The Congress of Women: Complete Freedom for Women

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Complete Freedom for Women

Miss Agnes M. Manning is principal of the Webster School, San Francisco, Cal. She has lived so long in the Golden State that, although not a native daughter, she calls herself a Californian. Her first signed literary work was for the "Oakland Monthly," when Bret Harte was editor. Some of her poems have been published in a volume of "Californian Writers." She has written sketches of travel, essays, various poems and short stories, She is a member of the Century Club, one of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Coast Woman's Press Association, and also member of the California Botanical Club. Her postoffice address is 1215 Sutter street, San Francisco, Cal.

I advocate freedom for the woman because it will elevate her politically, socially, financially and morally. It has been well said that without it, on the roll of her country she has no recognized status. She is classified with minors, idiots, Indians and criminals.

Man has followed the words liberty and equality through seas of blood in his attempts to wrest their meaning to apply to himself. The woman, however, who stood by his side, who endured his hardships and followed him into all his dangers, who was his patient slave, his uncomplaining victim, for six thousand years, he has never allowed to share either his liberty or equality. In the earlier ages he made no explanation for this wrong. He did what the Sioux and the Apache does today-he condemned her to be a mere beast of burden, performing the menial task he considered beneath himself.

Among the Hebrews, a woman who had given birth to a child was excluded from the sanctuary for forty days if it were a son, but if it were a daughter she must remain away eighty days. In Athens the father of a girl ordered in disgust that a distaff should be suspended outside of his door, instead of the garland of olive with which he had hoped to announce the birth of a boy. In Sparta, of every ten children abandoned because the state did not choose to rear them seven were girls. In Rome every newly born child was placed at its father's feet. If he took it up it was the signal of life and care. When too many daughters came, he turned away, and the unwelcome girl was condemned to death.

Under the Feudal system, the birth of a girl was considered a misfortune. When Jeanne de Valois was presented to her father, Louis XI., being his first child, he would not even look at her, and forbade all public rejoicing.

We know how the Salic law of France came to shut a daughter out from the throne. It was an old barbaric law that had not been enforced since the Franks were converted to Christianity. It was suddenly sprung upon the legitimate heir, a defenseless baby girl. She was defrauded by the relative that should have been the first to protect her. Nature, as if in revenge, gave him only a daughter, and by his own decreed law she could not succeed him. Napoleon divorced the faithful Josephine, but the son he coveted never reigned in France. Fate here, too, placed the grandchild of the wronged Josephine, by her first marriage, on the temporary throne.

In England, in every entailed estate, great is the disappointment at the birth of a girl instead of a boy and heir.

"In France," says a well-known writer, "If you ask a peasant about his family, he answers: 'I have no children; I have only daughters.'" The Breton farmer says to this day when a daughter is born, "My wife has had a miscarriage."

The old religion of our Bible, while it lifted women to the level of the prophets with one hand, branded her as inferior with the other. The harem began with the Patriarchs. They took the vile institution from Babylon. The early kings added to their wives as a man adds to his acres. They were the visible signs of his wealth. No polygamist ever rose above a contempt for women. Every libertine has it. You are safe in estimating a man's character by his valuation of your sex.

In these old days, and for long generations after, no woman's consent to her own marriage was asked. Look at the story of Leah and Rachel. Leah is forced upon Jacob as an extra animal might be, and accepted in the same manner. A woman was only valued for the children she produced. We have a graphic picture of the agony and despair of Rachel, because she knew if she were childless she must descend to a lower social level than her unloved sister.

All the progress of civilization has been retarded through unfairness to women. No person, people or race that is discriminated against ever attains the highest possible development. If woman, through her servitude, ignorance and subordination did not help to raise man, she yet had power to often drag him down to her own low standard. She was a clog in his advancement, and he knew it. All literature is full of the biting scorn for the poor creature who was content to take the role he gave her. No man respects the woman that willingly accepts a slavish subordination. No man ever did respect her, and when he enacted such brutalities as that a husband might chastise his wife with a stick of a certain thickness, or appropriate her fortune or her earnings, she was his slave and not his equal.

