Stanton gave this lecture a number of times over the years. This version is from Gordon, A. D. (Ed.) (2003).The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Volume III: National Protection for National Citizens, 1873 to 1880. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
They are the music, the flowers, the sunshine of our social life. How beautiful they make our homes, churches, schools and festive scenes: how glad and gay they make our streets with their scarlet plumes, bright shawls and tartan plaids. Who can see a bevy of girls tripping home from school without pausing to watch their graceful motions, pretty faces, feet and legs, to listen to their merry words and peals of laughter. See how they romp and play with hoops and balls, with sleds and skates, wash their brothers’ faces in the snow, and beat them in a race on yonder pond. These boys and girls are one to-day in school, at play, at home, never dreaming that one sex was foreordained to clutch the stars, the other but to kiss the dust. But watch awhile, and you will see these dashing, noisy, happy, healthy girls grow calm and pale and sad, and e’en though lodged in palace homes mid luxury and ease, with all the gorgeous trappings wealth can give, rich silks, bright jewels, gilded equipage, music, dancing, books, flowers, they still are listless and unsatisfied. And why? They have awakened to the fact that they belong to a subject, degraded, ostracised class: that to fulfill their man appointed sphere, they can have no individual character, no life purpose, personal freedom, aim or ambition. They are simply to revolve round some man, to live only for him, in him, with him, to be fed, clothed, housed, guided and controlled by him, to-day by Father or Brother, tomorrow by Husband or Son, no matter how wise or mature, they are never to know the freedom and dignity that one secures in self-dependence and self support. Girls feel all this, though they may never utter it, far more keenly than kind Fathers imagine.
Walking in Madison Park one day with my little boy, reading the signs hung on the trees, “No dogs admitted here,” he remarked, “It is a good thing, mother, that dogs cannot read, it would hurt their feelings so to know that they were forbidden to walk in the parks.” Yes, we said, the dogs like the girls seem to be shut out of the green pastures of life, while both alike are ignorant of the statutes by which it is done. Bruno sleeps on his master’s rug in some dark street pining for the sunshine and the grass and a frolic through field and forest, without knowing his degradation published in that one invidious announcement, “No dogs admitted here,” but if he should try to enter the park a smart rap on the nose would remind him that he was a dog and not a boy. So our young girls pine and perish for lack of freedom, for the stimulus of work and wages, something to rouse their ambition and love of distinction. They are clothed in purple and fine linen and in their gilded cages fare sumptuously every day, but if by chance, with some new inspiration they awake to life and go forth to claim the place in the great world that is by birthright theirs, they find at the very gates of life, at the entrance to every winding path leading to the Temple of knowledge, wealth, honor or fame, these self same little signs hung out, “No girls admitted here.”
While the dogs and the girls suffer alike the penalty of the law, the degradation of the latter is greatly aggravated by the fact that they can read the signs. And what adds to the girl’s humiliation, is the fact that the boy by her side reads them also, and finds out that to him alone the world is free. The universe of matter and mind is his domain, no constitutions, customs, creeds or codes block his on-ward way, but all combine to urge him on, his triumphs in science, literature and art are hailed with loud huzzas. He accepts the homage of the multitude as his sole right and looks with jealous eye on any girl that dares to tread upon his heels. In these artificial distinctions, boys learn their first lessons of contempt for all womankind. They naturally infer that they are endowed with some superior powers to match their superior privileges. But what avails it that here and there some proud girl repudiates these invidious distinctions, laughs at the supercilious airs these boys affect and braces up her mind to resist this tyranny of sex. She feels she is the peer of any boy she knows. She has measured many a lance on the playground and in the school, and now forsooth, shall custom make her bow to sex, to those inferior to herself. She scorns the thought, but what can one brave girl do against the world. Custom has made this type of boy, and now these grown up boys perpetuate the custom. Custom too has made the girl the slave, and subject womanhood perpetuates the custom. Man makes the creeds and codes, the constitutions, while woman is nought but a lay figure in the world, a mere appendage to lordly man, a something on which to hang his titles, name and fame. With blighted girlhood, wasted youth and vacant age, the ambition of most women we meet to-day is simply to be distinguished as the daughter, wife or mother of Gen., Hon. or Judge so and so, to shine in their reflected light, to wear their deeds and words of valor and of eloquence as their own bracelet, necklace, or coronal.
This should not be. Every girl should be something in and of herself, have an individual aim and purpose in life. As the boy approaches manhood he gathers up his forces and concentrates them on some definite work, trade or profession, has a wish, a will, a way of his own that everybody respects, hence he begins life with enthusiasm, early learns the pleasure of self dependence, growing stronger, nobler, braver, every day he lives. But alas for the girl, she leaves school with her ambition at white heat; perchance she has outstripped the foremost in the sciences and languages, she has her tools ready to carve her way to distinction. She too has a will of her own and desires the dignity and independence of self-support. But any career for a woman is tabooed by the world, and nothing that she proposes to do is acceptable to family and friends. If in spite of opposition a woman does step outside all conventional trammels, to do something that her grandmother did not do, she meets a dozen obstacles where a man does one. Surely the battle of life without any artificial trammels is hard enough, for multitudes of young men even perish in the struggle, but the girl who earns her bread, or makes for herself a name has all the boy has to surmount and these artificial barriers of law and custom in addition. Vinnie Ream.
