Women’s Rights, Editorial, Canadian Illustrated News, 1874

The following editorial is extracted from the November 21, 1874 edition of the Canadian Illustrated News:

 “The question of woman’s rights is again coming to the surface. It is going to be openly advocated in the Congress of the United States, and it is being introduced with more or less success in several State Legislatures. In Wisconsin, the law is now that women shall enjoy the same elective rights and privileges with men. In England, a strong and very positive kind of petition in behalf of female rights is being signed extensively for ultimate presentation to Parliament. Female applications for degrees in several of the learned professions, medicine particularly, are more numerous than ever, and women in England, as well as in America, address public audiences on this and other subjects. That a very large proportion of women takes active interest in the movement we do not believe, but the comparatively small number that does is very energetic about it.

Spite of us, it is hardly possible to treat this subject seriously. The idea of women mingling in public affairs – in municipal and national elections – shoulder to shoulder with rough men in the boisterous politics of the day – eligible to high offices where iron characters are tested – and exercising professions which necessarily banish all maiden mawkishness is so novel, so contrary to all notions of feminine sweetness, modesty and delicacy that we are apt to be hilarious over it, even when most gravely advocated. It need not, however, be a matter of sheer jest.

Woman is essentially a domestic creature. Her natural place is the fireside. Where she is not called by an inward voice to cloistral celibacy, or doomed by circumstances to sacrifice herself and toil in a life of singleness, the human end of woman in this world is marriage. All her early training tends that way, her heart is fashioned and prepared for it. Why, for instance, do girls never learn trades? Why are they not apprenticed out like boys? Because they feel that, after a few years, they must leave that work and settle down to domestic duties. They understand that such trade or profession is not an aim; that they are not to be attached to it for life. Woman stops at her marriage. It is a turn in her existence. It fixes her destiny. For man marriage is a stepping stone. It gives colour to his destiny. It is a potent incentive to action. But he does not stop at it. He goes on working and aspiring, completing what he began in early life, gathering where he sowed. Man goes out into the world, labours in it, takes his share in its great operations and returns home to rest and gather strength. Woman remains at home, moves up and down the stairs, circulates through its rooms. Her resting-place is there. Her great task is in home shadows and stillness, where, as in a sanctuary, she prepares for the mighty world-work, the little children of whom she is the mother.

These may be very primitive views, but they are conclusive on the subject. The moment you take woman out of her sphere, you disturb the social economy without corresponding advantage, political or otherwise. No female can mix in the bustle of public life, without in great measure changing her nature. She must necessarily become bold and independent. We wonder what compensation our new philosophers expect for the total or even partial loss of female reserve, modesty, and shyness – the flowers of the hearth, and the best things this bad world can boast of.”

Canadian Illustrated News, November 21, 1874

below, girls hard at work during the Edwardian Period as depicted in a Montreal Star period advertisement