A Celebration of Women Writers

"Is Woman the Weaker Vessel?" by Mrs. Sarah Eddy Palmer.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 432-434.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 432] 



Now, in this ripeness of time, it is interesting to listen to sounds that have ceased and lend an ear to voices that are but echoes, and to the tread of centuries of passing feet, and wonder, as the steady march merges into the hurry and fever of today–when will have done this strain upon the wheels of time with groan and threat of doom.

As will be the end, so was the beginning, with woman; since Eve took her place as wife and mother she has found her mission to help, her necessity to suffer. In her beauty lies great power, and in her weakness, strength. Did the first woman, fresh from the hands of her Maker–who stood upon the threshhold of time bewildered and in awe–see with prophecy beyond the gauzy portières of daybreak? Did she see the stretch of years before her in awful grandeur when the pulse of creation would be beating in fever and pain? Did she hear in the stillness of morning the tramp of hosts over the plain? Did she hear the wailing of women, or "the sea moan for its slain?"

Perhaps she saw in the distance wise men from the east, who came, led by a star, to the manger where Mary and the Babe had lain. God in His wisdom and mercy may even have let her see the glorious plan of redemption and blessed immortality.

In that day dawn of time, when the spheres were tuned to sweet sounds and the morning stars sang together, Eve raised her voice in thanksgiving and praise for the great gift of motherhood. Her first tears were shed at the bier of her first-born. That funeral train has kept unbroken its weary march, a black band winding down the centuries whose road is paved with broken hearts, and fording rivers of tears. You can look from any window and there the procession is, moving with nodding plumes and trappings of woe, bound for Oak Lawn or for Calvary. Miriam, the priestess, both wept with her oppressed people and sang with timbrel of Jehovah's triumph; and, rejoicing, led them to freedom.

Esther, with the courage of blind faith and strong of purpose, entered and stood unbidden in the presence of her dread King. His heart warmed to her courage, grace and beauty, and a people were saved.

In the year 6oo, before the Christian era, Whan-onng, the goddess of compassion, who is universally pictured by the sacred arts–Japonica–as sitting by the sacred River of Life absorbed in contemplation, represents the feminine attributes of Deity. I will not pause to give her sad, sweet story, as gleaned from their religious traditions, save that she came from the bosom of God to be an earth-born maiden of Japan, a princess of their royal house. She was good and sweet, compassionate and beautiful, [Page 433]  and sowed the seed of many good works by the shining light of her example, never breaking a law of earth until it conflicted with a law of Heaven; then accepting her punishment, she welcomed her early death, and went to the abode of lost spirits: Borne up by her beauty of soul and noble resolves, unmindful of her own sufferings she cheered and soothed the wretched creatures about her with such tender pitifulness that the arch fiend banished her from his realm, justly complaining that were she permitted to remain hell itself would become a heaven. Thus thrust forth she returned to the source of all compassion.

The Kajica, or sacred writings of Japan, after being destroyed in a disastrous conflagration in 712 B. C., were restored to them verbatim by a peasant woman, who proclaimed to the priest that she remembered all things that ever she heard.

Tradition, or history, if you prefer, tells of two daughters of Logair, a king of Ireland. These ladies are chronicled as "fair to look upon." While on the way to their bath they saw St. Patrick sitting on a wall. He expounded to them his mission with its Divine wonders. They eagerly accepted the great truths, put white caps upon their heads, proclaimed themselves dead to the world and brides of Christ, thus founding the Holy Order of Sisterhood in Ireland.

There is living today in England an old woman, whose years exceed three-score and ten. She is small of stature, and her face bears furrows of care; her eyes dimmed and cheeks seamed with widow's tears; her heart lacerated with wounds that time can not heal. This dear, little old lady is prudent to a degree, can make a pudding, is a judge of kine, has the nicest butter on the market, and stands firmly for the best price. Her vegetable garden shows the finest fruits, which are gathered and marketed with admirable frugality. She has as many children as the traditional old lady who lived in her shoe. She is grandmother–three deep. She is kind to the poor, gracious to those about her; a loving mother, faithful in small duties and humble before God. She paints good pictures, writes good books and sings sweetly. Her virtues and example will stand like the pyramids. She wears a royal diadem upon her brow, and as Queen of England and Empress of India she commands the proud homage of the world. The period of her years will be known as the Victorian Age.

Woman has always had her defenders and oppressors. The divine attributes of womanhood, like the divinity that is said to hedge around a king, have been through all time her shield and buckler. I read somewhere of a young and beautiful virgin being thrown into an arena of wild beasts for the entertainment of some Nero, when the brutes slunk away abashed.

Most of you remember in our nation's civil strife when "the dusk seemed waiting for the night" and all nature was "tuned in a minor key," 'twas woman all over the broad land who seamed the stripes and studded the stars of our nation's flag; she gave her jewels like that other queen, wives yielded husbands and fathers, and when she placed her beloved son upon the altar of sacrifice no angel staved the sword. Maidens sent their best beloved to die for a cause they held most holy. Were our brave men the only heroes of that bloody time?

You may remember the picture of the Arkansas traveler, with the cabin that couldn't be repaired in the rain and didn't need it when the day was dry. In the doorway stood that disheveled woman with a snuff stick in her mouth and her unwashed skillet in her hand. She is not there today, she roused herself at her country's call and sent her indolent husband and sluggish boys to the front, and she helped to change the tune.

But last month the women of Siam, arousing to the conditions that would probably involve their beloved country in war with France anticipated necessity, and with spontaneous action raised an immense sum of money to be ready when the need came.

All men are not great men, nor is it given to all women to do great things, but feeble hands have done their mighty work, little hands have swayed a scepter.

There are thousands of nameless women in our land who know nothing of women's movements–women in rural homes beyond the sound of the rushing engine or the [Page 434]  search-lights of electricity, who spin the threads and weave the web that shapes tomorrow. These humble toilers whose names are not blazoned, "whose faces are covered with care like a tattered veil" are, while they toil all the day, living lives of simple Christian faith, mother love untiring and abiding; the poor loving souls are building better than they know, and when the tired hands lie at rest their children will emulate their virtues and rise up and call them blessed.

Woman sees her opportunity and comes, true Amazons, to the call of duty. John L. Woolley says, "Woman is coming right regally to the fore; step aside, crawl under something, climb a tree, you puny men, the women are coming." They are here, Mr. Woolley! From the East and the West the women come at duty's call, from the North come earnest champions for the right, and from the fair South we hear the stir of eagle's wings. Organization is the feature of the age and the imperious future beckons us on.

Having turned my feeble rush-light back into the almost forgotten yesterday, with a glance at holy writ, mythology and tradition, down to this almost apex of the twentieth century, my tongue must yield to better wit, my pen to greater power, if it must be proven that woman is the weaker vessel.

[Page 432] 

Mrs. Sarah Eddy Palmer is a native of New York. Her parents were the late Dr. John and Mary Roeiter Eddy. She was granddaughter of the eminent Judge Charles Dixon Wylee, of Rome, Oneida County, New York. She married Maj. Josiah L. Palmer, and they came to make their home in Arkansas in l861, where Major Palmer was for years actively connected with temperance and humane work, in which she sympathized. Mrs. Palmer is a member of the Presbyterian Church. Her postoffice address is No. 1515 Rock Street. Little Rock, Ark.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom