The Congress of Women: Power and Purposes of Women

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
by Mrs. Helen L. Bullock
How Can We Aid?

Power and Purposes of Women

Mrs. Helen I. Bullock was born in Norwich, N. Y., April 29, 1836. Her parents were Joseph Chapel. of Connecticut and Phebe Chapel, of Massachusetts. She was educated in Norwich Academy and by private tutors, studied music with S. B. Mills of New York City and others, and has traveled in all parts of the United States, sometimes eleven thousand miles in a year. She married Mr. Daniel S. Bullock. Her special work at present is in the interest of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. For the past eight years she has made public speeches and four years been national organizer. Her department is narcotics, organizing and rescue work for girls. She is president of the "Anchorage" in Elmira, a rescue home for girls. Her principal literary works are, "Improved Musical Catechism," and "Scales and Chords." Mrs. Bullock was a teacher of piano, organ and guitar music for thirty-five years. She is a member of the Baptist church. Her postoffice address is Elmira, N. Y.

We are all doubtless aware ere this that Columbus discovered America. America's uncrowned queen, Miss Frances E. Willard, once said, "The greatest discovery of the nineteenth century is the discovery of woman by herself." This wonderful Woman's Building, in which are represented fifty woman's organizations, with its woman's library, and these congresses, have demonstrated the truth of this statement. Even the new revision of God's Holy Word has, in at least one instance, inspired woman with new courage for her work by giving a truthful and unbiased interpretation of the eleventh verse of the sixty-eighth Psalm. In the old version it reads: 'The Lord gave the Word; great was the company of those that published it." In the revised version, so ably and critically translated, the same verse reads, "The Lord giveth the Word and the women that publish it are a great host." Even the little colored girl in the mission school in benighted Africa has made a discovery in this century which solves the problem regarding the reason for there being more women then men in the world. She wrote a composition on "Girls," in which she said: "The Bible which the missionary gives us says, that in the beginning God made the world and then He made a man, but, not being quite satisfied, thought he could do better, so he tried again and made a woman. He saw that she was so much nicer than man that he has made more women than men ever since." Rev. Dr. Black says: "Whatever difference of opinion may exist concerning the range of woman's intellect, there can be no question as to her superior moral and religious status. In all ages of the Christian church women have constituted a large proportion of its membership, and in the realm of philanthropy women predominate, therefore it is for the best interests of humanity everywhere to utilize woman's power and influence in the most effective possible manner, especially in all the activities of religion and philanthropy."

The first law ever enacted in the interest of woman's education was in New York, in 1818. Through the earnest efforts of Mrs. Emma Willard, Gov. Dewitt Clinton was induced to urge the passage of a bill to make appropriations for schools for women as well as for men, and it was done.

Only by actual experience are all our grandest theories demonstrated, and realizing all the barriers which have been placed in the way of woman's progress, we can but acknowledge that we get but a faint glimpse of her power by what she has in the past been able to accomplish. First in the home-we have only to point to Queen Esther, who risked her life to save her people by coming unbidden into the presence of the king. She knew the danger of incurring her husband's displeasure, but trusted in the God of Heaven to move upon his heart, and give her power over him, which would save her oppressed people.

All through the ages illustrious men without number have attributed their greatness to the power of mother love, thus the true woman manifests her power in the home, according to the depth of her affection and the strength of her character. Lucy Webb Hayes, true to her total abstinence principles, bravely bore the criticisms of the aristocratic devotees of fashion, lifted a standard in Washington society which caused an arrest of thought, and abandonment by the best and most conscientious of our leaders in social life of the dangerous custom which has sent thousands of our brightest men and women to a drunkard's eternity. From that day the power of her influence has been felt for good throughout the entire social fabric of this nation. Across the Atlantic our Margaret Bright Lucas, and Lady Henry Somerset, with tongue and pen, have stirred the social circles of England on the same moral question, thus banishing the wine and ale from dinner-table and banquet-hall in thousands of homes.

In 1821 Mary Lyon became assistant principal of an academy of Ashfield, Mass., a position never before occupied by a woman. Later, at Derby, N. H., she gave the first six diplomas received by young women for a three years' course of study. She saw the need of a seminary for women, and pleaded for an endowment. The public was apathetic and her appeals fruitless.

In 1834 she determined to found a permanent institution designed to train young women for the highest usefulness. She laid her plans before a few gentlemen in Ipswich, Mass. They were pronounced visionary and impracticable; her motives misunderstood and misinterpreted. The domestic feature of her seminary was regarded as unwise; but the peculiar features of her plan became its success, and within two months she collected $1,000 from women of Ipswich. She obtained a few large gifts, but chose to gain the intelligent interest of the many with their smaller sums, and in 1836 the corner-stone of Mt. Holyoke Seminary was laid. Three years later the school opened, filled with eager students, who knew that twice their number were waiting to take their places. As the preparation required to enter this seminary was in advance of what had generally been regarded as a finished education for girls, it was feared that students could not be found to fill the building; but on the contrary, two hundred students were refused the first year for lack of room, and nearly four hundred the second year.

