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

Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights

September 1848

We, the women of this state have met in convention within the last few months both in Rochester and Seneca Falls to discuss our rights and wrongs.20  We did not as some have supposed assemble to go into the detail of social life alone, we did not propose to petition the legislature to make our Husbands just, generous and courteous, to seat every man at the head of a cradle and to clothe every woman in male attire, no none of these points however important they may be considered by humble minds, were touched upon in the convention. As to their costume the gentlemen need feel no fear of our imitating that for we think it in violation of every principle of beauty taste and dignity and notwithstanding all the contempt and abuse cast upon our loose flowing garments we still admire their easy graceful folds, and consider our costume as an object of taste much more beautiful than theirs. Many of the nobler sex seem to agree with us in this opinion for all the Bishops, Priests, Judges, Barristers, and Lord Mayors of the first nation on the globe and the Pope of Rome too, when officiating in their highest offices, they all wear the loose flowing robes, thus tacitly acknowledging that the ordinary male attire is neither dignified nor imposing. No! we shall not molest you in your philosophical experiments with stocks, pants,21 high heeled boots and Russian belt. Yours be the glory to discover by personal experience how long the knee pan can resist the terrible strapping down which you impose—in how short time the well developed muscles of the throat can be reduced to mere threads by the constant pressure of the stock, how high the heel of the boot must be to make a short man tall and how tight the Russian belt may be drawn and yet have wind enough to sustain life. Our ambition leads us neither to discovery or martyrdom of this sort.

But we did assemble to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed, to declare our right to be free as man is free—to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support—to have such disgraceful laws as give to man the right to chastise and imprison his wife—to take the wages which she earns,—the property which she inherits and in case of separation the children of her love—laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty—it was to protest against such unjust laws as these and to have them if possible forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a standing shame and disgrace to a professedly republican, christian people in the nineteenth century. We met

To uplift woman's fallen divinity
Upon an even pedestal with man22

And strange as it may seem to many we then and there declared our right to vote according to the Declaration of the government under which we live. This right no one pretends to deny. We need not prove ourselves equal to Daniel Webster to enjoy this privilege for the most ignorant Irishman in the ditch has all the civil rights he has, we need not prove our muscular power equal to this same Irishman to enjoy this privilege for the most tiny, weak, ill shaped, imbecile stripling of 21 has all the civil rights of the Irishman. We have no objection to discuss the question of equality, for we feel that the weight of argument lies wholly with us, but we wish the question of equality kept distinct from the question of rights, for the proof of the one does not determine the truth of the other. All men23 in this country have the same rights however they may differ in mind, body, or estate. The right is ours. The question now is, how shall we get possession of what rightfully belongs to us. We should not feel so sorely grieved if no man who had not attained the full stature of a Webster, Van Buren, Clay24 or Gerrit Smith could claim the right of the elective franchise, but to have the rights of drunkards, idiots, horse-racing, rum selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognised, whilst we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens—it is too grossly insulting to the dignity of woman to be longer quietly submitted to. The right is ours, have it we must—use it we will. The pens, the tongues, the fortunes, the indomitable wills of many women are already pledged to secure this right. The great truth that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed, we shall echo and re-echo in the ears of the unjust judge until by continual coming we shall weary him.

But say some would you have woman vote? What refined delicate woman at the polls, mingling in such scenes of violence and vulgarity—most certainly—where there is so much to be feared for the pure, the innocent, the noble, the mother surely should be there to watch and guard her sons, who must encounter such stormy dangerous scenes at the tender age of 21. Much is said of woman's influence, might not her presence do much towards softening down this violence—refining this vulgarity? Depend upon it that places that by their impure atmosphere are rendered unfit for woman cannot but be dangerous to her sires and sons. But if woman claims all the rights of a citizen will she buckle on her armour and fight in defence of her country? Has not woman already often shown herself as courageous in the field as wise and patriotic in counsel as man? But for myself—I think all war sinful. I believe in Christ—I believe that command Resist not evil to be divine. Vengeance is mine and I will repay saith the Lord—25  Let frail man, who cannot foresee the consequences of an action walk humbly with his God—loving his enemies, blessing those who curse him and always returning good for evil. This is the highest kind of courage that mortal man can attain to and this moral warfare with ones own bad passions requires no physical power to achieve. I would not have man go to war. I can see no glory in fighting with such weapons as guns and swords whilst man has in his possession the infinitely superior and more effective ones of righteousness and truth.

