Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The living present : the work of French women in war time online

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soldier but nothing more. The valet discovered ex-
traordinary capacities. Not only did he win the cov-
eted medals in the course of the first few months, but
when his shattered regiment under fire in the open
was deprived of its officers he took command and led
the remnant to victory. A few more similar per-
formances proving that his usefulness was by no
means the result of the moment's exaltation but of
real however unsuspected gifts, he was rapidly pro-
moted until he was captain of his former employer's
company. There appears to have been no mean envy
in the nature of the less fortunate aristocrat. Sev-


eral times they have received their permission to-
gether and he has taken his old servant home with
him and given him the seat of honor at his own
table. His mother and sisters have made no demur
whatever, but are proud that their menage should have
given a fine soldier to France. Perhaps only the no-
blesse who are unalterably sure of themselves would
have been capable of rising above the age-old preju-
dices of caste, war or no war.


French women rarely emigrate. Never, if they can
help it. Our servant question may be solved after the
war by the manless women of other races, but the
Frenchwoman will stay in her country, if possible in
her home. All girls, the major part of the young
widows (who have created a panic among the little
spinsters) will marry if they can, not only because
marriage is still the normal career of woman but be-
cause of their sense of duty to the State. But that
social France after the war will bear more than a
family resemblance to the France that reached the
greatest climax in her history on August second, nine-
teen- fourteen, has ceased to be a matter of speculation.

Although I went to France to examine the work of
the Frenchwomen only, it would be ungracious, as
well as a disappointment to many readers, not to give


the names at least of some of the many American
women who live in France or who spend a part of
the year there and are working as hard as if this great
afflicted country were their own. Some day their
names will be given to the world in a full roll of
honor. I do not feel sure that I know of half of them,
but I have written down all I can recall. The list, of
course, does not include the names of Americans mar-
ried to Frenchmen:

Mrs. Sharp, Miss Anne Morgan, Mrs. Tuck, Mrs.
Bliss, Miss Elisabeth Marbury, Miss Elsie de Wolfe,
Mrs. Robert Bacon, Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt, Mrs.
Whitney Warren, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Canfield Fisher,
Miss Grace Ellery Channing, Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Car-
roll of Carrollton, Mrs. Sherman, Mrs. Cooper
Hewett, Miss Holt, Mrs. William H. Hill, Mrs. Shaw,
Mrs. Frederick H. Allen, Mrs. Harry Payne Whit-
ney, Miss Fairchild, Mrs. Younger, Mrs. Morton
Mitchell, Mrs. Fleury, Mrs. Sales, Mrs. Hyde, Mrs.
William Astor Chanler, Mrs. Ridgeley Carter, Miss
Ethel Crocker, Miss Daisy Polk, Miss Janet Scudder,
Mrs. Lathrop, Miss Vail, Mrs. Samuel Watson, Mrs.
Armstrong Whitney, Mrs. Lawrence Slade, Miss Yan-
dell, Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Duryea, Mrs. Depew, Mrs.
Marion Crocker, Miss Mary Eyre, Mrs. Gros, Mrs.
Van Heukelom, Mrs. Tarn McGrew, Mrs. Schoninger,
Miss Grace Lounsbery, Mrs. Lawrence, the Princess
Poniatowska, and Isadora Duncan.



IT is possible that if the European War had been
averted the history of Feminism would have made
far different reading say fifty years hence. The
militant suffragettes of England had degenerated from
something like real politicians into mere neurasthenics
and not only had lost what little chance they seemed
for a time to have of being taken seriously by the
British Government, but had very nearly alienated
the many thousands of women without the ranks that
were wavering in the balance. This was their most
serious mistake, for the chief handicap of the mili-
tants had been that too few women were disposed
toward suffrage, or even interested. The history of
the world shows that when any large body of people
in a community want anything long enough and hard
enough, and go after it with practical methods, they
obtain it in one form or another. But the women of



Britain as well as the awakening women of other na-
tions east and west of the Atlantic, were so disgusted
and alarmed by this persisting lack of self-control in
embryonic politicians of their sex that they voted
silently to preserve their sanity under the existing
regime. It has formed one of the secret sources of
the strength of the antis, that fear of the complete
demoralization of their sex if freed from the imme-
morial restraints imposed by man.

