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Address to the Women's National Council
Digital History ID 3606

Author:   Frances Willard
Date:1891

Annotation: Frances Willard was president of the Woman's National Council of the United States (founded in 1888). This is an address she gave at its first triennial meeting at the Albaugh's Opera House in Washington D.C., February 22-25, 1891.


Document: Beloved Friends and Comrades in a Sacred Cause:

"A difference of opinion on one question must not prevent us from working unitedly in those on which we can agree."

These words from the opening address before the International Council convened in this auditorium three years ago were the key-note of a most tuneful chorus. The name of her who uttered words so harmonious is Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and it shall live forever in the annals of woman's heroic struggle up from sexhood into humanhood.

Our friends have said that, as President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Mrs. Stanton leads the largest army of women outside, and I the largest one inside, the realm of a conservative theology. However this may be, I rejoice to see the day when, with distinctly avowed loyalty to my Methodist faith, and as distinctly avowed respect for the sincerity with which she holds to views quite different, I can clasp hands in loyal comradeship with one whose dauntless voice rang out over the Nation for "woman's rights" when I was but a romping girl upon a prairie farm.

It has taken women of brains and purpose over forty years to find out that they could be true to the faith born with them (nourished at the bosom where their infant heads were pillowed, and taught them at their mother's knee, until its fibers are part and parcel of their own), and yet in the thickening battle for "the liberty wherewith Christ maketh free," could keep step with any soldier and heed the voice of any captain who was fighting

"For the cause that lacks assistance 'Gainst the wrong that needs resistance, For the future in the distance, And a woman's right to do." …

And because woman in some of our American Commonwealths is still so related to the law that the father can will away an unborn child, and that a girl of seven or ten years old is held to be the equal partner in a crime where another and a stronger is the principal; because she is in so many ways hampered and harmed by laws and customs pertaining to the past, we reach out hands of help especially to her that she may overtake the swift-marching procession of progress, for its sake that it may not slacken its speed on her account as much as for hers that she be not left behind. We thus represent the human rather than the woman question, and our voices unite to do that which the president of our New York Sorosis so beautifully said in a late letter to the Sorosis of Bombay: .......... " Tell them the world was made for woman, too!"

Every atom says to every other one, "Combine," and, doing so, they change chaos into order. When every woman shall say to every other, and every workman shall say to every other, "Combine," the war-dragon shall be slain, the poverty-viper shall be exterminated, the gold-bug transfixed by a silver pin, the saloon drowned out, and the last white slave liberated from the woods of Wisconsin and the bagnios of Chicago and Washington.

For combination is "a game that two can play at"; the millionaires have taught us how, and the labor-tortoise is fast overtaking the capitalistic hare. What was it Mrs. Stanton said? "A difference of opinion on one question must not prevent us from working unitedly in those on which we can agree."

Illustrations of this great principle (so long universally recognized by men, whether Jew or Gentile, orthodox or heterodox, in all their humanitarian and patriotic work) are more conspicuously manifest in the programme of this Council than ever before in the forty-year long annals of the woman movement, for here we have nearly forty different societies represented by delegates either regular or fraternal.

Could anything be broader than the basis laid for this great organization? Its Preamble declares: .......... We, women of the United States, sincerely believing that the best good of our homes and nation will be advanced by our own greater unity of thought, sympathy and purpose, and that an organized movement of women will best conserve the highest good of the family and the State, do hereby band ourselves together in a confederation of workers committed to the overthrow of all forms of ignorance and injustice, and to the application of the Golden Rule to society, custom, and law." …

Let me then frankly say that I believe we should organize a miniature council in every town and city, confederating these in every State, and instructing the State Council to send delegates to the National Council. [The President of the council] should have power to choose her own cabinet from the seven ablest women of the country, representing the industries, education, professions, philanthropies, reforms, and the religious and political work of women. We should thus have within the National Government, as carried on by men, a republic of women, duly organized and officered, not in any wise antagonistic to men, but conducted in their interest as much as in our own, and tending toward such mutual fellowship among women, such breadth of knowledge and sympathy as should establish solidarity of sentiment and purpose throughout the Nation of women-workers, put a premium upon organized as against isolated efforts for human betterment, minify the sense of selfhood and magnify that of otherhood, training and tutoring women for the next great step in the evolution of humanity, when men and women shall sit side by side in Government and the nations shall earn war no more.

