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

Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights

September 1848

Methinks I hear some woman say, We must obey our Husbands!!33  Who says so. Why the Bible. No you have not rightly read your Bible. In the opening of the Bible at the creation of our first parents, God called their name Adam and gave them dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air and the beast of the field, but he says nothing to them about obedience to each other. After the fall after Noah came out of the ark he addresses them in like manner.34  The chief support that man finds in the Bible for this authority over woman he gets from the injunctions of Paul. It needs but little attention to see how exceedingly limited that command of St Paul must be even if you give it all the weight which is usually claimed for it. Wives obey your Husbands in the Lord.35  Now as the command is given to me, I am of course to be the judge of what is in the Lord and this opens a wide field of escape from any troublesome commands. There can be no subordination where the one to whom the command is given is allowed to sit in judgement on the character of the command. The Bible argument on this subject would afford of itself sufficient material for an entire lecture. I shall not therefore attempt to go into it at this time, enough now to say that that best of Books is ever on the side of freedom and we shrink not from pleading our cause on its principles of universal justice and love.

Let me here notice one of the greatest humbugs of the day, which has long found for itself a most valuable tool in woman. The education society.36  The idea to me is monstrous and absurd of woman in her present condition of degradation and ignorance, forming a society for the education of young men—an order of beings above themselves—claiming to be gifted with superior powers of mind and body—having all the avenues to learning, wealth, and distinction thrown freely open to them and if they have but the energy to avail themselves of all these advantages—they can easily secure an education. Whilst woman poor and friendless robbed of all her rights, oppressed on all sides, civilly, religiously, and socially, must needs go ignorant herself—the idea of such a being working day and night with her needle stitch, stitch, stitch, (for the poor widow always throws in her mite for she is taught to believe that all she gives for the decoration of churches and their black coated gentry is unto the Lord) to educate a great strong lug of man.

I think a man who under the present state of things has the moral hardihood to take an education at the hands of woman and at such an expense to her, ought as soon as he graduates with all his honours thick upon him take the first ship for Turkey and there pass his days in earnest efforts to rouse the inmates of the Harems to a true sense of their present debasement and not as is his custom immediately enter our pulpits to tell us of his superiority to us "weaker vessels"37 his prerogative to command, ours to obey—his duty to preach, ours to keep silence. Oh! for the generous promptings of the days of chivalry—oh! for the poetry of romantic gallantry,—may they shine on us once more—then may we hope that these pious young men who profess to believe in the golden rule, will clothe and educate themselves and encourage poor weak woman to do the same for herself—or perchance they might conceive the happy thought of reciprocating the benefits so long enjoyed by them and form societies for the education of young women of genius whose talents ought to be rescued from the oblivion of ignorance. There is something painfully affecting in the self sacrifice and generosity of women who can neither read or write their own language with correctness going about begging money for the education of men. The last time an appeal of this kind was made to me I told the young lady I would send her to school a year if she would go, but I would never again give one red cent to the education society, and I do hope every christian woman who has the least regard for her sex will make the same resolve. We have worked long enough for man and at a most unjust, unwarrantable sacrifice of self, yet he gives no evidence of gratitude but has thus far treated his benefactors with settled scorn ridicule and contempt. But say they you do not need an education as we do. We expect to shine in the great world, our education is our living. What let me ask is the real object of all education? Just in proportion as the faculties which God has given us are harmoniously developed, do we attain our highest happiness and has not woman an equal right with man to happiness here as well as hereafter and ought she not to have equal facilities with him for making an honest living whilst on this footstool?

One common objection to this movement is that if the principles of freedom and equality which we advocate were put to practise, it would destroy all harmony in the domestic circle. Here let me ask how many truly harmonious households have we now? Take any village circle you know of and on the one hand you will find the meek, sad looking, thoroughly subdued wife who knows no freedom of thought or action—who passes her days in the dull routine of household cares and her nights half perchance in making the tattered garments whole and the other half in slumbers oft disturbed by sick and restless children—  She knows nothing of the great world without she has no time for reading and her Husband finds more pleasure in discussing politics with men in groceries, taverns or Depots than he could in reading or telling his wife the news whilst she sits mending his stockings and shirts through many a lonely evening, nor thinks he selfish being that he owes any duty to that perishing soul, beyond providing a house to cover her head, food to sustain life and raiment to put on and plenty of wood to [burn?].

