This essay was published as “Chapter VIII: The Social Use of the Post-Graduate Mother” in Woman’s Share in Social Culture by Anna Garlin Spencer. New York: 1913.
The Social Use of the Post-Graduate Mother by Anna Garlin Spencer
Of all the dark pages of human history, none is quite so black as that which records the treatment of “witches.” A few of these victims of superstition were men, but the great majority were women; so that the very word witch has come to have a feminine suggestion. As Lecky truly says: “It is probable that no class of victims endured suffering so unalloyed and so intense” as that of those condemned to torture and to death as sorcerers and sorceresses. The martyrs for religious belief died rejoicing in the faith of a compensating and eternal heaven. The victims of popular ignorance, who suffered because freer in thought and more intelligent in action than their contemporaries, were sustained by the dignity of conscious rectitude and a superior perception of truth. The sufferers from political oppression, and from racial prejudice and the cruelty it has engendered, have generally possessed some relief in the loyalty of comrades and in the affections of family life. But witches were usually persuaded by the terrible ordeals to which they were subjected that they deserved their fate. The disordered condition of the public mind reacted upon their own consciousness to make them feel accursed of God and bound slaves to Satan, and horribly sure that they must go from the tortures of court and of church on earth to the everlasting torment of hell.
Why were middle-aged and old women, with a few young maidens, singled out as the special victims of that terrible mania of superstition which for fifteen hundred years lighted lurid flames of burning humanity on innumerable hilltops and inspired a malignity and ingenuity of torture unmatched in the whole realm of cruelty? There were two reasons. One, and the chief reason, was that hatred of women which asceticism developed. When Cato declared that “if the world were only free from women, men would not be without converse of gods,” he but expressed the general if rather good-natured contempt for women which the masculine classic civilization engendered. But when the early Fathers of the Christian Church denounced women as active centres of evil influence, they added hatred to contempt, and fear to indifference, and hence placed themselves in the realm of maniacal delusion respecting women. In Chrysostom’s famous saying, “Women are a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic peril, a deadly fascination and a painted ill,” he softened by oratorical phrase that horror of women felt by the ascetic monk. To that unclean and morbid creature, who inflicted torments upon himself in a nightmare of inverted morality, “woman was the door of hell” and the “source of human ills.” To that ascetic monk who believed that to be most miserable was to be most holy, all the charm and joy of womanhood was a delusion and a snare. So far did this hatred of woman extend that in the sixth century at least one provincial Council of the Church forbade women to receive the Eucharist into their naked hands on account of their impurity! By reason of this strange perversion of religious doctrine the beneficent ideal of woman’s spiritual freedom, as attested by the early Christian Church, was later on almost nullified. Woman escaped from the bondage of ethnic faiths, by which her heirship to spiritual responsibility and spiritual advantage was made to depend upon her family relationship, when Christianity made Jew and Gentile, patrician and plebeian, master and slave, man and woman, alike equal at the Altar of the Church. This Magna Charta of spiritual liberty which gave woman a soul of her own promised a new freedom and privilege all around the circle of human rights and powers. But when asceticism began to dominate the ideals of holiness, woman again passed under the yoke of bondage and became subject to a new and more terrible form of restraint. It was this feeling against womanhood in general, only softened by the attitude of the Christian Church toward the women who served its own interests outside the family life in Religious Houses, that made possible the torture and execution of so many helpless old women during the dark and middle ages. Feeble, often seriously diseased, generally past the time when they could demonstrate their usefulness to the common sense, these old women were peculiarly susceptible to the suggestion of hysteria and morbid fear which marked the witchcraft delusion. We read that over seven thousand victims were burned at Trèves; and that a single bishop of Germany, in a single year, ordered the execution of more than eight hundred poor creatures. In France in one execution four hundred witches suffered death; and in Italy a thousand were thus murdered judicially in one province. The Reformation did not end this form of persecution; in many cases it increased its violence. In Geneva five hundred victims perished during three months; and Luther declared he would “have no compassion upon these witches, he would burn them all.” In Scotland, mystical and theology-mad, the persecutions were peculiarly atrocious; and it is common knowledge how the superstition crossed the seas and gave the shame of Protestantism to New England. Even the reformer Wesley believed both in witchcraft and in its severe punishment by the saints of the Church declaring that “the giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible.” Not until the first quarter of the eighteenth century did the rational sense of mankind do away with this monstrous inhumanity. So great and wise a man as Sir Matthew Hale hung two witches in 1664, and the last execution in England occurred in 1712, thus linking bigotry to the age of reason. (See W. E. H. Lecky, History of Rationalism.)