Do you wonder that so few are ready to take their rights? Multitudes of our noblest girls are perishing for something to do. The hope of marriage, all we offer girls, is not enough to feed an immortal mind, and if that goal is never reached what then? The more fire and genius a girl has with no outlets for her powers, the more complete is her misery when all these forces are turned back upon herself. The pent up fires that might have glowed with living words of eloquence in courts of justice, in the pulpit, or on the stage, are to-day consuming their victims in lunatic asylums, in domestic discontent and disgust, in peevish wailings about trifles, or in the vain pursuit of pleasure and fashion, longing for that peace that is found only in action. Thus multitudes of girls live and die unloving and unloved who might have stood high in the shining walks of life a blessing to others and themselves. I said to one of the most distinguished men of our day not long since, your daughter has a wonderful genius for drawing you should cultivate, it might be a source of great profit as well happiness to her. “Ah!” said he “she is interested in ragged schools just now, that fills up her time.” “Yes,” I replied, “but if you should die and she be thrown on her own resources for bread, she could not live by doing acts of charity, beside it is not wise to fill up one’s whole life with benevolence.” All women were not made for sisters of mercy and it is not best for any to watch the shadows and sorrows of life forever. Charity is a good thing, says Sidney Smith, but it is hard to be pitiful twenty four hours in the day. I know a beautiful girl just eighteen, full of genius, force and fire, who has had one strong steadfast desire for years to be educated for the stage. Her performances in private theatricals are marvelous. She has but little thought of dress, fashion, frivolous pleasures or matrimony. She lives in the ideal. She can give imitations to the life of Fanny Kemble, Charlotte Cushman, Ristori. She reads Shakspeare with rare power and appreciates the nicest shades of his thought. She has a passion for tragedy, all her desires her longings her hopes and aspirations centre there; she thinks of the stage by day, dreams of it by night, and in vain friends try to change the current of her thoughts, her heart’s desire, the purpose of her life. They have the power to say her nay, to control her action, thwart her will, pervert her nature, darken all life, but how can they fill the mighty void that one strong passion unsatisfied makes in the human soul. The weary hours of such a blasted life cannot be cheated with the dull round of ordinary duties, with the puerile pleasures said to be legitimate to woman’s sphere. “The stage they say is not respectable,” as if a royal soul does not dignify whatever she touches. Have not a Siddons, Kemble, Cushman, Kean, Rachel, Ristori, made that profession honorable for all time? And what do the guardians of this girl propose for the sacrifice they ask? Can they substitute another strong purpose, will or wish as they desire? Are human souls like garden beds where passions can be transplanted as easily as flowers? Can these guardians pledge themselves, while they hold this child of genius to day in idleness and dependence, that they will surround her with comforts and luxuries her life all through? No. Fathers, Brothers, Husbands die, banks fail, houses are consumed with fire, friends prove treacherous, creditors grasping, and debtors dishonest; the skill and cunning of a girl’s own brains and hands are the only friends that are ever with her, the only sure means of self protection and support. Give your daughters then the surest of all fortunes, the full developement of their own powers concentrated on some life work.
The coming girl is to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. She is to hold an equal place with her brother in the world of work, in the colleges, in the state, the church and the home. Her sphere is to be no longer bounded by the prejudices of a dead past, but by her capacity to go wherever she can stand. The coming girl is to be an independent, self-supporting being, not as to-day a helpless victim of fashion, superstition, and absurd conventionalisms.
Let us consider then the reforms in her education necessary to realize the grand result. 1st She is to be healthy. As by a law of nature women mould themselves to man’s ideal, we must educate our young men to demand something better than they have yet realized. All our customs and fashions, however trivial and transient, are based on the theory that woman was made simply to please man and to do this not by meeting him on the higher plane of spiritual and intellectual attraction in the world of thought, where, through ages of culture, he is supposed to dwell, and where through ignorance and inferiority she is supposed to be unable to go, but by a mere physical power such as beauty, manners, and dress can give. Hence she amuses man by an endless variety in her costume and calls out his chivalry by her seeming helplessness and dependence.
