Author: Mary Sheldon

Title: “Women in Politics”

Date: 20 September 1848

Source: Mary Sheldon Papers, Record Group 30/200, Oberlin College Archives

Document Type:

The following transcribes an entry in Sheldon’s leather-bound composition notebook. Women in Politics is dated to when Sheldon was studying at Oberlin College. Unlike elsewhere in the notebook, she does not note whether it was produced for a class or the Literary Society. Nonetheless, Sheldon’s essay is formal and well-argued, which shows that it was important to her. Although Sheldon writes about women’s duties as wives and mothers, she was unmarried at the time.


Sep. 20 1848 No 2 Oberlin

Women in Politics

What has woman to do with politics? What can she do more than occasionally to attend a convention or mass meeting, and wave her handkerchief or hand to cheer the politician?

What more can she do! do you ask as though she would attempt to effect a great object by cheers alone. We will take time to answer this question and first enquire what are woman’s duties. In our country these consist mainly in attending to the duties of the household, a general phrase designed to include all the various arts of cooking & cleaning, smoothing, making, mending etc. all that pertain to the house and by way of recreation fancy needle work and perhaps a share in duties of Voluntary Associations sometimes known under the name of Sewing Societies. Besides this on her devolves the onerous task of caring for and instructing children, not only the care of girls until they arrive at age but often the management of boys until they are prepared to leave home for College instruction or the duties of active life. These one would think were sufficient and yet with the assistance of domestics or in a small family much leisure is found for the improvement of the mind, which many with very limited advantages have accomplished to a wonderful extent. How, we ask, could she better employ a portion of this time than in making herself acquainted with the principles of civil government and the economy of our own.

In a republican government such as our own no mother can tell that her son may not be called to important offices – no common school teacher can say that she is not molding the mind of a future president.

Look around on our country. See to what a depth of degradation the great political parties of our nation have sunk. Is it not proverbial that the worst man has the best chance of succeeding in an election? Look again at our halls of legislation. One fourth (I speak within bounds) of the time of the public servants our senators and representatives is spent in electioneering speeches in listening to or making speeches to advance the interest of one or another set of men and these thing increasing annually. Each session seem to be more corrupt than the preceding. If, as Napoleon thought, mothers to be the salvation of France where else should we look for reform.1 See our public offices filled with the basest of men – gluttonous, [illegible], licentious, and what shall effect a reformation if the healthful moral influence of woman be not [brought?] to bear upon these things.

All this can be effected without doing violence to the present usages of society. Let her become acquainted with government and the characters of the leading men of the nation. Let her influence be felt by her friend as on the side of justice and right. Hers it is to [know?] upon oppression and vice, and especially to instill into the minds of youth a patriotic spirit, a spirit of self sacrifice for the good of the country rather than a spirit of self aggrandisement at its expense. Hers it is to encourage the virtuous and deserving & to strengthen the weak and vasillating [minded?] to do the right.


Proofed with Bryn Whitney-Blum 8 March 2015

Final proof by Joanna Wiley


1Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a French Emperor who revolutionized French military, education and legal systems.