Bloomer delivered this speech in New York City's Metropolitan Hall in front of an audience of 3,000 people. Horace Greeley published much of the speech in the New York Tribune.
From the earliest agitation of the subject of temperance, down through the whole progress of the cause, woman has been told that she had an important part to perform in the great struggle for freedom from the cruel wrongs and oppressions which the use of intoxicating drinks has imposed upon the race. And her heart has responded to the oft-told tale, and nobly has she acted her part, according to the light and knowledge she possessed and the freedom allowed her.
She has done all that her sense of propriety and the customs of the times have permitted her to do. She has formed societies, passed resolutions, labored to obtain signatures to the pledge, petitioned rumsellers, excise boards, and legislators, and faithfully attended all temperance meetings and listened to the wise discourse of men on the evils of the liquor traffic, the great responsibility resting upon the ladies, and the powerful influence they (the ladies) might exert for the overthrow of the great evil.
In doing all this, woman imagined she was doing the cause good service and looked to see the enemy fall beneath her blows, and the power of her might! But Io! after a long and weary battle, she sees the great destroyer standing before her in full strength, and passing triumphantly on in his march of death! She sees her sons and her daughters, despite her counsels and warnings, overcome and trodden beneath his iron heel! She sees men in the prime of youth and manhood, borne down by his tyrannic sway! She sees poverty, wretchedness and despair—the waitings and agonizing cries of countless numbers of hapless, ill-clothed, and half-starved women and children following in his train! She sees that her prayers to rumsellers, to desist from their murderous work, have fallen upon hearts of stone. Her petitions to municipal offices, to suppress the damning traffic, set at naught! Her prayers for mercy and protection at the hands of legislators treated with scorn, and she told [sic] that she is out of her sphere in making them. She sees that in spite of her remonstrances, her tears, her prayers, her constant and untiring labors, the stream of death still flows on, and thousands and tens of thousands are yearly borne upon it to everlasting destruction!
This state of affairs is truly discouraging, and one could not wonder, if with so powerful a foe to combat, woman should surrender her feeble arms and acknowledge herself vanquished. But not so! Though she is often weary with fruitless efforts and heartsick at the treachery and inefficiency of man, she is not hopeless. Though the clouds have darkened her path, and difficulties met her on every hand, she still has faith to look beyond the cloud, and trust in one mightier than man for deliverance!
There is an army of noble spirits who remain steadfast and determined—who will be frightened by no foe, deterred by no obstacle—but boldly stand their ground, and not only oppose the farther advance of the tyrant, but strive to root out and destroy every vestige of his power and cruelty. God sometimes makes choice of the weak things of the world, to confound the things that are mighty: so we believe He is calling woman from the state of inactivity and indolence wherein she has so long entrenched herself, to come forth to the work of rescuing her race from moral degradation. She must meet the evils which now curse society, and say to intemperance, licentiousness, and kindred vices, "thus far shalt thou go, and no farther!"
Seeing how fruitless have been their former efforts in the temperance cause, women are holding counsel and laying plans for a more successful work. While carefully examining into the causes of their former want of success, they find many things which have frustrated their hopes and prevented the accomplishment of their object. They have not struck deep enough; they have only made here and there slight impressions, which wasted their strength, but left the enemy unharmed—the evil unabated.
They are now convinced that they have hitherto stood too much aloof from the active field of labor and relied too much on man to go forward alone to contend with the foe face to face, while they shrank back, contented with a passive concurrence, merely, in his labors. They see too that they have relied too much on his wisdom as a guide for their actions; have looked too much to him to tell them what was right and what was wrong, what proper, and what improper for them to do; and have taken his opinions as the law of their lives, instead of obeying the dictates of that higher law implanted in their own breasts by their Heavenly Father!
But a new era has dawned in woman's history! A new spirit is infusing itself into her frame, and arousing to new life her dormant energies! The experience of the past has taught her a good lesson, and led her to enquire, search out, and examine for herself; and great truths have been revealed to her awakened mind; and new light shed o'er her darkened vision.
