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article, "Female Suffrage: A Letter to the Christian Women of
America," by Susan Fenimore Cooper, which appeared in Harper's
New Weekly Magazine, Vol. XLI (June--November, 1870), pp. 438-
446, 594-600. The author is identified only in the Table of Contents,
p. v, where she is listed as "Susan F. Cooper."

Transcribed by Hugh C. MacDougall

{Because "vanilla text" does not permit of accents or italics, accents
have been ignored, and both all-capital and italicized words
transcribed as ALL CAPITALS. Paragraphs are separated by a blank
line, but not indented. Footnotes by Susan Fenimore Cooper are
inserted as paragraphs (duly identified) as indicated by her asterisks.
All insertions by the transcriber are enclosed in {brackets}. For
readers wishing to know the exact location of specific passages, the
page breaks from Harper's are identified by a blank line at the end of
each page, followed by the original page number at the beginning of
the next.

{A Brief Introduction to Susan Fenimore Cooper's article:

{The question of "female suffrage" has long been resolved in the
United States, and--though sometimes more recently--in other
democratic societies as well. For most people, certainly in the so-
called Western world, the right of women to vote on a basis of
equality with men seems obvious. A century ago this was not the
case, even in America, and it required a long, arduous, and
sometimes painful struggle before the Nineteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Project an article arguing AGAINST the right of women to vote--an
article written by a woman?

{There are two reasons for doing so. The first is that Susan Fenimore
Cooper (1813-1894) was no ordinary woman. She was educated in
Europe and extremely well read; she was the daughter and literary
assistant of James Fenimore Cooper, America's first internationally
recognized novelist; and she was a naturalist and essayist of great
talent whose "nature diary" of her home village at Cooperstown,
published as "Rural Hours" in 1850, has become a classic of early
American environmental literature.

{Yet Susan Fenimore Cooper argued eloquently, bringing to her task
not only her deep religious feelings but also her very considerable
knowledge of world history and of American society, that women
should not be given the vote! Hers was not a simple defense of male
dominion; her case is combined with equally eloquent arguments in
favor of higher education for women, and for equal wages for equal
work. "Female Suffrage," is thus of considerable biographic
importance, throwing important light on her views of God, of society,
and of American culture.

{At the same time, "Female Suffrage" demonstrates that no social
argument--however popular or politically correct today--can be
considered as self-evident. Those who favor full legal and social
equality of the sexes at the ballot box and elsewhere (as I believe I
do), should be prepared to examine and answer Susan Fenimore
Cooper's arguments to the contrary. Many of those arguments are
still heard daily in the press and on TV talk shows--not indeed to end
women's right to vote, but as arguments against further steps
towards gender equality. Unlike many modern commentators, Susan
Fenimore Cooper examines these arguments in detail, both as to
their roots and their possible effects, rather than expressing them as
simplistic sound-bites. She asks her readers to examine whether
gender equality is compatible with Christian teachings; whether
universal suffrage can ever resolve social problems; whether the
"political" sphere is as significant to human life as politicians
believe. One need not agree with her answers, but one can only be
grateful that she forces us to ask questions.

{Hugh C. MacDougall, Secretary, James Fenimore Cooper Society--
August 1999}

Part I.

{Publisher's Note} [NOTE.--We have printed this Letter, which will
be continued in our next Number, not as an expression of our own
views, but simply as the plea of an earnest and thoughtful Christian
woman addressed to her fellow-countrywomen.--EDITOR OF

The natural position of woman is clearly, to a limited degree, a
subordinate one. Such it has always been throughout the world, in all
ages, and in many widely different conditions of society. There are
three conclusive reasons why we should expect it to continue so for
the future.

