Lilian Bell.

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ish little husband said he was glad of it.
He didn't want his wife to wear herself out
in the kitchen. Servants could do such
things. So they hired servants more igno-



1 84 THE NEW WOMAN

rant than themselves, " and the last state of
that man was worse than the first." Chil-
dren came to them. That was the most
pitiful part of all. A house may be bad-
ly managed and ignorantly cared for, and
people do not die of it, or become warped
or crippled, but the soul of a child, to say
nothing of the helpless little body, can be
ruined utterly through the irresponsibility
of the criminally ignorant people to whom
the poor little thing is sent. Their igno-
rance is so dense and deep-searching that
they never know that they are ignorant.
But back of it all there is a reason. A big-
oted, senseless, false, and misnamed deli-
cacy. Mothers reared their daughters and
sent them to fulfil their mission in life, of
being wives and mothers, versed in every-
thing except the two things they were des-
tined to be. It was as if a physician were
taught architecture, music, and painting, and
then sent out to practise his unskill in medi-
cine upon a helpless humanity.

Then the new woman opened her eyes.
She read those sturdy words which are
much quoted, but which never can be re-



THE NEW WOMAN 185

peated too often : "The situation which has
not its duty, its ideals, was never yet occu-
pied by man. Yes, here, in this poor, mis-
erable, hampered, despicable Actual, where-
in thou even now standest, here or nowhere
is thy Ideal ; work it out therefrom, and
working, live, be free. Fool ! the Ideal is
in thyself ; thy condition is but the stuff
thou art to shape this same Ideal out of;
what matters whether such stuff be of this
sort or that, so the form thou give it be
heroic, be poetic ? Oh, thou that pinest in
the imprisonment of the Actual, and criest
bitterly to the gods for a kingdom where-
in to rule and create, know this of a truth
the thing thou seekest is already with
thee, ' here, or nowhere,' couldst thou only
see."

It read like book-learning when applied
to other women. It read like a revelation
when applied to herself. She thought what
her mission was. To make a home ; to be
a good wife ; to understand and teach lit-
tle children. And where do you find the
new woman now ? In the kindergarten col-
leges ; in university settlements ; attend-



186 THE NEW WOMA1SF

ing mothers' meetings ; teaching ignorant
mothers how to understand the tender souls
and delicate bodie's of the dear little creat-
ures committed to their loving but unwise
care. You find them well prepared by a
course of study to accept the responsibili-
ties of life when their time comes. Is that
trivial ? Is that a subject to sneer at or to
jest about? Rather it is the hope of the
nation.

Legislation cannot satisfactorily restrict
immigration. Laws do not forbid the crim-
inal from marrying and the insane from
being born. All the masculine wisdom in
the world cannot prevent the State from
annually paying millions of dollars for the
support of those who are foredoomed
through generations of ignorance and crime
crime which too often comes only from
ignorance to fill your jails and asylums.
Who is doing anything to remedy? The
men. Who is doing anything to prevent?
The women. The new woman, the sneered
at, the ridiculed and abused, caricatured
by the cartoonist, derided by the press, is
going quietly to work with jail-schools, with



THE NEW WOMAN 187

free kindergartens in tenement districts, with
college settlements, to begin with the care
of mothers and children. That is just one of
the things the new woman is doing. Is she
a poor creature ? Is she wearing bloomers ?
Is she masculine or unwomanly? Rather
she possesses attributes almost divine in
that she strikes at the very root of the
matter, and begins a course of action which,
if carried out, will do what all the men in
creation can never cure. She will prevent.

The new woman is young. The new
woman is oftener a pretty girl than other-
wise. They are not poor girls either, who
are doing these things. They are not
obliged to earn their daily bread. They
are the daughters of the rich. They are the
travelled, cultured, delicately reared girls.
They are such girls as, two generations ago,
would have disdained anything but accom-
plishments, who were only charitable with
their money, and who never dreamed of
giving their own time to such work. They
were girls who considered their education
finished when they left school.

