First Wave Feminists- Dr. Anna Densmore

Dr. Anna Densmore (French) (fl. 1860s) was a suffragist hospital reformer who persuaded the New York Board of Education to provide spaces for teaching young women about health and hygiene. Densmore also helped found Sorosis, a “sisterhoood” of professional women including physicians, professors, authors, artists, and historians. Late in 1868, Sorosis observed that unwed women made pregnant “by crime or misfortune” suffered scorn and deprivation while male partners went “unrebuked.” Investigating provisions afforded to disgraced mothers, and finding them sorely lacking, Densmore was indignant. Her “Report on Hospitals and Asylums” (1869) argued that abortion and infanticide were collective offenses; if a child meant exile and dishonor, she wrote, “we can no longer wonder… that the mother ceases for a time to be human, [it is] because of our inhumanity… Where lies the deepest blame?”

“[T]he growing crime of infanticide… must awaken earnest convictions in the heart of every true woman that there is a field of labor opening up to her from which she cannot recede without outraging both conscience and womanhood…

“We hear it urged that if asylums were erected for… all infants presented, the birth of illegitimate children would be largely increased, that the only effectual check upon its almost overwhelming advance lies in wholesome dread of the penalty—ostracism and lasting disgrace… Women as a class are not so utterly lost to principle and womanly instincts as this assertion implies. More children might for a time be born, but fewer souls would be stained with the crime of abortion, now become one of the most demoralizing features in American life… We believe that the organization of well conducted institutions for the reception of babes born alive would materially lessen the crime of infanticide, by rendering it possible for young mothers out of wedlock to resume their place in society, and to command reputable employment when needed…

“I cannot close without saying a single word more on the crime of abortion, now so frightfully prevalent… It is only through ignorance that it has become such a wide-spread evil. But few women, even among the educated and intelligent, realize that the embryo child is imbued with the life element prior to the moment when its physical movements become conscious to her. No greater error exists: if lifeless, it could no more become developed into the hungry, breathing child, than could the lifeless seed of a plant or flower spring up and ultimately bud and blossom. The living principle is there from the first moment of fecundation, and should be fostered and nourished and brought into the world in every instance that conception takes place— at no period can it be interfered with…”

– From “Sorosis,” The Revolution, January 21, 1869.

-Jen Hawkins, The American Feminist: First Wave Feminists