First Wave Feminists- Dr. Juliet Stillman Severance

Dr. Juliet Stillman Severance (fl. 1860s) overcame personal and professional resistance to become one of the first female physicians in the United States and a staple on the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage convention circuits. Fondly called “a radical of the radicals” in Willard and Livermore’s Women of the Century (1893), Severance also led the Knights of Labor, decried the death penalty, and advocated vegetarianism and preventative medicine. Her casual dress and progressive medical philosophy were objectionable to many, as was the fact that her pro-life convictions extended to criminals and animals as well as to the unborn. Having raised three children, all accomplished in music and theater arts, Severance predicted abortion would end when women were affirmed as equal partners in marriage and willing agents in motherhood.

“Marriage should be a soul-union, not a curse … not a merging of one life into another, but … two individuals uniting their lives for mutual good and the good of humanity—it may be in reproduction, or it may be in giving birth to higher, nobler ideas, and outworking them in noble deeds and grand achievements … As the present marriage system makes man the owner of woman—her legal master—she is expected to submit to his gratification… When the marriage system is what it should be, and woman controls in these matters, instead of man … Restellism [abortion] shall cease, because there will be no demand for it.”

– From “Is the Present Marriage System a Failure?” Universe, August 28, 1869