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Her employment mainly ceased,
her daughters were of necessity withdrawn from school, and
all were deprived of the means, from their own exertions, of
sustaining life. Had they been in fact the harlots which the
miserly scoundrel represented them to be, they would not
have been so utterly powerless to resist his assault. The
mother in her despair naturally sought legal redress. But
how was it to be obtained? By the law the wife's rights were
merged in those of the husband. She had in law no individual
existence, and consequently no action could be brought by
her to redress the grievous wrong; indeed, _according to the
law she had suffered no wrong_, but the husband had suffered
all, and was entitled to all the redress. Where he was the
lady did not know; she had not heard from him for many
years. Her counsel, however, ventured to bring an action in
her behalf, joining the husband's name with hers, as the law
required. When the cause came to trial the defendant made no
attempt to sustain the charges which he had made, well
knowing that they were as groundless as they were cruel; but
he introduced and proved a release of the cause of action,
signed by the husband, reciting a consideration of fifty
dollars paid to him. The defendant's counsel had some
difficulty in proving the execution of the release, and was
compelled to introduce as a witness the constable who had
been employed to find the vagabond husband and obtain his
signature. His testimony disclosed the facts that he found
the husband in the forest in one of our north-eastern
counties, engaged in making shingles (presumably stealing
timber from the public lands and converting it into the
means of indulging his habits of drunkenness), and only five
dollars of the fifty mentioned in the release had in fact
been paid. The Court held, was compelled to hold, that the
party injured _in view of the law_, had received full
compensation for the wrong--and the mother and daughters
with no means of redress were left to starve. This was the
act of the _representative_ of the wife and daughters to
whom we are referred, as a better protector of their rights
than they themselves could be. It may properly be added,
that if the action had proceeded to judgment without
interference from the husband, and such amount of damages
had been recovered as a jury might have thought it proper to
award, the money would have belonged to the husband, and the
wife could not lawfully have touched a cent of it. Her
attorney might, and doubtless would have paid it to her, but
he could only have done so at the peril of being compelled
to pay it again to the drunken husband if he had demanded
it.

In another case, two ladies, mother and daughter, some time
prior to 1860 came from an eastern county of New York to
Rochester, where a habeas corpus was obtained for a child of
the daughter less than two years of age. It appeared on the
return of the writ, that the mother of the child had been
previously abandoned by her husband, who had gone to a
Western State to reside, and his wife had returned with the
child to her mother's house, and had resided there after her
desertion. The husband had recently returned from the West,
had succeeded in getting the child into his custody, and was
stopping overnight with it in Rochester on the way to his
Western home. No misconduct on the part of the wife was
pretended, and none on the part of the husband, excepting
that he had gone to the West, leaving his wife and child
behind, no cause appearing, and had returned, and somewhat
clandestinely obtained possession of the child. The Judge,
following Blackstone's views of husbands' rights, remanded
the infant to the custody of the father. He thought the law
required it, and perhaps it did; but if mothers had had a
voice, either in making or administering the law, I think
the result would have been different. The distress of the
mother on being thus separated from her child can be better
imagined than described. The separation proved a final one,
as in less than a year neither father nor mother had any
child on earth to love or care for. Whether the loss to the
little one of a mother's love and watchfulness had any
effect upon the result, can not, of course, be known.

The state of the law a short time since, in other respects, in
regard to the rights of married women, shows what kind of
security had been provided for them by their assumed
representatives. Prior to 1848, all the personal property of
every woman on marriage became the absolute property of the
husband--the use of all her real estate became his during
coverture, and on the birth of a living child, it became his
during his life. He could squander it in dissipation or bestow it
upon harlots, and the wife could not touch or interfere with it.
Prior to 1860, the husband could by will take the custody of his
infant children away from the surviving mother, and give it to
whom he pleased--and he could in like manner dispose of the
control of the children's property, after his death, during their
minority, without the mother's consent. In most of these respects
the state of the law has undergone great changes within the last
twenty-five years. The property, real and personal, which a woman
possesses before marriage, and such as may be given to her during
coverture, remains her own, and is free from the control of her
husband. If a married woman is slandered she can prosecute the
slanderer in her own name, and recover to her own use damages for
the injury. The mother now has an equal claim with the father to
the custody of their minor children, and in case of controversy
on the subject, courts may award the custody to either in their
discretion. The husband can not now by will effectually appoint a
guardian for his infant children without the consent of the
mother, if living. These are certainly great ameliorations of the
law; but how have they been produced? Mainly as the result of the
exertions of a few heroic women, one of the foremost of whom is
she who stands arraigned as a criminal before this Court to-day.
For a thousand years the absurdities and cruelties to which I
have alluded have been imbedded in the common law, and in the
statute books, and men have not touched them, and would not until
the end of time, had they not been goaded to it by the persistent
efforts of the noble women to whom I have alluded.

Much has been done, but much more remains to be done by women. If
they had possessed the elective franchise, the reforms which have
cost them a quarter of a century of labor would have been
accomplished in a year. They are still subject to taxation upon
their property, without any voice as to the levying or
destination of the tax; and are still subject to laws made by
men, which subject them to fine and imprisonment for the same
acts which men do with honor and reward--and when brought to
trial no woman is allowed a place on the bench or in the jury
box, or a voice in her behalf at the bar. They are bound to
suffer the penalty of such laws, made and administered solely by
men, and to be silent under the infliction. Give them the ballot,
and, although I do not suppose that any great revolution will be
produced, or that all political evils will be removed (I am not a
believer in political panaceas), but if I mistake not, valuable
reforms will be introduced which are not now thought of. Schools,
alms-houses, hospitals, drinking saloons, and those worse dens
which are destroying the morals and the constitutions of so many
of the young of both sexes, will feel their influence to an
extent now little dreamed of. At all events women will not be
taxed without an opportunity to be heard, and will not be subject
to fine and imprisonment by laws made exclusively by men for
doing what it is lawful and honorable for men to do.

It may be said in answer to the argument in favor of female
suffrage derived from the cases to which I have referred, that
men, not individually, but collectively, are the natural and
appropriate representatives of women, and that, notwithstanding
cases of individual wrong, the rights of women are, on the whole,
best protected by being left to their care. It must be observed,
however, that the cases which I have stated, and which are only
types of thousands like them, in their cruelty and injustice, are
the result of ages of legislation by these assumed protectors of
women. The wrongs were less in the men than in the laws which
sustained them, and which contained nothing for the protection of
the women. But passing this view, let us look at the matter
historically and on a broader field.

If Chinese women were allowed an equal share with men in shaping
the laws of that great empire, would they subject their female
children to torture with bandaged feet, through the whole period
of childhood and growth, in order that they might be cripples for
the residue of their lives? If Hindoo women could have shaped the
laws of India, would widows for ages have been burned on the
funeral pyres of their deceased husbands?



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