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Sexual Equality a Mill-Taylor Reader

Sexual Equality a Mill-Taylor Reader

Ann P. Robson
John M. Robson
Copyright Date: 1994
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    Sexual Equality a Mill-Taylor Reader
    Book Description:

    All the significant ideas in nineteenth-century English feminism can be found in the prose and thought of John Stuart Mill and in those of the two women central to his life: Harriet Taylor, who married him in 1851, and her daughter, Helen Taylor. Together they produced some of the most powerful and influential writings ever penned to promote women's equality, and it was to this family that the Victorian women's movement in England came to look for leadership, guidance, and money.

    In this volume, Ann Robson and John Robson bring together the writings and speeches from these three seminal thinkers on the subject of sexual equality. Some of these pieces have not been available in published form for more than a century. They cover such topics as love, sex, marriage, children, property, domestic relations, divorce, and suffrage.

    Sexual Equality is a necessary tool for understanding the development of ideas on women's issues in the Mill household. These ideas influenced thinking on sexual equality far beyond England and far past the Victorian period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7984-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xxxvi)

    On 21 April 1851 Harriet Taylor, widow, married John Stuart Mill, bachelor. They leased a house in Blackheath Park;¹ with them was Taylor’s nineteen-year-old daughter Helen, daughter of Harriet and John Taylor. From this secluded house emanated some of the most powerful and influential writings ever penned to promote women’s equality, and it was to this household that the Victorian women’s movement in England came to look for leadership, guidance, and money.

    Mill was the most prestigious radical writer in England and his was the most prestigious name to be associated with the cause of women’s social and political advancement....


    • On Marriage
      (pp. 3-17)
      J.S. MILL

      SHE TO WHOM MY LIFE IS DEVOTED has wished for a written exposition of my opinions on the subject which, of all connected with Institutions, is nearest to her happiness. Such as that exposition be made withoutherto suggest and to decide, it is given in these she, herself, has not refused to put into writing forme,what she thought and felt on the same subject, andthereI shall be taught all perhaps which I have, and certainly all which I have not, found out for myself. In the investigation of truth as in all else, “it...

    • On Marriage
      (pp. 18-20)

      IF I COULD BE PROVIDENCE to the world for a time, for the express purpose of raising the condition of women, I should come to you to know themeans—thepurposewould be to remove all interference with affection, or with any thing which is, or which even might be supposed to be, demonstrative of affection—In the present state of womens minds, perfectly uneducated, and with whatever of timidity and dependance is natural to them increased a thousand fold by their habits of utter dependance, it would probably be mischievous to remove at once all restraints, they would...

    • St. Simonism in London
      (pp. 21-24)
      J.S. MILL

      THE ST. SIMONIANS neither advocated community of goods nor community of women. Theydidadvocate doctrines of a peculiar kind, both with respect to property and marriage. On both subjects they laid down many just and valuable speculative premises, while on neither were their practical conclusions defensible; and the doctrines of some of them relative to marriage created the schism which ultimately broke up the sect. On the subject of property, the system they advocated, was the extension to the whole nation of that kind of “community of goods,” and no other, which already exists in the management of the...

    • Stability of Society
      (pp. 25-27)
      J.S. MILL

      YOUR “Open Council,” I presume, is an arena for the discussion, not merely of opinions, but of modes of arguing; and few things require discussion more. Availing myself of this liberty, I will put a few questions to one of your correspondents (signing himself W. Thomas) who is a very active questioner of others, and is much dissatisfied that nobody is willing to be “plain” and “precise.” Mr, Thomas stands up for the indissolubility of the marriage contract for the following plain and precise reason: “The stability of society rests upon the permanence of the marriage tie; loosen that, and...

    • Bentham on Divorce
      (pp. 28-31)
      J.S. MILL

      AS AN EXAMPLE of “Bentham’s attempt to exclude morality, as such, in his legislation,” Dr. Whewell refers to “what he says respecting the laws of marriage, and especially in favour of a liberty of divorce by common consent.”² As this is the only opportunity Dr. Whewell gives his readers, of comparing his mode of discussing a specific moral question with Bentham’s, we shall devote a few words to it.

