Science Fiction Studies

#44 = Volume 15, Part 1 = March 1988

"John Quill"

The Women's Millennium

Introduced by David Ketterer

Introduction. Charles Heber Clark, the American journalist and humorist, can lay claim to perhaps two significant footnotes in the history of SF. I have made the case elsewhere that, in all likelihood, "Professor Baffin's Adventures" (subsequently entitled "The Fortunate Island"), which Clark published in 1881 under his usual "Max Adeler" pseudonym, provided the essential inspiration for Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Clark's other claim has to do with the piece that originally appeared under his earlier "John Quill" pseudonym (his first Quill column in fact) in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin for Friday, 26 April 1867.

Unlike such Adeler fantasies as "Mr. Skinner's Night in the Underworld," "An Old Fogy," and "Professor Baffin's Adventures," in "The Women's Millennium" all is not revealed to be most probably a dream. "The Women's Millennium," which describes a future society ruled by women, is indisputably SF. Furthermore, not only does its opening sentence, "It was a feminine millennium," place the reader directly in a future environment but that sentence also provides a historical perspective on that future, a strategy that Thomas Hanzo argues is characteristic of SF. The narrator is positioned at some farther point in the future when a utopian state of sexual equality has been achieved, a state which provides a standard of judgment: "In the light of our present civilization," the unfair treatment of men "was contrary to the law of common sense and honesty; but social science had not then reached its present perfection, and women were governed by prejudice rather than reason." Quill's sex-role-reversal society, a mirror image of our own, is dystopian in tendency, but Quill's motive is clearly positive. His satire is aimed at improving the condition of women, not ridiculing their demands. There is, for example, no irony in the reference to the "most injust and iniquitous condition of things" whereby men (and by inference, women in Clark's time) are paid "just one-half price for their labor." No less than Joanna Russ in The Female Man (1975), Quill is using SF to write a feminist polemic.

But what makes "The Women's Millennium" of historical significance is the date of its publication. Until someone discovers an earlier example, "The Women's Millennium" stands as the first SF utopia to focus on sex-role reversal. I use the word "utopia" here to mean "the verbal creation, through the medium of fiction, of imaginary or not-yet-existing societies," a creation "that is impelled by the author's moral vision" ("British and American Utopias by Women," p. 185). It is in the context of what a reader takes to be the author's moral vision that a utopia will tend, to a greater or lesser degree, towards the eutopian or dystopian. The sex-role-reversal society, like the all-woman society, is a distinct variant of the Woman Dominant theme that, as Sam Moskowitz indicates, goes back to classical accounts of the Amazons. Whether or not SF, stories about the Amazons do not, however, generally qualify as utopian fictions: they are usually impelled by an author's sense of wonder or adventure, not her moral vision.

Daphne Patai, who has made a study of the sex-role-reversal utopia, writes, "The earliest sex-role-reversal utopia I personally know of is Annie Denton Cridge's "Man's Rights: Or, How Would You Like It?" , published in 1870" (letter to me, 12 May 1986). Not only is Cridge's satiric point identical to Quill's, but the ironic picture she paints of a reversed-sex-role society on Mars is so similar to that described on Quill's future Earth that the possibility of influence should at least be noted. Just as "Man's sphere," in "The Women's Millennium," "is by the domestic hearth," so in Cridge's utopia, "The sphere of man is home" (p. 30). Quill's reference to how, if a man "dared stand on the platform, and launch out eloquent and burning words against national and social sins, he was the subject of scurrilous abuse and petty malice from the womanly editors of opposition" anticipates Cridge's account of a Man's Rights meeting where the men on the platform are ridiculed by the women in the audience. And like "The Women's Millennium," Man's Rights is more essay than work of fiction. It should be emphasized, then, that "The Women's Millennium" precedes by three years what Patai takes to be the first of the "[d]ozens of such" sex-role-reversal utopias "published in England and America, by women and men" ("When Women Rule," p. 56). However, even if the chronology here were reversed, Quill's piece would still retain the distinction of being the first SF work of this type. Since Cridge's female narrator experiences life on Mars in a series of five dreams, Man's Rights should be classified as a fantasy.

