December 3, 2010

By perfecting herself, she perfects mankind

Born in Columbia, South Carolina on December 3, 1810, Louisa Susannah (Cheves) McCord was a poet and dramatist. She also published translations and several essays on economy and social reform. Because those topics were often considered inappropriate for women, her essays were left unsigned or using only her initials.

McCord's essay, "Woman's Duty," was published in 1852. Like Margaret Fuller, whose book Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published only seven years earlier, she demanded women be allowed opportunities to exercise their minds and their talents. McCord herself had taken over the day-to-day operations of her family's plantation, for example. "She has no right to bury her talent beneath silks or ribands, frippery or flowers." Unlike Fuller, however, McCord notes that women should stay within their stereotypical roles, their "separate sphere." Both men and women, she says, "can labour, each can strive, lovingly and earnestly, in her own sphere... Not less for her than for man."

Some women, she says, "throw themselves away upon follies," possibly referring to women's rights activitists like those that organized the convention at Seneca Falls in 1848. "Woman has allowed herself to be, alternately, made the toy and the slave of man; but this rather through her folly than her nature. Not wholly her folly, either. Her folly and man's folly have made the vices and the punishment of both." But McCord emphasizes women should not be part of the political system and instead focus on their role in the home:

Woman has certainly not her true place, and this place she as certainly should seek to gain. We have said that every error has its shadow of truth, and, so far, the [Woman's Rights], conventionists are right. But, alas! how wide astray are they groping from their goal! Woman has not her true place, because she—because man—has not yet learned the full extent and importance of her mission. These innovators would seek to restore, by driving her entirely from that mission; as though some unlucky pedestrian, shoved from the security of the side-walk, should in his consternation seek to remedy matters, by rushing into the thickest thoroughfare of hoofs and wheels. Woman will reach the greatest height of which she is capable— the greatest, perhaps, of which humanity is capable—not by becoming man, but by becoming, more than ever, woman. By perfecting herself, she perfects mankind.

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