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Female Suffrage: a Letter to the Christian Women of America   By: (1813-1894)

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Susan Fenimore Cooper


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 HARPER.]

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 proved.

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... Continue reading book >>

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