Questions of Importance appeared in the March 1870 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. In the decade following the end of the Civil War, a great many former abolitionists turned their attention to the question of political equality for women.
A recurring theme that held the public’s attention all the way through the 20th century, when women finally succeeded in gaining voting rights nationally, was the idea that men and women had “natural” roles and “spheres” of influence and that tampering with the system would result in chaos or the destruction of the existing way of life.
Articles like this appeared in magazines and newspapers for decades while the nation slowly marched towards a more equal distribution of political power. The argument usually revolved around the idea that women would be best served by men exercising political power on their behalf to help them better serve their “natural” role in the world.
Questions of Importance
Two questions are now stirring public thought. That men are not women, and women are not men, will, we think, be admitted by the warmest advocates of extremes on either side. Then, however equal in ability and worth the sexes may be, there must be some difference in their offices and their daily employments.
To ascertain the limits of woman’s scope, we must ask what she ought to do, and what she ought not to do. What is for her only to perform in the world’s progress, and what is to be left wholly for man? What offices and employments can man and woman advantageously perform together? The first of these questions may perhaps be made clear to many minds, if we consider the instincts given by the Creator to women. That they are more religious than men is proven by their preponderance in all churches; that they are more pitiful, more gentle, more attached to family life, and better fitted to train children, who will deny?
Do not these considerations show woman’s place to be in the schools and the hospitals, in the supervision of charities, and especially in the medical profession? Let man “ride the whirlwind and direct the storm;” woman comes after the battle, and heals the wounds his passion or his patriotism has inflicted.
Our positions have been so fully set forth in a letter we have lately received, that we shall take the liberty to make an extract. Our correspondent is a professional and scientific man, whose contributions to philological science are well known.
I hold that a nation is, or is intended to be, one great household, and that in the work of the national household, each sex has its own appropriate part. To find out what this appropriate part is, we have only to observe what duty falls naturally to each sex in a private household.
- The man is expected (1) to provide the income, (2) to protect the family, (3) to do the hard out-door work.
- The woman has for her duties: (1) to train the children, (2) to attend to the sick, (3) to do the light in-door work.
Now, each of these departments of duty has its corresponding department in the national household. Let me put it in a tabular form, and you will see my whole theory at a glance:
- Man’s Department: Revenue, War, Police, Judiciary, Public Works.
- Women’s Department: Schools, Hospitals, Charities, Economic Supervision.
By economic supervision, I mean a department which has been too much neglected by the State, just because women have not done their proper duty. It is only of late years that any attention has been paid to sanitary and moral requirements in building houses (especially for the poor), in the regulations of emigrant vessels, in prisons, etc. Since women like Mrs. Fry, Miss Nightingale, Miss Rye, and others, have taken up these subjects, something has been done, but a vast deal more remains to do.”
The views of our correspondent as to the means of achieving these results differ from our own. We may return to them at another time. At present we would only add a few words. When to woman’s household and religious duties are added those of schoolmistress and doctress, with a share in the supervision of all public charities, in education, and in all associations for promoting intellectual and moral good, and for suppressing or ameliorating the evils of humanity, will she not have a field of action wide as her nature requires for its best development?
If so, would it not be for the honor and happiness of both man and woman that the former should take up the task of righting “woman’s wrongs,” and giving her the educational advantages she requires for her own improvement, than that she should rush into the arena of politics, and strive to win her way to them through the rough machinery of suffrage?
Source: Godey’s Lady’s Book – March 1870
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