• An Essay on the Admission of Women to the
Parliamentary Franchise. Ninon Kingsford (Anna Kingsford).
Our gratitude is due to Mr. Ralph Johnson for helping us in finding and photocopying the original work in England.
THE ADMISSION OF WOMEN
TRUBNER & CO., 60 PATERNOSTER ROW.
THE ADMISSION OF WOMEN TO THE
WHETHER men be Christians, Rationalists, or Pagans, there is yet, for all of these, one ideal of justice. And no one can arrive at the just conclusion of any dispute until he shall have heard fairly “both sides.” You, therefore, political people of society, who have reasoned so much to the world on one side of the question touching “Female Suffrage,” ought justly, also, to let it hear the other side, according to that old maxim which is, I think, a favourite with all honest men, – ”Fair play is a jewel.” Now it has been said by several orators in public, and by a great many more orators in private, that the majority of women in this country is against the extension of the franchise to the sex. And if it be so – which I very greatly doubt – why is it so? It is because men have narrowed the minds of women, by employing against them every species of tyranny that law can be made to sanction or wink at. If I take a bird out of the wood and cut its wings, what wonder
that it cannot fly? And when, after awhile, I let it go about the house, and it begins to understand that it cannot fly, what wonder that it ceases to attempt flying, and is content to hop from room to room and from stair to stair? Well, my friends see my bird, and they say it is “tame.” It has lost the use of its wings, and so it goes on its legs, and is tolerably content. But one of my friends looking on – perhaps his name may be Mill – says, “I think your pet would be happier if it could fly.”
But it is not for the actual privilege of voting itself that I would so much plead; but for the benefit that the extension of the franchise to women would bring to the whole sex. It would give women a higher place in society; it would raise them in the estimation of men; it would lift them from the level of goods and chattels to the position which they ought to occupy, of citizens and of responsible beings. And to those men who cry out so loudly that women’s inferior attainments and acquirements prove them inferior in capacity and intellect, I answer this: Who made them inferior – nature or custom, God or man? Who barred against women the doors of the colleges, the academies, the scientific societies, the associations, the institutions? Who deny to women every means of superior education and nobler training? Who push them back into the nursery and the kitchen, and tell them their “duty” and their “sphere” is there and there only? Why, these men themselves, who, by-and-by, seeing that women grow
as they have trained them, stand up on platforms and before editors’ desks, and say, “See here; the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are the women half so clever as we?”
Ah, my good sirs, they must, indeed be clever if they are to know, without being taught, what you take many long years to learn!
So therefore, because it has been found that woman’s mental acquirements are, as a rule, much lower of standard than man’s, it has become the custom to undervalue also, her ability, and, measuring her powers by her work, to pronounce her intellect altogether inferior to his.
But one great reason that we find women occupying so low a place in the world, is the total absence of all purpose from their lives. They have no ambition. By the word ambition I do not mean avarice, but the existence of some definite aim in life. And to show my meaning the better, I will compare the two courses generally pursued by men and women respectively in the same sphere of life.
The boy, so soon as he is of an age to be parted from his parents, is sent to school to receive the education, intellectual and physical, that is to fit him for entrance into the world. I say “intellectual and physical,’’ because everybody is aware that the mind depends on the body, so that health and strength of body are necessary to insure power and elasticity to the mind. For we all of us know by experience with what ease
and readiness we can apply ourselves to our books and studies after our bodies have been refreshed by exercise and enjoyment. We all know how little fit we are for intellectual labour during a time of illness or depression. And we know, too, that with convalescence the powers of the mind are restored to us, and we are enabled to return to our tasks with fresh zeal and alacrity.
And so there can be very little doubt but that the freedom of exercise permitted generally to boys at school is one great secret of their apparent intellectual superiority over girls. Their physical education is altogether more liberal and unrestrained than the girls’, and hence their more healthful aptitude for learning, and their larger progress. Why should not girls be allowed the liberty granted to boys? As it is now, the entire course of conduct pursued at girls’ schools, the studies and the recreations, are regulated by the popular ideas of what is “proper” and “ladylike.” Rather than sin against the bye-laws of fashion therefore, the governess deprives her pupils of the enjoyment of all those healthful sports accorded to boys. No races, no football, no chase, no merry rompings in the playground, because, forsooth, such games are not fit for young ladies!” What says the “principal” on the subject. Ask her. “Oh dear! no,” she tells you, politely, “the young ladies may dance in the school-room, or walk quietly in the garden, if they please, or they may sit down to their drawings and fancy work,
but they must not conduct themselves improperly.” Certainly not; but cannot girls be modest and graceful without foregoing the natural exercise which youth desires and craves? I have known many a poor girl’s health – aye, and life too – sacrificed to this absurd and senseless love of modern gentility. Will people never learn wisdom?
