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This essay appeared in the January 1794 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine
under the name "Constantia." It argues that women who have given birth out of wedlock should not be ruined or abandoned, nor should their children.
The Repository. No. XVI.
HOW much to be pitied is the erring female -- how peculiarly hard is her lot -- seduced from the path of innocence by him in whom she placed unbounded confidence, and who is the object of her fondest regard, she unexpectedly finds herself betrayed and forsaken! -- Her reputation forfeited, her honour lost, with melancholy anticipation she looks forward to an hour of trial; to an hour of when the tenderest soothings of the tenderest friend -- when all the benevolent offices of the most feeling and compassionate hearts, are scarcely sufficient to enable her to support that agony of nature which the sex is doomed to suffer. But for her, unfortunate and forlorn, she is too often surrounded by bitter and reproaching friends -- no kind protector, by his supporting presence to shelter her from their severity -- while her own reflections, more poignant than ought beside, give the sharpest points to the arrows which are aimed at her peace. At length she introduces a little stranger into being -- perhaps a female -- introduces her into a world; all the horrors of which she hath to brave -- into a world, the malignant scorn of which she hath to encounter. -- Pretty innocent -- what heart but must feel for thy desolate situation! Faultless as thou art, even the Legislature hath thought itself concerned to affix to thy birth, the most substantial marks of infamy. Playful, and unconscious, little dost thou anticipate the ills which await thee; the smallest attention paid thee, must, by thy wretched mother, be acknowledged with the most lively gratitude. I saw while an honoured relation regarded thee with a look of benignity -- Pretty Love he called thee; and when he bestowed upon thee a pecuniary token of his favour, the quivering lip; the falling tear, of thy unhappy parent, proclaimed the conflicting agony of her soul; -- nor wonder, seldom doth she meet with such instances of lenity. Although she hath been the wretched cause of bringing thee, a helpless infant, into existence -- although she feels for thee maternal affection, yet unfeeling connexions would persuade her to abandon thee -- would persuade her to yield thee up a prey to want and misery; -- fondly they hope, thereby to bury, in thy obscurity, all remembrance of thy mother's error.
But Pity, bland and sacred Pity, recognizes far other feelings; she clasps the sweet innocent to her breast; she bedews the infant face with her tears; and she vows, in the presence of all-feeling Heaven, that she will never be other than her friend -- to the extent of her power, her friend; and she solicits that Heaven, to be propitious to her own wishes, only in proportion as she performs the vow, which she hath so voluntarily made.
Females undoubtedly ought ever to be upon their guard -- and deeply to be deplored are their wanderings from the path of rectitude; but it should be remembered, that a delicate and susceptible mind, is but too much depressed: It possesses not that sweet consciousness which hath hitherto been its support; it hath lost that modest confidence, which is the accompaniment of virgin purity. The unhappy girl is but too well assured that no action can now replace her unspotted reputation; her fair fame she regards as irrecoverably gone; and she is ready to exclaim, "Only days of sorrows are appointed for me." Surely, in such a disposition of mind, she ought to be soothed and encouraged; her efforts to regain the path of virtue should be strengthened; her affection to her child should be carefully cultivated; and, since maternal tenderness is seldom a solitary, and must ever be considered as a laudable and virtuous passion -- in this department of duty, the countenance of approbation should assiduously light her footsteps.
2007 © Bonnie Hurd Smith
Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths
a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history
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