Frances Willard

A White Life for Two - 1890

Frances Willard
January 01, 1890
Print friendly

Sections of this speech appeared in Willard's speeches to annual Woman's Christian Temperance Union conventions and in her other writings of this period. This version was published as a pamphlet in 1890.

America may well be called "God's Country," a gracious Mother-land that women well might live to serve or die to save. For in America, home questions have become the living issues of the time, and "Home Protection" is the battle cry of preachers, publicists and politicians. The mighty war of words that culminated in the Presidential election of 1888, was waged on both sides in the interest of the home, but only on a materialistic money basis. The three questions that alone engross our people are the Temperance, the Labor, and the Woman Questions, and these three agree in one. Only by convincing Labor that a high tariff meant material protection for the home, was that election won; only by convincing wage-workers and women that the outlawing of the saloon means protection for those who dwell within the home, will Prohibition ever gain the day; only by convincing wage-workers and temperance voters that through equal suffrage women will help to protect both the external and the internal interests of the home, will the Woman Question ever be wrought out in government. But beneath this trinity of issues is the fount from which they flow and that is Home itself, and back of Home is the one relationship that makes it possible. In view of this, I dare affirm that the reciprocal attraction of two natures, out of a thousand million, for each other, is the strongest, though one of the most unnoted proofs of a beneficent Creator. It is the fairest, sweetest Rose of Time, whose petals and whose perfume expand so far that we are all inclosed and sheltered in their tenderness and beauty. For, folded in its heart, we find the germ of every home; of those beatitudes, fatherhood and motherhood; the brotherly and sisterly affection, the passion of the patriot, the calm and steadfast love of the philanthropist. For the faithfulness of two, each to the other, alone makes possible the true home, the pure church, the righteous Nation, the great, kind brotherhood of man.

The inmost instincts of each human spirit must cry out to God,

Comfort our souls with Love,
Love of all human kind,
Love special, close, in which like sheltered dove
Each heart its own safe nest may find;
And Love that turns above adoringly, contented to resign
All loves if need be, for the love divine.

Marriage is not, as some surface-thinkers have endeavored to make out, an episode in man's life and an event in woman's. Sup your fill of horrors on the daily record of suicides by young men who are lovers, of sweethearts shot, and murdered wives, if you have ever fancied marriage to be the unequal thing that such phrasing indicates. Nay, it is the sum of earthly weal or woe to both. Doubtless there are in this modern land and age, almost as many noble men unmated because they had to be, as there are women. Because of a memory cherished, an estrangement unexplained, an ideal unrealized, a duty bravely met, many of the best men living go their way through life alone. Sometimes I think that of the two it is man who loves home best; for while woman is hedged into it by a thousand considerations of expediency and prejudice, he, "With all the world before him where to choose," still chooses home freely and royally for her sake who is to him the world's supreme attraction.

The Past has bequeathed us no records more sublime than the heart-histories of Dante [Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321], of Petrarch [Francesco Petrarca 1307-74], of Michael Angelo, and, in our own time, of Washington Irving, Henry Martyn and others whom we dare not name. It was a chief among our own poets who said:--

I look upon the stormy wild,
I have no wife, I have no child;
For me there gleams no household hearth
I've none to love me on the earth.

We know that "he who wrote home's sweetest song ne'er had one of his own," and our gracious Will Carleton sang concerning John Howard Payne--

Sure, when thy gentle spirit fled
To lands beyond the azure dome,
With arms out-stretched God's angels said,
"Welcome to Heaven's home, sweet home."

There are men and women--some of them famous, some unknown--the explanation of whose uncompanioned lives may be found in the principle that underlies those memorable words applied to [George] Washington: "Heaven left him childless that a Nation might call him Father."

