The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

Remarks by SBA at Women's New York State Temperance Society Convention

Editorial note: In the absence of ECS, who expected to deliver her fifth child any day, Attilia Albro presided over the meeting of the Women's New York State Temperance Society in the Wesleyan Chapel at Seneca Falls on 14 October, and Lucy Stone made the principal address. Delegates were present from eleven counties. The resolutions considered in the afternoon session offered neither controversy nor activity. They called upon men to vote their temperance principles, endorsed the Maine law, and approved, retroactively, the executive committee's decision to send delegates to the state temperance convention in June. After a recess, SBA and Lydia Ann Jenkins introduced additional resolutions.
S. B. Anthony offered the following resolutions:
Resolved, That inasmuch as the Church in the present undeveloped state of the race, has the sole direction of the religious element in man, it is clearly its duty to take cognizance of the existing evils of the day, and among others that of intemperance, by banishing from its sacrament the poisonous cup, and denying fellowship to wine-bibbers, Rumsellers and Distillers.
Resolved, That if it be a violation of scripture for man to put asunder those whom God has joined together, it is equally a violation of holy writ for man, by his unjust laws, to hold together those whom God has never joined.
Mrs. Fish, of Victor,[1] read a short address which was well received; after which S. B. Anthony took the stand. She said it required no apology for a woman's appearing before a public audience. Jenny Lind,[2] and other great vocalists, actresses, & c., could appear with bare necks and arms before admiring audiences and be praised for their performances. It is only when woman appears as an advocate for the good of her race that she was pointed at as being out of her sphere, and ridiculed by the other sex, and many of her own. Shall women tamely submit to be the slaves of rum-drinking, rum-voting men? Men have no right to arrogate to themselves all the law-making, and make laws which so grievously curse woman. Woman has no longer a right to remain idly at home and allow her husband, brothers and sons to go down to drunkard's graves. She must refuse to be the bride of the moderate drinker, or to meet Tobacco-smoking, Rum-drinking young men with smiles in the social circle, or to go with them to places of amusement. She must no longer consent to entail upon her offspring the taste for alcoholic drinks. A large portion of the prevalent scrofulous diseases arise from intemperance. Many of the Idiots were the result of the same terrible and pernicious habit.
Many object to the ground that habitual drunkenness should be cause of divorce; that it is contrary to the Bible doctrine on this point. She referred to the present laws for divorce, the imprisoning a man for five years, wilful desertion, & c.,[3] and contended that these are, at least, equally opposed to the Bible. Should a woman be bound to live with a man that daily threatens to murder herself and children, until actual murder was committed? Does it ever occur to you that those who are the greatest sticklers for this Bible doctrine, and lift up their hands in holy horror at the mention of divorce, never mention the wholesale divorce going on south of Mason and Dixon's line?[4] If we are to be so strict on this point let us begin where the evil most exists.
Woman must withdraw from all churches which tolerate rum-drinkers and distillers. We can scarce find a community, where there is not a rum-making deacon or prominent member; and he remains quietly in the church because he has money and contributes to the pay of the minister. In a neighboring town a prominent member of the Methodist church was a distiller notwithstanding the Methodist discipline against it. The church that retains such men, is none of Christ's. The clergyman who does not speak out against it, and who administers the sacrament to such, is worse than the rum-seller himself. Think of a deacon watching the poison flowing from the "worm of the still," singing
Come thou fount of every blessing,
Streams of mercy never ceasing & c.
Better, far better take the pure waters of the earth for the communion than to feed a congregation the drugged whiskey that passes for wine.
Woman must carry these temperance principles into politics. If we cannot vote we can influence voters. If man assumes to vote for us, it is time we instruct him how we want voting done.
Mrs. L. A. Jenkins,[5] of Waterloo, offered the following resolution:
Inasmuch as the right to petition is the safeguard of the rights of the people, and as our petitions as women of the State of New York have been cast aside, and our right as memorialists been called in question, therefore
Resolved, That we will go by the hundreds, if not by the thousands, at the coming of our next legislature, and present a petition for the Maine Law, at our own hands.
Mrs. Jenkins ably sustained the resolution, and it was adopted.
