Resource

Against Women in Government

A letter to the editor that details why women should not run for public office.

Letter to the Editor from Susan Thoughtful

“Letter to the Editor from ‘Susan Thoughtful,’” Euterpeiad, or Musical Intelligencer, and Ladies’ Gazette, Vol. 2, No. 25 (Boston: March 2, 1822).

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Summary

For the Euterpeiad.
Something New,
–Or, what next?
To the Editor,
A Letter written to the Editor of the Euterpeaid.
Sir—My mother was left a widow when I was about nineteen, and the law made her Administratrix on my father’s estate. When my father died, my mother was responsible for settling his affairs.
Though girls then had not the benefit of the Lyceum, some pains had been taken in my education, and as I was expert at figures and wrote a neat and legible hand, I was called upon to assist my mother in settling the estate; and acquired some notions of the law in the conversation with her Attorney, now an eminent counsellor. At the time, girls did not get much education, but my parents had made sure I was well taught. My mom asked for my help with the estate. I met with the lawyer.
After a while, my mother married again, and our lawyer told her that the man she married became Administrator on my father’s estate, by marrying the Administratrix, and that such was always the operation of the marriage in law. When my mom remarried, her husband took over the management of the estate. This is what happens when women marry.
Now, Sir, the nomination of Miss Elizabeth Bartlett in the last Centinel as a candidate for the office of the Register of Deeds in the County of Middlesex brought up the recollection of these circumstances, and induces me to request some of the learned correspondents of the Euterpeiad to answer the following queries. When I learned that Miss Elizabeth Bartlett was nominated for the office of Register of Deeds, it reminded me of my mom’s experience. These are my questions about her nomination:
1. Suppose Miss Bartlett was elected, would she be obliged to give a bond with sureties to remain single during the five years for which she will be elected? 1. If Miss Bartlett is elected, would she have to guarantee that she would remain single for her whole time in office?
2. Suppose she married, while in office, would her husband by the marriage become Register of Deeds in her right, jointly with her, and would they both be obliged to certify the Deeds that they register? 2. If she does marry while in office, will her husband become Register of Deeds too? Will they both have to certify the Deeds that are registered?
3. If she married while in office, would or would not the marriage disqualify her, as no married woman is capable by law of making contracts? 3. If she married, would she have to give up the position since married women cannot legally make contracts?
4. I am told the conveyance of land is not complete until the Deed be entered for record with the Register, and if attached as the Grantor’s estate before entered for record, the attaching creditor would hold it. So our lawyer told mother when she was buying a house. Now suppose the case of the Register’s being a married lady, and in fact in such a situation as nobody but the doctor can approach her at the moment of an important and critical conveyance, what under such circumstances should be done?
4. What if she gets pregnant? How will the work get done? No one will be able to buy property!
5.If a lady be eligible as a Register of Deeds, is she not also as a Governor, Senator, Representative, Overseer of the poor, or other public office, or may she not be appointed Judge of the Supreme Court, Sheriff, etc.? Queens and Empresses have reigned in Europe; by the American Constitution, may there be a Presidentess of the United States, or a Governess of Massachusetts ? or by the new City law to be voted for on Monday next, may there be a Mayoress?
5. If a woman can be Register of Deeds, why not any other elected office? Why not a judge on the Supreme Court? Why not the president?
I look upon these questions, Sir, as important in the present age; and as the march of the female mind has been extraordinary, I have some curiosity to know where we are to stop. There is now but little difference in the education of boys and girls, and as things go on, it seems there is to be but little difference in occupations, rights or duties of men and women. I confess myself inadequate to the subject, and therefore hope some of your correspondents will “argue the topic,” for the edification of (among others)
These are important questions at the present moment. Women have accomplished so much, but where will it end? There is now almost no difference in the education of boys and girls. Does this mean that soon there will be no difference in the jobs and rights of men and women? I don’t know enough to say, and I hope your readers will debate the topic so I can learn.
Susan Thoughtful.
Beacon Street.
Susan Thoughtful
Beacon Street.

“Letter to the Editor from ‘Susan Thoughtful,’” Euterpeiad, or Musical Intelligencer, and Ladies’ Gazette, Vol. 2, No. 25 (Boston: March 2, 1822).

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Background

The Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal.” But one of the most pressing debates in the Federal period was who should be counted among the equals. Most men in power wished to make voting rights a special privilege for wealthy white men. But some argued that such a narrow definition went against the spirit of the American Revolution. They believed women and people of color who had wealth and status should be allowed to vote. The state of New Jersey even allowed women and people of color to vote in state elections for 30 years.

One major argument against giving women the right to vote was how it might impact American society. If women could vote, would they also be eligible to run for office? And if women could run for office, what would that mean for masculine authority? How might it disrupt family life? These were very real concerns for early 19th-century Americans that prevented widespread women’s suffrage for more than a century.

About the Resources

In 1822, Elizabeth Bartlett was nominated for the office of Registrar of Deeds in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Elizabeth did not campaign for the position. She claimed she did not know who nominated her. Nevertheless, she was officially listed alongside the five male candidates for the position on March 2, 1822. She pulled out of the race a few weeks later.

That same day, a Boston magazine published this letter by a writer using the pen name “Susan Thoughtful.” The letter summarizes the most popular arguments against a woman being elected to public office. Some of these arguments are still used to deter women from seeking political office today.

Vocabulary

  • Federal period: The early years of the United States, usually defined as 1790–1830.
  • pen name: A fake name used by a writer to hide their identity.
  • Registrar of Deeds: The elected official who makes records of property ownership and sales.

Discussion Questions

  • Why does this writer think electing a woman to government is a mistake?
  • What does this letter reveal about attitudes towards women and politics in the Federal period?
  • How does this attitude manifest in national and local politics today?
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Suggested Activities

  • Ask students to write a rebuttal to Susan Thoughtful’s letter, challenging each of her five points.
  • Use Reaffirming Coverture and Coverture to help students better understand the legal context behind this letter.
  • Pair this letter with the resource on Republican Motherhood for a larger lesson about the limitations and expectations placed on women in the Federal period.
  • The points Susan Thoughtful raises in this letter have dogged women politicians throughout American history. They are still wielded against women today, although the language has become more coded over time to prevent accusations of misogyny. Ask students to pick a woman politician and find articles published about her candidacy. Ask them to make note of any time an article makes a point that harkens back to those made by Susan Thoughtful. As a bonus assignment, ask students to find examples of their politician trying to subvert these questions to improve their candidacy.

Themes

AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; POWER AND POLITICS

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