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good woman; a person of natural refinement, of strict integrity, of a
forgiving spirit, intelligent, sweet-tempered, gentle-mannered;
everybody loved her. Her husband is a well-to-do farmer. He inherited
money and lands, and has them still. His wife, who was every thing to
him, whom he could not bear out of his sight, and for whom, if he had
known, he would have sacrificed money and lands, is gone. But - he did
not know. "Mother" never complained. "Mother" did the cooking, did the
washing, scrubbed the floors. They had "company forever," the
neighbors said. "Mother" received, with smiling hospitality, all who
came. Help was hard to procure; still help might and would have been
procured had the husband known the case to be, as it certainly was, a
case of life or death. But - he did not know: so "mother" died of work
and care.

You sometimes see a woman, after hurrying through her forenoon's work,
sink down entirely prostrated, too tired to speak a loud word, every
nerve in her body quivering. The jar of a footfall upon the floor sets
her "all a-tremble." As dinnertime approaches, you see that woman
stepping briskly about the house, a light in her eye, a flush on her
cheek, vivacity in her motions. She is "living on excitement;" "it is
ambition which keeps her up." Her husband, coming in to his dinner,
takes her briskness and vivacity as matters of course, regarding her,
probably, as a woman who has nothing to do but to stay in the house
all day. He has no more idea of the condition of that woman than her
infant has.

There are thousands of husbands, who, if they knew, would lift the
burden of at least the heaviest drudgery from their wives, thus giving
them longer leases of life. But, as a rule, wives keep their bad
feelings to themselves. They know that "a complaining woman" is a term
of reproach. They are exhorted in newspaper after newspaper to "make
home happy by cheerful looks and words." They wish to do so. With a
laudable desire to save money, they spend themselves, and "get along"
without help. It is truly a getting-along, not a living. Sometimes,
however, they are obliged to mention their feebleness, or their
ailments, as reasons for neglect of duty. It is astonishing how little
importance, in many cases, the husband attaches to the facts thus
stated. Apparently he considers ailments either as being natural to
woman, or as afflictions sent upon her by the Lord. He seems to look
upon her as a sort of machine, which is liable to run down, but which
may easily be wound up by a little medicine, and set going again. If
the medicine does not set her going again, he brings her pastor to
pray for her; if she dies, he says, "The Lord hath taken her away."
All this because he does not know. When husbands are enlightened on
this important point, this solemn point, they will insist on less work
for women. Less work implies more leisure, and with leisure comes time
for culture.

Another step towards the immediate solution of our problem is, to
establish the fact that woman stands on a level with man, and is
neither an appendage nor a "relict." Relict, it is true, only means
that which is left; still we do not hear James Smith called the
"relict" of Hannah Smith. Standing on the same level does not imply a
likeness, but simply a natural equality, - equality, for instance, in
matters of conscience, judgment, and opinion. It is often said, that,
as a barbarous race progresses toward civilization, its women are
brought nearer and nearer to an equality with its men. Thus in the
barbaric stage woman is an appendage to man, existing solely for his
pleasure and convenience. She is then at her lowest. As civilization
progresses, she rises gradually nearer an equality with man.

When she is all the way up, when her individuality is recognized as
man's is recognized, then civilization, in this respect, will have
done its perfect work. Woman among us is almost all the way up, but
not quite. She is still considered, and considers herself, a little
bit inferior by nature. We see at once how this bears upon our
question. Just so much as woman is considered inferior, just so much
less importance is attached to the nature of her occupations and
acquirements. It is all right enough that an inferior being should
devote herself to follies, or to drudgeries, or to catering to
fastidious appetites. These duties are on a level with her capacities;
for these she was created, and for these culture is unneeded. When
civilization shall have finished its work, so far as to bring woman up
to her true position of equality with man, - equality in matters of
conscience, judgment, opinion, and privileges, - then will man be able
to put off from his shoulders the responsibility of deciding what is,
and what is not, proper for her to do. He has carried double weight
long and uncomplainingly, and should in justice to himself be
relieved. Equals need not decide for equals. Woman will take up the
burden he throws off, and decide for herself. We must proceed
cautiously here, for there are lions in the path. Being free to
choose, she may choose to take interest in such kinds of public
affairs as have a bearing on her special duty. We are interested in
this, remember, because whatever affects her special duty affects the
solution of our problem.

