Women and the Alphabet
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
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A Series of Essays





The first essay in this volume, "Ought Women to learn the Alphabet?" appeared originally in the "Atlantic Monthly" of February, 1859, and has since been reprinted in various forms, bearing its share, I trust, in the great development of more liberal views in respect to the training and duties of women which has made itself manifest within forty years. There was, for instance, a report that it was the perusal of this essay which led the late Miss Sophia Smith to the founding of the women's college bearing her name at Northampton, Massachusetts.

The remaining papers in the volume formed originally a part of a book entitled "Common Sense About Women" which was made up largely of papers from the "Woman's Journal." This book was first published in 1881 and was reprinted in somewhat abridged form some years later in London (Sonnenschein). It must have attained a considerable circulation there, as the fourth (stereotyped) edition appeared in 1897. From this London reprint a German translation was made by Fraeulein Eugenie Jacobi, under the title "Die Frauenfrage und der gesunde Menschenverstand" (Schupp: Neuwied and Leipzig, 1895).





II. PHYSIOLOGY. Too Much Natural History Darwin, Huxley, and Buckle The Spirit of Small Tyranny The Noble Sex The Truth about our Grandmothers The Physique of American Women The Limitations of Sex

III. TEMPERAMENT. The Invisible Lady Sacred Obscurity Virtues in Common Individual Differences Angelic Superiority Vicarious Honors The Gospel of Humiliation Celery and Cherubs The Need of Cavalry The Reason Firm, the Temperate Will Allures to Brighter Worlds, and leads the Way

IV. THE HOME. Wanted—Homes The Origin of Civilization The Low-Water Mark Obey Woman in the Chrysalis Two and Two A Model Household A Safeguard for the Family Women as Economists Greater includes Less A Copartnership One Responsible Head Asking for Money Womanhood and Motherhood A German Point of View Childless Women The Prevention of Cruelty to Mothers

V. SOCIETY. Foam and Current In Society The Battle of the Cards Some Working-Women The Empire of Manners Girlsterousness Are Women Natural Aristocrats? Mrs. Blank's Daughters The European Plan Featherses

VI. STUDY AND WORK. Experiments Intellectual Cinderellas Cupid-and-Psychology Self-Supporting Wives Thorough Literary Aspirants The Career of Letters Talking and Taking How to speak in Public

VII. PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT. We the People The Use of the Declaration of Independence Some Old-Fashioned Principles Founded on a Rock The Good of the Governed Ruling at Second-Hand

VIII. SUFFRAGE. Drawing the Line For Self-Protection Womanly Statesmanship Too Much Prediction First-Class Carriages Education via Suffrage Follow Your Leaders How to make Women understand Politics Inferior to Man, and near to Angels

IX. OBJECTIONS TO SUFFRAGE. The Fact of Sex How will it Result? I have all the Rights I want Sense Enough to Vote An Infelicitous Epithet The Rob Roy Theory The Votes of Non-Combatants Manners repeal Laws Dangerous Voters How Women will legislate Individuals vs. Classes Defeats before Victories




Paris smiled, for an hour or two, in the year 1801, when, amidst Napoleon's mighty projects for remodelling the religion and government of his empire, the ironical satirist, Sylvain Marechal, thrust in his "Plan for a Law prohibiting the Alphabet to Women."[1] Daring, keen, sarcastic, learned, the little tract retains to-day so much of its pungency, that we can hardly wonder at the honest simplicity of the author's friend and biographer, Madame Gacon Dufour, who declared that he must be insane, and soberly replied to him.

His proposed statute consists of eighty-two clauses, and is fortified by a "whereas" of a hundred and thirteen weighty reasons. He exhausts the range of history to show the frightful results which have followed this taste of fruit of the tree of knowledge; quotes from the Encyclopedie, to prove that the woman who knows the alphabet has already lost a portion of her innocence; cites the opinion of Moliere, that any female who has unhappily learned anything in this line should affect ignorance, when possible; asserts that knowledge rarely makes men attractive, and females never; opines that women have no occasion to peruse Ovid's "Art of Love," since they know it all in advance; remarks that three quarters of female authors are no better than they should be; maintains that Madame Guion would have been far more useful had she been merely pretty and an ignoramus, such as Nature made her,—that Ruth and Naomi could not read, and Boaz probably would never have married into the family had they possessed that accomplishment,—that the Spartan women did not know the alphabet, nor the Amazons, nor Penelope, nor Andromache, nor Lucretia, nor Joan of Arc, nor Petrarch's Laura, nor the daughters of Charlemagne, nor the three hundred and sixty-five wives of Mohammed; but that Sappho and Madame de Maintenon could read altogether too well; while the case of Saint Brigitta, who brought forth twelve children and twelve books, was clearly exceptional, and afforded no safe precedent.

It would seem that the brilliant Frenchman touched the root of the matter. Ought women to learn the alphabet? There the whole question lies. Concede this little fulcrum, and Archimedea will move the world before she has done with it: it becomes merely a question of time. Resistance must be made here or nowhere. Obsta principiis. Woman must be a subject or an equal: there is no middle ground. What if the Chinese proverb should turn out to be, after all, the summit of wisdom, "For men, to cultivate virtue is knowledge; for women, to renounce knowledge is virtue"?

No doubt, the progress of events is slow, like the working of the laws of gravitation generally. Certainly there has been but little change in the legal position of women since China was in its prime, until within the last half century. Lawyers admit that the fundamental theory of English and Oriental law is the same on this point: Man and wife are one, and that one is the husband. It is the oldest of legal traditions. When Blackstone declares that "the very being and existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage," and American Kent echoes that "her legal existence and authority are in a manner lost;" when Petersdorff asserts that "the husband has the right of imposing such corporeal restraints as he may deem necessary," and Bacon that "the husband hath, by law, power and dominion over his wife, and may keep her by force within the bounds of duty, and may beat her, but not in a violent or cruel manner;" when Mr. Justice Coleridge rules that the husband, in certain cases, "has a right to confine his wife in his own dwelling-house, and restrain her from liberty for an indefinite time," and Baron Alderson sums it all up tersely, "The wife is only the servant of her husband,"—these high authorities simply reaffirm the dogma of the Gentoo code, four thousand years old and more: "A man, both day and night, must keep his wife so much in subjection that she by no means be mistress of her own actions. If the wife have her own free will, notwithstanding she be of a superior caste, she will behave amiss."

Yet behind these unchanging institutions, a pressure has been for centuries becoming concentrated, which, now that it has begun to act, is threatening to overthrow them all. It has not yet operated very visibly in the Old World, where, even in England, the majority of women have not till lately mastered the alphabet sufficiently to sign their own names in the marriage register. But in this country the vast changes of the last few years are already a matter of history. No trumpet has been sounded, no earthquake has been felt, while State after State has ushered into legal existence one half of the population within its borders. Surely, here and now, might poor M. Marechal exclaim, the bitter fruits of the original seed appear. The sad question recurs, Whether women ought ever to have tasted of the alphabet.

It is true that Eve ruined us all, according to theology, without knowing her letters. Still there is something to be said in defence of that venerable ancestress. The Veronese lady, Isotta Nogarola, five hundred and thirty-six of whose learned epistles were preserved by De Thou, composed a dialogue on the question, Whether Adam or Eve had committed the greater sin. But Ludovico Domenichi, in his "Dialogue on the Nobleness of Women," maintains that Eve did not sin at all, because she was not even created when Adam was told not to eat the apple. It was "in Adam all died," he shrewdly says; nobody died in Eve: which looks plausible. Be that as it may, Eve's daughters are in danger of swallowing a whole harvest of forbidden fruit, in these revolutionary days, unless something be done to cut off the supply.

It has been seriously asserted, that during the last half century more books have been written by women and about women than during all the previous uncounted ages. It may be true; although, when we think of the innumerable volumes of Memoires by French women of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,—each justifying the existence of her own ten volumes by the remark, that all her contemporaries were writing as many,—we have our doubts. As to the increased multitude of general treatises on the female sex, however,—its education, life, health, diseases, charms, dress, deeds, sphere, rights, wrongs, work, wages, encroachments, and idiosyncrasies generally,—there can be no doubt whatever; and the poorest of these books recognizes a condition of public sentiment of which no other age ever dreamed.

