Document 11A: Anne Knight, "Au Pasteur Coquerel" (To Pastor Coquerel), (Paris, 1848). Translated by Karen M. Offen. Reprinted in Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, eds., Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, Volume I, 1750-1880 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983), pp. 250-51.

Anne Knight
Courtesy of the Library of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain.

Introduction

        In 1848, when the first French government elected by universal manhood suffrage repressed freedom of association, Anne Knight (1786-1862) invoked both secular and sacred authority to defend women's participation in public life. The decree prohibited women from forming clubs or attending meetings of associations (see Document 11B). It was justified by the liberal Protestant minister who served as deputy for the Seine and the governments reporter (see Document 11C). The prohibition was gradually rescinded through laws passed in 1869, 1884, and 1901.[48] In Germany similar laws that prohibited women's participation in political groups remained in effect until 1907.

        Alas, my brother, is it then true that thy eloquent voice has been heard in the heart of the National Assembly expressing a sentiment so contrary to real republicanism? Can it be that thou hast really protested not only against women's rights to form clubs but also against their right to attend clubs formed by men? Is all this true?

        Alas, was this well done, Charmion? (Shakespeare)

        Is it possible that thou, a minister of religion, hast spoken a language so contrary to the commandments of thy "Divine Master," for thus I have heard thee call him. This divine Master has said: "Do unto others as thou wouldst have others do unto thee." Well then! Would thee like it if thee were forbidden to hold meetings and to uphold thy opinions there?

        Oh! reflect on thy words. What terrible events have taken place since the letter I wrote to thee [in April] soliciting thee to place thy mind and thy voice in the service of women's emancipation. Dost thou remember what M. Legouvé said in one of his lessons on the first revolution? "It failed," he said, "because it was unjust toward women." Then think on this: Could the horrible massacres that took place a few days ago have taken place if the citizens, less preoccupied with their own egotistical interests, had proclaimed liberty for all men and all women? Wouldst thou be living under a state of siege? Ah! no. Thou knowest well that if a woman had been seated in the councils at man's side, these horrible events would never have occurred. With the clairvoyance and the sentiment of justice that moves women, they would have opposed such measures, which they foresaw from the beginning would lead to such dreadful consequences. As long as this great injustice toward women remains, misery and insurrection will persist.

        Hasten then, I beg thee, in the name of thy beloved fatherland, and also in the name of my country, poor England!

        Bound in with shame, with shame, with inky blots and ragged parchment bonds. (Shakespeare)

        Demand that the disinherited women of the nation be reintegrated into the rights enjoyed by the women of the Gauls, rights that were not denied to my Anglo-Saxon ancestors in 1515, if history is to be believed. Cast away this awful yoke of prejudice; mount the steps of this tribune, I beg thee, dressed in the armor of the just, like a Christian warrior! Protest in the name of the rights of humanity, without distinction of garb.

        The righteous have the lion's courage; the cause is just, and it has for its shield the words of our Savior: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matt. 7:12.

        Yes: "Do unto others as thou wouldst have others do unto thee."

        Oh! for the love of suffering humanity, retrace thy steps. Demand that woman be reintegrated into the rights that have so long been denied her, and let me inform thee that thou wilst not be the only one to labor in our good work. A good American pastor told me in Paris that if two-thirds of the members of Congress were replaced by women, it would be a great blessing for America. An English minister has written that if one-half of our [parliamentary] fox-hunters and steeplechase amateurs were replaced by women, the country would soon attain the height of prosperity. What we lack is a little more of that cautious sensibility and, especially, that sympathy for all, which are the preeminent qualities of woman.

        Ally thyself with these two noble brothers and form a glorious trio. Sound the retreat, so that all devoted men can hear thee and, following the example of the noble archbishop of Paris, mount the barricades, proclaim the law of peace, prepare the happiness of thy nation and, thereby, of the earth. Then thou wilst have raised the true tricolor flag destined to circle the world with its slogan: Liberty, equality, fraternity--justice, compassion, and truth.

        Fiat justitia!

                                                                      Thy sister,

                                                                      Anna Knight

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