Now let us ask, under our breaths, what are public affairs? The public
consists of individuals. If there were no individuals there would be
no public. Public affairs, then, are only individual's affairs,
managed collectively, because that is the most convenient way of
managing them. Their good or bad management affects the comfort of
men, women, and children. Let us ask, why, simply by being christened
"public affairs," should they be turned into a great, horrid bugaboo,
too dangerous for women even to think of? Schools are a part of public
affairs, and one would suppose it to be a part of woman's vocation to
ascertain what is the influence of these schools on the children she
is bringing up; to learn whether they are working with her or against
her. Cases might arise concerning choice of teachers, hours of study,
kinds of study, ventilation, and so forth, in which it would be her
duty, as a child-trainer, to express an opinion: like the following
one, for instance, which comes to us in the newspapers, as "criminal
negligence in the affairs at the Mount Pleasant Schoolhouse, by which
about a dozen children have died of disease, others passed through
severe sickness, and not a few, including teachers, made temporary
invalids, or infected with boils or scrofulous sores, caused by
breathing the polluted air that has infested the building from
neglected earth-closets. The Board of Health officially announced that
this was the cause of the sickness, and recommended the removal of the
earth-closets. The janitor of the building, it seems, is incompetent,
and holds his place only because he is also a member of the School
Board; which suggests the query whether men unfit for janitors are
usually placed on the Nashua School Committee.... Five of the lads who
died were among the brightest scholars in the public schools. The
building has not yet been properly renovated."

Shall woman's sons be thus destroyed, and woman be powerless to
interfere?

In urgent cases like this, it might become the duty of the mother to
express her opinion by dropping a slip of paper with a name written on
it into a hat or a box. It would even be possible to conceive of
emergencies in which these slips of paper would so affect some vital
issue, - as, for instance, the choice or removal of the janitor who
will furnish the air for her children to breathe, - that the father
would stay with the children while the mother went out to thus express
her opinion.

Then, indeed, would the climax be reached! Then would that state of
things so long foretold have come to pass: the husband takes care of
the children, while the wife goes out to vote! Then would the funny
artist snatch up his pencil, and the funny editor his quill. It has
always been a mystery to me where the laugh came in on this joke.
True, it is not his calling; but what is there so very incongruous in
a father's "taking care" of his own children? Fathers love their
children, and will toil night and day for them, even for the very
small ones. Is there any thing ridiculous, then, in their taking them
in their arms, and overlooking their childish sports? A man may take a
lamb in his arms without losing an iota of his dignity, and without
being caricatured in any one of our weeklies. It is quite time that
these precious little human lambs ceased to be the subjects of scoffs
and sneers.

But we must pass on from this part of our subject, and glance at one
or two other ways of immediate escape from the present unsatisfactory
state of things. See how quickly such escape might be made by a truly
enlightened family. First, they hold counsel together, men and women,
all desiring the same object. Question, How shall "mother" find time
for culture? Say the male members, "Mother's work must be
lessened, - must be: there is a necessity in the case." - "But
how?" - "Well, investigate. Begin with the cooking. Let's see what we
can do without." Three cheers for our side! When man begins to see
what cooking he can do without, woman will begin to see her time for
culture. Dinners are summoned to the bar, examined, and found guilty
of too great variety and of too elaborate desserts. Sentence, less
variety, and fruit for dessert instead of pies, or even pudding:
exception filed here in favor of simple pudding when first course is
scanty or lacking. Suppers summoned, tried, and found guilty of too
great variety and too much richness; sentenced to omit pies for life,
and admonished by judge not to cling too closely to work-compelling
cake. The time thus rescued from the usurper, Cooking, is handed over
to "mother," the true heir, to have, and to hold.

