C. Gasquoine (Catherine Gasquoine) Hartley.

Women's wild oats; essays on the re-fixing of moral standards online

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_Author of "The Truth About Woman," "Motherhood and the Relationships of
the Sexes," etc._


"_For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the
dead._" - PROV. ii. 18.


_Copyright, 1920, by_

_All Rights Reserved_







"GIVE, GIVE!" 113








"To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." - Prov.
xxvii. 7.

The sudden collapse of the war left us in a daze. After the years of
inhuman strain it was hard to ease off tension to the almost forgotten
conditions of peace. I recall that ever to be remembered day, November
11th, 1918 - Victory Day. In the early hours before noon I was in London,
and my young son was with me. Everywhere was an atmosphere of anxiety,
an unusual stillness. Men in little groups of two and three stood here
and there, soldiers in larger numbers loitered or walked slowly along
the pavements; girls and women waited at the doors of business houses
and shops, where inside nobody seemed attending to the few customers.
Everyone was waiting; there was an expectancy so great and so stirring
that ordinary life had stopped. The last hour seemed endless in its slow
passing. I do not remember ever to have experienced the same anxious
tension, which was felt so strongly by us all that, in a way I cannot
explain, we seemed to gain liberation from ourselves, and, losing
individuality, were brought to share a universal impulse. The colossal
importance of that hour made itself felt.

Then at last the peace guns sounded. We knew the armistice had been
signed: Germany had accepted the terms offered by the Allies. The fear
of utter misery was lifted: the war was over. The streets filled as if
by magic, sellers of newspapers appeared, nobody knew from where, and
were besieged. As the news spread, a delirium of enthusiasm caught the
people. There never was such a day, and there never can be such a day
again. From noon onwards in ever increasing numbers the streets were
thronged with people. Strangers who had never set eyes on one another
before rejoiced together as sisters and brothers. Heedless of rain, and
mud, and slush, Londoners turned the city into a carnival of joy. Then
as the hours advanced the fun grew wilder. People linked hands and
danced, and - maddest of all - indulged in wild "ring of roses" around
lamp-posts and in the centers of the great thoroughfares. From the
Strand and into the West End and beyond was one packed concourse of
people, a never-ending stream spread from pavement to pavement across
the way, in processions, in pairs, in groups, in taxi-cabs, on the top
of taxi-cabs, in and on and all over motor-omnibuses, hanging to the
backs of cabs, on great munition lorries - everywhere clustering and
hanging like swarming flies. There were soldiers, crowds of Dominion
boys, young officers and privates, old men and young men from civil
life, and thousands upon thousands of women and girls of every age and
representative of every class.

It was the women that I noticed most: they were wilder than the men,
making more noise, cheering, shouting and singing themselves hoarse,
dancing and romping themselves tired. Quite undisguisedly the soldiers
were led by them. It was Woman's Carnival as well as Victory Night.

It is very hard to find words to speak of what I felt. The universal
gladness was intoxicating, and yet, none the less, as I watched and
noted, the scene was a spectacle that for me at least, was shot
strangely with apprehension, almost with pain, certainly with anger and
regrets, with aspects unaccountably sad. I witnessed many incidents I am
tempted to record, but events passed so quickly, and I do not wish to
generalize rashly. One thing I noticed was the great number of women and
girl smokers. The woman without a cigarette was almost the exception.
There was no attempt at concealment. But what impressed me was the way
of holding and smoking the cigarette with an awkwardness that proclaimed
the novice. Quite plainly the majority of these girls were smoking not
at all because they desired to smoke, but for a lark. A little thing,
you will say, very harmless, and possibly you are right, and yet it is
the straw which reveals the direction of the wind.

In all the riotous merriment there seemed to lurk the urgency of
unsatisfied wants. These instabilities and shadows did not darken the
whole prospect, it may be that they intensified the pageant; London was,
indeed, very wonderful that evening. Yet all the foolish and ugly
incidents, petty and grave alike, of which I could not fail to be aware,
came to me with an effort of challenge as something not to be ignored,
but steadily to be inquired into, as an imperative call for effort and
courage, a spur once again to take up my pen and write to warn women.

