Letters of Support Published in the Proceedings
P. W. Davis.
From Margaret Chappelsmith.
New Harmony, Ill., Sept. 20, 1850.
I believe that among the women of this country, there is a much larger number of elevated minds than are to be found among the women of my own country; and I should rejoice in the introductions that you so temptingly offer me, but I must wait some other opportunity.
I have long noticed, with great pleasure, that women here are induced by their education to study all subjects; that they are not frightened from certain topics by the fear of being called "blue stockings," or "female pedants;" and I have hoped, and still have some hope, that men here, unlike the generality of the men of England, have faith that a woman of cultivated intellect, capable of depending on her own exertions, may make a loving wife, a trusty partner, and a mother worthy to be trusted with the important charge of offspring; but my hope of this being much more general here than in England, is somewhat abated by the observation (limited, I admit) that I have made during my stay here. I have some fear that the principal advance in this respect, in this country, is a universal respect for female talent as a source of national pride; but that men, even men of sound knowledge in other respects, are so miserably deficient in knowledge on this subject, are such bad observers of facts in every way surrounding them, that they prefer taking to their bosoms the pretty creature whose ignorance makes her dependent, and whose submission is mistakenly calculated on as being more certain because she cannot reason on her duties, or on how to promote the best happiness of life. In England, it appeared to me to be necessary to convince the men of their folly and degradation in this respect, before there could be any hope of effecting reforms among the women; for I fear that so long as men prefer timid women, who shrink from having an opinion of their own, so long will the majority of women insensibly mould themselves to what the men desire. Mothers will not have the courage to doom their daughters to an unmarried life, by making them beings that men would be afraid to love; - though, had mothers a firm conviction in the consolations and in the powers of intelligence, they would defy the folly of men, and would educate daughters who would, at last, vanquish men's prejudices, and bestow a happiness that ignorance, however loving and submissive, can never give. I do not, at present, know enough of society here to say that my fears are well-founded. I shall be most happy to find they are not. I care not for that education which gives merely literary talent; I covet that which gives independence of thought, which will fit a woman to examine all subjects before she adopts a belief regarding them, and which will enable her to assert an unpopular opinion, if her convictions lead her to hold that opinion rather than any other. Truth can exist only in such a course; intellect can have a healthy action only in such a course; and it is only the women who can do this that will be mothers of independent, honest, and intellectual sons. I earnestly hope to find many such women in the United States.
With much respect for yourself, and for the other ladies engaged in the good cause, I am, my dear madam,
To Mrs. P. W. Davis.
From Nancy M. Baird.
To the Woman's Rights Convention:
Dear Friends: - Though I cannot be present with you in person on this most important and deeply interesting occasion, my spirit will mingle with you in deep sympathy and fervent prayer for the success of the holy enterprise in which you have embarked.
The obscurity of my position, and the few qualifications I possess of rendering any efficient aid in this great work, almost induced me to remain silent, and withhold all expression of feeling; but a further consideration of the subject has led me to change that opinion. I feel persuaded that your Convention, being composed, as it will be, of persons of the highest wisdom and purest feelings, the true "salt of the earth," will not overlook, or regard with indifference, sympathy, even from the most humble source. Your noble, but arduous work, being no less than a war with "principalities and powers, and wickedness in high places ," a war with profound ignorance and longcherished prejudice, and the fiercest passions of the selfish, unsanctified human heart, will need all the sympathy and all the aid of the friends of the cause, great and small. I pray that God may prosper and bless this great and good work, and I believe He will. I believe it is an inspiration from Himself, and that the instruments He has raised up for its accomplishment will receive his constant guidance and direction. To wake up a slumbering world, a "world dead in trespasses and sins," is a great work; but greater is He who is for you than those who are against you; and as Jesus said to the sisters of Lazarus, if we will believe, we shall see the glory of God.
I trust these few poor words of sympathy may reach you, and that you may be cheered on by expressions of it from many and higher sources.
Yours, very truly,
NANCY M. BAIRD.
Extracts of a Letter from Jane Cowen.
Dear Sister: - * * * After studying on woman's position for fifteen years, without divulging my thoughts to any person, taking the Bible for my guide, I have come to the conclusion that this great evil has its original root in the Church of God. I do not mean a particular church, but all the different denominations, (Quakers excepted,) taken as a body. I am of the opinion, that if the Church would allow woman the privileges that God has given her, in both the Old and New Testaments, an education equal with the male sex, and every right that belongs to her, would follow.