Henceforth, she will choose her own sphere of action, select the weapons with which she is to battle in the cause of truth and right, and decide for herself the manner of conducting the great moral warfare!
I wish to call your attention to a few points which have presented themselves to my mind in my search for the causes which have retarded the progress of the temperance cause—points seldom touched upon by lecturers on this subject, but which are, I trust, none the less worthy of consideration on that account.
Men love to dwell on the home influence of woman. They flatter them selves, and endeavor to make her believe, that on her nursery teachings depends the future weal or woe of her child, and when her son goes astray, they cruelly lay the blame on her and imagine themselves innocent. But woman knows the feebleness of her power; she knows how hard it is for one who is herself fettered to accomplish any great good; how almost hopeless for one so weak and dependent to strive against the strong and powerful influence which opposes all her efforts. She knows that when her child leaves the nursery, he is beyond her control, although his young and plastic mind is now, more than ever, liable to be stamped with evil impressions, and corrupted by vice, and more than ever needs a mother's watchful care and wise commands. And she repudiates the idea that she is the former of his habits, or that in the present state of society she is answerable for his guiltiness! She does not teach her sons to become drunkards, profane swearers, gamblers, tobacco chewers, and gross libertines!
Who teaches them all this iniquity? Who sets the example before their young lives which corrupts the heart and destroys all the good influence which a prayerful loving mother might exert, were not all her efforts counteracted and set at naught? Nay, oh! man, deeply are you guilty in this matter! Farther back than you imagine lies the root of this dire evil, and it is only by striking at the root that we may hope to apply an effectual remedy. You first stamp your child with your own gross, carnal nature and low, selfish appetites, which the purity and nobleness of the mother's mind cannot efface! You too often teach the boy to regard his mother as an inferior, and to think it unmanly to pay heed to her instructions, by yourself treating her with disrespect and slighting her counsels.
Soon he knows that man is supreme ruler on earth, and woman but his subject; and as we are all prone to regard only our equals and superiors, while we look with contempt on those beneath us, so the boy will follow in the steps of men, and disregard the counsels of the inferior being to whom he owes his existence. He sees those in high stations, whom men delight to honor, addicted to low and vicious practices. He hears the name of woman lightly spoken by men of low degree, and he sees that her opinions and wishes are disregarded and disrespectfully treated by those claiming to be upright and just. Her voice comes not into their counsels, her wisdom is all unheeded!
What wonder then that the boy should imitate the vices of men and turn a deaf ear to a mother's pleadings? What wonder, with the example of men before them, that a mother's home influence does not prevent her sons from becoming drunkards and following in the evil course which men have marked out and invited them to walk in?
Men establish and sustain grog shops, gambling houses, and brothels on every side to tempt the fair boy from virtue's path, and if the mother remonstrates, or interferes to save her child from ruin, she is told to go about her business, and keep within her sphere, that it shows a want of delicacy on her part to attempt to meddle with such matters!
And thus is she silenced—thus is she thrust aside—while men perpetuate institutions which soon undermine all her influence and corrupt and destroy those dearer to her than life. Boys are what men make them, and though the precepts of a good mother may not be wholly lost, yet she can never truly exert an influence over their character and destiny until her efforts are seconded, by man, and her own individuality and equality fully recognized and acknowledged by him in all the relations of life!
Herein lies a great wrong, that man in his love of power has subjected unto himself her who is the companion of his life and the mother of his children, her who bears the image of her Maker, and is, in His sight, equally precious! That he has assumed to himself the right to rule over her, to control her actions, compel her obedience to his will and laws, and to make her in all things, dependent on him, and the echo of his thoughts! That man, acting upon the usages and customs of a less civilized age, has assumed to act and legislate upon important questions without consulting the wishes, or listening to the entreaties of her who is the companion of his life, and the mother of his children. In so doing he has robbed her of the rights and dignity with which she was endowed by her Creator, usurped to himself the sovereignty of her actions, and forced her to submit to laws made without her consent and in contempt of her dearest rights. He may have done this unwittingly, and if so, he will never be unwilling to listen to the voice of expostulation and remonstrance, come though it may from woman's lips. He has presumed to place himself between her and her God, and to strip her of the rights and dignity with which she was endowed at the creation.