Although Latin and French were taught from the first, she waited ten years before she could get Latin included in the course, such was public opinion on woman's education. She lived, however, to realize much of the fruitage of her seed-sowing, and Mary Lyon and Mt. Holyoke Seminary will never be forgotten by the thousands who were lifted to a higher educational plane by her heroic efforts.

Within the last generation (1852) we have pointed with pride to Maria Mitchell, who was the first woman to receive the title of LL.D. from Hanover College. She was astronomer in Vassar College for twenty-three years, and was the first woman elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Alice Freeman Palmer was for six years president of Wellesley College, and has since been one of its trustees and a member of the Massachusetts board of education. When girls were first admitted to the public schools of Massachusetts in 1822, no one would have dreamed that in sixty-six years a woman would have been president of one of its most noted colleges and a member of its state board of education.

Mary H. Hunt has shaken the physiological world from center to circumference, made liquor dealers and tobacconists tremble for their deadly merchandise, has turned on the light of science and through the W. C. T. U. set in motion influences which have convinced the legislatures in thirty-nine states, as well as our representa- tives in Congress, that the hope of this nation is in teaching total abstinence in the public schools. The celebrated Henry Thomas Buckle says: "When we see how knowledge has civilized mankind, when we see how every great step in the march and advance of nations has been invariably preceded by a corresponding step in their knowledge; when we, moreover, see what is assuredly true, that women are constantly growing more influential, it becomes a matter of great moment that we should endeavor to ascertain the relation between their influence and our knowledge."

Notwithstanding all the discouragements in the way of woman she holds a high place in the literary world. Our Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose poetic gems enrich the choicest library, our Charlotte Bronté, whose name is familiar in every home of culture, and our George Eliot, whose rare literary worth was quickly recognized and acknowledged when the world thought her a man, have few equals as writers.

Pardon a little personal experience to show you how prejudice against woman's work has reached all classes.

A few years ago, from sense of duty to her profession as a teacher of music, your speaker published some musical studies, and a catechism, and one of the largest publishing houses in New York bought the copyrights, but modestly asked that the prefix of "Mrs." be omitted before the initials of the name of the author, that the public might suppose they were written by a man, and thus the sale of the same might not be hindered by the prejudice against woman as a musical author. Caring only for the advancement of her life work, the author was glad to escape publicity, and quickly consented, never dreaming at that time of the injustice of robbing woman of the little crumb of encouragement which even that humble effort would afford.

Prejudice hindered woman in the medical profession, although all will admit her natural fitness and power of endurance as a nurse. Elizabeth Blackwell found the doors of medical colleges closed to women, but after severe trials and repeated efforts she gained entrance to the Geneva Medical School, where she graduated with the highest honors of her class in 1847. She also traveled in Europe, visiting hospitals and medical institutions in order to acquire a fitness for her calling, but on locating in a metropolis of America was ostracised by the profession solely on account of her sex. Since she opened this door, thousands of brave, cultured women have entered and today stand in the forefront of the profession, skillful, conscientious, disarming prejudice and winning their way to the hearts and homes of the people.

In the philanthropic world Grace Darling and Ida Lewis risked their own lives on the stormy ocean to save those imperiled there. A multitude of earnest consecrated women have left home and friends, being maligned and persecuted, have taken their lives in their hands, going forth at the call of God to protect the homes which are the foundation stones of the nation, and open up avenues of usefulness and development to women, hitherto unknown. Josephine Butles, of England, and America's Mary A. Livermore, Mary Clement Leavitt, Susan B. Anthony, our loved and revered Frances E. Willard, and hosts of others, are today in the field toiling for the uplifting of humanity and to save the homes of this world. The enemy scoffs and the narrow-minded question the right of woman even to save souls outside the sacred place she calls home, but she hears the voice as did the Maid of Orleans, "Daughter of God, go on, go on; I will be thy help," and she will never waver or turn back.

The work of Lady Huntington stands out before us as an enduring monument of woman's power in the church. Leaving her high position with its many social pleasures and advantages, she bravely met rebuffs from associates of her own rank and made the watchword of her life, "My God, I give myself to thee." She established sixty-four chapels (selling her jewels to build one of them), organized a mission in North America, and maintained a college for the education of ministers in Trevecca, Wales. Doddridge, Whitefield, Berridge, the Wesleys and Doctor Watts were among her chosen friends.

