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Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Saving our Young Girls

The Revolution, a weekly women’s rights newspaper, was the official publication of the National Woman Suffrage Association formed by feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to secure women’s enfranchisement through a federal constitutional amendment. Published between January 8, 1868 and February, 1872, The Revolution was edited by Stanton and Parker Pillsbury.

Our Young Girls

From the mass of women, with their shriveled bodies and brains, we have little to hope in the regeneration of the race. Philosophers, physicians, and principals of girl’s schools alike testify to the degeneracy of American women. It is a fact not to be winked out of sight. We ask our readers to look through their whole circle of friends and see if they can find one mother of a family healthy, vigorous, happy, high-toned in mind and body. With varied occupation and a rigid observance of the laws of health, their condition might be improved, their pains and sorrows ameliorated, and life made comparatively happy to the end. But for a Revolution in the whole life of the race, for a new and higher type of womanhood, we must look to the young girls of our day.

Corsets for Misses

Corsets for Misses

If we would change our homes from what they now are, mere hospitals for the diseased and dissatisfied, to retreats of joy and rest; our wives from fretful invalids to vigorous companions in the world of thought and work; our children from whining skeletons to loving, happy angels at our firesides, we must lay the foundation now in the physical education of our girls.

The first step in this work is to make all women understand that suffering is not in harmony with God’s will. That every pain, sorrow and wrong is in violation of his law.

We have been taught that woman is the special object of God’s wrath and curse; that the fact of motherhood, so far from being her highest glory and exaltation, is her deepest sorrow and humiliation.

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One can hardly measure the depressing effect of this one false idea forever pressed on woman’s soul; out of this ignorance of the science of life come all these absurd theories of the natural weakness and disabilities of woman. Now, how can you give our girls a sense of guilt when they are sick, or stimulate them to work for health and happiness, if you teach them that suffering is theirs by the direct fiat of heaven, instead of the result of violated law through generations? Let our girls know that they have God on their side; that He holds no special malice towards the daughters of Eve; that, by the same law that they have cursed the race in their weakness, they shall redeem it in their strength.

Teach them if they obey these laws, they too, will be as free and happy, as full of health and vigor in their future lives, as the boys by their side. Take down your fences everywhere tor sex, throw your time-worn theories to the winds, and let your daughters feel that they too have a right to the universe; that their home is the world and their duties wherever they find food for thought or work to do.

Having given the girl the same sense of dignity, of self-respect, of freedom that the boy has, remove every trammel of dress and custom that impedes her pursuit of him in every department of life. Nature intended that boys and girls should be together in the home, in the school, in the world of work. The difference in sex being a difference in mind as well as body, is a healthy stimulus to every faculty. It is the isolation of the sexes that breeds all this sickly sentimentality, these romantic reveries, these morbid appetites, the listlessness and lassitude of cur girls. They need the companionship of boys to stimulate them to more active exercise and vigorous thought. But, cries some one, Nature intended boys and girls for different spheres and we must educate them differently. Nature needs none of our help to keep any of her creatures in their spheres. Our business is to develop every faculty and power that human beings possess! If God had intended that women should dress and move round like churns on castors, he would have made them without legs. If he had intended that in walking they should make no use of arms, but have them pinioned to their sides with their hands in muffs, like chickens skewered to roast, he would have made them without arms like heathen idols.

If he had intended that they should bring their waists to a circumference of twelve inches, he would kindly have dispensed with a double set of vital organs. In providing woman with brains, vital organs, legs and arms like man, it is evident that Nature intended to fit her for similar emergencies in the journey of life. Another important step in seeming the health of our girls is an entire change in dress. If boys were dressed as girls of twenty are, you would soon see them losing all pleasure for outdoor games and sports, and moving about in the same languid manner as girls now do. Some years ago the cadets at West Point made the experiment of dressing without suspenders and tightening the pantaloons around the waist. After a time they were all affected with an epidemic, for which the physician could hot account. After much examination and thought, it was decided to be the result of the new mode of dress. They returned to the use of suspenders, and the disease was removed. Shall the horrid tragedy that has just occurred in our city, a young girl dropping dead in the street from tight lacing, call forth nothing but a passing comment in our journals?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

We conjure you, fathers, husbands, brothers, to give this question of woman’s dress your serious consideration. Your ridicule is more powerful to set women right than reasoning on this subject, than all the sufferings they endure. No woman, though she puff like a porpoise going up-stairs, will admit her clothes are tight. You may ask your daughter, with her wasp-like waist, a dozen times a day, if her dress is not tight, and she will tell you no; and her mother will tell you that “Julia’s waist always tapered just so.” Do not believe a word of it. Nature never sent forth such “journey work.” No girl was ever born into the world with her ribs lapped, and her vital organs all crowded together. If to propitiate some evil genius, we must cramp and trammel one sex, let the boys be the victims hereafter; it would not be half as detrimental to the race as is our system to-day.

We know it is hard to remedy any existing evil, but something must be done in this matter, for it is not only a question of fashion, but involves public health and morals. “Of all the tyrants that ever ruled the world,” says Milton,” none so cruel, so unrelenting as Custom.”

It is nonsense to talk of the minds and morals of our daughters until their bodies are made whole. “You cannot make a soldier out of a sick man,” said Napoleon. Neither can you make a saint, a scholar, or a happy, healthy mother out of a woman whose vital organs are all out of place.

If for no higher motive than the improvement of the mm of our nation, let public thought be given to the consideration of the physical education of our girls, to everything that can exalt, dignify and inspire woman. Make the women of the nation what they should be, and we shall have done with crotchety Presidents, dawdling Congressmen, drunken generals, servile editors, and sickly poets. Remember the stream rises no higher than its source.

–Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Source: The Revolution, January 29, 1868

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