The American woman in fact and fiction; Episode 3 of 13
The following program is produced and recorded in the studios of KPFA Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. We present the American woman in fact and fiction from Colonial Times to the present day. A series of 13 programs written and directed by Virginia Maynard and produced by Virginia Maynard and Charles Levy part three. Liberty Equality and Fraternity Uncle Sam set up his house he welcomed every problem but in that case did his new like being white not his mom. Now the middle part of the 18th century many of the old traditions and prejudices which were still troubling the rest of the civilized world were losing their force in America. The authoritarian regimes of early colonial days had gradually given way to increasingly democratic systems of government. For a century America had been forming its own traditions based on the theories of the natural rights of man and of freedom of opportunity for the individual. Now with
growing social consciousness the country was beginning to acknowledge the obligation of the free man to safeguard the rights of his fellows. The idea of equality was coming to the fore. Equality of opportunity equality before the law. He that would make his own liberty secure said Tom Paine must guard even his enemy from oppression. Or if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. One of the most able exponents of the emerging American philosophy at this time was Benjamin Franklin Franklin It has been said was the first modern American. He was a commoner who advanced from the position of printer's apprentice to one of consultant with the crowned heads of Europe. He was the new world's new man an experimental scientist an advocate of reason a searcher after a fact curiously free from the prejudices of his day realistic witty acutely sympathetic to the problems of humanity. He turned the light of his keen intellect upon one sociological question after another.
He was one of the first to write sympathetically of ordinary human beings of the problems of women and the discrimination practiced against them. In the following selection from his works the main argument of which is equality before the law for women. He introduces in his familiar tongue in cheek fashion a subject which must have been a daring one in his day. The problem of the double standard of sexual morality. Here is the speech of Polly Baker by Benjamin Franklin. The scene is the court of Judicature at Connecticut near Boston in the English. Mistress Polly big. You've heard the verdict of this court finding you guilty of the crime with which you have been job for the fifth time you have been before this court for conceiving and giving birth to a child out of wedlock. New England. I confess I do not know what to do with you if you want a thing to say in your own behalf before sentence shall be brought up.
May it please the honorable bench to indulge me in a few words. Permission is granted. I am the poor and happy woman who have no money to feed lawyers to plead for me being hard put to it to get a living. I shall not trouble your honour's with long speeches for I have not the presumption to expect that you may by any means be prevailed on to deviate in your sentence from the law in my favor. All I humbly hope ears that your own ears would charitably move the governor's goodness on my behalf. That my fine may be remitted. This is the first time gentleman that I have been right before you're caught on the same account twice I've paid heavy fines and twice have been brought to the public punishment for want of money to pay those fines. This may have been agreeable to the laws and I don't dispute it but since laws are sometimes unreasonable in themselves and therefore repealed and others bear too hard on the subject in particular
circumstances and therefore there is left the power somewhere to dispense with the execution of them. I take the liberty to say that I think this law by which I am punished both unreasonable in itself and particularly severe with regard to me who have always lived an inoffensive life in the neighborhood where I was born and defy my enemies of why have any to say I ever wronged any man woman or child. Abstracted from the law I cannot conceive May it please your honour's what the nature of my offense is. I have brought five fine children into the world at the risk of my life. I have maintained them well by my own industry without burdening the township and would have done it better if it had not been for the heavy charges and fines they've paid. Can it be a crime in the nature of things I mean to add to the King's subjects in a new country that really wants people. I own it. I should think it rather
a praiseworthy than a punishable action. I have debauch no other woman's husband nor enticed any other youth. These things I never was charged with. Nor is any one the least cause of complaint against me unless perhaps the ministers of justice because I have had children without being married by which they have missed a wedding fee. But can this be a fault of mine. I appeal to your honor's your pleas to allow I don't want saints but I must be stupefied to the last degree not to prefer the honorable state of wedlock to the condition I have lived in. I always was and still am willing to enter into it and dealt not by behaving well in it. Having all the industry frugality fertility and skill in economy pertaining to a good wife's character I defy anyone to say I ever refused an offer of that sort. On the contrary I readily consented to the only proposal of marriage that ever was made me which was when I was a virgin. But too easily confiding in the person sincerity that
made it high and happily lost my honor by trusting to his. So he got me with child and then for suck me. That very person you all know has now become a magistrate in this country and I had hopes he would have appeared this day on the bench and have endeavored to moderate the court in my favor. Then I should have scorned to have mentioned it. But now I must complain of it as unjust and unequal. That my betrayer and undo are the first cause of all my faults and miscarriages. If they must be deemed such should be advanced to our nerd power in this government that punishes my misfortunes with stripes and infamy. I should be told his like that were there no act of Assembly in the case. The precepts of religion are violated by my transgression if mine is a religious offense. Leave it to religious punishment. You've already excluded me from the comforts of your church communion is not that sufficient.