And, again, I think that one great and important defect in woman’s education is the utter ignorance in which she is generally kept of the classical languages. Why should not girls be taught Latin and Greek as boys are? What resources would such knowledge open to them! In what grand studies and enjoyments might they take part! But now the writings of the old poets, the historians, the philosophers of past times, with all their sublime thoughts, their noble conceptions, their glorious imageries, are sealed volumes to them. They are to them as if they were not; they hear them as beasts hear sweet music, understanding none of its beauty and meaning.
And now, in a few years’ time, the school life of both boy and girl is over. What comes after?
The boy is introduced into some mercantile house, where he begins immediately a life of aim and activity; or else he is sent to college, where he at once directs all the powers of his mind and body to the attainment of honours and distinctions. And after his apprenticeship, or his college life, is over, he sets himself some great task – places before his mind some cherished desire or
hope to be realised. For he has an ambition in his life – a decisive standard of excellence, and he strives all his life long to attain to it. He seeks to become a statesman – a physician – a hero – an orator. He has, in whatever position he may be placed, something to desire, something to look forward to, something to expect. In a word, he has an aim.
Not so the woman. When she has left school somewhere about the age of seventeen – her education is supposed to be finished. She goes home to her friends – “a young lady at large,” as the phrase runs ridiculously enough. And then what does she do? Absolutely nothing. Her time is spent in frivolous employments and amusements – embroidery, novels, and similar absurdities. She may have indeed, and probably has, many home duties to perform; but when these are accomplished the old old song, “What is to be done now?” rises to her lips, and she sits down to her romance or to her toilette with a vague, desolating sense of something wanting. And thus, day after day, year after year, goes away, and time does not bring her a single step nearer to the attainment of any desired or anticipated end. Her only ambition is, perhaps, the ambition of so many modern damsels, – to be married. But if disappointment or bereavement compel her to forego the happiness of the wife, and she finds herself obliged, by necessity, to lead a single life, what then? – ah, what then? Her only aim is frustrated, her only design crossed, and she is thrown on her own
resources for her enjoyment; and because these, through defective education, are shallow and superficial, she becomes absorbed in the contemplation of her own loneliness, and drags on, from year to year, a weary existence of ceaseless monotony, doing nothing in particular, and dependent on circumstances only for her happiness. In short, as the poet has it –
“For threescore years this life Clotilda led,
At morn she rose – at night she went to bed.”
Whence come all these complaints that we so constantly hear in these days, and almost without exception from ladies, of ennui, nonchalance, routine, a sense of weariness and oppression? Day after day of their life flits past; yet they go on continually in the same beaten track, like the horse in the winnowing mill treading always in its own steps, never advancing, never nearer the end of its journey, but going on ceaselessly in the same dull, monotonous circle!
Let it not be supposed that I would impute the want of definite occupation in woman’s life wholly and solely to illiberal education received in girlhood. I am well aware that there are among women, as there are also among men, some persons of so inferior an order, that they are glad to avoid any intellectual employment; and if, perhaps, now and then, they may experience an uncomfortable feeling of weariness or dissatisfaction, they at once put it down as the effect of ill health, seek new scenes, fresh amusements and recreations, and so feed
the senses with novelties which their intellect, awakened from slumber for a time, in vain demands.
To these people, the years spent in education are but a period of probation – of task, to be struggled through somehow, because a certain amount of education is necessary and fashionable, but the sooner it is over and done with, the better for them. No instruction, however liberal, would lead such persons to take pleasure in study, for their minds are either too stupid to enjoy learning, or their inclinations too idle to pursue it; and so long as they can live in pleasure and ease without occupation, they will not care to seek it.
But, thanks to the incomprehensible God, Who designed humanity, there exists, in almost every mind, a love and desire of the sublime and the beautiful. This innate longing may be encouraged and fostered by liberal education and study, but it grows and gathers strength with time also, until it so pervades and influences the mind, that it obliges it to seek and to find its entire happiness in the glories of intellectual or scientific employment. And if this passion for the beautiful be not gratified, it will become weak and starved, and so the mind will grow discontented, sickly or morose, and at last dwindle away altogether, just as everything else that has life will perish if it be not fed and supported with proper nourishment.
Or, as is sometimes the case, this wonderful instinct of our nature may remain latent during an entire life-time, because in youth it was not discovered and roused
into activity, and in consequence, the intellectual powers are dull and sleepy, and the senses bear rule over the mind.
And again, there is in the world an evil demon of custom, often wrongly represented as an angel of light, who bites women more sharply than men. I mean so-called modesty. It is this supposed virtue that hands fetters upon women’s hands, feet, and tongues, and puts a bandage over their eyes, so that they dare not work as they would, go where they desire, speak as they think, nor behold what they long to look upon. And among all the shameful vices in the catalogue of sin, there are few humanity should be more ashamed of than of this false shame, for it is a deadly vampire to all sincerity and real virtue. Thus, through mere force of habit and custom, women are often afraid to express their thoughts and aspirations openly, lest they should be taken by the men, or even by others of their own sex, for “strong-minded women.” They perceive, indeed, what course is just and reasonable, but because it happens to be opposed to popular religion and prejudice, the true idea is crushed as a heresy or a temptation of the devil, the unrighteous teaching of modern lore is accepted in its stead, the wrong road is pursued, and Humbug is exalted and worshipped in the stead of Reason.
