Eugene A. Hecker.

A Short History of Women's Rights From the Days of Augustus to the Present Time. with Special Reference to England and the United States. Second Edition Revised, With Additions online

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Online LibraryEugene A. HeckerA Short History of Women's Rights From the Days of Augustus to the Present Time. with Special Reference to England and the United States. Second Edition Revised, With Additions → online text (page 10 of 19)
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since this was the surest route to their Promised Land, matrimony. The
study of French consisted in learning parrot-like a modicum of that
language pronounced according to the fancy of the speaker. As, however,
the young beau probably did not know any more himself, the end justified
the means. Studies like history, when pursued, were taken in
homoeopathic doses from small compendiums; and it was adequate to know
that Charlemagne lived somewhere in Europe about a thousand or so years
ago. Yet even this was rather advanced work and exposed the woman to be
damned by the report that she was educated. Ability to cook was not
despised and pastry schools were not uncommon. Thus in the time of
Queen Anne appears this: "To all Young Ladies: at Edw. Kidder's Pastry
School in little Lincoln's Inn Fields are taught all Sorts of Pastry and
Cookery, Dutch hollow works, and Butter Works," etc.

At last in the first decades of the nineteenth century the civilised
world began slowly to take some thought of women's higher education and
to wake up to the fact that because a certain system has been in vogue
since created man does not necessarily mean that it is the right one; a
very heretical and revolutionary idea, which has always been and still
is ably opposed by that great host of people who have steadily
maintained that when men and women once begin to think for themselves
society must inevitably run to ruin. In 1843 there was established a
certain Governesses' Benevolent Institution. This was in its inception a
society to afford relief to governesses, i.e., women engaged in
tutoring, who might be temporarily in straits, and to raise annuities
for those who were past doing work. Obviously this would suggest the
question of what a competent governess was; and this in turn led to the
demand for a diploma as a warrant of efficiency. That called attention
to the extreme ignorance of the members of the profession; and it was
soon felt that classes of instruction were needed. A sum of money was
accordingly collected in 1846 and given the Institution for that
purpose. Some eminent professors of King's College volunteered to
lecture; and so, on a small scale to be sure, began what is now Queen's
College, the first college for women in England, incorporated by Royal
Charter in 1853. In 1849 Bedford College for women had been founded in
London through the unselfish labours of Mrs. Reid; but it did not
receive its charter until 1869. Within a decade Cheltenham, Girton,
Newnham, and other colleges for women had arisen. Eight of the ten men's
universities of Great Britain now allow examinations and degrees to
women also; Oxford and Cambridge do not.

[Sidenote: Women in the professions.]

Since then women's right to any higher education which they may wish to
embrace has been permanently assured. As early as 1868 Edinburgh opened
its courses in pharmacy to women. In 1895 there were already 264 duly
qualified female physicians in Great Britain. In many schools they are
allowed to study with men, as at the College of Physicians and Surgeons
at Edinburgh; there are four medical schools for women only. We find
women now actively engaged in agriculture, apiculture, poultry-keeping,
horticulture; in library work and indexing; in stenography; in all
trades and professions. The year 1893 witnessed the first appointment of
women as factory inspectors, two being chosen that year in London and in
Glasgow. Nottingham had chosen women as sanitary inspectors in 1892.
Thus in about two decades woman has advanced farther than in the
combined ages which preceded. Before these very modern movements we may
say that the stage was the only profession which had offered them any
opportunity of earning their living in a dignified way. It seems that a
Mrs. Coleman, in 1656, was the first female to act on the stage in
England; before that, all female parts had been taken by boys or young
men. A Mrs. Sanderson played Desdemona in 1660 at the Clare Market
Theatre. In 1661, as we may see from Pepys' _Diary_ (Feb. 12, 1661), an
actress was still a novelty; but within a few decades there were already
many famous ones.

[Sidenote: Woman suffrage in England]

We have seen that now woman has obtained practically all rights on a par
with men. There are still grave injustices, as in divorce; but the
battle is substantially won. One right still remains for her to win, the
right, namely, to vote, not merely on issues such as education - this
privilege she has had for some time - but on all political questions; and
connected with this is the right to hold political office. We may
fittingly close this chapter by a review of the history of the agitation
for woman suffrage.

