Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Hamlin Garland's Feminism

Frances W. Kaye

Hamlin Garland is probably the most interesting of the American male feminist writers of the late nineteenth century. Garland's partial identification with women and his approving though ultimately unflattering reflection of the philosophy of the main stream feminist movement, including its contradictions, lend considerable poignancy to his writing. Garland explicitly announced his intention to speak for women, and he was the only male author of literary significance who specifically endorsed in his writing woman's rights, woman suffrage, and woman's equality in marriage. 1 In this paper, I discuss Garland's specific treatment of feminist issues.

Garland's feminism must be understood in terms of the intellectual currents of his time. The nineteenth century feminist movement demanded woman's rights on two mutually exclusive grounds. On one hand, the feminists claimed for women equal rights as human beings, as individuals, and as citizens on the simple ground of equity. Human rights, they argued, were inalienable, and could not be divided into men's rights and women's rights. On the other hand, the feminists claimed for women political and social equality because, as the moral superiors of men, women were needed in the public sphere to reform it. According to this line of reasoning, women and men were equal in rights but different in powers. This argument agreed in analysis but differed in conclusion from the conservative argument that because women were better and purer than men, they needed to be protected from the harsh political world by remaining confined in the "sphere" of home and family. The nineteenth century suffrage associations accepted the traditional definition of woman's nature but challenged the definition of her role.2 That nineteenth century feminists considered the question of woman's moral, sexual nature as fundamental to

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