Nobody with any habit of observation can fail to remark one general trait that distinguishes women of all classes, everywhere; I mean their peevishness. Women always notice and take to heart petty grievances,
and are mightily given to pick quarrels over imaginary injuries. Whether with persons of their own or of the other sex, they are always found to be easily offended, easily piqued, easily moved to tears. Morbid people are fond of calling this unhappy feature sensibility; but it is not sensibility, it is little-mindedness; and it is at the bottom of an immense deal of domestic misery and conjugal wretchedness; perhaps, indeed, it is the chief source of men’s depreciation of female character altogether. How shall we lift the unhappy sex out of the mire, and teach women to take clearer and larger views of the things about and within them?
Others there are among women who keep themselves down to the generally accepted standard of feminine excellence through policy. These persons are well aware of the frivolity and senselessness of their own lives, and of the ignorance of the men and women about them; but they value so much the good opinion of society, that they are shy of incurring its displeasure by any assumption of singularity and strong-mindedness. Thus they make a sacrifice of their reason at the shrine of popular approval, and in the sequel they certainly “have their reward;” for they bear among men the names of “sensible women,” “excellent wives,” “pleasant companions,” and many another vague epithet of praise. So they persuade themselves that, as they individually could certainly do little or nothing to right their sex in the world, they had as well not implicate themselves in the matter at all. “Better let duty alone,
and keep a good character,” say they; “for it is nothing less than character that we must stake if we enter the lists as moral Amazons; and victory, as yet, is hopeless. No, indeed, we are best out of the fray, let those tilt who will; for us ‘le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle.’ “
It is with women like these as it is with all other children of this world “they are, in their own generation, wiser than the children of light.” But when some hundreds of years are gone by, and their approving generation has passed away, and their insignificant names are forgotten and buried with them, other women, of whom the old world was not worthy women of whom Noodledom spoke harshly and irreverently, will live again and for ever in the love of a nobler race.
Now these evils – to wit, the indolence, the cowardice, the little-mindedness, and the craftiness of women, are all due to DEFECTIVE EDUCATION.
I will divide my statement into two heads.
First, the instruction women receive in youth is inferior to the instruction men receive.
Secondly, the true position of women not being recognised in the world, they are denied those advantages and privileges which man accords to man.
Now I am going to consider separately each of these statements, and the arguments which support it.
I have heard it remarked by the mother of twelve children, that she always found her girls more easy to teach than her boys, so long as she taught them
together at home, and conducted their education on the same plan. The girls were more apt at learning, understood more readily, and made more rapid progress than their brothers. But when once those boys and girls were separated and sent to different schools, the former soon outstripped their sisters in their attainments. This is not by any means a solitary or extraordinary instance; I might mention many others of a similar kind. I quote this one simply because I am aware that fact is not established by mere assertion, but by experience, though it would be superfluous and useless to multiply instances of the same subject. The question now, therefore, is this: – What fact do such experiences as that which I have quoted tend to establish? What statements do they verify but that I have already made, viz. – that the education girls receive at school is inferior to the education boys receive? It will be found, accordingly, if the two systems of instruction pursued at the boys’ and at the girls’ schools be compared, that the one is altogether of a larger and more liberal sort than the other. Let me take the two branches of education – intellectual and physical – in order, and state first, the chief particulars in which the girl’s intellectual training is inferior to the boy’s.
I have remarked already on the evils which attend the exclusion of girls from the study of the classical languages, so that there is no need again to touch on the subject itself; but dependent upon it there is a
great consequence which I cannot help mentioning. I mean the resource which such classical learning would bring to women, – and which would be even more valuable to them than to men, inasmuch as in the present state of society, they have more time on their own hands than the working sex.
But the woman’s education is finished where the man’s is but begun. She stands, another Andromeda, bound to the barren rock on the sea-shore; the ocean lies before her, the heavens are above her head, but she has no power either to float over the deep waters of the one, or to rise into the pure bright æther of the other. She stands, shackled by the chains of ignorance, a helpless prey to that terrible monster whose name is “Ennui.” But to the educated man, what heights, what depths are inaccessible? Like Perseus, he leaps from the edge of the high cliff into the higher fields of light over his head, or he floats and hovers over the clear, transparent face of the broad sea; for he is provided with the wings of the Immortals, and to him nothing is impossible. But oh, when will the world translate the allegory rightly, and act out its moral and its doctrine? When will Perseus come to deliver the fair Andromeda, to loosen her fetters, and to set her free? When, for her sake, will he slay the terrible monster who would devour her, combat for her against an army of priests and soi-disant lovers, and bear away his bride to be his spouse and queen on the far-off peaks of the Holy Hill?