When there is a demand for healthy, happy, vigorous self-reliant women, they will make their appearance, but with our feeble type of manhood, the present supply of vanity and vacuity meets their wants. Woman, as she is to-day, is man’s handy work. With iron shoes, steel ribbed corsets, hoops, trails, high heels, chignons, paniers, limping gait, feeble muscles, with her cultivated fears of everything seen and unseen, of snakes and spiders, mice and millers, cows and caterpillars, dogs and drunken men, fire crackers and cannon, thunder and lightning, ghosts and gentlemen, women die ten thousands deaths, when if educated to be brave and self-dependent they would die but one. This sheer affectation of fear and feebleness men too have become so depraved in their tastes as to admire, and they really suppose that woman as she is, is Nature’s work, and when they see a woman with brains and two hands in practical life, capable of standing alone, earning her own bread and thinking her own thoughts, conscious of the true dignity and glory of womanhood, they call her unsexed. But whatever his theory, the real facts of life show that man’s chivalry and devotion are not manifested in proportion to a girl’s need of them, but just the opposite. The beautiful highly educated wealthy heiress, who is in no hurry to marry either for a master or a home calls out ten times more chivalry than the friendless orphan girl, or the penniless widow with half a dozen children. Man’s devotion is always in exact proportion to woman’s actual independence!
Again when American women begin to care more for principle, than pleasing, more to be, than to seem, and understand their true dignity as citizens of a republic, they will not ape foreign customs, manners and fashions all out of joint with our theory of government. Our fashions as you all know are sent us by the French courtezans, whose life work it is to study how to fascinate man and hold him for their selfish purposes. I have often wondered in fashionable parties and ball rooms if American girls with bare arms and necks had ever philosophized on the custom that required them to appear there half naked, while their brothers were modestly clothed to the very chin. This making an auction block of every drawing room, for the exhibition of our daughters’ charms, and thus unduly stimulating the sensuous in our sons, is demoralizing to the virtue of the nation, dragging woman and man too down to death. It is assuming that the sexes are alike incapable of the higher and more lasting attractions of character of moral and spiritual power. (Beatrice and Dante) God has given you minds, dear girls, as well as it is your duty to develope your immortal powers. Your life work is not simply to attract man or please anybody, but to mould yourselves into a grand and glorious womanhood.
The world will talk to you of the duties of wives and mothers and housekeepers, but all these incidental relations should ever be subordinate to the greater fact of womanhood. You may never be wives, or mothers, or housekeepers, but you will be women, therefore labor for the grander and more universal fact of your existence.
Speaking of the common idea that woman was made for man and not for her own happiness and enjoyment, Frances Power Cobbe, a distinguished Englishwoman, says, “If it be admitted that horses and cats were made first for their own enjoyment and secondly to serve their masters, it is to say the least illogical to suppose that the most stupid of human females has been called into existence by the Almighty principally for man’s benefit. Believing that the same woman, a million of ages hence, will be a glorious spirit before the throne of God, filled with unutterable love and light and joy, we cannot satisfactorily trace the beginning of that eternal and seraphic existence to Mr. Smith’s want of a wife for a score of years here upon earth, or to the necessity Mr. Jones was under to find some body to cook his food and repair his clothes.” It is a great truth to impress on the mind of every girl that she is an independent creative will power, made primarily for her own happiness, making self-developement and self-support and the highest good of the race the end of her being. I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives but nouns, not mere appendages made to qualify some body else, but independent, responsible workers in carrying forward the grand eternal plans in the redemption of mankind. There is a very pretty theory extant that every woman has a strong right arm on which to lean until she is safe the other side of Jordan, but the facts of life conflict with the theory. We see on all sides multitudes of girls and women, matrons and maidens alike, thrown on their own resources for their daily bread, hence the importance of educating women for those positions that will secure pecuniary independence. I do not wish to undervalue domestic avocations, but the tastes of women vary as much as the tastes of men, and to educate all women for teachers and seamstresses, cooks, nurses and chambermaids, is to make the supply in the home sphere greater than the demand, permanently to keep down wages and degrade all these branches of labour. Horace Greeley says what we most want is not women voters but 60,000 good cooks to-day in our kitchens. Well, suppose I educate my two daughters for cooks, the highest wages they can secure is $20 a month, $240 a year. A woman of refined tastes cannot live on that. Is there a harder and more monotonous life than revolving 365 days of the year round a cook stove?
The coming girl is to have health. One of the first needs for every girl who is to be trained for some life work, some trade or profession, is good health. As a sound body is the first step towards a sound mind, food, clothes, exercise, all the conditions of daily life, are important in training girls either for high scholarship, or practical work. Hence, girls, in all your gettings get health, it is the foundation of success in every undertaking. Sick men and women always take sickly views of everything and fail in the very hour they are most needed. One of the essential elements of health is freedom of thought and action, a right to individual life, opinion, ambition. The feebleness of body and mind so universal in women, may be attributed mainly to their being forever in a condition of tutelage or minority. I am sure, gentlemen, you will all be glad to hear that the millenium is close at hand when you are to hear no more of headaches, earaches, sideaches, and backaches, that your homes are to be changed from the gloomy hospitals of to-day to abodes of health and happiness, when nerves are to be superseded by muscles.
