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Equality of the Sexes: The View from 1890

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 15, 2012

This article was written for the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of Salt Lake City’s 17th Ward, by Lizzie Smith. I can’t say this with certainty, but I think this “Lizzie” was Elizabeth Smith (later Cartwright), (1866-1921), a first cousin of Pres. George Albert Smith. Both were members of the 17th ward at this time.

The position I hold, in regard to the equality of the sexes, is given in the words of a French writer as follows:

“Man and woman are composed of the same physical, moral and intellectual elements. There is, therefore, between the sexes, identity of nature. The proportion of these elements differs in the two sexes and constitutes the difference that exists between them. The difference is so equalized that the value shall be equal. Where man is the stronger, he takes the precedence of woman; where woman is the stronger, she takes the precedence of man. Woman, belonging to herself and being dependent only on her reason, has the same rights as man to liberty and equality.”

The women of the present day are generally intelligent because their intellectual faculties have been trained more, perhaps, than formerly. They are better educated and the majority of women devote themselves to an active life, either in the arts or trades, and men acknowledge them as their competitors in these.

Woman, without having lost anything of her gentleness and grace, no longer accepts that once famous axiom, “man should support woman.” She cares not for adoration alone, but wants to carry her intellect and activity into spheres suited to her. She claims that every human being is best judge of his or her own aptitudes, and is willing and anxious to labor to conquer her civil rights.

Man is stronger than woman, physically, at least, so far as pertains to muscular force; but to woman belongs the comprehension of details, imagination, tenderness, grace. Man may have more strength of body – woman has more strength of heart.

In the family the natural task of the woman is the management of domestic affairs – the training of the children and the comfort of the husband, of whom she should be the inspiration. By the side of the eminent man, yet in the shade, there is always a woman. This career of hidden utility and modest devotion is well suited to her; yet, to exclude woman from active occupations and confine her to the cares of the household is to attempt an impossibility – to close the way to progress. For there are many women who will not marry. Many who are left widows without resources, who could never remain pure, except by engaging in some active employment, by which to live.

To see woman from the homestead alone is to view her from a contracted standpoint, which retards her liberty. And I believe we thus hinder her progress, for there are social questions that will never be understood until woman shall stand by the side of man to discuss them. The one will always have need of the other; they will walk together, side by side, and find completeness in each other.

It is not uncommon to meet women who have, at some time in life, wished they had been boys; but, happy to say, the noblest minds among us are too sensible of the responsibility laid upon their place in life to crave another which is really no wider or higher. There is much for woman in this saying: “I care not who may deposit the ballots at the polls, if I may but bear and rear the voters, may train the voters’ wives and mothers.”

We must remember that woman is the mold by which species is perfected or depraved, according as the mold is good or bad. The fate of humanity depends, therefore, on woman, since she has all-powerful influence on the fruits he bears. Pure, good, intelligent, she will produce healthy, intelligent and good beings. In a word, the child will be as the mother makes it. How important, then, that woman should be developed like man; that her education should be comprehensive; that she should be honored and respected; and she should have perfect liberty to follow the vocation which comes to her from God, and of which she alone is judge.

I shall always advocate education for woman, and were I to say whether the sons or daughters of the family shall be educated, I would say, “The girls by all means,” for if mothers are educated sons are bound to be. And I can never believe that higher education will unsex her, provided the cultivation of the heart keeps pace with that of the mind. Her insight to the higher laws of nature will enable her to better understand the true and noble relations between man and woman as God designed them, and teach her more truly to appreciate that “Man in the image of God created he him. Male and FEMALE created he them.”



2 Comments »

  1. Wow, impressively progressive for 1890. With just a few tweaks it could be contemporary.

    Comment by Dovie — November 15, 2012 @ 7:10 am

  2. This is great. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by jks — November 15, 2012 @ 11:35 am

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