Friday, March 8, 2019

Pro-life and Pro-Woman--the Early Feminists

by Kathleen L. Maher

March is Women's History Month, and Heroes, Heroines and History honors the pioneers of Women's Rights.

In a previous post I wrote about Rachel Gleason, a pioneering female doctor who championed women's health. (see post here) Dr. Gleason was only the fourth woman in the US to earn her MD, and she was arguably the very first to devote her practice to women's unique health issues. Her contemporaries, many of them personal friends and acquaintances, were suffragettes, some who stayed at her health resort and were active in New York State for women's causes. They all shared a common view of an issue that has been gaining headlines regarding women's health, a view that has been lost or forgotten over the generations as fundamental to women's rights. They all felt a moral reprehension toward abortion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton began activism as an abolitionist, married to an abolitionist. But women had a limited voice to champion this worthy cause in her day, which frustrated her enough to begin what would become the birth of the women's movement in Seneca Falls. Stanton was steadfastly against abortion. "Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children. With centuries of degradation, we have so little of true womanhood, that the world has but the faintest glimmering of what a woman is or should be.” In another instance, she wrote, "The social system is too corrupt, it would certainly seem, long to survive. Infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable. "

Stanton and Anthony

Stanton, along with Susan B. Anthony, published a magazine called The Revolution, the official voice of National Women Suffrage Association whose motto read: “The True Republic–Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In more than one instance, The Revolution stated Stanton and Anthony's stance on abortion. This passage from The Revolution indicates not just another early female doctor's disdain for the practice, but the editor's views on it as well.

Dr. Charlotte Lozier of 323 W. 34th St., of this city [New York], was applied to last week by man pretending to be from South Carolina, by the name, Moran, as he also pretended, to procure an abortion on a very pretty young girl apparently about 18 years old. The doctor assured him that he’d come to the wrong place for any such a shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose. She proffered to the young woman any assistance in her power to render, at the proper time, and cautioned and counseled her against the fearful act which she and her attendant (whom she called her cousin) proposed.

Another article in The Revolution entitled “Child Murder” has been attributed by some scholars to Susan B. Anthony. It reads:

Guilty? Yes no matter what the motive, love of ease, or desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! Thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician, held a deep respect for life in the womb, of which she said "we can only regard with reverent admiration."  She also held repulsion for the abortionist's trade, and renounced a woman named Madame Restell performing illegal abortions in New York.

"The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term ‘female physician’ should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women."

These are but a few direct quotes spoken or written by the heroines and champions of suffrage and women's rights. Other indications of their stance against abortion can be felt through their refusal to accept revenue through abortifacient/pessary advertisement dollars, and their definition of "voluntary motherhood" to mean a married woman's right to abstinence rather than termination of a pregnancy. These women understood that motherhood was a beautiful and honorable role, to be cherished and protected rather than regarded as an inconvenience or grudging obligation. In fact, to these early activists, to sacrifice the sacredness of the maternal role for career and ambition was to lose the identity of femininity itself. 

Louisa May Alcott, famous for her Civil War era novel Little Women, wrote the following to the editor of The Boston Daily Journal: 

The assertion that suffragists do not care for children and prefer notoriety to the joys of maternity is so fully contradicted by the lives of the women who are trying to make the world a safer place for both sons and daughters, that no defense is needed. Having spent my own life from fifteen to fifty, loving and laboring for children, as teacher, nurse, storyteller and guardian, I know whereof I speak.

These historic voices continue in the true cause of women's freedoms over 100 years later, and the diligent scholar will take in the full counsel of their wisdom. No freedom is won at the sacrifice of another, even the dependent child of one's womb. As we celebrate Women's History Month, let us embrace their message of equal rights for every woman, born and unborn.


Kathleen L. Maher has had an infatuation with books and fictional heroes ever since her preschool crush, Peter Rabbit. Barbour’s best-selling 2018 Victorian Christmas Brides collection includes her novella “Love Brick by Brick”, featuring her hometown of Elmira, New York. Her debut historical, Bachelor Buttons 2013 blends her Irish heritage and love of the American Civil War. She won the 2012 ACFW Genesis contest for her Civil War story, The Abolitionist’s Daughter: Book 1 in Sons of the Shenandoah Series released summer 2018. Book 2 The Chaplain’s Daughter will be available spring 2019. Her novella “Something Old, Something New” releases Oct 2019 with Barbour’s school teacher romance collection Lessons on Love. Kathleen shares an old farmhouse in upstate New York with her husband, children, and a small zoo of beloved pets.
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  1. So interesting and important--thanks for sharing, Kathleen!

  2. What great words! Thank you for this post!

    1. Thank you Connie R. I didn’t know it at the time but today is also international women’s day. This is to me is the number one most important message as a woman. I am honored to have this day on the blog.

  3. Thank you for an interesting post! I think (from a photo and family stories) that one of my great-aunts was very active in the women's rights movement. She was born and lived in Seneca Falls at the time. I've been trying to prove it through genealogy research. I loved Little Women! I've read it several times. Now, it's time to reread it.

  4. Thank you for researching the roots of American feminism. I had no idea these historic heroines were devoutly pro life and were the founders of the Seneca Falls Women's movement.

    1. Thank you for coming by MaryAlice. It’s amazing what history has been supported and what has been suppressed. These ladies were strong and brave and adhered to Godly standards. Their legacy has been hijacked by a progressive narrative that simply isn’t so

  5. Wow, Beverly. I would be fascinated to hear what you find out about your relative. These were such a brave women!