It is as one of the conditions of health that the question of dress becomes one of great importance. “There was a time in the history of man,” says Carlyle, “when man was primary and his rags secondary, but times have sadly changed, clothes now make the man.” I hope we are fast coming to that period in the history of woman when in her dress, health and freedom are to be the first considerations. As women are now rapidly asserting themselves in the world of work, an entire revolution in this respect is inevitable. A physiologist need but look at the forms of all our young girls to appreciate the violence done Nature in the small waists and constrained gait and manners of all we meet. Ordinarily a girl of fourteen is a healthy, happy, romping being, in short hair, short dress and clothes hung loosely on her shoulders, but as soon as her skirts trail and dress makers lace and tighten her clothes to form the waist as they say, a change takes place at once in her whole manner and appearance. She is moody, listless, weary, strolls when she should run, cries when she should laugh and this at the very age when she should manifest new power, vigor and enthusiasm. Much of this may be attributed to the many unnatural restraints placed on all girls, the indoor life and sedentary habits but more to her dress than any other one cause. The tight waist prevents a free circulation of the blood and action of the heart and lungs, contracts the ribs and paralyzes a belt of the nerves and muscles at least six inches in width round that part of the body. The long dress prevents all freedom of motion. When we remember that deep breathing has much to do with deep thinking we see the relation between scholarship and clothes. Girls by the style and material of their dress are practically debarred from outdoor exercise, and yet they need it as much as boys do and if well trained would enjoy it equally with them. Many a pleasant moonlight walk, or a sunset from the mountain top is sacrificed to a clean starched muslin dress or ruffled skirt, the greater often subordinated to the less, the girl forever to her clothes and the modern idea of what a woman’s form should be. In looking at the beautiful paintings and statuary in the old world, I have often wondered where we moderns got our idea of the female form. It is certainly like nothing in Heaven above or the earth beneath, or the waters under the earth, for even to the mermaid is vouchsafed more breathing power than to the woman of the 19th century. None of the old artists have immortalized anything of the kind in marble or on canvas, and those of our times turn away in disgust from the daughters of Hancock and Adams to copy the Venus and Madonna of the past for the perfection of womanly grace and beauty.
All sensible men laugh at these wasp like waists and women themselves affect not to like them and declare, when attacked, that their clothes are perfectly loose, that they are small naturally, which is to say, that God, by way of making a variety in the human species, thought fit to lap the ribs of the American women. I do not like to interfere with the designs of Providence, but I should like to see the experiment fairly tried for one generation of hanging all woman’s clothing loosely on her shoulders, that we might learn what hand God had in her present weakness and deformity. I do not believe that it is in harmony with God’s laws that any woman should move up and down the earth with her ribs lapped. And the fact the mass of American women are diseased, old before they are thirty years, proves that some great law is violated. (West Point Ann Arbor). I conjure every girl in the sound of my voice, if she desires a healthy, happy old age, to attend to this question of dress at once, to have her clothes hung loosely on her shoulders and not dragging down as now on her vital organs, and to have her skirts above her boot tops that she may run up and down stairs with freedom, walk in all kinds of weather and be ready for any outdoor pleasure that may offer. If a girl must always change her dress for a walk, ten to one she will give up the walk and plead some other excuse for doing it. Exercise to be pleasant and profitable must be regular and to make it so, one must have a convenient comfortable dress. Young girls are moved about three times a year to walk five miles to some water-fall or hill-top. From the sense of weariness that follows such an effort in long dresses and laced boots, they infer that walking does not agree with them. When I was a girl with a short dress, round hat and a pair of light boots made precisely like my Father’s I used to walk five miles before breakfast, or ride ten miles on horseback, and to those early habits and the fact that my ribs were not lapped by tight lacing, I am indebted for a life of uninterrupted health and happiness. A man’s boot is preferable to those made for women because the pressure is equal on the whole foot, and the ankle has free play. Health is the normal condition for all women, weakness, disease, pain and sorrow are the results in all cases of violated law. There is nothing more absurd and untrue than all the talk we hear of the natural weaknesses and disabilities of woman, and so long as physicians continue to teach this theory, women instead of having a feeling of guilt, when their children or themselves are always out of health, they will continue to throw all their sins on a mysterious providence. With the scientific education of our youth of both sexes, and a strict observance of the great immutable laws of life, another generation might show as marked a change in the human family as we already observe in the lower animals, which science has done so much to improve during the last century.