This attitude of mind does not argue a very dis-
tinguished order of reasoning powers or of clear
thinking; but then not too many men, in spite of their
centuries of uninterrupted opportunity, face innova-
tions or radical reforms with unerring foresight.
There is a strong conservative instinct in the average
man or woman, born of the hereditary fear of life,
that prompts them to cling to old standards, or, if too
intelligent to look inhospitably upon progress, to move
very slowly. Both types are the brakes and wheel-
horses necessary to a stable civilization, but history,
even current history in the newspapers, would be dull
reading if there were no adventurous spirits willing to
do battle for new ideas. The militant women of Eng-
land would have accomplished wonders if their nervous
systems had not broken down under the prolonged

It is probable that, after this war is over the women
of the belligerent nations will be given the franchise
by the weary men that are left, if they choose to insist
upon it. They have shown the same bravery, endur-


ance, self-sacrifice, resource, and grim determination
as the men. In every war, it may be argued, women
have displayed the same spirit and the same qualities,
proving that they needed but the touchstone of oppor-
tunity to reveal the splendor of their endowment, but
treated by man, as soon as peace was restored, as the
same old inferior annex.

This is true enough, but the point of difference is
that never, prior to the Great War, was such an enor-
mous body of women awake after the lethargic sub-
mission of centuries, and clamoring for their rights.
Never before have millions of women been supporting
themselves; never before had they even contemplated
organization and the direct political attack. Of course
the women of Europe, exalted and worked half to
death, have, with the exception of a few irrepressibles,
put all idea of self-aggrandizement aside for the mo-
ment ; but this idea had grown too big and too domin-
ant to be dismissed for good and all, with last year's
fashions and the memory of delicate plats prepared by
chefs now serving valiantly within the lines. The big
idea, the master desire, the obsession, if you like, is
merely taking an enforced rest, and there is persist-
ent speculation as to what the thinking and the ener-
getic women of Europe will do when this war is over,
and how far men will help or hinder them.

I have written upon this question in its bearings
upon the women of France more fully in another
chapter ; but it may be stated here that such important
feminists as Madame Verone, the eminent avocat, and


Mile. Valentine Thompson, the youngest but one of the
ablest of the leaders, while doing everything to help
and nothing to embarrass their Government, never
permit the question to recede wholly to the back-
ground. Mile. Thompson argues that the men in
authority should not be permitted for a moment to
forget, not the services of women in this terrible
chapter of France's destiny, for that is a matter of
course, as ever, but the marked capabilities women
have shown when suddenly thrust into positions of
authority. In certain invaded towns the wives of im-
prisoned or executed Mayors have taken their place
almost automatically and served with a capacity unre-
lated to sex. In some of these towns women have
managed the destinies of the people since the first
month of the war, understanding them as no man has
ever done, and working harder than most men are ever
willing to work. Thousands have, under the spur,
developed unsuspected capacities, energies, endurance,
above all genuine executive abilities. That these
women should be swept back into private life by the
selfishness of men when the killing business is over,
is, to Mile. Thompson's mind, unthinkable. In her
newspaper, La Vie Feminine, she gives weekly in-
stances of the resourcefulness and devotion of French
womanhood, and although the women of her country
have never taken as kindly to the idea of demanding
the franchise as those of certain other nations, still
it is more than possible that she will make many
converts before the war is over.


These are not to be "suffrage" chapters. There is
no doubt in my mind that the women of all nations
will have the franchise eventually, if only because it
is ridiculous that they should be permitted to work
like men (often supporting husbands, fathers, broth-
ers) and not be permitted all the privileges of men.
Man, who grows more enlightened every year often
sorely against his will must appreciate this anomaly
in due course, and by degrees will surrender the
franchise as freely to women as he has to negroes and
imbeciles. When women have received the vote for
which they have fought and bled, they will use it with
just about the same proportion of conscientiousness
and enthusiasm as busy men do. One line in the credo
might have been written of human nature A.D. 1914-
1917: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever
shall be."