"Something solid, and superior to any existing society, is what we want." This is the commentary of women with whom I have talked, and the foregoing outline is offered as a possible help toward meeting this very natural and reasonable requirement. Such a National society would, indeed, incalculably increase the world's sum total of womanly courage, efficiency, and esprit de corps; widening our horizon, correcting the tendency to an exaggerated impression of one's own work as compared with that of others, and putting the wisdom and expertness of each at the service of all. Nor would it require a vast amount of effort to bring such a great movement into being, for the work of organizing is already done, and the correlating of societies now formed could be divided among our leaders, each one taking a state or a number of chief towns and cities.

Being organized in the interest of no specific propaganda, this great Association would unite in cordial sympathy all existing societies of women, that with a mighty aggregate of power we might move in directions upon which we could agree.

Moreover, the tendency would be vastly to increase the interest of individual women in associated work and the desire of local societies to be federated nationally, individual women and isolated societies of women being ineligible to membership in the councils, whether local, State, or National.

But the greatest single advantage will perhaps be this, that while each society devoted to a specific end will continue to pursue these by its own methods, every organization will have the moral support of all others and will be in a position to add its influence to that of all others, for such outside movements of beneficence as it may approve. For instance, without a dissenting voice, the International Council of 1888 put itself on record to the following effect: .......... It is the unanimous voice of the Council that all institutions of learning and of professional instruction, including schools of theology, law, and medicine, should, in the interests of humanity, be as freely opened to women as to men; that opportunities for industrial training should be as generally and as liberally provided for one sex as for the other, and the representatives of organized womanhood in this Council will steadily demand that in all avocations in which both men and women engage equal wages shall be paid for equal work; and, finally, that an enlightened society should demand, as the only adequate expression of the high civilization which it is its office to establish and maintain, an identical standard of personal purity and morality for men and women.

Probably there is not an intelligent woman in America who would not subscribe to this declaration. The only point of possible difference would be the opening of theological schools to women; and since Oberlin and Hartford, Boston and Evanston theological seminaries have done this and it does not necessarily involve the ordination of women, that difference would not be likely to arise.

Were there such a council of women in town and city, State and Nation, we should have our representatives constantly at the State and National capitals, and should ask unitedly for advantages that have heretofore been asked for only by separate societies. Laws for the better protection of women, married and single; laws protecting the property rights of married women and giving them equal power with their husbands over their children; laws making the kindergarten a part of the public school system; requiring lessons in physical culture and gymnastics to be given in all grades of the public school with special reference to health and purity of personal habitudes; National and State appropriations for common school and industrial education, and appropriations for institutions helpful to women-surely we might together strive for all of these.

Locally a woman's council should, in the interest of that "mothering" which is the central idea of our new movement, seek to secure for women admission to all school committees, library associations, hospital and other institutional boards intrusted with the care of the defective, dependent, and delinquent classes, also to boards of trustees in school and college and all professional and business associations; also to all college and professional schools that have not yet set before us an open door; and each local council should have the power to call in the united influence of its own State council, or, in special instances, of the National Council, if its own influence did not suffice.

