[Editor's Note: Thomas Wentworth Higginson was, when this essay was published, paster of the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was a staunch abolitionist and would, the next year, play a leading role in the unsuccessful attempt to rescue Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave, in Boston. Later he would command a black regiment during the Civil War, write a memoir of that service which is widely regarded as one of the minor masterpieces of American autobiography, and play a prominent role in American literature and letters until his death in 1911. This essay prompted a spirited reply in Harper's New Monthly Magazine.]
P. 7: . . .the question of employments . . . will ultimately settle itself. It is not apparent that men have anything to do with it, except to secure fair play, which is less difficult here than in some other matters. Energetic women will make their way into avocations suited to them, and the barrier once broken down, others will follow. La carrière ouverte aux talens [Careers open to talent], is the only motto. No one can anticipate the results, and it is useless to dogmatize. "Let them be sea captains if they will," said Margaret Fuller, speaking only perhaps in some vague memory of readings in Herodotus, and of the deeds of Artemisia at Salamis; but soon after, the newspapers were celebrating the name and fame of Miss Betsy Miller, captain for these dozen years of the Scotch brig Cleotus. Yet woman, it would apear, is "constitutionally disqualified for action." It would be pleasant to see the grave author of this phrase on board Capt. Betsy's brig, beating into the port of Belfast in a gale of wind. It is to be feared, however, that he would be constitutionally disqualified for remaining above the hatches.
[P.8] The test of sphere is success. If Miss Miller can walk the quarterdeck; if Madame Grange can argue cases in court; if Mrs. W____ can conduct the complex business transactions of a great Paris house [Worth, fashion designers]; if Maria Mitchell can discover comets, and Harriet Hosmer carve statues; if Appolonia Jagiello can fight in one European revolution, and Mrs. Putnam vindicate another (besides having the gift of tongues); if Harriet Hunt can really cure diseases, and Lucretia Mott and Antoinette Brown can preach good sermons, and Mrs. Swisshelm and Mrs. Nichols edit successful newspapers; then all these are points gained forever, and the case is settled so far. Nor can any one of these be set aside as an exceptional case, until it is shown that it is not, on the other hand, a testcase; each person being a possible specimen of a large class who would, with a little less discouragement, have done the same things.
. . . . .
P. 14: The protest of women, therefore, is not against a special abuse, but against a whole system of injustice; and the peculiar importance of political suffrage to woman is only because it seems to be the most available point to begin with. . . .
It is not to be denied, that the subject is coming rapidly into discussion, and bids fair to be ably handled. On the one side are the reports of three large and estimable "Woman's Rights Conventions," in Worcester and Syracuse, together with a series of ten tracts, by the same indefatigable band of agitators. On the other side are the fixed observances of Church and State; nearly every stripling editor in the land has winged his goosequill [pen] in defence of established institutions; reverend divines have quoted Scripture, and grave professors quoted Aristophanes; and nothing has been left undone, except to reprint old John Knox's tract of A.D. 1553, entitled, "Blast of a Trumphet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women."
It is an unfortunate thing for this last party, that every one of their arguments is vitiated by the fact, that it has been used heretofore in defence of every oligarchy and every slavery. The rebellious females are assured, first, that they do not really wish any farther political rights; second, that they do not need them; third, that they are not fit for them. To which the fair malcontents reply--like malcontents in all ages, fair or foul--first, that they know what they wish; second, that they know what they need; third, that they know what they are fit for, and intend to secure it.
. . . . .
P. 20: The fatal inconsistency of those who protest against any innovation in the position of woman, lies in the fact that they have tolerated so many innovations already. Once admit she has been wronged, and the question recurs, whether she has yet been fully righted. We have conceded too much to refuse further concessions. She must be a slave or an equal; there is no middle ground. If it is plainly reasonable that the two sexes shall study together in the same high school, then it cannot be hopelessly ridiculous that they should study in the same college also. If it is common sense to make a woman deputy postmaster, then it cannot be the climax of absurdity to make her postmaster general, or even the higher officer who is the postmaster's master.