Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

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

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the future. They read the newspapers, even subscrib-
ing for one if at a boarding-school. In the best of the
American universities the men have been alive
to the war from the first, and a large proportion of the
young Americans who have done gallant service with
the American Ambulance Corps had recently gradu-
ated when the war broke out. Others are serving dur-
ing vacations, and are difficult to lure back to their
studies.

Some of the young Europeans of eighteen or twenty
will come home from the trenches when peace is de-
clared, and beyond a doubt will compel the love if
not the respect of damsels of twenty-five and upward.
But will they care whether they fascinate spinsters of
twenty-five and upward, or not? The fact is not to
be overlooked that there will be as many young girls



A GREAT PROBLEM 285

as youths, and as these girls also have matured during
their long apprenticeship to sorrow and duty, it is not
to be imagined they will fail to interest young warriors
of their own age nor fail to battle for their rights
with every device known to the sex.

Temperament must be taken into consideration, of
course, and a certain percentage of men and women
of unbalanced ages will be drawn together. That
happens in times of peace. Moreover it is likely that
a large number of young Germans in this country
either will conceive it their duty to return to Ger-
many and marry there or import the forlorn in large
numbers. If they have already taken to themselves
American wives it is on the cards that they will re-
nounce them also. There is nothing a German cannot
be made to believe is his duty to the Fatherland, and
he was brought up not to think. But if monarchy
falls in Germany, and a republic, socialistic or merely
democratic, rises on the ruins, then it is more than
likely that the superfluous women will be encouraged
to transfer themselves and their maidenly dreams to
the great dumping-ground of the world.

Unless we legislate meanwhile.



V

FOUR OF THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED

THERE are four other ways in which women
(exclusive of the artist class) are enjoying
remunerative careers: as social secretaries, play
brokers, librarians, and editors; and it seems to me
that I cannot do better than to drop generalities in
this final chapter and give four of the most notable
instances in which women have "made good" in these
highly distinctive professions. I have selected four
whom I happen to know well enough to portray at
length : Maria de Barril, Alice Kauser, Belle da Costa
Greene, and Honore Willsie. It is true that Mrs.
Willsie, being a novelist, belongs to the artist class,
but she is also an editor, which to my mind makes her
success in both spheres the more remarkable. To edit
means hours daily of routine, details, contacts, me-
chanical work, business, that would drive most writers
of fiction quite mad. But Mrs. Willsie is exceptionally
well balanced.

i

MARIA DE BARRIL

A limited number of young women thrown abruptly
upon their own resources become social secretaries if

286



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 287

their own social positions have insensibly prepared
them for the position, and if they live in a city large
enough to warrant this fancy but by no means inac-
tive post. In Washington they are much in demand
by Senators' and Congressmen's wives suddenly trans-
lated from a small town where the banker's lady hob-
nobbed with the prosperous undertaker's family, to a
city where the laws of social precedence are as rigid
as at the court of the Hapsburgs and a good deal
more complicated. But these young women must
themselves have lived in Washington for many years,
or they will be forced to divide their salary with a
native assistant.

The most famous social secretary in the United
States, if not in the world, is Maria de Barril, and
she is secretary not to one rich woman but to New
York society itself. Her position, entirely self-made,
is unique and secure, and well worth telling.

Pampered for the first twenty years of her life like
a princess and with all her blood derived from one of
the oldest and most relaxed nations in Europe, she
was suddenly forced to choose between sinking out
of sight, the mere breath kept in her body, perhaps,
on a pittance from distant relatives, or going to work.

She did not hesitate an instant. Being of society
she knew its needs, and although she was too young
to look far ahead and foresee the structure which was
to rise upon these tentative foundations, she shrewdly
began by offering her services to certain friends often
hopelessly bewildered with the mass of work they



288 THE LIVING PRESENT

were obliged to leave to incompetent secretaries and
housekeepers. One thing led to another, as it always
does with brave spirits, and to-day Miss de Barril has
a position in life which, with its independence and
freedom, she would not exchange for that of any of
her patrons. She conducted her economic venture
with consummate tact from the first. Owing to a
promise made her mother, the haughtiest of old Span-
ish dames as I remember her, she never has entered
on business the houses of the society that employs her,
and has retained her original social position apparently
without effort.