Fearful have been the consequences of this unnatural assumption of power!
But while man has greatly sinned in usurping the high and holy prerogatives bestowed jointly upon both by our Heavenly Father, woman has also sinned and shown contempt for divine authority by resigning quietly into his hands not only the dominion delegated to her jointly with him over all the irrational creation, but over her own person, and the persons of her children also. She has yielded up without a struggle her God-given power, and bowed submissively to man's decrees. Having done this, she vainly imagines that she is not responsible for the evils of society, the sinfulness of men, the oppression and cruelty, the vices and crimes with which the world is filled. She has suffered her individuality to be merged in his, and herself to become in the eye of the law a mere cypher, an appendage, an incumbrance! She forgets that God created them equals and gave them equal dominion. She forgets that she is as necessary to his happiness, as he to hers—that in uniting her destiny with his she bestows as much as she receives—that they are in the sight of God equals on earth and must inherit the same kingdom in heaven. She forgets that our Heavenly Father has not made one to rule over the other, but designed them to walk hand in hand through life, sharing alike its joys and sorrows, and bearing equally its burdens! She forgets that all of humanity is entrusted to her keeping, and that she cannot shift the responsibility from her hands! She may vainly imagine that by submitting all to the guidance of man, she is doing her duty, and will free her soul. But man cannot answer for her at the Judgment, and though she may barter away her birthright here, her individuality will be recognized and held accountable there!
Did God bestow children upon her to rear up to all kinds of iniquity? Does he limit her care of them to four or five years of their infantile lives, and then suffer her to turn them out at large upon the world to become drunkards, paupers, thieves, house breakers, murderers—yea, very devils! Verily no! Her influence and guardianship should extend beyond the home circle and through many years. She has a right, and it is her duty to interfere with the customs of society and the laws of her country, and say whether they shall be allowed to corrupt and destroy her child; and she will be answerable for the manner in which she discharges this responsibility.
Fearful must be the retribution upon those mothers who through neglect of duty have suffered the ruin of countless immortal souls! Through ignorance they have done it in days that are past, and God grant that this plea may avert their doom! That other plea, so often raised, that it is immodest for woman to labor in behalf of suffering humanity, that it is out of her sphere, unladylike, will not avail in the sight of that just and holy God who created all things pure, who has endowed her with intelligence and capacity, and who has commanded that even the one talent be put to good use, and accounted for to him. No, my sisters, no! Flatter not yourselves that you can thus escape the frowns of the Almighty. He has created you intelligent, responsible beings and given you a great work to do. Woe unto you if you do it not, and woe unto him who hinders you in its performance!
It is owing to the present false state of society, to the want of woman's wisdom and counsel, not only in the home circle, but in all the important public affairs of life, that we may trace the vice of intemperance and kindred evils. Her purifying influence must go abroad into society and be felt in our legislative halls; her individuality and equality must be recognized, and her influence and rights acknowledged before those evils can cease to exist. Man is by no means an infallible being. His perceptions of right and wrong are often blunted, and he is liable to err in judgment and action. Then surely woman should be guided by her own judgment, and sense of duty, instead of depending on him to lead her. If she but act the part of true womanhood and looks only to her God for strength and guidance, she will soon learn to define the limits of her own sphere, and the path of duty will be made so plain that she cannot err by walking therein. The hand of God is indicating the direction of this path and calling upon woman to search it out. And she is listening to the call and answering nobly to the appeal. She is beginning to cast aside the frivolity and dependence of her former course, looking seriously at the realities of life, and in an independent and true womanly spirit applying her hand to remedy its evils.
Having examined the principal obstacles which have prevented those women who have this cause at heart from applying an effectual remedy for the evil of intemperance, we propose to show how many women have by their own acts directly retarded the progress of the temperance cause and given strength to the enemy we would destroy; for while men alone are responsible for the existence of the evil, and for all the mischief done by the traffic they have legalized or sanctioned, it is a mortifying fact that woman has too often followed the pernicious example set before her, and been led to tamper with the poison that men have placed within her reach.