Still, literary history preserves the names of some reformers before the Reformation, in this matter. There was Signora Moderata Fonte, the Venetian, who left a book to be published after her death, in 1592, "Dei Meriti delle Donne." There was her townswoman, Lucrezia Marinella, who followed, ten years after, with her essay, "La Nobilita e la Eccelenza delle Donne, con Difetti e Mancamenti degli Uomini,"—a comprehensive theme, truly! Then followed the all-accomplished Anna Maria Schurman, in 1645, with her "Dissertatio de Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam et meliores Literas Aptitudine," with a few miscellaneous letters appended in Greek and Hebrew. At last came boldly Jacquette Guillaume, in 1665, and threw down the gauntlet in her title-page, "Les Dames Illustres; ou par bonnes et fortes Raisons il se prouve que le Sexe Feminin surpasse en toute Sorte de Genre le Sexe Masculin;" and with her came Margaret Boufflet and a host of others; and finally, in England, Mary Wollstonecraft, whose famous book, formidable in its day, would seem rather conservative now; and in America, that pious and worthy dame, Mrs. H. Mather Crocker, Cotton Mather's grandchild, who, in 1848, published the first book on the "Rights of Woman" ever written on this side the Atlantic.

Meanwhile there have never been wanting men, and strong men, to echo these appeals. From Cornelius Agrippa and his essay (1509) on the excellence of woman and her preeminence over man, down to the first youthful thesis of Agassiz, "Mens Feminae Viri Animo superior," there has been a succession of voices crying in the wilderness. In England, Anthony Gibson wrote a book, in 1599, called "A Woman's Woorth, defended against all the Men in the World, proving them to be more Perfect, Excellent, and Absolute in all Vertuous Actions than any Man of what Qualitie soever, Interlarded with Poetry." Per contra, the learned Acidalius published a book in Latin, and afterwards in French, to prove that women are not reasonable creatures. Modern theologians are at worst merely sub-acid, and do not always say so, if they think so. Meanwhile most persons have been content to leave the world to go on its old course, in this matter as in others, and have thus acquiesced in that stern judicial decree with which Timon of Athens sums up all his curses upon womankind,—"If there sit twelve women at the table, let a dozen of them be—as they are."

Ancient or modern, nothing in any of these discussions is so valuable as the fact of the discussion itself. There is no discussion where there is no wrong. Nothing so indicates wrong as this morbid self-inspection. The complaints are a perpetual protest, the defences a perpetual confession. It is too late to ignore the question; and, once opened, it can be settled only on absolute and permanent principles. There is a wrong; but where? Does woman already know too much, or too little? Was she created for man's subject, or his equal? Shall she have the alphabet, or not?

Ancient mythology, which undertook to explain everything, easily accounted for the social and political disabilities of woman. Goguet quotes the story from Saint Augustine, who got it from Varro. Cecrops, building Athens, saw starting from the earth an olive-plant and a fountain, side by side. The Delphic oracle said that this indicated a strife between Minerva and Neptune for the honor of giving a name to the city, and that the people must decide between them. Cecrops thereupon assembled the men, and the women also, who then had a right to vote; and the result was that Minerva carried the election by a glorious majority of one. Then Attica was overflowed and laid waste: of course the citizens attributed the calamity to Neptune, and resolved to punish the women. It was therefore determined that in future they should not vote, nor should any child bear the name of its mother.

Thus easily did mythology explain all troublesome inconsistencies; but it is much that it should even have recognized them as needing explanation. The real solution is, however, more simple. The obstacle to the woman's sharing the alphabet, or indeed any other privilege, has been thought by some to be the fear of impairing her delicacy, or of destroying her domesticity, or of confounding the distinction between the sexes. These may have been plausible excuses. They have even been genuine, though minor, anxieties. But the whole thing, I take it, had always one simple, intelligible basis,—sheer contempt for the supposed intellectual inferiority of woman. She was not to be taught, because she was not worth teaching. The learned Acidalius aforesaid was in the majority. According to Aristotle and the Peripatetics, woman was animal occasionatum, as if a sort of monster and accidental production. Mediaeval councils, charitably asserting her claims to the rank of humanity, still pronounced her unfit for instruction. In the Hindoo dramas she did not even speak the same language with her master, but used the dialect of slaves. When, in the sixteenth century, Francoise de Saintonges wished to establish girls' schools in France, she was hooted in the streets; and her father called together four doctors, learned in the law, to decide whether she was not possessed by demons, to think of educating women,—pour s'assurer qu'instruire des femmes n'etait pas un oeuvre du demon.

It was the same with political rights. The foundation of the Salic Law was not any sentimental anxiety to guard female delicacy and domesticity; it was, as stated by Froissart, a blunt, hearty contempt: "The kingdom of France being too noble to be ruled by a woman." And the same principle was reaffirmed for our own institutions, in rather softened language, by Theophilus Parsons, in his famous defence of the rights of Massachusetts men (the "Essex Result," in 1778): "Women, what age soever they are of, are not considered as having a sufficient acquired discretion [to exercise the franchise]."

In harmony with this are the various maxims and bon-mots of eminent men, in respect to women. Niebuhr thought he should not have educated a girl well,—he should have made her know too much. Lessing said, "The woman who thinks is like the man who puts on rouge, ridiculous." Voltaire said, "Ideas are like beards: women and young men have none." And witty Dr. Maginn carries to its extreme the atrocity, "We like to hear a few words of sense from a woman, as we do from a parrot, because they are so unexpected." Yet how can we wonder at these opinions, when the saints have been severer than the sages?—since the pious Fenelon taught that true virgin delicacy was almost as incompatible with learning as with vice; and Dr. Channing complained, in his "Essay on Exclusion and Denunciation," of "women forgetting the tenderness of their sex," and arguing on theology.

Now this impression of feminine inferiority may be right or wrong, but it obviously does a good deal towards explaining the facts it assumes. If contempt does not originally cause failure, it perpetuates it. Systematically discourage any individual, or class, from birth to death, and they learn, in nine cases out of ten, to acquiesce in their degradation, if not to claim it as a crown of glory. If the Abbe Choisi praised the Duchesse de Fontanges for being "beautiful as an angel and silly as a goose," it was natural that all the young ladies of the court should resolve to make up in folly what they wanted in charms. All generations of women having been bred under the shadow of intellectual contempt, they have, of course, done much to justify it. They have often used only for frivolous purposes even the poor opportunities allowed them. They have employed the alphabet, as Moliere said, chiefly in spelling the verb Amo. Their use of science has been like that of Mlle. de Launay, who computed the decline in her lover's affection by his abbreviation of their evening walk in the public square, preferring to cross it rather than take the circuit; "from which I inferred," she says, "that his passion had diminished in the ratio between the diagonal of a rectangular parallelogram and the sum of two adjacent sides." And their conception, even of art, has been too often on the scale of Properzia de Rossi, who carved sixty-five heads on a walnut, the smallest of all recorded symbols of woman's sphere.

All this might, perhaps, be overcome, if the social prejudice which discourages women would only reward proportionately those who surmount the discouragement. The more obstacles, the more glory, if society would only pay in proportion to the labor; but it does not. Women being denied, not merely the training which prepares for great deeds, but the praise and compensation which follow them, have been weakened in both directions. The career of eminent men ordinarily begins with college and the memories of Miltiades, and ends with fortune and fame: woman begins under discouragement, and ends beneath the same. Single, she works with half preparation and half pay; married, she puts name and wages into the keeping of her husband, shrinks into John Smith's "lady" during life, and John Smith's "relict" on her tombstone; and still the world wonders that her deeds, like her opportunities, are inferior.

Evidently, then, the advocates of woman's claims—those who hold that "the virtues of the man and the woman are the same," with Antisthenes, or that "the talent of the man and the woman is the same," with Socrates in Xenophon's "Banquet"—must be cautious lest they attempt to prove too much. Of course, if women know as much as the men, without schools and colleges, there is no need of admitting them to those institutions. If they work as well on half pay, it diminishes the inducement to give them the other half. The safer position is, to claim that they have done just enough to show what they might have done under circumstances less discouraging. Take, for instance, the common remark, that women have invented nothing. It is a valid answer, that the only implements habitually used by woman have been the needle, the spindle, and the basket; and tradition reports that she herself invented all three. In the same way it may be shown that the departments in which women have equalled men have been the departments in which they have had equal training, equal encouragement, and equal compensation; as, for instance, the theatre. Madame Lagrange, the prima donna, after years of costly musical instruction, wins the zenith of professional success; she receives, the newspapers affirm, sixty thousand dollars a year, travelling expenses for ten persons, country-houses, stables, and liveries, besides an uncounted revenue of bracelets, bouquets, and billets-doux. Of course, every young debutante fancies the same thing within her own reach, with only a brief stage-vista between. On the stage there is no deduction for sex, and, therefore, woman has shown in that sphere an equal genius. But every female common-school teacher in the United States finds the enjoyment of her four hundred dollars a year to be secretly embittered by the knowledge that the young college stripling in the next schoolroom is paid twice that sum for work no harder or more responsible than her own, and that, too, after the whole pathway of education has been obstructed for her, and smoothed for him. These may be gross and carnal considerations; but Faith asks her daily bread, and fancy must be fed. We deny woman her fair share of training, of encouragement, of remuneration, and then talk fine nonsense about her instincts and intuitions. We say sentimentally with the Oriental proverbialist, "Every book of knowledge is implanted by nature in the heart of woman,"—and make the compliment a substitute for the alphabet.

