Letter from Anne Warren Weston to Boston Female Anti-slavery Society
Boston. Aug 21. 1837.
To The Female A. S. Society.
I am directed by the Board of the Boston Female A.S. Society to address you at this time for the purpose of assuring you that though the love of some of those who have been hither to esteemed as the firm supporters of the A.S. cause, seems to be waking cold, & though some who have put their hands to the plough seem to be looking back and though the hearts of many appear failing them for fear, yet it is not so with us. In times like these, it is highly desirable that all who hold the Abolition faith "undimmed & pure" should declare their ass(?)ie to others, that the efforts of those who seek to divide the cause of truth may be discouraged, & the hopes of those who seek to strengthen it confirmed & established such being our sustive(?), we do now in this moment of addressing you feel it to be our duty solemnly to renew our vows of consecration to the cause of the American Slave, "our countryman in chains" our brother fallen among thieves" & to declare that the inconsistency, the fear & the timidity of others only supplies to us a new & urgent motive for labouring with tenfold zeal & devotedness. It is not the want of zeal Abolitionists to rebuke others for the exhibition of too great warmth & fervour, we therefore trust you will bear with us, if in this epistle, we should seem to utter(?) the language of admonition, too freely or should appear to urge the adoption of our own views too warmly upon the minds of others.
As Abolitionists, we have all, I presume, been subjected in greater or less degrees to misrepresentation, contempt & persecution; by identifying ourselves in a measure with the oppressed & degraded we have been exposed to a portion of the sufferings that have been heaped upon them; but at the present period we are called upon to meet reproach, not as Abolitionists merely, but as women. So corrupting is the influence that a pro slavery spirit exerts both on the intellect & on the heart, that in (?)sentage of the word, in the city of Boston men are not wanting who declare that those women who petition for the abolition of slavery, who form themselves into Societies to produce this result and who on every suitable occasion impress their unfeigned condemnation of the sin of slaveholding and strive by facts & arguments to establish a position(?) con(?)tion in the minds of others one sinning against the dictates of womanly decorum & (?) propriety and rendering themselves obnoxious to the condemnation of the Apostle as expressed in the 13th of the 5th Chapter of Timothy. But this is not wonderful. The Theologians who justify from the Scriptures the enslaving of a certain portion of their fellow men because of their colour are the very people whom we might naturally expect to find perverting(?) the same sacred(?) oracles(?) in a manner almost equally unjustifiable, to sanction doctrines of woman's inferiority & subordination. The fanciful illustrations employed by some of these self elected guardians of female manners would be amusing in the extreme were it not for the reflection that in so few men as these doctrines are received just so far is a most unhappy & prejudicial influence exerted both on the mind & heart of the receiver. The man who looks upon woman, merely from the fact of her being such, as a creature dependant & subordinate, is cherishing a belief that in the very nature of things, cannot fail to exert a most baneful effect on his own character. To render his actions & his opinions consistent, believing women to be inferior, he must ever remember to address them as such; indeed in most cases no effort of the memory will be requisite, he will do so naturally & involuntarily. But with regard to this doctrine, a difference of opinion exists among women themselves, & while one class cheerfully acknowledges its own dependence & subordination, yet there is another who while they cheerfully acknowledge & fulfil all the duties of their various domestic relations,(?) are not at all prepared merely in virtue of their being women to declare themselves either subordinate to or dependant. By the first class the society of man will be flattered & soothed by the latter it will be outraged and wounded and thus all his association with the female sex, the association originally designed by God for his moral improvement, must inevitably produce a result directly the reverse. The social intercourse that should exist between men & women as mutual teachers and aides is destroyed; destroyed however not by the fact of a posture of womankind occupying a false position, but mankind remaining in one. It may be said of women as was said of the West India Slaves "They are fit for emancipation but their Masters are not." The difficulty arises not because women are exercising their rights, but because men are trying to prevent them. To this fact there are many, many noble exceptions. Anti Slavery Women should be the last to forget this. The men who are labouring in the cause of Human Rights are not unaware the vast scope that those words embrace. As a class it will not be found that they are the people who are sorrowing over their aggrieved dignity.