Or, suppose the question to be one of health. "'Mother' works too
hard. She will wear herself out." - "She doesn't complain." - "That
makes no difference. She must have help." - "Where is the money coming
from to pay the help?" - "Make it; earn it; dig for it; do without
something; give up something; sell something; live on bread and water.
Is there any thing that will weigh in the balance against 'mother's'
life? We shall feel grief when she is worn out; why not when she is
wearing out? We would make sacrifices to bring her back; why not to
keep her with us?" The truth is, that heretofore the wrong things have
been counterbalanced. Placing simple food in one scale, and dainties
in the other, of course the latter outweighs the former; but place
"mother's" needs and "mother's" life in one scale, and dainties in the
other, and then will the latter fly up out of sight, and never be
heard from any more. Councils of this kind, we must remember, are not
to become general until the requirements of "woman's mission" are
generally understood, and until a great many men are made aware that a
great many women are killing themselves by hard work and care, and
until academic professors perceive that it is wiser to give a young
woman the knowledge she will want to use than that which is given for
custom's sake. But how is this general enlightenment to be effected? I
don't know, unless the lecturer makes these subjects the theme of his
lecture, or the poet the burden of his verse, or the minister the text
of his discourse. - Not proper to be brought into the church? Why not?
A great deal about heathen women is brought into the church. Are
American women of less account than they? Does not the condition of
our women call for missionary effort? True, American wives do not
sacrifice themselves for their deceased husbands, but we have seen
that they are sacrificed. There is here no sacred river into which the
mother hurls her newborn babe; but it has been shown, that, because
American mothers are left in ignorance, a large proportion of their
children drop from their arms into the dark river of death.

Should any object that such subjects are below the dignity of the
church, we might reply that the church is bound to help us for the
reason that the present state of things is partly owing to her
efforts. The ministers of the church in past times have labored to
convince people that this life for its own sake is of little account;
that we were placed here, not to develop the faculties and enjoy the
pleasures which pertain to this stage of our existence, but solely to
prepare for another. They have taught that we sicken and die
prematurely because God wills it, not because we transgress his laws.
To those suffering physically from such transgression they have said
in effect, "Pray God to relieve your pain, for he sent it upon you."




CHAPTER X.

MEANS OF ESCAPE ALREADY IN OPERATION.


Three effective means by which the desired change may be accomplished
are, first, that women meet regularly for the purpose of discussing
such matters as especially affect them and their mission; second, that
they have a paper for this same object; third, that representative
women from different sections of the country come together
occasionally, and compare views on these matters. Such means we
already have in the "Woman's Club," the "Woman's Journal," and the
"Woman's Congress."

The first of these institutions is not what the uninitiated, judging
from its name, might suppose. The writer, though not a club-member,
can affirm of her own knowledge, that at the weekly gatherings
questions are discussed which have a direct bearing on the interests
of the family and household. From these gatherings, members return to
their homes strengthened, refreshed, enlightened. All teachers can
testify that from teachers' conventions they go back to work with
awakened interest, fresh zeal, and with newly-acquired ideas. The
contact of mind with mind has invigorated them. They have all taken
from each other, yet none have been losers, but all have been gainers.
Every school which lost its teacher for a season gained tenfold by
that teacher's absence. So it is with the club meetings. Women leave
their homes to consider how the standard of those homes may be raised.
I happened to be present once when the discussion was upon "The amount
and kind of obedience to be exacted from children;" and I said to
myself, Now, this seems the right thing exactly. How natural, how
sensible, for women to meet and confer on such subjects as this, each
one bringing her perplexities or her suggestions; the old giving their
experience, the young profiting thereby! What better could mothers do
for their children than thus to meet occasionally and hold counsel
together?

