The Duties and Influence of Women


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P.v: There are two kinds of workers in the historical field, and the labor of both is needed before we can reap the whole harvest. These are the Seekers and the Observers.

[P. vi] It is the business of the Seekers to collect, collate, test, and simplify material; to decide what is worth saving, and what must be permitted to drift down the dark gulf of the past. It is the business of the Observers to make use of this material, and permit philosophic thought, general knowledge, and rare culture, to do their work with the accumulations so brought together.

As Seekers, women have already done good service . . . . As Observers, women have, thus far, done very little; and, as observers, the world needs them.

No feminine jury -- no human jury, I would rather say, constituted equally of men and women -- has, thus far, summoned the witnesses of the past. An experimental knowledge of the workings of woman's nature, a wide charity for the positions into which uncommon strength of good or evil kind may force her, is needed to illuminate the doubtful pages of human life. Many an historical judgment waits to be reversed.


P. 169: The elevation of women to their just position in society depends upon themselves. Men cannot help them. Influence follows close upon the heels of character; and whatever we are, that we shall in the end be acknowledged to be. Two classes of women are interested in the reform [woman's rights] now advocated. Women of superior talent, left free by the noble justice of husbands, fathers, or brothers, who have tasted the blessings of liberty, desire above all things that the whole human race should share them also. Women oppressed, degraded, suffering, feeling their loftiest powers crushed, their holiest mission unfulfilled, rise in bitter indignation, naturally enough, perhaps, after an antagonistic fashion, and ask, not merely freedom, but acknowledgement and compensation.

[P. 170] There is still another class, whose influence would powerfully aid the cause, because it would be exerted quietly, unconsciously, and in circles no other power will reach for centuries. They are scattered here and there, throughout the land, myriads of happy wives and mothers, living in a subserviency to well-beloved husbands and fathers, which dulls conscience and paralyzes the intellect. They are dimly conscious that they are not all they ought to be. Absorbed in business or politics, their husbands cannot fitly judge of their duties; and yet their decisions concerning them their wives love them too well to resist. They feel, that, if their husbands trusted them as reasonable, responsible, human beings, all this would be changed; that if they thus acknowledged the right of their wives to those "worldly goods," with which, on the wedding day, every husband pledges himself to "endow" his wife, then the household might be more economically managed, Charity might possess ther own, and Art and Literature have their claim well met, without robbing the table, or superseding the orderly arrangements of the household. But a pride which we ought to respect, since it clings to the skirts of Love, prevents them from acknowledging this. They [P. 171] would blush to say that the money which meets their daily expenses is drawn from favor rather than from justice, or that there is no holy cause on earth that they can aid before it has approved itself to a husband's judgment and liberality. These women have a secret, undefined sympathy in whatever is undertaken for the freedom of the sex. They would like to aid it, if they could do so without going to conventions, making speeches, or wearing Grecian costume. Let them take heed what they do; for theirs is a sacred responsibility. Upon such women, even more than upon those who are acknowledged as reformers, will the national progress depend. What can they do, do they ask? . . . they can make men respect them, in the austerest signification of that term; for it need be no secret, that, though men love the women about them only too well, they do not respect them in the same sense that they do other men, nor preserve to them, in ordinary, social intercourse, the same privileges or rights. It is for this class of women of whom we speak to alter this. Whether it be ever otherwise, will depend on their own truth, dignity, and self-knowledge.

Caroline Dall, from Historical Pictures Retouched; A Volume of Miscellanies. (1860)

Deese, Helen R. "'A Liberal Education': Caroline Healey Dall and Emerson." In Emersonian Circles, pp. 237-260.

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