But while suffrage and feminism are related, they
are far from identical. Suffrage is but a milestone
in feminism, which may be described as the more or
less concerted sweep of women from the backwaters
into the broad central stream of life. Having for un-
told centuries given men to the world they now want
the world from men. There is no question in the
progressive minds of both sexes that, outside of the
ever-recurrent war zones, they should hereafter divide
the great privileges of life and civilization in equal
shares with men.

Several times before in the history of the world
comparatively large numbers of women have made


themselves felt, claiming certain equal rights with the
governing sex. But their ambitions were generally
confined to founding religious orders, obtaining ad-
mission to the universities, or to playing the intellect-
ual game in the social preserves. In the wonderful
thirteenth century women rivaled men in learning and
accomplishments, in vigor of mind and decision of
character. But this is the first time that millions of
them have been out in the world "on their own," in-
vading almost every field of work, for centuries sac-
rosanct to man. There is even a boiler-maker in the
United States who worked her way up in poor-boy
fashion and now attends conventions of boiler-makers
on equal terms. In tens of thousands of cases women
have made good, in the arts, professions, trades, busi-
nesses, clerical positions, and even in agriculture and
Battle raising. They are brilliant aviators, yachtsmen,
automobile drivers, showing failure of nerve more
rarely than men, although, as they are not engaged in
these pursuits in equal numbers perhaps that is not
a fair statement. Suffice it to say that as far as they
have gone they have asked for no quarter. It is quite
true that in certain of the arts, notably music, they
have never equaled men, and it has been held against
them that all the great chefs are men. Here it is
quite justifiable to take refuge in the venerable axiom,
"Rome was not made in a day." It is not what they
have failed to accomplish with their grinding disabili-
ties but the amazing number of things in which they
have shown themselves the equal if not the superior


of men. Whether their success is to be permanent,
or whether they have done wisely in invading man's
domain so generally, are questions to be attacked later
when considering the biological differences between
men and women. The most interesting problem relat-
ing to women that confronts us at present is the effect
of the European War on the whole status of woman.

If the war ends before this nation is engulfed
we shall at least keep our men, and the males of
this country are so far in excess of the females that
it is odd so many American women should be driven
to self-support. In Great Britain the women have
long outnumbered the men; it was estimated before
the war that there were some three hundred thousand
spinsters for whom no husbands were available. After
the war there will be at best something like a propor-
tion of one whole man to three women (confining
these unwelcome prophecies to people of marriageable
age) ; and the other afflicted countries, with the possi-
ble exception of Russia, will show a similar disloca-
tion of the normal balance. The acute question will
be repopulation with a view to another trial of mili-
tary supremacy a generation hence! and all sorts of
expedients are being suggested, from polygamy to
artificial fertilization. It may be that the whole future
of woman as well as of civilization after this war is
over depends upon whether she concludes to serve
the State or herself.

While in France in the summer of 1916, I heard
childless women say : "Would that I had six sons to


give to France!" I heard unmarried women say:
"Thank heaven I never married!" I heard bitterness
expressed by bereft mothers, terror and despair by
others when the curtain had rung down and they could
relax the proud and smiling front they presented to
the world. Not one would have had her son shirk
his duty, nor asked for compromise with the enemy,
but all prayed for the war to end. It is true that these
men at the front are heroes in the eyes of their women,
worshiped by the majority when they come home
briefly as permissionnaires, and it is also true that
France is an old military nation and that the brain-
cells of its women are full of ancestral memories of
war. <But never before have women done as much
thinking for themselves as they are doing to-day, as
they had done for some fifteen or twenty years before
the war. That war has now lasted almost three years.
During this long and terrible period there has been
scarcely a woman in France, as in Britain, Russia,
Italy, Germany, who has not done her share behind
the lines, working, at her self-appointed tasks or at
those imposed by the Government, for months on end
without a day of rest. They have had contacts that
never would have approached them otherwise, they
have been obliged to think for themselves, for thou-
sands of helpless poor, for the men at the Front. The
Frenchwomen particularly have forced men to deal
with them as human beings and respect them as such,
dissipating in some measure those mists of sex through
which the Frenchman loves to stalk in search of the