The number of these is comparatively small, yet from their position in society their influence is highly pernicious.
First, woman has done, and is doing, much to encourage and perpetuate drunkenness by herself partaking of the poisonous beverage and transmitting it to the veins of her children. Many mothers imagine they receive strength during the period of lactation by partaking freely of strong beer and other stimulants, and this is practiced to a great extent. Thus an appetite is formed and nourished in their offspring, which may in after life prove their ruin, and bring deep sorry [sic] upon the guilty mother. Better, far better, take the child from the breast if she has not strength to support it, and cannot give it pure nourishment, than thus to instill into its young veins disease and death! Besides, the stimulus which she fondly imagines gives her strength, is in reality taking from her strength, both of body and mind, and leaving her weak and irritable—if not partially insane.
While the excitement lasts, she may feel stronger, but a reaction comes, and the system is prostrated by the fire which has been kindled in her veins.
Again, mothers form an appetite for strong drink in their children by feeding it to them in infancy, hoping to keep them quiet by making them drunk. This practice is barbarous, to say the least, and we might well rejoice to see such mothers punished for their guilt, did we not feel that in this too they sin through ignorance.
Mothers also create a fondness for stimulants in their children and excite the gross animal nature, by pampering their appetites in childhood with rich, high seasoned, stimulating food, and allowing them to partake freely of tea and coffee. The effect of this is to heat the blood and excite the brain and whole nervous system, and as the child grows older his appetite becomes perverted, and he will require those stronger stimulants, alcohol and tobacco, to satisfy its cravings. An incalculable amount of disease is engendered, and scores of drunkards and criminals made, by this propensity of mothers to form unnatural and unhealthy appetites in their children.
Let mothers study the physiology of themselves, and their children, that they may know how to so feed them as to give them natural and healthy appetites. Plain and simple food from the vegetable kingdom and drink from nature's pure fountains, with regularity and cleanliness of habit, will do much to mould the mind to virtue and prevent those immoral and vicious tendencies which now so greatly predominate in society. Children so educated in their appetites will seldom become drunkards.
In the social circle woman too often exerts a blighting influence. Ah! how much evil hath she done by loading her sideboard with the sparkling death! Many women are so lost to all sense of shame—so regardless of the feelings of others, and of the sorrows they may bring upon themselves and the race—that they will deliberately present the poisonous draught to the lips of youth, and thus entice them to their ruin. Many whose sense of propriety is very acute, and their delicacy easily shocked, will yet stoop to aid the vile rumseller in his wicked business, and commence in their parlors the work of death which he finishes up in his filthy den. And not infrequently it is the first glass taken from the hand of a lady which forms the appetite that hurls many of the noblest sons and daughters of earth to the lowest depths of degradation and wretchedness, and destroys them body and soul forever!
Women often excuse themselves for the part they take in this matter by throwing the blame on their husbands—as though this would clear their skirts. But home is said to be woman's sphere, and surely she should be mistress there. It is for her to provide such entertainment for her guests as she thinks proper, and the husband has no right to interfere with her arrangements. Any woman has the power to control this matter, and to say whether her guests shall be drugged with intoxicating poison or not. It is no woman's duty to sacrifice principle and the right, and yield to her husband's wishes in what she knows to be wrong. Better incur his displeasure for the passing hour than to brave the command, "thou shall not kill." Sore as the trial might be, it would be light compared with the consciousness that by heeding his wishes she had been accessory to the ruin of many a fair youth and brought sorrow and mourning to the home and hearts of fond mothers and kindred friends. Woman! Christian woman! As you hope for salvation hereafter, let not this guilt rest upon your soul!
