Man's Rights, or, How Would You Like It? Comprising Dreams

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Man's Rights, or, How Would You Like It? Comprising Dreams

Book excerpt

By: Annie Denton Cridge

Date: 1870

Source: Cridge, Ann Denton. Man's Rights, or, How Would You Like It? Comprising Dreams. Wellesley, Mass.: E.M.F. Denton, 1870.

About the Author: Annie Denton Cridge was an American spiritualist, writer, and utopian. Part of the spiritualist movement with such luminaries as Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, Cridge claimed to have spiritual and psychic powers; her brother, geology professor William Denton, participated in psychometric studies in which Cridge divined extrasensory information from inanimate objects. Her exact date of death is unknown, but she is believed to have died in the mid-1880s.


Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818, reflects a form of utopianism in which man exhibits such control over the natural world that he creates life. At a time in American society when a woman's role was confined to the domestic sphere, Shelley dreamed of an alternate world.

Female science fiction and utopian writers in that era often examined future changes in social convention, morality, and gender equality. Writers such as Mary Griffith, in her 1836 book Three Hundred Years Hence used a Rip van Winkle device in which the main character, Edgar Hastings, falls asleep in 1835 to awaken in 2135 to a very different world in which gender equality is the norm. That book, like Annie Cridge's, uses long narrative lectures to describe the changes in society spearheaded by women.

In the 1840s spiritualism, the belief that mediums and trance lecturers could communicate with the dead, swept through upper- and middle-class society, attracting many female adherents. Most mediums and trance lecturers, in fact, were women, and many female spiritualists were also part of the utopian and women's rights movements.

Annie Denton Cridge believed she had psychometric powers—the ability to divine an object's past from contact with it. Cridge, for instance, took part in a series of experiments designed by her brother, geology professor William Denton, and claimed to have extrasensory knowledge about the objects. Spiritualism and utopianism blended together, giving women greater public voices and sparking interest in social organizations outside the norm, such as utopian communities, open marriages, non-Christian belief systems, and gender equality. Cridge published her 1870 novel, Man's Rights at the crossroads of spiritualism, utopianism, and the growing women's rights movement in the United States. The novel involves a series of dreams that take place in a society on Mars, and in this excerpt a lecture on "Man's Rights" causes quite a stir in a society where women hold all the power.


But it does seem especially remarkable to me, that, after having penned down at midnight one dream, I should, on returning to my pillow, have found myself in the very spot where my late dream ended; again in that strange city, again looking at the large posters headed,—

                    "MAN's RIGHTS!!

  mr. sammie smiley, mr. johnnie smith, and others,

             Will address the meeting on the

                    RIGHTS OF MAN!"

I was pleased on coming to these words: "Discussion is invited." "I will go," I said, and turned to follow the crowd; but, as by magic, was transferred to one of the large cooking-establishments which I saw in my first dream, and soon recognized it to be the same.

There were the huge machines at work cooking dinner, while in a comfortable rocking-chair sat the same gentleman who had in that same dream showed me over the establishment. He was reading a newspaper. "Ah!" he said, as he looked up from his paper, "glad to see you, madam. You see I have time to read while the dinner is cooking. All goes on well. We supply one-eighth of the city with meals, and everybody is satisfied, nay, more than satisfied: they are delighted with the arrangement; for every poor man is relieved of washing, ironing, and cooking. And yet all this is done at less cost than when every house had its little selfish, dirty kitchen."

"And what is this about 'man's rights'?" I asked. "I see posters all over your city, headed, 'Man's Rights!'"

He smiled as he replied, "Well, Madam, emancipating man from the drudgery of the kitchen has given him leisure for thought; and, in his thinking, he has discovered that he labors under many wrongs, and is deprived of quite as many rights. The idea of men lecturing, men voting, men holding office, etc., excites considerable ridicule; but ridicule proves nothing."

"Are you going to the lecture?" I asked.

"I will go if I have company," he replied; "but it would not look well for me to go alone: besides, I would be afraid to go home so late."

