Real Rights of Women,
Scripture, Reason and Common Sense.
Hannah Mather Crocker
This text is an early example of feminist thought in American literature. First published in 1818, the author founds her view of the equality of the sexes though her understanding of Christian religious texts, particularly the Old and New Testaments.
This work is not all that radical, in that it makes a variety of odd concessions. For example, although the author correctly notes that woman has with man “an equal right to partake [in] the pleasures of life” (p. 15), she goes on to say that it would somehow be “morally improper…for the female character to…ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men, although their powers of mind may be equal to the task” (p. 16). This obvious contradiction goes unfortunately unexplained. She also believes that Wollstonecraft was too radical (p. 41) and undermines her own case in citing female patriotism (p. 62) and women rulers (p. 37), as though being a ruler is in any way noble or commendable. (Patriarchy will not be smashed until we cease deceiving ourselves into believing that it is ever just for one human to rule over another.) Crocker even assumes that “the care of children naturally devolves on the women” (emphasis added, p. 58), while presenting no argument as to why nature would ordain this.
Nevertheless, despite her ﬂaws, the author does correctly state that woman is equal in nature to her male counterpart. Her thesis is essentially this: Woman was made to be equal to man, and in the beginning she was. Through committing the ﬁrst sin, however, she became subservient to man for a period of time. Finally, she once again earned, through Mary, her natural equality with man. The author cites the Christian belief that Mary bore the Christ to prove her case in chapter two, writing that this, “surely, must place her equal with man” (p. 14). Although one may ﬁnd fault with her theological rationale, her feminist conclusion is nonetheless sound.
- Adam and Communication
- Resistance to Temptation
- To Obtain Knowledge
- Woman Accomplishes Equality
- Equality and the Pleasures of Life
- No Servile Dependence Recommended
- No Sexist Distinction in Heaven
- Equal Powers and Faculties
- Women Celebrated in the Bible
- Female Authors
- American Character Noticed
- Ignorance Breeds the Degredation of Women
- Mutual Love Must Be Founded on Mutual Friendship
- Rights in the Family Government
- The Education of Caregivers
- Rugged Individualism
- Equality, Respect, and Fidelity
- The Struggle for Independence
Of the creation and fall of our ﬁrst parents.
Adam and Communication (p. 8)
She [Eve] must therefore have received her information [concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil] from Adam, if she knew of any command; as she probably had heard of it, by her answer to the serpent. Perhaps Adam communicated it to her as the injunction of their Maker, but possibly with such mildness and indifference, that she was not fully impressed with the importance of the command.
Resistance to Temptation (pp. 9–10)
It does not appear, from his own account, that Adam withstood the temptation with more fortitude than Eve did; for she presented the fruit, and he received it without hesitation; but it is plain she did not yield immediately, though the most subtle agent of the devil told her that her eyes should be opened, and that she should be like a god.
To Obtain Knowledge (p. 10)
It appears her desire was to obtain knowledge, which might be laudable, though her reason was indeed deceived.
Woman is restored to her original rights of equality under the christian dispensation.
Woman Accomplishes Equality (p. 14)
The prophecy is accomplished, that in her seed all nations shall be blessed: Herein she is exalted, and fully restored to her original dignity, by being the mother of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, according to his human nature. This, surely, must place her equal with man, under the christian system. Since the christian era she is no longer commanded to be a slave to man, and he is no longer commanded to rule over her.
Equality and the Pleasures of Life (p. 15)
[S]he has an equal right to partake with him the cares, as well as the pleasures of life.
No Servile Dependence Recommended (p. 20)
No servile dependence on men can be recommended under the christian system, for that abolished the law of slavery, and left only a claim on their friendship.
No Sexist Distinction in Heaven (p. 21)
There is no distinction of sexes in heaven.
Equal Powers and Faculties (p. 26)
[S]ince the promulgation of the gospel, it has been fairly proved, even to demonstration, that the female powers and faculties are equal with the men; but their mode of education often checks their progress in learning.
Of the strength of mind, and writings of many illustrious females, both in sacred and profane history.
