The complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Miscellanies [Vol. 11]
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882., Emerson, Edward Waldo, 1844-1930.

Discours Manqué WOMAN

I consider that the movement which unites us to-day is no whim, but an organic impulse,—a right and proper inquiry,—honoring to the age. And among the good signs of the times, this is of the best.

The distinctions of the mind of Woman we all recognize; their affectionate, sympathetic, religious, oracular nature; their swifter and finer perception; their taste, or love of order and Page  628 beauty, influencing or creating manners. We commonly say, Man represents Intellect; and Woman, Love. Man looks for hard truth. Woman, with her affection for goodness, benefit. Hence they are religious. In all countries and creeds the temples are filled by women, and they hold men to religious rites and moral duties. And in all countries the man—no matter how hardened a reprobate he is—likes well to have his wife a saint. It was no historic chance, but an instinct, which softened in the Middle Ages the terror of the superstitious, by gradually lifting their prayers to the Virgin Mary and so adopting the Mother of God as the efficient Intercessor. And now, when our religious traditions are so far outgrown as to require correction and reform, 't is certain that nothing can be fixed and accepted which does not commend itself to Woman.

I suppose women feel in relation to men as 't is said geniuses feel among energetic workers, that, though overlooked and thrust aside in the press, they outsee all these noisy masters: and we, in the presence of sensible women, feel overlooked, judged,—and sentenced.

They are better scholars than we at school, and the reason why they are not better than we twenty years later may be because men can turn their reading to account in the professions, and women are excluded from the professions.

These traits have always characterized women. We are a little vain of our women, as if we had invented them. I think we exaggerate the effect of Greek, Roman and even Oriental institutions on the character of woman. Superior women are rare anywhere, as superior men are. But the anecdotes of every country give like portraits of womanhood, and every country in its Roll of Honor has as many women as men. The high sentiment of women appears in the Hebrew, the Page  629 Hindoo; in Greek women in Homer, in the tragedies, and Roman women in the histories. Their distinctive traits, grace, vivacity, and surer moral sentiment, their self-sacrifice, their courage and endurance, have in every nation found respect and admiration.

Her gifts make woman the refiner and civilizer of her mate. Civilization is her work. Man is rude and bearish in colleges, in mines, in ships, because there is no woman. Let good women go passengers in the ship, and the manners at once are mended; in schools, in hospitals, in the prairie, in California, she brings the same reform. …

Her activity in putting an end to Slavery; and in serving the hospitals of the Sanitary Commission in the war, and in the labors of the Freedman's Bureau, have opened her eyes to larger rights and duties. She claims now her full rights of all kinds,—to education, to employment, to equal laws of property. Well, now in this country we are suffering much and fearing more from the abuse of the ballot and from fraudulent and purchased votes. And now, at the moment when committees are investigating and reporting the election frauds, woman asks for her vote. It is the remedy at the hour of need. She is to purify and civilize the voting, as she has the schools, the hospitals and the drawing-rooms. For, to grant her request, you must remove the polls from the tavern and rum-shop, and build noble edifices worthy of the State, whose halls shall afford her every security for deliberate and sovereign action.

'T is certainly no new thing to see women interest themselves in politics. In England, in France, in Germany, Italy, we find women of influence and administrative capacity,—some Duchess of Marlborough, some Madame de Longueville, Madame Roland,—centres of political power and intrigue. … But we have ourselves seen the great political enterprise Page  630 of our times, the abolition of Slavery in America, undertaken by a society whose executive committee was composed of men and women, and which held together until this object was attained. And she may well exhibit the history of that as her voucher that she is entitled to demand power which she has shown she can use so well.

'T is idle to refuse them a vote on the ground of incompetency. I wish our masculine voting were so good that we had any right to doubt their equal discretion. They could not easily give worse votes, I think, than we do.