My thoughts turned back over the last long four-and-a-half years - years
of struggle, of violent disorders, anxiety and pain. That time was
finished. Thanks to our dead! Honor to our great dead! The spectacle
before me became wider and richer and deeper, more charged with hope and

Bang! Laughter and harsh screaming as a rocket shot up starring the dark
evening heavens with its clustering balls of colors. In many parts of
the city, long obscured, lamps were lighted; row upon row of little
electric globes of white and red and blue appeared, and the unaccustomed
blaze infected the revelers. It gave a fresh impetus to shouting; it was
like removing the curtain from some great, long-darkened mirror. The fun
grew boisterous. At this corner there were cheers for the Prime
Minister, at the next for Foch and Haig, and Beatty and the Grand Fleet,
and for France and America. Numbers did not know what exactly they
cheered; it did not matter, it gave an excuse for noise. Much noise was
needed to keep up the revel and convince everyone that everybody was

Unceasingly the violent merry-making went on. Hoot! and an immense
motor-wagon, crowded with singing girls, blowing hooters, wildly waving
flags, and followed by a trail of taxi-cabs like a gigantic wobbling
tail, each one laden with ten, twenty, and even more soldiers, charged
down a side street and urged its right of way brutally through the

It seemed to me that the whole spirit and quality of the reveling was
summarized. A rabble of distractions sought to sway me hither and
thither. Now, I watched a company of girls dancing with young officers
to the accompaniment of a barrel organ, then a group singing, and
another group playing some round game that I did not know; now it was
some Tommies surrounded by a group of screaming girls. In one group a
woman was carrying a baby, and a tiny child dragged at the hand of
another girl, crying drearily, and no one noticed. Boys were kicking
about boardings that had been torn from the statues in Trafalgar Square.
The noise became more and more deafening.

Did anyone realize at all the colossal importance of that day? This
hour of supreme thanksgiving, the most glorious of all days in the
history of the world, was passing in a delirium of waste. For there was
no joy, only a great pretense and noise.

In this medley the sense of the present tended to disappear. Victory
Night, by some fantastic transformation, to me became terrible with
menace. All the jostling, excited people, and especially the disheveled
women and the crowds of rioting girls, appeared as tormented puppets,
moving and capering, not at all from will and desire of their own, but
agitated violently and incessantly by some hidden hand, forced into
playing parts they did not want to play, saying words they had no wish
to speak, cutting antics for which they had no aptitude or liking.
Cruelties lurked everywhere, waiting in the confused mummery. Reality
was being left and with it the practical grasp of those powerful
simplicities that alone can guide life through confusion. I felt this
with stinging certainty. Everyone seemed playing a part, goaded with the
urgency of seeking an escape from themselves.

But must life always go on in the same way? Surely our great dead point
us through all these pretenses into the future? Dead compelling hands,
insisting with irritable gestures that this failure of life should
cease, and cease forever.

A thousand serried problems seemed to be pressing on me at once. My
young son was angry at my sadness, but it was the biting consciousness
of his presence that ruled my mood. This world was _his_ world; this
England _his_ England; this London was _his_ London and that of all
children. It was for them that the failure mattered. So I thought,
tormented, tortured with pain and impatience.

Leaving the Strand, we turned down one of the narrow streets near to the
Savoy Hotel, I forget which one it was, and walked to the Embankment. We
came out not far from Charing Cross Bridge and looked down over the long
sweep of the water. The evening sky was a dull gray, almost black, but
the rain had ceased to fall, and just then above us there was a break as
if the absent moon was working to cut the clouds adrift. A kind of
luminous darkness closed around us. It was beautiful. The massed
buildings rose a blurred outline between the river and the sky like
great beasts crouching and ready to spring, while through the
steel-black circlings of the bridge row after row of lights sparkled and
glowed, and blurs of color, amber to warm orange, splashed upon the
river. On the other side, behind us, the big hotels all were lighted,
and the unaccustomed illumination appeared to give too full a flood of
light to be quite real. Ever and anon rockets shot up into the gray and
fell in burning rain, and every color was reflected in diminishing
shades, above in that one luminous patch of sky, and below in the
pallid, rippled water. Yes, the scene was beautiful, perfect as a
dream-city one could desire; all the elements "composed" in the
painter's sense, and in arrogance of soul I felt that the beautiful
effect had been arranged for me: that it was like a faultless piece of
scene-painting, only there is no artist who could paint it.

I watched in silence as my son talked at my side. Here there was almost
no noise; reports of motors and the harsh clang of shouting echoed, but
in the distance. After the crowds we had left, the wide roadway appeared
deserted, and the quiet made it easy for me to urge myself past my
despair. One moment at least I had in which I was conscious again of a
spirit and quality in life; the immense forces working on while the
city rioted its victory. But it all goes so slowly - not fast enough!

The night became darker, the gray rift in the clouds narrowed and
closed, a few great drops of rain fell heavily. Around us the air blew
chill, the trees, whose points stood out jet black among the sweeping
line of the still shrouded Embankment lamps, murmured with innumerable
angry voices as the wind cut through them, the bitter wind that rises
before rain. My mood shivered under the loneliness that marks the end of
all perfect things.