I am confident that the development of this movement will impart to women such a sense of strength and courage, and their corporate self-respect will so increase, that such theatrical bills as we not see displayed will be not permitted for an hour, without our potent protest; and the exhibitions of women's forms and faces in the saloons and cigar stores, which women's self-respect will never let them enter, and the disgraceful literature now for sale on so many public newsstands, will not be tolerated by the womanhood of any town or city. An "Anatomical Museum" that I often pass on a Chicago street bears the words: "Gentlemen only admitted." Why do women passively accept these flaunting assumptions that men are expected to derive pleasures from objects that they would not for a moment permit their wives to see? Someday women will not accept them passively, and then these base exhibitions will cease, for women will purify every place they enter, and they will enter every place. Catholic and Protestant women would come to a better understanding of each other through working thus for mutual interests; Jew and Gentile would rejoice in the manifold aims of a practical Christianity; women who work because they must; women, true-souled enough to work because they ought, or, best of all, great-souled enough to work because they love humanity, will all meet on one broad platform large enough and strong enough to furnish standing room for all. Later on, who knows but that by means of this same Council we women might free ourselves from that stupendous bondage which is the basis of all others-the unhealthfulness of fashionable dress! "Courage is as contagious as cowardice," and the courage of a council of women may yet lead us into the liberty of a costume tasteful as it is reasonable, and healthful as it is chaste.

Another practical outcome that might be looked for from such a confederation of women's efforts in religious and philanthropic, educational and industrial work, might be the establishment in every town and city of headquarters for women's work of every kind. …

Still another great advantage would be the wide attention given to conclusions reached by such a representative body of women. The best ideas of leaders are now entombed in their annual addresses, leaflets, and books intended for a single society. But literature issued by the National Council would command the well-nigh universal attention of intelligent women, and would furnish such a fund of facts, statistics, and results of the individual and associated study of reformers now isolated in their work, as would be of incalculable value to students of the many and widely-varied enterprises to which women are devoting themselves with so much zeal. In this connection, let me say that to develop the great quality of corporate as well as individual, self-respect, I believe no single study would do more than that of Frances Power Cobbe's noble book on "The Duties of Women." It ought to be in the hands of every woman who has taken for her motto loyalty to "heart within, and God o'erhead," and surely it ought to be in the hands of everyone who has not this high aim, while I am certain that every man who lives would be a nobler husband, son, and citizen of the great world if he would give this book his thoughtful study. …

A pan of milk sours in a thunder-storm, and must stand still ere cream will come. So is it with our minds. Their sober second thought is best attained in solitude. We have long met to read essays, make speeches and prepare petitions; let us hereafter meet, in this great Council, to legislate for Womanhood, for Childhood and the Home. Men have told us solemnly, have told us often and in good faith, no doubt, that "they would grant whatever the women of the National asked." Our time to ask unitedly has waited long, but it is here at last. …what end have we in view? Is it fame, fortune, leadership? Not as I read women's hearts, who have known them long and well. It is for love's sake-for the bringing in of peace on earth, good-will to men. The two supreme attractions in nature are those of gravitation and cohesion. That of cohesion attracts atom to atom, that of gravitation attracts all atoms to a common center. We find in this the most conclusive figure of the supremacy of love to God over any human love, the true relation of human to the love divine, and the conclusive proof that in organizing for the greatest number's greatest good, we do but "think God's thoughts after Him."

WOMEN PLUS TIME. Concerning time, there is this exhaustive classification: we either kill, spend, or invest it. Starting in life, we have ourselves plus time; this is our "unearned increment."

Since we sat here in the Council, a three-year cycle has swept by in which women have wrought more widely and more worthily than in any ten years before, and what have they been doing with their time? …

Let Rev. Juniata Breckenridge reply, a graduate of Oberlin Theological Seminary, now by act of a Congregational council licensed as a preacher in that conservative communion; or Rev. Mrs. Drake, recently ordained to preach the Gospel "by the largest council of Congregational ministers ever assembled by the State" of Iowa. Let Miss Greenwood, of Brooklyn, answer with her record as superintendent of evangelistic work in the National W. C. T. U., and her list of over seven hundred women preachers and evangelists. Let the Catholic Katherine Drexel speak, who, on February 12th, consecrated herself by solemn vows to the exclusive service of the Indian and the negro, devoting her fortune of seven million dollars to their religious, intellectual, and social elevation. As true a priestess as walks the earth is such a woman in this mammon-loving age.

