Masthead: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project

Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights

September 1848

Man superior, intellectually, morally and physically.

1st  Let us consider his intellectual superiority. 9  Man's superiority cannot be a question until we have had a fair trial. When we shall have had 10 our colleges, our professions, our trades, for a century a comparison may then be justly instituted. When woman instead of being taxed to endow colleges where she is forbidden to enter, instead of forming societies to educate young men shall first educate herself, when she shall be just to herself before she is generous to others—improving the talents God has given her and leaving her neighbour to do the same for himself we shall not then hear so much of this boasted greatness. How often now we see young men carelessly throwing away the intellectual food their sisters crave. A little music that she may while an hour away pleasantly, a little French, a smattering of the sciences and in rare instances some slight classical knowledge and a woman is considered highly educated. She leaves her books and studies just at the time a young man is entering thoroughly into his—then comes the cares and perplexities of married life. 11  Her sphere being confined to her house and children, the burden generally being very unequally divided, she knows nothing beside and whatever yearning her spirit may have felt for a higher existence, whatever may have been the capacity she well knew she possessed for more elevated enjoyments—enjoyments which would not conflict with these but add new lustre to them—it is all buried beneath the weight that presses upon her. Men bless their innocence are fond of representing themselves as beings of reason—of intellect—while women are mere creatures of the affections—  There is a self conceit that makes the possesser infinitely happy and one would dislike to dispel the illusion, if it were possible to endure it. But so far as we can observe it is pretty much now-a-days as it was with Adam of old. No doubt you all recollect the account we have given us. A man and a woman were placed in a beautiful garden. Every thing was about them that could contribute to their enjoyment. Trees and shrubs, fruits and flowers, and gently murmuring streams made glad their hearts. Zephyrs freighted with delicious odours fanned their brows and the serene stars looked down upon them with eyes of love.

The Evil One saw their happiness and it troubled him. He set his wits to work to know how he should destroy it. He thought that man could be easily conquered through his affection for the woman. But the woman would require more management. She could be reached only through her intellectual nature. So he promised her the knowledge of good and evil. He told her the sphere of her reason should be enlarged, he promised to gratify the desire she felt for intellectual improvement, so he prevailed and she did eat. Did the Evil One judge rightly in regard to man? Eve took an apple went to Adam and said "Dear Adam taste this apple if you love me eat." Adam stopped not so much as to ask if the apple was sweet or sour. He knew he was doing wrong, but his love for Eve prevailed and he did eat. Which I ask you was the "creature of the affections"?12

2nd  Let us consider man's claims to superiority as a moral being. 13  Look now at our theological seminaries, our divinity students—the long line of descendents from our apostolic Fathers and what do we find here? Perfect moral rectitude in every relation of life, a devoted spirit of self sacrifice, a perfect union in thought opinion and feeling among those who profess to worship the one God and whose laws they feel themselves called upon to declare to a fallen race? Far from it. These persons all so thoroughly acquainted with the character of God and of his designs made manifest by his words and works are greatly divided among themselves—every sect has its God, every sect has its own Bible, and there is as much bitterness, envy, hatred and malice between these contending sects yea even more than in our political parties during periods of the greatest excitement. Now the leaders of these sects are the priesthood who are supposed to have passed their lives almost in the study of the Bible, in various languages and with various commentaries, in the contemplation of the infinite, the eternal and the glorious future open to the redeemed of earth. Are they distinguished among men for their holy aspirations—their virtue, purity, and chastity? Do they keep themselves unspotted from the world? Is the moral and religious life of this class what we might expect from minds (said to be) continually fixed on such mighty themes? By no means, not a year passes but we hear of some sad soul sickening deed perpetrated by some of this class. If such be the state of the most holy we need not pause now to consider those classes who claim of us less reverence and respect. The lamentable want of principle among our lawyers generally is too well known to need comment—the everlasting bickering and backbiting of our physicians is proverbial—  The disgraceful riots at our polls where man in performing so important a duty of a citizen ought surely to be sober minded. The perfect rowdyism that now characterizes the debates in our national congress—all these are great facts which rise up against man's claim to moral superiority.

In my opinion he is infinitely woman's inferior in every moral virtue, not by nature, but made so by a false education. In carrying out his own selfishness, man has greatly improved woman's moral nature, but by an almost total shipwreck of his own. Woman has now the noble virtues of the martyr, she is early schooled to self denial and suffering. But man is not so wholly buried in selfishness that he does not sometimes get a glimpse of the narrowness of his soul, as compared with women. Then he says by way of an excuse for his degradation, God made woman more self denying than us, it is her nature, it does not cost her as much to give up her wishes, her will, her life even as it does us. We are naturally selfish, God made us so. No! think not that he who made the heavens and the earth, the whole planetary world ever moving on in such harmony and order, that he who has so bountifully scattered, through all nature so many objects that delight, enchant and fill us with admiration and wonder, that he who has made the mighty ocean mountain and cataract, the bright and joyous birds, the tender lovely flowers, that he who made man in his own image, perfect, noble and pure, loving justice, mercy, and truth, think not that He has had any part in the production of that creeping, cringing, crawling, debased selfish monster now extant, claiming for himself the name of man. No God's commands rest upon man as well as woman, and it is as much his duty to be kind, gentle, self denying and full of good works as it is hers, as much his duty to absent himself from scenes of violence as it is hers. A place or a position that would require the sacrifice of delicacy and refinement of woman's nature is unfit for man, for these virtues should be as carefully guarded in him as in her.

