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And we read that after the great
orators had made their great speeches, in the course of which
they complimented woman so prettily, to the delight of the few
privileged ladies who stood behind the screens, or looked over
the balcony, or peeped in through the cracks of the windows and
doors; and when the great orators had retired with the President,
amid universal applause, the first Vice-President took the head
of the table and punch was brought in. And well toward morning,
when the "army" and "navy" and the "press" and the "Common
Council" had been toasted and drank, with three times three, and
Richard Swiveller, Esq., had sung his celebrated song, "Queen of
my soul!" the last regular toast was proposed--"Woman--heaven's
last, best gift to man," which was received with tumultuous
enthusiasm, the whole company rising and cheering, the band
playing "Will ye come to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O?" and in
response to a unanimous call, some gallant and chivalric editor
replied in a strain of pathetic and humorous eloquence, during
which many of the company were observed to shed tears or laugh,
or embrace their neighbors; after which those of the company who
were able rose from the table, and hallooing, "We won't go home
till morning!" they hiccoughed their way home. This report is not
read with great derision or laughter. It is not felt that by this
performance women have been insulted and degraded.

Here, at this moment, in this audience, I have no doubt there is
many a man who is exclaiming with fervor--"Home, the
heaven-appointed sphere of woman." Very well. I don't deny it,
but how do you know it? How can you know it? There is but one law
by which any sphere can be determined, and that is perfect
liberty of development. I look into history and the society
around me, and I see that the position of women which is most
agreeable upon the whole to men is that which they call the
"heaven-appointed sphere" of woman. It may or may not be so; all
that I can see thus far is that men choose to have it so. A
gentleman remarks that it is a beautiful ordinance of Providence
that pear-trees should grow like vines. And when I say, "Is it
so?" he takes me into his garden, and shows me a poor, tortured
pear-tree, trained upon a trellis. Then I see that it is the
beautiful design of Providence that pear-trees should grow like
vines, precisely as Providence ordains that Chinese women shall
have small feet; and that the powdered sugar we buy at the
grocer's shall be half ground rice. These philosophers might as
wisely inform us that Providence ordains Christian saints to be
chops and steaks; and then point us to St. Lawrence upon his
gridiron.

Has nature ordained that the lark shall rise fluttering and
singing to the sun in the spring? But how should we ever know it,
if he were prisoned in a cage with wires of gold never so
delicate, or tied with a silken string however slight and soft?
Is it the nature of flowers to open to the south wind? How could
we know it but that, unconstrained by art, their winking eyes
respond to that soft breath? In like manner, what determines the
sphere of any morally responsible being, but perfect liberty of
choice and liberty of development? Take those away, and you have
taken away the possibility of determining the sphere. How do I
know my sphere as a man, but by repelling everything that would
arbitrarily restrict my choice? How can you know yours as women,
but by obedience to the same law?

It is not the business of either sex to theorize about the sphere
of the other. It is the duty of each to secure the liberty of
both. Give women, for instance, every opportunity of education
that men have. If there are some branches of knowledge improper
for them to acquire--some which are in their nature
unwomanly--they will know it a thousandfold better than men. And
if, having opened the college, there be some woman in whom the
love of learning extinguishes all other love, then the
heaven-appointed sphere of that woman is not the nursery. It may
be the laboratory, the library, the observatory; it may be the
platform or the Senate. And if it be either of these, shall we
say that education has unsphered and unsexed her? On the
contrary, it has enabled that woman to ascertain so far exactly
what God meant her to do.

The woman's rights movement is the simple claim, that the same
opportunity and liberty that a man has in civilized society shall
be extended to the woman who stands at his side--equal or unequal
in special powers, but an equal member of society. She must prove
her power as he proves his.

And so when Joan of Arc follows God and leads the army; when the
Maid of Saragossa loads and fires the cannon; when Mrs. Stowe
makes her pen the heaven-appealing tongue of an outraged race;
when Grace Darling and Ida Lewis, pulling their boats through the
pitiless waves, save fellow-creatures from drowning; when Mrs.
Patten, the captain's wife, at sea--her husband lying helplessly
ill in his cabin--puts everybody aside, and herself steers the
ship to port, do you ask me whether these are not exceptional
women? I am a man and you are women; but Florence Nightingale,
demanding supplies for the sick soldiers in the Crimea, and when
they are delayed by red tape, ordering a file of soldiers to
break down the doors and bring them, which they do--for the brave
love bravery--seems to me quite as womanly as the loveliest girl
in the land, dancing at the gayest ball in a dress of which the
embroidery is the pinched lines of starvation in another girl's
face. Jenny Lind enchanting the heart of a nation; Anna Dickinson
pleading for the equal liberty of her sex; Lucretia Mott,
publicly bearing her testimony against the sin of slavery, are
doing what God, by His great gifts of eloquence and song,
appointed them to do. And whatever generous and noble duty,
either in a private or a public sphere, God gives any woman the
will and the power to do, that, and that only, for her, is
feminine.

But have women, then, no sphere as women? Undoubtedly they have,
as men have a sphere as men. If a woman is a mother, God gives
her certain affections, and cares springing from them, which we
may be very sure she will not forget, and to which, just in the
degree that she is a true woman, she will be fondly faithful. We
need not think that it is necessary to fence her in, nor to
suppose that she would try to evade these duties and
responsibilities, if perfect liberty were given her. As Sydney
Smith said of education, we need not fear that if girls study
Greek and mathematics, mothers will desert their infants for
quadratic equations, or verbs in _mi_.

But the sphere of the family is not the sole sphere either of men
or women. They are not only parents, they are human beings, with
genius, talents, aspirations, ambition. They are also members of
the State, and from the very equality of the parental function
which perpetuates the State, they are equally interested in its
welfare.

Is it said that she influences the man now? Very well; do you
object to that? And if not, is there any reason why she should
not do directly what she does indirectly? If it is proper that
her opinion should influence a man's vote, is there any good
reason why it should not be independently expressed? Or is it
said that she is represented by men? Excuse me; I belong to a
country which said, with James Otis in the forum, and with George
Washington in the field, that there is no such thing as virtual
representation. The guarantee of equal opportunity in modern
society is the ballot. It may be a clumsy contrivance, but it is
the best we have yet found. In our system a man without a vote is
but half a man. So long as women are forbidden political
equality, the laws and feelings of society will be unjust to
them.

I have no more superstitious notions about the ballot than about
any other method of social improvement and progress. But all
experience shows that my neighbor's ballot is no protection for
me. We see that voters may be bribed, dazzled, coerced; and,
where there is practically universal suffrage among men, we often
see, indeed, corruption, waste, and bad laws. But we nowhere see
that those who once have the ballot are willing to relinquish it,
and many of those who most warmly oppose the voting of women also
most earnestly advocate the unconditional restoration of
political rights to the guiltiest of the late rebel leaders,
because they know that to deprive them of the ballot places them
at a terrible disadvantage. If then it is what I may call an
American political instinct, that any class of men which
monopolizes the political power will be unjust to other classes
of men, how much truer is it that one sex as a class will be
unjust to the other.

I know, as every man knows, many a woman of the noblest
character, of the highest intelligence, of the purest purpose,
the owner of property, the mother of children, devoted to her
family and to all her duties, and for that reason profoundly
interested in public affairs. And when this woman says to me,
"You are one of the governing class. Your Government is founded
upon the principle of expressed consent of all as the best
security of all. I have as much stake in it as you--perhaps more
than you, because I am a parent--and wish more than many of my
neighbors to express my opinion and assert my influence by a
ballot.



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