But what would you gain by voting. Man must know the advantages of voting for they all seem very tenacious about the right. Think you if woman had a voice in this government, that all those laws affecting her interests would so entirely violate every principle of right and justice?26  Had we a vote to give might not the office holders and seekers propose some change in woman's condition? Might not "woman's rights" come to be as great a question as "free soil"? But are you not already sufficiently represented by your Fathers, Husbands, Brothers and Sons. Let your statute books answer the question. We have had enough of such representation. In nothing is woman's true happiness consulted, men like to call her an angel—to feed her with what they think sweet food nourishing her vanity, to induce her to believe her organization is so much finer more delicate than theirs, that she is not fitted to struggle with the tempests of public life but needs their care and protection.27  Care and protection? such as the wolf gives the lamb—such as the eagle the hare he carries to his eyrie. Most cunningly he entraps her and then takes from her all those rights which are dearer to him than life itself, rights which have been baptized in blood and the maintenance of which is even now rocking to their foundations the kingdoms of the old world. The most discouraging, the most lamentable aspect our cause wears is the indifference indeed the contempt with which women themselves regard our movement. When the subject is introduced among our young ladies among those even who claim to be intelligent and educated it is met by the scornful curl of the lip and by expressions of disgust and ridicule. But we shall hope better things of them when they are enlighted in regard to their present position, to the laws under which they live—they will not then publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied nor their ignorance by declaring they have all the rights they want.

They are not the only class of beings who glory in their bondage. In the Turkish Harem where woman is little above the brute of the field, where immortal mind is crushed and the soul itself is as it were blotted out, where beings God has endowed with a spirit capable of enjoying the beauties which he has scattered over the broad earth—a spirit whose cultivation would fit them for a never ending existence, in those Seraglios where intellect and soul are buried beneath the sensualism and brutality which are the inevitable result of the belief in woman's inferiority, even here she is not only satisfied with her position but glories in it.28  Miss Martineau in her travels in the East recently published says referring to the inmates of the Harems: Every where they pitied us European women heartily, that we had to go about travelling and appearing in the streets without being properly taken care of, that is watched. They think us strangely neglected in being left so free and boast of their spy system and imprisonment as tokens of the value in which they are held.29  Can women here, although her spiritual and intellectual nature is recognized to a somewhat greater degree than among the Turks, and she is allowed the privilege of being in her nursery and kitchen, and although the Christian promises her the ascendancy in Heaven as man has it here, while the Mahomedan closes the golden gates of the Celestial city tight against her—can she be content notwithstanding these good things to remain debarred from an equal share with man in the pure enjoyments arising from the full cultivation of her mind and her admission into the rights and privileges which are hers. She must and will ere long, when her spirit awakens and she learns to care less for the

Barren verbiage current among men
Light coin the tinsel clink of compliment30

She must and will demand

Every where
Two heads in counsel, two beside the hearth
Two in the tangled business of the world
Two in the liberal offices of life
Two plummets dropped to sound the abyss
Of science and the secrets of the mind.31

Let woman live as she should, let her feel her accountability to her Maker—  Let her know that her spirit is fitted for as high a sphere as man's and that her soul requires food as pure as refreshing as his—let her live first for God and she will not make imperfect man an object of reverence and idolatry—  Teach her her responsibility as a being of conscience and of reason—that she will find any earthly support unstable and weak, that her only safe dependence is on the arm of omnipotence.32  Teach her there is no sex in mind, that true happiness springs from duty accomplished and she will feel the desire to bathe her brow heated from the struggles of an earthly existence in the cool stream that flows fresh and sparkling from the Divine fountain. She will become conscious that each human being is morally accountable for himself that no one can throw upon another his burden of responsibility, that neither Father, Husband, Brother nor son, however willing they may be, can relieve woman from this weight, can stand in her stead when called into the presence of the searcher of spirits.



Notes:

20 In 1870, the sentence reads: "We have met here to-day to discuss our rights and wrongs, civil and political, and not, as some have supposed, to go into the detail of social life alone." "Woman's Rights," National Reformer, 14 September 1848, contains paragraph 14, and "The Convention," Lily, June 1850, consists of paragraphs 14, 15, and most of 16, Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:764-65, 1066.

21 Elements of men's fashionable attire, the stock was a close-fitting cloth wrapped about the neck, and pants were strapped down beneath the instep to retain a snug fit.

22 Tennyson, "The Princess," pt. 2, lines 207-8.

23 Both "The Convention" and 1870 read "All white men."

24 Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), a New Yorker, was eighth president of the United States and the Free Soil party candidate for president in 1848. Henry Clay (1777-1852), senator, Speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary of state, and Whig candidate for president in 1848, was regarded as one of the great politicians of the age.

25 Matthew 5:39 and Romans 12:19.

26 "Should Women Vote," Lily, July 1850, Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:1077-78, begins here and continues through most of paragraph 19.

27 This and the two sentences following were used in the address of the Congregational Friends.

28 Shortened in 1870 to read: "In the Turkish harem, in those Seraglios, where intellect and soul are buried beneath the sensualism and brutality which are the inevitable results of woman's degradation, even there, she declares herself not only satisfied with her position, but glories in it."

29 A paraphrase of Harriet Martineau, Eastern Life, Past and Present (London, 1848), 2:164.

30 Tennyson, "The Princess," pt. 2, lines 40-41.

31 Tennyson, "The Princess," pt. 2, lines 155-60.

32 From this point, 1870 reads: "omnipotence, and that true happiness springs from duty accomplished. Thus will she learn the lesson of individual responsibility for time and eternity. That neither father, husband, brother or son, however willing they may be, can discharge her high duties of life, or stand in her stead when called into the presence of the great Searcher of Hearts at the last day."