Time, and a certain enlightenment, have made him ashamed of these old savageries. In later years he has dropped the tone of the tyrant and taken up that of the hypocrite. He now pretends that he allows her no voice in the making of her own laws, and keeps her in childish subjection for her own good. Fancy any man allowing another man to openly defraud him of all real liberty under any such flimsy pretence. The theory would be blown to the winds, and men would rise in revolution against it. Yet this is what many men expect women not only to accept-they have forced them to do that-but also to believe.

Man likes a willing slave, and so for all the ages he has taken care to have her taught that her highest happiness lies in belonging to him. His needs, his comforts, his pleasures, his surroundings, his ambitions, his hopes and joys are her chief concern. He has taken good care to teach her that her prize in life is the chance of ministering unto him. He has implanted in her mind that her greatest good fortune is to be chosen by him. He has heaped ridicule through the ages on every women that escaped him. He has taught girls to look on a woman's single life as a waste of herself because he was excluded from it. The highest aim of a woman is to be a wife and mother. He never allowed that the highest aim of a man is to be a husband and a father. Yet all that is high, sacred and beautiful in wifehood and motherhood was meant by a just Lord to be equally high, sacred and beautiful in husbandhood and fatherhood. He has, moreover, denied her any other means of earning her bread. For long centuries he gave her matrimony or starvation to choose between; often she discovered this to be a choice between evils.

There have always been in all ages small minorities of men who have opposed the degradation of women. True religion has always opposed it. The Divine Commandments were not given to a woman. They were given to Moses to be kept by men. In Christianity you find no doctrine that makes one color of a sin for a woman and another for a man. On the contrary their sins are equal, and must be expiated the same way. "With us," cries the great St. Jerome, "what is commanded of woman is commanded of man." The laws of Christ and the laws of emperors are not the same. The old law stoned a woman to death for betraying her husband; or it condemned her to be expelled with a whip from under the conjugal roof and chased naked through the town, or exposed on a pillar in the public square. On all sides curses and blows were flung at her by men, who called her sin a "fault" only when it was committed by themselves.

Among such laws appeared the Master, and, lo! the unfortunate is dragged before him. His answer tore the veil from hypocrisy, and was the first wedge in breaking the heavy chains of woman's bondage.

God does not send sons into one family and daughters into another. He sends them together to grow up in peace and love around one hearth, and to help, not to defraud, each other in after life. Society, however, as man has made it, consistently tries to forget the lessons of Christianity. It deals out very different punishments for the sister and the brother. His sins are "wild oats," errors of youth, and, if continued into age, a man's mistakes; but hers are crimes from the first, and no life of penitence can ever wash away the stain.

I advocate the complete freedom of the woman, because I foresee in the coming education of the masses she will need all her freedom to preserve her best interests and the best interests of the home and family. If I have read history aright, I have learned this lesson from it, that my sex has not received justice from her brother always because of his superior knowledge.

If you are familiar with Greek life as it is given to us in Homer, you are aware that woman, though from our standard she was in a barbarous position, yet she was far higher than she was four centuries after in the time of Plato. Yet during those four centuries the Greeks had made a wonderful advancement. Plato, whose mind and genius were of the greatest that ever existed, saw through the thick veil of prejudice and wrong that shrouded one-half of the human race. He saw what the wise have always seen: that the highest human effort was held back by the degradation of women.

We know that the Spartans were inferior to the Athenians in all the arts and refined accomplishments; yet the Spartan women possessed far more influence than those of Athens. If you read Euripides you will understand the scorn with which the philosophers of Athens regarded their wives and sisters. Women then despised the freedom they were denied, as many despise it now. A Greek woman taunted her rival that she wanted to be like a man, and go in through the front door of a house. Under our old régime "free nigger" was the greatest term of reproach, but when emancipation came, which of the scoffers remained in bondage?

Mr. Horace Platt, an able lawyer of San Francisco, in an address of much research, recently, dwelt on the gloomy picture of law as it dealt with us in ancient times. Yet the greatest monument that has come down to us from the Roman Empire is her jurisprudence. Our laws are simply copied from it. Mr. Platt did not tell us, however, that many of the worst laws of England and Germany against women were added after the Reformation. Many of the old brutal statutes that had well-nigh died out under the influence of chivalry were again revived against her. He told us there was one later Roman enactment in favor of women holding property that was in operation when California was a Mexican province. Our state adopted this law into its code and we have the advantage of it. Mr. Platt did not tell us, however, how the Roman women wrested this law from their masters. He did not tell us how they held meetings, made speeches, and pushed themselves into the Senate Chamber to resist the infamous decrees that had culminated in one, that no daughter should inherit either property or money from the family. About the year 600 there lived in Rome Anius Ansellus.[1] He had acquired a large fortune in trade. He had only one child, a daughter, whom he idolized. His great wealth had only one value for him, that it should enrich his daughter; yet he knew that according to law she could not inherit it.

