In the spring of 1883, Dr. Morgan Dix, rector of the mighty Trinity Church in Manhattan, launched a series of weekly lectures to share from the pulpit his vision of “Christian womanhood.”
Outraged by his narrow, deeply conservative interpretation of women’s roles, journalist and author Lillie Devereux Blake shot back at “the haughty rector of Trinity” by renting Frobisher’s Hall in lower Manhattan.
Over the next four weeks, every Sunday morning the Reverend Dix would step up to the pulpit and advocate for women’s submissiveness and modesty. Every Sunday evening Devereux would step up to the lectern and rip his arguments to shreds.
Every Sunday morning the Reverend Morgan Dix advocated for women’s submissiveness and modestly. Every Sunday evening Lillie Devereux Blake ripped his arguments to shreds.
On this day in March 1883, the second round of lectures focused on divorce.
Dix blamed women who resisted their role as submissive partners and mothers as the cause of divorce. Blake took on the illogic and injustice of the US divorce laws, including the concept of “headship” — that a wife essentially belonged to her husband.
She minced no words: “Among men there has always been, and is even now a sort of tacit bond or unsworn free masonry which makes them unite in order to support under all circumstances the comfortable theory of masculine Supremacy.”
Dix also opposed higher education for women — in particular allowing women to study at Columbia University, where he was an influential trustee. Blake was among the most vocal advocates for women’s admittance to the university.
Their opposing views presented two poles of the ongoing debate about women in society.
Just six years after these dueling lectures, the tide turned. Barnard College opened its doors as a women’s liberal arts institution affiliated with Columbia.
Here’s her lecture from March 11, 1883: “The Causes of Divorce.”
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