Remember, girls, you have an inalienable right to be healthy and happy and it is your duty to secure these blessings. A sound body is to the mind what a good foundation is to a house. Napoleon said you cannot make a soldier out of a sick man, neither can you make a wise, kind woman out of a girl whose vital organs have been displaced with tight lacing and whose feet have been cramped with tight shoes. I have no hope that woman will ever remedy these things herself. I look to Fathers, Husbands, and Brothers to inaugurate some grand reform in this direction and unless it is done speedily, the higher orders of refined, cultivated American womanhood must give place to the sturdier foreign races. If you appreciate the effect of American institutions on character as highly as I do, you would feel that this would be a great calamity, for I consider the women of this republic, in beauty, intellect, moral power, and true dignity, superior to any type of womanhood that the world has yet seen and perhaps it might not be amiss in passing to say the same of our men also. There was nothing in all Europe that pleased me more than the self possession of Americans in moving about among the Kings, Queens and nobles of the old world. The unconscious way in which Americans ignore all distinctions is a matter of surprize and astonishment to the middle classes who always manifest in the presence of the nobility the most pitiful unrest and obsequiousness. (Anecdotes Bull at Naples Duchess of Sutherland) We never fully appreciate the beneficent results of our republican theory, that all men are created equal until we see our people in contrast with the cringing masses in the old world. It is because I love my country and believe in its free institutions that I desire to see this government maintained and perpetuated as it only can be by baptizing its women into the spirit of freedom and equality. As I look to the young girls of this nation for the grand work of the future and as it is impossible to rouse the sick, the weak or the lazy to enthusiasm on any subject, to high purpose or noble action, I urge you one and all to study the laws of health and obey them, that you may bravely do your part in the future in maintaining the strength, virtue, honor, and dignity of this government. Remember woman’s sphere is wherever her sires and sons may be summoned to duty.
Another reason why you should observe all the laws of health is that you may be beautiful. All girls desire to be so, yet they take every means to defeat their desires. I suppose you have all read the recipes for beauty in our daily papers. Here is one I cut from a N.Y. paper. “Beautiful women.” “If you would be beautiful, use Hagan’s Magnolia balm. It gives a pure, blooming complexion and restores youthful beauty. Its effects are gradual, (so gradual you never see them) natural, perfect. It removes blotches, pimples, tan, sunburn, freckles, and redness. (Wonder if it would take the redness from the noses of our sires and sons? If so I hope they will all get a bottle for I hate a red nose.) The Magnolia Balm makes the skin smooth and pearly, the eye bright and clear, the cheek glow with the bloom of youth and imparts a fresh plump appearance to the countenance.” How pray can an external wash make the face plump, and as to the eye a few ideas on any subject, dear girls, will make your eyes brighter and clearer, than a dozen bottles of Balm. Again, the recipe says, “The Magnolia will make a lady of thirty look like a girl of sixteen.” Now what sensible woman of thirty, with all the marks of intelligence and cultivation that well spent years must give, would desire to look like an inexperienced girl of sixteen? The papers are full of these quack remedies for wrinkles and grey hairs, old age and disease and the fact that men can afford to advertize these nostrums everywhere shows that there must be fools enough among womankind to believe them. Pray waste no money in cosmetics, they are worse than useless, they are positively injurious. White lead enters more or less into the compounding of all of them. Several physicians have told me of different young ladies dying in our midst with paralysis from the constant use of cosmetics and hair dyes.
Now I think a woman has as good a right as a man has to grow old and have freckles and tan and sunburn if she chooses. When it is only through age that one gathers wisdom and experience, why this endless struggle to seem young? I will give you a recipe, dear girls, for nothing that will prove far more serviceable in preserving your beauty than Hagan’s Magnolia Balm at 75 cts a bottle. While his is only skin deep mine will preserve your beauty of body and soul until like the old family clock in the corner the machinery runs down to work no more forever. For the hair, complexion, and clear bright expression of the eye, there is nothing you can do like preserving your health by exercising regularly, breathing pure air in all your sleeping and waking hours, eating nutritious food, and bathing every day in cold water. Not three times a day as one of the Cincinnati papers reported me, that would wash all the constitution out of you. Don’t imitate our financiers, the Vanderbilts and the Fisks, who water their stocks so freely as to take all the value out of them. Eat rare roast beef and vegetable, good bread and fruits, do not munch chalk, clay, cloves, india rubber, pea-nuts, gum, and slate pencils, always chewing, chewing, chewing, like a cow with her cud.
Remember that beauty works from within, it cannot be put on and off like a garment, and it depends far more on the culture of the intellect, the tastes, sentiments, and affections of the soul, on an earnest unselfish life purpose to leave the world better than you find it, than the color of the hair, eyes or complexion. Be kind, noble, generous, magnanimous, be true to yourselves and your friends, and the soft lines of these tender graces and noble virtues, will reveal themselves in the face, in a halo of glory about the head, in a personal atmosphere of goodness, and greatness that none can mistake. To make your beauty lasting when old age with the wrinkles and grey hairs come and the eyes grow dim and the ears heavy, you must cultivate those immortal powers that gradually unfold and grasp the invisible as from day to day the visible ceases to absorb the soul.
“There is a knowledge of the truth,” says Plato,” that gives rest to the soul and thus saves life.” But the mere capacity for this knowledge unsatisfied, gives the soul not rest but restlessness. Your life work dear girls is not simply to eat, drink, dress, be merry, be married and be mothers, but to mould yourselves into a perfect womanhood. Choose then those conditions in life that shall best secure a full symmetrical development. We cannot be one thing and look another. There are indelible marks in every face showing the real life within. One cannot lead a narrow, mean, selfish life and hide its traces with dye, cosmetics, paint and balm. Regard yourselves precisely as the artist does his painting or statue, ever stretching forward to some grand ideal. Remember that your daily, hourly lives, every impulse, passion, feeling of your soul, every good action, high resolve and lofty conception of the good and true, are delicate touches here and there gradually rounding out and perfecting in yourselves a true womanhood. Oh! do not mar the pure white canvas or marble statue with dark shadows, coarse lines, and hasty chiseling.