Let us go to the Bible, and examine for ourselves whether God has forbidden woman from reading the Law, either in public or private. It was Moses's mother who instructed him and formed his character; the law being written in her heart, for the law was not written at that time. We read in Exodus, 15th chapter, 20th verse, of Miriam leading the choir, to celebrate on the banks of the Red Sea, the overthrow of Pharaoh, 1491, B. C.; and in Micah, 6th chapter, 14th verse, God says to the Israelites, by the mouth of the prophet, "I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Their mission was to rule, instruct, and guide the people in piety and virtue. In Judges, 4th chapter, 4th verse, we have recorded the song of a woman, and an account of her judging Israel for years in righteousness, about 1294, B. C. It was woman that defeated the wicked counsels of Haman, and saved the Jews from destruction. In 2 Kings, 22d chapter, 14th verse, we read of Huldah, the Prophetess, who lived contemporaneously with Jeremiah and Zephaniah, 624, B. C. I heard an intelligent, and, I believe, a pious clergyman, say, not long since, that there were instances recorded in the Old Testament of females being chosen to fill the important station of a prophet; Judge G. saying that, in the New Testament dispensation, females were not allowed this privilege, but are commanded to keep silence in the churches, etc. There is a possibility of even good men being mistaken, owing to the prejudice of education.
Let us now go to the New Testament, and see if he be correct. If I mistake not, Joel prophesied, 726 years B. C. - Joel, 2d chapter, 28th and 29th verses - "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, and your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaidens in those days will I pour out my Spirit." In the Acts of the Apostles, 18th chapter, 18th verse, we have an account of Aquila, and his wife Priscilla, travelling in company with Paul, and most probably they labored with him in the Gospel. In Romans, we have an account of Phebe, who was a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea, A. D. 58. 1 Corinthians, 9th chapter, we have an account of Paul reproving the Corinthians for their unbecoming manner of conducting public worship, the men praying or prophesying with their heads covered, and the women with their heads uncovered. It was a custom among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews - an express law - that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. The several commentators agree that prophesying, in this passage, signifies to speak to others to edification, exhortation, and comfort , and this comprises all we understand by exhortation, or even preaching; that whatever may be the meaning of praying or prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman. This is the kind of prophesying that was predicted by Joel, and referred to by Peter - Acts, 2:11. It is evident that had there not been such gifts bestowed upon woman, the prophecy could not have its fulfilment. That gifts are bestowed on females in our day, the same as on men, we do not doubt; but they are suppressed by the wretched laws of both Church and State. Nothing can be more plain than that it was to the foolish and disorderly to whom the apostle addressed himself, and not to those on whom God had poured out his Spirit.
From Sophia L. Little.
Pawtucket, Oct. 9, 1850.
Dear Friends: - Though unable to be with you, I sympathize with you in this movement.
Be earnest, be prayerful, and remember, "without Christ ye can do nothing." May this Convention send forth a pure, unadulterated expression of woman's mind. May every sister be impressed with the importance of the questions to be discussed. Is woman in her true position? If she is not, what are the most direct means of her elevation? These questions require thorough investigation. I believe that the higher moral nature of woman is not merely the result of a retired education, but a native feature of her mind: and that the Almighty designed that men and women should act as one, the deficiencies of each being made up by the other.
I could say much on these subjects if with you; but not believing in the right to inflict long letters on a Convention which is to sit so short a time, I will only add my hearty wishes for a prosperous Convention, and am,
Very truly, dear sisters,
Yours, for the truth,
SOPHIA L. LITTLE.
From Maria L. Varney.
Norwalk, Conn., Oct. 20, 1850.
Friends: - I have read the call for the Convention at Worcester, "to consider the Rights, Relations, and Duties of Woman," with no common interest. It meets with my warmest approbation and heartiest wishes for its success. Would that I could he with you to hear your words of wisdom. Since this is denied me I cannot refrain from adding my mite of influence and sympathy. Would that I were competent to teach. This subject would surely make me eloquent. If it is treated openly, freely, fearlessly, as we have every reason to suppose it will be, then indeed will it be instructive to listen, and much good will result therefrom. But if it be only an attempt to patch up the things that be, to amputate a few of the prominent excrescences, without treating the malady systematically, it will be found a tangled question, and very little benefit will be realized from this effort. I can but hope that every one who attends this Convention will divest herself as much as possible of the powerful influence of a false public opinion which permeates and discolors all our rights and relations in society. We have no need of hostile weapons. We wish only to divest ourselves of prejudice, and to be open to the truth. Our motto should be, "What is true?"