The belief in magic, however, dates far back of Christianity and belongs to an almost universal tendency of the human mind to ascribe to supernatural causes both personal and social calamities. In this tendency to supernaturalism women have had their share not only as believers, but as active agents of supernal powers. Among undeveloped peoples, although there may be no women priests, there are women prophetesses, and sorceresses divide fearful honors with sorcerers. The proportion of witches to wizards is indeed far more equal in primitive life than is the balance between the sexes in the later period of witchcraft. As Otis T. Mason well says, in ancient times (Otis T. Mason, Woman’s Share in Primitive Culture, chapter The Patron of Religion.) “women were thought to be more persuasive, acute and dangerous than men for lobby work between worlds.” Hence, in the early days, witches were spoken fair and honorably entreated to use their powers for the benefit of mankind. Dr. Mason adds: “Women hear better, see better, are better talkers than men, and can therefore become successful conjurers of fate.” Inasmuch also as “they cook better,” or more frequently, than men, their witch’s cauldron may contain, beside “toil and trouble,” some special concoction for the aid of faithful friends. The Zuni Indian sings:
“The Sun is the father of all,
The Earth is the mother of men,
The Water is their grandfather,
The Fire is their grandmother.”
And the picturesque personalizing of nature by the child-mind of the race gave to women a place among the gods equal to that of men. Hestia, the sister of Zeus, was the special protector of the domestic hearth and worshipped with most sacred rites. `The Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, the Phoenician Astarte, the Assyrian Istar, the Egyptian Hathor, all celebrate the power of romantic love that binds the sexes together and slays antagonism between them. The Demeter and Athena myths all lead to a reverence for womanhood as embodied in the fruitfulness of the earth and in the peaceful order of social life. The great Egyptian goddess Neith, the Weaver, whose hieroglyph is the shuttle, passes down even to our own civilization the recognition of woman’s value in the industrial arts. The Chinese female Buddha, Kwanyin, the Mother-goddess, may be responsible even at this late day for some of the new freedom and power of her sex in that suddenly awakened land. Everywhere in mythology, and in the story of human life before formal history began, we find traces of a reverent appreciation of the woman-spirit as symbolized by goddesses. The classic Fates make women preside over destiny; the spinner of the thread of life, the mysterious power that determines its length, and the dread agent of its ending by death, are all portrayed as the genius of womanhood. The energy of women and their constant usefulness were fitly symbolized by the activity of the women-worshippers who in the Temple of Athena spent nine months of incessant labor in weaving the peplos which was carried in the sacred procession and was the annual gift to the goddess.
In all these hints of the past the woman-spirit is honored; and although “hags” and evil-working old women are not wanting, the general tendency of primitive and of classic faith and worship was respectful if not reverent toward elderly women. The ancients believed in magic powers intensely and universally, but not that such magic powers always or usually denoted evil spirits. Christianity, when it entered upon its mania of asceticism, turned all the spirits of the air, even to the lovely fairies and the helpful “Brownies,” into emissaries of Satan, the arch-king of evil. Minerva, the air goddess, symbol of light and wisdom, became transformed with all her kin into witch-creatures who spent unholy Sabbaths in secret converse with the Devil and came back riding their broomsticks through the air to seduce and ruin mankind. In this connection it must be remembered that the natural tendencies of the woman-nature are wholly against asceticism. The nearness of the mother to child-life forbids the average woman from really believing, whatever the theologians may make her say in church, that this world was meant to be a “living tomb” or a “chamber of death and misery.” Children bring with them an ever-renewed and ever-renewing sense of the gladness of life, and not all the morbid priests or abnormal theologies have ever been able to persuade women in general that the laugh of a child is a lie! Nature, indeed, having in view the perpetual adjustment of adult life to the child’s demand for freedom and for joy, has, as Havelock Ellis finely says; “done her best to make women healthy and glad.” The false view of life and duty which asceticism held and realized made this natural union of the woman-nature with the child’s charm and gladness seem a wicked thing. Nothing but such a hatred of womanhood and such a fear of her as the embodiment of the natural attractions upon which the home is builded could have made possible the tragedy of the witchcraft delusions and its untold miseries.
The second reason why, as a rule, women were the special victims of this witchcraft horror is the fact that women, while suffering less than men from serious and fatal disorders of the brain and nervous system, are peculiarly susceptible to slighter disturbances which produce irritability, abnormal excitements and diseased manifestations of energy. This tendency is being corrected in rapidly increasing ratio by the better physical training of girls, by the wider intellectual interests of women, and, above all, by the new opportunities for congenial work in later life which are now the common privilege of the sex. In the earlier days, however, when witches paid the penalty of superstition through the tyranny of false doctrine, the lot of the majority of women was extremely hard. There was no limit to woman’s child-bearing except nature’s failure to add another to her cares; there was no limit to her household drudgery except nature’s failure to give her strength to rise again to her daily task. She was socially denied, except in the case of a few “ladies” at the top of life’s opportunity, any share in the intellectual stimulus that is so therapeutic, and she had no ability to secure those pleasant diversions that balance work for the benefit of the nervous energy. After thirty to fifty years of overwork, under most adverse conditions for the preservation of health and strength, the wife and mother could be left to an idleness most harmful; or else be pressed still to a form of hard labor least satisfying to personal desires. It is not strange that the prevalence of nerve troubles of various sorts among old women thus mistreated has made them pass down in art and history as “uncanny,” and also made them, during the nightmare of the witchcraft delusion, seem the natural prey of Satan as he sought “whom he might devour.” Men and women alike age prematurely under the hard conditions of primitive life; but old women have been thought to be either wholly useless or else made to work in narrow lines of activity, while old men have been more often favored as still “good for counsel.” This hard lot of the old woman was modified in the patriarchal family by making the oldest mother a sort of sub-despot, a deputy ruler over all the younger women and girls. This has helped her in dignity of position, and in stimulus to effort, to conserve her powers in old age; but, lacking education and true moral discipline, the mother-rulers of more primitive forms of family life have often perpetuated the most archaic and socially harmful usages of domestic order. This personal alleviation has therefore not been a social gain.
