Document 5A: Mary Sheldon, "Dueling," 31 May 1842, Composition Book, Mary Sheldon Papers, Record group 30, Box 1, Oberlin College Archives.
Born in Peru, Ohio on November 26, 1825, Mary Sheldon was brought up in Berea, Ohio in a staunchly abolitionist, religiously non-conformist household. Her father, Henry Olcott Sheldon, was a Presiding Elder of the Methodist Church, and sometimes lectured against slavery. Her early essays demonstrate that she was already an accomplished writer before she enrolled in the Ladies Department in 1848. One essay, "Dueling," suggests an opposition to the chivalric culture often identified with the antebellum South, another, "Tight Lacing," (see Document 5B) makes clear her opposition to the "fashionable life," and a third, "Women and Politics," (see Document 5C) advocates women influence politics by raising virtuous sons. While at Oberlin, Mary Sheldon was active in several female student organizations, including the Ladies Literary Society and the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. Her writings reflect an awareness of female influence, and, perhaps, a testing of limits. Sheldon graduated in 1852 with a degree in music (she did not receive an A.B.) For Mary Sheldon's writings on abolition and racial equality, see her essay "Our Duty to the Oppressed," Document 7 of this project.
Dueling May 31, 1842
Dueling is of all crimes ways of resenting an inquiry, the [most] cowardly mean and disgraceful. Though I am unable to say when or by whom it was first practised, it has been a common method of retaliation for many ages. It is less practised at the present age than formerly, but instances occur often enough even in this advanced state of society, to demand the attention of every philanthropist.
Dueling is confined almost entirely to civilized nations. A savage would scorn to fight a friend; and indeed many are friends at heart, though willing to sacrifice every principle of friendship at the shrine of an imaginary deity, Honor.
But what can be the effects of a practice, which one nation embraces and another abhors. It is a means, by which men of fierce tempers, give vent to their passions, and as long as it remains, it serves as a stumbling block in the way of those, who would curb and subdue them by their better judgement. It brings grief and anguish on the connections of those who are guilty of asking reparations, or of those who are willing to give such satisfaction. How many hearts have bled, by having their friends coolly murdered while he who committed the atrocious deed is caressed and loaded with praises for his bravery, while he unless hardened to vice is hardly able to bear the stings of an accusing conscience. Can it be that we will countenance anything that so glaringly violates every principle of our being? Cannot women do something for the suppression of this evil? They do exert an influence in every station of life and if they would always give others to understand that they were strenuously opposed to dueling would it not serve to restrain their friends?
Dueling cannot, as many vices arrogantly claim, set up any pretensions to utility: its effects are only evil; and they are rendered much worse by the toleration it receives from fashion. But were the practice annihilated what would be the result? It would happen in many cases, that after the heated passions had had cooled, each party viewing the subject more calmly would see their error and again become good friends. If then the practice is fraught with so much evil, which to abandon it entirely would be productive of great good to all, surely we are right in saying; Every person who has a spark of philanthropy or love to God will exert himself to banish dueling from the world.