She has offices, which she calls her embassy, and
there, with a staff of secretaries, she advises, dictates,
revises lists, issues thousands of invitations a week
during the season, plans entertainments for practically
all of New York society that makes a business of
pleasure.

Some years ago a scion of one of those New York
families so much written about that they have become
almost historical, married after the death of his
mother, and wished to introduce his bride at a dinner-
dance in the large and ugly mansion whose portals in
his mother's day opened only to the indisputably elect.

The bridegroom found his mother's list, but, never
having exercised his masculine faculties in this fashion
before, and hazy as to whether all on that list were
still alive or within the pale, he wrote to the sociaf
ambassadress asking her to come to his house on a
certain morning and advise him. Miss de Barril re-



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 289

plied that not even for a member of his family, devoted
as she was to it, would she break her promise to her
mother, and he trotted down to her without further
parley. Moreover, she was one of the guests at the
dinner.

Of course it goes without saying that Miss de
Barril has not only brains and energy, but character,
a quite remarkably fascinating personality, and a
thorough knowledge of the world. Many would have
failed where she succeeded. She must have had many
diplomatists among her ancestors, for her tact is in-
credible, although in her case Latin subtlety never has
degenerated into hypocrisy. No woman has more
devoted friends. Personally I know that I should
have thrown them all out of the window the first
month and then retired to a cave on a mountain. She
must have the social sense in the highest degree, com-
bined with a real love of "the world."

Her personal appearance may have something to do
with her success. Descended on one side from the
Incas of Peru, she looks like a Spanish grandee, and
is known variously to her friends as "Inca," "Queen,"
and "Dona Maria" rny own name for her. When
I knew her first she found it far too much of an
effort to pull on her stockings and was as haughty and
arrogant a young girl as was to be found in the then
cold and stately city of New York. She looks as
haughty as ever because it is difficult for a Spaniard
of her blood to look otherwise; but her manners are
now as charming as her manner is imposing; and if



290 THE LIVING PRESENT

the bottom suddenly fell out of Society her developed
force of character would steer her straight into an-
other lucrative position with no disastrous loss of
time.

It remains to be pointed out that she would have
failed in this particular sphere if New York Society
had been as callous and devoid of loyalty even in
those days, as the novel of fashion has won its little
success by depicting it. The most socially eminent of
her friends were those that helped her from the first,
and with them she is as intimate as ever to-day.

ii
ALICE BERTA JOSEPHINE KAUSER

Credit must be given to Elisabeth Marbury for in-
venting the now flourishing and even over-crowded
business of play broker; but as she was of a strongly
masculine character and as surrounded by friends as
Miss de Barril, her success is neither as remarkable
nor as interesting as that of Alice Kauser, who has
won the top place in this business in a great city to
which she came poor and a stranger.

Not that she had grown up in the idea that she
must make her own way in the world. Far from it.
It is for that reason I have selected her as another
example of what a girl may accomplish if she have
character and grit backed up with a thorough intel-
lectual training. For, it must never be forgotten,
unless one is a genius it is impossible to enter the first



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 291

ranks of the world's workers without a good educa-
tion and some experience of the world. Parents that
realize this find no sacrifice too great to give their
children the most essential of all starts in life. But
the extraordinary thing in the United States of
America is how comparatively few parents do realize
it. Moreover, how many are weak enough, even
when with a reasonable amount of self-sacrifice they
could send their children through college, to yield to
the natural desire of youth to "get out and hustle."

Miss Kauser was born in Buda Pest, in the United
States Consular Agency, for her father, although a
Hungarian, was Consular Agent. It was an intel-
lectual family and on her mother's side musically
gifted. Miss Kauser's aunt, Etelka Gerster, when she
came to this country as a prima donna had a brief but
brilliant career, and the music-loving public pros-
trated itself. But her wonderful voice was a fragile
coloratura, and her first baby demolished it. Berta
Gerster, Miss Kauser's mother, was almost equally re-
nowned for a while in Europe.