Of all the wastes of human ignorance perhaps the most extravagant and costly to human growth has been the waste of the distinctive powers of womanhood after the child-bearing age. The absurd mistake of supposing that a woman’s usefulness was ended when her last baby grew out of need for her personal ministrations was natural so long as women were held subject and inferior, and denied all mental training; but its lingering remnants in the modern mind are grotesque. Only recently a political orator, wishing to characterize his opponents in the most contemptuous of terms, said “they were a set of old women.” This phrase as an expression of utter futility and weakness has come down from times in which women’s strength of mind and body was so shockingly exploited that in old age they were very often diseased and abnormal, helpless, and a family burden. From this fact, due not to natural limitations, but to social conditions resulting from the misuse of womanhood from childhood to old age, has arisen the false conception of women as semi-invalids in the earlier part of life and incapable of any efficient labor of mind or body in the later years. Nothing could be further from the truth as now revealed and demonstrated by scientific study. In point of fact we now know that so far from men being the favorites of nature as to health, strength and longevity, and women (like stepchildren) a denied class, the contrary is more nearly true.(See Havelock Ellis, Man and Woman, Chap. XVII.) It is women, as mothers and potential mothers of the race, whose life and health the cosmic forces most concern themselves with, and longest sustain in activity. Inquiries into facts are now taking the place of theories, whether, of poets or theologians, and facts prove women capable of more than holding their own in the balance of sex-relationship and in the work of the world. Facts show that more male than female children are still-born, and that more male infants succumb to disease before the third year. Facts show that more boys than girls are abnormal or deficient in mind or special sense, and that more boys than girls suffer premature death from many of the ills that flesh is heir to. Facts show, above all, that more women than men live to a ripe old age, and not only thus survive, but have a good chance for health and strength. It is declared by experts that mental derangements are more common in old men than in old women, Dr. Wille setting the ratio at ten per cent. males to six per cent. females. The specific gravity of the blood, as Lloyd Jones has shown, is found higher in old women than in old men; and there is far greater constitutional youthfulness among old women than among old men, which is in itself a sign of greater vitality and later conservation of work-power. The liability to death is about the same in the two sexes between the third and thirtieth years, and there is a special danger-period for girls between the fourteenth and twentieth years; but when we get above thirty-five the chances are better for both life and health for women than for men. This is not alone a peculiarity of civilization, for we are told by those who have especially studied the matter that among some savage tribes fully two-thirds of those surviving the sixtieth year are women. It is, true, however, that the conditions of civilized life, especially those easier domestic conditions we now have as the result of inventions of all sorts, are especially favorable to longevity in women. Dr. Langstaff says: “It is quite plain that the recent fall in the death rate favors the accumulation of surplus women.” The result of all the recent studies of sex-differences and sex-conditions leads to the conclusion that under most of the conditions of social life, in a wide range of varied forms of human society, we have proof of the “greater physical frailty of men and the greater tenacity of life in women.” As Dr. Campbell says: “Women possess a greater innate recuperative power than men,” and, although more often slightly ill, make easier recovery. The facts make the phrase “the weaker sex” as applied to women a little misleading.