It was a feminine millennium! Women had obtained all of their coveted "rights," after a long and arduous struggle; but not content therewith, and being far more numerous than the males, they had completely subverted the ancient order of things, placed themselves in the positions formerly occupied by the other sex, and practically reduced the men to the social, political and legal status which women formerly occupied. The effect was decidedly odd, and was productive of some very singular results, many of which, to a believer in the doctrine of ultimate and certain retribution, had the appearance of a desire on the part of the righted ladies to avenge some of the wrongs inflicted upon their sex by the men, while they were in power. "Man's sphere," the women were accustomed to say, "is by the domestic hearth. He is a weak, delicate and fragile creature, fitted by nature to attend only to the duties of the household, and by virtue of his illogical mind, and his pliability, wholly incapable of understanding or participating in the intricacies and subtleties of politics. If he goes to the polls, he will there meet with rude crowds of boisterous viragoes, who will insult him, and contaminate him by their ruffianly bearing. Give men the right to vote, and you rob them of their delicacy and refinement, by bringing them into contact with that rude world with which the coarser natures of women are better fitted to battle. Besides, men do not care to vote nor is there any necessity for it. They would in most cases be governed by their wives, and the vote would be a mere duplication." Some of the men contended against this doctrine, and declared that women wished to make mere puppets and ornaments of them, that they were taxed as citizens and had a right to a citizen's suffrage, and that the talk about the "domestic hear[t]h" and the "rude world" was all sentimental nonsense, when so many of them, having no wives to support them, had to go out into the "rude world" to earn money enough to have a "domestic hearth." But these were decried on all sides as strong minded men who had no sweet, manly delicacy, and were not content with man's legitimate "sphere." But still there was a very large class of men who were forced to earn their daily bread, and strange to say, in the paradoxical condition of society which then existed, it was considered mean and degrading for men to have to work even while women were honored for doing it. A man who stood in a store was not considered respectable, while a woman who did not, or else had no other occupation, was regarded in the same light. And there were very many things that men were not permitted to do under any circumstances. Out of the thousand and one occupations and trades there were only a few that society countenanced as at all fitted for men, and it was the universal rule, in this most unjust and iniquitous condition of things, to pay men just one-half price for their labor. A woman and a man might stand beside each other in a store, or in a factory, and the man might do his work as well or better than the woman, and he might do more of it, yet it was the custom to pay the woman twice or three times as much wages. There was no good reason for it, and none could be manufactured. To be sure there were some wooden-headed philosophers who prated about a system of political economy, one of the fixed rules of which was that a man's labor was never as valuable as a woman's, under any circumstances, but some of the "strong-minded" men used to insist that the system was invented by the women, that it was totally and radically false, and that the same amount of labor, done equally well, was worth the same price, no matter by whom performed. But these were scoffed at as dreamers, although in this enlightened age we will, of course, admit their view to be the correct one.

And men were wholly debarred from the learned professions. If they wished to study law, society said man had an illogical mind; if he desired to study medicine, his delicate nature could not bear the suffering he must witness; if he wished to preach the gospel, it was indecent for him to speak in the church; if he felt a God inspired gift to speak from the platform, he was rude and wanting in true delicacy; if he sought to become an editor, his mind was too narrow to cope with the great questions of the day, and this apart from any impulse or taste or mighty aspirations which he might have in either of these directions. Thus debarred from the press, the pulpit, the forum and the ballot-box, the women declared that man was contented--he did not want anything, while all the time he was unable to make himself heard or to demand his rights. Men were quiet, but they were chained, gagged, and smothered so that they could not make their wants known. If any man dared to break through the narrow conventionalities of this disgraceful state of society and study medicine, he was laughed at and despised, and even the members of his own sex refused to employ him. If he preached the Gospel, he was a butt for the ridicule of small souled and despicable creatures, who could never perceive the hidden impulse in his heart which fairly compelled him to do it. If he dared stand on the platform, and launch out eloquent and burning words against national and social sins, he was the target for scurrilous abuse and slander and petty malice from the womanly editors of opposition, old-fogy journals, who clogged the wheels of progress with their prejudices and tied their wretched faith to old forms and narrow superstitions.

