Document 14: Ernestine Rose, A Lecture on Women's Rights, Delivered Before the People's Sunday Meeting, in Cochituate Hall, Boston, on Sunday, October 19th, 1851 (Boston: J. P. Mendum, 1886); History of Women (Microfilm, Reel 942, Frame 8498).
Source: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds.
History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 1, 1848-1861 (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881), opp. p. 97.
Born in Rusian Poland in 1810, Ernestine Polowski lived briefly in Berlin and Paris before migrating to England in 1831. She married William Rose in 1836 and the couple then migrated to the United States. They lived in an Owenite community in Skaneateles, New York, between 1843 and 1846. During the 1840s, Rose became known as the "Queen of the Platform" for her frequent appearances on behalf of women's rights, antislavery, temperance, and other reforms. She participated actively in the series of women's rights conventions that followed the first convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. In this lecture in Boston, she spoke of the recent revolutions in Europe and referred to the letter from Deroin and Roland to the women's rights convention in Worcester.
My Friends:—The observing and reflecting mind that casts its vision far beyond the panoramic scenes of every day life, must perceive that our present age is fast ripening for the most important changes in the affairs of man. The desire for freedom had shaken Europe to its very center. The love of Liberty has convulsed the nations like the mighty throes of an earthquake. The oppressed are struggling against the oppressors. Kings and priests are called upon to give an account of their stewardship, for man no longer believes in the divine right of force and fraud . . .
Yet great as these signs of the times are, they are not new. From the time of absolute despotism to the present hour of comparative freedom, the weak had ever to struggle against the strong, right against might. But a new sign has appeared in our social zodiac, prophetic of the most important changes, pregnant with most beneficial results that have ever taken place in the annuals of human history. And to him who can trace the various epochs in human life, it is as a cheering as it is interesting to mark the onward movement of the race towards a higher state of human progression--that while nations strive against nations, people against people, to attain the same amount of freedom already possessed in this country, WOMAN is rising in the full dignity of her being to claim the recognition of her rights. And though the first public demonstration has been here, already has the voice of Woman in behalf of her sex been carried, as it were, on her wings of lightening to all parts of Europe, whose echo has brought back the warmest and most heartfelt responses from our sisters there . . .
Among the many encouraging letters received at the recent Woman's Convention at Worcester, there was one exceeding all the rest in the soul stirring interest it created. It spoke, through the dungeon walls, the cheering and encouraging words of sympathy from two incarcerated women of Paris, to the hearts of their sisters in America. The cause of their imprisonment was their practically claiming the fulfillment of that glorious motto, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," destined to shake the throne, break the sceptres, and bow down the mitres of Europe. One of them presented herself as candidate for Mayor of an Arrondissement, the other(to the honor of the genuine Republicans of Paris, be it said) was nominated by the Industrial Union, consisting of two hundred and twenty Societies, as member of the Assembly. For these offenses they were cast into prison. Oh! France, where is the glory thy revolutions? Is the blood thy children poured out on the altar of freedom so effaced, that thy daughters dare not lift their voices in behalf of their rights? But so long as might constitutes right, every good cause must have its martyrs. Why, then, should woman not be a martyr to her cause?
But how can we wonder that France, governed as she is by Russian and Austrian despotism, does not recognize the higher laws of humanity in the recognition of the rights of woman, when even here, in this far-famed land of freedom and of knowledge, under a republic that has inscribed on its banner the great truth that all men are created free and equal, and are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,--a Declaration wafted like the voices of Hope on the breezes of heaven to the remotest parts of earth, to whisper freedom and equality to the oppressed and down trodden children of men,--a Declaration that lies at the very foundation of human freedom and happiness, yet in the very face of that eternal truth, woman, the mockingly so called "better half of man," has yet to plead for her rights, nay, for her life. For what is life without liberty? and what is liberty without equality of rights; and as for the pursuit of happiness, she is not allowed to pursue any line of life that might promote it; she has only thankfully to accept what man, in the plentitude of his wisdom and generosity, decides as proper for her to do, and that is, what he does not choose to do himself.
Is woman, then, not included in the Declaration? Answer, ye wise men of the nation, and answer truly; add not hypocrisy to your other sins. Say she is not created free and equal, and therefore, (for the sequence follows on the premises) she is not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But you dare not answer this simple question. With all the audacity arising from an assumed superiority, you cannot so libel and insult humanity as to say she is not; and if she is, then what right has man, except that of might, to deprive her of the same rights and privileges he claims for himself?
And why, in the name of reason and justice, I ask, why should she not have the same rights as man? Because she is woman? Humanity recognizes no sex-mind recognizes no sex--virtue recognizes no sex--life and death, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, recognize no sex. Like him she comes involuntarily into existence; like him she possesses physical, mental, and moral powers, on the proper cultivation of which depends her happiness; like him she has to pay the penalty for disobeying Nature's laws, and far greater penalties has she to suffer from ignorance of her far more complicated nature than he; like him she enjoys or suffers with her country. Yet she is not recognized as his equal. In the laws of the land she had no rights; in government she has no voice, and in spite of another principle recognized in this Republic, namely, that taxation without representation is tyranny, woman is taxed without being represented; her property may be consumed by heavy taxes, to defray the expenses of that unholy and unrighteous thing called war, yet she cannot give her veto against it. From the cradle to the grave, she is subject to the power and control of man,--father, guardian, and husband. One conveys her like some piece of merchandize over to the other . . .