Men, it is true, are able to summon for emergency, or crisis-effort, far more muscular power than women. They have a steadier nerve, and a greater capacity for putting all the strength and vigor they possess into a short term of effort for a distinct end. This gives them efficiency of the highest sort in the regulated industries of the world. This makes men far better able than women to keep pace with the modern machines, to hold their even share of the burden of business demands, and to fill the larger and more exacting offices of the world in public affairs. Moreover, men have, through all their earlier years, “a straight line” of progressive power up to the period of the slowing down of age; while women have for years “a curved and variable line” that requires consideration each month at its weakest point. Men can go from strength to strength steadily until they have reached their meridian of power without a break. Women have periodicities that often hinder regular advance. Men also are relieved from the physical cost of parenthood. A man who is married and has children has, indeed, “given hostages to fortune” and must work the harder and serve the more unselfishly. But women, in addition to the economic burdens which parenthood imposes, must also contribute a measure of physical force, a determination of bodily strength both in child-bearing and child-rearing, which means often a heavy price paid for social serviceableness. A childless woman once said to a mother whose splendid family of five children were all that any parent could desire, “How I envy you! I would give twenty years of my life to have such a family as that.” “Well,” answered the mother, “they cost about that.” All that is implied in the curves and periodicities of women’s lives makes them more dependent upon men during the early period of life than men are upon women, and gives a sound biological reason for the social demand for “chivalry,” and for the saving in all possible ways of women’s strength and health while they are about the social business of motherhood. This it is which makes the father in duty bound to carry the heavier economic load all through the child-bearing and child-rearing period. This it is which made our Saxon forefathers in an ancient statute give “a married woman, with child, free range of the forest for wood-gathering,” and a generous “share of the harvest.” This it is which has made all progressive and successful civilizations guard both the young mother and the potential mother from excessive labor; guard such both by the personal devotion of their men relatives and by the, social consideration of laws and customs.
When, however, the climacteric of middle life is reached, nature gives a new deal and starts a fresh balance of power between men and women. When the child-bearing age is passed woman’s line of life becomes as “straight” as man’s, and the “curves” that have required consideration at their weakest point are no longer a part of her experience. Moreover, at the point when the change comes in women’s physical condition, there may be, and now increasingly is, a fresh start given to the mental and emotional life. It cannot be too soon realized that in the lives of women there is capacity for a second youth. A second youth, that holds in reserve full compensation for any expenditure that a reasonable motherhood may have demanded. A second youth, when new thoughts blossom, when wishes and tendencies of personal development may flower into realization, when all that has gone into the sacrificial service to family life may add a peculiar flavor and a special wisdom to personal achievement or to enlarged social service. This is the meaning of the “Women’s Club Movement” and of the many forms of associated action by which mature womanhood, now that it is at last educated and free, takes up its own self-culture and its own chosen activities for the common good. Asked once to describe the Women’s-Club Movement one answered, “Women’s Clubs are the great non-academic university-extension movement of the nineteenth century for women in their second youth.” A wit hearing the answer asked if a “second childhood for women preceded their second youth?” Not a bad hit, and not simply a jest; for, if an undisciplined woman, bound to make a fool of herself, does not accomplish that unhappy distinction before she is twenty-five, she will surely do it between forty-five and sixty to astonish her friends by her extravagancies of behavior. The trained and disciplined woman, however, is eager for work and for large enterprises at this period of life as never before. She seeks activity of whatever sort as native to her own desire, and if she is not sufficiently well educated or sufficiently in touch with the things best worth doing, in the lines most congenial to her natural capacity, she is likely to rush about from one to another busyness of interest, without plan or effectiveness and to a distraction of energy. To many women, also, whom life has used hardly in circumstance or relationship, there may come a childish restlessness before they can “settle down” to the true rejuvenescence of thought, of feeling and of power which is theirs by right. The old theories of women took no account of this rich and large possibility of later life. If the fact that more women than men lived to old age, and that more women than men seemed to relish life and want to engage in activities of moment after they were old, was at all perceived, it was laid to the natural perversity of women that they thus hung on to life when no longer desired and put themselves in the way when they could no longer do that for which they were made! As Professor Sheavyn well says: “The disadvantages of being a woman have been better understood than the advantages.”( Phoebe Sheavyn, Ph.D., Professional Women in The Position of Woman.) Now, for the first time, we are learning how great are those advantages; or may be if the woman’s life is lived sanely and wisely; advantages physical, psychical, and vocational, personal and social.
