Half the World | SATB Chorus & Piano | 4'
In choosing a text that honored the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment, I was drawn to several paragraphs of Frederick Douglass’s impassioned 1888 speech on the right of women to vote. Douglass was an advocate for the voting rights of all people, regardless of gender or race; elsewhere in the same speech, he notes that “the benefits accruing from this movement for the equal rights of woman are not confined or limited to woman only.”
Today, of course, women do have the right to vote. But Douglass’s plea to treat others as true equals—not to act on their behalf, but to amplify their voices and their demand for equal rights—is just as relevant today.
Any man can be brave when the danger is over,
go to the front when there is no resistance,
rejoice when the battle is fought and the victory is won;
but it is not so easy to venture upon a field untried
with one-half the whole world against you.
Such a truth is woman’s right to equal liberty with man.
She was born with it. It was hers before she comprehended it.
It is inscribed upon all the powers and faculties of her soul,
and no custom, law or usage can ever destroy it.
She is her own best representative.
We can neither speak for her, nor vote for her,
nor act for her, nor be responsible for her;
Her right to be and to do is as full, complete and perfect
as the right of any man on earth.
When a great truth once gets abroad in the world,
no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it.
It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world.
Adapted from a speech before the International Council of Women,
Washington, D.C., April 1888.
early drafts & composing notes
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