In such considerations as I have here urged, and in this noblest side of human nature, a constant factor always to be counted on, I found my faith in the response of the people to the work of promoting social purity. "Sweet bells jangled, out of tune," now fill the air with minor cadences, often, alas, with discords that are heart-breaks, but all the same they are "sweet bells," and shall chime the gladdest music heaven has heard, "Some sweet day, by and by." This gentle age into which we have happily been born, is attuning the twain whom God hath made for such great destiny, to higher harmonies than any other age has known, by a reform in the denaturalizing methods of a civilization largely based on force, by which the boy and girl have been sedulously trained apart. They are now being set side by side in school, in church, in government, even as God sets male and female everywhere side by side throughout His realm of law, and has declared them one throughout His realm of grace. Meanwhile, the conquest, through invention, of matter by mind, lifts woman from the unnatural subjugation of the age of force. In the presence of a Corliss engine, which she could guide as well as he, but which is an equal mystery to them both, men and women learn that they are fast equalizing on the plane of matter, as a prediction of their confessed equalization upon the planes of mind and of morality.

We are beginning to train those with each other who were formed for each other, and the American Home, with its Christian method of a two-fold headship, based on laws natural and divine, is steadily rooting out all that remains of the mediaeval continental and harem philosophies concerning this greatest problem of all time. The true relations of that complex being whom God created by uttering the mystic thought that had in it the potency of Paradise: "In our own image let us make man, and let them have dominion over all the earth" [Gen. 1:26], will ere long be ascertained by means of the new correlation and attuning, each to other, of a more complete humanity upon the Christ-like basis that "there shall be no more curse" [Rev. 22:3; Gal. 3:13]. The Temperance Reform is this correlation's necessary and true fore-runner, for while the race-brain is bewildered it can not be thought out. The Labor Reform is another part, for only under co-operation can material conditions be adjusted to a non-combatant state of society, and every yoke lifted from the laboring man lifts one still heavier from the woman at his side. The Equal Suffrage Movement is another part, for a government organized and conducted by one half the human unit, a government of the minority, by the minority, for the minority, must always bear unequally upon the whole. The Social Purity Movement could only come after its heralds, the three other reforms I have mentioned, were well under way, because alcoholized brains would not tolerate its expression; women who had not learned to work would lack the individuality and intrepidity required to organize it, and women perpetually to be disfranchised, could not hope to see its final purposes wrought out in law. But back of all were the father and mother of all reforms--Christianity and Education--to blaze the way for all these later comers.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is doing no work more important than that of reconstructing the ideal of womanhood. The sculptor Hart [Joel T. Hart, 1810-77] told me, when I visited his studio in Florence many years ago, that he was investing his life to work into marble a new feminine type which should "express, unblamed," the Twentieth Century's womanhood. The Venus de [sic] Medici, with its small head and button-hole eyelids matched the Greek conception of woman well, he thought, but America was slowly evolving another and a loftier type. His statue, named by him, "Woman Triumphant," and purchased by patriotic ladies of his native state, Kentucky, adorns the city hall at Lexington, and shows

A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
A creature not too bright or good,
For human nature's daily food,
And yet a spirit pure and bright,
With something of an angel's light.

She is the embodiment of what shall be. In an age of force, woman's greatest grace was to cling; in this age of peace she doesn't cling much, but is every bit as tender and as sweet as if she did. She has strength and individuality, a gentle seriousness; there is more of the sisterly, less of the syren [sic]--more of the duchess and less of the doll. Woman is becoming what God meant her to be and Christ's Gospel necessitates her being, the companion and counsellor not the incumbrance and toy of man.

To meet this new creation, how grandly men themselves are growing; how considerate and brotherly, how pure in word and deed! The world has never yet known half the aptitude of character and life to which men will attain when they and women live in the same world. It doth not yet appear what they shall be, or we either, for that matter, but in many a home presided over by a Temperance voter and a White Ribbon worker, I have thought the Heavenly Vision was really coming down to terra firma.

With all my heart I believe, as do the best men of the nation, that woman will bless and brighten every place she enters, and that she will enter every place on the round earth. Its welcome of her presence and her power will be the final test of any institution's fitness to survive.

Happily for us, every other genuine reform helps to push forward the white car of Social Purity. The great Peace Movement, seeking as its final outcome a Court of International Arbitration as a substitute for war, promises more momentum to our home cause than to almost any other. For as the chief corner-stone of the peaceful state is the hearthstone, so the chief pulverizer of that corner-stone is war.