elusive and highly-sophisticated quarry. As long as
a woman was sexually attractive she could never hope
to meet man on an equal footing, no matter how en-
trancing he might find her mental qualities. She must
play hide-and-seek, exercise finesse, seduction, keep
the flag of sex flying ever on the ramparts. It is
doubtful if Frenchmen will change 'in this respect,
but it is more than doubtful if women do not.

There is hardly any doubt that if this war lasts
long enough women for the first time in the history
of civilization will have it in their power to seize one
at least of the world's reins. But will they do it I
am now speaking of women in mass, not of the ad-
vanced thinkers, or of women of the world who have
so recently ascertained that there is a special joy in
being free of the tyranny of sex, a tyranny that
emanated no less from within than without.

It is to be imagined that all the men who are
fighting in this most trying of all wars are heroes in
the eyes of European women as well they may be
and that those who survive are likely to be regarded
with a passionate admiration not unmixed with awe.
The traditional weakness of women where men are
concerned (which after all is but a cunning device
of Nature) may swamp their great opportunity. They
may fight over the surviving males like dogs over a
bone, marry with sensations of profound gratitude (or
patriotic fervor) the armless, the legless, the blind,
the terrible face mutiles, and drop forever out of the
ranks of Woman as differentiated from the ranks of


mere women. What has hampered the cause of
Woman in Great Britain and Europe so far is the
quite remarkable valuation put upon the male by the
female. This is partly temperamental, partly female
preponderance, but it is even more deeply rooted in
those vanished centuries during which man proclaimed
and maintained his superiority. Circumstances helped
him for thousands of years, and he has been taken
by the physically weaker and child-bearing sex at his
own estimate. It is difficult for American women to
appreciate this almost servile attitude of even British
women to mere man. One of the finest things about
the militant woman, one by which she scored most
heavily, was her flinging off of this tradition and dis-
playing a shining armor of indifference toward man
as man. This startled the men almost as much as
the window smashing, and made other women, living
out their little lives under the frowns and smiles of
the dominant male, think and ponder, wonder if their
small rewards amounted to half as much as the un-
tasted pleasures of power and independence.

It is always a sign of weakness to give one side of a
picture and blithely ignore the other. Therefore, let
me hasten to add that it is a well-known fact that
Mrs. Pankhurst had borne and reared six children
before she took up the moribund cause of suffrage;
and that after a season's careful investigation in Lon-
don at the height of the militant movement I con-
cluded that never in the world had so many unattractive
females been banded together in any one cause. Even


the young girls I heard speaking on street corners,
mounted on boxes, looked gray, dingy, sexless. Of
course there were many handsome, even lovely, women,
like Mrs. Cavendish-Bentinck and Lady Hall, for
instance interested in "the movement," contributing
funds, and giving it a certain moral support; but
when it came to the window smashers, the jail seek-
ers, the hunger-strikers, the real martyrs of that ex-
traordinary minor chapter of Englands history, there
was only one good-looking woman in the entire army
Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence and militant extravagances
soon became too much for her. There were intelli-
gent women galore, women of the aristocracy born
with a certain style, and showing their breeding even
on the soap-box, but sexually attractive women never,
and even the youngest seemed to have been born with-
out the bloom of youth. The significance of this,
however, works both ways. If men did not want
them, at least there was something both noble and
pitiful in their willingness to sacrifice those dreams
and hopes which are the common heritage of the
lovely and the plain, the old and the young, the Circe
and the Amazon, to the ultimate freedom of those
millions of their sisters lulled or helpless in the en-
chanted net of sex.