Nothing can be more absurd than to impose entirely distinct standards, in this respect, on the two sexes, or to expect that woman, any more than man, will accomplish anything great without due preparation and adequate stimulus. Mrs. Patten, who navigated her husband's ship from Cape Horn to California, would have failed in the effort, for all her heroism, if she had not, unlike most of her sex, been taught to use her Bowditch's "Navigator." Florence Nightingale, when she heard of the distresses in the Crimea, did not, as most people imagine, rise up and say, "I am a woman, ignorant but intuitive, with very little sense and information, but exceedingly sublime aspirations; my strength lies in my weakness; I can do all things without knowing anything about them." Not at all: during ten years she had been in hard training for precisely such services; had visited all the hospitals in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Lyons, Rome, Brussels, and Berlin; had studied under the Sisters of Charity, and been twice a nurse in the Protestant Institution at Kaiserswerth. Therefore she did not merely carry to the Crimea a woman's heart, as her stock in trade, but she knew the alphabet of her profession better than the men around her. Of course, genius and enthusiasm are, for both sexes, elements unforeseen and incalculable; but, as a general rule, great achievements imply great preparations and favorable conditions. To disregard this truth is unreasonable in the abstract, and cruel in its consequences. If an extraordinary male gymnast can clear a height of ten feet with the aid of a springboard, it would be considered slightly absurd to ask a woman to leap eleven feet without one; yet this is precisely what society and the critics have always done. Training and wages and social approbation are very elastic springboards; and the whole course of history has seen these offered bounteously to one sex, and as sedulously withheld from the other. Let woman consent to be a doll, and there was no finery so gorgeous, no baby-house so costly, but she might aspire to share its lavish delights; let her ask simply for an equal chance to learn, to labor, and to live, and it was as if that same doll should open its lips, and propound Euclid's forty-seventh proposition. While we have all deplored the helpless position of indigent women, and lamented that they had no alternative beyond the needle, the wash-tub, the schoolroom, and the street, we have usually resisted their admission into every new occupation, denied them training, and cut their compensation down. Like Charles Lamb, who atoned for coming late to the office in the morning by going away early in the afternoon, we have first, half educated women, and then, to restore the balance, only half paid them. What innumerable obstacles have been placed in their way as female physicians; what a complication of difficulties has been encountered by them, even as printers, engravers, and designers! In London, Mr. Bennett was once mobbed for lecturing to women on watchmaking. In this country, we have known grave professors refuse to address lyceums which thought fit to employ an occasional female lecturer. Mr. Comer stated that it was "in the face of ridicule and sneers" that he began to educate American women as bookkeepers many years ago; and it was a little contemptible in Miss Muloch to revive the same satire in "A Woman's Thoughts on Women," when she must have known that in half the retail shops in Paris her own sex rules the ledger, and Mammon knows no Salic law.

We find, on investigation, what these considerations would lead us to expect, that eminent women have commonly been exceptional in training and position, as well as in their genius. They have excelled the average of their own sex because they have shared the ordinary advantages of the other sex. Take any department of learning or skill; take, for instance, the knowledge of languages, the universal alphabet, philology. On the great stairway at Padua stands the statue of Elena Cornaro, professor of six languages in that once renowned university. But Elena Cornaro was educated like a boy, by her father. On the great door of the University of Bologna is inscribed the epitaph of Clotilda Tambroni, the honored correspondent of Porson, and the first Greek scholar of southern Europe in her day. But Clotilda Tambroni was educated like a boy, by Emanuele Aponte. How fine are those prefatory words, "by a Right Reverend Prelate," to that pioneer book in Anglo-Saxon lore, Elizabeth Elstob's grammar: "Our earthly possessions are indeed our patrimony, as derived to us by the industry of our fathers; but the language in which we speak is our mother tongue, and who so proper to play the critic in this as the females?" Yet this particular female obtained the rudiments of her rare education from her mother, before she was eight years old, in spite of much opposition from her right reverend guardians. Adelung declares that all modern philology is founded on the translation of a Russian vocabulary into two hundred different dialects by Catherine II. But Catherine shared, in childhood, the instructors of her brother, Prince Frederick, and was subject to some reproach for learning, though a girl, so much more rapidly than he did. Christina of Sweden ironically reproved Madame Dacier for her translation of Callimachus: "Such a pretty girl as you are, are you not ashamed to be so learned?" But Madame Dacier acquired Greek by contriving to do her embroidery in the room where her father was teaching her stupid brother; and her queenly critic had herself learned to read Thucydides, harder Greek than Callimachus, before she was fourteen. And so down to our own day, who knows how many mute, inglorious Minervas may have perished unenlightened, while Margaret Fuller Ossoli and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were being educated "like boys."

This expression simply means that they had the most solid training which the times afforded. Most persons would instantly take alarm at the very words; that is, they have so little faith in the distinctions which Nature has established, that they think, if you teach the alphabet, or anything else, indiscriminately to both sexes, you annul all difference between them. The common reasoning is thus: "Boys and girls are acknowledged to be very unlike. Now, boys study Greek and algebra, medicine and bookkeeping. Therefore girls should not." As if one should say: "Boys and girls are very unlike. Now, boys eat beef and potatoes. Therefore, obviously, girls should not."

The analogy between physical and spiritual food is precisely in point. The simple truth is, that, amid the vast range of human powers and properties, the fact of sex is but one item. Vital and momentous in itself, it does not constitute the whole organism, but only a part. The distinction of male and female is special, aimed at a certain end; and, apart from that end, it is, throughout all the kingdoms of Nature, of minor importance. With but trifling exceptions, from infusoria up to man, the female animal moves, breathes, looks, listens, runs, flies, swims, pursues its food, eats it, digests it, in precisely the same manner as the male: all instincts, all characteristics, are the same, except as to the one solitary fact of parentage. Mr. Ten Broeck's race-horses, Pryor and Prioress, were foaled alike, fed alike, trained alike, and finally ran side by side, competing for the same prize. The eagle is not checked in soaring by any consciousness of sex, nor asks the sex of the timid hare, its quarry. Nature, for high purposes, creates and guards the sexual distinction, but keeps it subordinate to those still more important.

Now all this bears directly upon the alphabet. What sort of philosophy is that which says, "John is a fool; Jane is a genius: nevertheless, John, being a man, shall learn, lead, make laws, make money; Jane, being a woman, shall be ignorant, dependent, disfranchised, underpaid"? Of course, the time is past when one would state this so frankly, though Comte comes quite near it, to say nothing of the Mormons; but this formula really lies at the bottom of the reasoning one hears every day. The answer is, Soul before sex. Give an equal chance, and let genius and industry do the rest. La carriere ouverte aux talens! Every man for himself, every woman for herself, and the alphabet for us all.

Thus far, my whole course of argument has been defensive and explanatory. I have shown that woman's inferiority in special achievements, so far as it exists, is a fact of small importance, because it is merely a corollary from her historic position of degradation. She has not excelled, because she has had no fair chance to excel. Man, placing his foot upon her shoulder, has taunted her with not rising. But the ulterior question remains behind. How came she into this attitude originally? Explain the explanation, the logician fairly demands. Granted that woman is weak because she has been systematically degraded: but why was she degraded? This is a far deeper question,—one to be met only by a profounder philosophy and a positive solution. We are coming on ground almost wholly untrod, and must do the best we can.

I venture to assert, then, that woman's social inferiority has been, to a great extent, in the past a legitimate thing. To all appearance, history would have been impossible without it, just as it would have been impossible without an epoch of war and slavery. It is simply a matter of social progress,—a part of the succession of civilizations. The past has been inevitably a period of ignorance, of engrossing physical necessities, and of brute force,—not of freedom, of philanthropy, and of culture. During that lower epoch, woman was necessarily an inferior, degraded by abject labor, even in time of peace,—degraded uniformly by war, chivalry to the contrary notwithstanding. Behind all the courtesies of Amadis and the Cid lay the stern fact,—woman a child or a toy. The flattering troubadours chanted her into a poet's paradise; but alas! that kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent took it by force. The truth simply was, that her time had not come. Physical strength must rule for a time, and she was the weaker. She was very properly refused a feudal grant, by reason, say "Les Coustumes de Normandie," of her unfitness for war or policy: C'est l'homme ki se bast et ki conseille. Other authorities put it still more plainly: "A woman cannot serve the emperor or feudal lord in war, on account of the decorum of her sex; nor assist him with advice, because of her limited intellect; nor keep his counsel, owing to the infirmity of her disposition." All which was, no doubt, in the majority of cases, true; and the degradation of woman was simply a part of a system which has, indeed, had its day, but has bequeathed its associations.