Still people in general do not take this view of the case. People in
general are satisfied if a mother is bodily present with her children,
and do not trouble themselves as to her enlightenment.

Look at the last Woman's Congress, side by side with three other large
conventions held in this country not so very long ago, and compare its
purposes with theirs. The questions which occupied the members of one
of the three related chiefly to articles of belief, and to those
particular articles of belief in which they all believed. It was
stated beforehand, that the great object to be attained was unity, and
that no subjects would come up which, by calling out opposing
opinions, might mar the harmony of the occasion.

Another convention occupied much of its time in deciding whether those
of the denomination who sit at communion with others of the
denomination who have sat at communion with a person who has not been
wholly immersed, shall be fellowshipped by the denomination.

An enthusiastic member of still another convention publishes a long
and glowing account of its proceedings, in which account occurs the
following curious paragraph: -

"During the discussions in convention, the presentation of petitions
and memorials and drafts of canons, the reports of the committees on
canons, the amendments and substitutes, the transit of canons back and
forth between the two houses, and finally, the conference committee,
the slowly developing action of the convention was under such
confusion and cloud, that it was and may yet be difficult for many,
especially those at a distance, to make up their mind as to what
finally took place." The object of this paragraph was to account for
some wrong impressions made by the published reports.

I submit that what humanity wants to know is, how to live rightly, and
that it is suffering for this knowledge. It is not suffering to know
all about "altar cloths" and "eucharistic lights," and "colored
chasubles" and "the use of the viretta in worship." It is not
suffering to know if certain persons can partake of the Lord's Supper
with other certain persons who have partaken with other certain
persons. It is not suffering to know that a large number of
individuals believe exactly alike, and exactly as did their ancestors.
How are all these agreements and disagreements to help a poor fellow
who has inherited certain proclivities, and wishes to be rid of them,
and that his children may overmaster them?

Humanity does want to know, right away, how to keep itself alive and
well and doing well. It wants brought up for consideration the wrongs
which oppress it, the evils which defile it, the crimes which degrade
it; to have their causes investigated, and their remedies suggested.
This is live work; and it is such work as this which occupied the
attention of the Woman's Congress. No uncertain sound there. Those "at
a distance," those at the very antipodes, might "make up their mind"
that its members were asking themselves, what have we, as wives and
mothers, to do with these things? While other conventions are
"agreeing," and "fellowshipping," and wrangling over "altar cloths,"
and "virettas," the Woman's Congress considers matters which have an
immediate practical bearing on the welfare of human beings. While the
community is working away at the surface, with its prisons, its
police, its hangmen, its societies for the suppression of vice, its
schools for reform, its homes for the fallen (no doubt often with good
results), the Woman's Congress strikes at the foundation, and by
pointing out "The Influence of Literature upon Crime," and the telling
effect of "Pre-natal Influences," suggests how vice may be prevented,
character right-formed, and humanity kept from falling. It inquires,
"How can Woman best oppose Intemperance?" It considers those two vast
underlying subjects, "The Education of Women," and "The Physical
Education of our Girls;" while it by no means overlooks those
unfortunates whom society sets apart, and labels "fallen women."

In regard to our problem, if any light has been thrown, if, "the word"
has been guessed, I should say "the word" is
"enlightenment," - enlightenment of the community as to the requirements
of woman's mission, enlightenment of woman herself as a preparation
for that mission. What say you, friends? Shall our women receive
such enlightenment? and shall it come in to the finishing or
supplementary part of their education (so called)?