It is doubtful if even the militants can revert to
their former singleness of purpose; after many months,
possibly years, of devotion to duty, serving State and
man, the effacement of self, appreciation of the naked
fact that the integrity of their country matters more


than anything else on earth, they may be quite un-
able to rebound to their old fanatical attitude toward
suffrage as the one important issue of the Twentieth
Century. Even the very considerable number of those
women that have reached an appearance which would
eliminate them from the contest over such men as
are left may be so chastened by the hideous sufferings
they have witnessed or heard of daily, so moved by
the astounding endurance and grim valor of man
(who nearest approaches to godhood in time of war)
that they will have lost the disposition to tear from
him the few compensations the new era of peace can
offer. If that is the case, if women at the end of
the war are soft, completely rehabilitated in that
femininity, or femaleness, which was their original en-
dowment from Nature, the whole great movement
will subside, and the work must begin over again by
unborn women and their accumulated grievances some
fifty years hence.

Nothing is more sure than that Nature will take
advantage of the lull to make a desperate attempt to
recover her lost ground. Progressive women, and
before the war their ranks were recruited daily, were
one of the most momentous results of the forces of
the higher civilization, an evolution that in Nature's
eye represented a lamentable divergence from type.
Here is woman, with all her physical disabilities, be-
come man's rival in all of the arts, save music, and in
nearly all of the productive walks of life, as well as in
a large percentage of the professional and executive;


intellectually the equal if not the superior of the aver-
age man who in these days, poor devil, is born a
specialist and making a bold bid for political equality.

It has been a magnificent accomplishment, and it
has marked one of the most brilliant and picturesque
milestones in human progress. It seems incredible
that woman, in spite of the tremendous pressure that
Nature will put upon her, may revert weakly to type.
The most powerful of all the forces working for Na-
ture and against feminism will be the quite brutal and
obscene naturalness of war, and the gross familiarity
of civilization with it for so long a period. There
is reversion to type with a vengeance ! The ablest of
the male inheritors of the accumulated wisdom and
experiences and civilizing influences of the ages were
in power prior to August 1914, and not one of them
nor all combined had the foresight to circumvent, or
the diplomatic ingenuity to keep in leash the panting
Hun. They are settling their scores, A.D. 1914-1917,
by brute fighting. There has been some brain work
during this war so far, but a long sight more brute
work. As it was in the beginning, etc.

And the women, giving every waking hour to
ameliorating the lot of the defenders of their hearth
and their honor, or nursing the wounded in hospital,
have been stark up against the physical side : whether
making bombs in factories, bandages or uniforms,
washing gaping wounds, preparing shattered bodies for
burial, or listening to the horrid tales of men and
women home on leave.



The European woman, in spite of her exalted pitch,
is living a more or less mechanical life at present.
Even where she has revealed unsuspected creative
ability, as soon as her particular task is mapped she
subsides into routine. As a rule she is quite automati-
cally and naturally performing those services and
duties for which Nature so elaborately equipped her,
ministering to man almost exclusively, even when tem-
porarily filling his place in the factory and the tram-
car. Dienen! Dienen! is the motto of one and all of
these Kundrys, whether they realize it or not, and it
is on the cards that they may never again wish to
somersault back to that mental attitude where they
would dominate not serve.

On the other hand civilization may for once prove
stronger than Nature. Thinking women and there
are a few hundred thousands of them may emerge
from this hideous reversion of Europe to barbarism
with an utter contempt for man. They may despise
the men of affairs for muddling Europe into the most
terrible war in history, in the very midst of the great-
est civilization of which there is any record. They
may experience a secret but profound revulsion from
the men wallowing in blood and filth for months on
end, living only to kill. The fact that the poor men
can't help it does not alter the case. The women
can't help it either. Women have grown very fastid-
ious. The sensual women and the quite unimaginative

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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 13 of 19)