Read THE SPHERE OF WOMAN’S INFLUENCE of The Young Lady's Mentor, free online book, by A Lady, on

“The fact of this influence being proved, it is of the utmost importance that it be impressed upon the mind of women, and that they be enlightened as to its true nature and extent.”

The task is as difficult as it is important, for it demands some exercise of sober judgment to view it with requisite impartiality; it requires, too, some courage to encounter the charge of inconsistency which a faithful discharge of it entails. For it is an apparent inconsistency to recommend at the same time expansion of views and contraction of operation; to awaken the sense of power, and to require that the exercise of it be limited; to apply at once the spur and the rein. That intellect is to be invigorated only to enlighten conscience that conscience is to be enlightened only to act on details that accomplishments and graces are to be cultivated only, or chiefly, to adorn obscurity; a list of somewhat paradoxical propositions indeed, and hard to be received; yet, upon their favourable reception depends, in my opinion, the usefulness of our influence, the destinies of our race; and it is my intention to direct all my observations to this point.

It is astonishing and humiliating to perceive how frequently human wisdom, especially argumentative wisdom, is at fault as to results, while accident, prejudices, or common sense seem to light upon truths which reason feels after without finding. It appears as though à priori reasoning, human nature being the subject, is like a skilful piece of mechanism, carefully and scientifically put together, but which some perverse and occult trifle will not permit to act. This is eminently true of many questions regarding education, and precisely the state of the argument concerning the position and duties of women. The facts of moral and intellectual equality being established, it seems somewhat irrational to condemn women to obscurity and detail for their field of exertion, while men usurp the extended one of public usefulness. And a good case may be made out on this very point. Yet the conclusions are false and pernicious, and the prejudices which we now smile at as obsolete are truths of nature’s own imparting, only wanting the agency of comprehensive intelligence to make them valuable, by adapting them to the present state of society. For, as one atom of falsehood in first principles nullifies a whole theory, so one principle, fundamentally true, suffices to obviate many minor errors. This fundamentally true principle, I am prepared to show, exists in the established opinions concerning the true sphere of women, and that, whether originally dictated by reason, or derived from a sort of intuition, they are right, and for this cause: the one quality on which woman’s value and influence depend is the renunciation of self; and the old prejudices respecting her inculcated self-renunciation. Educated in obscurity, trained to consider the fulfilment of domestic duties as the aim and end of her existence, there was little to feed the appetite for fame, or the indulgence of self-idolatry. Now, here the principle fundamentally bears upon the very qualities most desirable to be cultivated, and those most desirable to be avoided. A return to the practical part of the system is by no means to be recommended, for, with increasing intellectual advantages, it is not to be supposed that the perfection of the conjugal character is to consult a husband’s palate and submit to his ill-humour or of the maternal, to administer in due alternation the sponge and the rod. All that is contended for is, that the fundamental principle is right “that women were to live for others;” and, therefore, all that we have to do is to carry out this fundamentally right principle into wider application. It may easily be done, if the cultivation of intellectual powers be carried on with the same views and motives as were formerly the knowledge of domestic duties, for the benefit of immediate relations, and for the fulfilment of appointed duties. If society at large be benefited by such cultivation, so much the better; but it ought to be no part of the training of women to consider, with any personal views, what effect they shall produce in or on society at large. The greatest benefit which they can confer upon society is to be what they ought to be in all their domestic relations; that is, to be what they ought to be, in all the comprehensiveness of the term, as adapted to the present state of society. Let no woman fancy that she can, by any exertion or services, compensate for the neglect of her own peculiar duties as such. It is by no means my intention to assert that women should be passive and indifferent spectators of the great political questions which affect the well-being of community; neither can I repeat the old adage, that “women have nothing to do with politics.” They have, and ought to have much to do with politics. But in what way? It has been maintained that their public participation in them would be fatal to the best interests of society. How, then, are women to interfere in politics? As moral agents; as representatives of the moral principle; as champions of the right in preference to the expedient; by their endeavours to instil into their relatives of the other sex the uncompromising sense of duty and self-devotion, which ought to be their ruling principles! The immense influence which women possess will be most beneficial, if allowed to flow in its natural channels, viz. domestic ones, because it is of the utmost importance to the existence of influence, that purity of motive be unquestioned. It is by no means affirmed that women’s political feelings are always guided by the abstract principles of right and wrong; but they are surely more likely to be so, if they themselves are restrained from the public expression of them. Participation in scenes of popular emotion has a natural tendency to warp conscience and overcome charity. Now, conscience and charity (or love) are the very essence of woman’s beneficial influence; therefore every thing tending to blunt the one and sour the other is sedulously to be avoided by her. It is of the utmost importance to men to feel, in consulting a wife, a mother, or a sister, that they are appealing from their passions and prejudices, and not to them, as imbodied in a second self: nothing tends to give opinions such weight as the certainty that the utterer of them is free from all petty or personal motives. The beneficial influence of woman is nullified if once her motives, or her personal character, come to be the subject of attack; and this fact alone ought to induce her patiently to acquiesce in the plan of seclusion from public affairs.

It supposes, indeed, some magnanimity in the possessors of great powers and widely extended influence, to be willing to exercise them with silent, unostentatious vigilance. There must be a deeper principle than usually lies at the root of female education, to induce women to acquiesce in the plan, which, assigning to them the responsibility, has denied them the éclat of being reformers of society. Yet it is, probably, exactly in proportion to their reception of this truth, and their adoption of it into their hearts, that they will fulfil their own high and lofty mission; precisely because the manifestation of such a spirit is the one thing needful for the regeneration of society. It is from her being the depository and disseminator of such a spirit, that woman’s influence is principally derived. It appears to be for this end that Providence has so lavishly endowed her with moral qualities, and, above all, with that of love, the antagonist spirit of selfish worldliness, that spirit which, as it is vanquished or victorious, bears with it the moral destinies of the world! Now, it is proverbially as well as scripturally true, that love “seeketh not its own” interest, but the good of others, and finds its highest honour, its highest happiness, in so doing. This is precisely the spirit which can never be too much cultivated by women, because it is the spirit by which their highest triumphs are to be achieved: it is they who are called upon to show forth its beauty, and to prove its power; every thing in their education should tend to develop self-devotion and self-renunciation. How far existing systems contribute to this object, it must be our next step to inquire.