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   Chapter 4 THE HOME

Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 81843

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"In respect to the powers and rights of married women, the law is by no means abreast of the spirit of the age. Here are seen the old fossil footprints of feudalism. The law relating to woman tends to make every family a barony or a monarchy or a despotism, of which the husband is the baron, king, or despot, and the wife the dependent, serf, or slave. That this is not always the fact, is not due to the law, but to the enlarged humanity which spurns the narrow limits of its rules. The progress of civilization has changed the family from a barony to a republic; but the law has not kept pace with the advance of ideas, manners, and customs."--W.W. STORY'S Treatise on Contracts not under Seal, § 84, third edition, p. 89.


We see advertisements, occasionally, of "Homes for Aged Women," and more rarely "Homes for Aged Men." The question sometimes suggests itself, whether it would not be better to begin the provision earlier, and see that homes are also provided, in some form, for the middle-aged and even the young. The trouble is, I suppose, that as it takes two to make a bargain, so it takes at least two to make a home; and unluckily it takes only one to spoil it.

Madame Roland once defined marriage as an institution where one person undertakes to provide happiness for two; and many failures are accounted for, no doubt, by this false basis. Sometimes it is the man, more often the woman, of whom this extravagant demand is made. There are marriages which have proved a wreck almost wholly through the fault of the wife. Nor is this confined to wedded homes alone. I have known a son who lived alone, patiently and uncomplainingly, with that saddest of all conceivable companions, a drunken mother. I have known another young man who supported in his own home a mother and sister, both habitual drunkards. All these were American-born, and all of respectable social position. A house shadowed by such misery is not a home, though it might have proved such but for the sins of women. Such instances are, however, rare and occasional compared with the cases where the same offence in the husband makes ruin of the home.

Then there are the cases where indolence, or selfishness, or vanity, or the love of social excitement, in the woman, unfits her for home life. Here we come upon ground where perhaps woman is the greater sinner. It must be remembered, however, that against this must be balanced the neglect produced by club-life, or by the life of society-membership, in a man. A brilliant young married belle in London once told me that she was glad her husband was so fond of his club, for it amused him every night while she went to balls. "Married men do not go much into society here," she said, "unless they are regular flirts,--which I do not think my husband would ever be, for he is very fond of me,--so he goes every night to his club, and gets home about the same time that I do. It is a very nice arrangement." It is perhaps needless to add that they are long since divorced.

It is common to denounce club-life in our large cities as destructive of the home. The modern club is simply a more refined substitute for the old-fashioned tavern, and is on the whole an advance in morals as well as manners. In our large cities a man in a certain social coterie belongs to a club, if he can afford it, as a means of contact with his fellows, and to have various conveniences which he cannot so economically obtain at home. A few haunt clubs constantly; the many use them occasionally. More absorbing than these, perhaps, are the secret societies which have so revived among us since the war, and which consume time so fearfully. There was a case mentioned in the newspapers lately of a man who belonged to some twenty of these associations; and when he died, and each wished to conduct his funeral, great was the strife! In the small city where I write there are seventeen secret societies down in the directory, and I suppose as many more not so conspicuous. I meet men who assure me that they habitually attend a society meeting every evening of the week except Sunday, when they go to church meeting. These are rarely men of leisure; they are usually mechanics or business men of some kind, who are hard at work all day, and never see their families except at meal-times. Their case is far worse, so far as absence from home is concerned, than that of the "club-men" of large cities; for these are often men of leisure, who, if married, at least make home one of their lounging-places, which such secret-society men do not.

I honestly believe that this melancholy desertion of the home is largely due to the traditional separation between the alleged spheres of the sexes. The theory still prevails largely, that home is the peculiar province of the woman, that she has almost no duties out of it; and hence, naturally enough, that the husband has almost no duties in it. If he is amused there, let him stay there; but, as it is not his recognized sphere of duty, he is not actually violating any duty by absenting himself. This theory even pervades our manuals of morals, of metaphysics, and of popular science; and it is not every public teacher who has the manliness, having once stated it, to modify his statement, as did the venerable President Hopkins of Williams College, when lecturing the other day to the young ladies of Vassar.

"I would," he said, "at this point correct my teaching in 'The Law of Love' to the effect that home is peculiarly the sphere of woman, and civil government that of man. I now regard the home as the joint sphere of man and woman, and the sphere of civil government more of an open question as between the two. It is, however, to be lamented that the present agitation concerning the rights of woman is so much a matter of 'rights' rather than of 'duties,' as the reform of the latter would involve the former."

If our instructors in moral philosophy will only base their theory of ethics as broadly as this, we shall no longer need to advertise "Homes Wanted;" for the joint efforts of men and women will soon provide them.


Nothing throws more light on the whole history of woman than the first illustration in Sir John Lubbock's "Origin of Civilization." A young girl, almost naked, is being dragged furiously along the ground by a party of naked savages, armed literally to the teeth, while those of another band grasp her by the arm, and almost tear her asunder in the effort to hold her back. These last are her brothers and her friends; the others are--her enemies? As you please to call them. They are her future husband and his kinsmen, who have come to aid him in his wooing.

This was the primitive rite of marriage. Vestiges of it still remain among savage nations. And all the romance and grace of the most refined modern marriage--the orange-blossoms, the bridal veil, the church service, the wedding feast--these are only the "bright consummate flower" reared by civilization from that rough seed. All the brutal encounter is softened into this. Nothing remains of the barbarism except the one word "obey," and even that is going.

Now, to say that a thing is going, is to say that it will presently be gone. To say that anything is changed, is to say that it is to change further. If it never has been altered, perhaps it will not be; but a proved alteration of an inch in a year opens the way to an indefinite modification. The study of the glaciers, for instance, began with the discovery that they had moved; and from that moment no one doubted that they were moving all the time.

It is the same with the position of woman. Once open your eyes to the fact that it has changed, and who is to predict where the matter shall end? It is sheer folly to say, "Her relative position will always be what it has been," when one glance at Sir John Lubbock's picture shows that there is no fixed "has been," but that her original position was long since altered and revised. Those who still use this argument are like those who laughed at the lines of stakes which Agassiz planted across the Aar glacier in 1840. But the stakes settled the question, and proved the motion. Però sim muove: "But it moves."

The motion once proved, the whole range of possible progress is before us. The amazement of that Chinese visitor in Boston, the other day, when he saw a woman addressing a missionary meeting; the astonishment of all English visitors when young ladies teach classes in geometry and Latin, in our high schools; the surprise of foreigners at seeing the rough throng in the Cooper Institute reading-room submit to the sway of one young woman with a crochet-needle--all these simply testify to the fact that the stakes have moved. That they have yet been carried halfway to the end, who knows?

What a step from the horrible nuptials of those savage days to the poetic marriage of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett--the "Sonnets from the Portuguese" on one side, the "One Word More" on the other! But who can say that the whole relation between man and woman reached its climax there, and that where the past has brought changes so vast the future is to add nothing? Who knows that, when "the world's great bridals come," people may not look back with pity, even on this era of the Brownings? Perhaps even Elizabeth Barrett promised to obey!

At any rate, it is safe to say that each step concedes the probability of another. Even from the naked barbarian to the veiled Oriental, from the savage hut to the carefully enshrined harem, there is a step forward. One more step in the spiral line of progress has brought us to the unveiled face and comparatively free movements of the English or American woman. From the kitchen to the public lecture-room, from that to the lecture-platform, and from that again to the ballot-box,--these are far slighter steps than those which gradually lifted the savage girl of Sir John Lubbock's picture into the possession of the alphabet and the dignity of a home. So easy are these future changes beside those of the past, that to doubt their possibility is as if Agassiz, after tracing year by year the motion of his Alpine glacier, should deny its power to move one inch farther into the sunny valley, and there to melt harmlessly away.