From this reign of force, woman never freed herself by force. She could not fight, or would not. Bohemian annals, to be sure, record the legend of a literal war between the sexes, in which the women's army was led by Libussa and Wlasla, and which finally ended with the capture, by the army of men, of Castle Dziewin, Maiden's Tower, whose ruins are still visible near Prague. The armor of Libussa is still shown at Vienna; and the guide calls attention to the long-peaked toes of steel, with which, he avers, the tender princess was wont to pierce the hearts of her opponents, while careering through the battle. And there are abundant instances in which women have fought side by side with men, and on equal terms. The ancient British women mingled in the wars of their husbands, and their princesses were trained to the use of arms in the Maiden's Castle at Edinburgh, in the Isle of Skye. The Moorish wives and maidens fought in defence of their European peninsula; and the Portuguese women fought on the same soil, against the armies of Philip II. The king of Siam has, at present, a body-guard of four hundred women: they are armed with lance and rifle, are admirably disciplined, and their commander (appointed after saving the king's life at a tiger-hunt) ranks as one of the royal family, and has ten elephants at her service. When the all-conquering Dahomian army marched upon Abbeokuta, in 1851, they numbered ten thousand men and six thousand women. The women were, as usual, placed foremost in the assault, as being most reliable; and of the eighteen hundred bodies left dead before the walls, the vast majority were of women. The Hospital of the Invalides, in Paris, has sheltered, for half a century, a fine specimen of a female soldier, "Lieutenant Madame Bulan," who lived to be more than eighty years old, had been decorated by Napoleon's own hand with the cross of the Legion of Honor, and was credited on the hospital books with "seven years' service, seven campaigns, three wounds, several times distinguished, especially in Corsica, in defending a fort against the English." But these cases, though interesting to the historian, are still exceptional; and the instinctive repugnance they inspire is a condemnation, not of women, but of war.

The reason, then, for the long subjection of woman has been simply that humanity was passing through its first epoch, and her full career was to be reserved for the second. As the different races of man have appeared successively upon the stage of history, so there has been an order of succession of the sexes. Woman's appointed era, like that of the Teutonic races, was delayed, but not omitted. It is not merely true that the empire of the past has belonged to man, but that it has properly belonged to him; for it was an empire of the muscles, enlisting, at best, but the lower powers of the understanding. There can be no question that the present epoch is initiating an empire of the higher reason, of arts, affections, aspirations; and for that epoch the genius of woman has been reserved. The spirit of the age has always kept pace with the facts, and outstripped the statutes. Till the fulness of time came, woman was necessarily kept a slave to the spinning-wheel and the needle; now higher work is ready; peace has brought invention to her aid, and the mechanical means for her emancipation are ready also. No use in releasing her till man, with his strong arm, had worked out his preliminary share in civilization. "Earth waits for her queen" was a favorite motto of Margaret Fuller Ossoli; but it would be more correct to say that the queen has waited for her earth, till it could be smoothed and prepared for her occupancy. Now Cinderella may begin to think of putting on her royal robes.

Everybody sees that the times are altering the whole material position of woman; but most people do not appear to see the inevitable social and moral changes which are also involved. As has been already said, the woman of ancient history was a slave to physical necessities, both in war and peace. In war she could do too little; in peace she did too much, under the material compulsions which controlled the world. How could the Jews, for instance, elevate woman? They could not spare her from the wool and the flax, and the candle that goeth not out by night. In Rome, when the bride first stepped across her threshold, they did not ask her, Do you know the alphabet? they asked simply, Can you spin? There was no higher epitaph than Queen Amalasontha's,—Domum servavit, lanam fecit. In Boeotia, brides were conducted home in vehicles whose wheels were burned at the door, in token that they were never to leave the house again. Pythagoras instituted at Crotona an annual festival for the distaff; Confucius, in China, did the same for the spindle; and these celebrated not the freedom, but the serfdom, of woman.

And even into modern days this same tyrannical necessity has lingered. "Go spin, you jades! go spin!" was the only answer vouchsafed by the Earl of Pembroke to the twice-banished nuns of Wilton. Even now, travellers agree that throughout civilized Europe, with the partial exception of England and France, the profound absorption of the mass of women in household labors renders their general elevation impossible. But with us Americans, and in this age, when all these vast labors are being more and more transferred to arms of brass and iron; when Rochester grinds the flour and Lowell weaves the cloth, and the fire on the hearth has gone into black retirement and mourning; when the wiser a virgin is, the less she has to do with oil in her lamp; when the needle has made its last dying speech and confession in the "Song of the Shirt," and the sewing-machine has changed those doleful marches to delightful measures,—how is it possible for the blindest to help seeing that a new era is begun, and that the time has come for woman to learn the alphabet?

Nobody asks for any abolition of domestic labor for women, any more than of outdoor labor for men. Of course, most women will still continue to be mainly occupied with the indoor care of their families, and most men with their external support. All that is desirable for either sex is such an economy of labor, in this respect, as shall leave some spare time to be appropriated in other directions. The argument against each new emancipation of woman is precisely that always made against the liberation of serfs and the enfranchisement of plebeians,—that the new position will take them from their legitimate business. "How can he [or she] get wisdom that holdeth the plough [or the broom],—whose talk is of bullocks [or of babies]?" Yet the American farmer has already emancipated himself from these fancied incompatibilities; and so will the farmer's wife. In a nation where there is no leisure class and no peasantry, this whole theory of exclusion is an absurdity. We all have a little leisure, and we must all make the most of it. If we will confine large interests and duties to those who have nothing else to do, we must go back to monarchy at once. If otherwise, then the alphabet, and its consequences, must be open to woman as to man. Jean Paul says nobly, in his "Levana," that, "before and after being a mother, a woman is a human being, and neither maternal nor conjugal relation can supersede the human responsibility, but must become its means and instrument." And it is good to read the manly speech, on this subject, of John Quincy Adams, quoted at length in Quincy's life of him, in which, after fully defending the political petitions of the women of Plymouth, he declares that "the correct principle is that women are not only justified, but exhibit the most exalted virtue, when they do depart from the domestic circle, and enter on the concerns of their country, of humanity, and of their God."

There are duties devolving on every human being,—duties not small nor few, but vast and varied,—which spring from home and private life, and all their sweet relations. The support or care of the humblest household is a function worthy of men, women, and angels, so far as it goes. From these duties none must shrink, neither man nor woman; the loftiest genius cannot ignore them; the sublimest charity must begin with them. They are their own exceeding great reward; their self-sacrifice is infinite joy; and the selfishness which discards them is repaid by loneliness and a desolate old age. Yet these, though the most tender and intimate portion of human life, do not form its whole. It is given to noble souls to crave other interests also, added spheres, not necessarily alien from these; larger knowledge, larger action also; duties, responsibilities, anxieties, dangers, all the aliment that history has given to its heroes. Not home less, but humanity more. When the high-born English lady in the Crimean hospital, ordered to a post of almost certain death, only raised her hands to heaven, and said, "Thank God!" she did not renounce her true position as woman: she claimed it. When the queen of James I. of Scotland, already immortalized by him in stately verse, won a higher immortality by welcoming to her fair bosom the dagger aimed at his; when the Countess of Buchan hung confined in her iron cage, outside Berwick Castle, in penalty for crowning Robert the Bruce; when the stainless soul of Joan of Arc met God, like Moses, in a burning flame,—these things were as they should be. Man must not monopolize these privileges of peril, the birthright of great souls. Serenades and compliments must not replace the nobler hospitality which shares with woman the opportunity of martyrdom. Great administrative duties also, cares of state, for which one should be born gray-headed, how nobly do these sit upon a woman's brow! Each year adds to the storied renown of Elizabeth of England, greatest sovereign of the greatest of historic nations. Christina of Sweden, alone among the crowned heads of Europe (so says Voltaire), sustained the dignity of the throne against Richelieu and Mazarin. And these queens most assuredly did not sacrifice their womanhood in the process; for her Britannic Majesty's wardrobe included four thousand gowns; and Mile, de Montpensier declares that when Christina had put on a wig of the latest fashion, "she really looked extremely pretty."

Les races se feminisent, said Buffon,—"The world is growing more feminine." It is a compliment, whether the naturalist intended it or not. Time has brought peace; peace, invention; and the poorest woman of to-day is born to an inheritance of which her ancestors never dreamed. Previous attempts to confer on women social and political equality,—as when Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, made them magistrates; or when the Hungarian revolutionists made them voters; or when our own New Jersey tried the same experiment in a guarded fashion in early times, and then revoked the privilege, because (as in the ancient fable) the women voted the wrong way;—these things were premature, and valuable only as recognitions of a principle. But in view of the rapid changes now going on, he is a rash man who asserts the "Woman Question" to be anything but a mere question of time. The fulcrum has been already given in the alphabet, and we must simply watch, and see whether the earth does not move.