Nature has indeed conveyed to us in no uncertain manner her determination that her gifts shall be shared with an absolute justice between her men-children and her women-children. The boy has his long, straight path of progress, passing on into youth, and later manhood, up to the point where senile decay threatens; which point clean living, noble purpose, intellectual activity and wise physical, mental and moral hygiene of every sort may push far into the seventies or eighties, or even beyond, if the prophets of a longer term of life for mankind may be believed. This long straight pathway gives man his preeminence as a special worker and vocational expert. The girl, on the other hand, has her better start in constitutional vigor and her surer normality and balance of faculties; and the woman, throughout early and later experience, possesses her stronger recuperative power, her greater capacity for constant labor if free from excessive strain and varied in sort; and her curving line of muscular and nervous power, while giving more variability and less dependable response to highly organized labor, insures her a finer and more flexible adjustment to the general demands of the social order. If she marries and has children she has her longer “curve” of recurrent need for special consideration, protection and care. At last she emerges from the variability which is the price of her special sex-contribution to the social fabric, and becomes in a peculiar and a new sense a citizen of the world; a Person, whose own relationship to the social whole may now of right become her main concern. The audiences composed of professional workers and members of reformatory organizations and leaders in philanthropy are often a striking testimony to the as yet half-conscious response of women to this call of their second youth. The faces of women of sixty years and over, lined with marks of many emotions and much lore of life-experience, are alight with an enthusiasm and a hope, a strong and vital interest in life and its meaning, which loses nothing in attractiveness when matched against the groups of college girls as they leave their Alma Mater. Indeed the mothers are often younger at the moment than their daughters just graduating, because love has taught them as well as books, and contact with child-nature has kept them hopeful as well as made them wise, while the student, still in the period of acquisition, is always in danger of mistaking words for life, theories for realities. Moreover, women who have had a true marriage and a welcome discipline of family service have had what no young women, and few if any unmarried women possess, the constant help of the masculine way of looking at things to balance and keep sane their distinctly feminine approach to life. They are therefore able, if they have used well their opportunities, to understand men and women alike and to work for and with both impartially. This is a point of far more social importance than is at present recognized. If there are any dangers of “feminization” threatening us in the school or in society at large, any real overplus of specially “womanly influence” in our present civilization, those dangers inhere in the large celibate majority of intellectual leaders and representatives of womanhood in the field of expert knowledge and work. There is a “finicky,” over-precise, ultra-refined morality and idealism which women develop by themselves, and which is difficult to adjust to the larger, looser, simpler, but often more vital ethics and aspiration of men. The rounded wisdom and experience of the post-graduate mother (who usually has to practice her motherhood on her husband as well as her sons and thus learns tolerance and breadth of view) will come to be prized at its full social value, therefore, when more women qualify for its highest potency and the world learns at last what “old women” are for, and what social end they may serve. Then it will be at last understood why nature preserves so carefully both the life and the health of women; why she gives them a new strength of body, a new youthfulness of purpose, a new capacity for spiritual adventure, so far in excess of men, when the time comes that their whole life may rightfully become their own in a more complete sense than ever before.
It is said of the high-caste Brahmin that he has three stages in life, three grand divisions of duty and of experience. First he must be a learner, devoted to acquiring the knowledge that a leader of men should possess; next he must be a father and householder, paying loyally his debt to society by rearing offspring who may connect his ancestors with his descendants in worship and family continuity; last he may become a pilgrim, a solitary seeker for truth, enjoying at will the high communion of those who live but for spiritual ends of being. The modern woman has now outlined before her, faintly as yet but growing in clearness, her own “three-fold path of life.” First, the learner and the doer fitting for self-support and self-direction; next, the devoted servant of life’s most intimate demands upon human beings of the mother sex; last, a conscious sharer, in a new and more inspiring sense, in the larger life of the race.
There can be no general clearness of vision as to this three-fold path of womanhood, however, until more educated and competent women prepare for their last and splendid opportunity of service by a better use of the leisure hours of that period of life which is given especially to family interests. The vulgar phrase, “She does not need accomplishments now, her market is made,” only emphasizes the too frequent undercurrent of women’s attitude toward personal achievement. If one must earn a living outside the home, ambition now makes most women seek to do it in the best way they can and to the highest results of financial and social return. But the average married woman, with or without children, is too prone to look upon her life as ceasing to afford or to need new or continued modes of self-expression. There is an almost fatal tendency among young married women of average education and circumstances to give up wholly the vocational interest which was theirs before marriage. “No, I don’t play now, I gave up practising after John was born.” “No, I don’t paint now, the house takes so much time and Mary is a great care.” “I never think of reading a book now, the magazines are all I can manage with the house, and no maid.” “I can’t work at my trade or my clerical work now, of course, for I can’t be gone from the house all day.” How often these and similar expressions are heard! It is true, of course, that competitive industry being arranged for all-day service most married women are unable to engage profitably or properly in the work they did before marriage. But there are few women who cannot keep at least a selective and constant interest, and some small practice to “keep the hand in,” that will stand them in stead if there should be need of earning in case of widowhood or financial calamity, or when larger leisure from the upgrowing of the children makes it well for them to have some special. interest of their own. Moreover the period of life when a woman has the largest end of her activity fastened to the family need, and her economic position, therefore, properly secured by her husband’s work for the family, is precisely the period when she may use her leisure, be it much or little, in preparation for some kind of work she wants to do but was not trained for as a girl. How many men find themselves in positions where they are kept doing what they would so gladly exchange for another sort of labor no one was wise enough to fit them for in youth! The tragedies of misfit industry, the heroisms of men who stick at a hated task because it is all they know how to do and they dare not leave it for the sake of wife and bairns, -these are material for great dramas. How rich an opportunity many women waste, an opportunity to prepare in a leisurely way, through years of security of home protection and care, by use of the bits of leisure almost every day affords, for the work nature intended they should do. Women have but just begun to see and use the advantages of their three-fold path of life and only those most clear-sighted and brave can as yet do so.