We constantly see it assumed, in arguments against any step in the elevation of woman, that her position is a thing fixed permanently by nature, so that there can be in it no great or essential change. Every successive modification is resisted as "a reform against nature;" and this argument from permanence is always that which appears most convincing to conservative minds. Let us see how the facts confirm it.

A story is going the rounds of the newspapers in regard to a Russian peasant and his wife. For some act of disobedience the peasant took the law into his own hands; and his mode of discipline was to tie the poor creature naked to a post in the street, and to call on every passer-by to strike her a blow. Not satisfied with this, he placed her on the ground, and tied heavy weights on her limbs until one arm was broken. When finally released, she made a complaint against him in court. The court discharged him on the ground that he had not exceeded the legal authority of a husband. Encouraged by this, he caused her to be arrested in return; and the same court sentenced her to another public whipping for disobedience.

No authority was given for this story in the newspaper where I saw it; but it certainly did not first appear in a woman-suffrage newspaper, and cannot therefore be a manufactured "outrage." I use it simply to illustrate the low-water mark at which the position of woman may rest, in the largest Christian nation of the world. All the refinements, all the education, all the comparative justice, of modern society, have been gradually upheaved from some such depth as this. When the gypsies described by Leland treat even the ground trodden upon by a woman as impure, they simply illustrate the low plane from which all the elevation of woman has begun. All these things show that the position of that sex in society, so far from being a thing in itself permanent, has been in reality the most changing of all factors in the social problem. And this inevitably suggests the question, Are we any more sure that her present position is finally and absolutely fixed than were those who observed it at any previous time in the world's history? Granting that her condition was once at low-water mark, who is authorized to say that it has yet reached high tide?

It is very possible that this Russian wife, once scourged back to submission, ended her days in the conviction, and taught it to her daughters, that such was a woman's rightful place. When an American woman of to-day says, "I have all the rights I want," is she on any surer ground? Grant that the difference is vast between the two. How do we know that even the later condition is final, or that anything is final but entire equality before the laws? It is not many years since William Story--in a legal work inspired and revised by his father, the greatest of American jurists--wrote this indignant protest against the injustice of the old common law:--

"In respect to the powers and rights of married women, the law is by no means abreast of the spirit of the age. Here are seen the old fossil footprints of feudalism. The law relating to woman tends to make every family a barony or a monarchy, or a despotism, of which the husband is the baron, king, or despot, and the wife the dependent, serf, or slave. That this is not always the fact is not due to the law, but to the enlarged humanity which spurns the narrow limits of its rules. The progress of civilization has changed the family from a barony to a republic; but the law has not kept pace with the advance of ideas, manners, and customs. And, although public opinion is a check to legal rules on the subject, the rules are feudal and stern. Yet the position of woman throughout history serves as the criterion of the freedom of the people or an age. When man shall despise that right which is founded only on might, woman will be free and stand on an equal level with him,--a friend and not a dependent."[1]

We know that the law is greatly changed and ameliorated in many places since Story wrote this statement; but we also know how almost every one of these changes was resisted: and who is authorized to say that the final and equitable fulfilment is yet reached?

[Footnote 1: Story's Treatise on the Law of Contracts not under Seal, § 84, p. 89.]


After witnessing the marriage ceremony of the Episcopal Church, the other day, I walked down the aisle with the young rector who had officiated. It was natural to speak of the beauty of the Church service on an occasion like that; but, after doing this, I felt compelled to protest against the unrighteous pledge to obey. "I hope," I said, "to live to see that word expunged from the Episcopal service, as it has been from that of the Methodists. The Roman Catholics, you know, have never had it."

"Why do you object?" he asked. "Is it because you know that they will not obey?"

"Because they ought not," I said.

"Well," said he, after a few moments' reflection, and looking up frankly, "I do not think they ought!"

Here was a young clergyman of great earnestness and self-devotion, who included it among the sacred duties of his life to impose upon ignorant young girls a solemn obligation, which he yet thought they ought not to incur, and did not believe that they would keep. There could hardly be a better illustration of the confusion in the public mind, or the manner in which "the subjection of woman" is being outgrown, or the subtile way in which this subjection has been interwoven with sacred ties, and baptized "duty."

The advocates of woman suffrage are constantly reproved for using the terms "subjection," "oppression," and "slavery," as applied to woman. They simply commit the same sin as that committed by the original abolitionists. They are "as harsh as truth, as uncompromising as justice." Of course they talk about oppression and emancipation. It is the word obey that constitutes the one, and shows the need of the other. Whoever is pledged to obey is technically and literally a slave, no matter how many roses surround the chains. All the more so if the slavery is self-imposed, and surrounded by all the prescriptions of religion. Make the marriage tie as close as church or state can make it; but let it be equal, impartial. That it may be so, the word obey must be abandoned or made reciprocal. Where invariable obedience is promised, equality is gone.

That there may be no doubt about the meaning of this word in the marriage covenant, the usages of nations often add symbolic explanations. These are generally simple, and brutal enough to be understood. The Hebrew ceremony, when the bridegroom took off his slipper and struck the bride on the neck as she crossed his threshold, was unmistakable. As my black sergeant said, when a white prisoner questioned his authority, and he pointed to the chevrons on his sleeve, "Dat mean guv'ment." All these forms mean simply government also. The ceremony of the slipper has now no recognition, except when people fling an old shoe after the bride, which is held by antiquarians to be the same observance. But it is all preserved and concentrated into a single word, when the bride promises to obey.

The deepest wretchedness that has ever been put into human language, or that has exceeded it, has grown out of that pledge. There is no misery on earth like that of a pure and refined woman who finds herself owned, body and soul, by a drunken, licentious, brutal man. The very fact that she is held to obedience by a spiritual tie makes it worse. Chattel slavery was not so bad; for, though the master might pervert religion for his own satisfaction, he could not impose upon the slave. Never yet did I see a negro slave who thought it a duty to obey his master; and therefore there was always some dream of release. But who has not heard of some delicate and refined woman, one day of whose torture was equivalent to years of that possible to an obtuse frame,--who had the door of escape ready at hand for years, and yet died a lingering death rather than pass through it; and this because she had promised to obey!

It is said of one of the most gifted women who ever trod American soil,-- she being of English birth,--that, before she obtained the divorce which separated her from her profligate husband, she once went for counsel to the wife of her pastor. She unrolled before her the long catalogue of merciless outrages to which she had been subject, endangering finally her health, her life, and that of her children born and to be born. When she turned at last for advice to her confessor, with the agonized inquiry, "What is it my duty to do?"--"Do?" said the stern adviser: "Lie down on the floor, and let your husband trample on you if he will. That is a woman's duty."

The woman who gave this advice was not naturally inhuman nor heartless: she had simply been trained in the school of obedience. The Jesuit doctrine, that a priest should be as a corpse, perinde ac cadaver, in the hands of a superior priest, is not worse. Woman has no right to delegate, nor man to assume, a responsibility so awful. Just in proportion as it is consistently carried out, it trains men from boyhood into self-indulgent tyrants; and, while some women are transformed by it to saints, others are crushed into deceitful slaves. That this was the result of chattel slavery, this nation has at length learned. We learn more slowly the profounder and more subtile moral evil that follows from the unrighteous promise to obey.