I glory in the new woman in that so often



188 THE NEW WOMAN

she is rich and beautiful. It is easy enough
to be good if you are plain. In fact, there
is nothing else left for a plain woman to
do. But take those lovely girls who are
tempted by society to idle away their days
and waste their lives listening to a flattery
which may be but a thing of the moment,
and let them have sense to see through its
hollowness, and to want to be something
and do something, and it becomes heroic.

Perhaps it is only a fad. Then Heaven
send more fads. If it is the fashion to have
a vocation and to educate one's self along
these lines which never were heard of a few
years ago, then for once fashion has acci-
dentally become noble.

It strikes me rather that the reign of
common-sense has begun that the age of
utility has come. When nine out of every
ten of the girls you meet in smart society
have a distinct vocation of their own ; when
a girl who only sings or plays or crochets
is considered by her sister -women to be
a butterfly; when society girls are being
trained nurses; when, if you are paying
calls upon a fashionable friend, you are



THE NEW WOMAN 189

quite apt to be told that she is living at
Hull House this month; when a girl whose
face generally appears in the society column
suddenly comes out as the composer of a
new song ; when a girl who dances best at
balls calmly announces that she is taking a
course at the university; when everything
nowadays is gone into so seriously, the
time has come to look the question of the
new woman squarely in the face to put a
stop to cheap witticisms at her expense and
to give her your honest respect.

The new woman has attacked the prob-
lem of how to live. Not how to live for
show, not how to veneer successfully, but
how to get the most good out of life. She
is not simply endeavoring to kill time as
she once was. She is trying to live each
day for itself. She is not living so much in
the to-morrows which never come. Having
begun to earn her own money, she is learn-
ing the value of her father's a thing the
American father has been trying to teach
her for fifty or a hundred years, but she
could not learn because she saw it come so
easily and she let it go so freely.



I 9 THE NEW WOMAN

A man said to me not long ago, " What
has got into the girls ? Has it become the
fashion to economize ? All the nicest girls
I know are talking of the value of money
and of how much is wasted unthinkingly.
Are we poor bachelors to take courage and
believe that we can afford one of these
beautiful luxuries in wives ?"

Alas, it is anything but a hint to take
courage; for this heavenly phase of the new
woman means that when she has learned
that she can support herself, so that in case
her riches take wings she need not be forced
to drudge at uncongenial employment, or
to marry for a home, she will be more par-
ticular than ever in the kind of a man she
marries. For in fitting herself for marriage
she is learning quite as well the kind of
husband she ought to have. And she will
not be as apt to marry a man on account
of his clothes or because he dances divinely
as once she might have done.

I do not mean to say that the new woman
will not marry. In point of fact she will
if properly urged by the right man. But
she will not marry so early, so hurriedly,



THE NEW WOMAN 191

nor so ill-advisedly as before. And there-
fore the men whom new women marry will
do well to realize the compliment of her
.choice; for it will mean that, according to
her light, he has been weighed in the
balance and not found wanting. Of course
the other women marry on that principle
too. The only difference between the new
woman and her sisters is in the amount of
her light and the use she makes of it.

It is the man who marries the new woman
who is going to get the most out of this life;
for even in living there is everything in
knowing how. And far from leaving man
out of her problem in life, her philosophy
is teaching her to look for his possibilities
with the same anxiety that she employs in
studying her own; that to adapt herself to
his individuality need not necessarily im-
peril her own ; that the first element in the
forming of this perfect home which it is her
ambition to establish is perfect congeniality
of spirit between herself and her husband.

It is as if the new woman were striving,
by making the best of her present environ-
ments, and simply developing her woman



IQ2 THE NEW WOMAN

nature instead of struggling to usurp man's,
to enunciate a philosophy of life which
shall so dignify homely duties and beauti-
fy the commonplace that her creed might
well be :

"We shall pass through this world but
once. If there be any kindness we can
show, or any good thing we can do to any
fellow-being, let us do it now. Let us not
defer nor neglect it, for we shall not pass
this way again."



THE END



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Online LibraryLilian BellFrom a girl's point of view → online text (page 8 of 8)