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On the Equality of the Sexes
Digital History ID 165

Author:   Judith Sargent Stevens Murray


Although the American Revolution, unlike the French, the Haitian, the Russian, or the Chinese revolutions, did not result in a root-and-branch transformation of a social order, it did unleash a revolutionary ideology that threw into question many established ideas and customs. One of the Revolution's radical consequences was an emerging consciousness of the disparity between the society's egalitarian ideals and the status of women.

Writing under the pen name "Constantia," Judith Sargent Stevens Murray (1751-1820), the daughter of a wealthy Gloucester, Massachusetts, sea captain and merchant, issued a call in 1790 for equality of the sexes--two years before the pioneering English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Murray later advocated establishment of female academies not simply to produce "sensible and informed" companions for men but also to prepare young women to support themselves financially.


Is the needle and kitchen sufficient to employ the operations of a soul...? I should conceive not. Nay, it is a truth that those very departments leave the intelligent principle vacant, and at liberty for speculation. Are we deficient in reason? we can only reason from what we know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex caqnnot fairly be deduced from thence.... "But our judgment is snot so strong--we not not distinguish so well."--Yet it may be questioned, from what doth this superiority...proceed. May we not trace its source int he difference of education, and continued advantages? Will it be said that the judgment of a male of two years old, is more sage than that of a female of the same age? I believe the reverse is generally observed to be true.... How is one [the male] exalted, and the other [the female] depressed, by the contrary modes of education which are adopted! the one is taught to aspire, and the other is early confined and limited.... At length arrived at womanhood, the uncultivated fair one feels a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable of filling.... Is she united to a person whose soul nature made equal to her own, education hath set him so far above her, that in those entertainments which are productive of such rational felicity, she is not qualified to accompany him. She experiences a mortifying consciousness of inferiority, which embitters every enjoyment....

Yes, ye lordly, ye haughty sex, our souls are by nature equal to yours; the same breath of God animates, enlivens, and invigorates us....

"On the Equality of the Sexes," Massachusetts Magazine, II (March and April 1790).

Additional information: Judith Sargent Stevens Murray, "On the Equality of the Sexes," Massachusetts Magazine, March and April 1790, 132-35, 223-26

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