When the bride receives the ring upon her finger, and utters--if she utters it--the promise to obey, she sees a poetic beauty in the rite. Turning of her own free will from her maiden liberty, she voluntarily takes the yoke of service upon her. This is her view; but is this the historic fact in regard to marriage? Not at all. The pledge of obedience--the whole theory of inequality in marriage--is simply what is left to us of a former state of society, in which every woman, old or young, must obey somebody. The state of tutelage, implied in such a marriage, is merely what is left of the old theory of the "Perpetual Tutelage of Women," under the Roman law.

Roman law, from which our civil law is derived, has its foundation evidently in patriarchal tradition. It recognized at first the family only, and that family was held together by paternal power (patria potestas). If the father died, his powers passed to the son or grandson, as the possible head of a new family; but these powers could never pass to a woman, and every woman, of whatever age, must be under somebody's legal control. Her father dying, she was still subject through life to her nearest male relations, or to her father's nominees, as her guardians. She was under perpetual guardianship, both as to person and property. No years, no experience, could make her anything but a child before the law.

In Oriental countries the system was still more complete. "A man," says the Gentoo Code of Laws, "must keep his wife so much in subjection that she by no means be mistress of her own action. If the wife have her own free will, notwithstanding she be of a superior caste, she will behave amiss." But this authority, which still exists in India, is not merely conjugal. The husband exerts it simply as being the wife's legal guardian. If the woman be unmarried or a widow, she must be as rigorously held under some other guardianship. It is no uncommon thing for a woman in India to be the ward of her own son. Lucretia Mott or Florence Nightingale would there be in personal subjection to somebody. Any man of legal age would be recognized as a fit custodian for them, but there must be a man.

With some variation of details at different periods, the same system prevailed essentially at Rome, down to the time when Rome became Christian. Those who wish for particulars will find them in an admirable chapter (the fifth) of Maine's "Ancient Law." At one time the husband was held to possess the patria potestas, or paternal power, in its full force. By law "the woman passed in manum viri, that is, she became the daughter of her husband." All she had became his, and after his death she was retained in the same strict tutelage by any guardians his will might appoint. Afterwards, to soften this rigid bond, the woman was regarded in law as being temporarily deposited by her family with her husband; the family appointed guardians over her; and thus, between the two tyrannies, she won a sort of independence. Then came Christianity, and swept away the merely parental authority for married women, concentrating all upon the husband. Hence our legislation bears the mark of a double origin, and woman is half recognized as an equal and half as a slave.

It is necessary to remember, therefore, that all the relation of subjection in marriage is merely the residue of an unnatural system, of which all else is long since outgrown. It would have seemed to an ancient Roman a matter of course that a woman should, all her life long, obey the guardians set over her person. It still seems to many people a matter of course that she should obey her husband. To others among us, on the contrary, both these theories of obedience seem barbarous, and the one is merely a relic of the other.

We cannot disregard the history of the Theory of Tutelage. If we could believe that a chrysalis is always a chrysalis, and a butterfly always a butterfly, we could easily leave each to its appropriate sphere; but when we see the chrysalis open, and the butterfly come half out of it, we know that sooner or later it must spread wings, and fly. The theory of tutelage implies the chrysalis. Woman is the butterfly. Sooner or later she will be wholly out.


A young man of very good brains was telling me, the other day, his dreams of his future wife. Rattling on, more in joke than in earnest, he said, "She must be perfectly ignorant, and a bigot: she must know nothing, and believe everything. I should wish to have her from the adjoining room call to me, 'My dear, what do two and two make?'"

It did not seem to me that his demand would be so very hard to fill, since bigotry and ignorance are to be had almost anywhere for the asking; and, as for two and two, I should say that it had always been the habit of women to ask that question of some man, and to rest easily satisfied with the answer. They have generally called, as my friend wished, from some other room, saying, "My dear, what do two and two make?" and the husband or father or brother has answered and said, "My dear, they make four for a man, and three for a woman."

At any given period in the history of woman, she has adopted man's whim as the measure of her rights; has claimed nothing; has sweetly accepted anything; the law of two-and-two itself should be at his discretion. At any given moment, so well was his interpretation received, that it stood for absolute right. In Rome a woman, married or single, could not testify in court; in the middle ages, and down to quite modern times, she could not hold real estate; thirty years ago she could not, in New England, obtain a collegiate education; even now she can only vote for school officers.

The first principles of republican government are so rehearsed and re-rehearsed, that one would think they must become "as plain as that two and two make four." But we find throughout, that, as Emerson said of another class of reasoners, "Their two is not the real two; their four is not the real four." We find different numerals and diverse arithmetical rules for the two sexes; as, in some Oriental countries, men and women speak different dialects of the same language.

In novels the hero often begins by dreaming, like my friend, of an ideal wife, who shall be ignorant of everything, and have only brains enough to be bigoted. Instead of sighing, like Falstaff, "Oh for a fine young thief, of the age of two and twenty or thereabouts!" the hero sighs for a fine young idiot of similar age. When the hero is successful in his search and wooing, the novelist sometimes mercifully removes the young woman early, like David Copperfield's Dora, she bequeathing the bereaved husband, on her deathbed, to a woman of sense. In real life these convenient interruptions do not commonly occur, and the foolish youth regrets through many years that he did not select an Agnes instead.

The acute observer Stendhal says,--

"In Paris, the highest praise for a marriageable girl is to say, 'She has great sweetness of character and the disposition of a lamb.' Nothing produces more impression on fools who are looking out for wives. I think I see the interesting couple, two years after, breakfasting together on a dull day, with three tall lackeys waiting upon them!"

And he adds, still speaking in the interest of men:--

"Most men have a period in their career when they might do something great, a period when nothing seems impossible. The ignorance of women spoils for the human race this magnificent opportunity: and love, at the utmost, in these days, only inspires a young man to learn to ride well, or to make a judicious selection of a tailor."[1]

Society, however, discovers by degrees that there are conveniences in every woman's knowing the four rules of arithmetic for herself. Two and two come to the same amount on a butcher's bill, whether the order be given by a man or a woman; and it is the same in all affairs or investments, financial or moral. We shall one day learn that with laws, customs, and public affairs it is the same. Once get it rooted in a woman's mind, that for her, two and two make three only, and sooner or later the accounts of the whole human race fail to balance.

[Footnote 1: De L'Amour, par de Stendhal (Henri Beyle). Paris, 1868 [written in 1822], pp. 182, 198.]


There is an African bird called the hornbill, whose habits are in some respects a model. The female builds her nest in a hollow tree, lays her eggs, and broods on them. So far, so good. Then the male feels that he must also contribute some service; so he walls up the hole closely, giving only room for the point of the female's bill to protrude. Until the eggs are hatched, she is thenceforth confined to her nest, and is in the mean time fed assiduously by her mate, who devotes himself entirely to this object. Dr. Livingstone has seen these nests in Africa, Layard and others in Asia, and Wallace in Sumatra.

Personally I have never seen a hornbill's nest. The nearest approach I ever made to it was when in Fayal I used to pass near a gloomy mansion, of which the front windows were walled up, and only one high window was visible in the rear, beyond the reach of eyes from any neighboring house. In this cheerful abode, I was assured, a Portuguese lady had been for many years confined by her jealous husband. It was long since any neighbor had caught a glimpse of her, but it was supposed that she was alive. There is no reason to doubt that her husband fed her well. It was simply a case of human hornbill, with the imprisonment made perpetual.

I have more than once asked lawyers whether, in communities where the old common law prevailed, there was anything to prevent such an imprisonment of a married woman; and they have always answered, "Nothing but public opinion." Where the husband has the legal custody of the wife's person, no habeas corpus can avail against him. The hornbill household is based on a strict application of the old common law. A Hindoo household was a hornbill household: "a woman, of whatsoever age, should never be mistress of her own actions," said the code of Menu. An Athenian household was a hornbill's nest, and great was the outcry when some Aspasia broke out of it. When the remonstrant petitions legislatures against the emancipation of woman, we seem to hear the twittering of the hornbill mother, imploring to be left inside.