      Having quoted from Bentham the observation that a government which interdicts divorce “takes upon itself to decide that it understands the interests of individuals better than they do themselves,”³ Dr. Whewell...

    • Liberty and Divorce
      (pp. 32-33)
      J.S. MILL

      THE PRINCIPLE ... which demands uncontrolled freedom of action all that concerns only the agents themselves, requires that those have become bound to one another, in things which concern no party, should be able to release one another from the engagement: and even without such voluntary release, there are perhaps no contracts or engagements, except those that relate to money or money’s worth, of which one can venture to say that there ought to be no liberty whatever of retractation. Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt ... it as his conviction, that engagements which involve personal relations or services, should never be...

    • Comte on Women
      (pp. 34-37)
      J.S. MILL

      M. COMTE regards [family life] as originally the sole, and always the principal, source of the social feelings, and the only school open to mankind, in which unselfishness can be learnt, and the feelings and demanded by social relations be made habitual. M. Comte this opportunity of declaring his opinions on the proper constitution of the family, and in particular of the marriage institution. They of the most orthodox and conservative sort. M. Comte adheres not only to the popular Christian, but to the Catholic view of marriage in its utmost strictness, and rebukes Protestant nations for having tampered with...

    • Married Women’s Property
      (pp. 38-41)
      J.S. MILL

      PERHAPS, SIR, those who, like myself, think that women can never hope that the laws and customs of society will do them full justice unless they are admitted to participate in political rights, ought, perhaps, to wish that the House would reject this Bill, because it is quite certain that its rejection would give a most extraordinary impulse to the movement, which has lately made so much progress, for giving the suffrage to women.(Hear, hear.)I wish, however, that my sex should have the credit of giving up unjust and impolitic privileges before they are brought under the influence...

    • Extracts
      (pp. 42-50)

      I DO NOT KNOW what themeansof advancing my opinions about “marriage” should be—nor how much of them might be advantageously said to the world—nor if I could be allowed to be Providence to the world for a few years how I should commence the steps which should prepare its mind to receive the ultimate opinion that all restraint or interference whatever with affection or with any thing which might be or be supposed to be in demonstration of affection is perfectly unwarrantable. Nothing could be more mischievous than the promulgation of this belief, in the present...


    • The Suicide of Sarah Brown
      (pp. 53-56)

      IN A PARAGRAPH which has gone the round of the daily papers, it is stated that on Thursday last Mr. Bedford held an inquest, at the Star and Garter, St. Martin’s-lane, on the body of Sarah Brown, aged nineteen, who had drowned herself in the Thames. “Deceased, the daughter of respectable parents, was seduced by a gentleman two years ago, and had a child by him. Her seducer deprived her of her child.” Several witnesses, it is added, “proved that since her child had been taken from her she had over and over again threatened to destroy herself.” The verdict...

    • The Case of William Burn
      (pp. 57-60)

      IN A MANSION-HOUSE REPORT of last week, it is stated that one William Burn was charged before the Lord Mayor² “with having most cruelly beaten one of the horses he was driving in a waggon. He had been sitting on the middle horse, which was without reins, and he struck one of the poor animals most desperately about the head with the butt-end of his whip. The horse fell, and the prisoner struck it even more brutally when down. The Lord Mayor expressed great indignation at the conduct of the defendant, and was about to fine him to the utmost...

    • The Case of the North Family
      (pp. 61-65)

      THE CASE OF THE NORTH FAMILY, heard last week before Vice-Chancellor Knight Bruce, and on which that judge has pronounced at least a temporary decision, suggests some queries on the state of the law respecting maternal rights, to which this judgment, if it represents the law correctly, gives anything but a satisfactory answer.

      The parties to the cause are the widow of Lieut. Dudley North on the one side, and his mother and sister on the other, and the contest is for the guardianship of the four children. The facts of the case are these:—The parents, originally members of...

