The Atlantic is digitizing its archives. Here’s what the magazine claimed about women in 1903

tags: suffrage, womens history

"Woman does not wish to turn aside from her higher work, which is itself the end of life, to devote herself to government, which exists only that this higher work may be done. Can she not do both? No!"

In 1895 the women of Massachusetts were asked by the state whether they wished the suffrage. Of the 575,000 voting women in the state, only 22,204 cared for it enough to deposit in a ballot box an affirmative answer to this question. That is, in round numbers, less than four per cent wished to vote; about ninety-six per cent were opposed to woman suffrage or indifferent to it. That this expresses fairly well the average sentiment throughout the country can hardly be questioned. There may be some Western states in which the proportion of women who, for one reason or another, desire the suffrage is somewhat larger; on the other hand, there are Southern states in which it is even less. Certainly few men or women will doubt that at the present time an overwhelming majority of women are either reluctant to accept the ballot or indifferent to it. Why this indifference, this reluctance? This is the question which in this article I seek to answer. Briefly, I believe it is because woman feels, if she does not clearly see, that the question of woman suffrage is more than merely political; that it concerns the nature and structure of society,—the home, the church, the industrial organism, the state, the social fabric. And to a change which involves a revolution in all of these she interposes an inflexible though generally a silent opposition. It is for these silent women—whose voices are not heard in conventions, who write no leaders, deliver no lectures, and visit no legislative assemblies—that I speak; it is their unspoken thought and feeling I wish to interpret.

Open an acorn: in it we find the oak in all its parts,—root, trunk, branches. Look into the home: in it we shall find the state, the church, the army, the industrial organization. As the oak is germinant in the acorn, so society is germinant in the family. Historically, the family is the first organization; biologically it is the origin of all other organizations. Abraham builds an altar, and his wife and children and servants gather about it for the evening sacrifice: the family is the first church. The herds and flocks are driven daily to their feeding grounds by his sons and servants: the family is the first labor organization. He counsels, guides, directs, controls the children and servants; the power of life and death is in his hands: the family is the first government. The brother is carried off in a raid by robber bands. Abraham arms and organizes his servants, pursues the robber bands, conquers and disperses them, and recovers the captive: the family is the first army. Moreover, it is out of the family that society grows. As the cell duplicates itself, and by reduplication the living organism grows, so the family duplicates itself, and by the reduplication of the family the social organism grows. The children of the family come to manhood, and marry the children of other families. Blood unites them; the necessities of warfare, offensive and defensive, unite them; and so the tribe comes into existence. For the united action of this tribe some rule, some authority is necessary; thus tribal, state, national government comes into existence. These families find it for their mutual advantage to engage in separate industries, and exchange the product of their labor: thus barter end trade and the whole industrial organization come into existence. These families thus united by marriage into one tribe, cemented by war in one army, bound together by the necessity of united action in one government, cooperating in one varied industry, find in themselves a common faith and common aspirations, in a word, a common religion, and so the church comes into existence.

Such, very briefly stated, is the development of society as we read it in the complicated history of the past. Historically the family is the first social organization. Organically it contains within itself all the elements of all future organization. Biologically, all future organization has grown out of it, by a process of duplication and interrelationship. In the family, therefore, we find all the elements of a later and more complicated social organization; in the family we may discover written legibly the laws which should determine the structure of society and should regulate its action; the family, rightly understood, will answer our often perplexing questions concerning social organization—whether it is military, political, industrial, or religious.

The first and most patent fact in the family is the difference in the sexes. Out of this difference the family is created; in this difference the family finds its sweet and sacred bond. This difference is not merely physical and incidental. It is also psychical and essential. It inheres in the temperament; it is inbred in the very fibre of the soul; it differentiates the functions; it determines the relation between man and woman; it fixes their mutual service and their mutual obligations. Man is not woman in a different case. Woman is not man inhabiting temporarily a different kind of body. Man is not a rough-and-tumble woman. Woman is not a feeble and pliable man. ...

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