Under some forms, the hornbill theory becomes respectable. There are many peaceful families, innocent though torpid, where the only dream of existence is to have plenty of quiet, plenty of food, and plenty of well-fed children. For them this African household is a sufficient model. The wife is "a home body." The husband is "a good provider." These are honest people, and have a right to speak. The hornbill theory is only dishonest when it comes--as it often comes--from women who lead the life, not of good stay-at-home fowls, but of paroquets and hummingbirds,--who sorrowfully bemoan the active habits of enlightened women, while they themselves

"Bear about the mockery of woe

To midnight dances and the public show."

It is from these women, in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, that the loudest appeal for the hornbill standard of domesticity proceeds. Put them to the test, and give them their chicken-salad and champagne through a hole in the wall only, and see how they like it.

But even the most honest and peaceful conservatives will one day admit that the hornbill is not the highest model. Plato thought that "the soul of our grandame might haply inhabit the body of a bird;" but Nature has kindly provided various types of bird-households to suit all varieties of taste. The bright orioles, filling the summer boughs with color and with song, are as truly domestic in the freedom of their airy nest as the poor hornbills who ignorantly make home into a dungeon. And certainly each new generation of orioles, spreading free wings from that pendent cradle, affords a happier illustration of judicious nurture than is to be found in the uncouth little offspring of the hornbills, which Wallace describes as "so flabby and semi-transparent as to resemble a bladder of jelly, furnished with head, legs, and rudimentary wings, but with not a sign of a feather, except a few lines of points indicating where they would come."


Many German-Americans are warm friends of woman suffrage; but the editors of "Puck," it seems, are not. In a certain number of that comic journal, there was an unfavorable cartoon on this reform; and in a following number,--the number, by the way, which contains that amusing illustration of the vast seaside hotels of the future, with the cheering announcement, "Only one mile to the barber's shop," and "Take the cars to the dining-room,"--a lady came to the rescue, and bravely defended woman suffrage. It seems that the original cartoon depicted in the corner a pretty family scene, representing father, mother, and children seated happily together, with the melancholy motto, "Nevermore, nevermore!" And when the correspondent, Mrs. Blake, very naturally asks what this touching picture has to do with woman suffrage, Puck says, "If the husband in our 'pretty family scene' should propose to vote for the candidate who was obnoxious to his wife, would this 'pretty family scene' continue to be a domestic paradise, or would it remind the spectator of the region in which Dante spent his 'fortnight off'?"

It is beautiful to see how much anxiety there is to preserve the family. Every step in the modification of the old common law, whereby the wife was, in Baron Alderson's phrase, "the servant of her husband," was resisted as tending to endanger the family. The proposal that the wife should control her own earnings, so that her husband should not have the right to collect them in order to pay his gambling debts, was declared by English advocates, in the celebrated case of the Hon. Mrs. Norton, the poetess, to imperil all the future peace of British households.

Even the liberal-minded "Punch," about the time Girton College was founded in England, expressed grave doubts whether the harmony of wedded unions would not receive a blow, from the time when wives should be liable to know more Greek than their husbands. Yet the marriage relation has withstood these innovations. It has not been impaired, either by separate rights, private earnings, or independent Greek: can it be possible that a little voting will overthrow it?

The very ground on which woman suffrage is opposed by its enemies might assuage these fears. If, as we are told, women will not take the pains to vote except upon the strongest inducements, who has so good an opportunity as the husband to bring those inducements to bear? and, if so, what is the separation? Or if, as we are told, women will merely reflect their husbands' political opinions, why should they dispute about them? The mere suggestion of a difference deep enough to quarrel for, implies a real difference of convictions or interests, and indicates that there ought to be an independent representation of each; unless we fall back, once for all, on the common-law tradition that man and wife are one, and that one is the husband. Either the antagonisms which occur in politics are comparatively superficial, in which case they would do no harm; or else they touch matters of real interest and principle, in which case every human being has a right to independent expression, even at a good deal of risk. In either case, the objection falls to the ground.

We have fortunately a means of testing, with some fairness of estimate, the probable amount of this peril. It is generally admitted--and certainly no German-American will deny--that the most fruitful sources of hostility and war in all times have been religious, not political. All merely political antagonism, certainly all which is possible in a republic, fades into insignificance before this more powerful dividing influence. Yet we leave all this great explosive force in unimpeded operation,--at any moment it may be set in action, in any one of those "pretty family scenes" which "Puck" depicts,--while we are solemnly warned against admitting the comparatively mild peril of a political difference! It is like cautioning a manufacturer of dynamite against the danger of meddling with mere edge-tools. Even with all the intensity of feeling on religious matters, few families are seriously divided by them; and the influence of political differences would be still more insignificant.

The simple fact is that there is no better basis for union than mutual respect for each other's opinions; and this can never be obtained without an intelligent independence, "I would rather have a thorn in my side than an echo," said Emerson of friendship; and the same is true of married life. It is the echoes, the nonentities, of whom men grow tired; it is the women with some flavor of individuality who keep the hearts of their husbands. This is only applying in a higher sense what Shakespeare's Cleopatra saw. When her handmaidens are questioning how to hold a lover, and one says,--

"Give way to him in all: cross him in nothing,"--

Cleopatra, from the depth of an unequalled experience, retorts,--

"Thou speakest like a fool: the way to lose him!"

And what "the serpent of old Nile" said, the wives of the future, who are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, may well ponder. It takes two things different to make a union; and part of that difference may as well lie in matters political as anywhere else.


An able lawyer of Boston, arguing the other day before a legislative committee in favor of giving to the city council a check upon the expenditures of the school committee, gave as one reason that this body would probably include more women henceforward, and that women were ordinarily more lavish than men in their use of money. The truth of this assumption was questioned at the time; and, the more I think of it, the more contrary it is to my whole experience. I should say that women, from the very habit of their lives, are led to be more particular about details, and more careful as to small economies. The very fact that they handle less money tends to this. When they are told to spend money, as they often are by loving or ambitious husbands, they no doubt do it freely: they have naturally more taste than men, and quite as much love of luxury. In some instances in this country they spend money recklessly and wickedly, like the heroines of French novels; but as, even in brilliant Paris, the women of the middle classes are notoriously better managers than the men, so we often see, in our scheming America, the same relative superiority. Often have I heard young men say, "I never knew how to economize until after my marriage;" and who has not seen multitudes of instances where women accustomed to luxury have accepted poverty without a murmur for the sake of those whom they loved?

I remember a young girl, accustomed to the gayest society of New York, who engaged herself to a young naval officer, against the advice of the friends of both. One of her near relatives said to me, "Of all the young girls I have ever known, she is the least fitted for a poor man's wife." Yet from the very moment of her marriage she brought their joint expenses within his scanty pay, and even saved a little money from it. Everybody knows such instances. We hear men denounce the extravagance of women, while those very men spend on wine and cigars, on clubs and horses, twice what their wives spend on their toilet. If the wives are economical, the husbands perhaps urge them on to greater lavishness. "Why do you not dress like Mrs. So-and-so?"--"I can't afford it."--"But I can afford it;" and then, when the bills come in, the talk of extravagance recommences. At one time in Newport, that lady among the summer visitors who was reported to be Worth's best customer was also well known to be quite indifferent to society, and to go into it mainly to please her husband, whose social ambition was notorious.

