Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The Civil and Social Evolution of Women - May 16, 1893

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
May 16, 1893— Chicago, Illinois
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This speech, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was read by Susan B. Anthony at the World's Congress of Representative Women at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893.

It has often been stated that if the majority of women really wanted their civil rights they could have them. This is doubtless true, since a whole nation could not, in the nature of things, be decapitated, nor the combined and persistent claim of a whole class in a community be ignored.

But the majority of women do not as yet appear to desire civil and political privilege. It seems, in fact, that more men than women are in favor of granting such privilege. The men who are of this opinion believe in citizenship, and recognize that strength comes from the resolute shouldering of responsibility, as the long, slender stem of the date palm grows steady when the leafy crown becomes heavy. They regard the suffrage as an expression of the true republican sentiment that those who obey the law should understand it, and help to frame it. They believe that with the help of women civilization would move on with faster and longer strides.

What is the reason that so many women are indifferent or averse to the assumption of civic duties ? I think their natural conservativeness and their conscientiousness stand in the way. They already find in the complexity of our life numberless demands upon thought and strength. Their aspiration for increased knowledge and culture, their esthetic cravings, urge them to the limits of physical and mental endurance, and they feel that they can undertake nothing more. If man is a little world, woman is expected to be a little universe "all things by turns and nothing long." A woman must be versatile, and ready to fill any niche at a moment's notice. She must sew on a button or write a poem, must roast herself in the kitchen or receive guests in a drawing-room, with equal grace and facility ; and what with keeping up her geography and her accomplishments she will beg to be excused from what she thinks the dry and uninteresting subjects of business, current events, and politics.

It is easier under such circumstances to lead the natural, old-fashioned life of daughter, wife, and mother in a sheltered home than to strike out upon the sea of life as a bread-winner in business or profession.

The former course keeps us in the beaten track of precedent, and holds us in what is particularly agreeable to timid and conservative people, a good fellowship with the majority. In Howell's "Undiscovered Country" we notice that the heroine gets tired of being phenomenal, and throws herself into the pleasures of dress and luxury with keen zest. It takes courage to go against the stream, to be independent and ahead of your generation; it needs a strong moral muscle to snap the withes of prejudice ; it demands heroism to obey a law higher than the laws of sympathy and imitation ; and if women, somewhat by nature and certainly by education, are lacking in such fiber, we can not be surprised at their slowness in rising to the emergencies of the hour.

How can we hasten the social and civil evolution of woman ? Only by an education as to her true position in the physical and moral world, and as to her duty and her destiny. These views of women are not founded upon sentiment nor sentimentality they do not take cognizance of her beauty and her helplessness, which are incidental merely but they are founded upon the broad basis of philosophy and ethics.

Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, the greatest philosophers of our day, find women to be structurally the converse of men. Botany and biology prove that differentiation into sex is a secondary step in development ; that the woman must be brought to a common denominator with man, and be considered invariably as a human being. If we once settle that truth for ourselves, every deduction we make comes easily, naturally, and forcibly.

Then women are to do whatever they find to do with all their might. They are to be properly trained for business, profession, or art ; they are to be protected by public sentiment and law, and to be encouraged until they can stand alone.

Either obstacles must be removed or women must cultivate strength to overcome them ; and, more than all, they must be made to see that they are of the people, and that the state belongs equally to them with men, and therefore must claim from them intellectual recognition and moral support.