An organized and systematic work for the promotion of Social Purity was undertaken in 1885 by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Under the three subdivisions of Preventive, Reformatory and Legal Work, this society has gone steadily forward until the White Cross Pledge, appealing to the chivalry of men, has grown familiar in thousands of homes, and the White Shield Pledge, appealing to the chivalry of women, is following fast after the first.

Its pledges are based on the belief that you can not in mature years get out of a character what was not built into it when the youthful nature was like "wax to receive and marble to retain"; that the arrest of thought must be secured by mother, minister and teacher, before the common talk of street and play-ground has wrenched that thought away from the white line of purity and truth. Innocence may be founded on ignorance, but virtue is ever more based upon knowledge. In the presence of temptation one is a rope of sand, the other, a keen Damascus blade. To be forewarned is the only way to be fore-armed. A precipice lies before every boy and girl when they emerge beyond the sheltering fortress of their home, but a safe, sure path leads around it; we must gently warn them of the one; we must tenderly lead them to the other.

The personal habits of men and women must reach the same high level. On a low plane and for selfish ends primeval and mediaeval man wrought out, with fiercest cruelty, virtue as the only tolerated estate of one-half the human race. On a high plane Christianity working through modern womanhood, shall yet make virtue the only tolerated estate of the other half of the human race, and may Heaven speed that day! A woman knows that she must walk the straight line of a true life or men will look upon her with disdain. A man needs, for his own best good, to find that in the eyes of women, just the same is true of him.

Evermore be it remembered, this earnest effort to bring in the day of "sweeter manners, purer laws" is as much in man's interest as our own.

Why are the laws so shamelessly unequal now? Why do they bear so heavily upon the weaker, making the punishment for stealing away a woman's honor no greater than that for stealing a silk gown; purloining her character at a smaller penalty than the picking of a pocket would incur? Why is the age of protection or consent but ten years in twenty States, and in one, only seven years? Who would have supposed, when man's great physical strength is considered, he would have fixed upon an age so tender, and declared that after a child had reached it, she should be held equally accountable with her doughty assailant for a crime in which he was the aggressor? And who would not suppose that the man who had been false to one woman would be socially ostracized by all the rest of womankind? What will explain the cruelty of men and the heartlessness of women in this overmastering issue of womanhood's protection and manhood's loyalty?

The answer is not far to seek. Women became, in barbarous ages, the subjects of the stronger. Besides, what suits one age becomes a hindrance to the next, and as Christianity went on individualizing woman, uplifting her to higher levels of education and hence of power, the very laws which good men in the past had meant for her protection, became to her a snare and danger.

But, while all this heritage of a less developed past has wrought such anguish and injustice upon woman as she is to-day, it has been even more harmful to man, for it is always worse for character to be sinning than to be sinned against. Our laws and social customs make it too easy for men to do wrong. They are not sufficiently protected by the strong hand of penalty, from themselves, from the sins that do most easily beset them, and from the mad temptations that clutch at them on every side. Suppose the outragers of women, whose unutterable abominations crowd the criminal columns of our newspapers each day, knew that life-long imprisonment might be the penalty, would not the list of their victims rapidly diminish? The Woman's Christian Temperance Union has taken up this sacred cause of protection for the home, and we shall never cease our efforts until women have all the help that law can furnish them throughout America. We ask for heavier penalties, and that the age of consent be raised to eighteen years; we ask for the total prohibition of the liquor traffic, which is leagued with every crime that is perpetrated against the physically weaker sex, and we ask for the ballot, that law and law-maker may be directly influenced by our instincts of self-protection and home protection.

We hear much of physical culture for boys, but it is girls that need this most. We hear much of manual training schools to furnish every boy at school with a bread-winning weapon; but in the interest of boys and girls alike, girls need this most. Hence it is in our plans to work for these. Mothers' Meetings are becoming one of the most familiar features of the W.C.T.U. For these we prepare programs, leaflets, and courses of reading at the Woman's Temperance Publishing House, Chicago, from which hundreds of thousands of pledges and pages of literature have gone, as pure and elevated in style and spirit as consecrated pens could render them.