What have women been doing with their time? Let Dr. Emily Blackwell, of New York City, speak for women in medicine. She does so in this letter, recently received: .......... "The first diploma given to a woman was that of Elizabeth Blackwell, Geneva (N.Y.) Medical College, 1849. The census of 1880 gives 2,400, that of 1890 will probably double the number. There are 150 in China and there must be as many more in Hindoostan."

Let Miss Greene, of Boston, tell us, a member of the bar in that city, who says that the first woman lawyer was admitted in Iowa in 1869; that there are now enrolled one hundred and ten women lawyers, including several who have been admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Consider the fact that more than eighty-two per cent of all our public school teachers are women; that over two hundred colleges have now over four thousand women students; that industrial schools for girls are being founded in almost every State; that hardly a score of colleges in all the nation still exclude us, and that these begin to look sheepish and speak in tones apologetic, while the University of Pennsylvania was lately opened, Barnard College in New York is the annex to magnificent Columbia, and the Methodist University of Washington, D. C., the Leland Stanford and Chicago Universities, with countless millions back of them, are, in all their departments, including divinity, to be open to women. Reflect that we are admitted to the theological seminaries of the Methodist, Congregational and Universalist churches, to say nothing of half a dozen smaller ecclesiastical communions; that the Free Baptist and several other churches now welcome women delegates to their highest councils, while we vote in the local assembly of almost every church in Christendom, except the Catholic; and that, while some of us were rejected as delegates by the General Conference of the M.E. Church in 1888, that body submitted the question to a vote of 2,000,000 Methodists, and sixty-two per cent of those "present and voting" declared in favor of complete equality within the "household of faith."

Besides all this, remember that the order of deaconesses is now recognized in the Episcopal and Methodist churches, and is practically certain to be within this year by Presbyterians; that a simple, reasonable costume is ensured to those who enter upon this vocation, and they are to be cared for in sickness and age, thus being at one stroke relieved of a lifetime's care in return for their service to humanity. Pass in review the philanthropies of women-involving not fewer than sixty societies of National scope or value, with their hundreds of State and tens of thousands of local auxiliaries both North and South, and the countless local boards organized to help the defective, dependent, and delinquent classes in town and city (all of whom would be stronger if each class were correlated nationally); study the "college settlements" or colonies of college women who establish themselves in the poorer parts of great cities and work on the plan of Toynbee Hall, London; think of the women's protective agencies, women's sanitary associations and exchanges, industrial schools and societies for physical culture-all of which are but clusters on the heavy-laden boughs of the Christian civilization, which raises woman up and, with her, lifts toward heaven the world.

Contemplate the Women's Foreign and Home Missionary societies, relative to which an expert tells us that the first was "organized about a quarter of a century ago, and now most of the denominations have both associations, with a contributing membership of about one and one-half millions. They circulate about one hundred and twenty-five thousand copies of missionary papers, besides millions of pages of leaflets. They hold at least a half-million missionary meetings every year, presided over by women, the addresses made and papers read by the sisterhood that, forty years ago, would not sooner have thought of doing such a work than they would of taking a journey to the moon. They raise and distribute about two millions of money every year, and these several boards scan each little investment with as much care as if a fortune were to be made in discovering an error in the accounts."

Marshal in blessed array the King's Daughters, two hundred thousand strong, with their hallowed motto, "In His Name"; the Society of Christian Endeavor, with its immense contingent of women; reflect that a woman spoke before the Catholic Total Abstinence Society, at its late meeting, in the presence of distinguished prelates of that church, which, while beyond most others utilizing the money, devotion, and work of women, is most conservative of all when their public efforts are concerned. …

Every woman who vacates a place in the teachers ranks and enters an unusual line of work, does two excellent things: she makes room for someone waiting for a place and helps to open a new vocation for herself and other women. In view of this, consider what it means to all of us, that women have now taken their places successfully in almost every rank from author and artist, lecturer and journalist, to dentist and barber, farmer and ranchman, stock-broker and steam-boat captain.

Concerning this tremendous evolution, I tried in vain to get the footings of the late United States census.

