Antediluvian Feminism

While catching up on my back issues of The Monthly Magazine, I ran across an interesting letter to the editor by one “P. W.” in the April 1801 issue.  (It’s on page 220 in case you happen to have a copy lying around the house.)  Many women probably had the same idea long before him, but it’s the earliest piece by a man I’ve ever run across proposing equal pay for equal work.  Some excerpts:

Sir, the propriety of giving women the same pay as men, for acting with equal success in the same station, has long been so forcibly impressed upon my mind, that I cannot resist my inclination to give you the reasons for the opinion I have formed on the subject…

First, it is obvious that the absurdity of custom can never overthrow or diminish the authority of the immutable law of justice, which directs that women should receive equal rewards with men, for the same services equally performed.

Second, the sound policy of calling out the abilities of every member of the community, for the benefit of the whole, by the stimulus of an adequate reward, is a principle that should be extended to both sexes; a change that would improve the female character, and convert her present insignificancy into usefulness.  The stage, the fine arts, and literary composition are the principle departments in which an equality of honour and profits are to be obtained by the competitors of either sex…

Third, humanity unites with policy, in enforcing the advantage of providing resources for women of all ranks, whereby the may gain an honourable support, when deprived of the customary protection of male relatives…

The interests of morality the abolition of the absurd and unjust depreciation of female talent, as it certainly operates as a check to the exertions of women, and tends to multiply the herd of those unhappy frail-ones, who fall a prey to seduction; and who, in their turn, become seducers, and inveigle our sons, our fathers, and our husbands, into the paths of destruction.

It took a while, but the shade of P. W. must have smiled when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963.

As those who click on the link above will see, The Monthly Magazine was published in London from 1796 to 1843.  Among other things, it published the earliest fiction of Charles Dickens.

Equal Pay

 

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