[Transcriber's Note: Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end.]
A Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor;"
A Letter from Marie E. Zakrzewska, M.D. Late of Berlin, Prussia
Caroline H. Dall,
Author of "Woman's Right To Labor," "Historical Pictures Retouched," &c. &c.
"Whoso cures the plague, Though twice a woman, shall be called a leech."
"And witness: she who did this thing was born To do it; claims her license in her work."
To the Hon. Samuel E. Sewall, Faithful Always To "Women And Work," and One of the Best Friends of The New-England Female Medical College, The Editor Gratefully Dedicates This Volume.
"The men (who are prating, too, on their side) cry, 'A woman's function plainly is ... to talk.'"
"What He doubts is, whether we can do the thing With decent grace we've not yet done at all. Now do it."
"Bring your statue: You have room."
"None of us is mad enough to say We'll have a grove of oaks upon that slope, And sink the need of acorns."
It is due to myself to say, that the manner in which the Autobiography is subordinated to the general subject in the present volume, and also the manner in which it is veiled by the title, are concessions to the modesty of her who had the best right to decide in what fashion I should profit by her goodness, and are very far from being my own choice.
Caroline H. Dall.
49. Bradford Street, Boston, Oct. 30, 1860.
Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor"
It never happens that a true and forcible word is spoken for women, that, however faithless and unbelieving women themselves may be, some noble men do not with heart and hand attempt to give it efficiency.
If women themselves are hard upon their own sex, men are never so in earnest. They realize more profoundly than women the depth of affection and self-denial in the womanly soul; and they feel also, with crushing certainty, the real significance of the obstacles they have themselves placed in woman's way.
Reflecting men are at this moment ready to help women to enter wider fields of labor, because, on the one side, the destitution and vice they have helped to create appalls their consciousness; and, on the other, a profane inanity stands a perpetual blasphemy in the face of the Most High.
I do not exaggerate. Every helpless woman is such a blasphemy. So, indeed, is every helpless man, where helplessness is not born of idiocy or calamity; but society neither expects, provides for, nor defends, helpless men.
So it happened, that, after the publication of "Woman's Right to Labor," generous men came forward to help me carry out my plans. The best printer in Boston said, "I am willing to take women into my office at once, if you can find women who will submit to an apprenticeship like men." On the same conditions, a distinguished chemist offered to take a class of women, and train them to be first-class apothecaries or scientific observers, as they might choose. To these offers there were no satisfactory responses. "Yes," said the would-be printers, "we will go into an office for six months; but, by that time, our oldest sisters will be married, and our mothers will want us at home."
"An apprenticeship of six years!" exclaimed the young lady of a chemical turn. "I should like to learn very much, so that I could be a chemist, if I ever had to; but poison myself for six years over those 'fumes,' not I." It is easy to rail against society and men in general: but it is very painful for a woman to confess her heaviest obstacle to success; namely, the weakness of women. The slave who dances, unconscious of degradation on the auction-block, is at once the greatest stimulus and the bitterest discouragement of the antislavery reformer: so women, contented in ignominious dependence, restless even to insanity from the need of healthy employment and the perversion of their instincts, and confessedly looking to marriage for salvation, are at once a stimulus to exertion, and an obstacle in our way. But no kind, wise heart will heed this obstacle. Having spoken plain to society, having won the sympathy of men, let us see if we cannot compel the attention of these well-disposed but thoughtless damsels.
"Six years out of the very bloom of our lives to be spent in the printing-office or the laboratory!" exclaim the dismayed band; and they flutter out of reach along the sidewalks of Beacon Street, or through the mazes of the "Lancers."
But what happens ten years afterward, when, from twenty-six to thirty, they find themselves pushed off the pave, or left to blossom on the wall? Desolate, because father and brother have died; disappointed, because well-founded hopes of a home or a "career" have failed; impoverished, because they depended on strength or means that are broken,—what have they now to say to the printing-office or the apothecary's shop? They enter both gladly; with quick woman's wit, learning as much in six months as men would in a year; but grumbling and discontented, that, in competing with men who have spent their whole lives in preparation, they can only be paid at half-wages. What does common sense demand, if not that women should make thorough preparation for trades or professions; and, having taken up a resolution, should abide by all its consequences like men?
Before cases like these my lips are often sealed, and my hands drop paralyzed. Not that they alter God's truth, or make the duty of protest against existing wrong any less incumbent: but they obscure the truth; they needlessly complicate the duty.