There is the plain fact: woman must be either a subject or an equal; there is no middle ground. Every concession to a supposed principle only involves the necessity of the next concession for which that principle calls. Once yield the alphabet, and we abandon the whole long theory of subjection and coverture: tradition is set aside, and we have nothing but reason to fall back upon. Reasoning abstractly, it must be admitted that the argument has been, thus far, entirely on the women's side, inasmuch as no man has yet seriously tried to meet them with argument. It is an alarming feature of this discussion, that it has reversed, very generally, the traditional positions of the sexes: the women have had all the logic; and the most intelligent men, when they have attempted the other side, have limited themselves to satire and gossip. What rational woman can be really convinced by the nonsense which is talked in ordinary society around her,—as, that it is right to admit girls to common schools, and equally right to exclude them from colleges; that it is proper for a woman to sing in public, but indelicate for her to speak in public; that a post-office box is an unexceptionable place to drop a bit of paper into, but a ballot-box terribly dangerous? No cause in the world can keep above water, sustained by such contradictions as these, too feeble and slight to be dignified by the name of fallacies. Some persons profess to think it impossible to reason with a woman, and such critics certainly show no disposition to try the experiment.

But we must remember that all our American institutions are based on consistency, or on nothing: all claim to be founded on the principles of natural right; and when they quit those, they are lost. In all European monarchies it is the theory that the mass of the people are children to be governed, not mature beings to govern themselves; this is clearly stated and consistently applied. In the United States we have formally abandoned this theory for one half of the human race, while for the other half it flourishes with little change. The moment the claims of woman are broached, the democrat becomes a monarchist. What Americans commonly criticise in English statesmen, namely, that they habitually evade all arguments based on natural right, and defend every legal wrong on the ground that it works well in practice, is the precise defect in our habitual view of woman. The perplexity must be resolved somehow. Most men admit that a strict adherence to our own principles would place both sexes in precisely equal positions before law and constitution, as well as in school and society. But each has his special quibble to apply, showing that in this case we must abandon all the general maxims to which we have pledged ourselves, and hold only by precedent. Nay, he construes even precedent with the most ingenious rigor; since the exclusion of women from all direct contact with affairs can be made far more perfect in a republic than is possible in a monarchy, where even sex is merged in rank, and the female patrician may have far more power than the male plebeian. But, as matters now stand among us, there is no aristocracy but of sex: all men are born patrician, all women are legally plebeian; all men are equal in having political power, and all women in having none. This is a paradox so evident, and such an anomaly in human progress, that it cannot last forever, without new discoveries in logic, or else a deliberate return to M. Marechal's theory concerning the alphabet.

Meanwhile, as the newspapers say, we anxiously await further developments. According to present appearances, the final adjustment lies mainly in the hands of women themselves. Men can hardly be expected to concede either rights or privileges more rapidly than they are claimed, or to be truer to women than women are to each other. In fact, the worst effect of a condition of inferiority is the weakness it leaves behind; even when we say, "Hands off!" the sufferer does not rise. In such a case, there is but one counsel worth giving. More depends on determination than even on ability. Will, not talent, governs the world. Who believed that a poetess could ever be more than an Annot Lyle of the harp, to soothe with sweet melodies the leisure of her lord, until in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's hands the thing became a trumpet? Where are gone the sneers with which army surgeons and parliamentary orators opposed Mr. Sidney Herbert's first proposition to send Florence Nightingale to the Crimea? In how many towns was the current of popular prejudice against female orators reversed by one winning speech from Lucy Stone! Where no logic can prevail, success silences. First give woman, if you dare, the alphabet, then summon her to her career: and though men, ignorant and prejudiced, may oppose its beginnings, they will at last fling around her conquering footsteps more lavish praises than ever greeted the opera's idol,—more perfumed flowers than ever wooed, with intoxicating fragrance, the fairest butterfly of the ball-room.

[Footnote 1: Projet d'une loi portant defense d'apprendre a lire aux femmes.]



"Allein, bevor und nachdem man Mutter ist, ist Man ein Mensch; die muetterliche Bestimmung aber, oder gar die heeliche, kann nicht die menschliche ueberwiegen oder ersetzen, sondern sie muss das Mittel, nicht der Zweck derselben sein."—J.P.F. Richter: Levana, sec. 89.

"But, before and after being a mother, one is a human being; and neither the motherly nor the wifely destination can overbalance or replace the human, but must become its means, not its end."


Lord Melbourne, speaking of the fine ladies in London who were fond of talking about their ailments, used to complain that they gave him too much of their natural history. There are a good many writers—usually men—who, with the best intentions, discuss woman as if she had merely a physical organization, and as if she existed only for one object, the production and rearing of children. Against this some protest may well be made.

Doubtless there are few things more important to a community than the health of its women. The Sandwich Island proverb says:—

"If strong is the frame of the mother, The son will give laws to the people."

And, in nations where all men give laws, all men need mothers of strong frames.

Moreover, there is no harm in admitting that all the rules of our structure are imperative; that soul and body, whether of man or woman, are made in harmony, so that each part of our nature must accept the limitations of the other. A man's soul may yearn to the stars; but so long as the body cannot jump so high, he must accept the body's veto. It is the same with any veto interposed in advance by the physical structure of woman. Nobody objects to this general principle. It is only when clerical gentlemen or physiological gentlemen undertake to go a step farther, and put in that veto on their own responsibility, that it is necessary to say, "Hands off, gentlemen! Precisely because women are women, they, not you, are to settle that question."

One or two points are clear. Every specialist is liable to overrate his own specialty; and the man who thinks of woman only as a wife and mother is apt to forget, that, before she was either of these, she was a human being. "Women, as such," says an able writer, "are constituted for purposes of maternity and the continuation of mankind." Undoubtedly, and so were men, as such, constituted for paternity. But very much depends on what relative importance we assign to the phrase, "as such." Even an essay so careful, so moderate, and so free from coarseness, as that here quoted, suggests, after all, a slight one-sidedness,—perhaps a natural reaction from the one-sidedness of those injudicious reformers who allow themselves to speak slightingly of "the merely animal function of child-bearing." Higher than either—wiser than both put together—is that noble statement with which Jean Paul begins his fine essay on the education of girls in "Levana." "Before being a wife or mother, one is a human being; and neither motherly nor wifely destination can overbalance or replace the human, but must become its means, not end. As above the poet, the painter, or the hero, so above the mother, does the human being rise preeminent."

Here is sure anchorage. We can hold to this. And, fortunately, all the analogies of nature sustain this position. Throughout nature the laws of sex rule everywhere; but they rule a kingdom of their own, always subordinate to the greater kingdom of the vital functions. Every creature, male or female, finds in its sexual relations only a subordinate part of its existence. The need of food, the need of exercise, the joy of living, these come first, and absorb the bulk of its life, whether the individual be male or female. This Antiope butterfly, that flits at this moment past my window,—the first of the season,—spends almost all its existence in a form where the distinction of sex lies dormant: a few days, I might almost say a few hours, comprise its whole sexual consciousness, and the majority of its race die before reaching that epoch. The law of sex is written absolutely through the whole insect world. Yet everywhere it is written as a secondary and subordinate law. The life which is common to the sexes is the principal life; the life which each sex leads, "as such," is a minor and subordinate thing.

The same rule pervades nature. Two riders pass down the street before my window. One rides a horse, the other a mare. The animals were perhaps foaled in the same stable, of the same progenitors. They have been reared alike, fed alike, trained alike, ridden alike; they need the same exercise, the same grooming; nine tenths of their existence are the same, and only the other tenth is different. Their whole organization is marked by the distinction of sex; but, though the marking is ineffaceable, the distinction is not the first or most important fact.

If this be true of the lower animals, it is far more true of the higher. The mental and moral laws of the universe touch us first and chiefly as human beings. We eat our breakfasts as human beings, not as men or women; and it is the same with nine tenths of our interests and duties in life. In legislating or philosophizing for woman, we must neither forget that she has an organization distinct from that of man, nor must we exaggerate the fact. Not "first the womanly and then the human," but first the human and then the womanly, is to be the order of her training.


When any woman, old or young, asks the question, Which among all modern books ought I to read first? the answer is plain. She should read Buckle's lecture before the Royal Institution upon "The Influence of Woman on the Progress of Knowledge." It is one of two papers contained in a thin volume called "Essays by Henry Thomas Buckle." As a means whereby a woman may become convinced that her sex has a place in the intellectual universe, this little essay is almost indispensable. Nothing else quite takes its place.

