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Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

[Detail] Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

The Rights and Conditions of Women: A Sermon (excerpt)

By Samuel J. May

For Lesson Two

NOTE: This is an excerpt from The Rights and Conditions of Women: A Sermon, by Samuel J. May found in Votes for Women, 1848-1921.

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PROPERTY RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES.

Genesis, V: 1.- In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him, male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.

Galatians, III: 28.- There is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

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This entire disfranchisement of females is as unjust as the disfranchisement of the males would be; for there is nothing in their moral, mental or physical nature, that disqualifies them to understand correctly the true interests of the community, or to act wisely in reference to them.

I will not now speak of the many illustrious women of ancient and modern times, who have enlightened and blessed the families and communities, with which they have been connected. I will only say, that several of the best writers, in our language, upon political economy, have been women. There was no one in his empire, of whom Bonaparte stood more in awe, (because of her discriminating judgment on the policy of his government) than Madame De Stael. Some of the ablest Sovereigns, that have ever worn crowns, either in ancient or modern times, have been women. We have, therefore, evidences enough that the female mind is competent to appreciate justly, and discharge ably the duties incumbent upon a member of the body politic; and for myself I am unable to see either justice or reason in that part of our civil Constitution which denies to women the right, if they see fit, to take part in the public counsels; and influence by their votes, if they please, public elections.

The Father of the human family, in his infinite wisdom, made man male and female. But he made us co-ordinate, equal in rank, alike rational and moral beings. God created woman to be the companion of man, not his slave, not his menial; not subservient to his will, any further than his will is in accordance with the will of the Divine Mind. He has not given one law to men, and another law to women, but the same law to both. The true interests of each, and the high purpose, for which life was given to each, are precisely the same. I am aware that this equality of the sexes has never been recognized, until since the Reformation of the 16th century, by the Quakers and a few smaller sects of Christians. But this is only one of many facts, which show, how benighted were the ages before that epoch; and how many clouds of error remain yet to be dispelled from the human mind. The doctrine that "the people" have rights to govern themselves is modern, and almost peculiar to America. It would be, at this day, scouted in Spain, Austria and Russia, as heartily as the doctrine I am advocating. And it is indeed deserving of no more respect. For if the people have the right of self-government, them I am unable to see why a half of the people have a right to govern the whole.

To prove, however, that woman was not intended to be the equal of man, the argument most frequently alleged is, that she is the weaker vessel-inferior in stature, and has much less physical strength. This physiological fact, of course, cannot be denied; although the disparity in these respects is very much increased by neglect or mismanagement. But allowing women generally to have less bodily power, why should this consign them to mental, moral or social dependence? Physical-force is of special value only in a savage or barbarous community. It is the avowed intention and tendency of Christianity to give the ascendancy to man's moral nature; and the promises of God, with whom is all strength and wisdom, are to the upright, the pure, the good,-not to the strong, the valiant, or the crafty.

The more men receive of the lessons of Christianity-the more they learn to trust in God, in the might of the right and true- the less reliance will they put upon brute force. And as brute force declines in public estimation, the more will the feminine qualities of the human race rise in general regard and confidence; until the meek shall be seen to be better than the mighty, and the humble only be considered worthy of exaltation. Civilization implies the subordination of the physical in man to the mental and moral; and the progress of the melioration of the condition of our race, has been everywhere by the elevation of the female sex.

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Undoubtedly some of you are ready to say to me, "pray, would you have women public instructors, lecturing upon moral and political science, and haranguing the people upon their special duties as citizens?" Hear my reply. It is not for me, nor for us men, to prescribe the mode in which the women shall operate. Let us leave this to their own good sense, and taste. There is a great deal of lecturing and haranguing, that doth not profit. Would that neither men nor women should ever speak in public, unless they have somewhat to say worth hearing. But if a valuable thought is suggested to any one, I see not why that thought should be suppressed, because it was started in the mind of a female. And if she, to whom it has come, has power to utter it, and is moved so to do, I see not why she should be forbidden. To me, it is as grateful to hear words of wisdom and eloquence from a woman as a man; and quite as uninstructive and wearisome to listen to a vapid, inane discourse from the one as from the other. I know not why silly men should be encouraged to speak, more than silly women; nor why the wise of one sex should be forbidden, any more than the wise of the other, to communicate what they possess to those, who may need it, and in the manner they prefer. To whomsoever God has given the power to instruct and control others, by their learning, their eloquence or their wit, to them he has given the authority to do so. I have heard some women speak in a manner far more convincing and impressive than most men, that I have known, were able to; and so as amply to vindicate their right to stand up in the pulpit or the forum, as teachers of men.

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