    • The Case of Anne Bird
      (pp. 66-70)

      MUCH HAS BEEN SAID AND WRITTEN, although as yet to very little purpose, on the effect which the progress of society in wealth, numbers, and education produces on the nature and amount of crime. Among many differences of opinion on this much-debated question, there is on one point a very general agreement. However it may be with offences against property, crimes of violence tend, it is generally believed, to diminution. There is nothing in which we seem to have so much the advantage over our fathers as in mildness of manners; and the delinquencies which prevail in the present generation...

    • The Case of Mary Ann Parsons
      (pp. 71-77)

      WE WOULD EARNESTLY CALL, the attention of our readers to one of the most horrible cases of brutality which have ever disgraced the superficial civilisation of our time and country: we were going to call it themosthorrible, but cases approaching to it in atrocity are so incessantly recurring in the police reports, that we hesitate to pronounce even this case unrivalled in those disgraceful annals.

      Mary Ann Parsons, a girl of fifteen, said by the master of the workhouse to have been “strong and healthy, although not particularly bright,” was hired as a servant from the workhouse of...

    • The Case of Susan Moir
      (pp. 78-81)

      ONLY THREE DAYS have elapsed since we held up to public indignation the frightful details of the Bideford abominations, and the scandal of an acquittal, decisive of Mr. Justice Talfourd’s calibre both as a judge and as a man.² Already another case has presented itself, fully equal in its atrocious features, and in which, unless the public look well to it, similar impunity will probably be the result.

      Our yesterday’s paper contained the coroner’s inquest on Susan Moir, wife of Alexander Moir, carrying on business as a baker at No. 24, Brydges-street, Covent-garden. “When the sheet,” says our report, “with...

    • The Law of Assault
      (pp. 82-86)

      WE HAVE ON FORMER OCCASIONS pointed out the defective state of the law and of the administration with respect to crimes of personal violence, and we have especially commented on the absence of protection for women and young persons, and for all those who are under the power of others, against domestic brutality. The case on which the Court of Queen’s Bench pronounced judgment yesterday,² exceptional as it is in some material respects—more particularly as regards the apparent absence of habitual or deliberate cruelty on the part of the defendant—recalls our attention to this very important subject; and...

    • Wife Murder
      (pp. 87-91)

      IN HIS RECENT CHARGE to the grand jury at the opening of the Central Criminal Court, the Recorder said—

      He was sorry that he could not congratulate them on the lightness of the calendar; for, although it did not contain any charge of murder, yet he was sorry to see that there were several charges of manslaughter, and also a great number of cases of personal violence; and it was very much to be regretted that, in a great majority of the cases, the violence was committed by men upon the persons of those whom they were bound to love...

    • Remarks on Mr. Fitzroy’s Bill for the More Effectual Prevention of Assaults on Women and Children
      (pp. 92-98)

      THE BILL BROUGHT INTO PARLIAMENT BY MR. FITZROY, as the organ of the Home Office, enlarging the powers of magistrates to inflict summary penalties for brutal assaults on women and children, is excellent in design; and if in execution it falls short of what is required to deal adequately with the enormity of the evil, the speech of the Mover indicated that he felt its imperfection, and had done as much as he thought it prudent to attempt without assurance of support.² There have since been signs, both in and out of Parliament, that the Minister formed a lower estimate...

    • A Recent Magisterial Decision
      (pp. 99-100)

      SIR—Will you allow me to call your attention to the extraordinary decision of Mr. Norton, in the case of a man named William Ebbs, on Friday last? This ruffian, after brutally beating his unfortunate wife (then ill of a fever, and with her baby in her arms), deliberately attempted to cut her throat with a razor, which was only prevented by the son, scarcely less brutal than the father, who advised the father not to beat his mother any more, because he had given her enough now! This son, who was himself brought to the police-court for assaulting the...


    • Women and Criticism
      (pp. 103-111)

      FEW THINGS are more interesting to an observer of mankind than the endless variety and absolutely contradictory nature of the objections raised, in society and contemporary literature, to every possible proposal for altering anything. It seems to be in the nature of the human mind to hold that no reason can be necessary for doing nothing; this is so natural a thing to do, apparently, that the inducements and the justification for it are, at all times, self-evident to all the world. But, when any one proposes to break in upon any established order whatever, by any plan which is...

