Mattie Brinckerhoff on voluntary motherhood and “destroy[ing] unborn children”

Many people don’t know that the early feminists (those who fought for a woman’s right to vote in the 1800s) were mostly pro-life.

Mattie H Brinckerhoff was a popular lecturer in the Midwest on women’s suffrage and other women’s rights topics. Here is some of her writing on abortion. Her use of the term “voluntary motherhood” dealt with the choice women should have to refuse to have sex in order to avoid childbearing. It’s hard to believe, but at the time, women had no right to refuse sex with their husbands- they could not prosecute him for rape, and culture dictated that they always be sexually available to him. This lengthy article discusses this and mentions abortion. I wanted to quote it in its entirety to give context to the part about abortion

“Woman and Motherhood” by Maddie H Brinckerhoff

“In number 25, volume 3D of The Revolution, I notice from the editor of a German paper in this state these words: “American women have long been ardently engaged in the endeavor to free themselves, in a mechanical way, from the discharge of those functions which are essential to the continuance of society, and which cannot be shared with them, or performed for them, by men.” The gallant editor unquestionably refers to the office of maternity. This and similar articles have from time to time so ably answered in your paper, that it seems almost unnecessary to add anything further upon the subject; but the boldness with which many men blame women for the crime of infanticide without assuming themselves, in the case, a shadow of responsibility, I should think would rouse every mother, at least, to utter words in self-defense. That American women are more guilty of this practice than women of any other nation, I do not doubt; but is there not a reason for this?

Knowledge and slavery are incompatible. Teach a slave how a read, and he wants to be his own master – and as the masses of American women not only know how to read and write, but so much of the “tree of knowledge” have many of them eaten, that they have learned it should be for them to decide when and how often they shall take upon themselves the sacred duties of motherhood, but as law and custom gives to the husband the absolute control of the wife’s person, she is forced to not only violate physical law, but outrage the holiest instincts of her being to maintain even a semblance of that freedom which by nature belongs to every human soul.

When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society – so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged. But the question now seems to be, how shall we prevent this destruction of life and health?

Mrs. Stanton has many times ably answered it – “by the true education and independence of woman.”

Our German writer seems to think that the whole aim of a woman’s life should be motherhood. Suppose this were true, is the mission of so little importance that no preparation be required to fill it? If, to be a first-class artist, or lawyer, it requires years of thought and culture, what preparation should be made to carve the outlines and justly balance the attributes of an immortal soul. Are little children, the germs of men and women, of so little importance that it matters not whether their mother be physically healthy or unhealthy, cultivated or uncultivated mind; expanded or dwarfed in soul? We are forced to ask, by what law shall we decide when women is sufficiently developed in body and mind to be a good mother? Before what tribunal shall she be judged? Does not reason answer, the council chamber of her own being?

… If we would make woman free, let us teach her the alphabet of human life, make her understand and value true womanhood. Then she will scorn to be man’s petted slave. She will scorn his smiles and courtesies, when they are proffered only as an excuse for justice.

Oh motherhood! Which are opponents say is woman’s holiest mission. We cannot have true mothers without having true womanhood first. Let us see that our daughters are developed into true women, and the office of maternity will take care of itself. Remove woman’s shackles and she will soon create a public opinion that will declare it a disgrace for a man to outrage the woman he has sworn to protect. Then, and not till then, will man’s shackles fall, for noble manhood must be the legitimate fruit of free and exalted womanhood. Brothers, ‘tis for you as well as ourselves we plead. Will you neglect so great a salvation?”

The Revolution 4 (9): 138 – 139 (September 2, 1869)

Thanks to Mary Krane Derr.

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About Sarah

Sarah Terzo is a freelance writer and journalist who works for Live Action. She is a member of the board of The Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and Consistent Life.
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5 Responses to Mattie Brinckerhoff on voluntary motherhood and “destroy[ing] unborn children”

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