Afterwards we walked up Villiers Street to the Strand Station, and
witnessed a little longer the riot of pretended joy. Now, the fun had
grown more boisterous, or so it appeared to me in contrast with the
quiet we had left. A seething mass - women and girls and soldiers linked
arms in arms charged down the street, blocking the station entrances,
shouting, beating rattles and tins for drums, making the most deafening
noise. Must we go on past or through them all? Yes, and it was for me a
necessary lesson, perhaps, for trying to snatch too much for myself by
getting away - and forgetting. I had wanted to shirk, now I was forced
back to attention.

How clearly I recall that crowd! It took much time to get our train,
and, as we waited, almost unconsciously I began to take mental notes of
what I saw. Soon my interest was fastened. I observed individuals with
quickened attention from the very sharpness of my disillusionment.
Incidents burnt themselves into my memory, not in themselves of great
importance, but surely significant. I was being dragged back face to
face with many questions difficult to solve. What impressed me sharply
was the unhappy faces of almost all those wildly excited girls. To my
fancy each one was hiding from herself, and hiding also from everyone
else. One girl, in particular, I remember, a lank figure, brightly
dressed and her head adorned by a wreathed Union Jack, whirling lean
arms in an ecstasy of irritability, her shrill voice mounting from
scream note to scream note. A sickness of soul cried from her restless
over-taxed body. She was but one unit of a whole rowdy company. Even
this night was used by them to grab at something to fool men - to smother
God in their hearts. Just a play, a pretense, yes, a pretense of power,
especially that; they had no thought beyond excitement, and that to me
seemed only the first step. I could not believe that the new freedom,
the new England would be made by such women. Their make-believe
merriment, all this riotous celebrating of the world's stupendous
Victory - what, after all, was it? And for me the desolate answer
"Waste!" rang out from the unceasing noise.

"Surely this squandering of Woman's gift, this failure of herself must
cease now that peace has come!" The cry broke wordless from me. I
understood the reality of my fear. I knew the peril to the future. It is
the problem of unstable woman, clamorous and devouring, that cries aloud
for solution.

_First Essay_



"The turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the
prosperity of fools shall destroy them." - Prov. i. 32.


I have lying upon my study table, on the chairs and even spreading over
upon the floor, a heaped-up litter of documents. Board of Trade
inquiries, Government reports, newspaper cuttings, recent books,
articles from the reviews and popular magazines - all dealing, in one
manner or another, with women's labor and their position as workers in
the immediate past and in the future. Woman, eternally surprising, has
established her power in new fields.

During the five war years a revolution has taken place in the industrial
position of women. But the war was not the cause of the revolution. It
only afforded an opportunity for forces to display themselves which
already were in action. It hurried women forward, running at top speed,
along paths where before their feet had slowly walked. War hastened the
action of forces existing already. The wage-earning woman came in with
the forties with the factory system, and every year she has increased in
numbers, but during the five years of war her ranks have gained an
enormous influx; moreover, a different class of girls and women have
come to seek different kinds of work. And what marks the permanent
importance of this is that a change of occupations has brought with it a
startling change of behavior and outlook.

Just as the militarist has regarded war, not as a means of preventing
the enslavement of peoples and their subjection to foreign rule, but
rather as in itself a source of virtue and blessing, of progress and
civilization; so too the feminist teachers have told us, not that the
entrance of women into munition works was necessary to enable our
country to arm for its terrible war, but have hailed the successive
appearances of women in factories, foundries, and railway-stations as
in itself a great step forward; as a goal long strived for that has been
gained. What has been going on is a continuance of the process by which
women are led more and more to escape from any specialization of
function and are brought into competition with men in every kind of
occupation. Now, let us be clear about it: this is a process which makes
the excitement and experience and possible good of the individual woman
outweigh in importance the safeguarding of the perpetual stream of man.
A confusion of values has led women astray. Being a woman _is_ a
handicap. For the true carrying out of the duties of the wife and mother
physical and mental quiet and sound nerves are needed. The industrial
field has become the ideal place of action for the feminists, who
persistently romanticize the independent commercial or industrial
career, trampling heedlessly on the wisdom of the past, bent on living
their own little lives and all that kind of egoistic futility; holding
up as admirable cheap achievements in the hell of modern competitive,
beggar-your-fellow-worker, sell-at-a-profit industrialism; blackening as
sacrifice, as a limiting of character, woman's service to her husband
and her children, her work in the home and in the nursery.

I tell you women everywhere among us are being starved of sacrifice and
service. Sacrifice lives in the soul of a woman, and not alone in the
separate spirit of the individual woman to whom it is communicated only
through a losing of herself, which marks her union with the greatest
powers of life. It is, I think, one of the most destroying tragedies of
our industrial society that women are denied this sustenance in a fixed
and regulated unison of sacrifice, are forced away from service to life,
excited to do violence to their deepest instinct, by engaging in the
deadly and futile rivalry, where the greatest successfulness must bring
to them the greatest destruction.