Another pernicious practice exists among women which we feel bound to expose and condemn—the use of intoxicating poison in culinary preparations. Many women profess their inability to prepare cake, mince pie and pudding sauce fit for the palate without the addition of a certain quantity of deleterious compound in the form of wine and brandy. What can that mother expect but the disgrace and ruin of her children who, knowing that danger and death surround the intoxicating bowl, will yet persist in using the poison? Such an one voluntarily yields up her children to the Moloch of Intemperance. In vain may she try to persuade her sons that there is danger in drinking the poisonous beverage, so long as they know she makes free use of it in their food. In vain may she endeavor by precept to teach them to shun the sparkling wine, while she admits to her dwelling, and treats as a friend, this destroyer of domestic happiness the blighter of fond hopes, the charmer that seeks to lure them to destruction. How can she hope that her loved ones will escape the drunkard's fate if she continues to minister to a depraved appetite by adding wine and brandy to the various dishes she places before them?
Let no woman think this a little matter, or that because she occupies a high station in society the destroyer will pass her by and leave her unharmed. Such is not his course. He delights in humbling the lofty and laying the proud and gifted at his feet. The destruction of such is his sport, and the number of such victims cannot be counted. Mother! your son may be the next to fall beneath his iron sway! Look well to it, then, that you are not accessory to his ruin!
But there is another class of women whom we cannot pass by unnoticed, who in our view greatly retard the triumph of temperance principles. Many of them profess love for our cause and hope it will triumph, but they will do nothing to help it forward—nothing to relieve the misery they see around them. And why? Ah! they think it unladylike to take part in such matters. They say we have men to attend to such things, and it is "none of woman's business." These are our worst foes and the greatest hindrances to the success of our cause. Deliver us from the evil, deadening influence of such temperance women—such deadweights upon society and the spirit of progression! The open foe is more to be honored than such false hearted friends!
None of woman's business? When she sees the husband of her love transformed into a bloated staggering fiend! None of woman's business? When she is subjected to poverty, insult and abuse—degraded from a position of comfort and respectability, to the lowest depths of wretchedness—an outcast from respectable society and denied all companionship with any save the miserable bloat whom the law calls her husband!
None of woman's business? When her starving naked babes are crying for bread, and the cold winter blast almost congealing their life blood! None of woman's business? When the children whom God hath given her to fit for his kingdom are stripped of their inheritance, pointed at in scorn, trodden in the dust by those who are responsible for all their misery, and finally corrupted and destroyed by the legalized leeches who swarm around the steps of youth, and lure them to their dens of infamy and death!
In the name of all that is sacred what is woman's business if the law and customs which bring misery, crime, degradation and death to her home and hearthstone be no concern of hers?
None of woman's business? And what is woman, pray? Is she a mere toy, a plaything, a slave? Is she formed like a piece of fine porcelain, too good for anything but to be laid upon the shelf to be looked at? Was she created for no higher purpose than to grace the parlor and display her charms for the gratification of man? Is she an irresponsible being? And has she no soul? Is she an inferior creation, and designed for an inferior position in this world, and a lower heaven in the next? Alas! alas! for the ignorance and weakness of woman, willing to acknowledge her inferiority and littleness and to glory in her humiliating position! Shame! shame! on woman when she thus shuts out all ennobling thought, refuses all elevating action, checks all high and holy aspirations for the good of others, and closes her eyes and ears to the truth!
Sisters, the liquor traffic does concern woman deeply, and it is her business to see that the iniquitous trade is stopped, and the sacrifice of human happiness and life stayed. And it is her business to bring her influence to bear against it in every possible way, both by public and private acts.
It is not enough that a woman devote herself to the welfare of her own children only, while she remains indifferent to the welfare of the children of others. Some mothers say it is as much as they can do to look after their own children—that they will train theirs upright, and it is nothing to them how others are trained. If all mothers would train their children aright there would be no necessity for interference on the part of others, but such is not the case, and the wise and careful mother must not forget that however well the minds of her children may be cared for at home, they are to go out into the great world of sin, and mingle with the immoral and vicious, and be surrounded with many temptations. She must guard them from dangers without the home circle by extending her labors and her influence abroad throughout the community, and by public and private endeavors strive to remove the great sources whence flow immorality and crime.