It has often happened to me to serve in organizations where both sexes were represented, and where expenditures were to be made for business or pleasure. In these I have found, as a rule, that the women were more careful, or perhaps I should say more timid, than the men, less willing to risk anything: the bolder financial experiments came from the men, as one might expect. In talking the other day with the secretary of an important educational enterprise, conducted by women, I was surprised to find that it was cramped for money, though large subscriptions were said to have been made to it. On inquiry it appeared that these ladies, having pledged themselves for four years, had divided the amount received into four parts, and were resolutely limiting themselves, f

or the first year, to one quarter part of what had been subscribed. No board of men would have done so. Any board of men would have allowed far more than a quarter of the sum for the first year's expenditures, justly reasoning that if the enterprise began well it would command public confidence, and bring in additional subscriptions as time went on. I would appeal to any one whose experience has been in joint associations of men and women, whether this is not a fair statement of the difference between their ways of working. It does not prove that women are more honest than men, but that their education or their nature makes them more cautious in expenditure.

The habits of society make the dress of a fashionable woman far more expensive than that of a man of fashion. Formerly it was not so; and, so long as it was not so, the extravagance of men in this respect quite equalled that of women. It now takes other forms, but the habit is the same. The waiters at any fashionable restaurant will tell you that what is a cheap dinner for a man would be a dear dinner for a woman. Yet after all, the test is not in any particular class of expenditures, but in the business-like habit. Men are of course more business-like in large combinations, for they are more used to them; but for the small details of daily economy women are more watchful. The cases where women ruin their husbands by extravagance are exceptional. As a rule, the men are the bread-winners; but the careful saving and managing and contriving come from the women.


I was once at a little musical party in New York, where several accomplished amateur singers were present, and with them the eminent professional, Miss Adelaide Phillipps. The amateurs were first called on. Each chose some difficult operatic passage, and sang her best. When it came to the great opera-singer's turn, instead of exhibiting her ability to eclipse those rivals on her own ground, she simply seated herself at the piano, and sang "Kathleen Mavourneen" with such thrilling sweetness that the young Irish girl who was setting the supper-table in the next room forgot all her plates and teaspoons, threw herself into a chair, put her apron over her face, and sobbed as if her heart would break. All the training of Adelaide Phillipps--her magnificent voice, her stage experience, her skill in effects, her power of expression--went into the performance of that simple song. The greater included the less. And thus all the intellectual and practical training that any woman can have, all her public action and her active career, will make her, if she be a true woman, more admirable as a wife, a mother, and a friend. The greater includes the less for her also.

Of course this is a statement of general facts and tendencies. There must be among women, as among men, an endless variety of individual temperaments. There will always be plenty whose career will illustrate the infirmities of genius, and whom no training can convince that two and two make four. But the general fact is sure. As no sensible man would seriously prefer for a wife a Hindoo or Tahitian woman rather than one bred in England or America, so every further advantage of education or opportunity will only improve, not impair, the true womanly type.

Lucy Stone once said, "Woman's nature was stamped and sealed by the Almighty, and there is no danger of her unsexing herself while his eye watches her." Margaret Fuller said, "One hour of love will teach a woman more of her true relations than all your philosophizing." These were the testimony of women who had studied Greek, and were only the more womanly for the study. They are worth the opinions of a million half-developed beings like the Duchess de Fontanges, who was described as being "as beautiful as an angel and as silly as a goose." The greater includes the less. Your view from the mountain-side may be very pretty, but she who has taken one step higher commands your view and her own also. It was no dreamy recluse, but the accomplished and experienced Stendhal, who wrote, "The joys of the gay world do not count for much with happy women."[1]

If a highly educated man is incapable and unpractical, we do not say that he is educated too well, but not well enough. He ought to know what he knows, and other things also. Never yet did I see a woman too well educated to be a wife and a mother; but I know multitudes who deplore, or have reason to deplore, every day of their lives, the untrained and unfurnished minds that are so ill-prepared for these sacred duties. Every step towards equalizing the opportunities of men and women meets with resistance, of course; but every step, as it is accomplished, leaves men still men, and women still women. And as we who heard Adelaide Phillipps felt that she had never had a better tribute to her musical genius than this young Irish girl's tears, so the true woman will feel that all her college training for instance, if she has it, may have been well invested, even for the sake of the baby on her knee. And it is to be remembered, after all, that each human being lives to unfold his or her own powers, and do his or her own duties first, and that neither woman nor man has the right to accept a merely secondary and subordinate life. A noble woman must be a noble human being; and the most sacred special duties, as of wife or mother, are all included in this, as the greater includes the less.

[Footnote 1: De l'Amour, par de Stendhal (Henri Beyle): "Les plaisirs du grand monde n'en sont pas pour les femmes heureuses," p. 189.]


Marriage, considered merely in its financial and business relations, may be regarded as a permanent copartnership.

Now, in an ordinary copartnership there is very often a complete division of labor among the partners. If they manufacture locomotive-engines, for instance, one partner perhaps superintends the works, another attends to mechanical inventions and improvements, another travels for orders, another conducts the correspondence, another receives and pays out the money. The latter is not necessarily the head of the firm. Perhaps his place could be more easily filled than some of the other posts. Nevertheless, more money passes through his hands than through those of all the others put together. Now, should he, at the year's end, call together the inventor and the superintendent and the traveller and the correspondent, and say to them, "I have earned all this money this year, but I will generously give you some of it,"--he would be considered simply impertinent, and would hardly have a chance to repeat the offence the year after.

Yet precisely what would be called folly in this business partnership is constantly done by men in the copartnership of marriage, and is there called "common sense" and "social science" and "political economy."

For instance, a farmer works himself half to death in the hayfield, and his wife meanwhile is working herself wholly to death in the dairy. The neighbors come in to sympathize after her demise; and during the few months' interval before his second marriage they say approvingly, "He was always a generous man to his folks! He was a good provider!" But where was the room for generosity, any more than the member of any other firm is to be called generous, when he keeps the books, receipts the bills, and divides the money?

In case of the farming business, the share of the wife is so direct and unmistakable that it can hardly be evaded. If anything is earned by the farm, she does her distinct and important share of the earning. But it is not necessary that she should do even that, to make her, by all the rules of justice, an equal partner, entitled to her full share of the financial proceeds.

Let us suppose an ordinary case. Two young people are married, and begin life together. Let us suppose them equally poor, equally capable, equally conscientious, equally healthy. They have children. Those children must be supported by the earning of money abroad, by attendance and care at home. If it requires patience and labor to do the outside work, no less is required inside. The duties of the household are as hard as the duties of the shop or office. If the wife took her husband's work for a day, she would probably be glad to return to her own. So would the husband if he undertook hers. Their duties are ordinarily as distinct and as equal as those of two partners in any other copartnership. It so happens that the outdoor partner has the handling of the money; but does that give him a right to claim it as his exclusive earnings? No more than in any other business operation.

He earned the money for the children and the household. She disbursed it for the children and the household. The very laws of nature, by giving her the children to bear and rear, absolve her from the duty of their support, so long as he is alive who was left free by nature for that purpose. Her task on the average is as hard as his: nay, a portion of it is so especially hard that it is distinguished from all others by the name "labor." If it does not earn money, it is because it is not to be measured in money, while it exists,--nor to be replaced by money, if lost. If a business man loses his partner, he can obtain another: and a man, no doubt, may take a second wife; but he cannot procure for his children a second mother. Indeed, it is a palpable insult to the whole relation of husband and wife when one compares it, even in a financial light, to that of business partners. It is only because a constant effort is made to degrade the practical position of woman below even this standard of comparison, that it becomes her duty to claim for herself at least as much as this.