    • What Are the Subjects on Which It Is Desirable to Lay the Greatest Stress in the Education of Women?
      (pp. 112-116)

      IT IS REMARKABLE that the great majority of those who write and talk about what, by a great perversion of grammar or laxity of expression; is often called “female education,” seem to think nothing more easy than to lay down general principles about “woman’s nature,” and nothing more certain of universal assent than their own ideal (whatever it may be) of the perfect woman. It seems to be generally considered that we all understand “woman’s” nature, and are all agreed as to the highest perfection to which women can attain so that the only room for doubt or difficulty lies...

    • Self-Education
      (pp. 117-124)

      I AM MUCH INTERESTED by the observations in your letter & by the evidence it affords of how very deeply you feel the consequences of the subordination of women although you have not been in the habit of tracing them to their cause. Women of every age & of every position in life with very few exceptions suffer from some one or other of the evils that are the natural results of political subordination. There are some few women who can scarcely be said to suffer personally from these evils, & who are even so fortunate that their intellect is...

    • Equality in Russia
      (pp. 125-126)
      J.S. MILL

      I HAVE LEARNED with pleasure, mingled with admiration, that there are found in Russia, women sufficiently enlightened and courageous to demand for their sex a participation in the various branches of higher historical, philological and scientific education, including the practical art of medicine, and to gain for this cause important support from the scientific world. That is what the most enlightened persons are asking, without having yet attained it, in other countries of Europe. Thanks to you, Mesdames, Russia is perhaps about to surpass them in speed; it would be a proof that civilization relatively recent, sometimes accepts before the...

    • The Contagious Diseases Acts
      (pp. 127-129)

      4. AS NO WOMAN can have an opportunity “wilfully to spread a terrible disease” but by the voluntary consent of the man to whom she gives it, the real question is whether the law ought or ought not to interfere with the “right” of unchastity but it stands to reason that the law cannot interfere with this right in the case of women with the faintest show of fairness & justice until after it has interfered in the case of men, since it ought not to protect men against their own voluntary acts, & leave wives to the mercy of...

    • Prostitution and Marriage
      (pp. 130-132)
      J.S. MILL

      MR. LECKY’S STATE OF MIND on the subject of prostitution is characteristically conservative.² He thinks that since it has not been reformed up to this day it never can be. This is the true conservative stand point. Whatever reforms have been already effected are well enough; if they were effected long enough ago, they are even excellent. As to any reforms in the future, though they might be desirable in themselves, they are sure to bring with them greater evils than they can remove; and then come those jeremiads more or less eloquent and touching, which we are so accustomed...

    • The Contagious Diseases Acts
      (pp. 133-143)
      J.S. MILL

      I DO NOT CARE much to discuss the C[ontagious] D[iseases] A[cts] with yourself, because, being willing as you are to allow women their fair share in electoral representation, you hold a perfectly defensible position when you differ from them on a point of legislation which concerns them. The position of those men, however, who, while they refuse women any share in legislation, enact laws which apply to women only, admittedly unpopular among women, is totally different from yours, and appears to me as base as it is illogical, unless they are prepared to maintain that women have no other rights...

    • Nursing
      (pp. 144-147)

      OF THE VARIOUS domestic occupations of women, nursing is the one which can be least well dispensed with in any constitution of society or in any class. In those classes of society where there is ample fortune, and in those families where neither the men nor the women have either tastes or talents for public work, it is not uncommon to see the ladies free from all responsibility in domestic matters; the practical details being worked out by men and women taken from a lower rank, and the ultimate supervision being left to the men of the family, and on...

    • Election to the London School Board 1
      (pp. 148-149)

      IF SHE had presumed to present herself to them to solicit their suffrages for the School Board of London, it was because she felt that this was no time when any friend of education should remain inactive—and because she had been told that there were many among the electors who would not think it a disqualification that she was a woman. There were many details of management belonging to the School Board which she thought fell naturally within the department of women, for the electors would know that one-half of the children proposed to be educated were girls. These...