I made no answer; but I thought musingly, "Afraid! afraid of what? of what can these men be afraid? I wonder if there are any wild beasts prowling around this strange city at night. Perhaps there are wolves or mad dogs; but then he is a man, and could carry a revolver and protect himself." But, as by a flash, the truth came to me, and I wondered I had not thought of it before. In this land, woman is the natural protector; and so, of course, he was afraid to go without a lady to take care of him.

I had scarcely arrived at this conclusion, when I found myself en rapport with every husband in that city. "I would like to go to the lecture on 'men's rights,'" I heard one man say to his wife very timidly.

"I shall go to no such place," replied his wife loftily; "neither will you. 'Man's rights,' indeed!"

"Let us go to the lecture," said another husband to his wife, with a pleasant smile on his face.

"No, no, my dear," replied the lady: "I like you just as you are; and I don't admire womanish men. Nothing is more disgusting than feminine men. We don't want men running to the polls, and electioneering: what would become of the babies at such times?"

Then I looked in on a bevy of young boys ranging in age from sixteen to twenty. How they did laugh at the very mention of "man's rights," as they put on their pretty coats and hats, looking in the mirror, and turning half round to see how their coat-tails looked!

"Man's rights!" said one. "I have all the rights I want."

"So have I," said a young boy of nineteen. "I don't want any more rights."

"We'll have rights enough, I presume, when we get married," said a tall boy of seventeen, as he touched up the flowers in his pretty hat, and perched it carefully on his head.

"Are you all ready?" said a lady, looking into the room. "Come, I want you all to learn your rights to-night. I warrant that after to-night you will want to carry the purse, don the long robes, and send us ladies into the nursery to take care of the babies!"

Hundreds of ladies and gentlemen were on their way to the meeting; and it rejoiced me greatly to find in the hearts of many of the ladies a profound respect for the rights of man, and a sincere desire that man should enjoy every right equally with themselves.

Then I found myself in the lecture-room, which was well filled with ladies and gentlemen, many of whom seemed greatly amused as they whispered and smiled to each other. Very soon three little gentlemen and one rather tall, thin, pale-faced gentleman walked to the platform, and were received with great demonstrations of applause and suppressed laughter. The audience were evidently not accustomed to hear gentlemen lecture.

"How ridiculous those men look!" I heard one elderly lady say. "What does it look like to see a parcel of men pretending to make speeches, in their tawdry pants and fly-away coat-tails, covered with finery and furbelows?"

"They sadly lack the dignity," said another female, "that belongs to ladies and long robes." "They are decid-edly out of their sphere," I heard another remark.

The meeting was opened by the tall gentleman being nominated as president, who at once introduced Mr. Sammie Smiley to the audience, remarking that Mr. Sammie Smiley, with whom they were probably all acquainted by reputation, would address the audience on the all-important subject of Man's Rights.

"Sammie Smiley!" said a young lady contemptuously. "Suppose we should call ourselves Lizzie instead of Elizabeth, or Maggie instead of Margaret. Their very names lack dignity."

Mr. Sammie Smiley stepped to the front of the plat-form with remarkable self-possession for one of the gentlemen of that Dreamland. He wore a suit of black silk,—coat, vest, and pants all-alike, bordered with broad black lace. He wore no ornaments, except ear-rings, a plain breastpin, and one or two rings on the fingers. Very good taste, I thought.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "our subject this evening is the Rights of Man; but to properly understand this question, it would be well, before considering man's rights, to define his wrongs."

"Hear, hear!" applauded the audience.

"Education," he continued, "commences with child-hood; and men's wrongs also commence with childhood, inasmuch as they are restricted from healthful physical exercise. The merry, active boy, that would romp and play like his sister, is told that it would be improper for a boy. How often your little son has to be reminded that a boy must not do so and so: he must be a dear little gentle-man, and not rough and boisterous like a girl.

"He is kept in over-heated rooms; seldom breathes the pure air of heaven; and when he is taken out, how different his dress from that of the girl! Look at his flimsy pants of white muslin; look at his flimsy jacket and paper shoes: and contrast them with the warm cloth dress, the substantial over-garments, and thick shoes of the girl! Think how seldom the boy is permitted to inhale the life-giving, open atmosphere! The girl may romp and play in the snow, climb fences and trees, and thus strengthen every muscle; while the little pale-faced boy presses his nose against the window-pane, and wishes—alas! vainly—that he, too, had been a girl.