True, this will cause innovations; but is it _therefore_
objectionable? No one will call our present system of education a
perfect one; why, then, should there not be innovations? "Why,
indeed," asks a writer in "The Atlantic," "except that the training of
their children is the last thing about which parents and communities
will exert themselves to vigorous thought and independent action? No
more striking proof of the inertia of the human mind can be found," he
says, "than the fact... that for many generations the true philosophy
of teaching has had its prophets and apostles, and yet that
substantially we are training our children in the same old blundering
way." The fault of this "old blundering way," it seems to me, is its
one-sidedness. It educates only the intellect. Is this the right way?
Surely the moral nature is also educable. Indeed, if the mind is
trained to act energetically, so much more should the moral sense be
trained to control the workings of that mind. Then, since the world,
we hope, is outgrowing battles, why is it considered _essential_
that we inform ourselves so particularly, so minutely, so
statistically, concerning battles fought so long, long, long ago? Does
the process hasten on the time of beating swords into ploughshares?
Suppose each generation, as it comes on to the stage, does inform
itself thus minutely: what, in the long-run, does humanity gain
thereby?

But these considerations open up subjects too vast and too important
to be even mentioned in these closing chapters. Will not you who know
the inevitable influence of the mother upon her children, - will you
not see to it that some portion of the time devoted to her education
is spent in preparing her for her life-work? Can you think of any
surer way than this by which good citizens may be raised up for our
country? Wickedness abounds. It is omnipresent. Every day, - yes, twice
a day, - the newspapers bring us tidings of corruption, fraud, villany,
not only in low places, but in high places; in exceedingly high
places. Crime is on the increase. Public officials, supported and
trusted by the people, hesitate not to defraud the people. Individuals
in good and regular standing socially and religiously, church-members,
sabbath-school teachers, defraud their nearest friends.

Nobody can tell whom to trust. If, then, neither church, nor state,
nor social position, nor any outside influence, has power to make men
honest, where shall we look for such power? We must look to an inside
influence. The restraining power, in order to be effective in all
cases, must proceed from the character of the individual; and the
character of the individual is formed to a very great degree by early
training; and early training comes from - women. So here we are again
down to our working ground.

Let us hope that innovations will be made. Let us hope that at no
distant day it will be thought as important for a young person to be
made a good member of society as to be able to cipher in the "rule of
three," in "alligation medial" and "alligation alternate." A recent
writer, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania, urges "the
importance of incorporating into our public school systems such
studies and such training as will tend to educate men for their place
in the body politic." He says, "A line of teaching which concerns
matters of more importance to society than all the ordinary branches
of knowledge put together is allowed to have no formal provision made
for it." This writer recommends the study of biographies. In Locke's
system good principles were to be cared for first, intellectual
activity next, and actual knowledge last of all.

Suppose the young women of thirty years ago had been thoroughly
instructed in hygienic laws: would not the effects of such instruction
be perceptible in our present health-rates and death-rates? Let us
begin now to affect the health-rates and death-rates of thirty years
hence. And it will do no harm to instruct young men also in such
matters. Even while I am writing these pages, a State Board of Health
report comes to me, in which it is shown by facts and figures how our
death-rates are affected by ignorance, - ignorance as exhibited in the
locating, building, and ventilating of dwelling-houses, drainage,
situation of wells, planting of trees, choice of food and cooking of
the same, as well as in the management of children. Can any subjects
comprised in any school course compare in importance with these? For
humanity's sake, let our young people take time enough from their
geographies and Latin dictionaries to learn how to keep themselves
alive! It is possible too, that, if the young women of thirty years
ago had been enlightened on the subject of moral and mental training,
our present crime rates might be less than they are, and dishonesty
and dishonor in high places and in low places be less frequent.

Mr. Whittier tells the story of a man in a certain town, who desired
the removal of an old building - an almshouse, I think - from a certain
locality. As the quickest way of accomplishing this, he gave a man a
dollar a day on condition that this man should do nothing else but
talk from morning to night with various people on the subject of
having that building moved. And it was moved. The old building we have
to move is made up of prejudices, ignorance, settled opinions, and
firmly-established customs, and it is therefore quite time we were
beginning our work. Remember the tremendous importance of our object.


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Online LibraryAbby Morton DiazA Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household → online text (page 5 of 6)