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Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

[Detail] Youngest parader in New York City suffragist parade

Transcription of a Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell, October 18, 1875 (excerpt)

For Lesson Two

NOTE: Transcription of Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Mabel Hubbard Bell, October 18, 1875 found in Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers, 1862-1939.

{Transcription Begins}

Salem, Mass.

Oct. 18th, 1875

Dear Miss Mabel,

I wonder if you know what it is to have more correspondence upon your hands than you can possibly attend to.

It is with a despairing countenance that I sometimes open letters to find that I am expected to write volumes in reply.

I have been so buy lately writing upon the subjects of Telebraphym Visible Speech, and Orthöepy that I have allowed quite a number of letters to accumulate on my hands unanswered.

This evening feeling some premonitory twinges of conscience I sat down to write--and have just accomplished a feat of which I really fell quite proud. I have written nine letters at one sitting--most of them quite lengthy epistles too!!

And now--having eased my conscience in regard to these letters--I shall rest myself by writing a few lines to you in answer to your kind not. I fear I must have left you last night about as much puzzled as you were at first in regard to my real feelings on the subject of "Woman's Rights". To tell the truth I am somewhat puzzled in the matter myself!

I have a vague sort of feeling that there has been-and-is-injustice somewhere in the position that woman holds in the world--but where to locate that injustice--or how to define its boundaries--I know not.

The fact is that my mind has been so occupied with scientific matters that I have given very little attention to the question at all.

I am quite at sea in the matter--in a fog--and I do not even know the latitude and longitude of the port for which I am bound!


When I heard from Mrs. Hubbard that you were interested in the subject--I felt curious to ascertain what your ideas were. On the spur of the moment I strung a few disjointed thoughts together and forwarded them to you in Bethel hoping to rouse your indignation to a reply!

It was a dangerous experiment and I am glad I did not succeed. You were not angry with me. Indeed I do not know whether you are ever angry with anybody!

All is well that ends well and I am glad that I have escaped this time. One of my latest resolves has been to keep my letters for a day before posting them. Had I done so in that instance the letter would not have been posted at all. As I stated to you yesterday I am a passive advocate of Woman's Rights and not an active one--although you would scarcely believe it could you hear the debates that sometimes arise between Mr. Sanders and myself upon the subject. In Salem I come out strongly for the plaintiff in the action "Woman versus Man"--because Mr. Sanders will take the other side. In Cambridge however I suspect I shall have to plead for the defendant in the suit! if you are such a Woman's Rightist as I take you to be. The true way to look at a subject is to look at it from all sides--to view it in its totality with impartial eye. I confess that I am unable to as yet to do this with Woman's Rights as I have thought too little upon the subject.

I recognize that women have many just grounds of complaint against society--and yet I think that there is much to be thankful for in the position accorded to them in this nineteenth century. The evils of this life obtrude themselves upon our notice--the blessings have to be sought for to be appreciated. It is always much more easy to find fault with established usages than to propose remedies that will be above criticism. An illustration occurs to me at this moment.

I remember in England having my attention called to the case of a very good, honest worthy woman who had married unhappily. Her husband was a great drunkard and at last she was obliged to open a millinery store in order to support herself and her little child. The man left her but returned every now and then for the purpose of carrying off what money she had in the house!

The poor woman lived in continual dread of his visits--but, as she believed the marriage tie to be too sacred a one to be broken by human hands, she could obtain no redress.

It was not "robbery" for a husband to take from his wife--for what belonged to the one belonged to the other! Now here was a manifest injustice! And yet I would not hold that the law should be laid on one side because it may be unjust in certain cases. It is easy to find fault with it--but very difficult to frame a better one.


There is to me something extremely beautiful in the idea of marriage--as the union and complete identity of two beings--so perfect a union that what belongs to the one belongs to the other and that each becomes to the other a second self.

And yet how hard does that law become which recognizes and compels a union that does not exist in heart.

My best wishes go with those who try to reform the world--and I should like to help them out--even though they are women!

When I look out upon the world of real life I see much to deplore--much that needs rightin--but I think there is much also that is good. Indeed the good and evil are pretty evenly balanced. I do not think we should open our eyes to the one and close them to the other. In the rough contacts of life the rocks seem very hard and angular--huge stones encumber the ground--Still--viewed from a lofty point--the details of the landscape melt into a harmonious whole. The blessing of this life stand out all the more brightly that they are contrasted with evils. The brightest picture--we know--would seem tame without its shadows. There are lights and shadows in our own lives. There is a bright and a dark side to the world itself. I do not approve of the plan of looking at one side and ignoring the other--but if I must look at one side more than the other--give me that which is brightest and best.

Were we to spend a winter in the Arctic Regions we might become sceptical of the existence of warmth and sunshine upon earth. ? We live in the Tropics ice and snow would be matters of faith. The African and the Hindoo [sic] laugh at the Englishman who tells them that water becomes solid in his country--and that white rain falls from the sky!

Give me the temperate regions of the earth where Spring and Summer, Autumn and Winter succeed each other in every-pleasing variety.

We do not appreciate those blessings that we possess continually--half as much as those which we are still to come--or which we have lost.

I think that women have a brighter and freer future before them, but I must say that I cannot fully sympathize with or appreciate sudden revolutions. The mightiest physical changes upon the face of the earth have been accomplished by silent and gentle upheavals of the crust continued through long periods of time. Sudden movements are always destructive in their tendencies. I believe in Woman's Rights as a matter sure to be accomplished in the future.

For ages past there have been a steady and continuous improvement in the condition of the sex--but I cannot feel that exztremists are right. Were everything granted at once there would be a sudden and disastrous change in the condition of society--and a catastrophe would ensue.

But I must bring this epistle to a close or I fear I should have Mr. Sanders ? upon me for breaking my promise about sitting up at night.

I hope that you are not going to New York on Friday but if you are--I trust you may have a pleasant visit.

With kindest regards

Believe me

Yours very sincerely

A. Graham Bell

{Transcription Ends}