Wesley justified female preaching on the same ground on which he defended lay preaching. The following are his words: "What authority have I to forbid the doing what I believe God has called them to do?" He encouraged such grand women as Sarah Crosby, Mary Fletcher and others. After Wesley's day female preaching became common among the Friends, and Elizabeth Fry began her ministry in 1810, after feeling for twelve years that God called her to this work. The results of her public labors were marvelous, and her own family of eleven children were never neglected. Hers was a model household, and her work for unfortunate women in Newgate was the beginning of prison reform which commanded the respect of the world. Seventeen European sovereigns honored themselves by honoring her. When she first entered the prisons their condition was most revolting, and it was considered unsafe to do so without a guard. The thought of reforming these inmates of both sexes, and all grades of crime, huddled together like wild beasts, seemed the apex of madness. The keepers remonstrated with her, but the love of Christ constrained her, and with no protector save Daniel's God she was locked in the prison with a band of fiends in human shape. As her sweet voice rang out in those grand old hymns she awed them into silence. So heartfelt and eloquent was her appeal that hope sprang up in the hearts of these degraded creatures and hundreds were saved. Industries and schools were introduced into prisons, sanitary conditions improved, and the criminal jurisprudence of the civilized world was revolutionized in some of its aspects through her instrumentality. In London the Elizabeth Fry Refuge stands today as a fitting memorial of her life and labors. The first Methodist Episcopal Church in America was started in New York City by Barbara Heck, whose unwavering fidelity to Christ gave her the moral courage to sharply rebuke the sins of the converts of Wesley who had come to America and grown cold in the cause.

But you hear little of Barbara Heck; it is the old story of Betsy and I killed the bear, but, friends, Betsy is coming to the front. Again we turn the pages of history and see what she has accomplished in the government, even while surrounded by walls of prejudice and hindered by ridicule and criticism. Let us catch a glimpse of the wonderful Maid of Orleans. She believed God had called her, and by her modest and wise replies to the many insults of learned priests and powerful nobles, she won their confidence and obedience. This noble woman died for her country in the most ignominious manner after rendering it such unprecedented service; and not until twenty years afterward was tardy justice done her memory. It is now over four hundred years since this great event of the world's history, and most impressive services and festivals annually commemorate the great victories won by this brave, godly woman. Many beautiful monuments have been erected in honor of her work.

Queen Victoria has proved herself a wise ruler of a great government, and none the less a faithful, true wife and mother. Isabella, Queen of Spain, born 1451, was proclaimed queen at twenty-three years of age, and at once applied herself to reform the laws, to encourage literature and arts, and to modify the stern and crafty measures of her husband by the influence of her own gentle and elevated character. She introduced the first printing press into Spain, and clad in armor, personally directed the operations of the army that besieged Grenada. She established the first field hospitals and appointed surgeons to attend her army. But for her cheerful endorsement of Columbus, and her ready self-denial, we might not be able to celebrate this four hundredth birthday of America.

And now having spoken of the power of woman, let us consider for a few moments her purposes. For what does she desire higher education except to prepare her better to fulfill her mission to help the world upward? For what does she desire to enter various avocations heretofore denied her? I answer that she may honorably maintain herself and those dependent upon her in an occupation for which God has naturally fitted her, and in which, for this reason, she will best succeed. Why does she desire to enter the ministry? For the same reason that her brother desires to save souls in the way that he can reach the largest number, hoping thereby to best glorify God. For what reason does she desire to aid in governing the nation? Aside from her natural and God-given right, I believe the highest purpose of woman in her desire to stand side by side with man in the government is to purify it, protect the home and make the world better and more Christ-like.

Is she not in a great measure robbed of her power to do this?

I saw in Pomona, Cal., a beautiful Woman's Christian Temperance Union banner which impressed me deeply. Painted on white satin was the picture of a charming young mother, holding with her left arm her little boy as high as possible above the serpent coiled about her feet, with head raised ready to strike her darling. In her right hand she held a dagger with which she was trying to destroy the deadly serpent, but that hand was chained to the ballot box below, and she was powerless to save her beautiful boy. So are the purposes of woman thwarted in protecting her home and the children which God has given her; but a better day is dawning, and our noblest brothers are already convinced that to best uplift humanity and advance Christianity is to confer upon woman her right of suffrage. To Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mrs. James P. Eagle, and the brave self-sacrificing women who have so grandly served on this board of managers, thus advancing the interests of the womanhood of the world, we owe more than we can now realize, but as the years go by we shall see more of the far-reaching and wonderful results. Your power has been felt, and your purpose for the advancement of woman has been served. Gerald Massey beautifully describes the struggles of woman during this century:

Our hearts brood o'er the past, our eyes
With smiling futures glisten;
Lo! now its dawn bursts upon the sky;
Lean out your souls and listen.
The earth rolls freedom's radiant ways,
And ripens with our sorrow;
And 'tis the martyrdom today
Brings victory tomorrow.
'Tis weary watching wave by wave,
And yet the tide heaves onward;
We climb like corals, grave by grave,
Yet beat a pathway sunward.
We're beaten back in many a fray,
Yet newer strength we borrow;
And where our vanguard rests today,
Our rear shall rest tomorrow.
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