Idleness, frivolity, ill nature, discontent, envy, jealousy, hatred, backbiting, and malice, all outbursts of ill temper and indulgence in low passions, leave their marks and shadows on the face, that no balm can chase away, no artifice conceal. What we are is revealed in the expression and features of the face.
2nd In the second place the coming girl is to be wealthy, that is she is to be a creator of wealth herself. I urge upon the consideration of all thinking parents, guardians and teachers the necessity of educating girls under their care to some profitable life work, some trade or profession. There cannot be too much said on the helpless condition in which a girl is left, when thrown alone on the world, without money, without friends, without skill or place in the world of work. One half the stimulus to a girl’s education is lost in the fact, that she has no aim or ambition in the future. Boys may be Doctors, Clergy-men, Lawyers, Editors, Poets, Painters, Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, anything and everything, be what they can, go where they can stand; but girls must be wives and nothing more, and if they are not wives, most people consider their lives failures. Now I want to raise the standard for old maids, and teach girls two things, that marriage as a profession nine cases in ten proves a sad failure because the wife is pecuniarily dependent. To be independent she must have some trade or profession, beside that of the wife, mother, and housekeeper, as only in the happiest and most lasting relations are these offices honored and remunerated. Beside in the most fortunate marriages women are not secure against want, for good husbands sometimes die bankrupt, leaving a young wife with half a dozen little children to provide for, helpless, friendless, alone, with no trade or profession by which she can gain a livelihood, and worse than all, with the feeling that labor is a degradation, that it is more honorable for a woman to live on the bounty of another, beg bread or sell herself for a home either in marriage or out of it, than it is to work side by side with her brother anywhere and maintain a lofty independence. A mighty multitude of women find themselves in this position in all our large cities. Over fifty thousand in N.Y. alone earn their daily bread by the needle and below these are deeper depths, where dwell the daughters of vice and folly, a vast throng God only knows how many, over whom society draws the veil of forgetfulness, or before that sad problem stands hardened or appalled. Full three fourths the girls before me will be called at some period of their lives to support themselves. Shall we prepare them for the facts of life, its real emergencies, or sacrifice them to a theory? To-day perchance your daughters rest at ease in your palace homes, to morrow misfortune comes as it may to all. Your bonds, deeds, mortgages, change hands, your house, furniture, books, pictures, all your household Gods are put up at auction to the highest bidder, sick, sorrowful, disappointed, weary of life, the grave welcomes you to rest, but leaves your helpless wife and daughter to begin alone the hard struggle of life. Go to the departments of Washington and what do you find there, a large majority of the female clerks from the first families in the land. Go to the mercantile establishments, the garrets and cellars of our metropolis, the sinks of iniquity and vice, the busy marts of trade in your own city and there too are the daughters and sisters of Supreme Court Judges, Presidents, Senators, Congress-men, Priests and Bishops. Talking with one of these not long ago, one who in my girlhood moved in the first families of this state, now a miserable outcast in the haunts of vice, oh! said she, if my Father had educated me to self support I should never have been here.
Remember vice recruits her palsied ranks not from the children of toil, but from the gay, the fashionable, the helpless, those who know not how to work, but yet must eat. The stern question presses itself on our consideration, what can these soft, white hands and listless brains do for an honorable support? Make shirts at twelve cents apiece in a New York garret? Teach school at thirty dollars a month and pay six dollars a week for board, go out to service as waitresses and chambermaids at twelve dollars a month and be on the jump sixteen hours out of the twenty four, or marry a millionaire who drives fast horses, drinks good whiskey, puffs tobacco smoke in her face, and reminds her every day that he married a pauper and expects her to act with becoming humility? Give a man says Alexander Hamilton a right over my subsistence and he has a power over my whole moral being. When a woman marries a man for a home, for silks, jewels, equipage, she not only degrades herself, but sacrifices him. The sweet incense of love never rises from such altars and the fruit of such unions is blighted ere it blooms.
