"Man's Rights; or, How Would You Like It?"
by Annie Denton Cridge (1825-1875)
First published: Boston: William Denton, 1870 [Dreams 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Subsequently printed with four additional "dreams" [Dreams 6, 7, 8, 9] in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, New York, Sep 3-Nov 19, 1870.
In her book "Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America", Ann Braude states "the annals of Spiritualism contain the history of another women's rights movement in addition to the one that became the woman suffrage movement." (p. 81) Annie Denton Cridge is an excellent example of the women who were part of that "other" movement. She, her husband, her brother, her sister-in-law, and later her children, were involved in a constellation of radical and reform movements that included spiritualism as well as abolition, socialism, women's rights, and "free love". Ann Braude sees the connecting thread between these ideas as individualism: "all sought to liberate the individual from physical and spiritual domination by others and from the oppressive power of the state." (p. 129)
At first glance, the combination of spiritualism, socialism, and science may seem strange. But in the mid-1800's, scientific discoveries were changing the world in astounding ways. Scientific theories like Darwinism and evolution had challenged social, religious and moral certainty. Many of the early Spiritualists hoped that science would enable them to provably answer religious questions. The idea of communicating with someone on the other side of the country via a physical telegraph was only slightly less strange than the idea of communicating with the dead via some kind of "spiritual telegraph".
Annie herself was a psychometer, a medium, a feminist writer, an advocate of marital reform, and a socialist reformer. Her satirical utopia, "Man's Rights; or, How Would You Like It?" draws on a wide range of reform-related ideas, and has elements of both utopia and science fiction. It is utopian in the original sense of "a place that is not", rather than the modern meaning of an "ideal and perfect state".
THE BOOK: "Man's Rights; or, How Would You Like It?"
"Man's Rights" consists of a series of dream visions, describing a society on Mars where the sex roles have been reversed. Women in Martian society are beautiful and stately, dressed for activity, and benevolent (if somewhat oblivious and condescending) in their attitudes towards men. Men, on the other hand, are worn down by the difficulties and aggravations of daily life, by restrictive and ornamental clothing, and by limited opportunities for education and employment.
As on Earth, society is in a process of change, driven by both social activism and scientific progress. One of the first steps in the emancipation of Martian men is the development of a communal system of automated food preparation (Dream One). "There sprang up large cooking-establishments in different parts of the city, that could, as if by magic, supply hundreds of families with their regular meals." Annie Denton Cridge describes automated machinery for preparing potatoes and other vegetables, and for baking cakes and pies, in which "all was done by machinery: there was no lifting, no hauling, no confusion; but the machines, like things of life, lifted, prepared, and transferred as desired." But preparation of food was only the first step: hot meals were then sent to homes throughout the city on little "steam caravans" so that "dinner was dished and served almost simultaneously, in double-tin cases, containing all requisites for the table." Cities themselves were redesigned to support communal living, homes being located "in blocks, or hollow squares, with cook-houses, laundries, &c., at the center." It is fascinating to compare her vision with the present, in which automation has occurred but not communalism, and to think of current debates on city design.
"Emancipation from the kitchen" makes it possible to address mental hunger and thirst through education. But a healthy body is necessary for both physical and mental activities. Anne Denton Cridge presents dress reform as a significant step in the emancipation process, and advocates communal education for children of both sexes. Here again, scientific and social advances are both important. Schools must recognize that children learn, not by "pouring in" information, but by engaging children and "bringing out their own inherent powers." Begin with the children, and in twenty years you will have a generation of adults who can "mingle together in all business relations, to the advantage of each and all." Properly educated, they will vote intelligently.
Other "dreams" focus on vice and employment. In Dream Eight she imagines that women, now elected, have changed the laws to arrest "clients" of prostitutes rather than prostitutes themselves. Furthermore, the names of those arrested for this new crime are publicly proclaimed. Annie's description of an overnight crackdown under the new law is quite vivid! In Dream Nine, she envisions that women have given up unhealthy, stressful jobs in cities, and moved wholesale to the country, where they can earn their livelihoods as farmers in a more healthy and enjoyable environment -- an idea she herself attempted to live out.