In this connexion it will not be inappropriate to expect our views ?ishing the course ?scued by the Miʃses Grimké. We feel it to be both a duty & privilege to utter our convictions relative to their heroic & noble career. With personal experience we can testify that their eloquence devotedneʃs & zeal in the cause of the Slave is equalled only by their piety delivery and accurate sense of all that constitutes truly feminine decorum. An attempt has been & is extensively mocking to injure the effect their thrilling appeals must produce on every Christian heart by endeavouring to substantiate the position that, for a woman to address an assembly composed of men & women is
improper and indelicate & wrong. We are almost unable to state what arguments are brought forward in support of this opinion, because its friends generally confine themselves to assertion and a wither common placed species of declamation. Our only guides in this matter must be the Bible & the dictates of common sense. Let us first refer to the Bible. St Paul in his Epistle to the Church at Corinth directs that women who were ignorant & uninformed should not interrupt the meeting of the church by asking questions. By a rather singular modern interpretation this passage has been adduced as proving that the Apostle commands all women, how ever well informed and capable of teaching never to attempt to do so, but under all possible circumstances to keep silent in public assemblies. Because ignorant women are forbidden to interrupt a meeting does it therefore follow that well instructed ones may not address a meeting of their own convening. Again St Paul in addressing Timothy says "I suffer not a woman to teach," not to usurp authority over the man." Does any one understand this command as literal. No it is conceded that she may teach her own sex, that is supposing she addresses them by twos & threes in her own drawing room. She is only out of her sphere when she attempts to teach men. But is it improper to express her views on any subject whatever, we may suppose if we please, Slavery to one or two men in the seclusion of her own home! No, I suppose would be the general answer. But if it should happen that on this point she is well informed & they are ignorant, & if she be willing to utter her opinions and they begin to be convinced by them, ah! the whole thing begins to assume "a questionable shape." I am fearful that they are learning & she is teaching. Does any one say "this is absurd; St Paul's adm(?)tion was never designed to be thus applied. It condemns only public teaching "! I reply" If we depart from the literal interpretation I have as good authority for supposing that a woman may teach in a mixed assembly as my opponent may have for supposing that she may teach a half a dozen men & women in her own house. We can call to mind no other text that bears(?) (opposed by) upon this subject. On the other hand we have good reason to suppose that women on the day of Pentecost spoke to an assembly composed of men from every every nation under heaven. St Paul gives directions in what manner women should pray and prophesy, which directions would certainly seem to be somewhat unnecessary if they were to pray & prophesy at home merely. We are not made acquainted with the precise mode in which women "laboured" with Paul "in the Gospel," but there exists no proof that it was not by teaching in mixed assemblies. There is no absurdity in supposing that the women to whom not only Paul but "all the churches of the Gentiles gave thanks," the woman who was competent to instruct Apollos a man "eloquent & mighty in the scriptures" might not occasionally have pointed out the fact of salvation even to promiscuous assemblies.
Let us now consult the dictates of our own reason. If an assembly of men are uninformed upon a point of great moral importance, is there necessarily any impropriety or indelicacy in the fact that a woman who possesses the requisite information should in all the simplicity & dignity of high & holy purpose declare it to them. Is any real modesty & decorum sacrificed in this procedure? Is it any but a false delicacy that is endangered. We allow that the delicacy which consists in a hearty adoption of the most frivolous forms of conventional life and the propriety which derives its very being from the false code of morals adopted by those who compose what is commonly called "good society" is very decidedly outraged by the conduct we have been defending. But we trust, we are not now addreʃsing woman of this claʃs. We trust that all who have embraced the A.S. cause from Christian motives will feel that touching this question they owe a responsibility not to man but to God alone. And here we may well pause & consider how different are the views with which He regards woman's sphere & duties from those which the generality of men entertain. While by man too frequently regarded as a being whose chief object should be to subserve his enjoyment or convenience of whose duties & responsibilities he is to be the judge, whose very final accountability is almost merged in his other & widely differing is the duty & the destiny his Creator appoints. Individually must she judge of her duty, individually perform it & God has said that each one of their own doings shall give account to him. Is it then wise to govern our own views of duty by the opinions of others? Who are those who are now opposing woman's influence as exerted in favour of the E(?) (?) As a general thing are they not the men whose opposition to the course of the injured and outraged Slave has ever been bitter & unrelenting. Will you allow these men who have been for years unmindful of there own most solemn duties to prescribe to you yours. Shall they whose influence is given to a system that considers women as goods & chattels be esteemed by you as fit judges of the sphere you shall occupy? I know that the sneering allusions, false representations & contemptuous sarcasms to which we are subjected may be to some of us a bitter taste(?) But if in view of these things our hearts fail us, let us look to the faith & view of the sphere that women there occupies shall strengthen us to endure. Woman labouring in the rice fields of Carolina & in the burning sugar plantations of Louisiana under the lash of a driver is (?) pe(?) fearfully "out of her sphere". Woman holding her fellow creatures, as property, shameleʃsly advertising uns(?)ys in the public papers and trading in broken hearts & outraged affections is we allow, very much "out of her sphere." Woman, upholding by her influence this system, pleading for its continuance, using all her ingenuity to palliate its guilt, and throwing obstacles in the way of emancipation, appears to us also to be out of her sphere, but with regard to those women who labour for the extinction of Slavery, who petition Congreʃs for its abolition, who urge the claims of the slave whenever opportunity presents, who in time "feels for those in bonds as bound with them" of such such(?) we say they are in the very sphere to which God has appointed every Christian, they are but fulfilling the Augustine injunction to do good to all men as they have opportunity."
A few lines more and we will close a communication that we fear is already too long. The path that Sarah & Angelina Grimké have marked out for themselves is one in which they will probably