One thing stands in the way of women’s realization and appropriation of these advantages, and that is the aristocratic attitude of both men and women toward “paid work” for women. So long as it is thought unfitting for a married woman to earn money inside or outside the home, so long as it popularly discredits a man if his wife thus earns as a result of her own labor outside domestic work, we shall have a majority of women unwilling and unable to use to best advantage the leisure hours of their earlier married life and hence unable to use most effectively their third stage of opportunity. Enough has been said in this discussion to show that it is intended to strengthen rather than to weaken the demands of family life and child-care upon women. It remains to insist that until women themselves outgrow, and teach their “men-folks” to outgrow, the notion that it is honorable for men to earn money in useful labor but dishonorable or a dire misfortune for women to do so, the right personal and social use of women’s lives cannot be accomplished. It is now considered right and highly proper for a woman to earn money if unmarried and her “father can’t take care of her,” or if a widow whose “husband did not leave enough to support her,” or a wife whose husband is disabled, ill or incompetent. It must become natural and common in the public eye for any woman to earn money who wants to and can. At present we have advanced little beyond the period when the “wife of Thomas Hawkins” was granted by the selectmen of her town, in the seventeenth century, the “right to sell liquors by retayle, considering the necessitie and weak condition of her husband”; and when widows were “approved” by the church trustees to earn a pittance in “sweeping and dusting the meeting house” because they had no “provider.” (Early Colonial Records.) The great city of New York still requires its married women teachers to swear that their husbands are morally, mentally or physically incompetent in order to retain their positions!
The adjustment in plans of living to home needs and obligations is a private concern of each married pair. The only social claim is that the children, if there are any, shall be well-cared-for in all respects, physical, mental, moral and vocational. The adjustment of each woman to her own vocational desires, capacities and opportunities is a matter for herself and her husband to settle between them; it is not even the proper concern of either mother-in-law! The more exceptional women earn in art and literature, in singing, painting, acting, on a plane where it is clear they are conferring social benefits and hence have a right to financial returns which do not degrade but give distinction, the more nearly we approach a time when common women may earn money by any sort of labor they can do well enough to be paid, and whether married or single, without injuring their own or their husband’s social position. We are, however, a long way from that day now, when even the law penalizes the marriage of teachers and custom forbids any organized adjustment of labor to the special needs of the house-mother. The choice for the manual worker is sharply made, “labor all day and leave your baby at the day-nursery or stop at home and starve.” The choice is almost equally difficult for the clerk, the stenographer, the telephone operator, the professional woman, the business manager. The Utopias in which all these difficulties vanish with a “presto change” are interesting to read of in books; but what is really helping the actual situation is that men and women, richer or poorer, but of the moral and intellectual elite, are now working out for themselves many modifications of the rigidity of modern industry as it relates to the married woman and the mother, in a most difficult but a most useful domestic experimentation.
Meanwhile the average young married woman, and especially the average young married woman of goad education and fairly good financial circumstances, needs most of all to see and to use her fine chance for preparation for vocational achievement, or for social usefulness, after she has become released from the heaviest duties to her family. Everything done by such a young woman in a professional manner and for pay on a business basis, helps to democratize the industry of women and to place the whole relationship of her sex to industry on a truly social plane. The aristocratic notion that it is a dire calamity for a married woman to have to earn money can only be outgrown by having multitudes of married women who do not have to earn money for personal comforts or family well-being do something that the world wants to pay for and take their compensation naturally as men take it for worthy service. Whether or not, however, women earn money in personal labor outside the home during the years when their chief devotion must be to the family needs, they can keep interest and study and acquaintance open toward the free time of their second youth, when they will need and want to do something for and by themselves to round out their own personal lives: whether that something shall be a paid or an unpaid service. All this presupposes that women shall have had needed care and protection and support in their distinctive function of motherhood and thus have escaped that too common tragedy of overwork and neglect which now leaves so many women helpless and invalid in middle life. The majority of house-mothers among the wage-earning class are now overworked and underfed; overburdened with care and denied all the diversions and rest that enable women to keep well and happy and able to enter upon their third stage of life fitted for its opportunities and its joys.
