Become Not Women

In 1848, in response to the 300-strong Convention for Woman’s Rights in Seneca Falls (USA) and its Declaration of Sentiments, a Philadelphia newspaper urged the city’s ladies not to join the new movement and become women but to stay as “wives, belles, virgins and mothers”. Here’s my poetic response:

We strongly urge our female readers
In wimples, bonnets, veils and mufflers
You’re made as bearers, growers, feeders
Not drivers, tellers, surgeons, discoverers
Girls, stay at home and sew your days
No trade nor college as your brothers
Serve, adorn, keep pure and raise
Wives, belles, virgins and mothers

Philly wants its fillies chained
For breeding mares not running wild
So say ‘I will’ and entertain
And keep thee chaste then raise the child
Stir the cookpot, wash and pray
That if he dies your living’s covered
Turn not into women, stay
Our wives, belles, virgins and mothers

Convert ye not from these to women
With views, demands, loud voices, rights
We fear the cold of homes fires dimming
Sign not this Sentiment to fight
Become not women, darling things
Keep private hells that surge and smother
With bands and rings and apron strings
For wives, belles, virgins and mothers

‘Convention’ means our fine traditions
Not halls of speeches, fancy schemes
Of harridans who rouse sedition
For ‘rights’ and other silly dreams
No spinsters’, harpies’, whores’ agenda
A man’s firm hand must grip the rudder
Be passive, pretty, untarnished, tender
Be wives, belles, virgins and mothers

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