Then there is the next item of education, not less important than the first – the physical training of youth. Well, where are the cricket clubs for girls? Where are the boxing-gloves, the foot-races, the fencing matches, the “paper chase,” the gymnasiums, and the hundred brave and health-giving games that boys enjoy? Alas! alas! – we find in their stead, only the daily walk of two and two along the dusty high-road, the restricting artificial movements of the dancing class, or at the utmost – the occasional drill lesson. And besides the immediate ill consequences of such treatment to the body, which are more numerous and disastrous than I can tell here, – be it remembered how much the development of the intellect depends upon the state of the physical organisation.
Let us now pass on to an argument on the statement we have placed second in order, viz. – That woman’s rightful position in the world not being recognised, she is denied those advantages which man enjoys. To consider this proposition thoroughly, we must also divide it like the first, into two heads, and take in order –
1. The circumstances under which such advantages are denied to women; and,
2. Why they are denied.
Now I say that the real reason why we so seldom find women highly placed in any profession or pursuit, is, that they are refused participation in most of those privileges that are extended so liberally to men
in their intellectual labours. For in whatever particular science or art, men may choose to exercise themselves, they meet everywhere a hand outstretched to help them, – they find on every side some advocate of genius, – some aid to facilitate their progress, – some promised honour or distinction to encourage and reward them. There are colleges, there are academies, there are companies, societies, clubs, and associations for the encouragement of science and learning, all of which men of talent and industry may enter. But from how many of these are not women entirely excluded? – from how few are women permitted to derive any advantage?
We all know, – to cite an incident very lately under our notice, and already quoted in the House by Mr. Mill, – with what strenuous opposition and ridicule Miss Garrett has met, in her pursuit of the science she loves, – the noble science of medicine. I do not know whether I am at liberty to mention some circumstances connected with her medical career, which came within the sphere of my own immediate knowledge, – but this at least I will say, that the difficulties and obstacles purposely set in her way, were more than enough to dishearten and disgust any woman less nobly determined than Miss Garrett proved herself to be. And now, as Mr. Mill told us, – no second Miss Garrett may pass the wicket, – it is shut henceforth upon all aspiring women.
But what a grave mistake is this! – even setting
aside the injustice of the act itself! How can the grand science of medicine be fully developed and appreciated by the human race, unless both sexes study it alike? No science, – whatever it be, – but especially medicine, – can be anything like thoroughly investigated and explored by only one-half of humanity. To confine the study of medicine to man only, is like looking into a stereoscope with one eye. Both sexes must study the subject alike, if humanity would obtain a full view of it, just as a person must put both eyes to the lenses, if he would behold fairly the whole of the picture beneath. For in this particular science of medicine, women must necessarily take a different point of view from men, because of their different sex; and thus they only are able to supply the one thing wanting in modern research, and to throw new light on the whole subject by their more intimate knowledge of the formation and working of their own physical systems. For not only would women physicians benefit themselves and their own sex incalculably and everlastingly, but they would be able also to help forward the common cause of science itself, as no man, however talented, could do, by elucidating things that the male physician is necessarily slow in apprehending, in consequence of the difficulty he has in discovering their existence. Men for men, and women for women; for there is in fact no study, no profession so fitted for women as this of medicine. It is absolutely necessary that there should be women
physicians, if anything like a perfect knowledge of the female physical organisation, of the causes that set up female disease, and by consequence, of their proper curative treatment, is to be obtained. So that until women are physicians equally with men, we need not expect that students of medicine will attain to any very clear idea of physical religion; for that branch of it which affects the disorders of the female body, will, without the co-operation of female investigators, remain involved in much obscurity and mystery.
These, by way of passing remarks.
But the regulations relative to the exclusion of women from studentship and membership, exist in numbers of our national scientific institutions, and of course in all clubs and colleges. It is unjust in the last degree that a mere accident of sex should be deemed sufficient reason for excluding from all hope of encouragement and promotion, talented artists, and would-be investigators of Truth and Nature. The fellowship of art and science ought to include, without reserve or exception, all who are worthy of association as lovers of the Beautiful; and they who are so fortunate as to have already secured their membership in any brotherhood of learning, should rather lend a helping hand to outsiders, than suffer themselves to be guilty of such mean and paltry jealousy, as too often characterises Examiners and Committees of scientific societies.
And now let us see why the advantages accorded to men are denied to women.
Because the religion of the world provides, in many of its doctrines, a handle to humbug and oppression, which men are not slow to seize upon and to grind without pity.
Because hitherto women’s education has not fitted them to take part in such privileges, and therefore no provision has been made for their so doing.
Because women, as a sex, have shewn themselves but little disposed to take part in them, for the simple reason that their training is not calculated to enlarge their mental powers, nor to lead them to love and seek any occupation of intellect.
Because prejudice, false shame, custom, bigotry, and a hundred other bogies born of the artificial life we lead, tie women down to the ways of their grandmothers, and hinder any attempt towards freedom and progress.