In the year 1797 Charles Fox remarked: "It has never been suggested in
all the theories and projects of the most absurd speculation, that it
would be advisable to extend the elective suffrage to the female sex."
Yet five years before Mary Wollstonecraft had published her _Vindication
of the Rights of Women_. Presently the writings of Harriet Martineau
upon political economy proved that women could really think on politics.

We may say that the general public first began to think seriously on the
matter after the epoch-making Reform Act of 1832. This celebrated
measure admitted £10 householders to the right to vote and carefully
excluded females; yet it marked a new era in the awakening of civic
consciousness: women had taken active part in the attendant campaigns;
and the very fact that "male persons" needed now to be so specifically
designated in the bill, whereas hitherto "persons" and "freeholders" had
been deemed sufficient, attests the recognition of a new factor in
political life.

In 1865 John Stuart Mill was elected to Parliament. That able thinker
had written on _The Subjection of Women_ and was ready to champion their
rights. A petition was prepared under the direction of women like Mrs.
Bodichon and Miss Davies; and in 1867 Mill proposed in Parliament that
the word _man_ be omitted from the People's Bill and _person_
substituted. The amendment was rejected, 196 to 83.

Nevertheless, the agitation was continued. The next year constitutional
lawyers like Mr. Chisholm Anstey decided that women might be legally
entitled to vote; and 5000 of them applied to be registered. In a test
case brought before the Court of Common Pleas the verdict was adverse,
on the ground that it was contrary to usage for women to vote. The
fight went on. Mr. Jacob Bright in 1870 introduced a "Bill to Remove the
Electoral Disabilities of Women" and lost. In 1884 Mr. William Woodall
tried again; he lost also, largely through the efforts of Gladstone; and
the same statesman was instrumental in killing another bill in 1892,
when Mr. A.J. Balfour urged its passage.

At the present day women in England cannot vote on great questions of
universal state policy nor can they hold great offices of state. Yet
their gains have been enormous, as I shall next demonstrate; and in this
connection I shall also glance briefly at their vast strides in the

In 1850 Ontario gave all women school suffrage. In 1867 New South Wales
gave them municipal suffrage. In 1869 England granted municipal suffrage
to single women and widows; Victoria gave it to all women, married or
single. In England in 1870 the Education Act, by which school boards
were created, gave women the same rights as men, both as regards
electing and being elected. In 1871 West Australia gave them municipal
suffrage; in 1878 New Zealand gave school suffrage. In 1880 South
Australia gave municipal suffrage. In 1881 widows and single women
obtained municipal suffrage in Scotland and Parliamentary suffrage on
the Isle of Man. Municipal suffrage was given by Ontario and Tasmania in
1884 and by New Zealand and New Brunswick in 1886; by Nova Scotia and
Manitoba in 1887. In 1888 England gave women county suffrage and British
Columbia and the North-West Territory gave them municipal suffrage. In
1889 county suffrage was given the women of Scotland and municipal
suffrage to single women and widows in the Province of Quebec. In 1893
New Zealand gave full suffrage. In 1894 parish and district suffrage was
given in England to women married and single, with power to elect and to
be elected to parish and district councils. In 1895 South Australia gave
full state suffrage to all women. In 1898 the women of Ireland were
given the right to vote for all officers except members of Parliament.
In 1900 West Australia granted full state suffrage to all. In 1902 full
national suffrage was given all the women in federated Australia and
full state suffrage to those of New South Wales. In 1903 Tasmania gave
full state suffrage; in 1905 Queensland did the same; in 1908 Victoria
followed. In 1907 England made women eligible as mayors, aldermen, and
county and town councillors. In London, for example, at the present time
women can vote for the 28 borough councils and 31 boards of guardians of
the London City Council; they can also be themselves elected to these;
be members of the central unemployed body or of the 23 district
committees, and can be co-opted to all other bodies, like the local
pension committees. Women can be aldermen of the Council; and there is
nothing to prevent one from holding even the office of chairman.

At the present moment the cause of woman suffrage in England is being
furthered chiefly by two organizations which differ in methods. The
National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies has adopted the
"constitutional" or peaceful policy; but the National Women's Social and
Political Union is "militant" and coercive.


