Document 5C: Mary Sheldon,"Women and Politics," 26 September 1848, Composition Book, Mary Sheldon Papers, Record group 30, Box 1, Oberlin College Archives.

Sept 26 1848

Women and Politics

       What has woman to do with politics? What can she do more than occasionally to attend a convention or mass meeting, and wave her handkerchief or hand to cheer the politician?

       What more can she do! do you ask as though she would attempt to effect a great object by cheers alone. We will take time to answer this question; and first enquire what are woman's duties. In our country these consist mainly in attending to the duties of the household, a general phrase designed to include all the various arts of cooking & cleaning, smoothing, making, mending etc. all that pertains to the house and by way of recreation fancy needle-work and perhaps a share in the duties of Voluntary Associations sometimes known under the name of Sewing Societies. Besides this on her devolves the onerous task of caring for and instructing children, not only the care of girls until they arrive at age but often the management of boys until they are prepared to leave home for College instruction or the duties of active life. These one would think were sufficient and yet with the assistance of domestics or in a small family much leisure is found for the improvement of the mind, which many with very limited advantages have accomplished to a wonderful extent. How, we ask, could she better employ a portion of this time than in making herself acquainted with the principles of civil government and the economy of our own.

       In a republican government such as our own no mother can tell that her son may not be called to important offices no common school teacher can say that she is not moulding the mind of a future president.

        Look around on our country. See to what a depth of degradation the great political parties of our nation have sunk. Is it not proverbial that the worst man has the best chance of succeeding in an election? Look again at our halls of legislation. One fourth (I speak within bounds) of the time of the public servants, our senators and representatives is spent in electioneering speeches in listening to or making speeches to advance the interest of one or another set of men and these things increasing annually. Each session seem to be more corrupt than the preceding. If, as Napolean thought, mothers were to be the salvation of France where else should we look for reform. See our public offices filled with the basest of mengluttonous, winebibbus,[A] licentious; and what shall effect a reformation if the healthful moral influence of woman be not brought to bear upon these things.[B]

        All this can be effected without doing violence to the present usages of society. Let her become acquainted with government and the characters of the leading men of the nation. Let her influence be felt by her friends as on the side of justice and right. Hers it is to frown upon oppression and vice, and especially to instill into the minds of youth a patriotic spirit, a spirit of self sacrifice for the good of the country rather than a spirit of self aggrandisement at its expense. Hers it is to encourage the virtuous and deserving & to strengthen the weak and vasillating mind to do the right.

 

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A. Mary means wine-bibbing, a term for drunkenness.
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B. The burgeoning partisanship of antebellum politics was thought by many reformers to be immoral as well as chaotic, and to require the softening influence of women.
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