At marriage she loses her entire identity. Her being is said to be merged in her husband. Has Nature there merged it? Has she ceased to exist or feel pleasure and pain? When she violates the laws of her being, does she pay the penalty? When she breaks the laws of the land, does she suffer the punishment? When his wants are supplied, is it sufficient to satisfy the wants of her nature? Or when, at this nightly orgies, in the grog-shop, the oyster cellar, or the gaming table, he spends the means she helped by her co-operation and economy to accumulate, and she awakens to penury and destitution, will it supply that wants of her children to tell them that owing to the superiority of man she has no redress by law, and that as her being was merged in him, so also ought theirs to be?
But it will be said that the husband provides for the wife, or, in other words, he is bound to feed, clothe, and shelter her. Oh! the degradation of that idea! Yes, he keeps her; so he does his horse. By law both are considered his property; both can, when the cruelty of the owners compels them to run away be brought back by the strong arm of the law; and, according to a still extant law of England, both may be led by the halter to the market place and sold. This is humiliating, indeed, but nevertheless true, and the sooner these things are known and understood, the better for humanity. It is no fancy sketch. I know that some endeavor to throw the mantle of romance over the subject, and treat woman like some ideal existence not subject to the ills of life. Lets those deal in fancy that have nothing better to deal in. We have to do with sober, sad realities, with stubborn facts . . .
But again, it will be said, the law presumes the husband would be kind, affectionate, and that he would provide for and protect the wife; but I ask, what right has the law to presume at all on the subject? What right has the law to intrust the interest and happiness of one being to the power of another? And if this merging of interests is so indispensable, then why should woman always be on the losing side? Turn the tables; let the identity and interest of the husband be merged in the wife, think you she would act less generous towards him than towards her?--that she would be incapable of as much justice, disinterested devotion, and abiding affection, as him?
Oh! how grossly you misunderstand and wrong her nature. But we desire no such undue power over man. It would be as wrong in her as it now is in him; all we claim is our own rights. We have nothing to do with individual man, be he good or bad, but with the laws that oppress woman. Bad and unjust laws must in the nature of thing make man so too. If he acts better; if he is kind, affectionate, and consistent, it is because the kindlier feelings instilled by a mother, kept warm by a sister, and cherished by a wife, will not allow him to carry out the barbarous laws against woman; but the estimation she is generally held in, is as degrading as it is unjust . . .
And therefore, while I feel it my duty--aye, a painful duty, to point out the wrong done to woman and its evil consequences, and would do all in my power to aid her in deliverance, I can have no more ill feelings towards him than for the same errors towards her. Both are the victims of errors and ignorance, and both suffer; and hence the necessity for active, earnest endeavors to enlighten their minds; hence the necessity to protest against the wrong and claim our rights, and in doing our duty we must not heed the taunts, ridicule, and stigma cast upon us. We must remember we have a crusade before us far holier and more righteous than led a warrior to Palestine--a crusade not to deprive anyone of his rights; but to claim our own; and as our cause is a better one, so also must be the means to achieve it. We therefore must put on the armor of charity, carry before us the banner of truth, and defend ourselves with the shield of right against the invaders of our liberty. And yet, like the knights of old, we must enlist in this holy cause with a disinterested devotion, energy, and determination never to turn back until we have conquered, not indeed to drive the Turk from his possession, but to claim our rightful inheritance for his benefit as well as our own . . .
To achieve this great victory of right over might, woman has much to do. She must not sit idle and wait till man inspired by justice and humanity will work out her redemption. It has well been said, "He that would be free, himself must strike the blow." It is with nations as with individuals, if they do not strive to help themselves no one will help them. Man may, and in the nature of things will, remove the legal, political, and civil disabilities from woman, and recognize her as his equal with himself, and it will do much towards her elevation; but the laws cannot compel her to cultivate her physical and mental powers, and take a stand as a free and independent being. All that, she has to do. She must investigate and take an interest in everything on which the welfare of society is connected with that of society. She must at once claim and exercise those rights and privileges with which the laws do not interfere, and it will aid her to obtain all the rest. She must, therefore, throw off that heavy yoke that like a nightmare weighs down her best energies, viz., the fear of public opinion . . .
It has been said, that "The voice of the People is the voice of God." If that voice is on the side of justice and humanity, then it is true, if the term God means the principle of Truth and of Right. But if the public voice is oppressive and unjust, then it ought to be spurned like the voice of falsehood and corruption; and woman, instead of implicitly and blindly following the dictates of public opinion, must investigate for herself what is right or wrong--act in accordance with her best convictions and let the rest take care of itself, and opposition to it is virtue alike in woman as in man, even though she should incur the ill will of bigotry, superstition, and priestcraft, for the approval of our fellow-being is valuable only when it does not clash with our own sense of right, and no farther.
The priests well know the influence and value of women when warmly engaged in any cause, and therefore as long as they can keep them steeped in superstitious darkness, so long are they safe; and hence the horror and anathema against every woman that has intelligence, spirit, and moral courage to cast off the dark and oppressive yoke of superstition. But she must do it, or she will ever remain a slave, for of all tyranny that of superstition is the greatest, and he is the most abject slave who tamely submits to its yoke. Woman, then, must cast it off as her greatest enemy; and the time I trust will come when she will aid man to remove the political, civil, and religious evils that have swept over the earth like some malignant courage to lay waste and destroy so much of the beauty, harmony, and happiness of man; and the old fable of the fall of man through a woman will be superseded by the glorious fact that she was instrumental in the elevation of the race towards a higher, nobler, and happier destiny.
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