Mary Jane Coggeshall

Mothers Duties and Privileges - undated

Mary Jane Coggeshall
December 31, 1969
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We may have become mothers - God may have conferred upon us the dignity of being cocreators with him, and yet we may be among the most selfish of his creatures. Another idea widely prevalent is that motherhood brings with it unlimited powers and possibilities. We hear it from the lips of very excellent men and women that if mothers would do their whole duty, that society would soon become almost perfect. Indeed, Ruskin told the women of England that were it not for their selfishness, no war throughout Europe would last a week.

It seems to us the wiser plan to honestly recognize and admit our limitations. If it were true that mothers were given this stupendous power to regulate the world, what a wretched failure we have made of it. It would seem that there has been relegated to us a little more than half the molding power of forming the characters of our children, but I am not at all sure that a clearer view of the case would justify even our claim to this. Every child is the product of two parents; and in our puny efforts to think God's thoughts after him, let us be careful not to arrogate to ourselves and take away from man the responsibilities that are necessary to his prerogatives. The father and the mother walking side by side in the fear of God, equal in home government, equal in responsibility, will lead their flock out upon life's sunniest paths.

No, our children are not just what the mothers make them. Haven't we all heard the little story of the stock-breeder? He was a small ill-shapen man and some early excesses had helped to dwarf his growth, but he had a clear brain and practiced eye for improved stock. One day when he had just brought home a splendid Shorthorn of the male persuasion and was standing by the side of the mammoth animal. He said to him, "Well, you are a fine fellow." "Yes," said the Shorthorn, "so I am a fine fellow, and so would you have been if your parents had been selected with as much care as mine were." Then and there an idea entered the brains of the little stock man. He thought of his own family of four daughters, two of whom were well-built, sweet voiced and comely like their beautiful mother, and two of them were ill-shaped, weazen (?)-faced like himself - and a great wave of pity swept the soul of the little stock man as he thought how these innocent girls must go out into the world, with a physical heritage so pitiful. My sisters, we are formulating no creed - laying down no rules; but let us like Mary of old, ponder these things in our hearts.

We believe our first duty as human beings is to get ourselves, and keep ourselves in right relations to God. To do this demands honest thought and strong convictions and Nineteenth Century women of all others must have clear ideas of justice, purity, truth and love. Do we say that mothers are so busy, that the many little cares pressing us every day unfit us for sound thinking? Therefore, it is for us to accept the conclusions that the world has made for us and get along as best, we may. Do you ask why we insist upon the necessity for the best and highest thinking for mothers?

Because we have gone on in slipshod fashion long enough; because the struggle of life is on, and we would not work blindly. We must get up into the mount of vision or we cannot see the battle on the plains. It is that we may work out on the field of conflict the vision we have had in the mountains for whatever may be our ideals of life, or lack of ideals of life - they will manifest themselves in the details of the every day. As a man thinketh so is he. And, it is in our everyday life where the mother's power lies - for we teach our children more by what we are ourselves, than what we attempt to make them; and no day's record is lost. We are told by philosophers that the air set in motion by the first words of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden will continue to vibrate until the last trumpet sounds. No force for either good or bad but counts for something.

We do not believe that God has appointed to mothers a sphere and then left them defenseless in it. We mothers are slave to believe that to be able to "bring good gifts to our children," we must help ourselves. We must combat the false idea of woman that has made sex the paramount consideration. And what has the world's ill-balanced thought done for the mother even in the matter of health. It is said the Indian woman alights from her pony by the brook side - retires into the bushes, and soon returns with her new-born babe - washes it in the stream - wraps it in her blanket - remounts her pony and is ready next morning to pound the corn for her lazy brave. But she puts to shame our pale-faced invalidism.

It was a remark of a heathen sage that "God could not be eve1ywhere, so he made mothers!" it is for us to know that the same code of morals is governing the life of our growing sons that we expect our daughters to live under. That it is not enough that our children have the purity of ignorance; but the purity of fire to consume the ve1y suggestion of evil.

It is for mothers to demand that all discriminating restrictions in both church and state be removed before the oncoming feet of our young women, that the spirit of God poured out upon our sons and daughters may have free course and be glorified. It is for mothers to demand that a civilization that provides for thousands of women only the alternative of excessive toil for two or three dollars a week or charity, vice or starvation needs the mother spirit to ramify its every department.

And allow me to remind you the members of this noble organization which with a hand clasp of sympathy has so girdled the globe that the sun never sets upon you - what an inspiring opportunity opens before you to make the world better, along this special line. Your brilliant Ex-President in her address before your late convention in view of the possibility of dropping the franchise work said, "We are too far on this, our march towards political enfranchisement to return to swamps of indecision and the thickets of contentment with political serfdom."

May we all so prayerfully with our faces set towards our highest ideals and striving hard after them. This levelling down process that puts a premium upon vice by compelling a woman twenty years old to work for the wages of a boy of ten can be changed when women vote, for when men want office, they will be obliged to legislate in the interests of women. Let us teach our boys that every time a girl takes a place at less wages than a boy would just by so much does she drag down the wages of her fathers and brothers.

Finally, if it took twenty centuries of thinkers to culminate in a "Madam de Staet (?)" so we, the mothers of today from our high vantage ground if we do even all well as our foremothers, we must do a great deal better. But the future is full of promise. Away back in the beginning of civilization, when a man's possessions were in constant danger, and marauding was his occupation, and he went forth daily to imperil his life in defense of his home -the woman who remained in the hut, cave or castle had a sorry time; but today, the wolf is coming to dwell with the lamb, and the leopard to be down with the kid. When the marriage obligation has become so sacred that chastity and continence gain their rightful meaning, then -- a little child shall lead us.

Transcription from Ferris, J. N. (2017). Mary Jane Whiteley Coggeshall, Hicksite Quaker, Iowa/National Suffragette and Her Speeches. Milton, IN: Kids at Heart Publishing LLC.