You believe I have offended Heaven and must suffer eternal fire. Will not that be sufficient. What need is there then of your additional fines and whipping. Hi Oh no I do not think as you do. For if I thought what you call a sin was really such I could not presumptuously commit it. But how can it be believed. Heaven is angry at my having children went to the little done by me towards it. God has been pleased to add to His divine skill in admirable workmanship in the formation of their bodies and ground the whole world by furnishing them with rational and immortal souls. Forgive me gentleman if I talk a little extravagantly on these matters. I have no divine. But if you gentlemen must be making laws do not turn natural unuseful actions into crimes by your prohibitions but taken to your wise consideration the great and growing number of bachelors in the country many of whom from the mean fear of the expenses of a family have never sincerely and honorably courted a
woman in their lives and by their manner of living leave unproduced which is little better than murder hundreds of their posterity to the thousandth generation. Is not this a greater offense against the public good than mine. Compare them then by law either to marriage or to pay double the fine of fornication every year. What must poor young women do who customs and nature forbid to solicit the man and who cannot force themselves upon husbands when the laws take no care to provide the many and yet severely punish them if they do their duty without them the duty of the first and great command of Nature and Nature's God increase and multiply. A duty from the steady performance of which nothing has been able to deter me but for its sake I have hazarded the loss of the public esteem and have frequently endured public disgrace and punishment and therefore ought in my humble opinion instead of a
whipping to have a statue erected to my memory. Mistress Polly Baker. It is the decision of this court that suspend. Franklin adds that Polly Baker's speech induced one of her judges to marry her the next day and that they subsequently had 15 children. The speech of Polly Baker by Benjamin Franklin was published in Blackpool's magazine in 1747 over 200 years ago. Ben's contemporaries undoubtedly had a hearty laugh over his humorous observations on the problem of sexual morality even while they were somewhat shocked at his frank treatment of the matter. But the more thoughtful of them could scarcely have been unmoved by his thesis the justice and equity demanded that freedom for one sec should not be a special prerogative maintained at the expense of the other
and that this new country coming into being was indeed a new world with problems of its own but which new moral solutions perhaps as well as new political and legal solutions were necessary. Those ideas of liberty equality and fraternity that fired the men of America into fighting a war for them made at this time it would seem but little impression upon the women. Actually women from the first in this country had been living under conditions of freedom and equality that never had been remotely possible in the Old World. Legally of course they were discriminated against. They could not vote or hold office and had very few rights of any kind under the laws but under early front tier conditions women were very important. The home was the basic unit of community life and in the home women took care of the education of the children made all the clothing and preserved the food for the winter served as doctor to the family and often a spiritual guide. As the settlements became more complex women did not lose their position of importance but extended their
sphere of influence into the community. While men busied themselves with affairs of state or civil defense women took over the management of the farms or businesses open schools doctor the sick man the ferries and taverns indeed took part in almost every occupation which in Europe had been deemed the exclusive province of man. Nevertheless the old world theory of that woman was the vassal of man and that therefore his law was her law is vote her vote her property his property was not quickly cast aside. The new constitution did nothing about the political or legal status of women. However that there were some thoughts upon the subject at this time as demonstrated by the correspondence of certain of the founding fathers. Here now are some excerpts from the letters of Abigail Adams and her husband John who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later second president of the United States. I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong
in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us. I long to hear that you have declared an independent state and by the way in the new code of laws I suppose it will be necessary for you to make. I desire you would remember the ladies and to be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such an unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies. We are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex and naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute. But such a view is wished to be happy willingly give up the title of master for the more
tender and in dealing one a friend. Why then not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity. Men of sense in all ages appeal of those customs which treat as only as the vessels of your sex. Regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supremes being make use of that power only for the happiness. The fourteenth of April John Adams replied. As to your extraordinary code of laws I cannot but laugh. We've been told that our struggle is loosened the bonds of government everywhere. The children in apprentices were disobedient at schools and colleges were grown turbulent that Indians like to their guardians and negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than or the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too coarse a compliment
but you are so saucy. I won't blot it out. Depend upon it we know better than to repeal our masculine systems although they are in full force. You know they are little more than theory. We did not exact our party needs for latitude. We are obliged to go Fair and softly and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters and rather than give up this which would completely subject to the despotism of the petticoat I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight. I am sure that every good politician would plot as long as he would against despotism Empire monarchy aristocracy oligarchy or ochlocracy fide story. I begin to think the ministry is deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tory's land jobbers trimmers bigots Canadians Indians negroes Hanoverians Hessians Russians Irish Roman Catholic sculpture in a god OS. At last they have