Women Celebrated in the Bible (p. 32)
From the sacred records in the New Testament, we ﬁnd many females celebrated for virtue, religion and true holiness; and some were admitted to the highest dignity and honour, in attending on, and having the friendship and blessing of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Female Authors (p. 36)
In 1643, a piece appeared at Paris, under this title, The Generous Woman; who shews her sex more noble, more patriotic, more brave, more learned, more virtuous and economical than men. In 1665, another lady published at Paris, a book titled The Illustrous Dames, where, by good and strong reasoning it is fairly proved that women surpass the men. In 1673, a performance appeared, entitled, The Equality of the Sexes, shewing the importance of divesting ourselves of prejudices. These discourses were philosophical and moral. Madam De Gournay wrote upon her sex; but being more modest, she conﬁned herself and pretensions, and was contented with equality.
The female character and writings are equal in the present day to any former period; and some miscellaneous sentiments respecting the sex.
American Character Noticed (p. 45)
America, though as yet but young in the arts and sciences, will not long remain in the back ground, as she can now claim the birth-right of many respectable female writers, both in prose and verse.
Ignorance Breeds the Degredation of Women (p. 48)
If we take a retrospect of the world, from the creation, it will be found, that in every age where ignorance prevailed most, women were most degraded. Before the christian era, and through the dark ages, very little light was thrown upon their characters. They were supposed to have command of Pandora’s iron box, which contained all of the accumulated evils incident to human nature. Some authors say, from the circumstance attending this box, at that period, that age was called the iron age, and has been known by that name ever since.
From observations on characters sacred and profane may be drawn a theory, or plan of rights and duties as agreeable to scripture, reason, and common sense.
Mutual Love Must Be Founded on Mutual Friendship (p. 54)
Mutual love must be founded on the basis of mutual friendship, without which life will have but few charms.
If woman is unable to secure her rights within the family government, she will be unable to secure them anywhere (p. 54)
Reason dictates that a regular christian course of life will have a tendency to promote future happiness, and is but a reasonable service.
How can one hold that women should be caregivers to children if the person also holds that women need not be educated, considering that an educated human will always be able to better perform the duties of a caregiver if educated than if uneducated, all other things being equal? (p. 58)
Rugged Individualism (p. 58)
How much more respectable is the woman, who earns her own living, than the most accomplished beauty, who depends upon her friends for support?
Equality, Respect, and Fidelity (p. 60)
As there is a sympathy between the human frame and soul, there is also a natural, or mutual sympathy of the sexes. There is a natural affection, implanted in the human breast, by the wise Author of our nature, which gives the sexes equal right to partake with each other, in the cares and trials, as well as the pleasures of this life. There cannot be a doubt that many of the serious squabbles in the matrimonial life might be prevented, by the woman’s showing her right, and by giving up the point contended for in a reasonable manner; but never assent merely to please a tyrant, for that betrays a servile mind; nor ever contradict merely to vex, for that shews an ill temper, and bad breeding. There should be not only love, but that mutual friendship and conﬁdence in each other’s ﬁdelity, that nothing ought to be concealed from each other but the secrets of another friend.
Treats of the beauty and good order that may accrue to society, by the united ﬁdelity of the sexes in performing their appropriate duties.
The Struggle for Independence (p. 66)
In the important struggle for the independence of the American States, some females embarked in the cause of freedom, both by their writings ad advice;…they must have an equal right to enjoy, with mutual satisfaction, all the blessings, tranquility, freedom, and peace can bestow on a free and happy people.
Let the mantle of charity make allowance for, and shield every human imperfection.
This text may be cited as H. Mather Crocker, Observations on the Real Rights of Women, With Their Appropriate Duties, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense, (Boston: printed for the author, 1818).
A small portion of this text can be found as Hannah Mather Crocker, “Observations on the Real Rights of Women,” § 1 of Let Her Speak For Herself: Nineteenth-century Women Writing on Women in Genesis, ed. Marion Ann Taylor and Heather E. Weir (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006), pp. 24–29
The entire text can be found reprinted from a copy in The State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library in Sex and Equality: Women in America: From Colonial Times to the 20th Century, ed. Leon Stein and Annette K. Baxter, (New York: Arno Press, 1974).
Large portions can be found as Hannah Mather Crocker, “Observations on the Real Rights of Women,” in Women’s Early American Historical Narratives, ed. Sharon M. Harris, (New York, N.Y.: Penguin Group, 2003), pp. 230–249.
Other excerpts can be found here.