Because men are so selfish and jealous of their own repute as “lords of the creation,” and so fearful of any detraction from their pet doctrine of male superiority, that they are exceedingly loth to afford women any opportunity of improving their position, intellectually, physically, or morally.
And this last fact calls for some observations which I am constrained to note down.
Nobody can fail to notice how eager men are to keep exclusively to themselves the glory of proficiency
in learning, and to do all in their power to limit women to what they please to term, – “their proper sphere.”
Men are bitter and sarcastic against the rival sex, and often make unkind remarks with regard to women’s opinions or attainments. “Oh, what should women know of such things?” we have all heard it said; and with a contemptuous emphasis on the word “women.” How often, too, are we present when a book, or a picture, or a statue, or some other work of art or science, is decried, and harshly commented upon, only, – we cannot help being sensible, – because it is the production of a woman! And how often is such unfavourable criticism finished up with yet more ungenerous expressions of dubious approval, such as – “Tolerable execution, when we take into consideration the sex of the artist;” “Good design and energetic colouring for a lady’s brush.” As who should say: – “Be comforted; we men, who are so high and so clever, patronise you kindly for children and imbeciles, and are glad to see you amusing yourselves so nicely with your scientific toys; but, of course, you must always remain so very far below us in intelligence, that we do not expect any satisfactory result of your labours; and were you not women, your productions would be regarded by us as mere rubbish and play-work. But, since you are women, we are graciously pleased to give you a good word in passing, and to smile parentally on your little endeavours.” But, truth to say, earnest women need
not be discouraged when they hear these unjust remarks, for those men who are themselves really learned and proficient, value too highly the knowledge and attainments of others, and are too wise at heart, to attempt any such hard and senseless arguments as these. For wise minds are, of course, always benevolent minds. It is only superficial and stupid men who suffer their judgment to be over-ruled by prejudice. But, alas! and alas! there are in the world at present so many more stupid than wise men, and the character of the latter is naturally so self-asserting and so jealous, that our sisters stand but a poor chance among them. It is well for those women who are tempted occasionally to distrust their cause, and to be disheartened by frequent experiences of pig-headedness, to remember Carlyle’s remark: –
“This country counts some thirty-five millions of inhabitants – mostly fools.”
We will now pass on to see what are the effects of woman’s inferior education, as regards her life, character, and social position.
I have previously noticed that the intellectual powers, – the brain matter that originates thought and idea, – if suffered to remain inactive, will gradually weaken, grow feeble, and dwindle away. This being the case, it is clear that if gratification be not provided in wholesome study, the degenerated mind must seek food in something else; so the fashions of female attire, small-talk, scandal, and similar frivolities, become the favourite,
and often the only occupation of wives, sisters, and daughters.
To discover and test the spirit of the day, we naturally look to the newspapers
of the day, for in these we can most safely read the public ideas and current
tastes. And we find that there are now dozens of serials and other publications
being presented to the world of women, under the various titles of “Lady’s
Magazines,” “Englishwoman’s Newspapers,” “Young Ladies’ Circulars,” “Journals of
the Fashions,” “
itself when we behold these its results. It seems, indeed, that the more science and civilization advance among men, the more the debasing taste for frivolity spreads among women.
And this terrible misfortune is entirely the consequence of illiberal and insufficient education. As long as our schools and colleges bar their doors against women, women must and will remain in comparative ignorance; for they are not so precocious that they can acquire by instinct the cultivation that men attain by the advantages of learning.
Unless women are taught, they cannot know; unless they are allowed to take, they cannot possess. This proposition is self-evident.
But, unhappily, the world, like
tasks and pleasures, come to her assistance? But besides this, the possession of sense and intellect is by no means incompatible with the possession of beauty, but, on the contrary, the presence of the former enhances the physical charm. And to those women who are not fair to look upon, or who have outgrown their beauty, how desolate and dreary must life be without education and object! It is so sad, so sad and terrible to think about, that one almost wonders how they manage to exist. They would have positively no mental occupation at all, were it not for the miserable meditation and employment afforded by social gossip, domestic difficulties, and supernatural religion. And the last item, be it remarked, is almost invariably a stronger influence with women of the two classes we have mentioned – plain girls and disappointed or superannuated maids, than with any other persons of either sex.
Many women, too, who complain of coldness or neglect on the part of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, would perceive, if they had sense enough to think about it, that the fault is on their own part. What companions to an intellectually, or even to an ordinarily educated man, can those women be whose conversation, like their reading, runs upon novels, dress, and scandal? For, to borrow a very homely, but very truthful simile – our speech, like our breath, savours of what we have swallowed, whether it be myrrh or onions, sense or nonsense. So, to find more
congenial companions among his fellow men, the husband or the brother betakes himself to the clubroom, or to the chambers of his bachelor friends, and leaves his family at home to lament over his delinquencies. Who shall blame him reasonably?