Moreover, it must be pressed home to the public mind and conscience that the waste of womanhood in its later life has been throughout the ages, and now is, the result of an ignorant and careless treatment of girlhood. The same scientific inquiry which proves the eligibility of womanhood to a ripe and useful, a vital and youthful-hearted old age, demonstrates beyond cavil the social crime of ignoring the special danger-point in the physical life of woman. We learn from every quarter of science that the weak point in womanhood is between the ages of thirteen or fourteen, and nineteen or twenty years. At that time and that alone death and disease stand nearer and more threatening to the girl than to the boy. At that time and at no other, save during actual child-bearing, the womanhood of the race stands in greater need of special protection and help from society and from parenthood than does the manhood of the race. Mature women may always need social protection against long-continued, monotonous and uninterrupted labor. They may always be less able than men to survive shocks of accident or to sustain hardest trials of muscular effort without permanent harm. As Professor Thompson says: “Men are stronger in relation to spasmodic efforts and isolated feats.” Hence the rule of the sea in shipwreck, or of the land in any terrible disaster, the rule of “women first to be saved,” has a reason in the nature of things, since men can summon so much more special power for the special demand. The greater tenacity of life among women, however, their greater resistance to disease, their larger capacity for continual, sustained effort if that is varied in form and not too severe, are ample proofs that women need not be invalids or “weak,” and that it is a social mistake or a social crime, or both, if they are so in any prevailing numbers at any period of life. The reason that the old age of women is so often pathological in condition, the reason that marriage and maternity mean so often extreme suffering and disease, the reason that so many women fail of the second youth that is their birthright and have instead a long decay of life in depressing helplessness and futile longing, is more than all else because the first youth of women is so generally misused. Those years between fourteen and twenty when death and disease stand nearest to womanhood are the very years when in many civilizations marriage and child-bearing have made their heaviest demands upon the young life. The physical weakness of both men and women in India, their lack of stamina, their easy yielding to all manner of diseases, their quick fading at the touch of hardship, this is the price India has paid for her child marriages. And not this alone, although this is so obvious that all mark its terrible consequences of social mistake. There is another price paid, the very life-portion of nature’s dower to the women of India, nature’s dower of health and happiness. Nowhere do women so age in mid-life, so suffer with all manner of maladjustments of physical, mental and moral condition, as in countries where girlhood is thus sacrificed, and the time of all others when womanhood most needs care for the upbuilding of the individual life is misused for a premature devotion to other lives. The sadness of the women of India, who have become conscious of their lot and its contrast with happier lives, is only understood when we see clearly what an outrage upon nature’s laws is this marriage of unformed girlhood. We trace in every civilization that has thus ignored the danger-point in womanhood’s physical development the same weakness in the race, the same unutterable sadness of premature old age and of widespread disease among the women.
We are not to take credit to ourselves, however, as a civilization humane and wise in this matter. We are doing almost as wicked and wasteful a thing as respects the girlhood of the poorer classes in these United States in the morning of the twentieth century. Read again what we do to our young girls between the ages of fourteen and twenty, when of all the periods of life for women there is most danger of premature death and of wasting and disabling disease.( See Ellen Abbott, Women in Industry.) Concerning the two hundred and ninety-five separate employments in which women earn wages and salary, as recorded in the census of 1900, two facts stand out prominently, –namely, the youth of the women and girls, and the low quality and poor pay of the work of the majority among them. Other facts are coming clearly into light, baleful in their significance, as we more closely study conditions. In the canning factories 2,400 rapid and regular motions a day in tin-cutting for the girls employed; girls sixteen to twenty years of age, and speeded to the limit of supreme exhaustion in this race to keep ahead of the other workers. In the confectionery business, 3,000 chocolates “dipped” every day at fever heat of energy. In the cracker-making trade, the girls standing or walking not six feet from the ovens show a white faintness from heat and hurry as they handle a hundred dozen a day; and “can’t stand the work long,” as even the strongest confess. In the cigar-making industry 1,400 “stogies” a day worked over by girls seventeen to twenty years of age; and not only that but children, boys and girls from five to twelve years old, stripping tobacco as helpers and the whole work so exhausting that even the older girls say they “can’t keep the pace more than six years.” In the garment trades the sewing machines speeded to almost incredible limits, the unshaded electric bulbs and the swift motion of the needle giving early “eyeblur” and a nerve strain that enables the strongest to earn only five to six dollars a week, while the goal of eight dollars won by a ruinous “spurt” only crowds down the average wage by cutting “piecework” prices. And in this trade “custom-work” brings the unsanitary tenement sweat-shop into union with the best factories, to work the children younger and under worse conditions and leave no rest-time for youth even in the home. In the laundries women are operating machines so heavy that their whole bodies tremble with the strain of their rise; and the muscular system, drawn upon for this “spasmodic effort for an isolated feat,” repeated as rapidly as the body can be forced to act, under the spur of a never-ceasing pressure, is often that of young girls, many of them under sixteen years of age. In the metal trades 10,000 “cores” a day turned out after two or three years’ apprenticeship, and still the young girl under twenty is most in evidence in the bewilderingly rapid process. In the manufacture of “caskets” and other articles where strong lacquer is used, the manufacturer often says he “can’t stand it more than two or three minutes in the room” where the fumes of the preparation are worst, but his girls work in it ten hours a day for the pitiful wage of nine dollars a week, called “good pay for women.” In the soap-making business the girls must wrap 1,100 cakes of soap a day in the bad air and worse smells of most such places in order to get a decent wage. The “telephone girl” gets many a harsh criticism; it might be better if she got a little more attention as a social factor. Her age is seldom over twenty; seventeen to eighteen years is the average. Physicians tell us that it is ruinous to the nervous system to do this exacting work more than five hours a day even with an hour’s rest, complete and in the best possible conditions, between each two and one-half hours of service. But our telephone girls work their five hours in continuous service and if after four or five years of such labor they “break down,” what then? In mercantile houses the all-day standing which is the rule injures girls so seriously that physicians continually complain about it. The law that requires seats in department stores is so much a dead letter that the girls laugh bitterly at any question concerning its enforcement. In places where five or six hundred girls are employed nineteen to thirty seats may be provided; but to use even these may cost the girl her position. The hours, from eight to five or from eight to six o’clock, and the low wage which forbids proper clothing and nourishment if wholly depended upon for self-support, add to the peril of the shop-girl’s condition. The “moral jeopardy of her position,” as Miss Butler (Elizabeth B. Butler, Women in the Trades.) calls it, is also a factor of sinister suggestion, when we remember that with all their hard and continuous labor, three-fifths of the shop-girls earn less than seven dollars a week. The much vaunted “chivalry of men,” the proudly assumed “reverence for womanhood” paraded in public addresses on the glory and moral excellence of our present civilization, do not work far down in the social scale. The fact is that because women are the cheapest of laborers and because young women must all work for pay between their school life and their marriage in the case of the poverty-bound, the poorest-paid and many of the hardest and most health-destroying of employments are given them as almost a monopoly. Nature has warned mankind through unnumbered centuries, since the human intelligence has been able to perceive cause and effect, that if we wanted strong nations we must have strong mothers, and if we wanted strong mothers we must safeguard the girls from overwork and all manner of economic evils: but we still turn deaf ears to the warning.