The false ideas that prevail with regard to the purity necessary to constitute the perfect character in woman and that requisite for man have done an infinite deal of mischief in the world. We would not have woman less pure, but we would have man more so. We would have the same code of morals for both. Moral delinquencies which exclude women from the society of the true and the good should assign to man the same place. Our partiality towards man has been the fruitful source of dissipation and riot, drunkenness and debauchery and immorality of all kinds. It has not only affected woman injuriously by narrowing her sphere of action, but man himself has suffered from it. It has destroyed the nobleness, the gentleness that should belong to his character, the beauty and transparency of soul the dislike of every thing bordering on coarseness and vulgarity, all those finer qualities of our nature which raise us above the earth and give us a foretaste of the beauty and bliss, the refined enjoyments of the world to come.

3rd  Let us now consider man's claims to physical superiority. 14  Methinks I hear some say, surely you will not contend for equality here. Yes, we must not give an inch lest you claim an ell, we cannot accord to man even this much and he has no right to claim it until the fact be fully demonstrated, until the physical education of the boy and the girl shall have been the same for many years. If you claim the advantage of size merely, why it may be that under any course of training in ever so perfect a developement of the physique in woman, man might still be the larger of the two, tho' we do not grant even this. But the perfection of the physique is great power combined with endurance. Now your strongest men are not always the tallest men, nor the broadest, nor the most corpulent, but very often the small man who is well built, tightly put together and possessed of an indomitable will. Bodily strength depends something on the power of will. The sight of a small boy thoroughly thrashing a big one is not rare. Now would you say the big fat boy whipped was superior to the small active boy who conquered him? You do not say the horse is physically superior to the man—for although he has more muscular power, yet the power of mind in man renders him his superior and he guides him wherever he will.

The power of mind seems to be in no way connected with the size and strength of body. Many men of Herculean powers of mind have been small and weak in body. The late distinguished Dr Channing of Boston was very small and feeble in appearance and voice, yet he has moved the world by the eloquence of his pen. John Quincy Adams was a small man of but little muscular power, yet we know he had more courage than all the northern dough faces 15 of six feet high and well proportioned that ever represented us at our Capitol. We know that mental power depends much more on the temperament than the size of the head or the size of the body. I have never heard that Daniel Lambert was distinguished for any great mental endowments.16  We cannot say what the woman might be physically, if the girl were allowed all the freedom of the boy in romping, climbing, swimming, playing hoop and ball. Among some of the Tarter tribes of the present day the women manage a horse, hurl a javelin, hunt wild animals, and fight an enemy as well as the men.17  The Indian women endure fatigue and carry burthens that some of our fair faced, soft handed, mustachoed, young gentlemen would consider it quite impossible for them to sustain. The Croatian, and Wallachian women perform all the agricultural operations, (and we know what physical strength such labours require) in addition to their own domestic concerns; 18 and it is no uncommon sight in our cities to see the German immigrant with his hands in his pockets, walking complacently by the side of his wife, whilst she is bending beneath the weight of some huge package or piece of furniture,—physically as well as intellectually it is use that produces growth and developement. But there is a class of objectors who say they do not claim superiority, they merely assert a difference, but you will find by following them up closely that they make this difference to be vastly in favour of man. The Phrenologist says that woman's head has just as many organs as man's and that they are similarly situated. He says too that the organs that are the most exercised are the most prominent. They do not divide heads according to sex but they call all the fine heads masculine and all the ill shaped feminine, for when a woman presents a remarkably large well developed intellectual region, they say she has a masculine head, as if there could be nothing remarkable of the feminine gender and when a man has a small head very little reasoning power and the affections inordinately developed they say he has a woman's head thus giving all glory to masculinity.

Some say our heads are less.
Some men's are small, not they the least of men;
For often fineness compensates for size;
Beside the brain
is like the hand and grows,
With using—-19


9 This paragraph was included in "Man Superior Intellectually Morally Physically," pt. 1, Lily, February 1850, Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:1037.

10 Inserted here in 1870: "our freedom to find out our own sphere, when we shall have had . . . ."

11 Revised in 1870 to read: "Then comes the gay routine of fashionable life, courtship and marriage, the perplexities of house and children, and she knows nothing beside."

12 Sarah Grimke observed that Eve's temptation came from "a being with whom she was unacquainted." Adam fell "not through the instrumentality of a supernatural agent, but through that of his equal"; "it appears to me," she wrote, "that to say the least, there was as much weakness exhibited by Adam as by Eve." (Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, 6)

13 "Man Superior Intellectually Morally Physically," pt. 2, Lily, March 1850, Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:1039, contains paragraphs 9-11.

14 "Man Superior Intellectually Morally Physically," pt. 3, Lily, April 1850, Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:1044, contains paragraphs 12-13.

15 That is, William Ellery Channing. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth president of the United States and congressman, opposed the extension of slavery and the gag rule that stopped expressions of antislavery views. Northerners who voted with the South to protect slavery were dubbed "doughfaces."

16 Daniel Lambert, a Londoner of immense weight who exhibited himself as a curiosity, also appeared as a character in Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1839).

17 This sentence from Child, History of the Condition of Women, 1:176.

18 To this point the sentence from Child, History of the Condition of Women, 2:167.

19 Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Princess," pt. 2, lines 131-35.