Exponent Classics: Womanliness

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’ll be posting some of our favorite pieces each Sunday from the Woman’s Exponent, the first regularly published newspaper for members of the Relief Society written by the sisters of the Church.  You can see the original version of this piece here.  Also, we’ve kept the original punctuation and spelling.

“Womanliness” by Emmeline B. Wells, editor
December 1, 1879

One remark which is perhaps more frequently made than any other in reference to the so-called woman question is, “why don’t you confine yourselves to woman’s sphere, the home, and the mother, instead of interfering with men’s privileges and wanting to mix up with the strife, confusion and corruption of politices.  Men and women are born to fill different places and it is absurd to try to change the nature of things, the order of God.”

The Scriptures say, “man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord,” then we live in harmony with God’s laws we shall be united in our efforts and not pulling separate ways; but we must do this intelligently.  In every person there is an innate feeling, I want to know for myself, and it exists in women as well as men, therefore why should men say this, or than, is not for women to know, they need have nothing to do with law, or government, or medicine, or theology, or polities; we attend to all these things for them, we adjust these matters; and so they want the little girls to dress their dolls and make endless patchwork quilts, and rag carpets to save all the shreds of calico and cloth, because they cost money, but meanwhile their precious God-given endowments of heart and brain may lie dormant comparatively, and the nerve forces of women be used in economizing and keeping up a constant struggle to make “something out of nothing” and woman be totally dependent on man’s capabilities instead of developing her own.

Objectors to equal opportunities for eudcation of the sexes and to woman’s suffrage argue that woman’s delicary will be soiled by studying in the same classes with men; and that she will come in contact with rough men at the polls; yet their wives, daughters and sisters may go to balls and parties with neck and arms bare, and waltz and polka with men, and they seldom think it indelicate, because, forsooth, it is the fashion, and custom has made it popular; and the newspapers will speak of the fascinating Miss, or Mrs. So and So, and her elaborate costume, while it denounces in strongest temrs and holds up to ridicule noble-minded women, who are laboring heart and soul for the elevation of their sex, and the good of humanity.

Men will be men, and women will maintain their identity “While life and thought and being last, or immortality endures,” there need be no fear on that score.  Men are not usually frightened to let women carry about great bundles of sewing, for which, in many large cities, women only earn a bare pittance, scarcely enough to keep the wolf from the door–that is womanly work; but let her dare talk about voting, or securing equal wages with men for the same amount of work faithfully executed, and she must expect to be cried down as lacking in womanliness, or propriety.

Women should be themselves in all that word implies, but they should have every avenue for learning open to them, that they may have a better and more practical knowledge of the conditions of life.  Every mother should become intelligently acquainted with her own physical and mental nature, her life powers, her nerve forces, before she takes upon herself the sacred obligations of motherhood, and identifies herself with a new life.  Enlightened motherhood is one essential element wanted to lay the foundation of a purer and better race of people.

From time to time there is a great complaint made of women’s lack of government at home over her children; this is an indispensable qualification in the character of a mother, if the home is to be a place of order, of quiet and peace.  Ignorant women cannot control their children, because they do not know the first principles of self-control.  They can flog them, or frighten them with ghost stories, as many do, but that is not government.  A more liberal spirit and feeling towards woman’s advancement will add greater dignity to that womanly sphere of which we hear so much, the sphere of motherhood and home keeper.  The best teaching in the world, and that which remains deepest engraven in the human heart is mother’s teaching.  Then how necessary it should be correct, and full of light and intelligence.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Kelly Ann says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for
    sharing it. I feel like it could be spoken again now but with other examples that correlate to the suffrage movement. I would not have expected this to have been written in 1879.

    My favorite quote (even though I am single and childless) is:
    Enlightened motherhood is one essential element wanted to lay the foundation of a purer and better race of people.

  2. Kiri Close says:


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