If, then, things be so, can we wonder that those men who see them as they are, and not as they might be, and who judge accordingly, should conclude women to have inferior intellects?
So long as men see women giving up their time and their thoughts to the study of the fashions and similar nonsensicalities, while themselves find their pleasure in intellectual pursuits, they will, and with some show of reason too, infer their own superiority of mental capacity.
So long as women are encouraged by advertising vendors of literary rubbish, and by the world of men generally, to entertain themselves in such frivolous study, so long they will remain unable to advance one step towards better things.
So long as the education they receive is not of a description to enforce upon their understanding the importance and the beauty of intellectual study, they will neither desire nor love it.
So long as advantages and privileges, by the use of which they might learn to desire and love it, are refused to them, what else can we expect them to be than that they precisely are?
It would be impossible, in these pages, to say all
that can be said on the subject of my essay, for arguments in support of Reason are well-nigh inexhaustible. But my advice to such women as may find the present meaningless routine of their lives irksome, is this: –
Occupy those leisure hours, of which you have so many, and which hitherto you have employed in some foolish amusement, in studying philosophy, poetry, and natural religion. Exercise your body healthily, and forego stays and all other hurtful fashions of dress. Read much, seek the society of the wise and learned, and if in books or conversation you meet with any thing you cannot understand, mention the difficulty to some one who is able to help you to master it. Do not rest satisfied with ignorant speculations, nor be impatient if difficulties are not solved at once for you. Be shy of no honest author, look truth bravely in the face, and never mind about her veil; for, remember, that if we know certain things do positively exist in nature, we have no excuse for refusing to acknowledge them. Be afraid therefore of nothing except of false shame, and beware of yielding too much of your own convictions of right to the foibles of other people less wise than you. You can be courteous and tender without being untrue to yourself; and if for the sake of pleasing friends or relatives, you should sin against duty and reason, you are guilty of real perjury. For by such weakness you forswear yourself, bear false witness against your own thoughts, and practically deny Nature herself.
So soon as we clearly perceive certain modes of thought to be correct, and a
certain course of life to be right, it becomes our positive duty to act in
accordance with our conviction, whether our dear ones approve or not. Of course
we should deal gently and reverently with them, if they differ from us in
opinion, but their objections must not be suffered to interfere with our reason,
nor to hinder us in the practice of our religion. Rather should we try to win
them to the love and pursuit of truth themselves, by frequent admonishing, or,
if they refuse to hear us, by the silent force of good example and gentle
influence; but certainly we must never desert the cause of whose truth we are
persuaded, to appease any one living. “No man,” said Christ, “having put his
hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the
Go to work bravely, therefore, and resolutely; let no amount of abuse, of ridicule, or of entreaty, beguile you out of your path, nor wrest from you your individuality and your serious belief. Never be ashamed of owning your convictions before any number of people, if occasion require you to speak on the subject of reason; but do not push yourself forward into notice, and air your opinions at a strange dinner-table unasked, if you perceive that they pain or outrage the company. That would be discourteous alike to your host and to his guests.
Resolve, therefore, you among women who have high tastes and noble thoughts, to spend and to be
spent in the service of reason. At your first outset you will be pestered with much unsought and ignorant advice. People will say to you, for instance, “Do not read such and such books; they are heathenish, or immoral, or high-flown or dangerous.” Read everything worth the reading. If the safety and stability of your religion depend only on your ignorance, then alas for it and for you! Knowledge is not danger, nor weakness, nor foolishness: it is Power. It is the recognition of Fact, the appreciation of Truth.
Now, I daresay it may be asked by some of my readers, “What has all this long discourse to do with the Extension of the Parliamentary Franchise to women?”
It has everything to do with it. This desired enfranchisement of certain among the sex, is the first step towards the emancipation of the whole sex itself; the first round in the ladder of social improvement. So long as the electoral franchise is monopolised by one half of the population of Great Britain, and totally withheld from the other half, as is the case under the present system, so long the unrepresented unrecognised members of the community will remain precisely what they are to-day, ill-educated, bullied, cowardly, bigoted and empty-headed. Let the female sex take its just and rightful place in the social family: let each woman, according to her grade, receive her share of the privileges and immunities granted to men of corresponding condition, let her be treated like a
reasonable being, capable of individual thought and of independent action; and then, if the result of such even dealing be not wholly beneficial, Nature belies herself, and justice is an unrighteous thing.
When women are able to send members to Parliament, then, and then only, will equity be done. For at present the legislation is entirely in the hands of persons of the opposite sex, who vote measures, and make laws only for their own advantage; and hard, selfish, grinding laws they are, whenever the interests of women are concerned in them. To wit – the laws relating to Marriage, Divorce, and Conjugal Rights.
But if the women also, had the electoral franchise, they would make choice of such members to represent them as would attend to their interests, and amend these unrighteous laws.