Perplexed and anxious, I have often felt that what I needed most was an example to set before young girls,—an example not removed by superiority of station, advantage of education, or unwonted endowment, beyond their grasp and imitation.
There was Florence Nightingale. But her father had a title: it was fair to presume that her opportunities were titled also. All the girls I knew wished they could have gone to the Crimea; while I was morally certain, that the first amputation would have turned them all faint. There was Dorothea Dix: she had money and time. It was not strange that she had great success; for she started, a monomaniac in philanthropy, from the summit of personal independence. Mrs. John Stuart Mill: had she ever wanted bread? George Sand: the woman wasn't respectable. In short, whomsoever I named, who had pursued with undeviating perseverance a worthy career, my young friends had their objections ready. No one had ever been so poor, so ill educated, so utterly without power to help herself, as they; and, provoking as these objections were, I felt that they had force. My young friends were not great geniuses: they were ordinary women, who should enter the ordinary walks of life with the ordinary steadfastness and devotion of men in the same paths; nothing more. What I wanted was an example,—not too stilted to be useful,—a life flowing out of circumstances not dissimilar to their own, but marked by a steady will, an unswerving purpose. As I looked back over my own life, and wished I could read them its lessons,—and I looked back a good way; for I was very young, when the miserable destitution of a drunkard's wife, whom I assisted, showed me how comfortable a thing it was to rest at the mercy of the English common law,—as I looked back over my long interest in the position of woman, I felt that my greatest drawback had been the want of such an example. Every practical experiment that the world recorded had been made under such peculiar circumstances, or from such a fortuitous height, that it was at once rejected as a lesson.
One thing I felt profoundly: as men sow they must reap; and so must women. The practical misery of the world—its terrible impurity will never be abated till women prepare themselves from their earliest years to enter the arena of which they are ambitious, and stand there at last mature and calm, but, above all, thoroughly trained; trained also at the side of the men, with whom they must ultimately work; and not likely, therefore to lose balance or fitness by being thrown, at the last moment, into unaccustomed relations. A great deal of nonsense has been talked lately about the unwillingness of women to enter the reading-room of the Cooper Institute, where men also resort.
"A woman's library," in any city, is one of the partial measures that I deprecate: so I only partially rejoice over the late establishment of such a library in New York. I look upon it as one of those half-measures which must be endured in the progress of any desired reform; and, while I wish the Cooper Institute and its reading-room God-speed with every fibre of my consciousness, I have no words with which to express my shame at the mingled hypocrisy and indelicacy of those who object to use it. What woman stays at home from a ball because she will meet men there? What woman refuses to walk Broadway in the presence of the stronger sex? What woman refuses to buy every article of her apparel from the hands of a man, or to let the woman's tailor or shoemaker take the measure of her waist or foot; try on and approve her coiffure or bernouse?
What are we to think, then, of the delicacy which shrinks from the reading-room frequented by men; which discovers so suddenly that magazines are more embarrassing than mazourkas; that to read in a cloak and hat before a man is more indelicate than to waltz in his presence half denuded by fashion?
Of course, we are to have no patience with it, and to refuse utterly to entertain a remonstrance so beneath propriety.
The object of my whole life has been to inspire in women a desire for thorough training to some special end, and a willingness to share the training of men both for specific and moral reasons. Only by sharing such training can women be sure that they will be well trained; only by God-ordained, natural communion of all men and women can the highest moral results be reached.
"Free labor and free society:" I have said often to myself, in these two phrases lies hidden the future purification of society. When men and women go everywhere together, the sights they dare not see together will no longer exist.
Fair and serene will rise before them all heights of possible attainment; and, looking off over the valleys of human endeavor together, they will clear the forest, drain the morass, and improve the interval stirred by a common impulse.
When neither has any thing to hide from the other, no social duty will seem too difficult to be undertaken; and, when the interest of each sex is to secure the purity of the other, neither religion nor humanity need despair of the result.
It was while fully absorbed in thoughts and purposes like these, that, in the autumn of 1856, I first saw Marie Zakrzewska. During a short visit to Boston (for she was then resident in New York), a friend brought her before a physiological institute, and she addressed its members.
She spoke to them of her experience in the hospital at Berlin, and showed that the most sinning, suffering woman never passed beyond the reach of a woman's sympathy and help. She had not, at that time, thoroughly mastered the English language; though it was quite evident that she was fluent, even to eloquence, in German. Now and then, a word failed her; and, with a sort of indignant contempt at the emergency, she forced unaccustomed words to do her service, with an adroitness and determination that I never saw equalled. I got from it a new revelation of the power of the English language. She illustrated her noble and nervous thoughts with incidents from her own experience one of which was told in a manner which impressed it for ever on my consciousness.
