List Of Contents | Contents of Female Suffrage, by Susan Fenimore Cooper
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physical, shall also be made for them. And here they are much more
likely to succeed without the suffrage than with it. It is not by
general law-making that they can better themselves in these
particulars. Individual fitness for this or that branch of work is what
is required for success. And if, by thorough preparation, women can
discharge this or that task, not essentially masculine in its
requirements, as well as men, they may rest assured that in the end
their wages will be the same as those of their fathers and brothers
in the same field of work.

And how is it with our homes--how fares it with American women in
the family circle? To all right-minded women the duties connected
with home are most imperative, most precious, most blessed of all,
partaking as they do of the spirit of religious duty. To women this
class of duties is by choice, and by necessity, much more absorbing
than it is to men. It is the especial field of activity to which
Providence has called them; for which their Maker has qualified them
by peculiar adaptation of body and mind. To the great majority of
American women these duties are especially absorbing, owing to the
difficulty of procuring paid subordinates, well qualified for the tasks
they undertake. The task of positive labor, and the task of close
supervision, are both particularly burdensome to American wives and
mothers. Thus far, or at least until very recently, those duties of wife
and mother have been generally performed conscientiously. The
heart of every worthy American woman is in her home. That home,
with its manifold interests, is especially under her government. The
good order, the convenience, the comfort, the pleasantness, the
whole economy of the house, in short, depend in a very great
measure on her. The food of the family is prepared by her, either
directly or by close supervision. The clothing of the family passes
through her hands or under her eye. The health of the family is
included within the same tender, watchful, loving oversight. The
education of the children is chiefly directed by her--in many families
almost exclusively so. Whether for evil or for good, by careless
neglect or by patient, thoughtful, prayerful guidance, she marks out
their future course. This is even too much the case. American fathers
love their children fondly; no fathers more affectionate than they
are; they pet their children; they toil ceaselessly for them; but their
education they leave almost entirely to the mother. It may be said,
with perfect truth, that in the great majority of American families the
educational influences come chiefly from the mother; they are tacitly
made over to her as a matter of course. The father has too often
very little to do with them. His work lies abroad, in the world of
business or politics, where all his time and attention are fully
absorbed. In this way the American mother rules the very heart of
her family. If at all worthy she has great influence with her husband;
she has great influence over her daughters; and as regards her sons,
there are too many cases in which hers is the only influence for good
to which they yield. Is there so little of true elevation and dignity in
this position that American women should be in such hot haste to
abandon it for a position as yet wholly untried, entirely theoretical
and visionary?

It will be said that all women are not married, that all wives are not
mothers, that there are childless widows and many single women in
the country. Quite true, but in a rapid sketch one looks at the chief
features only; and home life, with its varied duties, is, of course, the
principal point in every Christian country. The picture is essentially
correct, without touching on lesser details. We pause here to
observe also that almost every single woman has a home
somewhere. She makes a home for herself, or she is ingrafted on the
home of others, and wherever she may be--even in that wretched
kind of existence, boarding-house life--she may, if she choose, carry
something of the home spirit with her. In fact, every true woman
instinctively does so, whatever be the roof that covers her head. She
thinks for others, she plans for others, she serves others, she loves
and cherishes others, she unconsciously throws something of the
web of home feeling and home action over those near her, and over
the dwelling she inhabits. She carries the spirit of home and its
duties into the niche allotted to her--a niche with which she is
generally far more contented than the world at large believes--a
niche which is never so narrow but that it provides abundant material
for varied work--often very pleasant work too. Let it be understood,
once for all, that the champions of widows and single women are
very much given to talking and writing absurdly on this point. Their
premises are often wholly false. They often fancy discontent and
disappointment and inaction where those elements have no
existence. Certainly it is not in the least worth while to risk a
tremendous social revolution in behalf of this minority of the sex.
Every widow and single woman can, if she choose, already find
abundance of the most noble occupation for heart, mind, body, and
soul. Carry the vote into her niche, she certainly will be none the
happier or more truly respectable for that bit of paper. It is also an
error to suppose that among the claimants for suffrage single women
are the most numerous or the most clamorous. The great majority of
the leaders in this movement appear to be married women.

A word more on the subject of home life, as one in which the
interests of the whole sex are most closely involved. It is clear that
those interests are manifold, highly important to the welfare of the
race, unceasing in their recurrence, urgent and imperative in their
nature, requiring for their successful development such devotion of
time, labor, strength, thought, feeling, that they must necessarily
leave but little leisure to the person who faithfully discharges them.
The comfort, health, peace, temper, recreation, general welfare,
intellectual, moral, and religious training of a family make up,
indeed, a charge of the very highest dignity, and one which must tax
to the utmost every faculty of the individual to whom it is intrusted.
The commander of a regiment at the head of his men, the member of
Congress in his seat, the judge on his bench, scarcely holds a
position so important, so truly honorable, as that of the intelligent,
devoted, faithful American wife and mother, wisely governing her
household. And what are the interests of the merchant, the
manufacturer, the banker, the broker, the speculator, the selfish
politician, when compared with those confided to the Christian wife
and mother? They are too often simply contemptible--a wretched,
feverish, maddening struggle to pile up lucre, which is any thing but
clean. Where is the superior merit of such a life, that we should
hanker after it, when placed beside that of the loving, unselfish,
Christian wife and mother--the wife, standing at her husband's side,
to cheer, to aid, to strengthen, to console, to counsel, amidst the
trials of life; the mother, patiently, painfully, and prayerfully
cultivating every higher faculty of her children for worthy action
through time and eternity? Which of these positions has the most of
true elevation connected with it?

