Anna Julia Cooper, “Woman vs the Indian”

This excerpt is drawn from a longer work. For more please see: Cooper, Anna Julia. “Woman vs the Indian.” A Voice from the South. Xenia, OH: The Aldine Printing House, 1892, pp. 80–126, Courtesy of DocSouth.

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Yours sincerely, A.J. Cooper

A note on race, language, & Native/Indigenous peoples

In this excerpt, Cooper discusses a number of social groups. She uses certain racial terms for these groups that were common in the United States during the 1890s. These terms are no longer appropriate to use in describing those groups today. Instead, we suggest Black (capitalized), African American, Native American, Indigenous, and by addressing Native peoples by their specific community or nation.

Additionally, we acknowledge that every Douglass Day event is being held on the unceded lands of Indigenous peoples in North America. We explicitly recognize the histories of anti-Indigenous racism (including by Frederick Douglass), oppression, and genocide. We ask all DD groups to use this moment as an opportunity to reflect on how we might resist the interconnected legacies of slavery and colonialism.

“Woman versus the Indian” by Anna Julia Cooper

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of race or a sect, a party or a class, — it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity. Now unless we are greatly mistaken the Reform of our day, known as the Woman’s Movement, is essentially such an embodiment, if its pioneers could only realize it, of the universal good. And specially important is it that there be no confusion of ideas among its leaders as to its scope and universality. All mists must be cleared from the eyes of woman if she is to be a teacher of morals and manners: the former strikes its roots in the individual and its training and pruning may be accomplished by classes; but the latter is to lubricate the joints and minimize the friction of society, and it is important and fundamental that there be no chromatic or other aberration when the teacher is settling the point, “Who is my neighbor?”

It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red, — it is not even the cause of woman vs. man. Nay, ’tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice. It would be subversive of every human interest that the cry of one-half the human family be stifled. Woman in stepping from the pedestal of statue-like inactivity in the domestic shrine, and daring to think and move and speak, — to undertake to help shape, mold, and direct the thought of her age, is merely completing the circle of the world’s vision. Hers is every interest that has lacked an interpreter and a defender. Her cause is linked with that of every agony that has been dumb — every wrong that needs a voice.

It is no fault of man’s that he has not been able to see truth from her standpoint. It does credit both to his head and heart that no greater mistakes have been committed or even wrongs perpetrated while she sat making tatting and snipping paper flowers. Man’s own innate chivalry and the mutual interdependence of their interests have insured his treating her cause, in the main at least, as his own. And he is pardonably surprised and even a little chagrined, perhaps, to find his legislation not considered “perfectly lovely” in every respect. But in any case his work is only impoverished by her remaining dumb. The world has had to limp along with the wobbling gait and one-sided hesitancy of a man with one eye. Suddenly the bandage is removed from the other eye and the whole body is filled with light. It sees a circle where before it saw a segment. The darkened eye restored, every member rejoices with it.

What a travesty of its case for this eye to become plaintiff in a suit, Eye vs. Foot. “There is that dull clod, the foot, allowed to roam at will, free and untrammelled; while I, the source and medium of light, brilliant and beautiful, am fettered in darkness and doomed to desuetude.” The great burly black man, ignorant and gross and depraved, is allowed to vote; while the franchise is withheld from the intelligent and refined, the pure-minded: and lofty souled white woman. Even the untamed and untamable Indian of the prairie, who can answer nothing but ugh to great economic and civic questions is thought by some worthy to wield the ballot which is still denied the Puritan maid and the first lady of Virginia.

Is not this hitching our wagon to something much lower than a star? Is not woman’s cause broader, and deeper, and grander, than a blue stocking debate or an aristocratic pink tea? Why should woman become plaintiff in a suit versus the Indian, or the Negro or any other race or class who have been crushed under the iron heel of Anglo-Saxon power and selfishness? If the Indian has been wronged and cheated by the puissance of this American government, it is woman’s mission to plead with her country to cease to do evil and to pay its honest debts. If the Negro has been deceitfully cajoled or inhumanly cuffed according to selfish expediency or capricious antipathy, let it be woman’s mission to plead that he be met as a man and honestly given half the road. If woman’s own happiness has been ignored or misunderstood in our country’s legislating for bread winners, for rum sellers, for property holders, for the family relations, for any or all the interests that touch her vitally, let her rest her plea, not on Indian inferiority, nor on Negro depravity, but on the obligation of legislators to do for her as they would have others do for them were relations reversed. Let her try to teach her country that every interest in this world is entitled at least to a respectful hearing, that every sentiency is worthy of its own gratification, that a helpless cause should not be trampled down, nor a bruised reed broken; and when the right of the individual is made sacred, when the image of God in human form, whether in marble or in clay, whether in alabaster or in ebony, is consecrated and inviolable, when men have been taught to look beneath the rags and grime, the pomp and pageantry of mere circumstance and have regard unto the celestial kernel uncontaminated at the core, — when race, color, sex, condition, are realized to be the accidents, not the substance of life, and consequently as not obscuring or modifying the inalienable title to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, — then is mastered the science of politeness, the art of courteous contact, which is naught but the practical application of the principal of benevolence, the back bone and marrow of all religion; then woman’s lesson is taught and woman’s cause is won — not the white woman nor the black woman nor the red woman, but the cause of every man or woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong. The pleading of the American woman for the right and the opportunity to employ the American method of influencing the disposal to be made of herself, her property, her children in civil, economic, or domestic relations is thus seen to be based on a principle as broad as the human race and as old as human society. Her wrongs are thus indissolubly linked with all undefended woe, all helpless suffering, and the plenitude of her “rights” will mean the final triumph of all right over might, the supremacy of the moral forces of reason and justice and love in the government of the nation.

God hasten the day.”