There has been much happening to bring fear. Something has gone wrong
with the women of this land. In saying this, I am not forgetting the
splendidness of their work; what I complain of is that their womanly
vision has failed. In France, as is evident to all, the attitude of
women has been very different. The French women also worked hard during
the war to save their country, but they did not as our women have done,
_like war-work for its own sake_. They never transferred their
affections from their homes to the factories of war, they were too
certain of themselves, too content with their power as women to do
anything so foolish. What is the explanation of this profound difference
in attitude? Why has the vision of English women failed? That is the
question to which we have to try to find an answer.


The great part played by women coming forward during the war to take the
place of men called to the army is disclosed in a White Paper recently
issued by the Board of Trade. Over a million and a half women offered
their services, in addition to those already employed.[23:1] The
increase has been the highest in the occupations in which comparatively
few women were engaged before the war. In April, 1918, 701,000 women
were working on munitions and 774,000 in other industrial government
employment. A disturbing fact revealed (called, I note, in the Report an
_interesting point_!) is the number of women who have been engaged in
hard, laboring work. Before the war when the public discovered women
doing very hard work, it excited indignation and pity. The women
chain-makers of Craddock Heath, to cite one example, were accorded
general commiseration. But during the war our feelings on the question
would seem to have undergone a somewhat sudden transformation; a
complete turn-round has taken place in our attitude. Heavy work done by
women - foundry work, for instance, _demanding great expenditure of
physical strength_[24:1] has excited admiration and _become an important
factor of the industrial situation_. A glamour of patriotic war service,
added to the lure of high wages, has been thrown like a cloak of romance
over such exhibitions of female power. They became victories of female
will over female weakness.

Certainly in many cases the work done was quite unsuitable for women.
The employment of married women during long days of tiring work had
inevitable results. Babies were neglected or births were deliberately
prevented. This spendthrift folly will have to be paid for in the

Not that I believe that all apparently hard work to be on an equality
of unfitness for women. Country work is generally healthful; though hard
work it is restful to the nerves. Every kind of nerve-racking work as in
factories, heavy weight-lifting, long standing, and the tending of
machinery without any kind of human interest, must be detrimental to
women. Certain employments, consecrated by custom as comparatively
womanly, yet, in their nerve-exhausting details mean ill-health. Take,
for an instance, the average shop-girl, or machine worker, with her
whitened face, dragging steps and flattened figure: does she not show
plainly that she is anæmic and wanting in vitality? On the other hand,
to my eye the lift attendants on the tubes, the charming conductresses
of the 'buses seem healthy, though their work has been done only
recently by women. I would make the influence of an occupation on
woman's health - considering first and as most important her primary
biological function as a potential mother - the test of its womanliness.
But the health of women will never be protected while we are content to
accept the valuations and suffer the defilements of this commercial age.


Only this morning I have been reading the newly issued _Report of the
War Cabinet Committee on Women in Industry_, a large book of 340 pages,
packed with information, in particular as to "the increased employment
of women owing to the development of automatic machinery." What I read
fills me with dismay and indignation. I was not prepared - and I thought
I was prepared for anything - for such blindness of outlook.

To prove this, let me quote directly from the Report. The Committee
urges rightly the importance to the health of the workers of good food,
clothing and domestic comfort, and the necessity of good wages to
maintain this standard. But _why are these improved conditions
recommended_? Listen to what is said:

_Properly nourished women have a much greater reserve of
energy than they have usually been credited with, and under
suitable conditions they can properly and advantageously be
employed upon more arduous occupation than has been considered
desirable in the past, even when these involve considerable
activity and physical strain...._

And a little further:

_It is desirable that women's wide employment should be made

In another passage the Committee report _that on piece work a woman will
always beat a man_. And again further on: _On mass production she will
come first every time.... Men will never stand the monotony of a fast
repetition job like women; they will not stand by a machine pressing all
their lives, but a woman will._[27:1]

Nothing that I can say, or any writer could say, could be more vividly
condemning than are these passages. They have filled me with so deep a
protest that really I can hardly trust myself to write any comment. This
is the ideal now set before us for the industrial woman "to stand by a
machine pressing all her life." I ask, Is it for this that the sons of
these women have died? Marriage is spoken of as "one of women's
industrial drawbacks," "it makes her less ambitious and enterprising."

Now, I do not wish to be unfair. The questions involved are, I know,
immense and many-sided. There can be no easy dismissal of this valuable
Report in condemnation. Mrs. Sidney Webb's minority Report[28:1] in
particular is valuable; and in many ways the findings of the Committee
are excellent. Everyone must agree with the wise recommendations as to
the reduction of the hours of work and better conditions of labor. They
are in advance of anything hitherto proposed. The popular formula of
"equal pay for equal work" or more correctly "equal value," is accepted.
If women are to do men's work, obviously they ought to be paid men's

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