Document 5: "Just Treatment of Licentious Men. Addressed to Christian Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Daughters," Friend of Virtue, January 1838, pp. 2-4.

Document 5: "Just Treatment of Licentious Men. Addressed to Christian Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Daughters," Friend of Virtue, January 1838, pp. 2-4.


       During the 1990s social movement theorists began to recognize that social movements did not seek only "classically political or economic" goals. Social theorists began to identify cultural change as an important goal of social reform. The nineteenth-century moral reform movement, the first predominantly female movement led by women, exemplifies this kind of social movement. During the 1830s and 1840s, middle-class women sought to improve public morality by promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage and attacking the sexual double standard. These cultural reforms would protect women both within and outside of marriage. The Boston Female Moral Reform Society, founded in 1835, published the Friend of Virtue from which the document below is taken. The author of the following article, which was published by the Boston Female Refrom Society in the Friend of Virtue, passionately repudiated the sexual double standard that allowed men sexual privilege yet condemned unmarried, sexually active women, well illustrating the goal of women involved in the movement to reform prevailing cultural attitudes toward sexuality (see also "The Appeal of Female Moral Reform," the document project in which this article appears.)




       DEAR SISTERS:-- As members with us of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, we take the liberty of addressing you on a subject near our hearts, and of the deepest interest to our sex. We ask your serious attention, while we press upon your consciences the inquiry, "Is it right to admit to the society of virtuous females, those unprincipled and licentious men, whose conduct is fraught with so much evil to those who stand in the relation to us of sisters?" True, God designed that man should be our protector, the guardian of our peace, our happiness, and our honor; but how often has he proved himself a traitor to his trust, and the worst enemy of our sex? The deepest degradation to which many of our sex have been reduced, the deepest injuries they have suffered, have been in consequence of his perfidy. He has betrayed, and robbed, and forsaken his victim, and left her to endure alone the untold horrors of a life embittered by self-reproach, conscious ignominy, and exclusion from every virtuous circle. Is there a woman among us, whose heart has not been pained at the fall and fate of some one sister of her sex? Do you say the guilty deserve to suffer and must expect it? Granted. But why not let a part of this suffering fall on the destroyer? Why is he caressed and shielded from scorn by the countenance of the virtuous, and encouraged to commit other acts of perfidy and sin, while his victim, for one offence, is trampled upon, despised and banished from all virtuous society; The victim thus crushed, yields herself to despair, and becomes a practical illustration of the proverb that, "A bad woman is the worst of all God's creatures." Surely, if she is worse, after her fall, than man equally fallen, is there not reason to infer that in her nature there is something more chaste, more pure and refined, and exalted than in his? Is it then not worth while to do something to prevent her from becoming a prey to the perfidy and baseness of unprincipled man, and a disgrace to her sex? Do you ask, what can woman do, and reply as have some others, "We must leave this work for the men?" Can we expect the wolf, ravenous for his prey, to throw up a barrier to protect the defenceless sheep? As well might we expect this, as to expect that men as a body will take measures to redress the wrongs of woman.

       Dear sisters, women have commenced this work, and women must see it carried through. Commenced by women? No it was commenced by one who is now, we trust, a sainted spirit in heaven, and who sacrificed his life in the cause. Yes, he fell a martyr in the conflict, but not till he had effectually roused the women of the nation to enlist in the cause he had commenced.[A] Moral Reform is the first of causes to our sex. It involves principles, which if faithfully and perseveringly applied, will preserve the rights and elevate the standing of our sex in society. As times have been, the libertine has found as ready a passport to the society of the virtuous, as any one, and he has as easily obtained a good wife, as the more virtuous man. But a new era has commenced. Woman has erected a standard, and laid down the principle, that man shall not trample her rights, and on the honor of her sex with impunity. She has undertaken to banish licentious men from all virtuous society. And mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters will you lend your influence to this cause? Prompt action in the form of association will accomplish this work? Females in this manner must combine their strength and exert their influence. Will you not join one of these bands of the pious? The cause has need of your interest, your prayers, and your funds. Come then to our help, and let us pray and labor together.

Yours, affectionately, L.T.Y.



A. The "sainted spirit" and "martyr" here is the Rev. John R. McDowall, who first summoned New York women to the cause. In 1836, he was tried and found guilty of ministerial misconduct and slander by the Third Presbytery of New York City--a presbytery made up largely of clergy and churches otherwise sympathetic to evangelical revival and reform movements. Before the year was out, at age 35, he was dead. See The Memoir and Select Remains of the Late John R. McDowall, the Martyr of the Seventh Commandment (New York: Leavitt, Lord, 1838). See also Kuykendall, "Martyr to the Seventh Commandment," p. 303.  
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