Woman's Progression

In honor of Women's History Month, I thought I'd publish another interesting piece by Emmeline B. Wells, my favorite suffragist. Some of the more compelling reasons for supporting a woman's right to vote were crafted by her hand. As we enter an election year in the United States, each of us should consider the lessons of the past and how they can school us in difficulties of our present times.

Woman's Progression 

 Published: 15 February 1878
The newspapers of the day among other items of importance bring us good news of the progression of Woman’s Cause. The past year has given strength to the work by many large conventions, calling together the strongest and most powerful minds from different parts of the country, and these women, earnest and zealous, have presented in the most forcible manner the ablest and most direct arguments in favor of woman’s elevation. The right to equal opportunities of education is one of the points in question, and much has been done to give woman opportunities for cultivation in the higher branches of literature recently.

But man of those who do not directly oppose it, (knowing woman has the best side of the argument) sneer, and ridicule and insinuate, and in all sorts of indirect ways use their influence to keep women from pursuing those avocations that are considered the most eligible for man.

The better educated woman is, the more she can accomplish for the good of all; the better she can perform the duties of wife and mother which we consider the highest duty except obedience to God. One plea that many advance against woman’s higher education, and freed, is that it will unfit her for the position nature has assigned her as wife and mother. But we sincerely believe it will only the better qualify her. The mother who has strong characteristics properly developed will transmit them to her children in a marked degree. This is a fact readily conceded by every person of good judgment; then the more highly educated the mothers are, the greater power of intellect the children will inherit.

So long has custom tyrannized over woman to keep her in subjection, that it will only be by small degrees women themselves can comprehend the advantages arising from the progress of independence of thought and action, and a knowledge for themselves.

The fields of usefulness now open to woman are widening every day. And there are some good men—here as elsewhere, who welcome her to the avenues which lead to a higher range of intellectual and spiritual culture. But men cannot walk by faith as women can, it is not so much in their nature; they want facts all the time, and the results of the practice; and it will take a little time to prove whether the condition of society is materially benefitted by woman’s broader expanse of labor in the public, as well as private interests of humanity. Some things have been already proved; that women are capable of mastering, as thoroughly and perfectly as men, the theory and practice of teaching, the science of medicine and anatomy, and many other branches of education and art. The one strong point that opponents use is, that woman will lose her indefinable charm, designated womanliness, when she can discuss knotty questions, has strong opinions, can match herself with man in force of character, and intellectual ability, instead of sweetly assenting to whatever opinions he may hold, smiling all the while he is pitilessly crucifying all the finer feelings of her soul.

Why is it not possible for man and woman to love each other truly, and dwell together in harmony, each according to the other all the freedom of thought, feeling, and expression they would grant to one who was not bound to them by indissoluble ties; instead of the wife giving all—that she may sit by his hearth, bear his children, preside at his table, and merge her into his, to the extinguishing and crushing out of all desires, ambitions, tastes, or capabilities for anything save what he deems proper, or right, his wife should engage in. Let man also prove himself noble enough to share with her such laurels as either may be able to win in the battle field of life, instead of arrogating to himself the right to dictate to her in all things, saying, “thus far shalt thou go and no farther.”

We do not believe in pouring forth grievances, or reiterating wrongs; there are not arguments, and men will not have them; they must be shown the happy side of the future, not the dark annals of the past. That we must leave—and we know there is One, Who would not even suffer a sparrow to fall to the ground without His notice. Jests never turned away form woman in scorn, or loathing; and woman never sued to him in vain. Think of this, you who sit in the courts of the nation, and sneer at the mothers, wives and sisters who entreat you to devise some methods to have from wholesale destruction, by intemperance and other crying evils, their sons, their brothers, their loved once, their fellow-men, or allow THEM a voice in the laws of the land, that will at least give them legal rights to protect themselves and their little ones.

Of what are ye afraid? Has not woman extended to you the hand of sympathy, meted out measure upon measure, pressed down and running over with love and heavenly charity? What more can she do to win your confidence in her desire to improve the condition of all mankind? Has she not unselfishly sought your interest in everything which pertains to home-happiness! Will she slacken her efforts to do you good because she has a wider field to labor in, and greater inducements to stimulate her exertions? No! Woman’s happiness can never be complete without man’s love; but that love molded and tempered by its assimilation to the exalted phase of woman—with all her powers and attributes awakened to a supreme consciousness of her true mission as man’s real help meet, will give you participation in a purer sentiment, where there will be scope for all the love implanted in the breast of man.

There is no doubt but that the concentrated energies and eloquence brought to bear upon Woman’s cause in the National Congress, this present year will be long remembered, and even those who profess to think lightly of it, and treated it with contempt and withering sarcasm, will not be able to forget the sublime enthusiasm, the dignity and grace with which these noble women plead for the rights of which they are unjustly deprived.

There are some valiant workers in the cause of woman’s progression—we have them here in our midst; women who are laboring earnestly in improving and elevating the condition of society, whose efforts are untiring in seeking to promote a higher and more exalted feeling and sentiment in the minds of the young, than to spend their time in frivolity and nonsense. Women who are prepared and fortified to endure the sneers and opprobrium of those who do not yet appreciate the cause they have espoused; who in all humility seek for the “grace” of God to aid them, in their efforts to accomplish their noble purposes.
--Emmeline B. Wells, Woman’s Exponent

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