A Sermon on the Public Function of Woman - Public Functions of Women

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The Nature of Women

These callings are not all that the race of woman needs; not all that her human nature requires. She has the same human nature which man has, and of course, the same natural human rights. Woman's natural right for its rightfulness does not depend on the bodily or mental power to assert and to maintain it-on the great arm or on the great head; it depends only on human nature itself, which God made the same in the frailest woman as in the biggest giant.

If woman is a human being, first, she has the Nature of a human being; next, she has the Right of a human being; third, she has the Duty of a human being. The Nature is the capacity to possess, to use, to develop, and to enjoy every human faculty; the Right is the right to enjoy, develop, and use every human faculty; and the Duty is to make use of the Right, and make her human nature human history. She is here to develop her human nature, enjoy her human rights, perform her human duty. Womankind is to do this for herself, as much as mankind for himself. A woman has the same human nature that a man has, the same human rights,-to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,-the same human duties; and they are as unalienable in a woman as in a man.

Each man has the natural right to the normal development of his nature, so far as it is general-human, neither man nor woman, but human. Each woman has the natural right to the normal development of her nature, so far as it is general-human, neither woman nor man. But each man has also a natural and unalienable right to the normal development of his peculiar nature as man, where he differs from woman. Each woman has just the same natural and unalienable right to the normal development of her peculiar nature as woman, and not man. All that is undeniable.

Now see what follows. Woman has the same individual right to determine her aim in life, and to follow it; has the same individual rights of body and of spirit,-of mind and conscience, and heart and soul; the same physical rights, the same intellectual, moral, affectional and religious rights, that man has. That is true of womankind as a whole; it is true of Jane, Ellen and Sally, and each special woman that can be named.

Every person, man or woman, is an integer, an individual, a whole person, and also a portio of the race, and so a fraction of humankind. Well, the rights of individualism are not to be possessed, developed, used and enjoyed by a life in solitude, but by joint action. Accordingly, to complete and perfect the individual man or woman, and give each an opportunity to possess, use, develop and enjoy these rights, there must be concerted and joint action: else individuality is only a possibility, not a reality. So the individual rights of woman carry with them the same domestic, social, ecclesiastical and political rights as those of man.

The Family, Community, Church and State, are four modes of action which have grown out of human nature in its historical development; they are all necessary for the development of mankind-machines which the human race has devised, in order to possess, use, develop and enjoy their rights as human beings, their rights also as men.

These are just as necessary for the development of woman as of man, and as she has the same Nature, Right and Duty as man, it follows that she has the same right to use, shape and control these four institutions, for her general human purpose and for her special feminine purpose, that man has to control them for his general human purpose, and his special masculine purpose. All that is as undeniable as any thing in metaphysics or mathematics.

So, then, woman has the same natural rights as man. In Domestic Affairs, she is to determine her own sphere as much as man, and say where her function is to begin, when it shall begin, with whom it shall begin; where it shall end, when it shall end, and what it shall comprise.

Then she has the same right to Freedom of Industry that man has. I do not believe that the hard callings of life will ever suit woman. It is not little boys who go out as lumberers, but great men, with sinewy, brawny arms. I doubt that laborious callings, like navigation, engineering, lumbering and the like, will ever be agreeable to woman. Her feminine body and feminine spirit naturally turn away from such occupations. I have seen women gathering the filth of the streets in Liverpool, sawing stone in a mason's yard in Paris, carrying earth in baskets on their heads for a railway embankment at Naples; but they were obviously out of place, and only consented to this drudgery when driven by Poverty's iron whip. But there are many employments in the departments of mechanical work, of trade, little and extended, where woman could go, and properly go. Some women have a good deal of talent for trade-this in a small way, that on the largest scale. Why should not they exercise their commercial talents in competition with man? Is it right for woman to be a domestic manufacturer in the family of Solomon or Priam, and of every thrifty husband, and wrong for her to be a public manufacturer on her own account? She might spin when the motive power was a wheel-pin of wood in her hand-may she not use the Merrimack and the Connecticut for her wheel-pin; or must she be only the manufacturing servant of man, never her own master?

Much of the business of education already falls to the hands of woman. In the last twenty years, there has been a great progress in the education of women, in Massachusetts, in all New England. The High Schools for girls,-and still better, those for Girls and Boys-have been of great service. Almost all the large towns of this Commonwealth have honored themselves with these blessed institutions; in Boston, only the daughters of the rich can possess such an education as hundreds of noble girls long to acquire. With this enhancement of culture, women have been continually rising higher and higher as teachers. The State Normal Schools have helped in this movement. It used to be thought that only an able-bodied man could manage the large boys of a country or a city School. Even he was sometimes thrust out at the door or the window of “his noisy mansion,“ by his rough pupils. An able-headed woman has commonly succeeded better than men merely able-bodied. She has tried conciliation rather than violence, and appealed to something a little deeper than aught which force could ever touch. The women-teachers are now doing an important work for the elevation of their race and all human kind. But it is commonly thought woman must not engage in the higher departments thereof. I once knew a woman, wife, and mother, and housekeeper, who taught the severest disciplines of our highest college, and instructed young men while she rocked the cradle with her foot, and mended garments with her hands,-one of the most accomplished scholars of New England. Not long ago, the daughter of a poor widowed seamstress was seen reading the Koran in Arabic. There was but one man in the town who could do the same, and he was a “Learned Blacksmith.“ Women not able to teach in these things! He must be rather a confident professor who thinks a woman cannot do what he can. I rejoice at the introduction of women into common schools, academies, and high schools; and I thank God that the man who has done so much for public education in Massachusetts, is presently to be the head of a college in Ohio, where woman and men are to study together, and where a woman is to be professor of Latin and Natural History. These are good signs.