There was a tradition in a town where I once lived, that a certain Quaker, who had married a fortune, was once heard to repel his wife, who had asked him for money in a public place, with the response, "Rachel, where is that ninepence I gave thee yesterday?" When I read in "Scribner's Monthly" an article deriding the right to representation of the Massachusetts women who pay two millions of tax on one hundred and thirty-two million dollars of property,--asserting that they produced nothing of it; that it was only "men who produced this wealth, and bestowed it upon these women;" that it was "all drawn from land and sea by the hands of men whose largess testifies alike of their love and their munificence,"--I must say that I am reminded of Rachel's ninepence.


When we look through any business directory, there seem to be almost as many copartnerships as single dealers; and three quarters of these copartnerships appear to consist of precisely two persons, no more, no less. These partners are, in the eye of the law, equal. It is not found necessary, under the law, to make a general provision that in each case one partner should be supreme and the other subordinate. In many cases, by the terms of the copartnership there are limitations on one side and special privileges on the other,--marriage settlements, as it were; but the general law of copartnership is based on the presumption of equality. It would be considered infinitely absurd to require that, as the general rule, one party or the other should be in a state of coverture, during which the very being and existence of the one should be suspended, or entirely merged and incorporated into that of the other.

And yet this requirement, which would be an admitted absurdity in the case of two business partners, is precisely that which the English common law still lays down in case of husband and wife. The words which I employed to describe it, in the preceding sentence, are the very phrases in which Blackstone describes the legal position of women. And though the English common law has been, in this respect, greatly modified and superseded by statute law; yet, when it comes to an argument on woman suffrage, it is constantly this same tradition to which men and even women habitually appeal,--the necessity of a single head to the domestic partnership, and the necessity that the husband should be that head. This is especially true of English men and women; but it is true of Americans as well. Nobody has stated it more tersely than Fitzjames Stephen, in his "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" (p. 216), when arguing against Mr. Mill's view of the equality of the sexes.

"Marriage is a contract, one of the principal objects in which is the government of a family.

"This government must be vested, either by law or by contract, in the hands of one of the two married persons."

[Then follow some collateral points, not bearing on the present question.]

"Therefore if marriage is to be permanent, the government of the family must be put by law and by morals into the hands of the husband, for no one proposes to give it to the wife."

This argument he calls "as clear as that of a proposition in Euclid." He thinks that the business of life can be carried on by no other method. How is it, then, that when we come to what is called technically and especially the "business" of every day, this whole fine-spun theory is disregarded, and men come together in partnership on the basis of equality?

Nobody is farther than I from regarding marriage as a mere business partnership. But it is to be observed that the points wherein it differs from a merely mercantile connection are points that should make equality more easy, not more difficult. The tie between two ordinary business partners is merely one of interest: it is based on no sentiments, sealed by no solemn pledge, enriched by no home associations, cemented by no new generation of young life. If a relation like this is found to work well on terms of equality,--so well that a large part of the business of the world is done by it,--is it not absurd to suppose that the same equal relation cannot exist in the married partnership of husband and wife? And if law, custom, society, all recognize this fact of equality in the one case, why, in the name of common-sense, should they not equally recognize it in the other?

And, again, it may often be far easier to assign a sphere to each partner in marriage than in business; and therefore the double headship of a family will involve less need of collision. In nine cases out of ten, the external support of the family will devolve upon the husband, unquestioned by the wife; and its internal economy upon the wife, unquestioned by the husband. No voluntary distribution of powers and duties between business partners can work so naturally, on the whole, as this simple and easy demarcation, with which the claim of suffrage makes no necessary interference. It may require angry discussion to decide which of two business partners shall buy, and which shall sell; which shall keep the books, and which do the active work, and so on; but all this is usually settled in married life by the natural order of things. Even in regard to the management of children, where collision is likely to come, if anywhere, it can commonly be settled by that happy formula of Jean Paul's, that the mother usually supplies the commas and the semicolons in the child's book of life, and the father the colons and periods. And as to matters in general, the simple and practical rule, that each question that arises should be decided by that partner who has personally most at stake in it, will, in ninety-nine times out of a hundred, carry the domestic partnership through without shipwreck. Those who cannot meet the hundredth case by mutual forbearance are in a condition of shipwreck already.


One of the very best wives and mothers I have ever known once said to me, that, whenever her daughters should be married, she should stipulate in their behalf with their husbands for a regular sum of money to be paid them, at certain intervals, for their personal expenditures. Whether this sum was to be larger or smaller, was a matter of secondary importance,-- that must depend on the income, and the style of living; but the essential thing was, that it should come to the wife regularly, so that she should no more have to make a special request for it than her husband would have to ask her for a dinner. This lady's own husband was, as I happened to know, of a most generous disposition, was devotedly attached to her, and denied her nothing. She herself was a most accurate and careful manager. There was everything in the household to make the financial arrangements flow smoothly. Yet she said to me, "I suppose no man can possibly understand how a sensitive woman shrinks from asking for money. If I can prevent it, my daughters shall never have to ask for it. If they do their duty as wives and mothers they have a right to their share of the joint income, within reasonable limits; for certainly no money could buy the services they render. Moreover, they have a right to a share in determining what those reasonable limits are."

Now, it so happened that I had myself gone through an experience which enabled me perfectly to comprehend this feeling. In early life I was for a time in the employ of one of my relatives, who paid me a fair salary but at no definite periods: I was at liberty to ask him for money up to a certain amount whenever I needed it. This seemed to me, in advance, a most agreeable arrangement; but I found it quite otherwise. It proved to be very disagreeable to apply for money: it made every dollar seem a special favor; it brought up all kinds of misgivings, as to whether he could spare it without inconvenience, whether he really thought my services worth it, and so on. My employer was a thoroughly upright and noble man, and I was much attached to him. I do not know that he ever refused or demurred when I made my request. The annoyance was simply in the process of asking; and this became so great, that I often underwent serious inconvenience rather than do it. Finally, at the year's end, I surprised my relative very much by saying that I would accept, if necessary, a lower salary, on condition that it should be paid on regular days, and as a matter of business. The wish was at once granted, without the reduction; and he probably never knew what a relief it was to me.

Now, if a young man is liable to feel this pride and reluctance toward an employer, even when a kinsman, it is easy to understand how many women may feel the same, even in regard to a husband. And I fancy that those who feel it most are often the most conscientious and high-minded women. It is unreasonable to say of such persons, "Too sensitive! Too fastidious!" For it is just this quality of finer sensitiveness which men affect to prize in a woman, and wish to protect at all hazards. The very fact that a husband is generous; the very fact that his income is limited,--these may bring in conscience and gratitude to increase the restraining influence of pride, and make the wife less willing to ask money of such a husband than if he were a rich man or a mean one. The only dignified position in which a man can place his wife is to treat her at least as well as he would treat a housekeeper, and give her the comfort of a perfectly clear and definite arrangement as to money matters. She will not then be under the necessity of nerving herself to solicit from him as a favor what she really needs and has a right to spend. Nor will she be torturing herself, on the other side, with the secret fear lest she has asked too much and more than they can really spare. She will, in short, be in the position of a woman and a wife, not of a child or a toy.

