Tarrant County College District Sarah Grimke on The Status of Women Essay


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PDA #2 Essay Prompt
Both documents deal with women during the Antebellum period. Select only one document and
write a well-reasoned essay of 1.5 pages in length answering the question for the document of
your choosing.
Document 1: “Sarah Grimke on the Status of Women”
Why were “women being educated, from earliest childhood, to regard themselves as
inferior creatures”? What is the purpose of Grimke’s essay?
Document 2: “A Farmer’s View of His Wife”
Why did the farmer want a wife? How would you characterize the reaction from the
interviewer? Of the two, who is more reflective of American society at the time and why?
A Farmer Talks About His Wife
From Eliza Farnham, Life in Prairie Land (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1846), 3641.
The Strange Character
. . . The strange character of the feeling manifested by her husband, made me very
desirous of drawing him into an expression of it in words before he left us, and as their
landing-place would probably be reached on the third morning, I availed myself of a
chance meeting on the shady guard in the afternoon, to engage him in conversation. A
few words about the height of the water, the timber, and the prairies, served the
The Conversation Begins
” You are going to become a prairie farmer I” I said.
” No, I’ve been one afore, I’ve got a farm up the river hyur that I’ve crapped twice
a’ready; there’s a good cabin on it, and it’s about as good a place, I reckon, as can be
found in these diggins.”
” Then you built a cage,” I said, ” and went back for your bird to put in it ? “
He looked at me, and his face underwent a contortion, of which words will convey but a
faint idea. It was a mingled expression of pride and contempt, faintly disguised by a
smile that was intended to hide them.
” Why, I don’t know what you Yankees call a bird,” he replied, ” but I call her a woman. I
shouldn’t make much account of havin a bird in my cabin, but a good, stout woman I
should calculate was worth somethin. She can pay her way, and do a handsome thing
besides, helpin me on the farm.”
Think of that, ye belles and fair-handed maidens ! How was my sentiment rebuked !
” Well, we’ll call her a woman, which is, in truth, much the more rational appellation. You
intend to make her useful as well as ornamental to your home ?”
” Why, yes ; I calculate ’tain’t of much account to have a woman if she ain’t of no use. I
lived up hyur two year, and had to have another man’s woman do all my washin and
mendin and so on, and at last I got tired o’ totin my plunder back and forth, and thought I
might as well get a woman of my own. There’s a heap of things beside these, that she’ll
do better than I can, I reckon; every man ought to have a woman to do his cookin and
such like, ‘kase it’s easier for them than it is for us. They take to it kind o’ naturally.”
Determined to sound him a little deeper
I could scarcely believe that there was no more human vein in the animal, and
determined to sound him a little deeper.
” And this bride of yours is the one, I suppose, that you thought of all the while you were
making your farm and building your cabin ] You have, I dare say, made a little gai’den,
or set out a tree, or done something of the kind to please her alone ?”
” No, I never allowed to get a woman till I found my neighbors went ahead of me with
’em, and then I should a got one right thar, but there wasn’t any stout ones in our
settlement, and it takes so long to make up to a stranger, that I allowed I mought as well
go back and see the old folks, and git somebody that I know’d thar to come with me.”
” And had you no choice made among your acquaintances 1 was there no one person
of whom you thought more than another’?” said I.
” Yas, there was a gal I used to know that was stouter and bigger than this one. I should
a got her if I could, but she’d got married and gone off over the Massissippi, somewhar.”
A Business Matter
The cold-hearted fellow ! it was a perfectly business matter with him.
” Did you select this one solely on account of her size ?” said I.
” Why, pretty much,” he replied ; ” I reckon women are some like horses and oxen, the
biggest can do the most work, and that’s what I want one for.”
” And is that all?” I asked, more disgusted at every word. ” Do you care nothing about a
pleasant face to meet you when you go home from the field, or a soft voice to speak
kind words when you are sick, or a gentle friend to converse with you in your leisure
hours ?”
” Why, as to that,” he said, ” I reckon a woman ain’t none the worse for talk because
she’s stout and able to work. I calculate she’ll mind her own business pretty much, and if
she does she won’t talk a great deal to me ; that ain’t what I got her for.”
” But suppose when you get home she should be unhappy, and want to see her parents
and other friends ?”
” Why I don’t allow she will ; I didn’t get her for that. . . . I shall give her enough to eat
and wear, and I don’t calculate she’ll be very daunsey if she gets that ; if she is she’ll git
shet of it after a while.”