FIRST. Woman in natural physical strength is so greatly inferior to
man that she is entirely in his power, quite incapable of self-
defense, trusting to his generosity for protection. In savage life this
great superiority of physical strength makes man the absolute
master, woman the abject slave. And, although every successive
step in civilisation lessens the distance between the sexes, and
renders the situation of woman safer and easier, still, in no state of
society, however highly cultivated, has perfect equality yet existed.
This difference in physical strength must, in itself, always prevent
such perfect equality, since woman is compelled every day of her life
to appeal to man for protection, and for support.

SECONDLY. Woman is also, though in a very much less degree,
inferior to man in intellect. The difference in this particular may very
probably be only a consequence of greater physical strength, giving
greater power of endurance and increase of force to the intellectual
faculty connected with it. In many cases, as between the best
individual minds of both sexes, the difference is no doubt very slight.
There have been women of a very high order of genius; there have
been very many women of great talent; and, as regards what is
commonly called cleverness, a general quickness and clearness of
mind within limited bounds, the number of clever women may
possibly have been even larger than that of clever men. But, taking
the one infallible rule for our guide, judging of the tree by its fruits,
we are met by the fact that the greatest achievements of the race in
every field of intellectual culture have been the work of
man. It is true that the advantages of intellectual education have
been, until recently, very generally on the side of man; had those
advantages been always equal, women would no doubt have had
much more of success to record. But this same fact of inferiority of
education becomes in itself one proof of the existence of a certain
degree of mental inequality. What has been the cause of this
inferiority of education? Why has not woman educated herself in past
ages, as man has done? Is it the opposition of man, and the power
which physical strength gives him, which have been the
impediments? Had these been the only obstacles, and had that
general and entire equality of intellect existed between the sexes,
which we find proclaimed to-day by some writers, and by many
talkers, the genius of women would have opened a road through
these and all other difficulties much more frequently than it has yet
done. At this very hour, instead of defending the intellect of women,
just half our writing and talking would be required to defend the
intellect of men. But, so long as woman, as a sex, has not provided
for herself the same advanced intellectual education to the same
extent as men, and so long as inferiority of intellect in man has
never yet in thousands of years been gravely discussed, while the
inferiority of intellect in woman has been during the same period
generally admitted, we are compelled to believe there is some
foundation for this last opinion. The extent of this difference, the
interval that exists between the sexes, the precise degree of
inferiority on the part of women, will probably never be satisfactorily

Believing then in the greater physical powers of man, and in his
superiority, to a limited extent, in intellect also, as two sufficient
reasons for the natural subordination of woman as a sex, we have
yet a third reason for this subordination. Christianity can be proved
to be the safest and highest ally of man's nature, physical, moral,
and intellectual, that the world has yet known. It protects his
physical nature at every point by plain, stringent rules of general
temperance and moderation. To his moral nature it gives the
pervading strength of healthful purity. To his intellectual nature,
while on one hand it enjoins full development and vigorous action,
holding out to the spirit the highest conceivable aspirations, on the
other it teaches the invaluable lessons of a wise humility. This grand
and holy religion, whose whole action is healthful, whose restraints
are all blessings--this gracious religion, whose chief precepts are the
love of God and the love of man--this same Christianity confirms the
subordinate position of woman, by allotting to man the headship in
plain language and by positive precept. No system of philosophy has
ever yet worked out in behalf of woman the practical results for good
which Christianity has conferred on her. Christianity has raised
woman from slavery and made her the thoughtful companion of man;
finds her the mere toy, or the victim of his passions, and it places
her by his side, his truest friend, his most faithful counselor, his
helpmeet in every worthy and honorable task. It protects her far
more effectually than any other system. It cultivates, strengthens,
elevates, purifies all her highest endowments, and holds out to her
aspirations the most sublime for that future state of existence,
where precious rewards are promised to every faithful discharge of
duty, even the most humble. But, while conferring on her these
priceless blessings, it also enjoins the submission of the wife to the
husband, and allots a subordinate position to the whole sex while
here on earth. No woman calling herself a Christian, acknowledging
her duties as such, can, therefore, consistently deny the obligation
of a limited subordination laid upon her by her Lord and His Church.