Instead of this sad picture, we will suppose that your daughters educated in freedom like your sons, looking forward to some life work for self-support, had each chosen a trade or profession. One is a skillful telegraph operator making $15 or $20 a week, another is notary public, or commissioner of deeds with daily fees. Another is a Homeopathic Physician with an income of $5000 a year. Another having gone through a thorough collegiate and theological course of study is an able Divine preaching in a pleasant place on $2000 a year. One is in your post office on $3000 a year and another is President of the United States with $25000 a year. Are not any of these positions better than teaching a school for a mere pittance, or running a sewing machine in a N.Y. garret with the gilded hand of vice ever beckoning her to ease and plenty in the paths that lead to infamy and death? Oh! Fathers, Husbands, Brothers, sons, this question of woman’s work and wages may lie nearer your hearts to-morrow than it does to-night. By some sudden turn in the wheel of fortune, your daughters, sisters, wives may stand face to face with the stern realities of life. If in obedience to the tyrant custom you have left them unprepared for such an emergency, and pressed with poverty and temptation they are drawn down the whirlpool of vice, their destruction lies at your door. To-day men are ashamed to have the women of their households enter into any kind of profitable labor, because work is supposed to degrade them. This has a depressing influence on all women who are compelled to support themselves, and only when the daughters of the rich are educated to self-support will labor be honorable for all women. Every Father has it in his power to educate his daughter in his own trade or profession and it is his solemn duty to do it be he doctor, lawyer, banker, jeweller, or dentist.
The study of theology is peculiarly adapted to woman should her tastes draw her to that profession, as its duties are chiefly thought, research, teaching and sympathy, and its pursuit seldom leads one into the public and disagreeable walks of life. After a thorough collegiate course and a few years reading under the care of a judicious Father, a gifted and devotional woman might stand unrivalled as a preacher of excellence and power. Without preparation women in all ages have preached the best gospel of their times. It was a woman, Elizabeth Fry who first went down into that pandemonium of misery and horrors in Newgate, London, and by her eloquence wrought such changes in the character and surroundings of the unhappy criminals as to fill the wise men of her day with admiration and amazement. The mother of Wesley often preached in the absence of her Husband and Adam Clarke says she was “an able Divine.” The Methodist church has long recognized the fact that in the outpouring of God’s spirit there is no distinction of sex. At one time a great revival occurred in the church of Wesley in his absence. When he heard that the women as well as the men were all talking in the assembled congregation he hastened home to stop such irregularities. But his mother told him to wait and watch, for, said she if these women bring sinners to repentance they are as much called of God as you are. Seeing that Wesley was under great concern of mind on this point, a friend remarked to him one day, if a cock might rouse the slumbering conscience of a Peter, or an ass warn Balaam of his danger, why may not a woman reprove a man of sin.
Many of our wealthy merchants too have daughters suffering for something to occupy their minds, yet their Fathers hire clerks to do the very things for which their daughters could be easily trained. Most girls could learn the laws of barter, to keep books in a mercantile establishment, and with practise buy and sell with as much skill as their brothers. As to the profession of medicine “the fair sex” have already taken that by storm. There are medical colleges for girls in most of our great cities, several old established institutions are recently opened to them, many have graduated and are already in a lucrative practise of the healing art. All over the country women are already making from $2000 to $10,000 a year. Is it not better thus to use their brains and secure pecuniary independence, delegating household cares to others, than to be dependent drudges all their days-to have perchance a few hundreds left them by husbands as long as they remain their widows. Michigan woman.
There too is the legal profession, and if the elevating, purifying influence of woman is needed anywhere, it is in our courts of justice, especially in those cases involving the interests of her own sex. In Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” we see how superior the ready wit, intuition and keen sympathy of a Portia was to the lumbering logic of the Antonios by her side. In portraying real wrongs before grave and reverend Judges would she be more out of her place than acting imaginary ones on the stage? Would not the study of Blackstone and Kent’s commentaries enlarge their minds and be of more practical benefit, than the Magazine of fashion, the last novel, or hours every day devoted to the needle? Would not daily talks in a lawyer’s office with sensible men, with bankers, merchant, farmers, on the practical business of life, on statute law, land titles, taxes, bond mortgages and usury for which they might receive a fee of $25 or $50 be far more rational than a three hours unprofitable talk with a dandy on the little nothings of fashionable life? Do you complain of the publicity of such a position? Is a lawyer’s office with a dozen clients all sober men engaged in the practical business of life, where your daughter may sit plainly and completely dressed, pen and book in hand, as public as a ball room where assembled hundreds may look at her as she moves about immodestly dressed now in the mazy dance, taking anybody by the hand, and now in the giddy waltz, whirling in the arms of some licentious debauchee? Your daughter could attend to all a lawyer’s business without taking the hand or inhaling the breath of a client, but there is no place where she is subject to such intimate approaches as in fashionable life, and no place where one meets a more sensual type of manhood.
To train your daughter to a good trade or profession is far better than to leave her an unhappy dependent or a fortune without the necessary knowledge to take care of it. Every thinking man must see how entirely a woman’s virtue and dignity are involved in her pecuniary independence.
Encourage your daughters, sisters, wives, to enter into all honest and profitable employments, not only for their own personal happiness, but for the safety of public morals, for thus only can you strike a blow at licentiousness and excess that shall be seen and felt throughout the land. Girls see all this more readily than their parents. I am in daily receipt of letters from them from all parts of the country expressing the strongest desire for education and profitable work but unfortunately these are the very girls who have no means to carry out their desires. Those who have rich parents and could be thoroughly educated are so enervated by ease and luxury, and the firm faith that hardship and trial can never come to them, that they have no motive stimulating them to effort. But say some would not all this conflict with what seems to be the special destiny of girls, marriage and maternity? When women are independent and self supporting fewer will enter the marriage relation with the present gross conceptions of its rights and duties, for the coming girl is to be wise as well as healthy and self-supporting.