My indignation increased at every word.
” But you brought her away from her home to be treated as a human being, not as an
animal or machine. Marriage is a moral contract, not a mere bargain of business. The
parties promise to study each other’s happiness, and endeavor to promote it. You could
not marry a woman as you could buy a washing machine, though you might want her for
the same purpose. If you take the machine there is no moral obligation incurred, except
to pay for it. If you take the woman, there is. Before you entered into this contract I could
have shown you a machine that would have answered your purpose admirably. It would
have washed and ironed all your clothes, and when done, stood in some out-of-the-way
corner till it was wanted again. You would have been under no obligation, not even to
feed and clothe it, as you now are. It would have been the better bargain, would it not?”
” Why that would be according to what it cost in the fust place ; but it wouldn’t be justly
the same thing as havin a wife, I reckon, even if it was give to you.”
” No, certainly not ; it would free you from many obligations that you are under to a wife”
(it was the first time, by the way, he had used the word), ” and leave you to pursue your
own pleasure without seeing any sorrowful or sour faces about you.”
“ Oh, I calculate sour faces won’t be of much account to me. If a woman’ll mind her
business, she may look as thunderin as a live airthquake, I shan’t mind it. . . . I reckon
the Yankees may do as they like about them things, and I shall do jist the same. I don’t
think a woman’s of much account anyhow, if she can’t help herself a little and me too. If
the Yankee women was raised up like the women here aar, they’d cost a heap less and
be worth more.”
. . . I turned away, saying that I trusted his wife would agree with him in these opinions,
or they might lead to some unpleasant differences.
” Oh, as to that,” said he, ” I reckon her pinions won’t go fur anyhow ; she’ll think pretty
much as I do, or not at all.”
Sarah Grimké, Letter 8: “On the State of Women in the United States,” Letters on the Equality of
the Sexes and the Condition of Women (Boston: I Knapp, 1838), 46-55.
…During the early part of my life, my lot was cast among the butterflies of the fashionable
world; and of this class of women, I am constrained to say, both from experience and
observation, that their education is miserably deficient; that they are taught to regard marriage as
the one thing needful, the only avenue to distinction; hence to attract the notice and win the
attentions of men, by their external charms, is the chief business of fashionable girls. They
seldom think that men will be allured by intellectual acquirements, because they find, that where
any mental superiority exists, a woman is generally shunned and regarded as stepping out of her ‘
appropriate sphere,’ which, in their view, is to dress, to dance, to set out to the best possible
advantage her person, to read the novels which inundate the press, and which do more to destroy
her character as a rational creature, than anything else. Fashionable women regard themselves,
and are regarded by men, as pretty toys or as mere instruments of pleasure; and the vacuity of
mind, the heartlessness, the frivolity which is the necessary result of this false and debasing
estimate of women, can only be fully understood by those who have mingled in the folly and
wickedness of fashionable life; and who have been called from such pursuits by the voice of the
Lord Jesus, inviting their weary and heavy laden souls to come unto Him and learn of Him, that
they may find something worthy of their immortal spirit, and their intellectual powers; that they
may learn the high and holy purposes of their creation, and consecrate themselves unto the
service of God; and not, as is now the case, to the pleasure of man.
There is another and much more numerous class in this country, who are withdrawn by education
or circumstances from the circle of fashionable amusements, but who are brought up with the
dangerous and absurd idea, that marriage is a kind of preferment; and that to be able to keep their
husband’s house, and render his situation comfortable, is the end of her being. Much that she
does and says and thinks is done in reference to this situation; and to be married is too often held
up to the view of girls as the sine qua non of human happiness and human existence. For this
purpose more than for any other, I verily believe the majority of girls are trained. This is
demonstrated by the imperfect education which is bestowed upon them, and the little pains taken
to cultivate their minds, after they leave school, by the little time allowed them for reading, and
by the idea being constantly inculcated, that although all household concerns should be attended
to with scrupulous punctuality at particular seasons, the improvement of their
intellectual capacities is only a secondary consideration, and may serve as an occupation to fill
up the odds and ends of time. In most families, it is considered a matter of far more consequence
to call a girl off from making a pie, or a pudding, than to interrupt her whilst engaged in her
studies. This mode of training necessarily exalts, in their view, the animal above the intellectual
and spiritual nature, and teaches women to regard themselves as a kind of machinery, necessary
to keep the domestic engine in order, but of little value as the intelligent companions of men.