Mr. Kauser himself was a pupil of Abel Blouet at
the Beaux Arts, but he fought in the Revolution of
1848 in Hungary, and later with Garibaldi in the
Hungarian Legion in Italy.

Miss Kauser, who must have been born well after
these stirring events, was educated by French gov-
ernesses and Polish tutors. Her friends tell the story
of her that she grew up with the determination to be
the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she



292 THE LIVING PRESENT

realized that, although handsome and imposing, she
was not a great beauty according to accepted stand-
ards, she philosophically buried this callow ambition
and announced, "Very well; I shall be the most intel-
lectual woman in the world."

There are no scales by which to make tests of these
delicate degrees of the human mind, even in the case
of authors who put forth four books a year, but there
is no question that Miss Kauser is a highly accom-
plished woman, with a deep knowledge of the litera-
ture of many lands, a passionate feeling for style, and
a fine judgment that is the result of years of hard
intellectual work and an equally profound study of
the world. And who shall say that the wild ambitions
of her extreme youth did not play their part in mak-
ing her what she is to-day? I have heard "ambition"
sneered at all my life, but never by any one who pos-
sessed the attribute itself, or the imaginative power to
appreciate what ambition has meant in the progress
of the world.

Miss Kauser studied for two years at the ficole
Monceau in Paris, although she had been her father's
housekeeper and a mother to the younger children
since the age of twelve. Both in Paris and Buda Pest
she was in constant association with friends of her
father, who developed her intellectual breadth.

Financial reverses brought the family to America
and they settled in Pensacola, Florida. Here Miss
Kauser thought it was high time to put her accomplish-
ments to some use and help out the family exchequer.



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 293

She began almost at once to teach French and music.
When her brothers were older she made up her mind
to seek her fortune in New York and arrived with
a letter or two. For several months she taught music
and literature in private families. Then Mary Bisland
introduced her to Miss Marbury, where she attended
to the French correspondence of the office for a year.

But these means of livelihood were mere makeshifts.
Ambitious, imperious, and able, it was not in her to
work for others for any great length of time. As
soon as she felt that she "knew the ropes" in New
York she told certain friends she had made that she
wished to go into the play brokerage business for her-
self. As she inspires confidence this is one of her
assets her friends staked her, and she opened her
office with the intention of promoting American plays
only. Her trained mind rapidly adapted itself to busi-
ness and in the course of a few years she was handling
the plays of many of the leading dramatists for a
proportionate number of leading producers. When the
war broke out, so successful was she that she had a
house of her own in the East Thirties, furnished with
the beautiful things she had collected during her
yearly visits to Europe for long since she had opened
offices in Paris and London, her business outgrowing
its first local standard.

The war hit her very hard. She had but recently
left the hospital after a severe operation, which had
followed several years of precarious health. She was
quite a year reestablishing her former strength and



294 THE LIVING PRESENT

full capacity for work. One of the most exuberantly
vital persons I had ever met, she looked as frail as a
reed during that first terrible year of the war, but now
seems to have recovered her former energies.

There was more than the common results of an
operation to exasperate her nerves and keep her vital-
ity at a low ebb. Some thirty of her male relatives
were at the Front, and the whole world of the theater
was smitten with a series of disastrous blows. Sixteen
plays on the road failed in one day, expensive plays
ran a week in New York. Managers went into bank-
ruptcy. It was a time of strain and uncertainty and
depression, and nobody suffered more than the play
brokers. Miss Kauser as soon as the war broke out
rented her house and went into rooms that she might
send to Hungary all the money she could make over
expenses, and for a year this money was increasingly
difficult to collect, or even to make. But if she de-
spaired no one heard of it. She hung on. By and by
the financial tide turned for the country at large and
she was one of the first to ride on the crest. Her
business is now greater than ever, and her interest
in life as keen.

in

BELLE DA COSTA GREENE

This "live wire," one of the outstanding person-
alities in New York, despite her youth, is the anti-
thesis of the two previous examples of successful
women in business, inasmuch as no judge on the



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 295

bench nor surgeon at the Front ever had a severer
training for his profession than she. People who
meet for the first time the young tutelar genius of Mr.
Morgan's Library, take for granted that any girl so
fond of society, so fashionable in dress and appoint-
ments, and with such a comet's tail of admirers, must
owe her position with its large salary to "pull," and
that it is probably a sinecure anyway.