In the higher civilization now dawning upon us, the love element of pure, refined women, guided and controlled by conscience, science, and religion will find higher purer outlets for its forces, giving us that glorious period when old maids will be honored and revered. The world has always had its Marys as well as Marthas, women who preferred to sit at the feet of wisdom to learn science and philosophy rather than to be busy housewives, mothers of ideas, of music, poetry and painting, rather than of men. All honor to the Mary Carpenters, Florence Nightingales, Maria Mitchells, Harriet Hosmers, Louisa Alcotts, Rosa Bonheurs, Anna Dickinsons, Susan B. Anthonys and the long line of geniuses, saints and philanthropists who have devoted themselves to art, religion and reform. Again no girl should marry until she is at least twenty five years of age as she does not reach physical maturity before that time. Thus many years could be devoted to reading, thought and study, to a preparation for that higher companionship of the spirit and intellect with pure, cultivated, scholarly men.
If Husbands found this companionship in their wives in science, philosophy and government, our whole social life would be refined and elevated and marriage be a far more happy and permanent relation than it is to-day. But marriage has thus far been based wholly on the man idea, a condition of subjection for woman. The Methodist church has taken the initiative step to the higher idea. I understand that by an act in their ecclesiastical councils they have dropped the word “obey” from their marriage ceremony. All praise to the Methodist church! When women have a proper self-respect, a laudable pride of sex, they will scout all these old barbarisms of the past that point in any way to the subject condition of woman, in either the state the church or the home. Until all other sects follow her example, I hope all girls will insist on being married by the Methodist ceremony and clergyman.
The Episcopal marriage service is more at loggerheads with time than any other now extant in civilized nations. It not only still clings to the word obey but it has a most humiliating act in giving the bride away. I was never more struck with its odious and ludicrous features than on once seeing a tall, queenly looking woman magnificently arrayed, married by one of the tiniest priests that ever donned a surplice and gown, given away by the smallest guardian that ever watched a woman’s fortunes, to the feeblest bluest looking groom that ever placed a wedding ring on bridal finger. Seeing these Lilliputs round her I thought when the little priest said “who gives this woman to this man” that she would take the responsibility and say I do, but no there she stood calm serene like an automaton, as if it were no affair of hers while the little guardian placing her hand in that of the little groom said I do. Thus was this stately woman bandied about by these three puny men all of whom she might have gathered up in her arms and borne off to their respective places of abode. But women are gradually waking up to the degradation of these ceremonies. Not long since at a wedding in high life, a beautiful girl of eighteen in the response was suddenly struck dumb at the word “obey.” Three times the Priest pronounced it with an emphasis and holy unction each time slower, louder than before, though the magnificent parlours were crowded, a breathless silence reigned. Father, Mother and Groom were in agony, the bride with downcast eyes stood speechless, at length the Priest slowly closed his book and said the ceremony is at an end.
One imploring word from the groom and a faint “obey” was heard in the solemn stillness. The Priest unclasped his book and the knot was tied. The congratulations, feast and all went on as though there has been no break in the proceedings, but the lesson was remembered and many a rebel made by that short pause. Now I think that all these reverend gentlemen who insist on the word obey in the marriage service should be impeached in the supreme court of the United States for a clear violation of the 13th amendment to the Federal constitution, which says there shall be no slavery or involuntary servitude in the United States.
An old German proverb says that every girl is born into the world with a stone on her head. This is just as true now as the day it was first uttered.
Your creeds, codes, and conventionalisms have indeed fallen with crushing weight on the head of woman in all ages, but nature is mightier than law and custom, and in spite of the stone on her head, behold her to-day close upon the heels of man in the whole world of thought, in art, science, literature and government. Where has the world produced an orator that could draw such audiences and hold them spell bound as did our own Anna Dickinson at the tender age of seventeen. In science we have Caroline Summerville and Maria Mitchell, in political economy Harriet Martineau. In art Angelica Kauffmann, Harriet Hosmer and Rosa Bonheur, who refused admission into the universities of France, studied anatomy in the slaughter houses of Paris and has given us the most wonderful painting of animal life that the world has ever seen. In literature we have Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Shakspeare of our age, George Sand, Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who have produced the most popular novels of the century. All these and many more have risen up in spite of the stone on their heads and walked forward as easily as did Samson into the gates of the city.
Educate the world into higher thoughts and affections. Children of the brain are more needed for the ushering in of the higher civilization than those of the flesh alone.
That beautiful myth of the goddess Minerva springing from the brain of her Father, fully armed and equipped for the battle of life, has a deeper significance than the world dreams of today.
Retrieved on July 18, 2019 from https://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/stanton-our-girls-speech-text.