And then, again, let as look at the present position of American
women in society. In its best aspects social life may be said to be
the natural outgrowth of the Christian home. It is something far
better than the world, than Vanity Fair, than the Court of Mammon,
where all selfish passions meet and parade in deceptive
masquerade. It is the selfish element in human nature which
pervades what we call the world; self-indulgence, enjoyment, the
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life, receive, in that
arena, their full development. Society, on the contrary, in its highest
meaning, becomes the practical development of the second great
commandment, loving and serving our neighbor. In every Christian
country there are many individuals, especially among women, to
whom social life practically bears that meaning. Public worship itself
is a social act, the highest of all, blending in one the spirit of the
two great commandments--the love of God and the love of man. And
whatever of social action or social enjoyment is not inconsistent with
those two great commandments becomes the Christian's heritage,
makes a part, more or less important, of his education, enters into
the great stream of the better civilization. And it is here that we
reach what may be called the more public duties of woman. From all
duties entirely public she is now, or she may be if she choose,
relieved by man. These more public duties of hers are still but the
outgrowth of her home life, and more or less closely interwoven with
it. They are very important, never to be neglected with impunity. The
really unsocial woman is in great danger of becoming also un-
christian. Every friend crossing the threshold brings social life into
the home. The genial smile, the kindly greeting, the cheering word,
all these and a thousand other gracious impulses, are, of course, but
the first instinctive movements of the social feeling. And from these
we move onward over a vast field of action, to the very farthest
point reached by the higher charities of Christianity. There can be no
doubt that the charm, the grace, and the happy cheerfulness of
society are chiefly due to women; and it is also true that the whole
unwritten common-law of society is, in a great measure, under their
control. The world is constantly encroaching here, enervating and
corrupting social life. To oppose wisely, skillfully, and effectually
these treacherous encroachments, these alluring temptations, is one
of the most difficult tasks possible. To contribute her full share
toward purifying and brightening the social atmosphere about her, in
accordance with the spirit of true Christian civilization, such is one
great and essential part of woman's work in life. It is a work more
especially her own. Man, without his helpmeet, can do but little here.
His faculties are absorbed by other tasks, not more important, but
more engrossing and essentially different. The finer tact, the more
graceful manner, the quicker wit, the more tender conscience, are all
needed here. Every woman in the country has her own share of this
work to do. Each individual woman is responsible for the right use of
all her own social influences, whether for good or for evil.

To keep up the standard of female purity becomes emphatically one
of the most stringent duties of every Christian woman. For her own
sake, for the sake of all she loves, for the sake of her country, for
the service of Christ and His Church, she is bound to uphold this
standard at a high point--a point entirely above suspicion. This task
is of importance incalculable. But, owing to the frivolity of some
women, and the very loose ideas of many men, it is no easy task.
Undoubtedly, the very great majority of women are born modest at
heart. Their nature is by many degrees less coarse than that of man.
And their conscience is more tender. But there is one temptation to
which they too often yield. With them the great dangers are vanity
and the thirst for admiration, which often become a sort of diseased
excitement--what drinking or gambling is to men. Here is the weak
point. Yielding chiefly to this temptation, scores of women are falling
every day. Vanity leads them to wear the extravagant, the flashy,
the immodest, the unhealthy dress, to dance the immodest dance, to
adopt the alluring manner, to carry flirting to extremes. Vanity leads
them, in short, to forget true self-respect, to enjoy the very doubtful
compliment of a miserably cheap admiration. They become impatient
of the least appearance of neglect or indifference, they become
eager in pursuit of attention, while men always attribute that pursuit
to motives of the coarsest kind. It is generally vanity alone which
leads a married woman to receive the first disgraceful flattery of
dissolute men. Probably nine out of ten of those American women
who have trifled with honor and reputation, whose names are spoken
with the sneer of contempt, have been led on, step by step, in the
path of sin by vanity as the chief motive. Where one woman falls
from low and coarse passions, a hundred fall from sheer levity and
the love of admiration.

To counteract this fatal influence young women must be taught to
respect themselves, to be on their guard against vanity and its
enticements, to cherish personal modesty in every way. The married
woman who is quietly working by example or by precept among the
young girls nearest to her, seeking to cherish and foster among them
this vital principle of pure personal modesty in dress, in language, in
reading, in tone of voice, in countenance, in manner--the natural
outward expression of true modesty of heart--is doing far more for
her country than if she were to mount the rostrum to-morrow and
make a political speech eloquent as any of Webster's.

Sensible women may always have a good measure of political
influence of the right sort, if they choose. And it is in one sense a
duty on their part to claim this influence, and to exert it, but always
in the true womanly way. The influence of good sense, of a sound
judgment, of good feeling may always he theirs. Let us see that we
preserve this influence, and that we use it wisely. But let us cherish
our happy immunities as women by keeping aloof from all public
personal action in the political field. There is much higher work for us
to do. Our time, our thoughts, our efforts may be given to labors far
more important than any mere temporary electing, or law-making,
passed today, annulled to-morrow, in obedience to the fickle spirit of
party politics.


Toward this work legislation, the mere enacting of laws, can do but
little. We have all heard of the shrewd mind who considered the
songs of a people as more important than their laws. The moral
condition of a nation is subject to many different influences--of
these the statute book is but one, and that not the most important.
No mere skeleton of political constitution can, of itself, produce
moral health and strength. It is the living heart within which does
the work. And over that heart women have very great influence. The
home is the cradle of the nation. A sound home education is the
most important of all moral influences. In the very powerful
influences which affection gives them over the home, by teaching
childhood, by guiding youth, over the men of their family, women
have noble means for working good, not only to their own
households, not only to the social circle about them, but to the
nation at large. All these influences they can bring into action far
more effectually by adhering closely to that position which is not
only natural to them, but also plainly allotted to them by the

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