The business of public lecturing, also, is quite important in New England, and I am glad to see that woman presses into that,-not without success.

The work of conducting a journal, daily, weekly, or quarterly, woman proves that she can attend to quite as decently, and as strongly, too, as most men.

Then there are what are called the Professions,-Medicine, Law, and Theology.

The profession of Medicine seems to belong peculiarly to woman by nature; part of it, exclusively. She is a nurse, and half a doctor, by nature. It is quite encouraging that medical schools are beginning to instruct women, and special schools get founded for the use of women; that sagacious men are beginning to employ women as their physicians. Great good is to be expected from that.

As yet, I believe no woman acts as a Lawyer. But I see no reason why the profession of Law might not be followed by women as well as by men. He must be rather an uncommon lawyer who thinks no feminine head could compete with him. Most lawyers that I have known are rather mechanics at law, than attorneys or scholars at law; and in the mechanical part, woman could do as well as man-could be as good a conveyancer, could follow precedents as carefully, and copy forms as nicely. And in the higher departments of legal work, they who have read the plea which Lady Alice Lille made in England, when she could not speak by attorney, must remember there is some eloquence in woman's tongue which courts find it rather hard to resist. I think hor presence would mend the manners of the court-of the bench, not less than of the bar.

In the business of Theology, I could never see why a woman, if she wished, should not preach, as well as men. It would be hard, in the present condition of the pulpit, to say she had not intellect enough for that! I am glad to find, now and then, women preachers, and rejoice at their success. A year ago, I introduced to you the Reverend Miss Brown, educated at an Orthodox Theological Seminary;-you smiled at the name of Reverend Miss. She has since been invited to settle by several congregations of unblemished orthodoxy, and has passed on, looking further.

It seems to me that woman, by her peculiar constitution, is better qualified to teach religion than any merely intellectual discipline. The Quakers have always recognized the natural right of woman to perform the same ecclesiastical function as man. At this day, the most distinguished preacher of that denomination is a woman, who adorns her domestic calling as housekeeper, wife and mother, with the same womanly dignity and sweetness which mark her public deportment.

If woman had been consulted, it seems to me Theology would have been in a vastly better state than it is now. I do not think that any woman would ever have preached the damnation of babies new-born; and “hell, paved with the skulls of infants not a span long,“ would be a region yet to be discovered in Theology. A celibate monk-with God's curse writ on his face, which knew no child, no wife, no sister, and blushed that he had a mother-might well dream of such a thing: he had been through the preliminary studies. Consider the ghastly attributes which are commonly put upon God in the popular Theology, the idea of infinite wrath, of infinite damnation, and total depravity, and all that,-why, you could not get a woman that had intellect enough to open her mouth to preach these things any where. Women think they think that they believe them; but they do not. Celibate priests, who never knew marriage, or what paternity was, who thought woman was “a pollution,“ they invented those ghastly doctrines; and when I have heard the Athanasian Creed and the Dies Irí¦ chanted by monks, with the necks of bulls and the lips of donkeys,-why, I have understood where the doctrine came from, and have felt the appropriateness of their braying, out the damnation hymns: woman could not do it. We shut her out of the choir, out of the priest's house, out of the pulpit, and then the priest, with unnatural vows, came in, and taught these “doctrines of devils.“ Could you find a woman who would read to a congregation, as words of truth, Jonathan Edwards's Sermon on a Future State-“Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,“ “the Justice of God in the damnation of Sinners,“ “Wrath upon the Wicked to the uttermost,“ “the future punishment of the Wicked,“ and other things of that sort? Nay, can you find a worthy woman, of any considerable culture, who will read the fourteenth chapter of Numbers, and declare that a true picture of the God she worships? Only a she-dragon could do it, in our day.

The popular Theology leaves us nothing feminine in the character of God. How could it be otherwise, when so much of the popular Theology is the work of men who thought woman was a “pollution,“ and harred her out of all the high places of the church? If women had had their place in ecclesiastic teaching, I doubt that the “Athanasian Creed“ would ever have been thought a “Symbol“ of Christianity. The pictures and hymns which describe the last Judgment are a protest against the exclusion of women from teaching in the church. “I suffer not a woman to teach, but to be in silence,“ said a writer in the New Testament. The sentence has brought manifold evil in its train.

So much for the employments of women.

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