I. The English Statutes. Published by Authority during the Various

II. Studies in History and Jurisprudence: by James Bryce. Oxford
University Press, 1901. Pages 782-859 on "Marriage and Divorce."

III. History of English Law: by Frederick Pollock and Frederic Maitland.
2 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1898 - second edition.

IV. Commentaries on the Laws of England: by Sir William Blackstone. With
notes selected from the editions of Archbold, Christian, Coleridge,
etc., and additional notes by George Sharswood, of the University of
Pennsylvania. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1860 - Childs and Peterson, 602 Arch

V. A History of Matrimonial Institutions, chiefly in England and the
United States: by George Elliott Howard. 4 vols. The University of
Chicago Press, 1904.

VI. Social England: edited by H.D. Traill. 6 vols. G.P. Putnam's Sons,

VII. Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original
sources: by John Ashton. London, Chatto and Windus, 1897.

VIII. The Renaissance of Girls' Education in England: by Alice Zimmern.
London, A.D. Innes and Co., 1898.

IX. Progress in Women's Education in the British Empire: edited by the
Countess of Warwick. Being the Report of the Education Section,
Victorian Era Exhibition, 1897. Longmans, Green, & Co., 1898.

X. Current Literature from the Earliest Times to the Present Day,
references to which are noted as they occur.


[393] If a woman sentenced to execution declared she was pregnant, a
jury of twelve matrons could be appointed on a writ _de venire
inspiciendo_ to determine the truth of the matter; for she could not be
executed if the infant was alive in the womb. The same jury determined
the case of a widow who feigned herself with child in order to exclude
the next heir and when she was suspected of trying to palm off a
supposititious birth. But from all other jury duties women have always
been excluded "on account of the weakness of the sex" - _propter defectum

[394] Blackstone, i, ch. 16.

[395] Reg. Brev. Orig., f. 89: quod ipse praefatam A bene et honeste
tractabit et gubernabit, ac damnum vel malum aliquod eidem A de corpore
suo, aliter quam ad virum suum ex causa regiminis et castigationis
uxoris suae licite et rationabiliter pertinet, non faciet nec fieri

[396] "Except in so far as he may lawfully and reasonably do so in order
to correct and chastise his wife."

[397] The learned commentator Christian adds a few more cases where
formerly the criminal law was harshly prejudiced against women. Thus:
"By the Common Law, all women were denied the benefit of clergy; and
till the 3 and 4 _W. and M_., c. 9 [William and Mary] they received
sentence of death and might have been executed for the first offence in
simple larceny, bigamy, manslaughter, etc., however learned they were,
merely because their sex precluded the possibility of their taking holy
orders; though a man who could read was for the same crime subject only
to burning in the hand and a few months' imprisonment."

[398] I Q.B. p. 671 - in the Court of Appeal.

[399] _Married Women's Property Act_, 45 and 46 V., c. 75 - Aug. 18,

[400] Note this incident, from the _Westminister Review_, October, 1856:
"A lady whose husband had been unsuccessful in business established
herself as a milliner in Manchester. After some years of toil she
realised sufficient for the family to live upon comfortably, the husband
having done nothing meanwhile. They lived for a time in easy
circumstances after she gave up business and then the husband died,
_bequeathing all his wife's earnings to his own illegitimate children_.
At the age of 62 she was compelled, in order to gain her bread, to
return to business."

[401] For a full account of the elaborate machinery see Chitty's note to
Blackstone, vol. i, p. 441, of Sharswood's edition.

[402] _Holy Living, ch. 3, section I: Rules for Married Persons._

[403] Boswell, vii, 288. Perhaps if the venerable Samuel had had the
statistics of venereal disease given by adulterous husbands to wives and
children he might not have been so sure of his contention.

[404] Quoted by Professor Thomas in the _American Magazine_, July, 1909.

[405] See 20 and 21 V., c. 85 - Aug. 28. 1857.

[406] See 7 Edw., c. 12 - Aug. 9, 1907 - Matrimonial Causes Act, which
also gives the court discretion in alimony.

[407] Blackstone, iv, ch. 15.

[408] 4 _and_ 5 _V., c._ 56, _s._ 3.

