Introduction to the Excerpt
The Reconstruction period marked a time of intense social change in the post-Civil War United States. One of the many changes was that (white) women began to advocate for the right to vote. Denied the ability to fully participate in almost every level of society, women took to the only route available—public performances. In this way, the speaker quoted in The Revolution excerpt, Mrs. Roberts, is not an expert. She is not a powerful lawyer or a credentialed scholar—because these possibilities were denied her.
Instead, what we receive is the cry that lives in our hearts, the righteous call to action and to justice. Mrs. Roberts represents the sister, the mother, the wife, and the citizen who stood in whatever hall would receive her to speak against power unjustly used, to speak against the greed and avarice of men. Her voice rings true, and demands from us the same fierce action, regardless of the forces that come to bear down against it.
As Ray (2007) so succinctly reminds us; “Whereas well-publicized events can rally flagging spirits and inspire resolve, we are duly cautioned that social change has resulted from hard and often tedious work: refining group goals, cultivating allies, and confronting setbacks from within and without…. For social reformers of our own time, such histories suggest the necessity of vigilance and provide consolation in times of defeat.”
Angela G. Ray (2007). The Rhetorical Ritual of Citizenship: Women’s Voting as Public Performance, 1868–1875, Quarterly Journal of Speech, 93:1, 1-26, DOI: 10.1080/00335630701326845
Excerpt from The Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 15, October 15, 1868
Equal Rights in Wisconsin, Annual Meeting, Fond du Lac, address by Mrs. Roberts
If I want my rights, or would use them, what right have you to deny me because another does not ask the same? If there is a woman here who does not want to vote, that says she has all in the privileges she wants, or rights he can use, may God pity her for her blindness, for she may be innocent of the wrong she is doing.
But let me tell you, dear sister. If you are blessed with such privileges and conditions, they are a blessing sent, rather than your legal right. And if you are surrounded by kind, loving and gentle influences, remember that there are thousands of women who are suffering from unjust legislation, thousands who are toiling half fed, half clothed, homeless, friendless, shelterless, for no fault of their own but because their lines have not been cast in as pleasant places as yours. And who knows, my dear woman, but your daughter may one day make one of that unhappy number!
[…] Oh, my dear sisters, have you no duties to suffering humanity? Have you no sympathies for the wretched, toiling, starving sisters of want and woe, because you have enough and to spare? Have you no sympathy for those who have gone down to the gates of hell for the sake of few crumbs to save their children from starvation?… Do you know that man’s managed, usurped power and his legal power, excuse much for him, which woman is cursed for; and have you not something to do gain this power for women, which shall help to raise her up from such conditions, instead of her dragging man down to her condition?
Let us not be satisfied until woman can be encouraged and protected in every position which she has talent to attain. Until she can work when she will, and where she will and receive a just recompense for her labors; until she can be respected for what she is, for herself, and not be obliged to marry for home or reputation; until she can herself be the owner and possessor of her own selfhood; until laws, customs and society itself will accord her in all places and under all circumstances just what it would to man under the same. (pg. 237)
Excerpt selected and introduced by Danae Barnes