Roman citizens were divided into six classes. Five of these classes paid taxes. The sixth class were people too poor to own property, and were excluded from all political rights. They were the middle class, between the freeman and the slave, the citizen and the alien. To belong to this class was to be degraded, yet the law, as if in fine sarcasm, allowed its fathers to leave all their effects to their daughters. Ansellus, because of his great love for his child, renounced every privilege dear to the heart of a Roman, and publicly enrolled himself in this class. He gave up every honor in his own life to baffle the cruel injustice of his country, and leave his large fortune to his daughter.

Mr. Platt had sought for no such illustration as the story of Ansellus. In telling us of our modern Wyoming, he did not mention that no sooner was suffrage conferred on women than the thieves, tramps and hard characters that infest every new territory vanished. The social evil fled from Wyoming when the first woman sat on the jury. The chief justice gives his testimony that after years of trial, woman's suffrage is a success. There have been less robberies and murders in Wyoming than in any state in the Union. There has never yet been a woman committed to the penitentiary.

It surprises me how a man like Mr. Platt can go so far in his contempt for injustice to women, and yet be willing to perpetuate it. It teaches me the lesson with yet stronger force, that we women must make our own laws, and trust to no man's sentimental ideas of doling out to us a standard of freedom he would not accept for himself.

The distinguished president of the Stanford University, in his lecture on sex, as it is treated from a scientific standpoint, shows how the old theories are exploded. Alas, how much of the story of the sufferings of women may be traced to this subject? Even the great Aristotle held that the mother was only the nurse of the child; she was but as the field that nourishes the grain. In íschylus the doctrine laid down is that the son is not a parricide because it was only his mother that he slew. You all know the story of how Agamemnon was slain by Clytemnestra, and how her son avenged the death of his father. Apollo himself pleaded for Orestes. He said the mother does not generate what is called her child.

In Greece the mother has no other part in the marriage of her children than to bear the nuptial torch, and to prepare the peculiar repast for the women. In the marriage of Iphigenia at Aulis, the mother, Clytemnestra, angrily demanded a place near her daughter during the ceremony as a maternal right. Agamemnon had not asked her consent. She asks him anxiously of what country Achilles is, and where he will carry her child.

It was an illustrious French physician who first attacked the robbery of the mother. Armed with all the resources of modern science, he claimed for her that she was equal in all things from the first. Nature had always proclaimed the equality of the mother in her child. She suffers for it. She knows neither pain nor fatigue when it is in danger. What mother ever forgets the death of her little one? The newly-made mound that covers it is always fresh in her memory. Neither the marriage nor the death of her children divide them from her. For them she has endured through the ages the barbarity of men's laws. Many a husband has held his wife silent under the worst outrage because she knew he would strike her through her children.

Almost all famous men declare they owed what they have become to their mothers. Schiller, Lamartine and our own Washington are examples. St. Augustine was converted by his mother; St. Chrysostom was educated by his mother; St. Basil was saved, he tells us, through maternal love, and St. Louis was sanctified by his strong and holy mother. Professor Jordan says that the first difference came from the female having the care of the young. The male works to feed her and the little ones. The valuation of the male by the female is measured by this care for herself and young. Nature here stamps the legitimate use of man. He was made to toil for and care for his family. He is a miserable wretch when he shirks this task; he is so made that he finds his chief happiness with wife and child. There is a fiction in law and society that all men support their families, and that all women are supported by them. Never was there a greater fallacy. Fully two-thirds of the women of today earn their own bread. In San Francisco, one-half of the married women of the poorer class help to support their families. In my school of more than one thousand pupils, more than half the mothers support their children. Numbers of them are not widows, but have the sole support of their families because of worthless husbands.