    • Election to the London School Board 2
      (pp. 150-152)

      I FEEL DEEPLY THE HONOUR you have done me in choosing me as representative of your determination that the children of the people, both boys and girls, shall receive a thorough education. In so far as you have chosen me, a woman, to represent you upon the School Board, I believe you have resolved to express your determination for a thorough education; because I believe that you are, each one of you, quite capable of seeing that a thorough education must begin with the mothers. I believe I am not mistaken in saying that I am here also as a...

    • Extracts
      (pp. 153-158)
      J.S. MILL

      I HONOURED [the Saint-Simonians] most of all for what they have been most cried down for—the boldness and freedom from prejudice with which they treated the subject of family, the most important of any, and needing more fundamental alterations than remain to be made in any other great social institution, but on which scarcely any reformer has the courage to touch. In proclaiming the perfect equality of men and women, and an entirely new order of things in regard to their relations with one another, the St. Simonians in common with Owen and Fourier² have entitled themselves to the...


    • Women’s Rights
      (pp. 161-177)

      A GREAT NUMBER of progressive changes are constantly going forward in human affairs and ideas, which escape the notice of unreflecting people, because of their slowness. As each successive step requires a whole generation or several generations to effect it, and is then only one step, things in reality very changeable remain a sufficient length of time without perceptible progress, to be, by the majority of cotemporaries, mistaken for things permanent and immovable—and it is only by looking at a long series of generations that they are seen to be, in reality, always moving, and always in the same...

    • The Enfranchisement of Women
      (pp. 178-203)

      MOST OF OUR READERS will probably learn from these pages for the first time, that there has arisen in the United States, and in the most civilized and enlightened portion of them, an organised agitation on a new question—new, not to thinkers, nor to any one by whom the principles of free and popular government are felt as well as acknowledged, but new, and even unheard of, as a subject for public meetings and practical political action. This question is, the enfranchisement of women; their admission, in law and in fact, to equality in all rights, political, civil, and...

    • Political Rights
      (pp. 204-208)
      J.S. MILL

      IN THE PRECEDING ARGUMENT for universal, but graduated suffrage, I have taken no account of difference of sex. I consider it to be as entirely irrelevant to political rights, as difference in height, or in the colour of the hair. All human beings have the same interest in good government; the welfare of all is alike affected by it, and they have equal need of a voice in it to secure their share of its benefits. If there be any difference, women require it more than men, since, being physically weaker, they are more dependent on law and society for...


    • Parliamentary Suffrage for Women
      (pp. 211-212)

      IS THE EXTENSION of the parliamentary suffrage to women desirable, and, if so, under what conditions?

      The reasons which make it desirable that women should have a share in making the laws by which they are to be governed are the same as those which are urged in favour of self-government and representative institutions in general. None of these reasons, as usually presented, (and by the majority of Englishmen held conclusive) have any reference to peculiarities of sex; and, unless it be held that women are below, or above, the level, or, at any rate, outside the pale, of humanity,...

    • The Exclusion of Women from the Franchise
      (pp. 213-215)
      J.S. MILL

      SIR, I rise to make the Motion of which I have given notice.² After the petition which I had the honour of presenting a few weeks ago, the House would naturally expect that its attention would be called, however briefly, to the claim preferred in that document.³ The petition, and the circumstances attendant on its preparation, have, to say the least, greatly weakened the chief practical argument which we have been accustomed to hear against any proposal to admit women to the electoral franchise—namely, that few, if any, women desire it. Originating as that petition did entirely with ladies,...

    • The Ladies’ Petition
      (pp. 216-233)

      AMONG THE DEMONSTRATIONS of opinion which the discussions on Parliamentary Reform have drawn forth during the past session, no one was more remarkable than the petition signed by fifteen hundred ladies, which was presented to the House of Commons by Mr. J. Stuart Mill. This petition is comprised in a few short sentences, and sets forth that the possession of property in this country carries with it the right to vote in the election of representatives in Parliament; that the exclusion from this right of women holding property is therefore anomalous; and that the petitioners pray that the representation of...