As to her little world within she finds not much comfort there. Her wishes should she have any must be in subjection to those of her tyrant—her will must be in perfect subordination, the comfort of the wife, children, servants one and all must be given up wholly disregarded until the great head of the house be first attended to. No matter what the case may be he must have his hot dinner. If wife or children are sick—they must look elsewhere for care, he cannot be disturbed at night, it does not agree with him to have his slumbers broken it gives him the headache—renders him unfit for business and worse than all her very soul is tortured every day and hour by his harsh and cruel treatment of her children. What mother cannot bear me witness to anguish of this sort? Oh! women how sadly you have learned your duty to your children, to your own heart, to the God that gave you that holy love for them when you stand silent witnesses to the cruel infliction of blows and strips from angry Fathers on the trembling forms of helpless infancy—  It is a mothers sacred duty to shield her children from violence from whatever source it may come, it is her duty to resist oppression wherever she may find it at home or abroad,38 by every moral power within her reach. Many men who are well known for their philanthropy, who hate oppression on a southern plantation, can play the tyrant right well at home. It is a much easier matter to denounce all the crying sins of the day most eloquently too, than to endure for one hour the peevish moanings of a sick child. To know whether a man is truly great and good, you must not judge by his appearance in the great world, but follow him to his home—where all restraints are laid aside—there we see the true man his virtues and his vices too.

On the other hand we find the so called Hen-pecked Husband, oftimes a kind generous noble minded man who hates contention and is willing to do anything for peace. He having unwarily caught a Tarter tries to make the best of her. He can think his own thoughts and tell them too when he feels quite sure that she is not at hand, he can absent himself from home as much as possible, but he does not feel like a free man. The detail of his sufferings I can neither describe nor imagine never having been the confident of one of these unfortunate beings.39 Now in such households as these there may be no open ruptures—they may seemingly glide on without a ripple upon the surface—the aggrieved may have patiently resigned themselves to suffer all things with christian fortitude—with stern philosophy—but can there be harmony or happiness there? oh! no far from it. The only happy households we now see are those in which Husband and wife share equally in counsel and government. There can be no true dignity or independence where there is subordination, no happiness without freedom.40

Is it not strange that man is so slow to admit the intellectual power the moral heroism of woman. How can he with the page of history spread out before him doubt her identity with himself. That there have been comparatively a greater proportion of good queens than of good kings is a fact stated by several historians.41  "Zenobia the celebrated queen of the East, is not exceeded by any king on record, for talent, courage, and daring ambition. The Emperor Aurelian while besieging her beautiful city of Palms, writes thus: The Roman people speak with contempt of the war I am waging with a woman. They are ignorant both of the character and the power of Zenobia." She was possessed of intellectual attainments very unusual in that age and was a liberal patron of literature and science. No contemporary sovereign is represented as capable of such high pursuits.42



Notes:

33 An "X" is lightly drawn across paragraph 21, though the text is retained in 1870.

34 Genesis 9:2. This paragraph leans on Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, especially pages 10-11, 94-95.

35 Ephesians 5:22.

36 Elizabeth Cady Stanton closely follows the discussion in Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes 120-21 in this and the next paragraph.

37 1 Peter 3:7.

38 In 1870 sentence reads: "It is woman's mission to resist oppression wherever she may find it, whether at her own fireside, or on a Southern plantation, by every moral power within her reach." The plantation is removed from the next sentence about men.

39 Here in 1870 is added: "but are not his sorrows all written in the book of the immortal Caudle, written by his own hand, that all may read and pity the poor man, though feeling all through that the hapless Mrs. Caudle had, after all, many reasons for her continual wail for substantial grief." She refers to Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures, written by Douglas Jerrold for the British magazine Punch and published in book form in 1845.

40 Sentence added at end of paragraph in 1870: "Let us then have no fears that this movement will disturb what is seldom found a truly united and happy family."

41 Sentence from Child, History of the Condition of Women, 2:206.

42 Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, came to the throne after the death of her husband and conquered Egypt, but the Roman Emperor Aurelian defeated and captured her in 272. Child praised her as "the most remarkable among Asiatic women," but omitted Aurelian's well-known tribute (1:30-31). Elizabeth Cady Stanton could find it in the classic textbook, Emma Willard, Universal History in Perspective, 12th ed. (New York, 1854), 158. She also consulted Samuel L. Knapp, Female Biography; Containing Notices of Distinguished Women, in Different Nations and Ages (New York, 1834).