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The Woman Movement

by Lucinda B. Chandler


The woman movement is a world-wide fact. An agitation which has gathered impetus and strength during more than forty years is a significant phenomenon in the realm of mind and of social progress.

Since, in 1848, the rebellion of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, at the humiliating position accorded them as delegates to an international convention in London, England, led them to inaugurate the “woman’s rights” movement in this country, at Seneca Falls, New York, the growth of this “mustard seed” of truth has become a “great tree” whose branches overshadow continents, and the thought and active moral forces of nations “dwell in the branches thereof.”

If not from “Greenland’s icy mountains,” at least from the boundaries of the United States and British America to “India’s coral strand,” the onsweeping wave of woman’s elevation is steadily advancing.

Ramabai in India seeking the deliverance of the child widow, who has no earthly existence, nor any hope of one beyond mortal life except as a wife, and who, as a widow, is but an outcast, this woman missionary from the opposite side of the globe has clasped hands and is in heart-fellowship with her American sisters who are still seeking the enlargement of woman’s freedom and opportunities in this favored country.

It was a logical position that besieged the ballot as the first agency of deliverance in our land. The suffrage is, under our form of government and constitutional rights, the badge of equality.

Everywhere, in Church and State, woman was discriminated against, and the distinguishing disability imposed upon her by law and custom was her suppressed opinion and will in the administration of affairs.

In the church she might contribute her labor, carry forward enterprises to pay the minister’s salary, furnish the edifice, support social movements that would tend to increase membership, and sustain the religious services; but, were she a machine, minus brains, choice, or will, she could be no more completely a nonentity when the pastor was to be chosen, the amount of his salary fixed, or any matters of finance or administration decided upon.

The acceptance of her work for its support was the only recognition of her individuality, or her common share in the institution. She was cudgelled with Paul in the Church and with her inability to fight by the State.

Muscular force having been, and still widely held to be, the bulwark of civilization, and submission to the authority of man socially and ecclesiastically the measure of her religious excellence, at least of the excellence of the wifely portion of womanhood, woman has been a cipher at the left-hand side of the unit man in both civil and religious institutions.

But the evolution of brains, which is nature’s method of human development, has unsettled this standard of civilization and the relation of the sexes. The woman who thinks has come, and the struggle is no longer one of muscle, nor can it ever again become so.

The woman of the future can no more be remanded to the merely patient plodder in kitchen and nursery, with no horizon but the cook-stove and cradle illuminated by the weekly church service, than the lightning printing-press of to-day can be remanded to the clumsy instrument of a century ago, or the electric light to the tallow dip.

If the demand of woman for equal opportunity to win all the prizes of life, and to control her special function, involving the most serious and sacred responsibilities to the race, and the necessity of her own growth and advancement,—if this new demand is one that is not worthy the consent and co-operation of men and institutions, the mistake was fatal which permitted her to learn the alphabet.

This mistake, if mistake it was, has extended its mighty influence in widening circles through the past three centuries. Francois Saintonge, a young widow of France, toward the close of the sixteenth century, obtained the consent of her father to teach some girls to read if she would give her lessons at five o’clock in the morning. Without bed, bread, or fire, she and her five pupils stayed the first night in the house for which the only fifty pounds she possessed were paid. Simultaneously a young girl in Italy made an effort to set in motion the brain cells of the girls of her country by giving them a chance to learn the alphabet.

The heroic courage of women in striving to attain the weapons of intelligence affords evidence of the invincible proceeding of evolution inherent in the constitution of humanity.

The woman movement is demonstration of the power of thought beyond the power of muscle; it is evidence that the intangible forces of mind are superior to the external material powers of muscle, and sword, and bullet. It is reassuring to forecast that, spite of the present inefficacy, or but very limited success of woman’s protest against barbarous laws and usages, and the destructive errors and vices of the degree of civilization we have reached, the protest is a prophecy that the moral elevation of the race is to be the result of woman’s increased intelligence and equipment, and of her ascent to the full proportions of womanhood.

As a builder of material structures and enterprises, man is a superb success. The bridge, the triumphs of architecture, the steam engine, the almost intelligent machine are marvellous manifestations of inventive genius, and of the uses of muscle.

