THE WOMEN'S EMANCIPATION MOVEMENT 1830-1930


"THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN"  BY  'ESCULAPIUS'
(Barbara Leigh-Smith)

The Hastings & St Leonards News, 28th July 1848


Women, in the ordinary cant of the day, are supposed to have a mission. They are not the human creature itself, but attendants sent in some way to refine and elevate man. They are supposed to be a sort of abstract of the moral and artistic principle of the world, and the prominent appearance of intellect is thought to mar the impression.

It is said that, to be perfect, women have no need of intellect in its ordinary sense. They may, (if possible) possess an intuitive knowledge of many things, but the labor of acquirement is not necessary or ought never to be shewn. That is to say, they are supposed to be somewhat angelic in their capacities or duties. Now, let us examine this. I am inclined to grant that our conception of the angelic nature scarcely includes a prominence of intellect, in the active state: The angels, who, as far as they concern us, are guardian angels, are supposed to know all relative to their office without effort; their mission is to the human heart, and the secrets of chemistry can be of no importance to them. They are above the restless searching of man; they have no need of it.

Now, I farther grant, that there is something exceedingly sweet and lofty in this conception; tenderness of grace, and tranquil power are there; not a feather is ruffled on the angels' wings; not a frown darkens their serene eyes. Were it true that women possessed this nature, I would not so much object to the life of seclusion and excessive refinement they lead. But the truth is, they are not angels by nature, and their life cannot produce the angelic constitution. Here and there we meet a woman in whom sweetness and moral dignity suffice to render her the beloved of all beholders, - such are the creations of many poets and painters; but to pretend that feminine nature in general exemplifies these charms in a sufficient degree, is an absurd lie; and any attempt to curtail an energetic vehement soul into this mould, is as vain as it would be to plant an acorn in a greenhouse pot, and call it a rose. No effort of human art can transform the one into the other, or produce from the poor acorn anything but a miserable sickly dwarf, ever engaged in a vain struggle to attain its rightful stature.

Women are not angels. In the present state of society they are frequently gossips, backbiters, idlers, fretful, unreasonable, extravagant: how many men have not a female relative combining two or more of these amiable propensities? "Talk to women and children" is, as Miss Fuller observes, a common expression. Women are not angels, as most men know to their cost; therefore let them cultivate the human faculties that in them lie, and be charming according to their endowments. Let the ideal woman receive her due share of homage. She must, for she inevitably subdues all hearts; but let your "blue" daughter, your political wife, your artistic sister, and eccentric cousin, pursue their paths unmolested, - you will never make ideals of them; you will only make your home the scene of suppressed energies and useless powers.

ESCULAPIUS
London, 1848



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