On April 8, 2010, SCRC hosted a dramatic reading of a selection of letters from our collections. The event was planned and emceed by Abigail Wheetley, and we thank everyone who was able to attend. For those who were unable to attend, and for those who would like to revisit something they heard that evening, we will be posting transcriptions of the letters and introductions to them over the next few weeks.
We continue this series with a letter by Victoria Woodhull.
The Pitfalls of Matrimony
Victoria Woodhull-Martin PP 20
Victoria Woodhull-Martin was a woman’s rights pioneer, born in 1838. She founded a Wall Street brokerage and used profits to publish Woodhull & Claflin Weekly, advocating female suffrage, free love, and other progressive causes. Her activities and achievements were dramatic and varied, including her address to the House Committee on suffrage, and her bringing to light an adultery scandal which implicated a celebrated minister. For this she was imprisoned on obscenity charges. She was the first female nominated for president, and ran in 1872 for the Equal Rights Party. This is a letter she sent to a newspaper editor who had misrepresented her views on marriage.
I see by your editorial remarks upon the portion of my article which you did me the injustice to publish separated from its sequence, that you utterly ignore, not only what I wrote about, but what I wrote. I wrote upon “What I Oppose in Marriage,” but you have made an onslaught upon me as if I had written in opposition to marriage. Since you evade the issue that I raised in that article, I beg you to permit me to show what I do not oppose in marriage, with the hope that, from this standpoint, you will be able, and have the desire, to understand what I mean.
I do believe in the sanctity of marriage, and it is because I so believe that I have pleaded so earnestly as I have for woman’s complete emancipation from ignorance on this subject, knowing full well that as soon as she becomes thoroughly conversant with the Divine law in which is wrapped up the awful responsibility of creating “His image” she will not enter into the sacred relation with so little consideration as she does now.
The marriage of two Divinely inspired souls! There is no more beautiful thing in the universe. Woman stands as God’s architect, His vicegerent. Then should she not become intellectually His equal?
So long as the streets of our cities are filled with children debauched in every way, so long as we have Pipers confessing to terrific crimes, so long as our young and beautiful daughters fill the prostitute’s grave, and idiots, insane and vicious people curse the face of the earth, so long should woman rebel against any and all conditions that keep her hampered, so that she may …find out the law that governs her own life giving being. When our daughters are no longer prepared for the marriage mart simply as commodities to be sold at the highest price, when we exact the same purity of man that he requires of woman, when woman, in her matronly dignity and God-like purity shall, by her intellectual power, crush the demon lust, then sorrow and desolation, and misery and vice will all be banished from the face of the earth.
Your remarks would lead one to believe that I do not believe in the marriage relation. What an error do you and those who think with you make! It is I who do believe in the institution as a Divine provision, but law alone cannot make it an all absorbing love, to render this relation Divine. Nor do I believe in the loose system of divorces now so much in vogue. The prerequisites I would require for marriage would abolish the need for divorce laws. It is only because people now come together ignorantly that there seems to be this need. To me this business is as reprehensible as the promiscuousness that runs riot in the land.
Every mother, every woman before becoming a mother, should understand the law of procreation, and should be able, and should make it her duty, to impart it to her children, so that when her daughter’s band is sought in marriage, her first thought may be “Dare I marry? Have I lived correctly? Am I fit to enter into a relation that will make me responsible for the making or defacing of God’s image—whether I dare to attempt to erect that ‘holy temple’ ‘not made with hands’?”
Our jails, penitentiaries, asylums, houses of refuge, and brothels are filled with those who are begotten in lust and ignorance, and reared amid debaucher and inharmony that are the natural outcome of ignorance; and in these results woman is reaping harvest of vice and crime that fills the land with grief and shame. Had I the power I would make it a crime for people to marry in ignorance of parental responsibility, and bear vicious and sickly children. Here is the true origin, the cause of all the ills that curse the race, and here is where the people must begin to apply their remedies before there can be any improvement in the race. This question must be discussed until the law of procreation is completely understood, until mothers shall be made ashamed to bear an unworthy child, to be a burden to themselves, and a curse to society—until people shall cease to rush into marriage as horses rush to battle and then out of it in about the same manner—and you need not go outside of the divorce records of your own State to learn what I mean—all of which hot haste and its consequent mistakes would be remedied could what I advocate become the practice. I plead for universal knowledge upon this vital subject. Mothers have it in their power to crush the hydra-headed monster that is at the bottom of all the wrongs form which we suffer and to rescue our young from untimely deaths, making the people what the God of Nature intended they should be –a race of gods.
The mystery that has been thrown around this question of marriage and maternity tends to create, and it has created, a morbid curiosity and desire in children that are left to run wild, and satisfy themselves in vicious and disgusting practices. Let then the veil of mock modestly and a prurient sentimentality be rent asunder; let the wall that prejudice has erected around the subject be beaten down, so that the sunlight of intelligence may be let in upon it, so that woman may reproduce “our kind” without entailing upon them the vices and miseries of the past.
When this shall be accomplished, then shall woman sing the song of the race redeemed; and this is what I mean by my onslaught upon the ignorant marriage system of today.