In circles of society less pressed by economic need we misuse girlhood in many other ways. The pressure upon the early precocity of the girl in school, the strain of “society” functions too elaborate and nerve-wearing for youth, the undercurrent of vulgar and wicked selling of maidenhood in legal but unholy marriage to the highest bidder in rank and money, -all these things despoil the precious and lovely freedom and joy of the potential mother. Some time we must be wiser and shield and protect, as now even the most careful parent finds it almost impossible to do alone and unaided by social customs and ways of living, what nature has asserted by her most solemn commands to be the first right of human beings of the mother-sex, namely, a happy and natural girlhood. Given that for the majority of the sex, given the right use of the period of marriage and maternity not only as related to the duty to the family but also as that may be a preparation for the best use of the later years, then indeed would the second youth of women show such fruitage in personal values and in social service as the world has not yet seen. Then would it be clearer, even to dull perception, why more women than men live to old age and why more women than men “keep the child-like in the larger mind” and hence may have many a belated spring-time of growth.
The moral of all this must be pressed home to the master forces of vocational direction and control. It must of all things be emphasized that not only is “teaching woman’s organic office in the world,” but that married women and mothers have done most of the teaching of all the younger children in all the past civilizations, and there are the best of reasons why they should continue to do so. Instead of penalizing the marriage of women teachers the public school management of the United States should offer a premium for the marriage of these women; especially those whose proved fitness for the teacher’s office presents the first diploma in the curriculum of successful motherhood. The private schools now utilize such women both as heads of schools and as teachers. The premium that should be offered by the public school system need not and should not be a continuance in the school work under the same exhausting and inexorable demands which are met by the unmarried teacher, who works so well after her many years of experience in “the system” while trying so heroically to change and improve it. The premium given the married woman-teacher, with children or of whom society may expect offspring of a needed kind, should be in freedom of choice of lines of work, in adjustable hours, and in all other details of flexibility of service needed by the housemother. Although compensation should of course be given, the scale of wages of these part-time workers should not disarrange those schedules which secure to unmarried teachers, who give uninterrupted service for a long career and who constitute the permanent staff in every school, their full share of “equal pay for women for equal work with men” in the higher competitions of professional life. Such schedules are a vital need, not only for the sake of justice but for the right use of those exceptional educators among women who, whether married or unmarried, can serve as superintendents and heads of departments in the highest positions. There is nothing more needed in education, however, than a vastly increased teaching force, and a corresponding opportunity to modify and vary the grade system, especially in the elementary schools, to suit the needs of a wider range of child inherited or present duty is neglected, and no opportunity for shaping toward future conditions is ignored, we shall gain at last for social culture in all lines, and for industry in many forms, a needed class of slowly-trained, slowly-apprenticed workers in every field where women naturally excel; to rise finally at the third period of their lives to positions of command where women are now most needed. This will mean new ways of conserving hitherto exploited capacities and gifts of the mass of mankind. For women of the right sort and the right training, shielded by men’s protection and care from the heaviest economic pressure during early life and developed in personality by the special demands upon them in the home, will see to it when they arrive at their rightful place of control that neither professional demand nor the industrial order shall take such a heavy toll from life itself in the effort to make a living!
“Old men for counsel?” Yes, surely, now as of old; and it is well for humanity that it learned this bit of social wisdom so early. Old women for new work for the race? Yes, surely; and well will it be for human progress when mankind learns this new lesson of social wisdom and makes fitting social use of the post-graduate mother, eager and fresh in her second youth, for a new path-finding for the feet of the coming generations before she draws down the curtain and says Good-night.