First Wave Feminists- Eliza Bisbee Duffey

Eliza Bisbee Duffey (d. 1898) was an outspoken advice columnist who gained national acclaim with No Sex in Education, her biting response to Harvard professor Edward H. Clarke’s Sex in Education (1873). According to Dr. Clarke, females were anatomically unsuited for the rigors of academia; he claimed learned women would face dire consequences, like hysteria and prolapsed uteri. Duffey countered that male chauvinism was the only obstacle to female scholarship, adding that women deserve education in general, and information about their own bodies in particular. Duffey subsequently penned the sex-education manual What Women Should Know (1873) and the book The Relations of the Sexes (1876), which advocated physiological knowledge as a deterrent of the “crime” of abortion.

“Abortion, intentionally accomplished, is criminal in the first degree, and should be regarded as murder. Yet women have been taught to look lightly on this offence, and to consider it perfectly justifiable up to the period of quickening. ‘The embryo has no life before that period,’ they will say in justification of the act … Nor did I dream of questioning it, until, in later years, I became thoroughly acquainted with sexual physiology … The act of abortion which I had hitherto regarded as a trivial thing, at once became in my eyes the grossest misdemeanor—nay, the most aggravated crime. Being guided by this experience, I judge that this offence is perpetrated by women who are totally ignorant of the laws of their being. Consequently, the surest preventative against this crime will be a thorough teaching to women, even before marriage, of the physiology, hygiene, duties and obligations of maternity… From the moment of conception, the embryo is a living thing, leading a distinct, separate existence from the mother, though closely bound to her … From almost the earliest stage, the form of the future being is indicated, and it has separate heart-beats, distinctly perceptible through the intervening tissues of the mother’s body, which cover it. It is a human being to all intents and purposes… If by intent or accident it is disturbed before [birth], … a hundred bleeding wounds remain, when the child … is torn untimely from the womb of the mother … Do not be content to tell women it is wrong … Tell them the how and the why of the whole matter, and they will discover the wrong themselves, and feel the full force of it … ”

– From “The Limitation of Offspring,” The Relations of the Sexes, 1876

-Jen Hawkins, The American Feminist: First Wave Feminists