Monday, March 12, 2007

"Oh, Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more!!"

One of my fellow Historic Knit listers posted this letter and part of the poetic response today. It is a letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to her friend Eliza Osborne lamenting the waste of the female intellect when a woman is reduced to knitting or other "digital" arts. Her friend's response is wonderfully less than sympathetic! (I found the whole poem to include here.)

November 12, 1891.


In a recent letter to Mrs. Miller, speaking of the time when we last met, you say, 'Why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?' to which I reply: Ever since an old German emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit when walking on the highway, when selling apples in the market place, when sitting in the parks, because 'to keep women out of mischief their hands must be busy,' ever since I read that, I have felt 'solemn' whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand Republic knitting, tatting, embroidering, or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities that fill so large a place in the lives of Eve's daughters.

Looking forward to the scintillations of wit, the philosophical researches, the historical traditions, the scientific discoveries, the astronomical explorations, the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels and devils do congregate, looking forward to discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, a queenly-looking woman five feet eight in height, and well proportioned, with glorious black eyes, rivaling even De Staƫl's in power and pathos, one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket and forthwith began to knit with bowed head. Fixing her eyes and concentrating her thoughts on a rag one foot square; it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash-rag level! It was enough to make the most aged optimist 'solemn' to see such a wreck of glorious womanhood.

And, still worse, she not only knit steadily, hour after hour, but she bestowed the sweetest words of encouragement on a young girl from the Pacific Coast, who was embroidering rosebuds on another rag, the very girl I had endeavored to rescue from the maelstrom of embroidery, by showing her the unspeakable folly of giving her optic nerves to such base uses, when they were designed by the Creator to explore the planetary world, with chart and compass to guide mighty ships across the sea, to lead the sons of Adam with divinest love from earth to heaven. Think of the great beseeching optic nerves and muscles by which we express our admiration of all that is good and glorious in earth and heaven, being concentrated on a cotton wash rag! Who can wonder that I was 'solemn' that day! I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded, and with satisfied sneer Eliza knit on, and the young Californian continued making the rosebuds. I gazed into space, and, when alone, wept for my degenerate countrywoman. I not only was 'solemn' that day, but I am profoundly 'solemn' whenever I think of that queenly woman and that cotton wash rag. (One can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances, with red borders and fringed, for twenty-five cents.) Oh, Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more!

Affectionately yours,


To this Mrs. Osborne sent the following reply:

In your skit
Against your sisterhood who knit,
Or useful make their fingers,
I wonder if–deny it not–
The habit of Lucretia Mott
Within your memory lingers!

In retrospective vision bright,
Can you recall dear Martha Wright
Without her work or knitting?
The needles flying in her hands,
On washing rags or baby's bands,
Or other work as fitting?

"I cannot think they thought the less,
Or ceased the company to bless
With conversation's riches,
Because they thus improved their time,
And never deemed it was a crime
To fill the hours with stitches.

They even used to preach and plan
To spread the fashion, so that man
Might have this satisfaction;
Instead of idling as men do,
With nervous meddling fingers too,
Why not mate talk with action?

But as a daughter and a niece,
I pride myself on every piece
Of handiwork created;
While reveling in social chat,
Or listening to gossip flat,
My gain is unabated.

That German emperor you scorn,
Seems to my mind a monarch born,
Worthy to lead a column;
I'll warrant he could talk and work,
And, neither being used to shirk,
Was rarely very solemn.

I could say more upon this head,
But must, before I go to bed,
Your idle precepts mocking,
Get out my needle and my yarn
And, caring not a single darn,
Just finish up this stocking."

I love smart women!!!

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