Darwin and Huxley seem to make woman simply a lesser man, weaker in body and mind,—an affectionate and docile animal, of inferior grade. That there is any aim in the distinction of the sexes, beyond the perpetuation of the race, is nowhere recognized by them, so far as I know. That there is anything in the intellectual sphere to correspond to the physical difference; that here also the sexes are equal yet diverse, and each the natural completion and complement of the other,—this neither Huxley nor Darwin explicitly recognizes. And with the utmost admiration for their great teachings in other ways, I must think that here they are open to the suspicion of narrowness.

Huxley wrote in "The Reader," in 1864, a short paper called "Emancipation— Black and White," in which, while taking generous ground in behalf of the legal and political position of woman, he yet does it pityingly, de haut en bas, as for a creature hopelessly inferior, and so heavily weighted already by her sex that she should be spared all further trials. Speaking through an imaginary critic, who seems to represent himself, he denies "even the natural equality of the sexes," and declares "that in every excellent character, whether mental or physical, the average woman is inferior to the average man, in the sense of having that character less in quantity and lower in quality." Finally he goes so far as "to defend the startling paradox that even in physical beauty man is the superior." He admits that for a brief period of early youth the case may be doubtful, but claims that after thirty the superior beauty of man is unquestionable. Thus reasons Huxley; the whole essay being included in his volume of "Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews." [1]

Darwin's best statements on the subject may be found in his "Descent of Man."[2] He is, as usual, more moderate and guarded than Huxley. He says, for instance: "It is generally admitted that with women the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization." Then he passes to the usual assertion that man has thus far attained to a higher eminence than woman. "If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music,— comprising composition and performance,—history, science, and philosophy, with half a dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison." But the obvious answer, that nearly every name on his list, upon the masculine side, would probably be taken from periods when woman was excluded from any fair competition,—this he does not seem to recognize at all. Darwin, of all men, must admit that superior merit generally arrives later, not earlier, on the scene; and the question for him to answer is, not whether woman equalled man in the first stages of the intellectual "struggle for life," but whether she is not gaining on him now.

If, in spite of man's enormous advantage in the start, woman is already overtaking his very best performances in several of the highest intellectual departments,—as, for instance, prose fiction and dramatic representation,—then it is mere dogmatism in Mr. Darwin to deny that she may yet do the same in other departments. We in this generation have actually seen this success achieved by Rachel and Ristori in the one art, by "George Sand" and "George Eliot" in the other. Woman is, then, visibly gaining on man in the sphere of intellect; and, if so, Mr. Darwin, at least, must accept the inevitable inference.

But this is arguing the question on the superficial facts merely. Buckle goes deeper, and looks to principles. That superior quickness of women, which Darwin dismisses so lightly as something belonging to savage epochs, is to Buckle the sign of a quality which he holds essential, not only to literature and art, but to science itself. Go among ignorant women, he says, and you will find them more quick and intelligent than equally ignorant men. A woman will usually tell you the way in the street more readily than a man can; a woman can always understand a foreigner more easily; and Dr. Currie says in his letters, that when a laborer and his wife came to consult him, the man always got all the information from the wife. Buckle illustrates this at some length, and points out that a woman's mind is by its nature deductive and quick; a man's mind, inductive and slow; that each has its value, and that science profoundly needs both.

"I will endeavor," he says, "to establish two propositions. First, that women naturally prefer the deductive method to the inductive. Secondly, that women, by encouraging in men deductive habits of thought, have rendered an immense though unconscious service to the progress of science, by preventing scientific investigators from being as exclusively inductive as they would otherwise be."

Then he shows that the most important scientific discoveries of modern times—as of the law of gravitation by Newton, the law of the forms of crystals by Hauey, and the metamorphosis of plants by Goethe—were all essentially the results of that a priori or deductive method "which, during the last two centuries, Englishmen have unwisely despised." They were all the work, in a manner, of the imagination,—of the intuitive or womanly quality of mind. And nothing can be finer or truer than the words in which Buckle predicts the benefits that are to come from the intellectual union of the sexes for the work of the future. "In that field which we and our posterity have yet to traverse, I firmly believe that the imagination will effect quite as much as the understanding. Our poetry will have to reinforce our logic, and we must feel quite as much as we must argue. Let us, then, hope that the imaginative and emotional minds of one sex will continue to accelerate the great progress by acting upon and improving the colder and harder minds of the other sex. By this coalition, by this union of different faculties, different tastes, and different methods, we shall go on our way with the greater ease."

[Footnote 1: Pp. 22, 23, Am. ed.]

[Footnote 2: Vol. ii. p. 311, Am. ed]


When Mr. John Smauker and the Bath footmen invited Sam Weller to their "swarry," consisting of a boiled leg of mutton, each guest had some expression of contempt and wrath for the humble little green-grocer who served them,—"in the true spirit," Dickens says, "of the very smallest tyranny." The very fact that they were subject to being ordered about in their own persons gave them a peculiar delight in issuing tyrannical orders to others: just as sophomores in college torment freshmen because other sophomores once teased the present tormentors themselves; and Irishmen denounce the Chinese for underbidding them in the labor market, precisely as they were themselves denounced by native-born Americans thirty years ago. So it has sometimes seemed to me that the men whose own positions and claims are really least commanding are those who hold most resolutely that women should be kept in their proper place of subordination.

A friend of mine maintains the theory that men large and strong in person are constitutionally inclined to do justice to women, as fearing no competition from them in the way of bodily strength; but that small and weak men are apt to be vehemently opposed to anything like equality in the sexes. He quotes in defence of his theory the big soldier in London who justified himself for allowing his little wife to chastise him, on the ground that it pleased her and did not hurt him; and on the other hand cites the extreme domestic tyranny of the dwarf Quilp. He declares that in any difficult excursion among woods and mountains, the guides and the able-bodied men are often willing to have women join the party, while it is sure to be opposed by those who doubt their own strength or are reluctant to display their weakness. It is not necessary to go so far as my friend goes; but many will remember some fact of this kind, making such theories appear not quite so absurd as at first.

Thus it seems from the "Life and Letters" of Sydney Dobell, the English poet, that he was opposed both to woman suffrage and woman authorship, believing the movement for the former to be a "blundering on to the perdition of womanhood." It appears that against all authorship by women his convictions yearly grew stronger, he regarding it as "an error and an anomaly." It seems quite in accordance with my friend's theory to hear, after this, that Sydney Dobell was slight in person and a lifelong invalid; nor is it surprising, on the same theory, that his poetry took no deep root, and that it will not be likely to survive long, except perhaps in his weird ballad of "Ravelston." But he represents a large class of masculine intellects, of secondary and mediocre quality, whose opinions on this subject are not so much opinions as instinctive prejudices against a competitor who may turn out their superior. Whether they know it, or not, their aversion to the authorship of women is very much like the conviction of a weak pedestrian, that women are not naturally fitted to take long walks; or the opinion of a man whose own accounts are in a muddle, that his wife is constitutionally unfitted to understand business.

It is a pity to praise either sex at the expense of the other. The social inequality of the sexes was not produced so much by the voluntary tyranny of man, as by his great practical advantage at the outset; human history necessarily beginning with a period when physical strength was sole ruler. It is unnecessary, too, to consider in how many cases women may have justified this distrust; and may have made themselves as obnoxious as Horace Walpole's maids of honor, whose coachman left his savings to his son on condition that he should never marry a maid of honor. But it is safe to say that on the whole the feeling of contempt for women, and the love to exercise arbitrary power over them, is the survival of a crude impulse which the world is outgrowing, and which is in general least obvious in the manliest men. That clear and able English writer, Walter Bagehot, well describes "the contempt for physical weakness and for women which marks early society. The non-combatant population is sure to fare ill during the ages of combat. But these defects, too, are cured or lessened; women have now marvellous means of winning their way in the world; and mind without muscle has far greater force than muscle without mind." [1]

[Footnote 1: Physics and Politics, p. 79.]


A highly educated American woman of my acquaintance once employed a French tutor in Paris to assist her in teaching Latin to her little grandson. The Frenchman brought with him a Latin grammar, written in his own language, with which my friend was quite pleased, until she came to a passage relating to the masculine gender in nouns, and claiming grammatical precedence for it on the ground that the male sex is the noble sex,—"le sexe noble." "Upon that," she said, "I burst forth in indignation, and the poor teacher soon retired. But I do not believe," she added, "that the Frenchman has the slightest conception, up to this moment, of what I could find in that phrase to displease me."