REFORMATORY WORK is the most difficult of all and yet has been of all others most earnestly carried forward thus far by women. Matrons have been placed in the police stations to look after arrested women, Reading Rooms, Lodging Houses and Industrial Homes for women are multiplying now on every hand. State care for moral as well as mental incapables is being urged and with some small beginnings of success. Statistics of such work are difficult to gain. A single fact vouched for by the women who have in charge one of these homes in Massachusetts, is fitted to encourage every worker in this trying field. They tell us that one woman who had been arrested forty-five times was taken to the home, lifted by kindness from the depths, put into self-supporting lines and for seven years has been an honorable, hard-working woman, happy in her rescued life.

The awful deeds done by white men in the great woods of Alaska, the brutal relations of our soldiery to the Indian women of the plains; the unspeakable atrocities of the lumber camps in Wisconsin and in Michigan; the daily calendar of crimes against women as set forth by the press, and the blood-curdling horrors of Whitechapel, London, have aroused the civilized world. Womanhood's loyalty to woman has overleaped the silence and reserve of centuries and Christendom rings with her protest to-day. It is now the deliberate purpose of as capable and trusty women as live, that the laissez-faire method of dealing with these crimes against nature, shall cease; that the method of license, high or low, shall never be for one moment tolerated, and that the prohibitory method shall come and come to stay.

Within three years immense advances have been made in legislation. England has cleared the Blue Books of the "Contagious Diseases Acts"; has repealed the atrocious army regulations of India, and raised the age of protection to sixteen years. America is moving forward rapidly, improved legislation having been obtained in almost every State and Territory. The following petition is being everywhere circulated and its plea, already partially responded to in several states, is now before the National Congress:

The increasing and alarming frequency of assaults upon women, and the frightful indignities to which even little girls are subject, have become the shame of our boasted civilization. A study of the Statutes has revealed their utter failure to meet the demands of that newly awakened public sentiment which requires better legal protection for womanhood and girlhood. Therefore we do most earnestly appeal to you to enact such statutes as shall provide for the adequate punishment of crimes against women and girls.

But, as I have said, we are not working for ourselves alone in this great cause of Social Purity. As an impartial friend to the whole human race in both its fractions, man and woman, I, for one, am not more in earnest for this great advance because of the good it brings to the gentler than because of the blessing that it prophesies for the stronger sex. I have long believed that when that greatest of all questions, the question of a life companionship, shall be decided on its merits, pure and simple, and not complicated with the other questions, "Did she get a good home?" "Is he a generous provider?" "Will she have plenty of money?" then will come the first fair chance ever enjoyed by young manhood for the building up of genuine character and conduct. For it is an immense temptation to the "sowing of wild oats," when the average youth knows that the smiles he covets most will be his all the same, no matter whether he smokes, swears, drinks beer and leads an impure life, or not. The knowledge on his part that the girls of his village or "set" have no way out of dependence, reproach or oddity except to say "yes" when he chooses to "propose"; that they dare not frown on his lower mode of life; that the world is indeed all before him where to choose; that not one girl in one hundred is endowed with the talent and pluck that make her independent of him and his ilk--all this gives him a sense of freedom to do wrong which, added to inherited appetite and outward temptation, is impelling to ruin the youth of our day with a force strong as gravitation and relentless as fate. Besides all this, the utterly false sense of his own value and importance which "Young America" acquires from seeing the sweetest and most attractive beings on earth thus virtually subject to him, often develops a lordliness of manner which is ridiculous to contemplate in boys who, otherwise would be modest, sensible and brotherly young fellows such as we are most of all likely to find in co-educational schools, where girls take their full share of prizes, and where many young women have in mind a European trip with some girlfriend, or mayhap 'a career.'

