March has come at last with winds and clouds and stormy skies. This winter has been one of the coldest on record. I wonder what surprises are in store for us. Hopefully we will enjoy a gentle spring.
Lately the airwaves are full of “human rights” discussions. Therefore I refer to President Abraham Lincoln whose birthday Feb. 12, 1809, is almost forgotten. President George Washington, birthday, Feb. 22, 1732, is also largely ignored. He was against slavery because humans were bought and sold like cattle. If all humans are created equal, all people should share the same rights under the law. This would include slavery in all its various forms: women, sexual, religious, political, ethnic, etc. -- all should be equal according to the laws of our land. President Lincoln courageously signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery. Our country was nearly torn apart by the Civil War. It annoys me when I see a flag honoring the Civil War. We are One Nation!
Our great country in the past has not been above criticism for ignoring the above rights. Our forbears who came early to these shores were often religious fanatics. Who can forget the large number of women hung as witches? Previously in Europe thousands of women (not men) were hung as witches.
Thousands of people in Europe were murdered in religious wars. My own ancestors in France barely escaped to Holland with their lives because they became Protestant. Very early The Netherlands was a haven for many fleeing wholesale slaughter. From Holland they came to the New World, which was not free from religious intolerance. Quakers were whipped through the streets of New England, and both men and women were hung. People were imprisoned in stocks in the streets if they failed to attend church or engaged in non-religious pursuits on Sunday. Women who were suspected of engaging in sexual pursuits were forced to wear the scarlet letter “A”. An ancestor of mine, “Goody” Howe, was hung as a witch because a neighbor’s wife said she had bewitched her cow. A pastor in New England built a secret stairway to a tiny hidden room under the roof to shelter his two unmarried sisters. Single women were prime targets in witch hunts.
Who can forget the long struggle for women’s rights? Women could not vote, have custody of their children, or own property? A woman’s wages were owned by her husband; women who marched in protest were often thrown in jail. If they went on a hunger strike in protest they were force fed by men. In witch hunt days women were jailed and their bodies “searched” by men for witches’ marks.
I gave a last protest when my husband and I were married in An army religious facility in Camp Crowder, Mo. I arrived by train from New Jersey. The army chaplain spoke to me concerning our wedding in the morning. As a last gasp in defense of women’s rights and to honor my mother and grandmother and female ancestors I said, “ Please omit 'obey' from the wedding vows. I have no intention of obeying. I am a woman, not a dog.” The chaplain was a bit startled but he kindly did omit “obey” and instead I did promise to “love, honor and cherish.”
I would like to end with a quote from Blackstone, who is an authority on law:
“That the whole should protect all the parts, and that every part should pay obedience to the will of the whole; or in other words, that the community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection could be extended to any.”
Thank you, Mr. Blackstone, for this conclusion.