[409] The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885, 48 _and_ 49 _V. c._ 69,
section 5: "Any person who (1) unlawfully and carnally knows or attempts
to have unlawful carnal knowledge of any girl being of or above the age
of thirteen years and under the age of sixteen, or (2) unlawfully and
carnally knows or attempts to have carnal knowledge of any female idiot
or imbecile woman or girl under circumstances which do not amount to
rape, but which prove that the offender knew at the time of the
commission of the offence that the woman or girl was an idiot or
imbecile, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof
shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any
term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour." Section 4:
"Any one who unlawfully and carnally knows any girl under the age of
thirteen shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be
liable to be kept in penal servitude for life." Any one who merely
attempts it can be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with
or without hard labour.



It has been my aim, in this short history of the growth of women's
rights, to depict for the most part the strictly legal aspect of the
matter; but from time to time I have interposed some typical
illustration of public opinion, in order to bring into greater
prominence the ferment that was going on or the misery which existed
behind the scenes. A history of legal processes might otherwise, from
the coldness of the laws, give few hints of the conflicts of human
passion which combined to set those processes in motion. Before I
present the history of the progress of women's rights in the United
States, I shall place before the reader some extracts which are typical
and truly representative of the opposition which from the beginning of
the agitation to the present day has voiced itself in all ranks of life.
Let the reader bear carefully in mind that from 1837 to the beginning of
the twentieth century such abuse as that which I shall quote as typical
was hurled from ten thousand throats of men and women unceasingly; that
Mrs. Stanton, Miss Anthony, and Mrs. Gage were hissed, insulted, and
offered physical violence by mobs in New York[410] and Boston to an
extent inconceivable in this age; and that the marvellously unselfish
labour of such women as these whom I have mentioned and of men like
Wendell Phillips is alone responsible for the improvement in the legal
status of women, which I propose to trace in detail. Some expressions of
the popular attitude follow:

[Sidenote: Examples of opposition to women's rights.]

From a speech of the Rev. Knox-Little at the Church of St. Clements in
Philadelphia in 1880: "God made himself to be born of a woman to
sanctify the virtue of endurance; loving submission is an attribute of a
woman; men are logical, but women, lacking this quality, have an
intricacy of thought. There are those who think women can be taught
logic; this is a mistake. They can never by any power of education
arrive at the same mental status as that enjoyed by men, but they have a
quickness of apprehension, which is usually called leaping at
conclusions, that is astonishing. There, then, we have distinctive
traits of a woman, namely, endurance, loving submission, and quickness
of apprehension. Wifehood is the crowning glory of a woman. In it she is
bound for all time. To her husband she owes the duty of unqualified
obedience. There is no crime which a man can commit which justifies his
wife in leaving him or applying for that monstrous thing, divorce. It
is her duty to subject herself to him always, and no crime that he can
commit can justify her lack of obedience. If he be a bad or wicked man,
she may gently remonstrate with him, but refuse him never. Let divorce
be anathema; curse it; curse this accursed thing, divorce; curse it,
curse it! Think of the blessedness of having children. I am the father
of many children and there have been those who have ventured to pity me.
'Keep your pity for yourself,' I have replied, 'they never cost me a
single pang.' In this matter let woman exercise that endurance and
loving submission which, with intricacy of thought, are their only

From the Philadelphia _Public Ledger and Daily Transcript_, July 20,
1848: "Our Philadelphia ladies not only possess beauty, but they are
celebrated for discretion, modesty, and unfeigned diffidence, as well as
wit, vivacity, and good nature. Who ever heard of a Philadelphia lady
setting up for a reformer or standing out for woman's rights, or
assisting to _man_ the election grounds [_sic_], raise a regiment,
command a legion, or address a jury? Our ladies glow with a higher
ambition. They soar to rule the hearts of their worshippers, and secure
obedience by the sceptre of affection.... But all women are not as
reasonable as ours of Philadelphia. The Boston ladies contend for the
rights of women. The New York girls aspire to mount the rostrum, to do
all the voting, and, we suppose, all the fighting, too.... Our
Philadelphia girls object to fighting and holding office. They prefer
the baby-jumper to the study of Coke and Lyttleton, and the ball-room to
the Palo Alto battle. They object to having a George Sand for President
of the United States; a Corinna for Governor; a Fanny Wright for Mayor;
or a Mrs. Partington for Postmaster.... Women have enough influence over
human affairs without being politicians.... A woman is nobody. A wife is
everything. A pretty girl is equal to ten thousand men, and a mother is,
next to God, all powerful.... The ladies of Philadelphia, therefore,
under the influence of the most 'sober second thoughts' are resolved to
maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins, and Mothers, and not as

