“Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him?”

Lavinia Goodell, August 1873

In the summer of 1873, a year before she became a lawyer, Lavinia Goodell read an editorial titled “Woman Suffrage and Marriage” that had appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette. The premise of the piece was that there was no point in allowing women to vote because they would obviously vote in lock step with their husbands. As the Gazette put it, “To give the wife a vote, so that she may vote as her husband does, is simply to give the married man two votes.” Lavinia found this notion “exasperatingly absurd” and promptly wrote an article responding to it.

Lavinia read the offending Cincinnati Gazette piece when it was reprinted in full in the July 19, 1873 issue of Lucy Stone’s Woman’s Journal. Lucy Stone herself introduced the piece with the heading “An enemy’s view.”

Lavinia’s response appeared in the August 16, 1873 issue of the Woman’s Journal. She wrote:

Is woman’s position one of equality with man, or subjection to him? This is the question at issue between woman suffragists and their opponents…. No one among us has ever tried to … put [this issue] out of sight. That has been left for our opponents to do; and most of them have had the shrewdness and good policy to do it.

Lavinia noted that those opposing suffrage often argued that women did not need the vote because their position was already higher than man’s; that women were respected and deferred to and that they were queens whose realm was the home. Lavinia wrote:

Woman Suffragists, on the other hand, claim that marriage is a union of equals, and that, as such, only can its highest results be attained; … Undoubtedly it is very trying to the natural man to have his wife disagree with him, either in politics or religion; but we hold that this affords no occasion for sundering the marriage tie, nor even for the indignant and outraged husband forcing his opinion upon his wife at the point of either bayonet or ballot;…

In support of her call for true equality between the sexes, Lavinia cited with approval a recent article in the Christian Union newspaper which said:

Half the social questions that vex our souls will be answered when the world concedes that a woman is a normal, responsible, individual human being, as a man is a normal, responsible individual; that she must b the protector of her own honor, the judge of her own duty, the keeper of her own conscience, answerable only to the law and to Heaven.

Lavinia concluded her remarks by asking, “Shall we have slavery in the family, and inequality before the law, or freedom, and impartial suffrage? That is the alternative.”

Read the entire article here.

Sources consulted: “An Enemy’s View,” published in the Woman’s Journal, Vol. 4, No. 29, 7/19/73, seq. 234, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; “Woman Suffrage and Marriage,” by Lavinia Goodell, published in the Woman’s Journal, Vol. 4, 8/16/73, seq. 263, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

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