Indiana AAUW

Last Updated November 23, 1999; comments to

Women, Men and Suffrage

Nancy Kohlhoff, Valparaiso branch

(Ed Note: This is the third in a series of our exclusive publication of the manuscript written by Nancy after much research to fill in the gaps left by history books when dealing with women’s issues and their struggle to gain the vote.)

Chapter Three

Newspapers in 1848, many of which supported women in their abolitionist work, ridiculed the organizers and participants of the Womans Rights Convention. It was one thing to support freedom for the slaves, quite another to support freedom for women. The Worcester Telegraph of Massachusetts printed the following report:

A female Convention has just been held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., at which was adopted a 'declaration of rights,' setting forth, among other things, that 'all men and women are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.' The list of grievances which the Amazons exhibit concludes by expressing a determination to insist that woman shall have 'immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.' It is stated that they design, in spite of all misrepresentations and ridicule, to employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in their behalf. This is bolting with a vengeance. The Rochester Advertiser editorialized in July, 1848, "To us they appear extremely dull and uninteresting, and, aside from their novelty, hardly worth notice."

With such public ridicule heaped upon them, many women who signed the "Declaration of Rights and Sentiments" at Seneca Falls withdrew their names. But not all were intimidated. The cult of true womanhood was viewed as a sham by those women perceptive enough to recognize the causes of hardships, such as unending pregnancy and the absence of the right to own or inherit property, from which so many found no escape.

Emily Collins

Emily Collins was one of those women. Many years later she told the following story for Elizabeth Stanton's and Susan Anthony's first volume of the History of Woman Suffrage:

I was born and lived almost forty years in South Bristol, Ontario County--one of the most secluded spots in Western New York….

In those early days a husband's supremacy was often enforced in the rural districts by corporeal chastisement, and it was considered by most people as quite right and proper--as much so as the correction of refractory children in like manner. I remember in my own neighborhood a man who was a methodist class-leader and exhorter, and one who was esteemed a worthy citizen, who, every few weeks, gave his wife a beating with his horsewhip. He said it was necessary, in order to keep her in subjection, and because she scolded so much.

Now this wife, surrounded by six or seven little children, whom she must wash, dress, feed, and attend to day and night, was obliged to spin and weave cloth for al the garments of the family. She had to milk the cows, make butter and cheese, do all the cooking, washing, making, and mending for the family, and, with the pains of maternity forced upon her every eighteen months, was shipped by her pious husband, 'because she scolded.'

And pray, why should he not have chastised her? The laws made it his privilege--and the Bible, as interpreted, made it his duty. It is true, women repined at their had lot; but it was thought to be fixed by a divine decree, for 'The man shall rule over thee,' and 'Wives, be subject to your husbands,' and 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord,' caused them to consider their fate inevitable, and to feel that it would be contravening God's law to resist it.

Unending Circle It is ever thus; where Theology enchains the soul, the Tyrant enslaves the body. But can any one, who has any knowledge of the laws that govern our being--of heredity and pre-natal influences--be astonished that our jails and prisons are filled with criminals, and our hospitals with sickly specimens of humanity? As long as the mothers of the race are subject to such unhappy conditions, it can never be materially improved.

Men exhibit some common sense in breeding all animals except those of their own species.

Some weeks after the Convention, another newspaper editor asked in all seriousness, "Is not everything managed by female influence? Men have nothing to do but to listen and obey…"

Name one.

(Quotes from Frost, Elizabeth, and Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn, Women's Suffrage In America, An Eyewitness History, An Eyewitness History, Facts on File, New York*Oxford, 1992; general background from various published sources on woman's history. Copyright 1993)


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