From the "Editor's Table" of _Harper's New Monthly Magazine_, November,
1853: "Woman's Rights, or the movement that goes under that name, may
seem to some too trifling in itself and too much connected with
ludicrous associations to be made the subject of serious arguments. If
nothing else, however, should give it consequence, it would demand our
earnest attention from its intimate connection with all the radical and
infidel movements of the day. A strange affinity seems to bind them all
together.... But not to dwell on this remarkable connection - the claim
of 'woman's rights' presents not only the common radical notion which
underlies the whole class, but also a peculiar enormity of its own; in
some respects more boldly infidel, or defiant both of nature and
revelation, than that which characterises any kindred measure. It is
avowedly opposed to the most time-honoured proprieties of social life;
it is opposed to nature; it is opposed to revelation.... This unblushing
female Socialism defies alike apostles and prophets. In this respect no
kindred movement is so decidedly infidel, so rancorously and avowedly

"It is equally opposed to nature and the established order of society
founded upon it. We do not intend to go into any physiological argument.
There is one broad striking fact in the constitution of the human
species which ought to set the question at rest for ever. This is the
fact of maternity.... From this there arise, in the first place,
physical impediments which, during the best part of the female life, are
absolutely insurmountable, except at a sacrifice of almost everything
that distinguishes the civilized human from the animal, or beastly, and
savage state. As a secondary, yet inevitably resulting consequence,
there come domestic and social hindrances which still more completely
draw the line between the male and female duties.... Every attempt to
break through them, therefore, must be pronounced as unnatural as it is
irreligious and profane.... The most serious importance of this modern
'woman's rights' doctrine is derived from its direct bearing upon the
marriage institution. The blindest must see that such a change as is
proposed in the relations and life of the sexes cannot leave either
marriage or the family in their present state. It must vitally affect,
and in time wholly sever, that oneness which has ever been at the
foundation of the marriage idea, from the primitive declaration in
Genesis to the latest decision of the common law. This idea gone - and it
is totally at war with the modern theory of 'woman's rights' - marriage
is reduced to the nature of a contract simply.... That which has no
higher sanction than the will of the contracting parties, must, of
course, be at any time revocable by the same authority that first
created it. That which makes no change in the personal relations, the
personal rights, the personal duties, is not the holy marriage _union_,
but the unholy _alliance_ of concubinage."

In a speech of Senator George G. Vest, of Missouri, in the United States
Senate, January 25, 1887, these: "I now propose to read from a pamphlet
sent to me by a lady.... She says to her own sex: 'After all, men work
for women; or, if they think they do not, it would leave them but sorry
satisfaction to abandon them to such existence as they could arrange
without us.'

"Oh, how true that is, how true!"

In 1890 a bill was introduced in the New York Senate to lower the "age
of consent" - the age at which a girl may legally consent to sexual
intercourse - from 16 to 14. It failed. In 1892 the brothel keepers tried
again in the Assembly. The bill was about to be carried by universal
consent when the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, feeling the
importance of the measure, called for the individual yeas and nays, in
order that the constituents of the representatives might know how their
legislators voted. The bill thereupon collapsed. In 1889 a motion was
made in the Kansas Senate to lower the age of consent from 18 to _12_.
But the public heard of it; protests flowed in; and under the pressure
of these the law was allowed to remain as it was.

Such are some typical examples of the warfare of the opposition to all
that pertains to advancing the status of women. As I review the progress
of their rights, let the reader recollect that this opposition was
always present, violent, loud, and often scurrilous.

In tracing the history of women's rights in the United States my plan
will be this: I shall first give a general review of the various
movements connected with the subject; and I shall then lay before the
reader a series of tables, wherein may be seen at a glance the status of

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Online LibraryEugene A. HeckerA Short History of Women's Rights From the Days of Augustus to the Present Time. with Special Reference to England and the United States. Second Edition Revised, With Additions → online text (page 10 of 19)