Women and their Work in 1871

This essay on the work of women by Laura C. Holloway appeared in The Revolution in March of 1871. 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.

Professions for Women

The bad economy of our present standard for women is evident in the fact that men expect them, after giving them but a scanty education, to toil daily to the limits of physical strength, and yet by nature of some inscrutable wisdom or intuition to keep up in progress with them.

No provision is made for the professional education of girls. In man it occupies all the season of youth. He reaches his majority at least before he is qualified to put his powers to the test, and exercise the knowledge he has gained. But with girls it is different. Marriage is the only alternative left, and the primitive duties of the sex in that relationship, do not require learning nor professional education to perform them.

Now matrimony constitutes the supreme and pre-eminent business of a woman’s life, and the most memorable episode of her career. Only too well does every woman know, who tries to combine professional exertions with the ordinary duties of a man’s wife, that except in rare instances it is impossible to maintain the unequal conflict.

Her competitors get far ahead of her as she toils in the steep ascent. Men go on in their career without intermission; she toils and strives to keep up with her more favored and less burdened rivals.

With what sickness of heart, with what a weary, hopeless sense of the unattainable, and desperate consciousness of the mistake, she maintains the struggle—only they can tell who have done it. Such is the success a woman has to expect who attempts to combine the work of a man to which she has not been trained with the common duties of female life. “Then why in mercy’s name,” you exclaim, “do you want women educated to professions and trades?” And we answer, “Because of the growing unhappiness among them.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

The immense majority of women are engaged in the same round of simple, but incessant domestic occupations; are separated from each other, and never come together in bodies to discuss their condition, or do anything to make their lives brighter, or to dignify existence, and render it something more than laboring machinery.

Because of the growing restlessness of intelligent women, because of the painful consciousness of faculties blunted by want of use, and powers numbed by long inaction, we want women educated to think and act for themselves. Their elevation cannot be accomplished by men. For their peculiar interests they need their own thinkers, and their own leaders, and they must be women of great hearts, of enlarged views, and lofty aspirations. They must be women who have experienced the wrongs they propose to redress, and who will not swerve from right nor falter in the fierce struggle.

Katharine Louisa Russell, Viscountess Amberley

Katharine Louisa Russell, Viscountess Amberley

Lady Amberly [Katharine Louisa Russell, Viscountess Amberley (née Stanley; 3 April 1842 – 28 June 1874), often referred to as Kate, was a British suffragist and an early advocate of birth control in the United Kingdom. She was the mother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell],  who rightly appreciates the miserable, half-educations given to women, and the opposition they encounter in putting them to available uses thus sums up their needs:

First, that all women should receive as good educations as men. Second, that all professions should be open to them. Third, that married women should hold their property upon the same terms as married man. Fourth, that they should possess the franchise. Fifth, that public opinion should sanction every occupation for women which in itself is good and suitable to their strength.

With such rights, such indemnities for the past, and securities for the future, men might reasonably hope to see women achieve something worth having in the way of success, and reap a pecuniary reward commensurate with their natural talents, and acquired education. Hasten then the day when the female sex will become individualized; when it will not be treason to husband or father to be their equals. As they ought to be in all respects before the law, and as they are before God.

Source: The Revolution, March 23, 1871. 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.

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