Statistics give 5,500,000 women as the number who earn their own living by industrial pursuits in Germany; 4,000,000 in England, 3,750,000 in France, about the same number in Austro-Hungary, and in American, over 2,700,000.

This much I can give of my own knowledge in the way of detailed statement concerning women's work: the Women's Temperance Publishing Association, Chicago, with its annual issue of from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and twenty-five million pages, an institution in which women own all the stock, constitute the board of directors, do all the editing, and a woman, Mrs. F. H. Rastall, is the business manager, handled last year over two hundred thousand dollars.

Women, led by Mrs. Matilda B. Carse, are erecting in Chicago a temple to cost $1,100,000, not for show and not for glory, but to afford by its rentals the wherewithal to carry on their work of philanthropy and reform throughout the Nation. Societies of women are now very generally planning for buildings of their own in leading towns and cities.

The business women of the country have a first-class journal under the care of Miss Mary F. Seymour, 38 Park Row, New York, and the Woman's Journal , Boston, and Woman's Tribune , Washington, are, with The Union Signal , of Chicago, the Church Union , of New York, and The Home Maker edited by Mrs. J. C. Croly, (Jennie June.), the guiding journalistic lights of our advance.

Recently, in Gotham, women have formed a society for political study and have organized the Ladies Health Protective Association in that untidy town. In several States they have engineered laws through the legislatures whereby lady physicians have positions and salaries in several State institutions, and no gentleman intermeddleth therewith! Women have also, and notably within the last three years, secured laws for the better protection of their own sex; have immeasurably increased the property rights of married women and their rights to their children under the law; have obtained appropriations for reformatories for women and homes for those morally degraded.

Woman are not on the county and city school boards of Chicago; they are sanitary inspectors in that municipality; they are police matrons in nearly all our large cities, and even London is moving in the same direction; they have been delegates to the Prohibition party's National convention and to the recent great convention of the Farmers Alliance in Ocala, Fla.; while in the Presidential campaign since we met here before, Republican clubs of women were organized by a National committee, the Democratic party being the only one that has not yet nationally given token of marching with the age in which it lives.

Since we last met, and for the first time in history, the World's Fair has a separate commission of women provided and provided for by the United States government, and, to crown all, two dauntless women have spun around this little planet in about ten weeks, while the prospect is that, by air-ship, we shall all spin around in five days, or thereabouts, within the next decade.

The air of these last days is electric with delightful tidings. In New York City, such leaders as Mary Putnam Jacobi and Mrs. Agnew have rallied around Dr. Emma Kempin, the learned lawyer from Lausanne, and are helping to make it easier than ever before for women to enter the learned profession that has been most thickly hedged away from them. In Baltimore, Miss Mary Garrett, the most progressive woman of wealth that our country has produced, leads the movement that will yet open Johns Hopkins University to us, and has already mortgaged its medical college to the admission of women. In the recent National Convention of Public School Teachers, women were made vice-presidents for the first time, and given an equal voice in all proceedings, while the International Sunday-School Convention, that meets but once in three years, made a similar advance; and the Christian Endeavor Society, that has enrolled in the last ten years over seven hundred and fifty thousand men and women, places the sexes side by side in all its purposes and plans. On the platform of the Massachusetts Women Suffragists, two weeks ago, sat, and in its programme participated, ladies representing the alumnae of Mount Holyoke College, no longer a "female seminary," be it thankfully observed; also Vassar and Wellesley: a tableau that in view of inherent college conservatism could not have been furnished for our rejoicing eyes and not the disenthrallment of women become a most respectable and already a well-night triumphant reform.

Compare the significance of that spectacle with the first announcement by Mrs. Emma Willard in 1819, when she submitted to the New York legislature her plan for the higher education of girls-the very first on record in this country-but emphatically declared that she wished to produce no "college-bred females ," and that there would be no "exhibitions" in her school, since "public speaking forms no part of female education."