THE AUTHOR: Annie Denton Cridge (1825-1875)
Annie Denton Cridge and her brother William Denton likely emigrated to American from England around 1942. In "British Chartists in America" (Manchester University Press, 1971) Ray Boston lists William Denton (1823-1883) as a weaver in England who lectured for the Chartist reform movement in London, and emigrated to the United States in 1942. Weavers and other textile workers were losing their livelihoods, and persecution of the Chartists caused many of them (more or less voluntarily) to emigrate to North America.
William became a professor of geology, who conducted scientific experiments into the "psychometry" of geological specimens. He writes: "Why could not rocks receive impressions of surrounding objects, with which they had been in immediate contact for years, and why could they not communicate the history of their relationship in a similar manner to sensitive persons?" In 1854, he enlisted Annie's help, as a "sensitive person". The professor wrapped his specimens in cloth, which Annie placed against her forehead, giving vivid descriptions of the mental images she received. William's wife, Elizabeth M. Foote Denton, also became a psychometric subject. The Dentons published detailed descriptions of the reports given during these psychometric "experiments" (cf. "Nature's Secrets: Or, Psychometric Researches", by William Denton & Elizabeth M. F. Denton, 1863).
Annie published a serial autobiography, "My Soul's Thraldom and Its Deliverance", in the "Social Revolutionist" in 1856. She discusses her Methodist upbringing in England, her rejection of evangelicism, and her search for an alternative in the spiritualist and utopian socialist communities. Her husband Alfred Cridge was strongly interested in both socialism and spiritualism, and he and Annie worked together as lecturers and writers. In 1857, Anne, Alfred and William began publication of the weekly "Vanguard" to promote spiritualism and reform issues. The "Spiritualist Register" for 1859 (Auburn, New York: U. Clark, Spiritual Clarion Office) lists the publication as "THE VANGUARD—A. Cridge and Anne Denton Cridge, Cleveland, Ohio. Reform. One dollar." Many records of Annie's life are published there.
One of the issues discussed in the "Vanguard" was marriage. Alfred Cridge argued that "inward attraction" should be the basis of a free-love marriage, not "outward forces of law and physical necessity". John Patterson, editor of the "Social Revolutionist", criticized the Cridges on the grounds that marriage itself oppressed women. Alfred Cridge replied that oppression, not marriage, was the problem; presenting himself and his wife Annie as an example of an enlightened marriage which had "developed beyond the sphere of despotism". Annie Denton Cridge disagreed with Patterson's condemnation of marriage on different grounds. Marriage, as she saw it, has both freed her, in giving her the opportunity to have a child, and restricted her, by resulting in the birth of a child. Faced with the problem of balancing self-sovereignty, and desire for a family, she recognized that the latter goal might require some compromise of the first. Women of all times can empathize with her position.
Public discussion of the morality of the Cridge's marriage came to an end when Annie's much-desired baby unexpectedly died in 1857. Somewhat of a religious sceptic until then, Annie reported that she saw the spirits of her dead parents waiting to bear the child's spirit away during his final moments, and that she was later able to hold his spirit in her arms. His death was the catalyst for her mediumship, and for a new religious certainty of the immortality of the soul, based on direct experience. She published several obituaries of her baby in the Vanguard, describing her religious experiences. Three years later, she bore a second son, Alfred Denton Cridge (1860-), and at some point apparently a daughter. In 1868, Anne Denton Cridge published a children's book: "The Crumb Basket" (Boston: William White and Co., 1868).
In 1870, Annie's brother, William Denton, published her satirical utopia "Man's Rights; or, How Would You Like It?" In the same year, Annie apparently left her family in Washington, D.C. and moved to Riverside, California to grow oranges, with the intent "to demonstrate that the self-salvation of women lies in the cultivation of the soil." Her husband reported in the "Banner of Light" (15 May, 1875, 6) that she had died in California, and that his son (age 14) and daughter (age unknown) had reported spiritualist contacts with their dead mother. In 1884, Annie's son, Alfred Denton Cridge (1860-) published a utopian novel, heavily influenced by both feminism and psychometry, entitled "Utopia; Or, The History of an Extinct Planet, Psychometrically Explained" in which he identifies himself as the son of the late Annie Denton Cridge.
Various letters and documents relating to the Denton family are located in the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan.