1880 Woman's Exponent Piece

Don’t you just love our foremothers?

Woman’s voice should be heard in defense of her rights, those of her family, and of all she holds dear. A true patriotic spirit and feeling should actuate her to do good in any and every sphere, though she may be derided under the appellation of “female rooster.” There are some of the opposite gender who would intimidate us and try to make us believe we do not know anything but to wash, scrub, make or med for the whole household. Do not be daunted, my sisters, in raising your voices in the cause of truth and justice; we have immortal souls, and have a right to think and act according to our honest convictions and aspirations. ‘Tis woman who moulds and forms the minds of both man and women, and that first teaches them to lisp their infant prayers; who, by her watchful eye, attentive ear and words of advice and caution, leads and guides for good the rising generation, when father is away, or too busy to attend, as many give evidence, to such little affairs, as they would term it, that are woman’s duty. A mother has this weighty, important duty, besides tending to outside affairs, when the father is absent, or should he, through sickness, be incapable of attending to his business. Mother of sheer necessity must take hold, not only in her own affairs, as some are pleased to term it, but she must also give her mind and strength in the direction of where bread and butter comes from, and if a widow, left with several small children, and no provision made by her husband, in case of such an event, is left to her own resources to battle with the stern realities of life. Woman, what would be your lot then if you knew nothing beyond home duties: if your thoughts, and the reason with which God has endowed you, had not many times reverted in other directions?

Then exercise your God-given intelligence, and rank side by side with your partner, and help him to see and realize that women have rights and privileges, exert your energies and influence in and outside the home circle; maintain your sense of justice and exercise it; go to the polls and vote for municipal and other officers, who are to conduct affairs to which you and your children are to be subject; have a voice in whatever concerns your relative welfare and the welfare of the community in which you live.

Can a settlement or nation be built up without the aid of woman? Verily, no; the man is not without the woman in the Lord, and vice versa.

Away with such narrow-mindedness that says woman’s voice must not be heard except at home, trying to lead her children. One of our leading men of today taught in my hearing, if any one needs language to talk ‘tis woman, to teach, guide and counsel her offspring, that by her tongue, good actions and wise example a noble race of men and women may spring up, that will learn to govern kingdoms.

Then women, strive to gain an intelligent, patriotic spirit, that you may diffuse the same through your household, that those going out there from may not be misinformed, or ignorant and know nothing but to eat, drink and sleep. If there are men who do not know your worth and position before your Maker, show them that you sense it, and that it is not out of a woman’s line to comprehend the state of affairs by which she is governed. Sisters, let us not lie dormant and see our brethren and sisters trampled upon, as it were, and insulted by self-asserted powers and unjust laws. I rejoice in the spirit and influence of such women as assembled at the theatre in Mass Meeting to pass resolutions and protest against such unlawfulness. Jeers and uncouth remarks should not deter us from our duty, when we know, by our God-given agency we are right; shall we stand by as mere blocks, as though we had no sense or reason in our natures? No, it does not meet the end thought, for this is a perverse generation; you will be happy in the thought and consciousness of having done your part toward ameliorating the wrongs against this people. Can any one possessing the Spirit of God stand meekly by and their hearts not be stirred by such indignities? I say no, no! We may be learning to govern ourselves, and if our enemies smite us upon one cheek, turn to them the other also; but may our hearts ever beat in unison with the Spirit of God to dictate us in the affairs of life, is my prayer.M.A. Till

Women’s Exponent
January 1880
Republished in Exponent II, Volume 3 No. 1 (1976)

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


  1. I like the idea of women knowing there worth (it is much easier for me to be attracted to a confident woman) and I like the idea of men knowing a woman’s worth. But I think it is worth pointing out that it is not 1880 anymore. I am not blind enough to think there are no obstinate men out there. But I certainly do not think it is the rule. If anything, there is tremendous pressure to be fair to women and to acknowledge their talents and strengths (which I agree with).

    I think it is natural for all of us as individuals and societies to counter an injustice by trying to move things in the opposite direction, and sometimes we go from one extreme to the other. For instance you hear a study that kids watch too much TV, so you respond by making the proclamation that from now on there will be no TV for the kids. That is going to the opposite extreme to fix the original problem.

    The two extremes in this example:

    First: Men thinking that women belong only in the home and have no worthwhile opinions or ideas.

    Second: Women thinking that all men fit into the first category.

    As the decades have rolled on since 1880 women have made a lot of progress and gotten a lot of respect from men (in my opinion).

    And what of this statement:

    “There are some of the opposite gender who would intimidate us and try to make us believe we do not know anything but to wash, scrub, make or med for the whole household.”

