A Strong-Minded Woman of a Gentlemanly Deportment (1870)

To say a man is strong-minded, in common parlance, is high praise. To say a woman is strong-minded, in the same dialect, is like saying she has a beard. It is a reproach. Now let us see what makes the difference.

Weakness abstractly is bad. It is always unsatisfactory, from weak tea to weak temper, and the epithet weak applied to great and valuable things in life, such as sense, will, temper, men, timbers, rails, and so on, indefinitely, is a sentence of condemnation; even to say she is a weak woman is not considered very complimentary.

Strength, on the contrary, is a good quality in itself; abstractly it is good. It is only in the wrong place that it becomes bad, and there are very few places in the world of matter or mind where it is unwelcome or necessarily unmanageable.

Take the material world. Iron is the best of metals, because the strongest for most purposes. The oak is the grandest of trees because of its strength. The strength of the hills in nature, the strength of construction of buttress, of tower and bridge, is the highest quality of each. All good things are better for strength. The stronger they are, the more valuable they are.

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).

This holds true in the world of spiritual forces. What is it to be strong-minded? It is to have a large measure of the noblest character made up of the best qualities—judgment, reason, self-control, will, discrimination, perception, magnanimity, honor, generosity and the like. One or two of these may go with a weak character; even judgment and reason need decision to execute their dictates; but these all, or less than all, cannot be united in a character without giving it strength. The man that possesses the most of these best gifts of God to man will be the most of a man among his fellows. His influence will be commanding, for after all real superiority is felt. Wherever he stands he will be a pillar of strength to the weak, a rock of refuge in the stormy sea, a light-house among his kind. One boy with such gifts is the pride of the school. A man so endowed is the hope of his town, his city, his State. Why? Because in every position in which he is placed he will act with noble propriety. Be his sphere what it may, his large round-about sense will bring all things into order, and beauty for himself and others.

Now, why should a woman be expected to be, not like the useful and noble things in life, in which strength is necessary and important, but only like dangerous substances—poisons, for example, which are safer weak than strong; or, like unimportant, as butter, in its perfection, sweet, soft, and melting, and capable of moulding to any form. Butter is a pleasant addition to our meals, but not an essential piece de resistance, as meat and bread. This may be the true view of woman —pleasant, but not actually necessary. Strong butter is not good, we confess; but some firmness of substance and capacity for taking shape is better, even in butter.

As to health, the community is gradually waking up to understand that illness, even in women, is a great misiortune. The early debility and decay of our women is mourned by the physician, the artist, and even the political economist. Delicacy and feebleness are more pitiful than interesting, and unstrung, quivering nerves are lamented as well as ridiculed. You confess that robust health is a blessing, even for a woman . But if you gain this blessing by wholesome, robust life for her, with all its charms and comforts, you will find robust thinking will come with it. You cannot change the body without affecting the mind, nor strengthen the physical fibre without affecting the vigor of the brain, and courage, decision, will, join themselves to calm nerves. You must accept the one with the other. If butter is the material of which you wish your model woman made, and set up like the Chinese Tartars on a pedestal for their spring festival in praise of this product of their beloved herds, it will melt in too hot a sun, and vanish with the first pelting rain.

It is said that a woman’s sphere is so different from a man’s that she does not need these stronger faculties and powers. Let us see again: It is now allowed that educated men make better workmen than even the ignorant, and that a trained mind assists even the mechanical processes of the fingers. Mr. Simmons, of Boston, lately deceased, gives his largesse to women because he found workwomen incompetent, from deficient mental training, to perfect themselves in their occupation. We all know how difficult it is to obtain skilled labor in any branch of woman’s work. He felt the need of wholesome, accurate, mental activity in humble avocations, and his benevolence sought a remedy. So much for culture. Is it not conceded that the larger and finer the nature, the larger the capacity for culture? A woman of high mental power, industry and good principle has a better set of tools to work with from the start, and must do better work.

We claim that women and men alike need in any sphere the most and the best qualities with which God can endow them, and as much culture as they can secure besides. This suffering, sorrowing, dying world has need and use for all. If their spheres are humble or unfortunate, let them strive for the hardier virtues of patience, fortitude, industry; if their lots be brilliant let them cultivate temperance, moderation, benevolence, men and women, equally.

How is it in married life? If a wife bring to her husband the dowry of justice, truth, honor, generosity, judgment, affection, the more she brings, the safer and happier will be his life; and certainly, if she stands alone earning her livelihood, this must be true. What teacher, what mother, what shop-woman, what sewing-girl, could be worse off for these gifts, which make up a strong character? Who dares to say these would be a bad endowment for anybody? And yet those who cast the sneer of strong-minded at thinking women, practically say it until the epithet seems to suggest visions of bounce, of braggadocio, of defiance, of reckless disregard of the proprieties and graceful amenities of life. “A strong-minded woman of a gentlemanly deportment.”

But you say these robust qualities are all well where women are called to stand for themselves, and make their own fight in life. The true mission of elegant women of leisure is to look pretty, to cultivate graceful manners, and the arts of pleasing. Pray, what substances take the highest lustre and polish? Do not the hardest materials best repay the workman’s labor? Are not diamonds, rubies, etc., the hardest of stones? The toughness of gold and silver are the cause of their ductility; and is a fool more docile and easily managed than a woman amenable to reason? Which takes the smoothest and most elegant finish, the soft, friable sandstone, or the enduring Scotch granite, the noblest stone now used? This is but analogy, but it is a true one. No, women need in their different lives the same excellencies that men require; and if they do not have them, it will react on men, weakening them; and cause and effect working in a circle, the man will disable the women in turn, and so the two sexes will injure each other, instead of helping. From the Bible comes the story of Sampson and Delilah; from Pagan Greece, its mate in the myth of Hercules and Omphale. You must make both better, or you degrade both. A mother influences her household more than the father. He may be wise, tender and conscientious in his duties, but all the time the children breathe her atmosphere, catch her spirit, and partake of her nature.

Let us hear no more talk of rivalry between the sexes, so mutually related and dependent. It is absurd. They rise and fall together.

By Mrs. Emily E. Ford for The Revolution issue for October 20, 1870.

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