Children’s Rights,” by “Fanny Fern,” combines sentiment with satire in a way familiar to her many readers, as she takes adults to task for their thoughtless treatment of children. “Fanny Fern” was Sara Willis Payson. “Children’s Rights” is from her collection titled Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio (first series).


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“Children’s Rights,” by “Fanny Fern” (Sara Willis Payson) (from Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio, first series; 1853; pp. 188-190)

Men’s rights! Women’s rights! I throw down the gauntlet for children’s rights! Yes, little pets, Fanny Fern’s about “takin’ notes,” and she’ll “print ’em,” too, if you don’t get your dues. She has seen you seated by a pleasant window, in a railroad car, with your bright eyes dancing with delight, at the prospect of all the pretty things you were going to see, forcibly ejected by some overgrown Napoleon, who fancied your place, and thought, in his wisdom, that children had no taste for anything but sugar-candy. Fanny Fern knew better. She knew that the pretty trees and flowers, and bright blue sky, gave your little souls a thrill of delight, though you could not tell why; and she knew that great big man’s soul was a great deal smaller than yours, to sit there and read a stupid political paper, when such a glowing landscape was before him, that he might have feasted his eyes upon. And she longed to wipe away the big tear that you didn’t dare to let fall; and she understood how a little girl or boy, that didn’t get a ride every day in the year, should not be quite able to swallow that great big lump in the throat, as he or she sat jammed down in a

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dark, crowded corner of the car, instead of sitting by that pleasant window.

Yes; and Fanny has seen you sometimes, when you’ve been muffled up to the tip of your little nose in woollen wrappers, in a close, crowded church, nodding your little drowsy heads, and keeping time to the sixth-lie and seventh-lie of some pompous theologian, whose preaching would have been high Dutch to you, had you been wide awake.

And she has seen you sitting, like little automatons, in a badly-ventilated school-room, with your nervous little toes at just such an angle, for hours; under the tuition of a Miss Nancy Nipper, who didn’t care a rush-light whether your spine was as crooked as the letter S or not, if the Great Mogul Committee, who marched in once a month to make the “grand tour,” voted her a “model school-marm.”

Yes, and that ain’t all. She has seen you sent off to bed, just at the witching hour of candle-light, when some entertaining guest was in the middle of a delightful story, that you, poor, miserable “little pitcher,” was doomed never to hear the end of! Yes, and she has seen “the line and plummet” laid to you so rigidly, that you were driven to deceit and evasion; and then seen you punished for the very sin your tormentors helped you to commit. And she has seen your ears boxed just as hard for tearing a hole in your best pinafore, or breaking a

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p. 190

China cup, as for telling as big a lie as Ananias and Sapphira did.

And when, by patient labor, you had reared an edifice of tiny blocks,—fairer in its architectural proportions, to your infantile eye, than any palace in ancient Rome,—she has seen it ruthlessly kicked into a shattered ruin, by somebody in the house, whose dinner hadn’t digested!

Never mind. I wish I was mother to the whole of you! Such glorious times as we’d have! Reading pretty books, that had no big words in ’em; going to school where you could sneeze without getting a rap on the head for not asking leave first; and going to church on the quiet, blessed Sabbath, where the minister—like our dear Saviour—sometimes remembered to “take little children in his arms, and bless them.”

Then, if you asked me a question, I wouldn’t pretend not to hear; or lazily tell you I “didn’t know,” or turn you off with some fabulous evasion, for your memory to chew for a cud till you were old enough to see how you had been fooled. And I’d never wear such a fashionable gown that you couldn’t climb on my lap whenever the fit took you; or refuse to kiss you, for fear you’d ruffle my curls, or my collar, or my temper,—not a bit of it; and then you should pay me with your merry laugh, and your little confiding hand slid ever trustingly in mine.

O, I tell you, my little pets, Fanny is sick of din and strife, and envy, and uncharitableness!—and she’d rather, by ten thousand, live in a little world full of fresh, guileless, loving little children, than in this great museum full of such dry, dusty, withered hearts.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
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