I do not suppose he could. From the time when the Salic Law set French women aside from the royal succession, on the ground that the kingdom of France was "too noble to be ruled by a woman," the claim of nobility has been all on one side. The State has strengthened the Church in this theory, the Church has strengthened the State; and the result of all is, that French grammarians follow both these high authorities. When even the good Pere Hyacinthe teaches, through the New York "Independent," that the husband is to direct the conscience of his wife, precisely as the father directs that of his child, what higher philosophy can you expect of any Frenchman than to maintain the claims of "le sexe noble"?

We see the consequence, even among the most heterodox Frenchmen. Rejecting all other precedents and authorities, the poor Communists still held to this. Consider, for instance, this translation of a marriage contract under the Commune, which lately came to light in a trial reported in the "Gazette des Tribunaux:"—


The citizen Anet, son of Jean Louis Anet, and the citoyenne Maria Saint; she engaged to follow the said citizen everywhere and to love him always.—ANET. MARIA SAINT.

Witnessed by the under-mentioned citizen and citoyenne.—FOURIER. LAROCHE.

PARIS, April 22, 1871.

What a comfortable arrangement is this! Poor citoyenne Maria Saint, even when all human laws have suspended their action, still holds by her grammar, still must annex herself to le sexe noble. She still must follow citizen Anet as the feminine pronoun follows the masculine, or as a verb agrees with its nominative case in number and in person. But with what a lordly freedom from all obligation does citizen Anet, representative of this nobility of sex, accept the allegiance! The citizeness may "follow him," certainly,—so long as she is not in the way,—and she must "love him always;" but he is not bound. Why should he be? It would be quite ungrammatical.

Yet, after all is said and done, there is a brutal honesty in this frank subordination of the woman according to the grammar. It has the same merit with the old Russian marriage consecration: "Here, wolf, take thy lamb," which at least put the thing clearly, and made no nonsense about it. I do not know that anywhere in France the wedding ritual is now so severely simple as this, but I know that in some French villages the bride is still married in a mourning-gown. I should think she would be.


Every young woman of the present generation, so soon as she ventures to have a headache or a set of nerves, is immediately confronted by indignant critics with her grandmother. If the grandmother is living, the fact of her existence is appealed to: if there is only a departed grandmother to remember, the maiden is confronted with a ghost. That ghost is endowed with as many excellences as those with which Miss Betsey Trotwood endowed the niece that never had been born; and just as David Copperfield was reproached with the virtues of his unborn sister who "would never have run away," so that granddaughter with the headache is reproached with the ghostly perfections of her grandmother, who never had a headache—or, if she had, it is luckily forgotten. It is necessary to ask, sometimes, what was really the truth about our grandmothers? Were they such models of bodily perfection as is usually claimed?

If we look at the early colonial days, we are at once met by the fact, that although families were then often larger than is now common, yet this phenomenon was by no means universal, and was balanced by a good many childless homes. Of this any one can satisfy himself by looking over any family history; and he can also satisfy himself of the fact,—first pointed out, I believe, by Mrs. Ball,—that third and fourth marriages were then obviously and unquestionably more common than now. The inference would seem to be, that there is a little illusion about the health of those days, as there is about the health of savage races. In both cases, it is not so much that the average health is greater under rude social conditions, as that these conditions kill off the weak, and leave only the strong. Modern civilized society, on the other hand, preserves the health of many men and women—and permits them to marry, and become parents—who under the severities of savage life or of pioneer life would have died, and given way to others.

On this I will not dwell; because these primeval ladies were not strictly our grandmothers, being farther removed. But of those who were our grandmothers,—the women of the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary epochs,—we happen to have very definite physiological observations recorded; not very flattering, it is true, but frank and searching. What these good women are in the imagination of their descendants, we know. Mrs. Stowe describes them as "the race of strong, hardy, cheerful girls that used to grow up in country places, and made the bright, neat New England kitchens of olden times;" and adds, "This race of women, pride of olden time, is daily lessening; and in their stead come the fragile, easily fatigued, languid girls of a modern age, drilled in book-learning, ignorant of common things."

What, now, was the testimony of those who saw our grandmothers in the flesh? As it happens, there were a good many foreigners, generally Frenchmen, who came to visit the new Republic during the presidency of Washington. Let us take, for instance, the testimony of the two following.

The Abbe Robin was a chaplain in Rochambeau's army during the Revolution, and wrote thus in regard to the American ladies in his "Nouveau Voyage dans l'Amerique Septentrionale," published in 1782:—

"They are tall and well-proportioned; their features are generally regular; their complexions are generally fair and without color.... At twenty years of age the women have no longer the freshness of youth. At thirty-five or forty they are wrinkled and decrepit. The men are almost as premature."

Again: The Chevalier Louis Felix de Beaujour lived in the United States from 1804 to 1814, as consul-general and charge d'affaires; and wrote a book, immediately after, which was translated into English under the title, "A Sketch of the United States at the Commencement of the Present Century." In this he thus describes American women:—

"The women have more of that delicate beauty which belongs to their sex, and in general have finer features and more expression in their physiognomy. Their stature is usually tall, and nearly all are possessed of a light and airy shape,—the breast high, a fine head, and their color of a dazzling whiteness. Let us imagine, under this brilliant form, the most modest demeanor, a chaste and virginal air, accompanied by those single and unaffected graces which flow from artless nature, and we may have an idea of their beauty; but this beauty fades and passes in a moment. At the age of twenty-five their form changes, and at thirty the whole of their charms have disappeared."

These statements bring out a class of facts, which, as it seems to me, are singularly ignored by some of our physiologists. They indicate that the modification of the American type began early, and was, as a rule, due to causes antedating the fashions or studies of the present day. Here are our grandmothers and great-grandmothers as they were actually seen by the eyes of impartial or even flattering critics. These critics were not Englishmen, accustomed to a robust and ruddy type of women, but Frenchmen, used to a type more like the American. They were not mere hasty travellers; for the one lived here ten years, and the other was stationed for some time at Newport, R.I., in a healthy locality, noted in those days for the beauty of its women. Yet we find it their verdict upon these grandmothers of nearly a hundred years ago, that they showed the same delicate beauty, the same slenderness, the same pallor, the same fragility, the same early decline, with which their granddaughters are now reproached.

In some respects, probably, the physical habits of the grandmothers were better: but an examination of their portraits will satisfy any one that they laced more tightly than their descendants, and wore their dresses lower in the neck; and as for their diet, we have the testimony of another French traveller, Volney, who was in America from 1795 to 1798, that "if a premium were offered for a regimen most destructive to the teeth, the stomach, and the health in general, none could be devised more efficacious for these ends than that in use among this people." And he goes on to give particulars, showing a far worse condition in respect to cookery and diet than now prevails in any decent American society.

We have therefore strong evidence that the essential change in the American type was effected in the last century, not in this. Dr. E.H. Clarke says, "A century does not afford a period long enough for the production of great changes. That length of time could not transform the sturdy German fraeulein and robust English damsel into the fragile American miss." And yet it is pretty clear that the first century and a half of our colonial life had done just this for our grandmothers. And, if so, our physiologists ought to conform their theories to the facts.


I was talking the other day with a New York physician, long retired from practice, who after an absence of a dozen years in Europe has returned within a year to this country. He volunteered the remark, that nothing had so impressed him since his return as the improved health of Americans. He said that his wife had been equally struck with it; and that they had noticed it especially among the inhabitants of cities, among the more cultivated classes, and in particular among women.

It so happened, that within twenty-four hours almost precisely the same remark was made to me by another gentleman of unusually cosmopolitan experience, and past middle age. He further fortified himself by a similar assertion made him by Charles Dickens, in comparing his second visit to this country with his first. In answer to an inquiry as to what points of difference had most impressed him, Dickens said, "Your people, especially the women, look better fed than formerly."

It is possible that in all these cases the witnesses may have been led to exaggerate the original evil, while absent from the country, and so may have felt some undue reaction on their arrival. One of my informants went so far as to express confidence that among his circle of friends in Boston and in London a dinner party of half a dozen Americans would outweigh an English party of the same number. Granting this to be too bold a statement, and granting the unscientific nature of all these assertions, they still indicate a probability of their own truth until refuted by facts on the other side. They are further corroborated by the surprise expressed by Huxley and some other recent Englishmen at finding us a race more substantial than they had supposed.

