Madge Morris Wagner Poems >>
A Neglected "Woman's Right"

I have listened to this cry of "Woman's Rights," this clamoring
for the ballot, for redress for woman's wrongs, and I could but
think, amid it all, that there is one "woman's right"--the right
that could make the widest redress for woman's wrongs--which she
holds in her own hands and does not exercise. It is the right to
defend, to uplift and ennoble womankind; to be as lenient to a
plea for mercy from a fallen woman as though that plea had come
from the lips of a fallen man; to throw around her also the broad
mantle of charity, and if she would try to reform, give her a
chance. Far be it from any honest woman to countenance the
abandoned wretch who plies an unholy calling in defiance of all
morality, for her very breath is contamination; but why should
you greet with smiles and warmest handclasps of friendship the
man who pays his money for her blackened soul? When two human
beings ruled by the same mysterious nature, have yielded to
temptations and fallen, what is this monster of social distinction
that excuses the sin of one as a folly or indiscretion, while
it makes that of the other a crime, which a lifetime cannot
retrieve? It is a strange justice that condones the fault of one
while it condemns the other even to death; that gives to one,
when dead, funeral rite and Christian burial and to the other
the Morgue and a dishonored grave, simply because one is a
strong man and the other a weak woman. And it is a stranger,
sadder truth that 'tis woman's influence which metes out this
justice to woman. Mother, if you must look with scorn and
contempt upon the woman who through her love for some man has
gone down to destruction, do not smilingly acknowledge her
paramour a worthy suitor for your own unsullied daughter. Maiden,
if you must sneeringly raise your white hand and push back into
the depths of pollution the woman who seeks to reinstate herself
in the path of rectitude, do not permit the man who keeps half a
dozen mistresses to clasp his arm around your waist and whirl you
away to the soft measure of the "Beautiful Blue Danube." If the
ban of society forbids that you say to a penitent sin-sick
sister, "Go and sin no more," if you must consign her to the life
of infamy which inevitably follows the deaf ear which you turn
upon her appeal, then do it; but in God's name do not turn around
and throw open the doors of your homes and welcome to the
sanctity of your family altars the man who enticed her to ruin.
Ah, woman, by your tireless efforts you may win the right to
vote, your voice may be heard in the Assembly Halls of the
Nation; but if you administer as one-sided a justice in political
life as you do in social life, the reform for which you pray will
never come!