“the female that attempts the vindication of her sex”

Continuing the letter from the previous post that Eliza Southgate Bowne wrote to her cousin Moses Porter on the necessity for the cultivation of the abilities and qualities that women possess:

Women have more fancy, more lively imaginations than men. That is easily accounted for: a person of correct judgment and accurate discernment will never have that flow of ideas which one of a different character might,—every object has not the power to introduce into his mind such a variety of ideas, he rejects all but those closely connected with it. On the other hand, a person of small discernment will receive every idea that arises in the mind, making no distinction between those nearly related and those more distant, they are all equally welcome, and consequently such a mind abounds with fanciful, out-of-the way ideas. . . . I never was of opinion that the pursuits of the sexes ought to be the same; on the contrary, I believe it would be destructive to happiness, there would a degree of rivalry exist, incompatible with the harmony we wish to establish. I have ever thought it necessary that each should have a separate sphere of action,—in such case there could be no clashing, unless one or the other should leap their respective bounds. Yet to cultivate the qualities with which we are endowed can never be called infringing the prerogatives of man. Why, dear Cousin, were we furnished with such powers, unless the improvement of them would conduce to the happiness of society? Do you suppose the mind of woman the only work of God that was “made in vain.” The cultivation of the powers we possess, I have ever thought a privilege (or I may say duty) that belonged to the human species, and not man’s exclusive prerogative. Far from destroying the harmony that ought to subsist, it would fix it on a foundation that would not totter at every jar. Women would be under the same degree of subordination that they now are; enlighten and expand their minds, and they would perceive the necessity of such a regulation to preserve the order and happiness of society. Yet you require that their conduct should be always guided by that reason which you refuse them the power of exercising. I know it is generally thought that in such a case women would assume the right of commanding. But I see no foundation for such a supposition,—not a blind submission to the will of another which neither honor nor reason dictates. it would be criminal in such a case to submit, for we are under a prior engagement to conduct in all things according to the dictates of reason. I had rather be the meanest reptile that creeps the earth, or cast upon the wide world to suffer all the ills “that flesh is heir to,” than live a slave to the despotic will of another.

In this concluding statement Eliza determines to be her own person and think for herself: “I am aware of the censure that will ever await the female that attempts the vindication of her sex, yet I dare to brave that censure that I know to be undeserved.”

A Girl’s Life Eighty Years Ago: Selections from the Letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne With an Introduction by Clarence Cook (New York: Scribner’s sons, 1887), pages 58-61.

posted April 16th, 2015 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Women's Rights

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