But in another way, still more sinful, does woman encourage and perpetuate drunkenness—by living in close companionship with the drunkard, the creature of his lusts. I know that the position taken on this subject by some individuals is opposed by many, but truth must be proclaimed and justice rendered, even though it prove obnoxious to the feelings of men. In my mind no greater cause of intemperance exists, no greater sin is committed, than by a woman consenting to remain the wife of a drunkard and the medium of transmitting his vices. What can be more revolting to the feelings—what more corrupting to the morals of society than to see a pure-minded, virtuous woman tied to a loathsome mass of corruption and giving birth to children who inherit naught but poverty and disgrace, and who will grow up criminal and vicious, a curse to themselves, and to the community?
The drunkard knows that the gentle being whom the law and public sentiment declares to be his wife is his slave. He knows that whatever abuse he may heap upon her—to whatever state of wretchedness he may subject her—she will remain passive under his tyranny!
He knows that she will toil and struggle on, and in some way procure
food and shelter for him, be his conduct what it may. Thus thousands of poor stricken ones, through a mistaken sense of duty, are dragging out their wearisome lives, ground to the earth by loathsome drunken monsters who are not worthy to have even a dog for a companion, and yet public sentiment bids woman submit to the tyranny, and gratify the lusts of such moral monsters! It bids her love and cherish his loathsome carcass, kiss the hand that smites her to the earth, suffer the pure and holy instincts of her own nature to be rooted out, and she become the most vile of living creatures. Let things be reversed! Let man be made thus subject to a being infinitely beneath him in everything that goes to make up a true man, and how long would he submit? How many days would he suffer hunger, cold and nakedness? How long bear the cries of his helpless babes for bread? How many times bear the blows and curses of his master, and be turned houseless and homeless into the streets at midnight, in mid-winter? How long would he cower at the feet of a being who thus trampled upon his every right, deprived him of every comfort, and heaped upon him every cruelty? Not long! not long! With his own right arm and the power of his might would he free himself from such degrading bondage. He wound smite his tormenter to the earth sooner than submit to his power! He would scorn the mean cowardly spirit in man that would submit to such indignities, and yet he thinks it right for woman to bear them and cries out against any movement which would relieve her from such unholy and unnatural ties.
Public sentiment is rapidly changing on this subject. The day has gone by when woman could gain a martyr's crown by silent submission to the demands of a drunken tyrant, or be held irresponsible for consenting to bring into the world a progeny tainted with his corrupt nature. She will be held responsible as the guardian of her children, and the defender of their rights, and no glowing pictures of examples of gentle submission on the part of her sex, portrayed with eloquence from pulpit or forum, can absolve her from her maternal duties or sanctify her self-degradation.
Though I would not advocate a divorce for this cause, that would allow the parties to contract a second marriage, I do advocate a legal separation that would give the wife of the drunkard the control of her own person, property and children. This right she has not now. She is not her own, but is the property of her husband. If she leave the drunken tyrant and take shelter with her friends from his abuse, he can in a suit at law recover damages from those who harbor her: for the law gives him the same right to her services that it gives the southern slaveowner to the service of his slave. So also she has no legal right to her children. The husband has the sole right, in law, to the control of the children, and can if he sees fit, tear them away altogether from a mother's care and guidance and commit them to strangers. And thus a degraded, drunken, licentious God-defying father has the power, and the right in law, to withhold his children from the mother should his abuse compel her to leave him; and he may corrupt and destroy them, despite the prayers and entreaties of a virtuous and exemplary mother. Such laws would appear to us as terrible should we hear of their being engrafted in the code of a barbarous nation—but doubly terrible are they when they stand in the statute books of this enlightened country.
Woman must banish the drunkard from her society, for in no way can a more effectual check be put to drunkenness than by denying to him who indulges such low appetites the companionship of a wife—the society of woman. Let woman utterly refuse to be the companion of a drunkard, or an associate of him who puts the wine cup to his lips, and we shall soon see a mighty change wrought in society.
