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Women's Rights

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The announcement that Elizbeth Cady Stanton, the famous campaigner for women's rights, was coming to speak at the Davenport Lyceum on January 23rd, 1871, was a low blow to D. N. Richardson, editor of the Davenport Democrat. As with many other western states, Iowans were already too soft on the suffrage question—a sign that they were too removed from Eastern culture.

Editor Richardson had a week of editorials to harden his fellow Iowans up a bit before she arrived, and he wasted little time. In an editorial titled "He That Hath Ears," Richardson reminded his readers how humiliated Davenport males had been by Stanton’s visit several years before. This latter-day Portia showed men no mercy, Richardson wrote. Remember her "nimble spear thrusts between the joint plates of our armour?" he asked.

But of course, Richardson was not opposed to women. Quite the contrary, he was on their side. If men let women "stoop to folly" and gain equal rights, enter politics, the women would only be miserable outside their natural sphere. Suffrage would "blow the bloom off her innocency."

Deep down, he explained in another editorial, "every woman would prefer to have a home. It is among the natural instincts of woman for good." For women's own happiness, men need to keep them there.

Richardson went on to point out that giving women voting privileges would degrade them and take away their feminine charms. He argued that “no wholesome woman wants to be like a man. Those who are ambitious to do so are hip-padded, bosom stuffed, bald-pated, peek-nosed, thin-lipped, crack-brained, flat-footed, shank-legged, long-heeled, watery-eyed, barren, baby-less women—female monstrosities and victims of nervous debility."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton did come to Davenport that January, and carefully outlined her case for women's rights to a large and approving audience. There is no indication that she took the slightest notice of Richardson's editorials proving that men think differently from women.

Had she done so, and noted Richardson's examples of male thinking, she might have pleaded no contest.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.