Friday, August 10, 2018

Alexander Campbell, "Woman and Her Mission" (1856)

This post summarizes and makes a few observations about Alexander Campbell's address to the students at Henry Female Seminary in Newcastle, Kentucky, on May 30, 1856. The speech, "Woman and Her Mission," appears in Campbell's collection titled Familiar Lectures and Addresses. The full bibliographic entry appears below.

Given the time of year, this might have been a commencement address. However, the transcription does not include any of the typical references to graduates that one would expect if this were a graduation speech.

Many parts of Campbell's address have nothing to do directly with his topic. His remarks include some of the his favorite points and observations. For example, when commenting on the creation of woman, Campbell sets out to undermine philosophical materialism. He contends that there exists no proof, nor even a way to imagine, that matter somehow generated spirit.

Campbell also denies that the first two chapters of the Bible are separate creation accounts in conflict with one another. He describes them, instead, as a general creation account in Genesis 1, followed by an expansive sequel in Genesis 2. The second chapter focuses on the sixth day of creation, especially the making of the first two humans, the zenith of God's creative work.

The early part of the speech also includes what I see as one of many statements in the writings of Campbell that implicitly deny the charge that "Campbellism" was a system of water-and-works salvation, merely baptism followed by a life of good deeds:
It is essential to our redemption, that some supernatural interposition should have been originated and instituted, else our escape from this condition would have been, so far as our reason or resources are concerned, wholly impossible (214). 
He positively asserts that neither human reason, imagination, nor creativity could have ever brought salvation to humanity. "Revelation alone meets the present conditions of our being" (214).

After these and several other preliminary remarks, Campbell turns to the theme of his title. In speaking about "woman," he makes a case for different gender roles that is deeply rooted in the biblical doctrine of creation. Citing Genesis 2:18--"And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him"--Campbell observes that "woman was created to be a companion, perfectly suitable to man." But this raises the more specific question, "For what was woman created and made?" (219).

According to English translations of Genesis 3:20, Adam called his wife Eve, a name that is translated from the Hebrew term whose central idea is Life. From this Campbell elaborates, "But she is not only the mere life of humanity, in its literal import, but the life and the spirit of all true and genuine civilization" (219). For this very reason, says Campbell, a person can judge any society by finding out how women are treated among them.

From there, Campbell states that woman "is, or may be, the better half" of humanity. And this, he emphasizes, is where we must identify gender distinctions and roles. Woman is the "better half" of humanity "not in muscular power, not in physical strength, not in animal courage, not in intellectual rigor, but in delicacy of thought, in sensitiveness of feeling, in patient endurance, in constancy of affection, in moral courage and in soul-absorbing devotion" (222). He clarifies what this does and does not mean in terms of intellect. Directly addressing his female hearers, Campbell says:
You study physical science, physiology, pneumatology, and probably some of you have even encountered and vanquished metaphysics. Of one thing we are assured, that these studies are as much within your grasp as they are within that of half the young gentlemen of the present living age (224).
Women are as intellectually capable as men. If anything, perhaps even more so. But this is not the end of the matter, because what people learn should be based on the "special calling, or the special mission, of each individual" (225). The schooling of a woman "should be equal to her mission" (226). And what is that mission? "She was an extract of man, in order to form man; in order to develop, perfect, beautify, and beatify man" (226).

It certainly appears that Campbell is saying woman's highest calling is to the role of wife (a suitable helper) and mother; to make "the patriot, the philanthropist and the Christian" (227). To women has been conferred "the sovereignty of the human heart." This means that women do not stand "in the front rank of the battle-field" (228). To be more specific:
There is no necessity to mount the rostrum, to stand up in public assemblies, to address mixed auditories of both sexes, of all classes and of all orders of society, in order to fill up the duties of your mission (228).
The Christian woman is one "who is always in her proper sphere" (228).


Campbell, Alexander. "Woman and Her Mission. Delivered before the Henry Female Seminary, Newcastle, KY., May 30 1856." in Popular Lectures and Addresses (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1864), pp. 213-30.