We must create a new public sentiment in regard to the rights and duty
of the drunkard's wife and the claims which the drunkard has to kindness and respect. The poor drunkard has met with pity and sympathy; he is called a warmhearted, generous, noble fellow, deserving of kind regard and angelic love. But the wife!—the frail, patient, suffering, innocent wife—meets with little sympathy, is little cared for. We can endorse no such sentiments as these. The drunkard has given himself up to a base, sordid, selfish appetite—has sacrificed the peace and happiness of all with whom he is connected. His wife withering in shame and poverty—his children crying for bread—does not deter him from swallowing the poison which he well knows will deprive them of food and raiment, light and warmth. Instead of encouraging him in this sin by our pity and sympathy, and bidding the gentle creature whom he has betrayed to love and toil for him, we should spurn him from society, and mete out punishment commensurate with his evil course.
The vender of intoxicating drinks is greatly blamed and censured—and rightly so. He is the indirect if not the direct cause of nine-tenths of all pauperism, crime and misery, and violent and unnatural death. Aye, death! For does not the blood of thousands of his victims cry to God for vengeance? But the drinker is no less guilty than the vender. He sins with his eyes open. He knows full well the consequences of tampering with the poison. He has heard warning upon warning and seen again and again the bloated wrecks of men who have preceded him in this path. He knows before entering upon it whither it will lead him and what the consequences that will surely follow: and yet he persists in rushing madly on. It is said that men could not get drunk if there were no rumsellers; neither could rumsellers sell if there were no drinkers. One has the same right to sell that the other has to drink, but neither have a right to do the one or the other. Drunkenness and rumselling should both be regarded as crimes against the peace and good order of society, and be made punishable as such by law.
Woman must take a more decided stand on the temperance question and work with greater determination than she has hitherto done if she would see the great evil abated.
She must declare an unceasing war against the great foe to her happiness, in any and every shape in which it may present itself, and on all fitting occasions. Let her arise in her own defense and in defense of her helpless babes, and show to the world that though a woman, she is not a child; that she possesses something of the same spirit of man, and that the same blood which descended from our revolutionary sires to him flows also in her veins. Such sentiments may be thought unladylike—but if unladylike, they are not unwomanly. Woman has suffered too much already from false notions in regard to her delicacy and from the bugbears that are raised about "woman's sphere," and it is time she treats these things with the scorn they merit.
What does the drunkard's wife know of delicacy? What protection does it give to her? What does she gain by silent submission? Ah kicks, and blows, and curses! Her fate is too well known—I need not draw the picture.
Peace is always to be preferred to war when it can be honorably maintained, but when it is to be had only at the sacrifice of husband, property, and children—comfort, position, and self-respect—then is resistance more just and honorable than endurance.
The law gives no protection to the drunkard's wife, except it be through that last dreaded resort-divorce—and society has little sympathy for her. A man may openly pursue a business which deprives a woman of food and clothing, or a shelter for her head, which strips her of all the necessaries of life and makes her a wretched outcast. And for all this she has no remedy. The law throws its protecting arm around him who causes the ruin by permitting him to pursue his clandestine work unmolested—and public sentiment sanctions the deed, and men look coldly on, while the hapless woman and her babes suffer from the starvation and cruelty. Woman never consented to this state of things, and she should never submit to it. If our laws will not protect her, and her children, but rather trample upon their inalienable right to life, liberty, and happiness, then must she set aside such laws, and make unto herself a law for her own actions.
Woman has so long been cramped and fettered in all her movements, and kept down by prejudices, laws and customs which have ever regarded and treated her as a mere cypher—as of too delicate a structure to mingle with man's coarser clay—that she can hardly be persuaded that it is right for her to curse these fetters and cross the bounds of her narrow sphere to raise a shout, or strike a blow for the deliverance of her country from oppression and wrong. Would that she was also considered too good, and too delicate, to suffer from bad laws to which her consent was never given; would that she was thought too good, and too delicate, to live in close companionship with a drunken monster and buffet the rough waves of a wearisome life.
