Conceived in Disgust and Brought Forth in Agony

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “National Woman’s Rights Convention, Cooper Institute, 1856. Letter from Mrs. Stanton, Seneca Falls, November 24, 1856,” History of Woman Suffrage, eds. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Volume 1: 860-861

Dear Lucy Stone:

[. . .] Marriage, as we now have it, is opposed to all God’s laws.  It is by no means an equal partnership.  The silent partner loses everything.  On the domestic sign, the existence of a second person is not recognized by even the ordinary abbreviation, Co.  There is the establishment of John Jones.  Perhaps his partner supplies all the cents and the senses—but no one knows who she is or whence she came.  If John is a luminous body, she shines in his reflection; if not, she hides herself in his shadow.  But she is nameless, for a woman has no name!  She is Mrs. John or James, Peter or Paul, just as she changes masters; like the Southern slave, she takes the name of her owner.  Many people consider this a very small matter; but it is the symbol of the most cursed monopoly on this footstool; a monopoly by man of all the rights, the life, the liberty, and happiness of one-half of the human family—all womankind.  For what man can honestly deny that he has not a secret feeling that where his pleasure and woman’s seem to conflict, the woman must be sacrificed; and what is worse, woman herself has come to think so too.  She believes that all she tastes of joy in life is from the generosity and benevolence of man; and the bitter cup of sorrow, which she too often drinks to the very dregs, is of the good providence of God, sent by a kind hand for her improvement and development.  This sentiment pervades the laws, customs, and religions of all countries, both Christian and heathen.  Is it any wonder, then, that woman regards herself as a mere machine, a tool for men’s pleasure?  Verily is she a hopeless victim of his morbidly developed passions.  But, thank God, she suffers not alone!  Man too pays the penalty of his crimes in his enfeebled mind, dwarfed body, and the shocking monstrosities of his deformed and crippled offspring.

Call yourselves Christian women, you who sacrifice all that is great and good for an ignoble peace, who betray the best interests of the race for a temporary ease?  It were nobler far to go and throw yourselves into the Ganges than to curse the earth with a miserable progeny, conceived in disgust and brought forth in agony.  What mean these asylums all over the land for the deaf and dumb, the maim and blind, the idiot and the raving maniac?  What all these advertisements in our public prints, these family guides, these female medicines, these Madame Restells [i.e., abortionists]?  Do not all these things show to what a depth of degradation the women of this Republic have fallen, how false they have been to the holy instincts of their nature, to the sacred trust given them by God as the mothers of the race?  Let Christians and moralists pause in their efforts at reform, and let some scholar teach them how to apply the laws of science to human life.  Let us but use as much care and forethought in producing the highest order of intelligence, as we do in raising a cabbage or a calf, and in a few generations we shall reap an abundant harvest of giants, scholars, and Christians.

The first step in this improvement is the elevation of woman.  She is the protector of national virtue; the rightful lawgiver in all our most sacred relations.

Yours truly,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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