Woman's rights are the rights of a human being , and must never be reduced below this standard. Any system or theory erected on any other platform must necessarily be false. Then we must begin fundamentally with the question, what are the rights, relations, and duties of a human being? This is well answered in the Declaration of American Independence, when qualified as follows: "A right to life," - including a right to the earth and natural elements, "Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These are evidently our first great rights, and must be kept inviolate. This, then, seems to be the great object of this Convention, viz., to inquire whether these rights are respected at present? and if not, what change is necessary in society in order that these rights shall be respected?
Have we now the right to live? Is not our occupation, locality, immediate health - in a word, is not our very life in the hands and at the disposal of others! A right to life implies, not only a right to the means of a livelihood, but a right to one's own person and property. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness certainly imply a choice of location, occupation, and self-government. Hence, any law which makes woman a slave, is unjust and oppressive, and ought to be repealed immediately. Any law which deprives woman of the ownership and disposal of her own person and property at all times, is unjust, and should be repealed. Any law which separates representation from taxation, is unjust, and should be repealed. Any law which recognizes a difference between man and woman should be forthwith repealed. All law should be made without regard to sex, either in the governor or the governed.
With these few fundamental propositions, which must be the starting point, I leave the subject, without attempting to point out the offensive laws which do now oppress and degrade us below the standard of human beings. Abler minds will, I trust, follow out the subject in all its bearings, and come to conclusions which will be honorable to themselves and us. Success attend you. Farewell.
MARIA L. VARNEY.
[We print the following letters, which were not acted upon by the Convention, not because we agree with the views presented in them, butbecause we think the subject discussed - Woman's Dress - an all important one. There is neither time nor room to treat it fitly now; no doubt future Conventions will devote to it the thorough consideration which it merits. For ourselves we will simply express the hope, - that in discarding the inconvenient, unhealthy, untidy, graceless attire now conventionally appropriated to women by the fashions of civilized States, reformers will not feel driven to adopt the stiff, awkward, heavy, ill shaped costumes in which men are encased. We are well convinced, that a Style of Dress can be invented, far more convenient for use, more easily modified to meet changes in circumstances, climate, or duties, and every way more appropriate and beautiful than any now worn by either sex. - Pub. Com.]
From Mildred A. Spafard.
New York, Sept. 2, 1850.
My Dear Madam: - I take the liberty of enclosing you an extract from a long epistle I have just received from Helene Marie Weber. It speaks of matters which are interesting to us all, and I ask of you the favor to submit it to the Convention.
Very few of our American women seem to understand Miss Weber; they confound her with the Dudevants and others of that erratic order. This is doing her great injustice. Miss Weber, as a literary character, stands in the front rank of essayists. She has labored zealously in behalf of her sex, as her numerous tracts on subjects of reform bear testimony. No writer of the present age, perhaps, has done more, with the pen, to exalt woman, than she has by her powerful essays. My personal knowledge of Miss Weber enables me to speak confidently of her private character. It is utterly false that she is a "masculine woman." Her deportment is strictly lady like, modest, and unassuming; and her name is beyond reproach. She is a protestant of the Lutheran order - exemplary in all her religious duties, and unaffectedly pious and benevolent.
She is, as you are doubtless aware, a practical agriculturist. The entire business of her farm is conducted by herself; and she has been eminently successful. She has proved the capacity of woman for business pursuits. Her success in this vocation is a practical argument, worth a thousand theories.
I find no fault with her because she dresses like a man. Her dress has not changed her nature. Those who censure her for abandoning the female dress, make up their judgment without proper reflection. She has violated no custom of her own country, and has merely acted according to the honest dictates of her mind. " Honi soit qui mal y pense ."
Miss Weber is now about twenty-five years of age. She is a ripe scholar, and has a perfect command of the English language. I am decidedly of opinion that her visit among us will do a vast deal of good to our cause, and we ought to give her a hearty welcome when she comes. I can assure our most rigid friends that they will all be reconciled to her attire on five minutes' acquaintance.
With my best wishes for the success of the cause, and for harmony in the Convention, I remain, dear madam,
MILDRED A. SPAFARD.
Extract of a Letter from H. M. Weber.
La Pelouse, 3d Aug., 1850.