I have carefully avoided using the word "allowance" in what has been said, because that word seems to imply the untrue and mean assumption that the money is all the husband's to give or withhold as he will. Yet I have heard this sort of phrase from men who were living on a wife's property or a wife's earnings; from men who nominally kept boarding-houses, working a little, while their wives worked hard,--or from farmers, who worked hard, and made their wives work harder. Even in cases where the wife has no direct part in the money-making, the indirect part she performs, if she takes faithful charge of her household, is so essential, so beyond all compensation in money, that it is an utter shame and impertinence in the husband when he speaks of "giving" money to his wife as if it were an act of favor. It is no more an act of favor than when the business manager of a firm pays out money to the unseen partner who directs the indoor business or runs the machinery. Be the joint income more or less, the wife has a claim to her honorable share, and that as a matter of right, without the daily ignominy of sending in a petition for it.


I always groan in spirit when any advocate of woman suffrage, carried away by zeal, says anything disrespectful about the nursery. It is contrary to the general tone of feeling among reformers, I am sure, to speak of this priceless institution as a trivial or degrading sphere, unworthy the emancipated woman. It is rarely that anybody speaks in this way; but a single such utterance hinders progress more than any arguments of the enemy. For every thoughtful person sees that the cares of motherhood, though not the whole duty of woman, are an essential part of that duty, wherever they occur; and that no theory of womanly life is good for anything which undertakes to leave out the cradle. Even her school education is based on this fact, were it only on Stendhal's theory that the sons of a woman who reads Gibbon and Schiller will be more likely to show talent than those of one who only tells her beads and reads Mme. de Genlis. And so clearly is this understood among us, that, when we ask for suffrage for woman, it is almost always claimed that she needs it for the sake of her children. To secure her in her right to them; to give her a voice in their education; to give her a vote in the government beneath which they are to live,--these points are seldom omitted in our statement of her claims. Anything else would be an error.

But there is an error at the other extreme, which is still greater. A woman should no more merge herself in her child than in her husband. Yet we often hear that she should do just this. What is all the public sphere of woman, it is said,--what good can she do by all her speaking and writing and action,--compared with that she does by properly training the soul of one child? It is not easy to see the logic of this claim.

For what service is that child to render in the universe, except that he, too, may write and speak and act for that which is good and true? And if the mother foregoes all this that the child, in growing up, may simply do what the mother has left undone, the world gains nothing. In sacrificing her own work to her child's, moreover, she exchanges a present good for a prospective and merely possible one. If she does this through overwhelming love, we can hardly blame her; but she cannot justify it before reason and truth. Her child may die, and the service to mankind be done by neither. Her child may grow up with talents unlike hers, or with none at all; as the son of Howard was selfish, the son of Chesterfield a boor, and the son of Wordsworth in the last degree prosaic.

Or the special occasion when she might have done great good may have passed before her boy or girl grows up to do it. If Mrs. Child had refused to write "An Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans," or Mrs. Stowe had laid aside "Uncle Tom's Cabin," or Florence Nightingale had declined to go to the Crimea, on the ground that a woman's true work was through the nursery, and they must all wait for that, the consequence would be that these things would have remained undone. The brave acts of the world must be performed when occasion offers, by the first brave soul who feels moved to do them, man or woman.

If all the children in all the nurseries are thereby helped to do other brave deeds when their turn comes, so much the better. But when a great opportunity offers for direct aid to the world, we have no right to transfer that work to other hands--not even to the hands of our own children. We must do the work, and train the children besides.

I am willing to admit, therefore, that the work of education, in any form, is as great as any other work; but I fail to see why it should be greater. Usefulness is usefulness: there is no reason why it should be postponed from generation to generation, or why it is better to rear a serviceable human being than to be one in person. Carry the theory consistently out: if each mother must simply rear her daughter that she in turn may rear somebody else, then from each generation the work will devolve upon a succeeding generation, so that it will be only the last woman who will personally do any service, except that of motherhood; and when her time comes it will be too late for any service at all.

If it be said, "But some of these children will be men, who are necessarily of more use than women," I deny the necessity. If it be said, "The children may be many, and the mother, who is but one, may well be sacrificed," it might be replied that, as one great act may be worth many smaller ones, so all the numerous children and grandchildren of a woman like Lucretia Mott may not collectively equal the usefulness of herself alone. If she, like many women, had held it her duty to renounce all other duties and interests from the time her motherhood began, I think that the world, and even her children, would have lost more than could ever have been gained by her more complete absorption in the nursery.

The true theory seems a very simple one. The very fact that during one half the years of a woman's average life she is made incapable of child-bearing shows that there are, even for the most prolific and devoted mothers, duties other than the maternal. Even during the most absorbing years of motherhood, the wisest women still try to keep up their interest in society, in literature, in the world's affairs--were it only for their children's sake. Multitudes of women will never be mothers; and those more fortunate may find even the usefulness of their motherhood surpassed by what they do in other ways. If maternal duties interfere in some degree with all other functions, the same is true, though in a far less degree, of those of a father. But there are those who combine both spheres. The German poet Wieland claimed to be the parent of fourteen children and forty books; and who knows by which parentage he served the world the best?


Many Americans will remember the favorable impression made by Professor Christlieb of Germany, when he attended the meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in New York some years ago. His writings, like his presence, show a most liberal spirit; and perhaps no man has ever presented the more advanced evangelical theology of Germany in so attractive a light. Yet I heard a story of him the other day, which either showed him in an aspect quite undesirable, or else gave an unpleasant view of the social position of women in Germany.

The story was to the effect that a young American student recently called on Professor Christlieb with a letter of introduction. The professor received him cordially, and soon entered into conversation about the United States. He praised the natural features of the country, and the enterprising spirit of our citizens, but expressed much solicitude about the future of the nation. On being asked his reasons, he frankly expressed his opinion that "the Spirit of Christ" was not here. Being still further pressed to illustrate his meaning, he gave, as instances of this deficiency, not the Crédit Mobilier or the Tweed scandal, but such alarming facts as the following. He seriously declared that, on more than one occasion, he had heard an American married woman say to her husband, "Dear, will you bring me my shawl?" and the husband had brought it. He further had seen a husband return home at evening, and enter the parlor where his wife was sitting,--perhaps in the very best chair in the room,--and the wife not only did not go and get his dressing-gown and slippers, but she even remained seated, and left him to find a chair as he could. These things, as Professor Christlieb pointed out, suggested a serious deficiency of the spirit of Christ in the community.

With our American habits and interpretations, it is hard to see this matter just as the professor sees it. One would suppose that, if there is any meaning in the command, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ," a little of such fulfilling might sometimes be good for the husband, as for the wife. And though it would undoubtedly be more pleasing to see every wife so eager to receive her husband that she would naturally spring from her chair and run to kiss him in the doorway, yet, where such devotion was wanting, it would be but fair to inquire which of the two had done the more fatiguing day's work, and to whom the easy-chair justly belonged. The truth is, I suppose, that the good professor's remark indicated simply a "survival" in his mind, or in his social circle, of a barbarous tradition, under which the wife of a Mexican herdsman cannot eat at the table with her "lord and master," and the wife of a German professor must vacate the best armchair at his approach.

If so, it is not to be regretted that we in this country have outgrown a relation so unequal. Nor am I at all afraid that the great Teacher, who, pointing to the multitude for whom he was soon to die, said of them, "Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother," would have objected to any mutual and equal service between man and woman. If we assume that two human beings have immortal souls, there can be no want of dignity to either in serving the other. The greater equality of woman in America seems to be, on this reasoning, a proof of the presence not the absence, of the spirit of Christ; nor does Dr. Christlieb seem quite worthy of the beautiful name he bears, if he feels otherwise.

But if it is really true that a German professor has to cross the Atlantic to witness a phenomenon so very simple as that of a lover-like husband bringing a shawl for his wife, I should say, Let the immigration from Germany be encouraged as much as possible, in order that even the most learned immigrants may discover something new.