Little they know.

Belle Greene, who arrests even the casual if astute
observer with her overflowing jole de vivre and im-
presses him as having the best of times in this best
of all possible worlds, is perhaps the "keenest on her
job" of any girl in the city of New York. Let any
of these superficial admirers attempt to obtain en-
trance, if he can, to the Library, during the long hours
of work, and with the natural masculine intention of
clinching the favorable impression he made on the
young lady the evening before, and he will depart in
haste, moved to a higher admiration or cursing the
well-known caprice of woman, according to his own
equipment.

For Miss Greene's determination to be one of the
great librarians of the world took form within her
precocious brain at the age of thirteen and it has never
fluctuated since. Special studies during both school
and recreation hours were pursued to the end in view :
Latin, Greek, French, German, history the rise and
spread of civilization in particular, and as demon-
strated by the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of the



296 THE LIVING PRESENT

world. When she had absorbed all the schools could
give her, she took an apprenticeship in the Public
Library system in order thoroughly to ground herself
in the clerical and routine phases of the work.

She took a special course in bibliography at the
Amherst Summer Library School, and then entered
the Princeton University Library on nominal pay at
the foot of the ladder, and worked up through every
department in order to perfect herself for the position
of University Librarian.

While at Princeton she decided to specialize in early
printing, rare books, and historical and illuminated
manuscripts. She studied the history of printing from
its inception in 1445 to the present day. It was after
she had taken up the study of manuscripts from the
standpoint of their contents that she found that it was
next to impossible to progress further along that line
in this country, as at that time we had neither the ma-
terial nor the scholars. She has often expressed the
wish that there had been in her day a Morgan Library
for consultation.

When she had finished the course at Princeton she
went abroad and studied with the recognized authori-
ties in England and Italy. Ten years, in fact, were
spent in unceasing application, what the college boy
calls "grind," without which Miss Greene is convinced
it is impossible for any one to succeed in any vocation
or attain a distinguished position. To all demands for
advice her answer is, "Work, work, and more work."

She took hold of the Morgan Library in its raw



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 297

state, when the valuable books and MSS. Mr. Morgan
had bought at sales in Europe were still packed in
cases; and out of that initial disorder Belle Greene,
almost unaided, has built up one of the greatest
libraries in the world. Soon after her installation
she began a systematic course in Art research. She
visited the various museums and private collections of
this country, and got in touch with the heads of the
different departments and their curators. She fol-
lowed their methods until it was borne in upon her
that most of them were antiquated and befogging,
whereupon she began another course in Europe during
the summer months in order to study under the ex-
perts in the various fields of art; comparing the works
of artists and artisans of successive periods, applying
herself to the actual technique of painting in its many
phases, studying the influence of the various masters
upon their contemporaries and future disciples.

By attending auction sales, visiting dealers con-
stantly and all exhibitions, reading all art periodicals,
she soon learned the commercial value of art objects.

Thus in time she was able and with authority to
assist Mr. Morgan in the purchase of his vast col-
lections which embraced art in all its forms. With the
exception of that foundation of the library which
caused Mr. Morgan to engage her services, she has
purchased nearly every book and manuscript it con-
tains.

Another branch of the collectors' art that engaged
Miss Greene's attention was the clever forgery, a busi-



298 THE LIVING PRESENT

ness in itself. She even went so far as to buy more
than one specimen, thus learning by actual handling
and examination to distinguish the spurious from the
real. Now she knows the difference at a glance. She
maintains there is even a difference in the smell. Mr.
Morgan bought nothing himself without consulting
her; if they were on opposite sides of the world he
used the cable.

