Quotes from early feminists on abortion: Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn Gage was a bold leader of the feminist movement, even while her several children were still small. She was active in temperance reform – an issue connected to feminism because of the role alcohol played in domestic violence. Her home was part of the “Underground Railway” which enabled runaway slaves to escape to Canada. Often she bolstered her arguments with information on forgotten women of the past that she had painstakingly gleaned from libraries and archives. She helped organize the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, served as one of its officers, and edited its paper “The National Citizen and Ballot Box.” In 1872, when Susan B Anthony was tried for attempting to vote, Gage stood by her side. In the 1880s, out of admiration for scholarly talents, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Esther asked her to co-edit The History of Woman Suffrage.

“Is Woman Her Own?” By Matilda Gage

“The short article on “Child Murder” in your paper of March 12, touched a subject which lies deeper down into woman’s wrongs than any other. This is the denial of the right to herself. In no a historic age of the world has women yet had that. From the time when Moses, for the hardness of his heart, permitted the Jew husband to give his unpleasing wife a letter of divorcement – to Christ, when the seven male sinners brought to him for condemnation the woman taken in adultery – down to the Christian centuries to this 19th, nowhere has the marital union of the sexes been one in which the woman has had to control over her own body.

In forced motherhood is a crime against the body of the mother and the soul of the child.

Medical jurisprudence has begun to accumulate facts on this point, showing how the condition and feelings of the mother mould not only the physical and mental qualities of the child, but it’s moral nature.

Women keep silence upon many points, not breathing their thoughts to their dearest friends, because of their inner reticence, a quality they possess greatly in excess of men.

And, too, custom has taught them to bear in silence.

But the crime of abortion is not one in which the guilt lies solely or chiefly with the woman. As a child brings more care, so also it brings more joy to the mother’s heart.

Husbands do not consult with their wives upon the subject of deepest and most vital interest, do not look at the increase of family in a physiological, moral, or spiritual light, but almost solely from a money standpoint. It costs. Tens of thousands of husbands and fathers throughout the land are opposed to large families. And yet so deeply implanted is the sin of self gratification, that consequences are not considered while selfish desires control the heart.

Much is said of the wild, mad desire of the age for money. Money is but another name for power, it is but another name for bread, it is but another name for freedom, and those who possess it not are the slaves of those who do. How many states in the union grant the wife an equal right with a husband the control and disposal of the property of the marital firm? But two.…

How long is it since a married woman in this state had the right to control of her own separate property? Barely twice 10 years.

How long since she could control her own earnings, even those of a day’s washing? Not yet 10.

History is full of the wrongs done the wife by legal robbery on the part of the husband. I need not quote instances; they are well known to the most casual newspaper reader. It is accepted as a self-evident truth – that those “who are not masters of any property, be easily be formed into any mould.”

I hesitate not to assert that most of this crime of “child murder,” “abortion,” “infanticide,” lies at the door of the male sex.

Many a woman has left the silent, derisive laugh at the decisions of eminent medical and legal authorities, in cases of crimes committed against her as a woman. Never, until she sits as a juror at such trials, will or can just decisions be rendered.

This reason and that reason have been pointed to by the upholders of equal rights, to account for the oppression of women during past ages, but not one that I have ever heard offered has looked to the spiritual origin of that oppression.

If my health and eyes enable to me to do so, I shall be glad to write occasionally as you request. Perhaps a series of short articles upon the above point will be timely. Individual freedom is emphatically the lesson of the 19th century…”

The Revolution 1 (14): 215 – 216 (April 9, 1868)

Quoted by 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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