    Who are these men? If a woman has a husband that acts that way I think she should call him on it rather than posting messages that make all men sound like chauvinist pigs.

    As for women having to take up men’s duties if the husband becomes sick or is away, I suppose that is true. I have four children and thankfully I do not work far from home and I’ve never been extremely sick. But in defense of good men, when my wife is away visiting her family or when she is ill, I take kids biking, feed them meals, read to our younger ones and play with the older ones as well not to mention cleaning the house. In short, I take up wife duties when my wife is unavailabe.

    And this quote: “Away with such narrow-mindedness that says woman’s voice must not be heard except at home, trying to lead her children.”

    Who are those that feel that way? My wife has helped me increase my business, she has a bachelor degree in Psychology and is a successful and respected supervisor at her place of employment. Again, I think in general the attitude that women belong only in the home is outdated.

    Just yesterday my eleven year old daughter asked me why men want to hold women down and not treat them fairly. I first asked where she had gotten that idea (because I knew it wasn’t from me). She replied that she read it in a book (she is a very avid reader). Thankfully my wife was there to back me up when I told her that most men do not feel that way and if she later dates a boy that feels that way she should dump him as quickly as possible.

    The danger of going too far to the other extreme to fix the original problem is that Dads like me have to explain to their daughters why men are so “bad”.

    My wife votes, she voices her opinion and is strong in her faith and beliefs. But one thing she is not is anti-male. And I am not anti-woman. And it’s not 1880.

  2. Wes, I picked this piece because it’s a part of feminist history. You picked out great quotes that show those old perceptions that early feminism worked to overcome.

    If we’ve come that far in 100+ years, how much progress will we make in the next 100 years?

  3. But in defense of good men, when my wife is away visiting her family or when she is ill, I take kids biking, feed them meals, read to our younger ones and play with the older ones as well not to mention cleaning the house. In short, I take up wife duties when my wife is unavailabe.

    Why wait until she’s unavailable? I think such activities would be doubly meaningful for your children if they saw you doing them together. Which is not to say that I’m assuming you don’t, just pointing out a different angle in your argument.

    I found this piece interesting not because I think men today are all chauvanists but because I find it interesting to see how this venerable feminist tract contradicts much of modern feminism– or at least the feminism that I see portrayed and discussed most often. Feminism today seems to have tried so hard to put the “children and kitchen” idea behind them that they themselves have come to resent and denigrate what I hold to be one of the most important roles in society. I enjoyed the writer’s views on the importance of the hand the rocks the cradle just as much as I enjoyed her views on women knowing their own minds and worth.

  4. Proud daughter of eve,

    I thought about adding something to fix that but I decided not to. I assure you that I am so active you can’t tell where my wife ends and I begin. Mostly because she works (very successfully) as do I outside the home, so when we get home we both do some cooking and I always help wash dishes etc.

    I know my original response may have sounded somewhat frustrated. But it should be evident that I support women. I believe they are daughters of God as I am a son of God. I have a daughter and 3 sons. I don’t look at my boys as more important than my girl, and I don’t think God does either.


    I hope the next 100 years shows a lot more progress. I only hope in the mean time that we do not go too far in the other direction with upcoming women (ie: my daughter) thinking men are bad.

  5. Proud Daughter of Eve, while there are certainly a few feminists that “resent and denigrate what I hold to be one of the most important roles in society,” to say that feminism does is inaccurate. Most feminists do not fit your statement. Most of the feminists I know (including all the Women’s Studies professors and graduate students that I’ve taught with at a non-LDS university) highly value the role of motherhood.

    I do agree with the substance of your comments. It’s nice to hear women discuss the aspects of their lives that are important to them, including their families and homes.

  6. P.S. I just reread my last comment and I realized it may sound harsher/more condescending than I meant it to. I was just trying to say that there are many, many feminists (myself included) who value women and their roles as wife, mother, sister, etc. And it’s definitely nice to hear women talk about these roles, whether it’s an 1880 exponent piece or current feminists talking about their own struggles with these roles! 🙂

  7. I enjoyed reading that article. I have been reading some other feminist literature from that era, and the language is very similar.

    It seems to me that in the early church women’s suffragists were embraced. Mormom women rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest of them. Now feminism is almost a bad word. My conservative mother and friends bristle at the mention of feminism. They have somehow internalized messages from the church that it’s a bad thing.

    Tremendous progress has been made in society in the last 100+ years. I fear much less has been made in the church. Women are still subordinate to men and do not have a voice in the institution.

    I also like the call to social action in the article. We don’t seem to hear much of that anymore.

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