In addition to all this, men were socially oppressed. To be sure, there was a great deal of gallantry displayed on the part of the women, and a professedly chivalrous devotion to the sex was displayed; but it was evidently hypocritical, for the very women who were ardent and obsequious admirers of men of their own station, were the tyrants and oppressors of the poorer classes in their employ. So devotion to the sex was merely a pretty principle, that did very well to talk about and to put in partial practice; but universal application was not a fact, and the whole thing was of a consequence, but a miserable, lying pretence and a sham. This was further evidenced in this: a woman could indulge to an unlimited extent in debauchery, drunkenness, licentiousness and a dissolute life, and yet she would be received into society with a smiling cordiality, that apparently increased in warmth in a corresponding ratio with the wickedness and vileness of her known habits. Indeed, a woman could do everything short of committing a felony, and no matter how many souls she ruined, how many other women she led into intemperate habit, or how often she sinned against the laws of God and nature, she was forgiven by that very generous society which recognized no wrong in anything but poverty and an infraction of its laws; with this exception, however, that the offender should not be a man! [I]f a man made a slip, and in the least degree lost any of his purity, farewell social position, happiness and hope. Society launched its most terrible anathemas at him, he was despised, cast out, spit upon. He became a pariah, a leper, a disease, to be avoided, and kept out of sight; and this, too, although the crime may have been the same as those constantly committed by women, and even though a woman may have been the instigator and the temptor. It made no difference. Society could forgive everything in a woman--in a man, nothing. Why this distinction was made none knew. Some said it was necessary in order to preserve man's purity, but they failed to show why the purity of woman was not equally important; others blamed it on political economy, but they could not tell why that most paradoxical and absurd science was constructed with such partiality for the female sex. In the light of our present civilization we can see that this was a cruel and unjust distinction, and was contrary to the law of common sense and honesty; but social science had not then reached its present perfection, and women were governed by prejudice rather than reason. And this distinction was not confined entirely to social matters. It was recognized, supported and defended by law; the women did all the voting, and, of course, all the law-making, so that they held the reins entirely in their own hands, and legislated for and to their own advantage. A married man had very few rights. The law said that he was absorbed into his wife --that his personality was lost, his property became hers on marriage, and unless it was specially secured to him, she could squander it at her pleasure. He could not will it as he wished, he could not sign a contract, execute a deed, or do any independent, individual thing in the eye of the law. He was a nonentity, an irresponsible, incapable creature, whose separate individuality had no recognized existence. Of course, such laws were manifestly absurd, and although there were persons who dared assert that such a system was but a relic of certain dark ages, amid the gloom and darkness of which man was regarded as little better than a chattel and a slave, and that it was altogether unworthy of an advanced stage of civilization, doughty defenders of the code were not wanting, who insisted that it was absolutely necessary that the wife should be the head of the house, that she was the mainstay and support of the family, and should have unbounded authority, and this, despite the fact that very many households, wives and all, were supported and maintained by the hard labor of the men whose wives were lazy, idle vagabonds; and that even in the best families the husbands did their full share of the work in attending to domestic matters and rearing the children. On the whole, it was an absurd, cruel, paradoxical and unreasonable condition of things, and proved very conclusively that the women were just as much incapacitated for the government of themselves and others as they declared the men to be. Indeed it is an open question whether the matter would not have been greatly improved by giving the men entire control of public affairs, and sending the women back to that "domestic hearth" and that "sphere" of which they were accustomed to prate so much. Certainly the men could not have been more utterly incompetent to fill high places of public trust and honor than many of the women who actually did hold them; and there is great reason to believe that with the superior purity and integrity of the men, there would have been less corruption, fewer frauds perpetrated upon tax payers, and more justice to all classes, with less lying and trickery than when the power was exclusively in the hands of the women.


Cridge, Annie Denton. "Man's Rights: Or, How Would You Like It?" Comprising Dreams.Wellesley, MA: Mrs E.M.F. Denton, 1870.

Hanzo, Thomas A. "The Past of Science Fiction," in Bridges to Science Fiction, ed. George E. Slusser, George R. Guffey & Mark Rose (Carbondale, IL: 1980), pp. 131-46.

Ketterer, David. "'Professor Baffin's Adventures' by Max Adeler: The Inspiration for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?" Mark Twain Journal, 24 (Spring 1986):24-34.

Moskowitz, Sam. "Women's Liberation: When Women Rule," in his Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction (NY, 1976), pp. 70-91.

Patai, Daphne. "British and American Utopias by Women (1836-1979): An Annotated Bibliography, Part I," Alternative Futures, 4 (Spring/Summer 1981):184-206.

________. "When Women Rule: Defamiliarization in the Sex-Role-Reversal Utopia," Extrapolation, 23 (1982):56-69.

"Quill, John" [pseud. Charles Heber Clark]. "The Women's Millennium," Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, 21:15 (26 April 1867):8.

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