Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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Introduction by Horace Greeley

The problem of Woman's position, or "sphere,"—of her duties, responsibilities, rights and immunities as Woman,—fitly attracts a large and still-increasing measure of attention from the thinkers and agitators of our time, The legislators, so called,—those who ultimately enact into statutes what the really governing class (to wit, the thinkers) have originated, matured and gradually commended to the popular comprehension and acceptance,—are not as yet much occupied with this problem, only fitfully worried and more or less consciously puzzled by it. More commonly they merely echo the mob's shallow retort to the petition of any strong-minded daughter or sister, who demands that she be allowed a voice in disposing of the money wrenched from her hard earnings by inexorable taxation, or in shaping the laws by which she is ruled, judged, and is liable to be sentenced to prison or to death, "It is a woman's business to obey her husband, keep his home tidy, and nourish and train his children." But when she rejoins to this, "Very true; but suppose I choose not to have a husband, or am not chosen for a wife—what then? I am still subject to your laws. Why am I not entitled, as a rational human being, to a voice in shaping them? I have physical needs, and must somehow earn a living. Why should I not be at liberty to earn it in any honest and useful calling?"—the mob's flout is hushed, and the legislator Is struck dumb also. They were already at the end of their scanty resources of logic, and it would be cruel for woman to ask further: "Suppose me a wife, and my husband a drunken prodigal—what am I to do then? May I not earn food for my babes without being exposed to have it snatched from their mouths to replenish the rumseller's till, and aggravate my husband's madness? If some sympathizing relative sees fit to leave me a bequest wherewith to keep my little ones together, why may I not be legally enabled to secure this to their use and benefit? In short, why am I not regarded by the law as a soul, responsible for my acts to God and humanity, and not as a mere body, devoted to the unreasoning service of my husband?" The state gives no answer, and the champions of her policy evince wisdom in imitating her silence.

The writer of the following pages was one of the earliest as well as ablest among American women, to demand for her sex equality before the law with her titular lord and master, Her writings on this subject have the force which springs from the ripening of profound reflection into assured conviction. She wrote as one who had observed, and who deeply felt what she deliberately uttered. Others have since spoken more fluently, more variously, with a greater affluence of illustration; but none, it is believed, more earnestly or more forcibly. It is due to her memory, as well as to the great and living cause of which she was so eminent and so fearless an advocate, that what she thought and said with regard to the position of her sex and its limitations, should be fully and fairly placed before the public. For several years past her principal essay on "Woman," here given, has not been purchasable at any price, and has only with great difficulty been accessible to the general reader. To place it within the reach of those who need and require it, is the main impulse to the publication of this volume; but the accompanying essays and papers will be found equally worthy of thoughtful consideration.



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