It has not always been regarded as a thing creditable to woman that she was the mother of the human race. On the contrary, the fact was often mentioned, in the Middle Ages, as a distinct proof of inferiority. The question was discussed in the mediaeval Council of Ma?on, and the position taken that woman was no more entitled to rank as human, because she brought forth men, than the garden-earth could take rank with the fruit and flowers it bore. The same view was revived by a Latin writer of 1595, on the thesis "Mulieres non homines esse," a French translation of which essay was printed under the title of "Paradoxe sur les femmes," in 1766. Napoleon Bonaparte used the same image, carrying it almost as far:--

"Woman is given to man that she may bear children. Woman is our property; we are not hers: because she produces children for us; we do not yield any to her: she is therefore our possession, as the fruit-tree is that of the gardener."

Even the fact of parentage, therefore, has been adroitly converted into a ground of inferiority for women; and this is ostensibly the reason why lineage has been reckoned, almost everywhere, through the male line only, ignoring the female; just as, in tracing the seed of some rare fruit, the gardener takes no genealogical account of the garden where it grew. This view is now seldom expressed in full force: but one remnant of it is to be found in the lingering impression, that, at any rate, a woman who is not a mother is of no account; as worthless as a fruitless garden or a barren fruit-tree. Created only for a certain object, she is of course valueless unless that object be fulfilled.

But the race must have fathers as well as mothers; and if we look for evidence of public service in great men, it certainly does not always lie in leaving children to the republic. On the contrary, the rule has rather seemed to be, that the most eminent men have left their bequest of service in any form rather than in that of a great family. Recent inquiries into the matter have brought out some remarkable facts in this regard.

As a rule, there exist no living descendants in the male line from the great authors, artists, statesmen, soldiers, of England. It is stated that there is not one such descendant of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser, Butler, Dryden, Pope, Cowper, Goldsmith, Scott, Byron, or Moore; not one of Drake, Cromwell, Monk, Marlborough, Peterborough, or Nelson; not one of Strafford, Ormond, or Clarendon; not one of Addison, Swift, or Johnson; not one of Walpole, Bolingbroke, Chatham, Pitt, Fox, Burke, Grattan, or Canning; not one of Bacon, Locke, Newton, or Davy; not one of Hume, Gibbon, or Macaulay; not one of Hogarth or Reynolds; not one of Garrick, John Kemble, or Edmund Kean. It would be easy to make a similar American list, beginning with Washington, of whom it was said that "Providence made him childless that his country might call him Father."

Now, however we may regret that these great men have left little or no posterity, it does not occur to any one as affording any serious drawback upon their service to their nation. Certainly it does not occur to us that they would have been more useful had they left children to the world, but rendered it no other service. Lord Bacon says that "he that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which, both in affection and means, have married and endowed the public." And this is the view generally accepted,--that the public is in such cases rather the gainer than the loser, and has no right to complain.

Since, therefore, every child must have a father and a mother both, and neither will alone suffice, why should we thus heap gratitude on men who from preference or from necessity have remained childless, and yet habitually treat women as if they could render no service to their country except by giving it children? If it be folly and shame, as I think, to belittle and decry the dignity and worth of motherhood, as some are said to do, it is no less folly, and shame quite as great, to deny the grand and patriotic service of many women who have died and left no children among their mourners. Plato puts into the mouth of a woman,--the eloquent Diotima, in the "Banquet,"--that, after all, we are more grateful to Homer and Hesiod for the children of their brain than if they had left human offspring.


From the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals we have now advanced to a similar society for the benefit of children. When shall we have a movement for the prevention of cruelty to mothers?

A Rhode Island lady, who had never taken any interest in the woman-suffrage movement, came to me in great indignation the other day, asking if it was true that under Rhode Island laws a husband might, by his last will, bequeath his child away from its mother, so that she might, if the guardian chose, never see it again. I said that it was undoubtedly true, and that such were still the laws in many States of the Union.

"But," she said, "it is an outrage. The husband may have been one of the weakest or worst men in the world; he may have persecuted his wife and children; he may have made the will in a moment of anger, and have neglected to alter it. At any rate, he is dead, and the mother is living. The guardian whom he appoints may turn out a very malicious man, and may take pleasure in torturing the mother; or he may bring up the children in a way their mother thinks ruinous for them. Why do not all the mothers cry out against such a law?"

"I wish they would," I said. "I have been trying a good many years to make them understand what the law is; but they do not. People who do not vote pay no attention to the laws until they suffer from them."

She went away protesting that she, at least, would not hold her tongue on the subject, and I hope she will not. The actual text of the law to which she objected is as follows:--

"Every person authorized by law to make a will, except married women, shall have a right to appoint by his will a guardian or guardians for his children during their minority."[1]

There is not associated with this, in the statute, the slightest clause in favor of the mother; nor anything which could limit the power of the guardian by requiring deference to her wishes, although he could, in case of gross neglect or abuse, be removed by the court, and another guardian appointed. There is not a line of positive law to protect the mother. Now, in a case of absolute wrong, a single sentence of law is worth all the chivalrous courtesy this side of the Middle Ages.

It is idle to say that such laws are not executed. They are executed. I have had letters, too agonizing to print, expressing the sufferings of mothers under laws like these. There lies before me a letter,--not from Rhode Island,--written by a widowed mother who suffers daily tortures, even while in possession of her child, at the knowledge that it is not legally hers, but held only by the temporary permission of the guardian appointed under her husband's will.

"I beg you," she says, "to take this will to the hilltop, and urge law-makers in our next legislature to free the State record from the shameful story that no mother can control her child unless it is born out of wedlock."

"From the moment," she says, "when the will was read to me, I have made no effort to set it aside. I wait till God reveals his plans, so far as my own condition is concerned. But out of my keen comprehension of this great wrong, notwithstanding my submission for myself, my whole soul is stirred,--for my child, who is a little woman; for all women, that the laws may be changed which subject a true woman, a devoted wife, a faithful mother, to such mental agonies as I have endured, and shall endure till I die."

In a later letter she says, "I now have his [the guardian's] solemn promise that he will not remove her from my control. To some extent my sufferings are allayed; and yet never, till she arrives at the age of twenty-one, shall I fully trust." I wish that mothers who dwell in sheltered and happy homes would try to bring to their minds the condition of a mother whose possession of her only child rests upon the "promise" of a comparative stranger. We should get beyond the meaningless cry, "I have all the rights I want," if mothers could only remember that among these rights, in most States of the Union, the right of a widowed mother to her child is not included.

By strenuous effort, the law on this point has in Massachusetts been gradually amended, till it now stands thus: The father is authorized to appoint a guardian by will; but the powers of this guardian do not entitle him to take the child from the mother.

"The guardian of a minor ... shall have the custody and tuition of his ward; and the care and management of all his estate, except that the father of the minor, if living, and in case of his death the mother, they being respectively competent to transact their own business, shall be entitled to the custody of the person of the minor and the care of his education."[2]

Down to 1870 the cruel words "while she remains unmarried" followed the word "mother" in the above law. Until that time, the mother if remarried had no claim to the custody of her child, in case the guardian wished otherwise; and a very painful scene once took place in a Boston court-room, where children were forced away from their mother by the officers, under this statute, in spite of her tears and theirs; and this when no sort of personal charge had been made against her. This could not now happen in Massachusetts, but it might still happen in some other States. It is true that men are almost always better than their laws; but while a bad law remains on the statute-book it gives to any unscrupulous man the power to be as bad as the law.

[Footnote 1: Gen. Statutes R.I., chap. 154, sect. 1]

[Footnote 2: Public Statutes, chap. 139, sect. 4.]

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