Naturally Miss Greene to-day enjoys the entree to
that select and jealously guarded inner circle of au-
thorities, who despise the amateur, but who recognize
this American girl, who has worked as hard as a day
laborer, as "one of them." But she maintains that if
she had not thoroughly equipped herself in the first
place not even the great advantages she enjoyed as
Mr. Morgan's librarian could have given her the
peculiar position she now enjoys, a position that is
known to few of the people she plays about with in
her leisure hours.

She has adopted the mottoes of the two contempor-
aries she has most admired : Mr. Morgan's "Onward
and Upward" and Sarah Bernhardt's "Quand Meme."

IV

HONOR WILLSIE

Honore Willsie, who comes of fine old New Eng-
land stock, although she looks like a Burne-Jones and
would have made a furore in London in the Eighties,
was brought up in the idea that an American woman



THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED 299

should fit herself for self-support no matter what her
birth and conditions. Her mother, although the
daughter of a rich man, was brought up on the same
principles, and taught school until she married. All
her friends, no matter how well-off, made themselves
useful and earned money.

Therefore, Mrs. Willsie was thoroughly imbued
while a very young girl with the economic ideal, al-
though her mother had planted with equal thorough-
ness the principle that it was every woman's primary
duty to marry and have a family.

Mrs. Willsie was educated at Madison, Wisconsin,
beginning with the public schools and graduating from
the University. She married immediately after leav-
ing college, and, encouraged by her husband, a sci-
entist, and as hard a student as herself, she began to
write. Her first story followed the usual course; it
was refused by every magazine to which she sent it;
but, undiscouraged, she rewrote it for a syndicate. For
a year after this she used the newspapers as a sort of
apprenticeship to literature and wrote story after
story until she had learned the craft of "plotting."
When she felt free in her new medium she began writ-
ing for the better magazines ; and, compared with most
authors, she has had little hard climbing in her upward
course. Naturally, there were obstacles and setbacks,
but she is not of the stuff that ten times the number
could discourage.

Then came the third stage. She wrote a novel. It
was refused by many publishers in New York, but



300 THE LIVING PRESENT

finally accepted as a serial in the first magazine that
had rejected it.

This was The Heart of the Desert. After that fol-
lowed Still Jim which established her and paved the
way for an immediate reception for that other fine
novel of American ideals, Lydia of the Pines.

It was about two years ago that she was asked
to undertake the editorship of the Delineator, and at
first she hesitated, although the "job" appealed to her;
she had no reason to believe that she possessed execu-
tive ability. The owner, who had "sized her up,"
thought differently, and the event has justified him.
She ranks to-day as one of the most successful, cour-
ageous, and resourceful editors of woman's magazines
in the country. The time must come, of course, when
she no longer will be willing to give up her time to
editorial work, now that there is a constant demand
for the work she loves best; but the experience with
its contacts and its mental training must always have
its value. The remarkable part of it was that she
could fill such a position without having served some
sort of an apprenticeship first. Nothing but the sound
mental training she had received at home and at col-
lege, added to her own determined will, could have
saved her from failure in spite of her mental gifts.

Mrs. Willsie, like all women worth their salt, says
that she never has felt there was the slightest dis-
crimination made against her work by publishers or
editors because she was a woman.



ADDENDUM

NOTE. Six months ago I wrote asking Madame d'Andigne" to
send me notes of her work before becoming the President of Le Bien-
Etre du Blesse. She promised, but no woman in France is busier.
The following arrived after the book was in press, so I can only
give it verbatim. G. A .

At the time this gigantic struggle broke out I was in America.
My first thought was to get to France as soon as possible. I
sailed on August 2nd for Cherbourg but as we were pursued by
two German ships our course was changed and I landed in Eng-


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Online LibraryGertrude Franklin Horn AthertonThe living present : the work of French women in war time → online text (page 18 of 19)