But the statistics of social progress in morals do not bear testimony to masculine superiority as builder of the higher humanity. A man has elaborated “The New Education,” but he allowed, without stint, that the moral elevation aimed at cannot be achieved except by the equal opportunity and co-operation of woman.

In the administration of affairs and the institution of government man is not a success. His first resort and last reliance is upon force. Harmony, and justice, and fraternity, and purity, and honesty cannot be brought into human society by fighting, nor evolved by the methods of force. Neither the ballot nor the bullet, the legislature nor the policeman, can make people honest or morally upright and sound.

The promotion of individual integrity, honesty, benevolence, and purity are the great requirements of humanity and of civilization. The infusion of the gentler, more persuasive influences and methods of feminine nature, and the higher quality and freedom of motherhood, are the only possible means of advancing the race to the altitude which the best specimens prefigure as the possibility of all.

The laws of Christendom and the usages of all civilizations are based upon the idea of the superiority and supremacy of masculine quality and of force. Upon the supposition that the husband is the bread winner and provider, he is virtually in law and actually in fact as effectually the owner of his wife and children as though he had bought them for a sum, as is still the custom among some primitive peoples on the planet.

In the Orient the idea that woman possesses a soul is rejected with contempt. But in the more spiritualized Occident where she is considered to be the possessor of a soul, she is by law, and oftentimes by usage, not allowed to be possessor of her body.

Christianity in its inception and in its primitive purity accomplished for woman the dignity of being possessor of a soul. She is still, even in the most degenerate churchianity, counted responsible as a soul, and accorded equal hope of redemption and of future equal standing in another stage of existence.

But this fact, too, has bred in woman rebellion against the estimate of her inferiority still held in the Church by many of the priestly order, and actualized in the majority of Protestant denominations, and universally in the Roman Catholic Church, by her exclusion from equal powers and opportunities in its administration and equal positions of honor and influence.

Having learned the alphabet woman has also learned to interpret Scripture, and having read the New Testament, she knows that her adorable Saviour left no theological system, creed, nor sanction of the supremacy and dominion of male over female.

The woman movement is setting the perception of mind feminine over against the conceptions and speculations, the theological systems and interpretations, of the mind masculine, in the realm of the religious quality of human nature.

It is on this ground that a higher standpoint for human progress is to be achieved. Woman is becoming the possessor of her brains and of an equipment that will facilitate her use of them. When through generations of experience she has fully learned her true position in the order of the universe and of human unfoldment, a new created world of humanity will blossom on this old earth.

Man is normally the builder in the material realm. It is his to press the more tangible elements and forces into the service of man’s material and intellectual needs, and to master and subdue the earth. It is woman’s to become builder in the spiritual realm of the higher nature. It is woman’s first’ to give bias to the brain cells and soul impulses of ante-natal and post-natal infantile life. It is woman’s, the normal mother and teacher, to look, and feel, and speak into impressible child life, the fine ennobling sentiments, the solid truths of social relations, the sterling principles of rightness, and honor, and honesty, and fraternal love.

This trained experience and exercise of motherhood is a precious wealth that the race needs to carry it on and up toward its perfectness.

All that was pronounced “good,” in man, in “the beginning” is innate in human nature. Social life and social relations are the life school in which this “good”-ness can be educed, strengthened, matured, in the individual.

Woman is not only the creative agency for building bodies, but the perfecting agency to build character, and to gestate and bring to birth the higher nature in humanity. Woman is man’s mother spiritually as well as physically. He is to be born into his spiritual life through the divine feminine, as he has been born into the physical life through the natural (or physical) feminine.

It is to this end that evolution is in every direction placing woman to-day in the foreground and quickening her to make new demands upon the resources of intelligence and moral power.

Having furnished to the child the “three R’s,” manual training, industrial habits, and quickening the higher sentiments with a solid foundation of principles of right conduct and pure habits, are more important to the advancement of the human race than literary researches, languages, or higher mathematics. To know the physiological and psychological processes of embryotic growth, and the possible influences of motherhood over the coming child, and how to neutralize poor heredity, would achieve more for race elevation than the combined wisdom of schools and pulpits minus these.

There would be no need of laws for the suppression of vicious literature, were all mothers faithful and capable of pre-empting the plastic mind and imagination of childhood by intelligent explanations and true statements concerning the origin of life, and the vital purities and sanctities that can save every child from demoralization and debauchery. The boy who has been blest with a wise conscientious motherhood is not the boy to dwell in secret on lascivious thoughts and vile communications, nor will he be led away by vicious associations.

