Separating Public Lives From Private Ones

Excerpted from an essay published Dec. 6, 1890, in the Women's Penny Paper 3

The [magazine] Pall Mall in a recent editorial, originated a very happy phrase, namely, that, “men are not built in water-tight compartments,” so that they can be sound in one part and not in another. Now the facts of life allow that this is precisely the way men are built, the greatest virtues and vices all bound up together. I have known men without one particle of public spirit, or one throb of patriotism, oblivious to all the duties of a citizen, and yet kind and devoted to wife and children, wholly absorbed in family selfishness, men clearsighted and keen in all business matters, honest and honourable in trade, whose sympathies never reaches beyond their ledger and garden gate, men as chaste as [the goddess] Diana, who would not give a farthing to a little beggar nor a peck of potatoes to a starving neighbour.

Again, I have known men of broad culture and profound sympathy in all human affairs, statesmen, soldiers, scientists, men trusted with interests of empires devoted to the public good, whose patriotism no one doubted, yet reckless of their business and family altars. History, sacred and profane, gives us numerous instances of men of deep religious fervour, bishops, priests, elders, deacons, who illustrated all the cardinal virtues except chastity. All this proves that men may be valuable members in the halls of legislation, able lawyers, skillful physicians, great soldiers, each thoroughly reliable and honourable in his chosen profession, though his social morals may at the same time be questionable. There is something truly pitiful in the way men hound each other for political purposes. We need no stronger proof of the truth of Darwin’s theory of an animal descent than our periodical festivities over the reputation of great men.

While clamouring for Mr. Parnell’s retirement, all admit that he has been a wise and able leader through the same years in which he is supposed to have carried on his relations with Mrs. O’Shea. Another instance to prove that patriotism and chastity are virtues that belong to totally different spheres of action. Law and custom have established a different code of honour, a different code of morals for men in their dealings with each other and their dealings with women. Men are educated from boyhood to cultivate the virtue of patriotism, to be ready to live or die for their country.

In their relations with women there is no code of honour--"All is fair in love and war” is the popular proverb. Neither in the laws, the customs, nor the religion of the country are any lessons of respect taught for women.

The only way to ensure social morals is to elevate the status of woman, by higher education, and an equal position in the world of work, in the State, the Church, and the home, and thus throw round her virtue and independence the only sure barrier of protection. So long as woman is left to grovel in the dust, with no clear ideas of her duties to herself and the race, she will continue to drag down to her own level our proudest sons. Man and woman must rise, or fall together. Whatever elevates woman elevates man also; whatever degrades woman degrades man also.


The remedy for these social earthquakes that ever and anon convulse society is one code of morals for men and women, and an expurgated edition of all our civil and canon laws, and of our literature, sacred and profane, that make any invidious distinctions in regard to the rights and dignity of men and women, that thus young men in our colleges of law and theology may no longer find maxims and opinions on women that are a disgrace to the civilization of the 19th century. It is folly to talk of social morals so long as woman is used to point a jest in the halls of legislation and the religious assemblies of the people.