Seeing those three wise college women seated in Tremont Temple beside Lucy Stone, two weeks ago, one could hardly believe that, as Mrs. May Wright Sewall tells us, Harvard College was founded one hundred and fifty-three years before the slightest provision for the education of girls was made by Massachusetts; or that, for one hundred and thirty-five years after public schools were established in Boston for boys, girls were not even admitted to learn reading or writing "for a part of the year." It has taken sixty years so to dignify and individualize woman as to make of words accepted once, epithets that refined natures now discard. For instance, that ex-President of the United States who, in a recent after-dinner speech in New York City, referred to Anna Dickinson, the most brilliant orator of our civil war, as a "female," did not improve his standing by that ill-chosen designation. While I would by no means defend that gifted woman for referring to the personage in question as "the Hangman of Buffalo," I beg respectfully to remind him that the vocabulary in which women who speak in public are characterized as "females" and "female orators" has long since passed into "innocuous desuetude."

Now let us widen the outlook to its utmost and see what forty years have wrought along the picket line of our advance-actual participation in the government. Nineteen thousand women voted in Boston alone on a decisive school question in 1888, and in a driving snow-storm. Women have the ballot now on school questions in twenty-two States, have municipal and school suffrage in Kansas and Oklahoma; while by constitutional enactment, ratified by a vote of eight to one among the people, they are fully disenthralled in the free mountain State of Wyoming. Well sang a woman of that happy commonwealth on the day of its admission to the family of States:

The first Republic of the world Now greets the day, its flag unfurled To the pure mountain air, On plains, in canyon, shop, and mine, The star of equal rights shall shine. From its blue folds, with light divine- A symbol bright and fair. John Bright said that agitation is but "the marshalling of a nation's conscience to right its laws," and in this large view every patriotic woman must perceive her duty to be made willing to vote if she is not so already. The new United States Senator from Kansas put the point pithily in a recent speech. He said:

"At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States will be governed by the people that live in them. When that good time comes, women will vote and men quite drinking."

The first ballots ever cast by women for the election of a National ruler will be those of Wyoming women in 1892. A happy man indeed ought that next President to be should the candidate for which a majority of enfranchised women vote come to the throne of power, and from his administration women would have much to hope-at least in post-office promotions! Our expectation of justice is not in the lily-handed men of college, court, and cloister, but in the farmers whose "higher education" has been the Grange, and in the mechanics trained by trades-unions and the Knights of Labor. These are the men who have been known to go on strike because sewing women toiled at starving rates; who stand stoutly by their motto, "equal pay for equal work;" who declare in their platforms that we shall have the ballot, and who are the force that shall yet bring about an evenness between the eight-hour day of the husband and the sixteen-hour day of the wife!

SOCIETY PURITY. The chief significance of Parnell's present discrowned estate has been but little emphasized as yet in the public mind; but, to my thinking, the woman question has had no triumph so signal in our generation. It is not many years since any man of great gifts and splendid public achievements in the interest of humanity was entirely separated in the minds of the people into two characters. As a hero, he stood forth for what the world knew of him in his relations to the world; but as a man, in his relations to women, he was altogether a different personality, with whom the public had nothing whatever to do, and, no matter how basely he might conduct himself, it was no concern of theirs, because the estimate of woman was so much beneath that which is now held. She was but an adjunct of man, and called, by man of the greatest among men, "an necessary evil." But in these later years she has become a daughter of God, an individual, a personality of intellect, of power, of judgment, and every women who presents to the world that aspect has, by the laws of mind, helped to dignify womankind in the thought of every person who thinks at all concerning women. The popular concept of womanhood is but a composite photograph of woman made up from the deductions of a million minds concerning millions of women, and the highest office of the modern woman is that when the mental photograph she makes becomes a part of this mighty composite picture so determinative of destiny, that picture shall take on a loftier aspect. So it has been; women, good, gifts, undaunted, have added themselves by thousands and tens of thousands in the home, the school, the church, the state, of the popular concept of womanhood, so that when Parnell, great hero that he is, ruins one woman and despoils one home, his features as a hero are so blurred and distorted to the eye of nations that he must step down and out. … But God be thanked that we live in an age when men as a class have risen to such an appreciation of women as a class, that the

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