>From these three chief considerations--the great inferiority of
physical strength, a very much less and undefined degree of
inferiority in intellect, and the salutary teachings of the Christian
faith--it follows that, to a limited degree, varying with
circumstances, and always to be marked out by sound reason and
good feeling, the subordination of woman, as a sex, is inevitable.

This subordination once established, a difference of position, and a
consequent difference of duties, follow as a matter of course. There
must, of necessity, in such a state of things, be certain duties
inalienably connected with the position of man, others inalienably
connected with the position of woman. For the one to assume the
duties of the other becomes, first, an act of desertion, next, an act
of usurpation. For the man to discharge worthily the duties of his
own position becomes his highest merit. For the woman to discharge
worthily the duties of her own position becomes her highest merit.
To be noble the man must be manly. To be noble the woman must
be womanly. Independently of the virtues required equally of both
sexes, such as truth, uprightness, candor, fidelity, honor, we look in
man for somewhat more of wisdom, of vigor, of courage, from natural
endowment, combined with enlarged action and experience. In
woman we look more especially for greater purity, modesty,
patience, grace, sweetness, tenderness, refinement, as the
consequences of a finer organization, in a protected and sheltered
position. That state of society will always be the most rational, the
soundest, the happiest, where each sex conscientiously discharges
its own duties, without intruding on those of the other.

It is true that the world has often seen individual women called by
the manifest will of Providence to positions of the highest authority,
to the thrones of rulers and sovereigns. And many of these women
have discharged those duties with great intellectual ability and great
success. It is rather the fashion now among literary men to
depreciate Queen Elizabeth and her government. But it is clear that,

whatever may have been her errors--and no doubt they were grave--
she still appears in the roll of history as one of the best sovereigns
not only of her own house, but of all the dynasties of England.
Certainly she was in every way a better and a more successful ruler
than her own father or her own brother-in-law, and better also than
the Stuarts who filled her throne at a later day. Catherine of Russia,
though most unworthy as a woman, had a force of intellectual ability
quite beyond dispute, and which made itself felt in every department
of her government. Isabella I. of Spain gave proof of legislative and
executive ability of the very highest order; she was not only one of
the purest and noblest, but also, considering the age to which she
belonged, and the obstacles in her way, one of the most skillful
sovereigns the world has ever seen. Her nature was full of clear
intelligence, with the highest moral and physical courage. She was in
every way a better ruler than her own husband, to whom she proved
nevertheless an admirable wife, acting independently only where
clear principle was at stake. The two greet errors of her reign, the
introduction of the Inquisition and the banishment of the Jews, must
be charged to the confessor rather than to the Queen, and these
were errors in which her husband was as closely involved as herself.
On the other hand, some of the best reforms of her reign originated
in her own mind, and were practically carried out under her own close
personal supervision. Many other skillful female rulers might be
named. And it is not only in civilized life and in Christendom that
woman has shown herself wise in governing; even among the wildest
savage tribes they have appeared, occasionally, as leaders and
rulers. This is a singular fact. It may be proved from the history of
this continent, and not only from the early records of Mexico and
Cuba and Hayti, but also from the reports of the earliest navigators
on our own coast, who here and there make mention incidentally of
this or that female chief or sachem. But a fact far more impressive
and truly elevating to the sex also appears on authority entirely
indisputable. While women are enjoined by the Word of God to
refrain from public teaching in the Church, there have been individual
women included among the Prophets, speaking under the direct
influence of the Most Holy Spirit of God, the highest dignity to which
human nature can attain. But all these individual cases, whether
political or religious, have been exceptional. The lesson to be
learned from them is plain. We gather naturally from these facts,
what may be learned also from other sources, that, while the
positions of the two sexes are as such distinct, the one a degree
superior, the other a degree inferior, the difference between them is
limited--it is not impassable in individual cases. The two make up
but one species, one body politic and religious. There are many
senses besides marriage in which the two are one. It is the right

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