Multiplied forces in law and gospel are to-day conspiring for the deliverance of our young men from the snares of the present artificial environment and estimate of their own value; but the elevation of their sisters to the plane of perfect financial and legal independence, from which the girls can dictate the equitable terms, "You must be as pure and true as you require me to be, ere I give you my hand," is the brightest hope that gleams in the sky of modern civilization for our brothers; and the greater freedom of women to make of marriage an affair of the heart and not of the purse, is the supreme result of Christianity, up to this hour.

There is no man whom women honor so deeply and sincerely, as the man of chaste life; the man who breasts the buffetings of temptation's swelling waves, like some strong swimmer in his agony, and makes the port of perfect self-control. Women have a thousand guarantees and safeguards for their purity of life. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," is written in letters of flame for them above the haunt of infamy, while men may come and go and are yet smilingly received in the most elegant homes. But in spite of all this accursed latitude, how many men are pure and true!

It is said, that when darkness settles on the Adriatic Sea, and fishermen are far from land, their wives and daughters, just before putting out the lights in their humble cottages, go down by the shore and in their clear, sweet voices sing the first lines of the Ave Maria. Then they listen eagerly, and across the sea are borne to them the deep tones of those they love, singing the strains that follow, "Ora pro nobis," and thus each knows that with the other all is well. I often think that from the home-life of the Nation, from its mothers and sisters, daughters and sweethearts, there sounds through the darkness of this transition age the tender notes of a dearer song, whose burden is being taken up and echoed back to us from those far out amid the billows of temptation, and its sacred words are, "Home, sweet Home!" God grant that deeper and stronger may grow that heavenly chorus from men's and women's lips and lives! For with all its faults, and they are many, I believe the present marriage system to be the greatest triumph of past Christianity, and that it has created and conserves more happy homes than the world has ever before known. Any law that renders less binding the mutual, life-long loyalty of one man and woman to each other, which is the central idea of every home, is an unmitigated curse to that home and to humanity. Around this union, which alone renders possible a pure society, and a permanent state, the law should build its utmost safeguards, and upon this union the gospel should pronounce its most sacred benedictions. But while I hold these truths to be self-evident, I believe that a constant evolution is going forward in the home as in every other place, and that we may have but dimly dreamed the good in store for those whom God for holiest love hath made.

In the nature of the case, the most that even Christianity itself could do at first, though it is the strongest force ever let loose upon the planet, was to separate one man and one woman from the common herd, into each home, telling the woman to remain there in grateful quietness, while the man stood at the door to defend its sacred shrine with fist and spear, to insist upon its rights of property, and later on, to represent it in the State. Thus, under the conditions of a civilization crude and material, grew up that well-worn maxim of the common law, "Husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband." But such supreme power as this brought to the man supreme temptation. By the laws of mind he legislated first for himself and afterward for the physically weaker one within "his" home. The femme couverte is not a character appropriate to our peaceful, home-like communities, although she may have been and doubtless was a necessary figure in the days when women were safe only as they were shut up in castles and when they were the booty chiefly sought in war. To-day a woman may circumnavigate the world alone and yet be unmolested. Our marriage laws and customs are changing to meet these new conditions. It will not do to give the husband of the modern woman power to whip his wife, "provided the stick he uses is not larger than his finger"; to give him the right to will away her unborn child; to have control over her property; to make all the laws under which she is to live; adjudicate all her penalties; try her before juries of men; conduct her to prison under the care of men; cast the ballot for her; and in general, hold her in the estate of a perpetual minor. It will not do to let the modern man determine the age of "consent," settle the penalties that men should suffer whose indignities and outrages upon women are worse than death, and by his exclusive power to make all laws and choose all officers, judicial and executive, thus leaving his own case wholly in his own hands. To continue this method is to make it as hard as possible for men to do right, and as easy as possible for them to do wrong; the magnificent possibilities of manly character are best prophesied from the fact that under such a system so many men are good and gracious. My theory of marriage in its relation to society would give this postulate.