Let no one think, from these remarks, that I regard a knowledge of housewifery as beneath the
acquisition of women. Far from it: I believe that a complete knowledge of household affairs is an
indispensable requisite in a woman’s education, — that by the mistress of a family, whether
married or single, doing her duty thoroughly and understandingly, the happiness of the family is
increased to an incalculable degree, as well as a vast amount of time and money saved. All I
complain of is, that our education consists so almost exclusively in culinary and other manual
operations. I do long to see the time, when it will no longer be necessary for women to expend so
many precious hours in furnishing ‘a well spread table,’ but that their husbands will forego some
of their accustomed indulgences in this way, and encourage their wives to devote some portion
of their time to mental cultivation, even at the expense of having to dine sometimes on baked
potatoes, or bread and butter. . . .
There is another way in which the general opinion, that women are inferior to men, is
manifested, that bears with tremendous effect on the laboring class, and indeed on almost all who
are obliged to earn a subsistence, whether it be by mental or physical exertion — I allude to the
disproportionate value set on the time and labor of men and of women. A man who is engaged in
teaching, can always, I believe, command a higher price for tuition than a woman — even when
he teaches the same branches, and is not in any respect superior to the woman. This I know is the
case in boarding and other schools with which I have been acquainted, and it is so in every
occupation in which the sexes engage indiscriminately. As for example, in tailoring, a man has
twice, or three times as much for making a waistcoat or pantaloons as a woman, although the
work done by each may be equally good. In those employments which are peculiar to women,
their time is estimated at only half the value of that of men. A woman who goes out to wash,
works as hard in proportion as a wood sawyer, or a coal heaver, but she is not generally able to
make more than half as much by a day’s work. The low remuneration which women receive for
their work, has claimed the attention of a few philanthropists, and I hope it will continue to do so
until some remedy is applied for this enormous evil. . . . All these things evince the low
estimation in which woman is held. There is yet another and more disastrous consequence
arising from this unscriptural notion — women being educated, from earliest childhood, to
regard themselves as inferior creatures, have not that self-respect which conscious equality
would engender, and hence when their virtue is assailed, they yield to temptation with facility,
under the idea that it rather exalts than debases them, to be connected with a superior being.
There is another class of women in this country, to whom I cannot refer, without feelings of the
deepest shame and sorrow. I allude to our female slaves. Our southern cities are whelmed
beneath a tide of pollution; the virtue of female slaves is wholly at the mercy of irresponsible
tyrants, and women are bought and sold in our slave markets, to gratify the brutal lust of those
who bear the name of Christians. In our slave States, if amid all her degradation and ignorance, a
woman desires to preserve her virtue unsullied, she is either bribed or whipped into compliance,
or if she dares resist her seducer, her life by the laws of some of the slave States may be, and has
actually been sacrificed to the fury of disappointed passion. Where such laws do not exist, the
power which is necessarily vested in the master over his property, leaves the defenseless slave
entirely at his mercy, and the sufferings of some females on this account, both physical and
mental, are intense….But even if any laws existed in the United States, as in Athens formerly, for
the protection of female slaves, they would be null and void, because the evidence of a colored
person is not admitted against a white, in any of our Courts of Justice in the slave States….
Nor does the colored woman suffer alone: the moral purity of the white woman is deeply
contaminated. In the daily habit of seeing the virtue of her enslaved sister sacrificed without
hesitancy or remorse, she looks upon the crimes of seduction and illicit intercourse without
horror, and although not personally involved in the guilt, she loses that value for innocence in her
own, as well as the other sex, which is one of the strongest safeguards to virtue. She lives in.
habitual intercourse with men, whom she knows to be polluted by licentiousness, and often is she
compelled to witness in her own domestic circle, those disgusting and heart-sickening jealousies
and strifes which disgraced and distracted the family of Abraham. In addition to all this, the
female slaves suffer every species of degradation and cruelty, which the most wanton barbarity
can inflict; they are indecently divested of their clothing, sometimes tied up and severely
whipped, sometimes prostrated on the earth, while their naked bodies are torn by the scorpion
Can any American woman look at these scenes of shocking licentiousness and cruelty, and fold
her hands in apathy, and say, ‘I have nothing to do with slavery’? She cannot and be guiltless….

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Antebellum period

Sarah Grimke

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