Abby Kelley Foster

It Is the Pulpit Who Casts Out 'Impure' Women - Oct. 6, 1853

Abby Kelley Foster
October 06, 1853— Cleveland, Ohio
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Kelley delivered this speech at the 4th Ohio Woman's Rights Conference, in response to the clergy's argument that it should be women rather than the clergy who cast out "licentious" women.

I want to say here that I believe the law is but the writing out of public sentiment, and back of that public sentiment, I contend lies the responsibility. Where shall we find it? " 'Tis education forms the common mind." It is allowed that we are what we are educated to be. Now if we can ascertain who has had the education of us, we can ascertain who is responsible for the law, and for public sentiment. Who takes the infant from its cradle and baptizes it "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;" and when that infant comes to childhood, who takes it into Sabbath-schools; who on every Sabbath day, while its mind is "like clay in the hands of the potter," moulds and fashions it as he will; and when that child comes to be a youth, where is he found, one-seventh part of the time; and when he comes to maturer age, does he not leave his plow in the furrow, and his tools in the shop, and one-seventh part of the time go to the place where prayer is wont to be made? On that day no sound is heard but the roll of the carriage wheels to church; all are gathered there, everything worldly is laid aside, all thoughts are given entirely to the Creator; for we are taught that we must not think our own thoughts, but must lay our own wills aside, and come to be moulded and fashioned by the priest. It is "holy time," and we are to give ourselves to be wholly and entirely fashioned and formed by another. That place is a holy place, and when we enter, our eye rests on the "holy of holies;" he within it is a "divine." The "divines" of the thirteenth century, the "divines" of the fifteenth century, and the "divines" of the nineteenth century, are no less "divines." What I say to-day is taken for what it is worth, or perhaps for less than it is worth, because of the prejudice against me; but when he who educates the people speaks, "he speaks as one having authority," and is not to be questioned. He claims, and has his claim allowed, to be specially ordained and specially anointed from God. He stands mid-way between Deity and man, and therefore his word has power.

Aye, not only in middle age does the man come, leaving everything behind him; but, in old age, "leaning on the top of his staff," he finds himself gathered in the place of worship, and though his ear may be dull and heavy, he leans far forward to catch the last words of duty—of duty to God and duty to man. Duty is the professed object of the pulpit, and if it does not teach that, what in Heaven's name does it teach? This anointed man of God speaks of moral duty to God and man. He teaches man from the cradle to the coffin; and when that aged form is gathered within its winding-sheet, it is the pulpit that says, "Dust to dust and ashes to ashes."

It is the pulpit, then, which has the entire ear of the community, one-seventh part of the time. If you say there are exceptions, very well, that proves the rule. If there is one family who do not go to church, it is no matter, its teachings are engendered by those who do go; hence I would say, not only does the pulpit have the ear of the community one-seventh part of the time of childhood, but it has it under circumstances for forming and moulding and fashioning the young mind, as no other educating influence can have it. The pulpit has it, not only under these circumstances; it has it on occasions of marriage, when two hearts are welded into one; on occasions of sickness and death, when all the world beside is shut out, when the mind is most susceptible of impressions from the pulpit, or any other source.

I say, then, that woman is not the author of this sentiment against her fallen sister, and I roll back the assertion on its source. Having the public ear one-seventh part of the time, if the men of the pulpit do not educate the public mind, who does educate it? Millions of dollars are paid for this education, and if they do not educate the public mind in its morals, what, I ask, are we paying our money for? If woman is cast out of society, and man is placed in a position where he is respected, then I charge upon the pulpit that it has been recreant to its duty. If the pulpit should speak out fully and everywhere, upon this subject, would not woman obey it? Are not women under the special leading and direction of their clergymen? You may tell me, that it is woman who forms the mind of the child; but I charge it back again, that it is the minister who forms the mind of the woman. It is he who makes the mother what she is; therefore her teaching of the child is only conveying the instructions of the pulpit at second hand. If public sentiment is wrong on this (and I have the testimony of those who have spoken this morning, that it is), the pulpit is responsible for it, and has the power of changing it. The clergy claim the credit of establishing public schools. Granted. Listen to the pulpit in any matter of humanity, and they will claim the originating of it, because they are the teachers of the people. Now, if we give credit to the pulpit for establishing public schools, then I charge them with having a bad influence over those schools; and if the charge can be rolled off, I want it to be rolled off; but until it can be done, I hope it will remain there.

As transcribed in Anderson, J. (1984). Outspoken Women: Speeches by American Women Reformers. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.