Husband and wife are one, and that one is--husband and wife. I believe they will never come to the heights of purity, of power and peace, for which they were designed in heaven, until this better law prevails. One undivided half of the world for wife and husband equally; co-education to mate them on the plane of mind; equal property rights to make her God's own free woman, not coerced into marriage for the sake of support, nor a bond-slave after she is married, who asks her master for the price of a paper of pins, and gives him back the change; or, if she be a petted favorite, who owes the freedom of his purse wholly to his will and never to her right; woman left free to go her honored and self-respecting way as a maiden in perpetuo, rather than marry a man whose deterioration through the alcohol and nicotine habits is a deadly menace to herself and the descendants that such a marriage has invoked--these are the outlooks of the future that shall make the marriage system, never a failure since it became monogamous, an assured, a permanent, a paradisiacal [sic] success.

In that day the wife shall surrender at marriage no right not equally surrendered by the husband, not even her own name. Emile Ollivier, that keen-sighted writer of France, says that it is so much easier, for obvious reasons, to trace ancestry along the mother's line, that historic records have incalculably suffered by the arbitrary relinquishment of her name. Probably the French have hit upon the best expedient--the union of the two. Thus I recall that in Paris my home was with an accomplished lady whose name was Farjon and whose husband's was Perrot; her visiting card always bore the inscription:


The growing custom, in this country at least, to give the mother's name to son or daughter indicates the increasing, though perhaps unconscious, recognition of woman as an equal partner in the marriage bond. But the custom, even among men of intelligence, of signing themselves, "John Jones, wife, child and nurse," as we see it in the registers of fashionable hotels, is a frequent reminder of the pit from which wives are slowly being digged. The man who writes "Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Jones," may be regarded as well on the road to a successful evolution; though "Mr. and Mrs. John Jones" seems to most of us about the correct thing up to this date!

The time will come when the mother's custody of children will constructively be preferred in law to that of the father, on the ground that it is surer and more consonant with natural laws. Last of all, and chiefest, the magnum opus of Christianity, and Science, which is its handmaid, the wife will have undoubted custody of herself, and as in all the lower ranges of the animal creation, she will determine the frequency of the investiture of life with form. My library groans under accumulations of books written by men to teach women the immeasurable iniquity of arrested development in the genesis of a new life, but not one of these volumes contains the remotest suggestion that this responsibility should be equally divided between husband and wife. The untold horrors of this injustice dwarf all others out of sight, and the most hopeless feature of it is the utter unconsciousness with which it is perpetuated. But better days are dawning; the study of heredity and pre-natal influences is flooding with light the Via Dolorosa of the past; the White Cross army with its equal standard of purity for men and women is moving to its rightful place of leadership among the hosts of God's elect.

Then reign the world's chaste bridals, chaste and calm,
Then springs the crowning race of humankind.
May these things be!

I believe in uniform national marriage laws; in divorce for one cause only; in legal separation on account of drunkenness; but I would guard the marriage tie by every guarantee that could make it at the top of society, the most coveted estate of the largest-natured and most endowed, rather than at the bottom, the necessary refuge of the smallest-natured and most dependent women.--Besides all this, in the interest of men--i.e., that their incentives to the best life might be raised to the highest power--I would make women so independent of marriage that men who, by bad habits and niggardly estate, whether physical, mental or moral, were least adapted to help build a race of human angels, should find the facility with which they now enter its hallowed precincts reduced to the lowest minimum. Until God's laws are better understood and more reverently obeyed, marriage cannot reach its best. The present abnormal style of dress among women, heavily mortgages the future of their homes and more heavily discounts that of their children. Add to this the utter recklessness of immortal consequences that characterizes the mutual conduct of so many married pairs and only the everlasting tendency toward good that renders certain the existence and supremacy of a Goodness that is infinite, can explain so much health and happiness as our reeling old world persists in holding while it rolls onward toward some far-off perfection, bathed in the sunshine of our Father's Omnipotent Love. Our own Julia Ward Howe has given us our noblest motto for Social Purity:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea;
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

As transcribed in Campbell, K. K. (Ed.) (1989). Man Cannot Speak for Her, Volume II: Key Texts of the Early Feminists. New York, New York: Praeger Publishers.