence as a model? We can start with `When, in the course of human events,' and go on to list some `self-evident' truths.
LM: Fine, People should understand that all men and women are created equal. That women have inalienable rights, just like men. That women should not be forced to obey laws they have no part in passing."
ES: Don't forget the tax argument, Lucretia. Like the colonists in 1776, women today are subject to taxation without representation. And we have little opportunity to earn money. Men control the better jobs. Women's pay is usually a pittance.
LM: Let's not forget to point out that most colleges are closed to women. How can we compete with men, Elizabeth, when we are blocked from getting a proper education?
While the women were talking, Henry Stanton had entered the room. He listened quietly and approvingly to the women's com¬plaints.
HENRY STANTON: You two make it sound as though women have very few rights in our society. I'm beginning to think that's so!
ES: Thank you, Henry," replied Mrs. Stanton. I think we have taken a giant step toward the organization of a successful women's rights convention. Now we have to think about the resolutions we should offer at the convention. Of course, several recommendations will be about equal rights. The right to vote will be the most important one.
LM: Elizabeth, I can't agree with you on that. I don't think that women are ready for the vote. We must go slowly-otherwise, we will look ridiculous.
ES: Not ready for the vote? What do you mean? Of course, women must have the right to vote, because it is the first step toward equality in politics. Without the vote, there is little we can do. Women must be able to influence the politicians who make the laws, and the politicians must know it!
HS: I agree with Mrs. Mott. We must fight for equality in marriage and the home. Later we can turn to politics. You will look like fools if you insist on votes for women. Don't you realize how long it took to get the right to vote for most men? Demanding votes for women now is insane! If you insist on doing this, I will not attend your convention!
The convention was held as scheduled. Men who asked to be admitted the first day were seated with the women and joined in the discussion.
The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions put forward by the women was approved unanimously. Then came a long, heated debate about votes for women. Some were afraid that supporting such an idea would draw people's attention away from the other resolutions. Others said that it would turn people away from the entire women's rights movement. Many felt that Mrs. Stanton had gone too far.
Then Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist leader and a former slave, spoke. He talked about the importance and power of the ballot. Every oppressed group must win the right to vote before it can hope for equality, he insisted. The resolution calling for voting rights for women passed by a narrow margin. It was added to the declaration.
The convention's work stirred much debate. Many newspapers carried bitter attacks on the declaration. As a result, many of the men and women who had signed the declaration withdrew their names. They now thought that women might be seeking too much, too soon.
The Seneca Falls Convention helped to spark a women's rights movement in the United States. By the time of the Civil War, the legal standing of women was beginning to change.
Although women still did not have the right to vote, a few states gave married women the right to own property. New York allowed married women to sue in court.
New opportunities continued to open up in education. More and more women gained jobs as elementary school teachers. A few high schools and teacher-training schools opened their doors to women. A few colleges also began to admit them. Oberlin
DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer. while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise. thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property. even to the wages she earns.
He has made her, morally. an irresponsible being. as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband.
In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty. and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and. with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
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 to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.
In entering upon the great work before us. we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.
WHEREAS, The great precept of nature is conceded to be, that ' man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness." Blackstone in his Commentaries remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this. and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, and immediately, from this original; therefore,
Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature and of no validity, for this is "superior in obligation to any other."
Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.
Resolved, That woman is man's equal was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.
Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance. by asserting that they have all the rights they want.
Resolved. That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority. does accord to woman moral superiority. it is pre-eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach. as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.
Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.
Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill-grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert. Or in feats of the circus.
Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.
Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.
Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.
Resolved, therefore. That. being invested by the creator with the same capabilities. and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking. by any instrumentalities proper to be used. and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self evident truth growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it. whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self- evident falsehood, and at war with mankind.
Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the overthrow of the monopoly of the pulpit. and for the securing to women an equal participation with men in the various trades. professions. and commerce.
Lucy Stone Protests Traditional Marriage
Lucy Stone graduated from Oberlin College (America 's first coeducational institution of higher learning) in 1847 and launched herself on a lifelong career as a reformer. She was an outspoken abolitionist and advocate of women's rights. Traditionalists were so irritated with her that they rudely repeated a poem published by a Boston newspaper promising: Jame's loud trumpet shall be blown "for the man who "with a wedding kiss shuts up the mouth of Lucy Stone." When she did marry Henry B. Blackwell in 1855, she hardly fell silent. Instead, with her new husband, she used the occasion to dramatize the plight of women. In her wedding declaration, which follows, what aspects of women's condition are most condemned? In what ways does this document suggest the relationship between the abolitionist and feminist crusades?
While acknowledging our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife, yet in justice to ourselves and a great principle, we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess. We protest especially against the laws which give to the husband:
1. The custody of the wife's person.
2. The exclusive control and guardianship of their children.
3. The sole ownership of her personal, and use of her real estate, unless previously settled upon her, or placed in the hands of trustees, as in the case of minors, lunatics, and idiots.
4. The absolute right to the product of her industry.
5. Also against laws which give to the widower so much larger and more permanent an interest in the property of his deceased wife, than they give to the widow in that of the deceased husband.
6. Finally, against the whole system by which "the legal existence of the wife is suspended during marriage," so that in most States, she neither has a legal part in the choice of her residence, nor can she make a will, nor sue or be sued in her own name, nor inherit property.
We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime; that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law; that until it is so recognized, married partners should provide against the radical injustice of present laws, by every means in their power.
We believe that where domestic difficulties arise, no appeal should be made to legal tribunals under existing laws, but that all difficulties should be submitted to the equitable adjustment of arbitrators mutually chosen.
Thus, reverencing law, we enter our protest against rules and customs which are unworthy of the name, since they violate justice, the essence of law.
Henry B. Blackwell, Lucy Stone.