Then, too, the committees and principals of academies, schools, scientific institutions and colleges, may be expected to follow the good precedent, and to throw open their doors to those whom now they seem to regard as idiots and imbeciles. For all of us who have written “copies” in our school-days, should know well that “good example animates more than precept.” Schools and academies cannot be directly appealed to by general petition, being under the management and control of private individuals, or courts of examiners; it is the House of Parliament that must make the first step towards righting matters, by admitting women to an equal franchise with men.
And when women are thus recognised at head quarters as reasonable and intelligent beings, the precedent will be followed at no very distant time by smaller companies and associations, one after another, and the good cause will make great and rapid strides of progress. I am surer of nothing than of this.
And when these things come about, then also we may fairly anticipate that women will merit and receive their equal shares of the adulation now paid exclusively to men. Then, too, we may hope that gentlewomen will be enabled to earn an independence otherwise than by entering upon the ill-paid drudgery of the governess life; that men of all ranks and professions, will learn to treat with equal respect persons of both sexes, however situated; and that society in general will no longer be scandalised when it hears of strong-minded and self-reliant Mary Walkers.
Another great mischief and crying oppression under which women suffer would, as I have already hinted, be remedied by this grant of the Parliamentary franchise, an oppression which will never be removed any other way. I allude to the iniquitous state of the Marriage Law.
The property of a married woman, by this abominable law, is handed over entirely to her husband, who has absolute control over it, and, indeed, over all his wife’s actions. The bride coming to be married, enters the church in her own attire, but before the service that makes her a wife is concluded, the possession of
her dress, wreath, veil, jewels, linen, and entire apparel has passed from her to her husband. She no longer owns even a chemise. And if provision has been made beforehand for settling her money on herself, yet, though the hard cash may be hers, she has no individual right to any article purchased by it. All investments made by her become her husband’s property as soon as they are made, so that, in reality, she reaps but little advantage from her settlement beyond the mere right to sign cheques. Moreover, the process of settlement itself is a mere evasion of the law, attainable only by the rich, and at best a very cumbersome and unsatisfactory piece of lawyer’s machinery. These things are very hard to be borne, and the mere mention of them is horribly galling to women who love fair play, and who respect their own dignity. And it is hard, too, for a man who has toiled industriously all his life to make provision for a daughter, to see his earnings appropriated by some strange man, his daughter’s husband, while his own child, whom he begot, and for whom he laboured, and thought, and devised, owns not a single item of furniture in the house she inhabits nor a garment she wears, though, perhaps, all these are the produce of her dowry.
What do advocates of justice say to these things? Yet these things are actually so under the present system; and they will only be altered and righted, I am convinced, by adopting the plan I have suggested, – to wit, by enabling women to get themselves and
their interests represented and attended to by Parliamentary members of their own choice and election.
Men sending members to Parliament, enquire who, among the candidates presenting themselves for election, is most disposed to support the views of the electors, who will lend his voice towards the repeal of the Church rates, who will support the Protestant cause, who will vote for free trade, who is Liberal, who Conservative, who the friend of the working man, etc., etc., etc. Let the women electors in like manner demand on their part of their would-be representatives –
“Will you devote yourself to obtaining educational and matrimonial justice for us? Will you move for the amendment of the bad laws that press so heavily on wives, mothers, and daughters? Will you openly denounce the jealousy, prejudice, and bigotry that the might of man uses as its weapons of war against the rights of women?”
For nothing less than these blessed results may women expect from the grant of the Parliamentary franchise, and nothing less than these demands need they make of those who desire to represent their interests.
But if all these beneficial effects were impossible sequences, and if we had no single good thing to anticipate for women as the result of this enfranchisement, – if it were beyond all hope that they should be raised by its means one iota in the estimation of men
or gain one step towards a higher place in the world, – still, I say, that the simple act of justice itself would do honour to the Government of our land, and credit to the human race.
For if women pay rates and taxes to support the Government, then it is right that they should have a claim upon it. If women must submit, in common with men, to the laws of the legislators, then it is right that women, as well as men, should be represented the house of legislation.
If you, Mr. Censor, pay your yearly subscription to the charity you patronise, don’t you expect to have your voting paper sent you for signature?
If our system of government pretend to be a system of equal representation, what fair excuse can its upholders put forward for excluding utterly one entire half of the nation from all chance of representation, while that half is not excluded from taxation and liability? No harm can possibly ensue to the country nor to society through the grant of the franchise to women; but even were its consequences dubious, right would still be right, and justice would lose none of its merit.
This fact, which is fortunately beyond dispute, will serve as an answer, also, to those persons who pretend that women are sufficiently represented indirectly through their male relatives. Mr. Mill dealt with this argument – if it deserve such a name – in that speech too well known to need quotation here.
The Poet Laureate, too, has a verse in “Œnöne,” which aptly applies to my present train of reasoning.
“And, because right is right, to follow right
Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.”