    • The Admission of Women to the Electoral Suffrage
      (pp. 234-246)
      J.S. MILL

      I RISE, SIR, to propose an extension of the suffrage which can excite no party or class feeling in this House; which can give no umbrage to the keenest assertor of the claims either of property or of numbers; an extension which has not the smallest tendency to disturb what we have heard so much about lately, the balance of political power; which cannot afflict the most timid alarmist with revolutionary terrors, or offend the most jealous democrat as an infringement of popular rights(hear, hear),or a privilege granted to one class of society at the expense of another....

    • Propagandizing for the Cause
      (pp. 247-264)

      [AN] AMENDMENT to the Reform Bill... was by far the most important, perhaps the only really important public service I performed in the capacity of a Member of Parliament: a motion to strike out the words which were understood to limit the electoral franchise to males, thereby admitting to the suffrage all women who as householders or otherwise possess the qualification required of male electors.² For women not to make their claim to the suffrage at the time when the elective franchise was being largely extended, would have been to abjure the claim altogether; and a movement on the subject...

    • Women’s Suffrage 1
      (pp. 265-272)
      J.S. MILL

      THE FIRST THING that presents itself for us men who have joined this Society—a Society instituted by ladies to procure the protection of the franchise for women—is to congratulate them on the success of this, their first effort in political organisation. The admission of women to the suffrage is now a practical question. What was, not very long ago, a mere protest in behalf of abstract right, has grown into a definite political aim, seriously pursued by many thousands of active adherents. No sooner did a few ladies of talent and influence, fostered in those principles of justice,...

    • Women’s Suffrage 2
      (pp. 273-278)
      J.S. MILL

      SINCE THE FIRST GENERAL MEETING of this Society in July of last year, we have had ample reason to be satisfied with the progress that has been made by our cause. That progress has manifested itself not only by the increased number of our friends, but, still more, by the altered tone of our opponents. During the year which has just elapsed, much has been written in various publications against the equality of the sexes, but it is remarkable how few of the writers have expressed any great disapprobation of that which is the direct object of this Society, the...

    • Women’s Suffrage 3
      (pp. 279-283)

      THAT WOMEN, or at least large classes of them, have some reasonable ground for complaint, very few people will be found to dispute. But while there is this general consent that the position of women is not all it ought to be, directly we come to details we find a great variety of opinion about where it is that the shoe pinches. Some people think that if married women could only have the full control over their own property (when they have any), women in general would have little left to desire. Others see that though a woman had all...

    • Speech on Women’s Suffrage 4
      (pp. 284-291)
      J.S. MILL

      IF THERE IS A TRUTH in politics which is fundamental—which is the basis of all free government—it is that when a part of the nation are the sole possessors of power, the interest of that part gets all the serious attention. This does not necessarily imply any active oppression. All that it implies is the natural tendency of the average man to feel what touches self of vastly greater importance than what directly touches only other people. This is the deep-seated and ineradicable reason why women will never be justly treated until they obtain the franchise. They suffer,...

    • Women’s Rights as Preached by Women
      (pp. 292-302)

      THEOLOGICAL, political, and social reformers may be classified or characterized from many points of view, but there is one in particular from which they are most frequently judged, and from which, according to the mental bias of the judge, praise or blame is awarded to them—often in no measured terms. We refer to that special point of view from which reformers are pronounced advanced or backward, bold or timid, the unflinching exponents of principles, in season and out of season, or the conformists to what is often contemptuously called expediency. The now numerous advocates of Women’s Rights belong to...


    • PART SIX The Subjection of Women
      (pp. 305-400)
      J.S. MILL

      THE OBJECT OF THIS ESSAY is to explain as clearly as I am able, the grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest period when I had formed any opinions at all on social or political matters, and which, instead of being weakened or modified, has been constantly growing stronger by the progress of reflection and the experience of life: That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—the legal subordination of one sex to the other—is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement;...

  10. Additional Reading
    (pp. 401-402)
  11. Index
    (pp. 403-409)