The truth seems to be, that Nature is endeavoring to take a new departure in the American, and to produce a race more finely organized, more sensitive, more pliable, and of more nervous energy, than the races of Northern Europe; that this change of type involves some risk to health in the process, but promises greater results whenever the new type shall be established. I am confident that there has been within the last half-century a great improvement in the physical habits of the more cultivated classes, at least, in this country,—better food, better air, better habits as to bathing and exercise. The great increase of athletic games; the greatly increased proportion of seaside and mountain life in summer; the thicker shoes and boots of women and little girls, permitting them to go out more freely in all weathers,—these are among the permanent gains. The increased habit of dining late, and of taking only a lunch at noon, is of itself an enormous gain to the professional and mercantile classes, because it secures time for eating and for digestion. Even the furnaces in houses, which seemed at first so destructive to the very breath of life, turn out to have given a new lease to it; and open fires are being rapidly reintroduced as a provision for enjoyment and health, when the main body of the house has been tempered by the furnace. There has been, furthermore, a decided improvement in the bread of the community, and a very general introduction of other farinaceous food. All this has happened within my own memory, and gives a priori probability to the alleged improvement in physical condition within twenty years.

And, if these reasonings are still insufficient on the one side, it must be remembered that the facts of the census are almost equally inadequate when quoted on the other. If, for instance, all the young people of a New Hampshire village take a fancy to remove to Wisconsin, it does not show that the race is dying out because their children swell the birth-rate of Wisconsin instead of New Hampshire. If in a given city the births among the foreign-born population are twice as many in proportion as among the American, we have not the whole story until we learn whether the deaths are not twice as many also. If so, the inference is that the same recklessness brought the children into the world and sent them out of it; and no physiological inference whatever can be drawn. It was clearly established by the medical commission of the Boston Board of Health, a few years ago, that "the general mortality of the foreign element is much greater than that of the native element of our population." "This is found to be the case," they add, "throughout the United States as well as in Boston."

So far as I can judge, all our physiological tendencies are favorable rather than otherwise: and the transplantation of the English race seems now likely to end in no deterioration, but in a type more finely organized, and more comprehensive and cosmopolitan; and this without loss of health, of longevity, or of physical size and weight. And, if this is to hold true, it must be true not only of men, but of women.


Are there any inevitable limitations of sex?

Some reformers, apparently, think that there are not, and that the best way to help woman is to deny the fact of limitations. But I think the great majority of reformers would take a different ground, and would say that the two sexes are mutually limited by nature. They would doubtless add that this very fact is an argument for the enfranchisement of woman: for, if woman is a mere duplicate of man, man can represent her; but if she has traits of her own, absolutely distinct from his, then he cannot represent her, and she should have a voice and a vote of her own.

To this last body of believers I belong. I think that all legal or conventional obstacles should be removed, which debar woman from determining for herself, as freely as man determines, what the real limitations of sex are, and what restrictions are merely conventional. But, when all is said and done, there is no doubt that plenty of limitations will remain on both sides.

That man has such limitations is clear. No matter how finely organized he may be, how sympathetic, how tender, how loving, there is yet a barrier, never to be passed, that separates him from the most precious part of the woman's kingdom. All the wondrous world of motherhood, with its unspeakable delights, its holy of holies, remains forever unknown by him; he may gaze, but never enter. That halo of pure devotion, which makes a Madonna out of so many a poor and ignorant woman, can never touch his brow. Many a man loves children more than many a woman: but, after all, it is not he who has borne them; to that peculiar sacredness of experience he can never arrive. But never mind whether the loss be a great one or a small one: it is distinctly a limitation; and to every loving mother it is a limitation so important that she would be unable to weigh all the privileges and powers of manhood against this peculiar possession of her child.

Now, if this be true, and if man be thus distinctly limited by the mere fact of sex, can the woman complain that she also should have some natural limitations? Grant that she should have no unnecessary restrictions; and that the course of human progress is constantly setting aside, as unnecessary, point after point that was once held essential. Still, if she finds—as she undoubtedly will find—that some natural barriers and hindrances remain at last, and that she can no more do man's whole work in the world than he can do hers, why should she complain? If he can accept his limitations, she must be prepared also to accept hers.

Some of our physiological reformers, declare that a girl will be perfectly healthy if she can only be sensibly dressed, and can "have just as much outdoor exercise as the boys, and of the same sort, if she choose it." But I have observed that matter a good deal, and have watched the effect of boyish exercise on a good many girls; and I am satisfied that so far from being safely turned loose, as boys can be, they need, for physical health, the constant supervision of wise mothers. Otherwise the very exposure that only hardens the boy may make the girl an invalid for life. The danger comes from a greater sensitiveness of structure,—not weakness, properly so called, since it gives, in certain ways, more power of endurance,—a greater sensitiveness which runs through all a woman's career, and is the expensive price she pays for the divine destiny of motherhood. It is another natural limitation.

No wise person believes in any "reform against Nature," or that we can get beyond the laws of Nature. If I believed the limitations of sex to be inconsistent with woman suffrage for instance, I should oppose it; but I do not see why a woman cannot form political opinions by her baby's cradle, as well as her husband in his workshop, while her very love for the child commits her to an interest in good government. Our duty is to remove all the artificial restrictions we can. That done, it will not be hard for man or woman to acquiesce in the natural limitations.



[Greek: 'Andros kai gunaikos ae autae antae aretae.]—ANTISTHENES in Diogenes Laertius, vi. i, 5.

"Virtue in man and woman is the same."


The Invisible Lady, as advertised in all our cities a good many years ago, was a mysterious individual who remained unseen, and had apparently no human organs except a brain and a tongue. You asked questions of her, and she made intelligent answers; but where she was, you could no more discover than you could find the man inside the Automaton Chess-Player. Was she intended as a satire on womankind, or as a sincere representation of what womankind should be? To many men, doubtless, she would have seemed the ideal of her sex, could only her brain and tongue have disappeared like the rest of her faculties. Such men would have liked her almost as well as that other mysterious personage on the London signboard, labelled "The Good Woman," and represented by a female figure without a head.

It is not that any considerable portion of mankind actually wishes to abolish woman from the universe. But the opinion dies hard that she is best off when least visible. These appeals which still meet us for "the sacred privacy of woman" are only the Invisible Lady on a larger scale. In ancient Boeotia, brides were carried home in vehicles whose wheels were burned at the door in token that they would never again be needed. In ancient Rome, it was a queen's epitaph, "She stayed at home, and spun,"—Domum servavit, lanam fecit. In Turkey, not even the officers of justice can enter the apartments of a woman without her lord's consent. In Spain and Spanish America, the veil replaces the four walls of the house, and is a portable seclusion. To be visible is at best a sign of peasant blood and occupations; to be high-bred is to be invisible.

In the Azores I found that each peasant family endeavored to secure for one or more of its daughters the pride and glory of living unseen. The other sisters, secure in innocence, tended cattle on lonely mountain-sides, or toiled bare-legged up the steep ascents, their heads crowned with orange-baskets. The chosen sister was taught to read, to embroider, and to dwell indoors; if she went out it was only under escort, and with her face buried in a hood of almost incredible size, affording only a glimpse of the poor pale cheeks, quite unlike the rosy vigor of the damsels on the mountain-side. The girls, I was told, did not covet this privilege of seclusion; but let us be genteel, or die.

Now all that is left of the Invisible Lady among ourselves is only the remnant of this absurd tradition. In the seaside town where I write, ladies of fashion usually go veiled in the streets, and so general is the practice that little girls often veil their dolls. They all suppose it to be done for complexion or for ornament; just as people still hang straps on the backs of their carriages, not knowing that it is a relic of the days when footmen stood there and held on. But the veil represents a tradition of seclusion, whether we know it or not; and the dread of hearing a woman speak in public, or of seeing a woman vote, represents precisely the same tradition. It is entitled to no less respect, and no more.

Like all traditions, it finds something in human nature to which to attach itself. Early girlhood, like early boyhood, needs to be guarded and sheltered, that it may mature unharmed. It is monstrous to make this an excuse for keeping a woman, any more than a man, in a condition of perpetual subordination and seclusion. The young lover wishes to lock up his angel in a little world of her own, where none may intrude. The harem and the seraglio are simply the embodiment of this desire. But the maturer man and the maturer race have found that the beloved being should be something more.

After this discovery is made, the theory of the Invisible Lady disappears. It is less of a shock for an American to hear a woman speak in public than it is for an Oriental to see her show her face in public at all. Once open the door of the harem, and she has the freedom of the house: the house includes the front door, and the street is but a prolonged doorstep. With the freedom of the street comes inevitably a free access to the platform, the tribunal, and the pulpit. You might as well try to stop the air in its escape from a punctured balloon, as to try, when woman is once out of the harem, to put her back there. Ceasing to be an Invisible Lady, she must become a visible force: there is no middle ground. There is no danger that she will not be anchored to the cradle, when cradle there is; but it will be by an elastic cable, that will leave her as free to think and vote as to pray. No woman is less a mother because she cares for all the concerns of the world into which her child is born. It was John Quincy Adams who said, defending the political petitions of the women of Plymouth, that "women are not only justified, but exhibit the most exalted virtue, when they do depart from the domestic circle, and enter on the concerns of their country, of humanity, and of their God."

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