The question on Miss Anthony's resolutions was then called for. The first was adopted without discussion. The second elicited a spirited discussion. Miss Anthony's well known position relative to the propriety of drunkenness being made a ground for legal divorce, was opposed by Mary C. Vaughan, who said that though agreeing with her friend that no woman should consent to remain in the relation of wife with the confirmed drunkard, nor to stamp upon the minds of her children the impress of the drunkard's beastly nature, or to rear them to an inheritance of his fatal appetite, yet the case called only for separation, not for divorce. The laws should be so modified that all property of the family, and her children, should belong to the wife, then she might if she chose, and could, care for the inebriate husband. Or if his example and conduct were too gross to be endured, she might have the power of ridding herself entirely of his presence. But there was always hope of his reform, and a home and a heart should be ready for him if he should ever regain the dignity of his manhood.
S. B. Anthony said that true marriage was a union of soul, of spirit, not a legalized form of words binding man and woman together. God never joined virtue and vice; the contract was no longer binding when one party became morally corrupt. The scripture said "Be ye not unequally yoked together." "Ye cannot serve both God and Mammon."[6] The drunkard's wife must serve him, she is his, the victim of his depraved passions and imbruted nature.
Mrs. Vaughan replied that we could not decide whom God had joined. There might have been at the period of marriage the true union of soul spoken of, which she agreed only sanctified the marriage relation. That true union though lost when the man became the victim of drunkenness, might be remembered if he reformed. The wife had no right to cast him off altogether for this vice alone. The scripture, the words of Christ admit of but one cause for divorce:[7] a separation from any other cause will admit of no second marriage.
<D. C. Bloomer, of Seneca Falls, sustained the arguments of Mrs. Vaughan. There was a wide difference between separation and divorce, the former only was admissible on account of drunkenness on scriptural grounds.>
Mrs. Gildersleeve, of Clyde, sustained the position of Miss Anthony, but was not heard with distinctness, and her argument could not be reported.
The vote on the resolution was called for, and it was adopted by a small majority.
A motion was made to appoint a committee to prepare a draft for a petition to the Legislature for the Maine Law, and to arrange a plan of action for the women of the State. Carried, and Amelia Bloomer, of Seneca Falls, Mary C. Vaughan, of Oswego, and Hannah S. Shute, of Fairport[8] appointed that Committee.
The Convention then adjourned sine die.
Lily, November 1852; Carson League, 28 October 1852. Also reported in Frederick Douglass' Paper, 29 October 1852, Film, 7:442.
    [1.] Angelina Fish (c. 1811-?) lived in Victor, Ontario County, with her husband Daniel Fish, a school teacher, and three children. She was named a vice president pro tem at this meeting, and she was placed on the executive committee of the society in 1853. (Federal Census, 1850.)
    [2.] Jenny Lind (1822-1887), the Swedish nightingale, arrived in the United States in September 1850 for an extended singing tour. Five thousand people heard her premier concert in New York, and comparable crowds heard her in all the major cities.
    [3.] SBA refers to conditions sufficient for limited divorce, or legal separation. Adultery was the only grounds for complete divorce under New York's divorce law.
    [4.] Known as the dividing line between slavery and free soil, the Mason and Dixon Line ran north of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
    [5.] Lydia Ann Moulton Jenkins (1824?-1874) was active in the Waterloo Congregational Friends with her husband Edmund S. Jenkins, and attended the woman's rights convention at Syracuse. She became a skillful lecturer on woman's rights. In 1853, wearing the "Bloomer costume," she addressed the national woman's rights convention in Cleveland, and SBA counted her among the useful team of speakers in New York State. Jenkins was ordained by the Ontario Association of Universalists in Geneva, New York, and shared a ministry with her husband in Clinton. From 1866 until her death she and her husband conducted the Hygienic Institution, a water-cure, in Binghamton, New York. (Robinson, Unitarians and Universalists, 282-83; Weiss and Kemble, Great American Water-Cure Craze, 168; History, 1:145.
    [6.] 2 Cor. 6:14 and Luke 16:33.
    [7.] That is, adultery.
    [8.] Hannah S. Shute, of Fairport, Monroe County, was named a vice president pro tem at this meeting, and she attended the Whole World's Temperance Convention in September 1853.