W1116 SCHOOL ESSAY BY MARGARETTE BARKER LERNED [McQuesten]
Sep 1 1824 [estimated date]
From: [Adams Female Academy, 1 Londonderry, New Hampshire]
The time has gone by, in which woman was considered as holding an inferior rank in the scale of intellectual beings; incapable of investigating the principles of science, or of comprehending those abstruse metaphysical & moral questions, which the giant intellect of man alone, was supposed competent to grasp. She has ceased to be sought, merely as a graceful ornament to his parlor, or as a pleasing toy with which to beguile his hours of leisure. There are multitudes of our own countrywomen, who by their high mental cultivation and moral worth, have spurned that station in society which they were designed to fill: a sphere, different indeed from that of man, but one no lefs2 important and honorable, and calling into exercise feelings and principles not less refined & elevating.
It is time, that a few, in asserting their freedom from what they were pleased to call, the mental and moral servitude in which they were held by the Lords of Creation, have laid aside their woman's nature, and in their clamor for equal rights, have figured in the arena of public debate, & party strife, thus by their principles & practice tending to subvert the very foundations of social order, & of all that is lovely & of good report. But in so doing they have brought the blush to the cheek of the rest of their sex, and they would gladly throw the mantle of oblivion over the victims of such misguided zeal. While they have man to engage in the bustle and turmoil of public life, they are content to move in the more retired sphere of domestic duties, and of social intercourse. His circle of influence lies without, hers lies within, but although their influence is more silent it is not therefore, more limited & less powerful, it is often felt, where it is not acknowledged.
The opinion, I think, too generally prevails that woman has nothing to do with politics: that whatever else she may lawfully engage in, this subject, surely, does not lie within her province of thought or action, and for her to manifest an interest in the political subjects of the day, is almost sufficient to stigmatize her as being very masculine, to say no more. As if the holy principle of patriotism should find no place in her heart.
"Politics" exclaimed Mrs. S. when, in a mixed company, the conversation turned on some new measure of government, "I wish the gentlemen could ever get together without talking politics," and she withdrew to the other side of the room where she was joined by most of the Ladies present, in an animated discussion of various items of housewifery, the latest fashions, the wonderful exploits and remarkable developments of their children; all important and interesting topics undoubtedly but not worthy of their whole attention.
A very different place does the subject hold in the attention of Mrs. H., with her it is one of all-absorbing interest, and so far from withdrawing when the subject is introduced, she is often the first to introduce it herself, and does not hesitate to advance her opinion on any measure of doubtful tendency, and pronounces her approval or condemnation of men and measures with as much decision, as if the power of veto were vested in herself, and manifests as much zeal, as if the weal or woe of the nation were dependent on her individual exertions. In short, she is as staunch a democrat as any in the land, and is as worthy of being rewarded for her zeal by promotion in the Post Office Department, as are many of the present incumbents.
While Mrs. W. regards with surprise the entire indifference of the former [Mrs. S.], she is equally displeased with the assuming manner and partial judgement of the latter [Mrs. H]. She feels that the subject is one in which she has a right to be interested, nay more, that it is one in which she ought to be interested, and she lets no opportunity pass of informing herself on the political questions which are agitated from time to time. She even reads the politics of the newspapers and is as eager to hear the latest intelligence from congress as her husband, who often shows that he thinks her capable of appreciating the subject by reading to her whatever interests himself most and often finds his own opinions confirmed and strengthened, though possibly he is not aware of it, on finding that they coincide with hers. And sometimes, even, when he is wavering in his opinion, her sound reasoning has led him to a decision. She does not shrink from engaging in conversation on political subjects, in a proper time and place, and when she does so, exhibits a correctness of judgement, and independence of thought founded on knowledge of the subject, and not on the opinions of her husband alone. While [she] seeks to instil into the minds of her children the principles of virtue and piety, she instructs them also in the nature of government and law, teaches them the principles of a republican government, and is thus preparing them to discharge their duties as citizens, when they shall be called to act their part, more or less important, on the political stage.
Such I conceive to be the manner in which woman may exert political influence and when this duty shall be generally acknowledged, and discharged, it will tell upon the best interests of her country.3
1 For a note on Adams Female Academy, and on Margarette Barker Lerned, see W1100.
2 The writer employs the now archaic "fs" construction for "ss" in several places in this essay; however we have transcribed with the current usage of "ss" for ease of reading.
3 This essay on the equality of women was written sometime between 1824 and 1827 (likely in 1824) and these are strong opinions and well-developed ideas for Margarette's age (15) and for the age. They are presented in a dialectical fashion and resolved in a rational compromise. The ideas are also appropriate to her school which is Adams Female Academy (see footnote at W1100). Nearly one hundred years later, in 1917, women were still being arrested for picketing the White House in behalf of women's suffrage; and in the same year the U.S. Senate rejected President Wilson's suffrage bill. It was not until August 26, 1920 that the Women's Suffrage Bill was passed into law in the United States.
"Woman's Suffrage." The Woman Suffrage Timeline. December 12, 2003. http://www.gate.net/~liz/suffrage/
In Canadian Feminist and suffrage history, the WOMEN AS PERSONS LAW was enacted on June 11,1929; women were finally declared "persons" under Canadian law. The historic legal victory is due to the persistence of five Alberta women--Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. The battle started in 1916. From Murphy's very first day as a judge, lawyers had challenged her rulings because she was not a "person" under Canadian law. archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-69-337-1801-20/ that_was_then/life_society/women_persons_case
In 1916 the Western Provinces granted suffrage--Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan.
In 1918 all provinces granted the vote (with some restrictions) except Quebec.
In 1920 Women were allowed to stand for election (limited)
In 1940 Quebec granted the vote to women.
In 1950 FULL SUFFRAGE was granted to all women and men (those previously not included.
See also footnote at E2-3 for the Canadian women's missionary movement's ideas on suffrage.