The true place of woman in the order of all things, is a link between the material and spiritual, especially in her creative function.

Woman is more intuitive. She sees, seizes upon, grasps, where man toils to question, investigate, prove, demonstrate. She is touched by the secret springs of life, and vibrates in response, like the Æolian harp.

“When men are as good as their obituaries, and when women are as good as men think they are, the recording angel in heaven can take his long needed vacation.”

The woman movement indicates that women ought to have an opportunity to become “as good as men think they are.” It is impossible that men shall hold a higher ideal of woman than it is possible for woman to become. But first she must be free. Free to think, act, live, study, experiment, exercise judgment, assume and be held to responsibilities. She does not need man’s protection except that he shall protect her from himself, i. e., protect her from the invasion and intrusion of his wishes, opinion, and will, his dictation and demand.

Equality before the law is a right principle and therefore should obtain, especially under our Constitution. But what woman needs is personal freedom to be the most womanly woman.

Under legal disability, marital subjection, and ecclesiastically assigned inferiority, woman has been bred to servility in mind and morals. She does not need training in the tricks of caucus and wire-pulling politics, but she does need freedom and choice of action that will give her the powers of her own mind and nature in full possession, as a woman.

She does not need that men shall instruct her what a woman ought to be, but she needs to be let alone to find out for herself this precious and important knowledge.

It is not an incident or an accident that the agitation of woman’s advancement and the agitation of industrial reform are simultaneous movements. The priority of woman’s demand for equal rights before the law in this country, has placed woman in literature, on the platform, in the press, and even in the political field of action, in the position of co-worker with man to achieve the highest outcome and greatest blessing of civilization, the right of every person to an opportunity to achieve subsistence, and the right of every worker to the full reward of his labor.

Already in Kaweah Colony in California, woman is an equal participator in the administration of affairs. She has equal opportunity to achieve subsistence and equal pay for her labor.

The star of equity, justice, and fraternity, is shining in the west. When the fraternal order of society is established, woman as mother will be, in her training and her conception of her high office, and in the position and advantage provided for her, exalted as the artist of humanity.

She will be so furnished mentally, and so provided for materially, that she can furnish to her babes what no textbooks, or Scripture, or statutes can convey to them. The mother who can recite to her children the songs of the American poets, the character of Dickens, and Eliot, and Scott, who can portray the noble characters of Lincoln and Lucretia Mott, who is able to devote the time required to entertain her children, will become the most effective moral educator.

The woman of the good time coming will not hold lightly the moral education of labor, for she will learn that many solid virtues are carved into the beautiful character by the blessed exercise that manual industry and regular duties alone can furnish.

But she will have leisure also to cultivate the finer sentiments, and paint for the admiration of her babes the grand ideals of noble manhood and womanhood.

Two problems belong to the woman question in the not remote future.

First, the industrial and financial independence of woman.

She must have this to acquire the dignity and moral strength of self-support, and that wifehood and motherhood shall be assumed by her solely according to the dictates of her heart, and the sanction of her best judgment. Second, the financial independence of motherhood, without a bread-winning occupation, that her time, energies, and talents may be devoted to the careful training and moral and religious education of her children.

The opportunities for single women to achieve subsistence in the realm of intellectual and sedentary occupations especially, are increasing. But co-operative housekeeping of some kind is the only hope for mothers to be saved from overwork and worry, and to have leisure for the proper training and entertaining of their children.

The provision in Kaweah Colony for the maintenance and education of orphan children, or of children whose parents are disabled by sickness or calamity, is another feature that is commendable in its wisdom and justice.

The paternal and maternal community of voluntary co-operators is the brightest dream of human association we can imagine.

If woman is to become the wise, sensible, self-helpful, cultured mother, with proper opportunity to exercise maternal function for the highest good of the future child, and without being herself dragged into a spiritless machine, we must have her fortified, not only by a “higher education,” but a better home environment.

The woman question involves and forecasts a higher social order, industrial evolution, economic adjustment, moral advancement, and the adoption of the “New Education,” which will develop and cultivate in harmony all the powers and talents belonging to the threefold nature of humanity.