No man of the nineteenth century has had a wider influence on its thought than John Stuart Mill. No man's influence of our time will last longer or weigh more with the generations that will come after us. If there is a woman here who has not read Mill on "Liberty, or the Subjection of Woman," I would advise her at once to beg, buy or borrow this book. Mill demands the liberty of women, not alone for the benefit that it will confer on the whole human race, but because it is her inalienable right. Herbert Spencer, like our Mr. Platt, has shown the barbarities of the subjugation of women, and then he shirks her enfranchisement. He has shown that the fine intuition possessed by women would be of incalculable value and benefit to man in all his researches, if she were only educated enough to use her God-given faculties. Henry Thomas Buckle declares that so far from the mind of women being inferior to that of men, those men who have gained the greatest victories in science have approached their studies after the manner of women. He avers that the flimsy thing called woman's education has been solely to blame that so few women are distinguished in thought. He points out how men reason from induction. They collect first facts and build their theories from these facts. This is the modern method of scientific investigation, but he says the great achievements in science have not been mastered in this way. Newton discovered the law of gravitation because he had great imagination. He could follow the force that made the apple fall, to great heights-to the moon-and saw how our Earth kept her satellites in order. From this he followed the same law to the planets, and saw how the sun held them in their courses. There was no inductive reasoning in this. It was pure deduction. It was what is sneered at in woman as intuition, that grasped the mighty problem. It was the same sublime power of imagination that taught Keppler his three wonderful laws, that revealed a true knowledge of the planetary worlds to us. It is akin to the mind of the poet. Shakespeare had it when he drew forth his creations of real beings, who live through all the generations. Hamlet, Shylock, Othello, Rosalind, Desdemona and Portia are as real to us as they were to the people of three hundred years ago. George Eliot, whom the foremost critics of our age declare to be the greatest creator of character since Shakespeare, who is, in fact, the only writer of our own time that has ever been classed with the master, had it. This woman, whose works will live in literature with increasing value as the ages come and go, showed what might be accomplished by women of genius if they were fully educated. Her mind did not receive the ordinary training of her sex. It was developed and strengthened by the same processes that go to build up scholarship in men.

Mr. Buckle also points out to us that it was the womanly intuition or poetic faculty that brought about the greatest discoveries in botany. Everyone who takes up this interesting study now knows that the stamens, pistils, corolla and petals are simply modified leaves. These parts, unlike in shape, color and function, we know are the successive stages of the leaf. No botnist discovered this secret. It was found by the greatest poet that Germany has known. When Göethe announced his discovery, the botanists received it with scorn. They who had collected their facts and filled their herbariums were the ones to find nature's secret of the morphological generalization of plants. What had a poet with his verses and imagination to do with it? Nevertheless, time, that works out her slow revenges, saw the botanists of the whole world receive Göethe's idea and join in praise of it. Nor was that the only one of the poet's discoveries. Wandering like Hamlet through a cemetery he came upon a skull lying on the freshly turned earth beside an open grave. Like Hamlet, he took it up and mused upon it. Suddenly there flashed into his mind the then unknown truth that the skull was composed of vertebrí¦, that the bony covering of the head was an expansion of the bony covering of the spine. This great discovery was stubbornly fought in England, and it was fifty years after it was known in Germany and France before English anatomists would acknowledge that the mind of the poet had soared above all their facts and dissections.[2] What the world has lost in denying the mind of women free development, only future civilization can tell.

Our last lecturer on this subject, Professor Clark, of Stanford University, in his excellent paper, gave us much hope for this future. His eloquent appeal to women to stand by their cause until the last shackle of bondage was removed, must have found an answering echo in every heart worthy of beating in the nineteenth century. The woman whom such an appeal does not reach should have lived in the feudal age and not in ours. Professor Clark is a product of the modern education of the West, where the boy and girl, working side by side in the same schoolroom, learn to properly respect each other, and understand that brains like souls are sexless.

I claim complete freedom for women because, without it, she cannot be the equal of father, brother, husband or son. I claim, with Harriet Beecher Stowe, that liberty for a nation means liberty for every individual of that nation. I claim for women an equal voice in making the laws that govern her, and an equal chance in developing the gifts with which a just God has endowed her. I claim, in short, an equal right to all that man claims for himself.


La Cause de la Manumission des Femmes.


From Henry T. Buckle.

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