Original Document
Original Document
Jane Grey Swisshelm, "Woman's Rights and the Color Question," 1850.

We give Mr. Pillsbury's article on this subject, and if we failed to prove the bad policy of linking these two questions, Mr. Pillsbury will surely succeed. Every thing he says about the exclusion of colored people from places and positions they have a right to occupy, is so much against uniting their cause to that of woman. The women of this glorious Republic are sufficiently oppressed without linking their cause to that of the slave. The slave is sufficiently oppressed without binding him to the stake which has ever held woman in a state of bondage. There is no kind of reason why the American prejudice against color should be invoked to sink woman into a lower degradation than that she already enjoys--no kind of reason why the car of emancipation, for the slave, should have been clogged by tying to its wheels the most unpopular reform that ever was broached, by having all the women in the world fastened to its axle as a drag.

Nothing can ever persuade us that the union of the two questions has not injured both. As to our applying the words "dogged perseverance" to any one in particular, we did not even notice by whom the objectionable resolution had been offered. We meant the Convention, and nearly all the reformers with whom we are acquainted; but if a personal application be thought necessary, we freely make it to Mr. Pillsbury himself. You, sir, show dogged perseverance in insisting that our starving seamstresses shall not strike for higher wages unless they put in a protest in favor of the boot-blacks--that woman shall not strike off her shackles until she can liberate every man that wears one-- that she shall take no step forward until she overcomes a prejudice which oppresses another branch of humanity. You, Mr. Pillsbury, and the rest of your male coadjutors, enjoying all the rights for which women contend, have not been able to conquer the American prejudice against color, and now you expect that woman, crippled, helpless, bound, shall do what you have failed to perform with the free use of all your powers and faculties!...   

 As for colored women, all the interest they have in this reform is as women. All it can do for them is to raise them to the level of men of their own class. Then as that class rises let them rise with it. We only claim for a white wood-sawyer's wife that she is as good as a white wood-sawyer--a blacksmith's mother is as good as a blacksmith--a lawyer's sister is as good as a lawyer; at least this is our way of understanding this question; but had that Convention seen fit to specify any particular class of women-- women with black faces, red noses, or brown hair--it had a right to do so; but it had no more right to discuss the question of the position of colored people as a class, than of farmers, or mechanics, or Dutch or Irish. The call was explicit. It was to discuss the rights of Sex.

We signed that call-a call for a Woman's Rights Convention--and had no thought it was to be converted into an abolition meeting. With quite as much propriety it might have been turned into a Temperance or Law Reform meeting, or a meeting to express sympathy with the Hungarian refugees. We repeat again, the color question had no right to a hearing there. We never would have signed a call for the conjoint discussion of these two questions, or of any other two questions. We feel as if our name had been used for a purpose for which we did not give it, and we know others of the signers of that call who are in the same predicament. It was a breach of trust, and one we shall remember when our name is asked for to another call.

 To us it is a matter of great wonder that any friend of woman's elevation should link her cause to that of the negro in America, or that any friend of the negro should be willing that his cause should be identified with hers. True, our Constitution manufacturers have agreed in uniting the two. Negroes and Women are placed upon the same level in nearly all our Constitutions. Their cases are disposed of in the same sentence, "White male citizens," to show that two such insignificant portions of creation as women and dark skinned men were not worth two sentences in the immortal compositions of the Solons who wrote them; but these Solons we look upon as the enemies of both prescribed classes, and can see no reason why their friends should follow in the footsteps of such "illustrious predecessors."

Credit: Jane Grey Swisshelm, "Woman's Rights and the Color Question," The Saturday Visiter (23 November 1850): 178.
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