The Daughters of England by Sarah Stickney Ellis is a mid-19th century text providing guidance on young women’s character and behaviour. Ellis published several other popular works on women’s roles, including The Women of England, and in each she outlines that women must provide a good influence on men – as wives, mothers, and daughters – as part of their contribution to society.
Whether you are rich, or poor, an orphan, or the child of watchful parents – one of a numerous family, or comparatively alone – filling an important or an humble position – of highly-gifted mind, or otherwise – all these points must be clearly established before you can properly understand the kind of duty required of you.
How these questions might be answered, is of no importance to the writer in the present stage of this work. The importance of their being clearly and faithfully answered to yourselves, is all she would insist on. For my own purpose, it is not necessary to go further into your particular history or circumstances, than to regard you as women, and, as I hope, Christian women. As Christian women, then I address you. This is placing you on high ground; yet surely there are few of my young countrywomen who would be willing to take lower ground.
As women, then, the first thing of importance is to be content to be inferior to men – inferior in mental power, in the same proportion that you are inferior in bodily strength. Ease of movement, aptitude, and grace, the bodily frame of woman may possess in a higher degree than that of man, just as in the softer touches of mental and spiritual beauty, her character may present a lovelier appearance than his.
Yet, as the great attribute of power must still be missing, it is immediately her business to inquire how this deficiency may be supplied. An able and eloquent writer on “Woman’s Mission”, has accurately observed, that woman’s strength is in her influence. And, in order to render this influence more complete, you will find, on examination, that you are by nature endowed with particular talents – with a quickness of perception, ability to adapt, and sensitivity of feeling, which fit you especially for the part you have to act in life; and which, at the same time, make you, in a higher degree than men, vulnerable to both pain and pleasure…