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continue to prevail, and it may well be that the signs may develop into
conditions and South America prove a close follower, if not a pioneer,
in the march of feminine advancement and culture.



We have now reached the point in our consideration of the women of our
own land where we are free to turn to the story of the American woman as
she is generally known the woman of the United States. Of course
scientific ethnology recognizes no such nomenclature, giving the title
of "American" only to the aborigines of this continent; but we who write
and read this work are not concerned to be scientific but rather
perspicacious on the one side and perspicuous on the other, and the
generally accepted nomenclature will be adopted here and the woman of
the United States and the mother-colonies spoken of as being, by right
as well as acceptation, the American woman to all other lands and ages.

Before entering upon the history of the woman of our country, it seems
needful to cast a glance upon some general conditions which must be
reckoned with in our estimate and appreciation of the women of America
and their history. As a preliminary, the story of the Blue Fairy will be
related, - a story so old that it may be new to most of the readers of
this volume and which, fairy story though it be, has yet a meaning in
the study of the history of women, if we will but seek it out. Here is
the story, as told by Stahl:

"One day the Blue Fairy descended to earth with the courteous intention
of distributing to all the young girls of in the different nations the
treasures of beauty that she brought with her.

"Her dwarf Amaranth sounded his horn, and instantly a young girl of
every nation presented herself at the foot of the Blue Fairy's throne.
Then, after having made a short speech, she proceeded to distribute her

"She gave to the young girl who represented all the Castiles locks so
black and long that she could make a mantilla of them.

"To the Italian she gave eyes as bright and burning as an eruption of
Vesuvius in the middle of the night.

"To the Turkish girl, a figure as round as the moon and as soft as

"To the English girl, an aurora borealis to tint her cheeks, her lips,
and her shoulders.

"To the German, teeth like her own, and a tender heart.

"To the Russian, the dignity of a queen.

"Then, going into details, she put gayety on the lips of the Neapolitan
_wit in the brain of the Irish girl_ good sense in the heart of the
Flemish girl; and, when nothing remained to be given, she arose to take
her flight.

"'And I?' said the Parisian to her, detaining her by the floating border
of her tunic.

"'I had forgotten you.'

"'Entirely forgotten, madam.'

'"I overlooked you. But what can I do? My bag of gifts is empty.'

"She reflected an instant, and then called around her the recipients of
her gifts, told them the situation, and asked them to share their
treasures with their unfortunate sister. Who could refuse a fairy, and
above all the Blue Fairy? So, with the graciousness always conferred by
happiness, these girls in turn approached the neglected Parisian and as
they passed her one threw her a part of her black hair, another a tint
of her rosy complexion; this one a beam of her joyousness, that one a
touch of her sensibility; and thus it came about that the Parisian, so
poor, so obscure, so eclipsed by her sisters, found herself in an
instant, by this generous division, richer and more attractively endowed
than any of her companions."

Now this charming little parable is by courtesy true of the Parisienne;
but it is far truer of the American woman, for of her it might have been
written as a parable indeed. The product of no one blood, no isolated
race, she has been given by the fusion of variant races in her ancestry
an origin and a tradition, both physical and mental, such as has been
granted to no other woman of whom history tells us. Into the ancestry of
the English woman entered the elements of the Celtic blood, Brythonic
and Goidal, of the Saxons and Teutons, of the later Normans and even
Proven√Іals, while through all, perhaps, ran the strain of the primitive
Briton and Pict; but not even in this mingling of races can she compare
with her American sister in diversity of racial source. Moreover, the
English stock, which we unite in calling - incorrectly - the Anglo-Saxon,
has remained permanent in type and fount; but this is not so with the
American. This latter is in constant process of modification by the
introduction of new progenital elements, and it cannot now be prophesied
when there will be a clearly-defined race, with individual and permanent
characteristics, established upon this side of the great seas.

Therefore the American woman is the heir of the ages in a sense never
before true of anyone. As with the Parisian in the story, so with the
American woman in truth, all races have united in bringing her of their
best gifts. It is for her to make of these the best that she may;
certainly none of her sisters has ever begun her career with such
fortune brought her by destiny as a birth-gift.