stimulated the ladies to demand new privileges and threaten to rebel the 7th of May 1776. Abigail Adams again writes her husband. I cannot say that I think you are very generous to the ladies for West who are proclaiming peace and goodwill to men emancipating all nations who insist upon retaining an absolute power over was saved. But you must remember that object very Palos like most other things which are very very liable to be broken and notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our masters and without violence. Throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet by accepting by submitting sway. Yet have our human most when we obey laws perceiving her point lost Abigail Adams retreats like a proper eighteenth century lady
one of whom John Adams has described in an earlier letter. She lives and behaves with modesty decency dignity and discretion I assure you. Her behavior is easy and genteel. She avoids talking about politics in large and mixed companies. She is totally silent as a lady ought to be. Abigail Adams It would seem from the foregoing excerpts from her letters had some premonition of the eventual possibilities of such world shaking concepts as Liberty Equality and Fraternity the unimaginative John evidently discounted the revolutionary implications or at least took good care that he did not aid and abet them. There was a large element in America that was far from satisfied with the course of the new American government pursued after the war. There was much feeling that the franchise should have been extended and many people were dissatisfied that the Congress had not taken a firmer stand against slavery. Those who would follow such radical political thinkers as Tom Paine thought that the newly constituted
government with its aristocratic leaders had forsaken the cause of universal human liberty and was turning in the direction of reaction. That the cause of freedom with all its implications was still alive in the minds and hearts of Americans is demonstrated by a work written by the young intellectual Charles Brockton Brown in 1797 Brown was influenced by the English social philosopher William Godwin and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft. The British feminist history does Elko in the dialogue was the first complete work to be written in America discussing the position of women. We present now an excerpt from Alcoa in a dialogue written by Charles Brockton Brown in 1797. If I understand you rightly you are of the opinion that the sexes are essentially equal. It appears to me that human beings are molded by the circumstances in which they are placed. In this they are all alike. The differences that flow from the sexual distinction are as nothing.
And yet women are often reminded that none of their sex are to be found among the forms of states and the instructors of mankind that thankless life surges. And Socrates Newton and Locke were not women crew nor were they mountain savages nor Helots nor shoemakers. You might as well expect a Laplander to write Greek spontaneously and without instruction. That anyone should be wise or skillful without suitable opportunities. I only presume one has a better chance of becoming an astronomer by gazing at the stars through a telescope than eternally plying the needle or snapping the scissors to settle the bill of fare for lard a pig to compose a putting to carve a goose are tasks that do not in any remarkable degree tend to instill the love or facilitate the acquisition of literature and science. Nay I do not form prodigious expectations even of one who reads a novel or comedy once a month or chants once a day to her harpsichord. The hunter's foolish invocation to
Phoebus or Cynthia. Women are generally superficial and ignorant because they are generally cooks and seamstresses certain employments have been exclusively assigned to women and their sex is supposed to disqualify them from any other. Women are seldom or never metaphysicians chemists or law givers. Why. Because they are seamstresses and cooks. They cannot read who never saw an alphabet. They who know no tool but the needle cannot be skilful at the pen. Yes of all forms of injustice that is the most unfair which makes the circumstance of sex a reason for excluding one half of mankind from all those paths which lead to usefulness and honor. I think much of the inequity of which you speak may stem directly from our custom of separating the sexes one from another from the time the child is old enough to go to school. They associate in childhood without restraint. But the period
quickly arrives when they are obliged to take different paths. Different systems of morality different languages already at least the same words with a different set of meanings are adopted. All intercourse between them is fettered and embarrassed. On one side all is reserve an artifice on the other adulation and affected humility. The men must effect a disproportion about ardor while the woman must conquer if it indifference and aversion her tongue has no office but to be live the sentiment of her heart and the dictates of her understanding. And by marriage the woman loses all right to separate property. The will of her husband is the criterion of all her duties. All merit is comprised in unlimited a begins. She must not expose too late a rebel in all contest with him. She must hope to prevail by blandishments and tears not by appeals to justice and addresses to reason. She will be most applauded when she
smiles with most perseverance on her oppressor. And when with the distinguishing attachment of a dog no caprice or cruelty you shall be able to a strange her affection. Surely Madam this picture is exaggerated. You derive it from some other source than your own experience or even your own observation. Why should you think the picture exaggerated man is the strongest. This is the reason why in the earliest age of society the females are slaves. Women have unquestionably benefited by the progress that has taken place. And if I look abroad I may see reason to congratulate myself on being born in this age and country. Perhaps there is no place in the world where the yoke is lighter than here. But this persuasion though in one view it may affords consolation ought not to blind us to our true condition or weaken our efforts to remove the evils that still oppress us. It is manifest that we are hardly an unjustly treated.
