Document 1: Harriet N. Austin, "Woman's Present and Future," Water-Cure Journal, 16 (Sept. 1853), p. 57.

Document 1: Harriet N. Austin, "Woman's Present and Future," Water-Cure Journal, 16 (Sept. 1853), p. 57.


       In her introductory essay, Benita Roth notes that social movements are generally identified by their "extra-institutionality, their network character and multicenteredness" as well as by "the shifting and fluid boundaries of movement membership." The nineteenth-century dress reform movement illustrates this characterization of social movements, because dress reform advocates were drawn from three other reform movements: health reform (particularly advocates of the water cure), utopian reform (residents of the utopian Oneida Community), and woman's rights advocates. While the groups did not necessarily support one another's reform agendas, each worked toward reform of women's dress for similar reasons.

       The document below, which also appears in "The Nineteenth Century Dress Reform Movement," was authored by Harriet N. Austin, a physician at the Glen Haven Water Cure establishment and founder of the National Dress Reform Association. Austin's article reveals the ways in which water-curists included dress reform among a list of other lifestyle reforms which would improve women's health and, possibly, women's social position.



        PERHAPS there is no subject eliciting more thought and discussion in community, at the present time, than that of woman, her rights, sphere, duties, and destiny. And certainly there is none upon which the line of demarcation between the sentiments of the opposing parties is more clearly drawn. There is no semblance of sympathy between them. Their hopes, expectations and faith are widely different. One class of persons consider woman in bondage, and are very solicitous that she should have her rights. The other class think she is now enjoying all the rights naturally belonging to her. One chief argument of the latter, ever resorted to, and deemed unanswerable by them is the willingness of the majority of women to remain in the position which they now occupy. They say-with the exception of a few restless and discounted minds, who are anxious to get out of the sphere which God designed they should fill, woman desires no other privileges than those which are now granted her. And this position is irrefutable. It is not the will of man that binds woman, soul, and body, to the earth. The interest of humanity is one; and man is more ready for the emancipation of woman, than is woman herself. Where there can be found one woman who would be willing to take a position which would require the vigorous exercise of all her God-given faculties, there are ten men who long to see woman free. Woman lacks ambition. This is why she is content to exist in a passive state. This is why the province of fame, and honor, and noble conquest and brave deeds is considered man's. I would have woman aspiring. I would have her emulous of that glory which comes by self-sacrifice and devotion to the salvation of her kind. Why do we spend our breath in speculating about woman's sphere? It is her sphere to do what she desires to do. When she is content to sit a mere dependent, to be petted and fawned upon, or abused and tyrannized over as caprice may dictate, that is her sphere. When woman, as a whole, wishes to vote; when she wishes to stand on an equality with man in every department of life, that will be her sphere, and it is not in the power of man, even if it were in his heart, to hinder her. And when woman, conscious of the divinity within her, and of the mightiness of her power, wishes to elevate-not her sex, but humanity, to the enjoyment of its high and holy destiny, to the perfect development of every power innately belonging to it, then this will be her sphere, and then will the kingdom of heaven have dawned upon our earth. But this work can never be accomplished while woman remains sick. Many a woman with a heart large enough to take in the world, with a philanthropy which might prompt her to labor heroically for the right, is exhausting every spark of her physical vitality in sustaining life, which is a burden almost too heavy for her to bear. Many a one, who, had she physical energy sufficient, would lay and execute plans, which would cause her name to be engraven in the Temple of Fame, never has a thought or desire higher than the roof that shelters her or wider than her daily round of toil for her husband and children. Her life-employment is to prepare food and drink, and dress for herself and family, while the very manner in which she eats, and drinks and dresses, is constantly tending to extinguish the life which Nature, in her kindliness, is striving to give her.

        I was lately conversing with a lady, the mother of three children, who says her health is good, but whose pale face shows that she does not know what good health means. She said, previous to the birth of her youngest child, she had been in the habit of walking a good deal, and thought it a great benefit to her. "But now," she says, "I have no time to walk. I cannot walk, and do justice to my children." This lady lives in a beautiful house, in elegant style, and finds time to dress herself and children fashionably. She did not know, that by denying herself the benefit of out-door exercise, and thus failing to give the highest possible tone to her bodily vigor, she was doing injustice, not only to her children, but to herself, her husband and the world. She was a professor for religion, but she did not know that by fettering the wings of her spirit, in compelling it to dwell in a tenement enfeebled, and made vile by bad living, that she was sinning against God, and that for all these things she must be brought into judgment. Thus live thousands of mothers in this land. The appetites of those to whom they have to minister have become so depraved, that none but the richest food, and that of a great variety, can satisfy their demands. The questions of greatest importance to them are, "What shall we eat? and what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed?"

        Woman's sphere cannot be very much elevated, until she learns and claims her first great right-the right to health. Then will she seek, by a righteous life, to ensure it, and all the blessings which belong to the possession of a sound mind, in a sound body, will become hers.                              &nbsp  [Glen Haven, N.Y.]


back to top