Author: Mary Sheldon

Title: “The Signs of the Times”

Date: 21 March 1848

Source: Mary Sheldon Papers, Record Group 30/100, Oberlin College Archives

Document Type:

This short piece from 1848 is also found in Sheldon’s notebook. It is notable for its reiteration of longing for the influence of women in major positions of authority, but also for confinement within popular notions of the day. Sheldon believed that Christianity is the only path to a harmonious society, even in faraway countries.


March 21 1848

The Signs of the Times


Ye say in the morning, It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red, and lowering. O! ye hypocrites! ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? Christ.1

This reproof, given in olden time, is equally applicable to the present generation. As a generation we eat, drink, study, work and sleep without any thought concerning the times in which we live.

Let us pause for a few moments, and consider the present signs. That we may, if possible, catch a glimpse of what is to be.

Some of the most prominent appearances in the horizon of the world, at this time, are; the alarming inquietude of Ireland; the political commotions of Switzerland and various states of South America; the advancement which Russia is making by rapid strides, from the depths of barbarism, to the first rank among civilized nations; the spirit of freedom and improvement, which begins to exhibit itself in all Italy; the uneasiness of the masses in England; and the unprecedented increase of population and march of improvement in our own country.2

I need not dwell upon these singly, or explain, the transactions of each country, weekly reach each one, by means of the political or religious journals. My object is merely to present the subject that we may draw from it some practical inferences.

Do we then from these signs and others which will readily present themselves to each mind, predict too much, when we say, that the next half-century will witness the decision of the great question of slavery which now agitates the public mind; that the same period will change the aspect of affairs in the East Indies as she [sic] following the example of Liberia, shakes of [sic] the yoke of colonial government and becomes a free and independent nation and will test the powers of the Pope, Russia, Austria, Spain, France and Great Britain. China will have become more liberal to sister nations. Christian missionaries will have penetrated in groups every part of the known world; the last great struggle of Antichrist be consummated; and many commotions shake to the very center the ancient monarchies even to the downfall of thrones and kingdoms.

And are we prepared or preparing to stand in our allotted place? Are we prepared to grapple with and decide with woman’s intuition, the great questions that will rock the moral and political world? All this is necessary, that we may as daughters, sisters and teachers exert a proper and opportune influence upon those within its sphere. Are we in our course of study, so disciplining our minds that we shall be able to think independently, to give a reason for our opinions, and to maintain them unmoved by the scoffs, sneers and false arguments of opponents?

  1. O. A. K.

Transcribed by Joanna Wiley

1Quoted from Luke 12:56.

21848 was a politically explosive year in Europe. Various uprisings in various countries aimed to abolish monarchies and establish universal male suffrage and self-determination of the poorer classes. (They were essentially unsuccessful.) Sheldon demonstrates awareness thereof. In America, several new states were being added because of the migration of non-Native Americans westward. “Revolutions of 1848,” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web address