Horace Mann is traveling about the country lecturing on woman and attempting to define the limits of woman's sphere by showing what is proper, and what improper, for her to do. While he says many good things, there are other portions of his remarks so exceptionable as to call for a rebuke from every true woman. He tells us that we must not enter the arena of politics, because all here is so corrupt—so beyond our comprehension—but he points us to the field of wretchedness and crime—of ignorance and despair—to by-lanes and dark alleys of our great cities and bids us conquer these to virtue. A pretty mission for a delicate woman truly! But he forgets to tell us that while we are going about conquering one street to virtue, men will establish a groggery on every corner, and a gaming house in the centre, which will manufacture vice and crime much faster than we can apply a remedy. Woman pants for no such glory as this, and she should scorn the man who dare point her to such a field of labor. Once she might have been made to drink in this fine spun tale, but she is learning how utterly useless it is for her to try, in this way, to purify the morals of society, while men sanction and sustain the cause of immorality and crime.
We know of a far better and more effectual way of conquering men to virtue. We would strike at the root of the evil—remove the cause of crime and pauperism, of ignorance and vice, of wretchedness and despair. We see no glory in standing idly by while men license crime and iniquity of all kinds, and then following in their path to try to conquer their victims to virtue. Far nobler and more glorious in our eyes, and far less offensive to our delicacy, is the political field, that Stygian Lake upon which we are told we must not embark. We have sufficient knowledge and discernment to see that here lies the power which makes and unmakes laws—which rules and governs, for good or for evil, the actions and sentiments of society at large—which makes laws for the government of woman without her consent and which she cannot approve. We see here a more effectual remedy for the evils of intemperance, and its attendant vices and crimes, than the going about into the wretched haunts of drunkenness and misery and vainly attempting to afford relief, while the cause is suffered to exist.
Though woman is now denied the right to speak her sentiments on this subject through the ballot box, it is her right nevertheless, and until this right is granted her, on men alone rests the responsibility of the vices and crimes of society, and let theirs be the glory of visiting dark alleys and by-lanes to conquer to virtue those whom they have corrupted and destroyed. We advise not woman to labor in that field, but rather to turn her attention to the means of rooting out and destroying the cause of the misery she sees around her. That done, she will be spared the gloomy and uninviting mission pointed out to her by Horace Mann.
At the present time, the friends of temperance are directing all their energies to the securing of a law which shall effectually suppress the sale of intoxicating drinks. They are satisfied that without such a law their further efforts in the cause can avail nothing.
It is the Maine Law that we want—that we must have. That has been tried and found effectual in doing the work it was framed to do, wherever faithfully carried out. To the attainment of this object we must all direct our labors—women as well as men—for all are alike interested, and all equally responsible. This law gained, one great step is taken for the overthrow of intemperance.
Yet we must not rest our hopes too much upon this law, or think when that is gained our work is done. Much, very much, will yet remain for us. We must labor to revolutionize public sentiment. We must labor to improve the morals of society. Woman must stamp her child with a purer nature, surround him with less corrupting influences, sow good seed in his heart, and mould his plastic mind to virtue. Here lies the foundation principle. Let mothers be thoroughly and properly educated, that they may be fitted to train up a generation of men and women possessing more of the refined and spiritual, and less of the gross animal nature, and drunkenness and kindred vices will be kept from the lands! Give us true mothers—true women—and the work is done!
It has been said, by a distinguished philanthropist, that woman controls the religion and the politics of a country.
If this be true, how important the work before her! How necessary that her every faculty be fully developed, and her mind stored with that true knowledge necessary to the right direction of the religious and political element in her children!
It has also been said that as woman first led man astray, it is for her to lead him back again into the right paths.
Woman is herself beginning to recognize this great truth, and as fast as she can be made to see and feel it, she will be found ready to act up to her whole duty. But first she has a work to do for herself. She must assert her individuality and her right to think and act for herself. She must remember that God made her a helpmeet for man, and that He has assigned to them equal duties, holds them equally responsible, and will at last require an equally strict account of their stewardship. She must read and examine for herself all great questions, and store her mind with such useful knowledge as will best fit her for the part she is to act in life's great drama. She must carefully look into all matters in which her interests are concerned, and demand her right to a voice in making the laws by which she is governed. She must act as freely and independently in all matters, public and private, which concern the happiness and welfare of mankind, as though she had no man to lean upon, remembering that unto her was given equal dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Unto them gave He dominion over all things that He had created.
As transcribed in Coon, A. C. (Ed.) (1994). Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
The original handwritten transcript is housed at the Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, New York.