The Navy is of the most distant regions do not lest resemble each other than the male and female of the same tribe. In consequence of the different discipline to which they are subject to bray Batum a permit me to ask a question Are you a federalist a federalist. What advise a woman to do with politics. Even the government of our country which is said to be the freest in the world passes over women as if they were not. We are excluded from all political rights without the least ceremony. Lawmakers thought as little of comprehending us in their code of liberty as if we were pigs or sheep. The females are exceptions to their general maxims. Perhaps never occurred to them. If they did the idea was quietly discarded without leaving behind the slightest consciousness of inconsistency or in justice. While I am conscious of being an intelligent and moral being while I see myself denied in so many cases the exercise of my own discretion
incapable of separate property subject in all periods of my life to the will of another on whose bounty I may depend for food clothing and shelter. And when I see myself in my relation to society regarded merely as a beast or an insect passed over in the distribution of public duties as absolutely nothing by those who disdained to assign the least apology for their injustice. What the politicians say I am nothing is impossible I should assent to their opinion as long as I am conscious of willing and moving. No I am no Federalist But the chief permit of the Federalist Party is that liberty is everyone's birthright. What avails it to be told by anyone that he is an advocate for liberty. We must first know what he means by the word. We shall generally find that he intends only freedom to himself and subjection to all others. Suppose we
place ourselves where we can conveniently mark the proceedings at a general election. All says the code are free. Liberty is the immediate gift of the Creator to all mankind and his unalienable. Those that are subject to the laws should possess or share in their own action. A person advances with his ticket. Pray says the officer. Are you 21 years of age. I know that I cannot receive your vote. You're no citizen. A second assumes his place. How long. Says the officer. Have you been an inhabitant of the state. Nineteen months and a few days. None has a right to vote who has not completed two years residence says the officer and now a third approaches who states he is over 21 years of age and has been an inhabitant of the state all his life. I will look up your name in the catalogue of taxable properties says the officer. I have no property save my tools. Replies the man. I'm a mechanic. If you're not listed in the catalog of taxable
you cannot vote declares the officer at length. Room is made for a fourth person man cries the magistrate is your skin black or white Black Watch a Saudi slave dared to usurp the rights of free men. And now the way being made clear I ventured to approach. I'm not a minor see I did myself I was born in the state and cannot therefore be stigmatized as a foreigner. I pay taxes for I have no father or husband to pay them for me. Luckily my complection is white. Surely my vote will be received. But you are a woman cries the officer. But say I neither short residence nor poverty nor age nor color nor sex exempt me from the jurisdiction of the law. True says the magistrate. But they deprive you from baring any part in their formation. So I perceive. But I cannot perceive the justice of your pretensions to equality and liberty when those principles are thus openly and grossly violated.
But I am tired of discussing this charming system of equality and independence. Let the black the young the poor and the strangers support their own claims. I am a woman. As such I cannot celebrate the equity of that scheme of government which classes me with dogs and swine. This is been an excerpt from eloquent dialogue written by Charles Brockton Brown and 1797. The war which established the principles of liberty equality and fraternity as the foundation of American government had been over for 15 years. The Constitution affirming them had been in force for eight years. Now America was looking toward an extension of these principles to the poor to slaves and to women. Tom Paine said that the winning of independence for the United States had been but the first battle the first victory in the cause of human freedom. History seems to have proved him right. Two tacts one was not present.
Guy why would you not have the ballot. She had just the same as the man she enjoyed You denied this and we are not asking a question. That was part 3 of the American woman in fact and fiction from Colonial Times to the present day. A series of 13 programs written and directed by Virginia maintain the cast included Charles Levy Eileen Marquis Patterson Sidney Rodger and Virginia Maynard engineering was by David L. Talcott the American woman in fact and fiction was produced and recorded by KPFA Berkeley California under a grant from the Educational Television Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end Radio Network.
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- Episode 3 of 13
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- This series, written and directed by Virginia Maynard, dramatizes various stories of women from colonial times to the Twentieth century.
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- APA: The American woman in fact and fiction; Episode 3 of 13. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-251fnz5k