The delicate state of my dear mother's health requires my constant attendance here, and places it entirely out of my power to visit America during the present season. I feel the disappointment most severely, because I had promised myself the pleasure of interchanging greetings with our co-laborers in America, at the proposed Worcester Convention, and, if agreeable to them, to deliver a short lecture on several subjects in which I feel a deep interest. Though I have a horror of speech-making, I deem a public explanation of my motives for exchanging the female for the male garb, to be a necessary preliminary to my favorable reception by your countrywomen. The newspapers, both of America and England, have done me great injustice. While they have described my apparel with the minute accuracy of professional tailors, (to which I have not the slightest objection, so long as they continue to report it accurately,) they have seen fit to charge me with a disposition to undervalue the female sex and to identify myself with the other. Such vile calumnies are extremely annoying to me. I have never wished to be an Iphis - never, for a moment, affected to be anything but a woman; and I do not think any one ever mistook me for a man, unless it may have been some stranger who slightly glanced at me while passing along the street or the highway. I adopted male apparel as a measure of convenience in my business, and not through any wish to appear eccentric, or to pass for one of the male sex; and it has ever been my rule to dress with the least possible ostentation consistent with due neatness. * I have never had cause to regret my adoption of male attire, and never expect to return to a female toilette. I am fully aware, however, that my dress will probably prejudice the great body of our friends in America against me, while present impressions on that subject exist; and it was with the view of allaying this feeling that I wished to address the assembly at Worcester. By this means I think I could satisfy any liberal-minded person, of either sex, that there is no moral or political principle involved in this question, and that a woman may, if she like, dress in male habiliments without injury to herself or others.
* Miss Weber usually wears a dress-coat and pantaloons of black cloth - on full dress occasions, a dark blue dress-coat with plain, flat, gilt buttons, and drab colored pantaloons. Her waistcoat is of buff cassimere, richly trimmed with plain, flat-surfaced, gold buttons, exquisitely polished; this is an elegant garment, and one which she wears to great advantage. Her clothes are all perfect in their fit, and of Paris make; and her figure is singularly well adapted to male attire. No gentleman makes a finer appearance. - M. A. Spafard.
This question I believe is not mooted in America. In the resolutions of the Ohio Convention, (which you sent me in May,) almost every topic connected with woman's position is touched upon, except that of attire. Possibly it was intended to be embraced in the eighth resolution, under the general head of "social customs and institutions," but the allusion is entirely too vague to arrest attention. It can serve no useful purpose to keep this question in the background; it must come forward eventually. Those who suppose that woman can be "the political, social, pecuniary, and religious equal of man," without conforming to his dress, deceive themselves and mislead others who have no minds of their own. While the infinite superiority of the male dress, for all purposes of business and recreation, is universally conceded, it is absurd to argue that we should not avail ourselves of its advantages.
There are no well-founded objections to women dressing, as we term it, en cavalier . The only two I have heard are these: "To do so is contrary to law, both divine and human" - and "the male dress is outre , and less graceful than our own." These objections may be answered in a few words. The human statutes on this subject should be repealed, as they surely will be in due time; or be regarded as they now are in European States, as dead letters. The practice is not contrary to divine law. The alleged prohibition, as contained in the fifth book of Moses, had reference to a religious custom of the Amorites; and was limited in its application to the children of Israel, who had, by Divine command, dispossessed that pagan nation of their territory, and destroyed their temples of idolatrous worship. The context will show two other prohibitions on this subject. In the eleventh and twelfth verses of the same chapter, (twenty-second of Deuteronomy,) it is forbidden to "wear garments of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together," and to "wear fringes" on the vesture. These prohibitions are all of the same character, and had an obvious reference to the ceremonies used by the pagans in their worship of idols. If one of these prohibitions be binding upon nations of the present age, the others are not less so. To the second objection, it may be said, that beauty and grace in matters of dress are determined by no rules; and if the fashion of men's clothes be awkward, it can easily be improved. Women who prefer the gown should, of course, consult their own pleasure by continuing to wear it; while those whose preference is a male dress, ought not to be blamed for adopting it.
I close this homily by recording my predication, that in ten years time, male attire will be generally worn by the women of most civilized countries, and that it will precede the consummation of many great measures which are deemed to be of paramount importance.
I hope to have it in my power to visit America next year. Thanks to the invention of steam, a voyage across the ocean is now a mere bagatelle. I have not much of the spirit of travel remaining. My agricultural pursuits confine me at home nearly the whole year; but my captivity is a delightful one.
H. M. WEBER.
[Several other letters were received at too late a period to be presented to the Convention, which the limits of this pamphlet compel us to omit. - Pub. Com.]