It must not, however, be forgotten or unnoted that, while the American
woman is thus rich in a heritage unequalled by that granted to any of
her sisters, being world-heir instead of heir to a race, she has some
corresponding disadvantages to overcome in her effort to influence as a
racial representative the currents of world-thought and world-progress.
She has behind her no national tradition stretching far back into a past
so remote that it has ceased to be effect and has become merely
foundation. The American woman, alone of all the representatives of the
higher cultures, has no effective nationality to shape her trend. She is
a product of her time only, not of time and ancient tradition mingled;
she has no distinct nationality of growth and line of progress. Every
other woman of Caucasian race has a past to which to refer as
inspiration and cause, a past which is a story of upward growth, of
ever-increasing culture. The American woman found her culture ready for
her - was already, at her birth, the child and expression of the highest
civilization known to her day. She had no need of exerting formative
influence upon her race; all was already done to her hand. Thus she
lacks the greatest of all traditions - the tradition of growth and

Yet, though not of native production, though lacking the influence of
constant-trending nationality, the American woman is and always has been
strongly individual. While she is not an indigenous development, not a
result of racial growth and broadening, yet her development has been
essentially characteristic. She has reached forward upon lines of
variant trend from those of her sisters of other cultures, and she is
truly a product of her country in that she has been shaped by the
conditions of the time and circumstances of that country's birth. There
was breathed into her from the first the informing spirit of the typical
American civilization the spirit of freedom. And into her nature has
also come another spirit distinctively American - the spirit of the
wilderness subdued and conquered, of a barren land made to yield its
treasures to the arm of the pioneer the spirit of conquest. There is no
new gift of mind or soul brought to her by other nations that has not
been modified by these twin spirits. Thus, though heir to all nations
and peoples, though product of all cultures, she remains typically
American in dominant traits, in the path in which she has chosen to set
her feet. Latin and Teuton, Slav and Celt, she has in her veins the
blood of them all; but she is still less their result than their
modification, and she is still the child of America even more than of
the world which has given her life.

The conditions under which the northern continent of America was first
settled were somewhat peculiar as contrasted with those of any other
settlement whose full history we know. It was entirely different, for
example, from the settlement of South America or Mexico. In both the
latter cases there was what may be described as a blow and a victory;
there was a conquest over a primitive, even if remarkably civilized
people, and that was the end of the matter save for the mere formal
colonization which followed. This was not the case with the colonization
of North America. There was no overt or complete conquest; on the
contrary, there was at first overture of peace between the inhabitants
of the country and the newcomers. This did not last; the whole of the
first history of the colonization of North America may be summed up, at
least in its most prominent aspect, in one word - war. But this warfare
was not decisive; it was not waged against a nation, but against
nations, fighting individually and jealously of each other indeed, - else
they must have prevailed at first, - but yet constantly bringing forward
new disputants of the title of the newcomers to the land.

The country had to be won from its original owners step by step, not by
one or many blows; the process of reclamation was by a steady pushing
back of the aborigines, not by a conquest such as that of Norman over
Saxon or even Englishman over Maori. There was no conquered race to
become eventually amalgamated with its conquerors; the history of all
the first period of settlement is the history of civilization driving
barbarism before it as it marched on. But for such methods there was
need of a somewhat peculiar and very strenuous civilization; the desired
result was not to be won by any graces or abstractions, but by the
prevailing of white stamina, bravery, and ingenuity over red cunning and
tradition and honesty - of the axe over the tomahawk, of the rifle over
the bow. It was the triumph of the knowledge rather than the principles
belonging to a higher culture than that which was going down; it was
Friar Bacon with his gunpowder, not Francis Bacon with his learning, who
was fighting the battle of the white against the red, and was affecting
the progress of the world.

In conditions arising from strife woman has but little place. She may
indeed be present, and even be a part of the conditions which are
inevitable in times of conquest; but she is there only as an accident,
not as a requisite. The elimination of the influence of woman from the
trend of present civilization would be fatal to all approach to any
worthy goal; but in the time of the beginnings of our country's story
woman was a hindrance rather than a help to progress, since by her
presence and the consequent anxiety and by her weakness in physical
prowess she enfeebled the fighting powers of the garrison or village.
Even so, she had her part, and an honorable one, in the events which
established white dominance in America; but it was one that was
necessarily subordinate in the eyes of the chroniclers of those times,
and so we hear but little of women in the flush of our country's dawn.
It is not to be questioned that in the first colonies planted by England
in the New World there were women - perhaps nearly as many as men. We are
apt to forget, by the way, that Virginia was originally settled by the
Spaniards under Menendez, the perpetrator of the terrible massacre in
Florida by which his name is best remembered, and that the Latin races,
both Spanish and French, long anticipated the English in colonization of
our country. It is quite certain that in all these early Latin colonies
there were women and that these bore no inconsiderable part in the
events which were trending, though sometimes by devious paths, to the
establishment of Caucasian empire in America; but their names are
unknown to us and we are even ignorant of their place in the history of
their time. The story of southern settlement, as far as this has any
effect upon the present, begins for us with the settlement of Roanoke
Island by Sir Walter Raleigh's ill-fated colony. The tale of its
mysterious disappearance is too well known to call for recapitulation
here; but before that sudden and final ending of its story we have
chronicles which tell us that among these pioneer pilgrims were women,
mostly wives of the men settlers, who bore their part in the burden and
heat of the day, - and those days were toilsome and full of peril, - as
well as their more active lords. Also to that lost colony belongs the
honor of having reared the first alien child born on American soil, the
forerunner of the race that was to make that soil its own, - Virginia
Dare, the little maiden whose passing was as mysterious as her coming
was ominous. The first of the enormous army of the conquering palefaces
who were to overrun the land like locusts, she passed away into the
mysterious silence of the woods as the standard bearer of the advance,
leaving her name to be a shadowy record for all future ages and the very
embodiment of the spirit of romance that was in the story of the
subjugation of America. Had she lived the normal life of the woman
pioneer, her memory would have lacked something of romance; but her
unknown fate, and her position in the van of the great coming nation of
Americans, keep her in remembrance.