And now I have said my say. Not that I think there is no more to be said on the subject, but that others have already spoken, and I do not think it necessary to act the part of Echo here. Mrs. Bodichon, Mrs. Stuart Mill, Miss Helen Taylor, and others, have written ably on the matter, and whoever will read their writings may easily do so.
There is a book afloat now on the tide of literature by a “Graduate of Medicine,” who gives no other name than this, for private reasons. His book is called “The Elements of Social Science,” its price is three shillings, and its publisher, Mr. Truelove. I have no personal motive for commending the book, for I do not even know its author; but this I know most surely, that it is a book whose value to the public is not to be told in gold, for it contains what is far more precious than gold, – brave, honest truth. For the sake, then, of reason and of common sense, I earnestly advise – I entreat – my readers to study that book well.
And now, in conclusion, I shall write a few thoughts of my own on the subject of women’s emancipation. To right the grievous wrongs of my abused sex, to procure for its members independence of thought, expression, and action, to assert their individuality,
and to do what one mind can to defeat the malevolent attempts that custom, bigotry, tyranny, and prejudice, with all their attendant train of evils, have made, and yet may make, to subvert womanly dignity – these are the things I live for, – the things I am resolved to work for, – the things I would gladly give my life to see accomplished.
It is an enlargement of mind, object, and sphere that is necessary to the sex
before these good results can be obtained. Hitherto woman has been regarded in
the world as an inferior sort of man, not as the parallel of the male, and in
fact as the representative of one-half of humanity. And women themselves, being
nursed and fostered in this doctrine through many thousand generations, are
become so impregnated with it, that they are generally their own enemies, and
actually refuse, as we have seen, to be enlightened and set free by those who
would fain help them to independence. So, the negroes of
But such women as have clear sight in these things, must work for themselves. From what we know and have seen until now of men’s nature, we cannot expect that they should work for women. They mind their own affairs generally, and are very sharp and cute in minding them to the great disadvantage of the rival sex. They are bent on getting all they can snatch, and unless
women will be forward to gather for themselves also, they must expect to keep hands and mouth empty, for the men will certainly not fill them. Let no women, therefore, sit still in idleness, and content themselves with wishing for better things. Let none say that justice will be done in time, if only they are patient. Justice will never be done in that fashion. Certes, patience is a very fine thing in its way, but such patience as this, is taken for contentment with present circumstances, and it becomes, under this character, no virtue, but a positive vice. An old proverb says, that “Heaven helps those who help themselves.” And though old proverbs are by no means the most immaculate by rule, yet this, as an allegory, is truer than many modern saws. Though, of course, the practical meaning of the saying is, that those only succeed who fight their own battles, – heaven having, in reality, nothing whatever to do with the matter.
In these times of free thought and scientific progress, men are borne along on the tide of civilization year after year with increasing power and swiftness. But women are suffered to sink unnoticed beneath the very prow of their lords’ vessel; no one will peril his own welfare by an attempt to rescue them; no one thinks of presenting them also upon deck, among the crowd of masculine thinkers and workers.
If these things continue so much longer, and education, independence, and intellectual liberty, with their growing strength, remain monopolised by men, women
will become at last a distinct race of humanity, feeble and shallow brained, over-ridden by the lowest among the opposite sex, and habitually despised and contemned, like the squaws of the American Indians. For men are always improving in idea, attainments, and object; they advance continually, and benefit continually by new research and discovery. But women are absolutely stationary; so that if nothing be done for them, there will before long be an enormous difference between the positions of the two sexes. All the advantages of intellectual progress roll over the heads of women, and touch them not; marriage laws, exclusion from education and offices of responsibility, religious and secular theories of custom, and jealousy, have tied their limbs to the earth.
Women have never yet anywhere possessed the station Nature intended and fitted them to occupy – of companions to men. They have rather been the servants and pleasure providers of the masculine sex; in some cases its drudges. Let us try henceforward to repair this terrible wrong, to interpret things aright, and to obtain for the womanly element its proper condition and place in social life.
By way of conclusion, I shall here beg the special attention of those among my
readers who may possess sympathy enough with the theory I have advanced to
desire its practical success. It may be unknown to many of these that there is
at the present time a society at work in
promotion of “Women’s Rights” in the one particular of Female Suffrage. To obtain for rate-paying house-holders (who are now, by no force of law, but simply by accident of sex, excluded from the franchise, and thus unjustly classed with idiots and felons) the privilege which belongs to all free citizens, is the worthy and commendable object of the “National Society for Women’s Suffrage.”
One petition to this effect has been already presented to Parliament, with what success all the world knows. But the society of which I speak, and of which I have the honour to be a member, hopes for better cheer by and by; and one branch of it has caused to be printed and circulated, copies of a new petition to the House, for signature by all men and women who care to write their names below the old formula – “Will ever pray.”
Everybody may, therefore, help forward the good work, irrespective of means or
station, without money and without price. It is necessary only to apply by
letter for one or more petition papers, as may be required, to either Mrs. P.A.
Taylor, of Aubrey House, Notting Hill,