"The course of training for our boys causes weakness and disease in after-life, and more than a natural degree of muscular inferiority. The pale faces of boys are a sad contrast to the rosy-cheeked girls in the same family. In our boys is laid, not by Nature, but by ignorance and custom, the foundation for bodily weakness, consequently dependence and mental imbecility: in our girls, muscular strength and their accompaniments, independence and vivacity, both of body and mind. Were boys subject to the same physical training as girls (and no valid reason can be given why they should not be), the result would prove that no natural inferiority exists.

"True education I conceive to be the harmonious development of the whole being, both physical and mental. The natural or physical is before the intellectual. First the stalk, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. Through ignorance of these primary truths, many well-intentioned fathers hurry their children to premature graves.

"Why is it that, of all the children born, one-fifth die annually? Can not this large mortality be traced to the present ignorance of males? Can it not be traced to their flimsy and imperfect educational training? If men had their rights, were all literary institutions as free to one sex as to the other, our young men would be taught what is of the utmost importance for them to know, but what is kept sedulously from them; viz., a knowledge of mental and physical science.

"Let man be educated as liberally as woman; let him be made to feel the value of a sound mind, and that the brightest ornament to man, as well as woman, is intellect; then, and not until then, will he stand forth in all his beauty.

"We frequently hear that woman's mind is superior to man's; and therefore he ought not to have equal educational facilities. If, as is stated by the opponents of man's rights, men are naturally and necessarily inferior to women, it must follow that they should have superior opportunities for mental culture. If, on the other hand, men are by nature mentally equal to women, no reason can be given why they should not have equal educational facilities."

In the midst of the audience, a beautiful, stately woman rose, and said, that, if it was not out of order, she would like to ask a question: Did not the literature written expressly for men—gentlemen's magazines, gentlemen's fashion-books, etc.,—prove their inferiority? This question caused a laugh, and round after round of applause; but the little gentleman-speaker smilingly replied, that many gentlemen never read the trash prepared for them just as simple reading is prepared for children: but the works written for women to read, they study and digest, feeling that they were as much for them as for women. The lecturer then continued by stating the appreciative estimates of the truths of science and philosophy evinced by men as well as women, which would be the case to a still greater extent as the opportunities for culture were increased, when gentlemen's books and their flimsy trash would disappear; that even were man weaker in judgment than woman, it did not follow that he should never use it; and, if women did all the reasoning for man, it would not be surprising if he had lost the power to reason.

"Pretty good, Mr. Sammie Smiley," said a lady near me.

"Smiley can reason pretty well: that is pretty good logic," remarked another. Then applause after applause arose, accompanied by stamping and clapping of hands, while some young folks in the back of the hall crowed like roosters.

It was really very funny; but Mr. Sammie Smiley took no notice of the proceeding. He referred to the exclusion of men from nearly all occupations, from governing States to measuring tape; also that men were paid only one-third of the wages of women, even for the same work, their occupations being mainly restricted to sewing and teaching; while women could do both these, and whatever else they chose. He urged the gentlemen to push their way into the employment and professions of women, and be equal sharers in the rights of humanity.


Man's Rights, which used satire to explore social questions, was published just two years after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote. Women's rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott had fought for female enfranchisement as well; lecture circuits were filled with female speakers urging audiences to support women's suffrage. Cridge's reversal of gender roles and stereotypes sparked some distinctly antifeminist writing, such as Minnie Finkelstein's 1891 book The Newest Woman.

Eighteen years after Cridge's book, Edward Bellamy published Looking Backward, another utopian work that used time travel as a device for examining a future in which women's roles changed drastically. Both Bellamy and Cridge depict futures in which technology meets the physical needs of domestic life, eliminating household drudgery. Yet Bellamy's work, unlike Cridge's, depicts a future in which women have their own cabinet-level department in government, work in distinctly different jobs, and live a separate but equal existence.



Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward. Dover Publications, 1996.

Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Clift, Eleanor. Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment. New York: Wiley, 2003.

Dubois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Griffith, Mary. Three Hundred Years Hence. Gregg Press, 1975.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Allen & Co., 1818.