Jamestown was founded on May 13, 1607, and with its foundation began the
real era of English rule in America. We know but little of the place of
woman in the first days of the colony, and it is not until 1608 that we
find any record of female influence or even presence. At this time,
Captain Newport, who had brought from England the first fleet and in
whose honor Newport News - originally Newport Ness - was named, made his
reappearance with a number of fresh settlers, among them being Mistress
Forrest and her maid, Anne Burras by name, who was shortly afterward
wedded to Master John Laydon and thus won for herself fame as the first
woman of English blood to be married on American soil. By this time,
Jamestown had grown to have a population of more than five hundred
souls, of whom not more than two hundred were fighting men; so that the
proportion of women and children must have been far larger than might be
supposed by those looking at the circumstances of colonization and
existence. It must have taken a stout heart in a woman's breast to face
the unknown dangers of the unknown world; and soon the women of the
infant colony had need for all their bravery. There is no doubt that the
women played a noble part in the terrible days that followed the Indian
siege of Jamestown - the days which were afterward known as the "Starving
Time." Not more than sixty of the original five hundred souls remained
at the end of that period; and its record presents the probably unique
account of women of the higher civilizations descending to the horrors
of cannibalism, the "common kettel" at last containing the bodies of
Indians and even of kinsmen. Indeed, there was one foul deed of that
time wherein a woman was directly concerned, though as victim, not
principal: a colonist killed his wife and had eaten part of the body
before he was discovered. He was burned alive; but those who punished
him for his crime looked fearfully forward to the day when their own
temptations might become too strong. At last came succor; and there
seems to be for us assurance of the temper and mettle of the women of
that time when we find that of the sixty survivors a fair proportion was
of the weaker sex. There were children also, witnesses to the devotion
of their mothers in their care.

The colony was abandoned; but only for three days, and then began the
time of uninterrupted English dominance. There is, however, in its
history nothing of importance to our subject until we reach 1621, - very
near the limit which has been set as the end of the "period of
settlement." At this time there occurred an event so peculiar and so
far-reaching in its social results and withal so intimately connected
with the general, though not the particular, chronicle of woman in the
early colonies that it may be set forth in some fulness, even though it
was one that does not give us any instance of feminine development. But
it was so typical of its time and so ominous of the mothers that moulded
the characters of the native-born pioneers in the southern settlements
that it has its legitimate place in a history of American women. That
event is the coming of the "maids," as they were called in the old
chronicle from which we draw most of our knowledge concerning the early
settlers of Virginia.

Sir Edwin Sandys, being at the head of the London Company, in whose
hands were now the interests of the Virginia plantations, devised the
plan of sending out as wives to the Virginia adventurers a number of
respectable young women. It is probable that Sandys was instigated by
the thought of the dangers of mixed marriages with the Indians, which
were apt to result from the paucity of women of Caucasian race, - for
many young men had of late been tempted to try their fortunes in the New
World, and the proportion of women had failed among the settlers. Sandys
was in every way a believer in vigorous immigration, and in one year he
sent out one thousand two hundred and sixty-one new settlers; these he
was desirous of attaching to the soil of their new country, - a thing
that could be done only by aiding them there to establish a home. So he
secured a cargo of young women, ninety in number, who were willing to go
to a far land in search of husbands. Whether he had great difficulty in
finding such women, or whether matrimony as a prospect, even though with
an indeterminate partner, was so attractive to the average spinster of
the day as to make her eager to embrace any opportunity which held
certainty of result, cannot be known; but the "maids" went, though under
somewhat peculiar and even, to modern eyes, degrading conditions. For
the thrifty company was not minded that the prospective husbands should
have their wives as free gifts; no, they must pay for them as for any
other chattel, and the price fixed was one hundred and twenty pounds of
tobacco each, the value of this amount of the weed being about eighty
dollars at present values. One would think that, if the matter was to be
one of barter, the company might have set a higher price upon a wife,
even if only out of compliment to the sex; but doubtless the company
knew the true value of the goods which it purveyed.

It must be admitted that the worshipful company, notwithstanding its
parsimonious spirit in the matter of vend, acted in good faith with both
prospective husbands and present "maids." It had already made many
regulations intended to promote matrimony by distinguishing in favor of
married men; and in the selection and care of the feminine cargo
exported it took the utmost precautions to ensure the purity of the
women offered as wives. Moreover, the "maids" were carefully guarded
from imposition or force. Orders were straitly given that "In case they
cannot be presently married, we desire that they may be put with several
householders that have wives until they can be supplied with
husbands.... We desire that the marriage be free, according to nature,
and we would not have these maids deceived and married to servants, but
only such freemen and tenants as have means to maintain them... not
enforcing them to marry against their wills." However, there was very
little need for these precautions, since the men of the settlement
flocked in crowds to the sale of the ladies, and the only difficulty was
that there were more suitors than there were fair ones to make them
happy. The scene presented must have been very much like that to be
found at the old hiring fairs of England, and there does not seem to
have been more embarrassment on the part of the "maids" while their
charms were being appraised by their suitors than if they had been
merely disposing of their services for a short time and in menial
capacity. It is impossible to suppose that women who would seek
matrimony under such circumstances were of a very refined type; but, on
the other hand, they must have been possessed of bravery and
independence beyond the common lot of women of whatever class. Later,
sixty other "maids," "young, handsome, and chaste," according to the
chronicle, were induced to come out to the colony under the same
conditions, and these and their predecessors were among the founders of
the race which developed into the soldiers of the Revolution and of the
yet more terrible struggle of later years.

Unfortunately, there were at this time introduced into the young colony
two elements that were to affect it, one slightly and temporarily only,
the other profoundly and for as long as there was in the South a
distinctiveness of culture. These were the practice of sending criminals
to Virginia and the introduction of slavery. To the first number of
settlers sent over by Sandys, James I. added one hundred felons, and
this was by no means the last shipload of criminals to be exported to
the Virginias. These criminals included both men and women, and their
introduction among the colonists, though on the pretence of their being
indented servants, was an evil which for long found results in the lower
strata of the growing civilization. The women, generally of the lowest
dregs of English life, - where not political convicts, who were of course
of entirely different stamp, - were "hired" by the more dissolute of the
unmarried male colonists, and became openly their mistresses; and thus
there came into existence a social element which was to do important if
insidious work in the undermining of the older morals of the settlement.
Slavery, however, was of far more import, and affected all the future
civilization. In August, 1619, twenty negroes were sold as slaves to
some of the planters, the blacks having been brought by a Dutch ship.
This was the rise of the African cloud, as yet no bigger than a man's
hand, but in time to grow to most portentous dimensions, and to bear the
whirlwind as its legitimate progeny. It may be questioned why note is
made of the rise of slavery in a book devoted to the history of woman;
but to those who will trouble to think the reason is evident. The woman
is always at once a formative cause and a product of her civilization;
and the civilization of the South was built upon the institution of
slavery. To comprehend the culture even the nature of the Southern lady
we must keep constantly in mind the influence of the national
institution, so that, as its effects will have to be frequently noted in
the future, it is not amiss to chronicle here the small root which
afterward spread to such upas growth.

Turning to matters more immediately of the time with which we are at
present concerned, a proclamation of Governor Wyat, issued shortly
before the fall of the Virginia Company and the consequent beginning of
the real colonial period, is worthy of note as bearing upon the
universal story of women. Though including men as well as women in its
provisions, the proclamation was aimed chiefly at the latter, and its
intent was the breaking up of the seemingly common habit of becoming
engaged to more than one person at a time. A man was to be whipped for
doing so vile an action, though a woman might escape with a fine. The
worthy governor forbade women "to contract themselves to two several men
at one time," for the reason that "women are yet scarce and in much
request, and this offense has become very common, whereby great disquiet
has arisen between parties and no small trouble to the government." It
was further proclaimed that "Every minister should give notice in his
church that what man or woman soever should use any word or speech
tending to a contract of marriage to two several persons at one time...
as might entangle or breed scruples in their consciences, should for
such their offense either undergo corporal correction or be punished by
fine or otherwise, according to the quality of the person so offending."

Such a regulation would not be popular nowadays; but coquetry seems to
have been of more serious moment then. That flirtation should threaten
the government itself suggests a singular state of affairs indeed.

It is now time to turn to a consideration of another settlement - the
only one that rivalled that of Virginia in effectiveness of result and
continuity. For the settlements in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
and others - with one exception, to be reserved for later brief
consideration - did not continue the civilization which they established,
but took their later culture, that which survives, from the more
prepotent colonies of Virginia and New England. Therefore they do not

Online LibraryJohn Ruse LarusWomen of America → online text (page 9 of 27)