"Soon after I entered the hospital," said Marie, "the nurse called me to a ward where sixteen of the most forlorn objects had begun to fight with each other. The inspector and the young physicians had been called to them, but dared not enter the melee. When I arrived, pillows, chairs, foot-stools and vessels had deserted their usual places; and one stout little woman, with rolling eyes and tangled hair, lifted a vessel of slops, which she threatened to throw all over me, as she exclaimed, 'Don't dare to come here, you green young thing!'
"I went quietly towards her, saying gently, 'Be ashamed, my dear woman, of your fury.'
"Her hands dropped. Seizing me by the shoulder she exclaimed, 'You don't mean that you look on me as a woman?'
"'How else?' I answered; while she retreated to her bed, all the rest standing in the attitudes into which passion had thrown them.
"'Arrange your beds,' I said; 'and in fifteen minutes let me return, and find every thing right.' When I returned, all was as I had desired; every woman standing at her bedside. The short woman was missing; but, bending on each a friendly glance, I passed through the ward, which never gave me any more trouble.
"When, late at night, I entered my room, it was fragrant with violets. A green wreath surrounded an old Bible, and a little bouquet rested upon it. I did not pause to speculate over this sentimentality, but threw myself weary upon the bed; when a light tap at the door startled me. The short woman entered; and humbling herself on the floor, since she would not sit in my presence entreated to be heard.
"'You called me a woman,' she said, 'and you pity us. Others call us by the name the world gives us. You would help us, if help were possible. All the girls love you, and are ashamed before you; and therefore I hate you—no: I will not hate you any longer. There was a time when I might have been saved,—I and Joanna and Margaret and Louise. We were not bad. Listen to me. If you say there is any hope, I will yet be an honest woman.'
"She had had respectable parents; and, when twenty years old, was deserted by her lover, who left her three months pregnant. Otherwise kind, her family perpetually reproached her with her disgrace, and threatened to send her away. At last, she fled to Berlin; keeping herself from utter starvation, by needlework. In the hospital to which she went for confinement, she took the small-pox. When she came out, with her baby in her arms, her face was covered with red blotches. Not even the lowest refuge was open to her, her appearance was so frightful. With her baby dragging at her empty breast, she wandered through the streets. An old hag took pity on both; and, carefully nursed till health returned, her good humor and native wit made those about her forget her ugly face. She was in a brothel, where she soon took the lead. Her child died, and she once more attempted to earn her living as a seamstress. She was saved from starvation only by her employer, who received her as his mistress. Now her luck changed: she suffered all a woman could; handled poison and the firebrand. 'I thought of stealing,' she said, 'only as an amusement: it was not exciting enough for a trade.'. She found herself in prison; and was amused to be punished for a trifle, when nobody suspected her crime. It was horrible to listen to these details; more horrible to witness her first repentance.
"When I thanked her for her violets, she kissed my hands, and promised to be good.
"While she remained in the hospital, I took her as my servant, and trusted every thing to her; and, when finally discharged, she went out to service. She wished to come with me to America. I could not bring her; but she followed, and, when I was in Cleveland, inquired for me in New York."
It will be impossible, for those who have not heard such stories from the lips and in the dens of the sufferers, to feel as I felt when this dropped from the pure lips of the lecturer. For the first time I saw a woman who knew what I knew, felt what I felt, and was strong in purpose and power to accomplish our common aim,—the uplifting of the fallen, the employment of the idle, and the purification of society.
I needed no farther introduction to Marie Zakrzewska. I knew nothing of her previous history or condition; but when I looked upon her clear, broad forehead, I saw "Faithful unto death" bound across it like a phylactery. I did not know how many years she had studied; but I saw thoroughness ingrained into her very muscle. I asked no questions of the clear, strong gaze that pierced the assembly; but I felt very sure that it could be as tender as it was keen. For the first time I saw a woman in a public position, about whom I felt thoroughly at ease; competent to all she had undertaken, and who had undertaken nothing whose full relations to her sex and society she did not understand.
I thanked God for the sight, and very little thought that I should see her again. She came once more, and we helped her to establish the Women's Infirmary in New York; again, and we installed her as Resident Physician in the New-England Female Medical College.
I had never felt any special interest in this college. I was willing it should exist as one of the half-way measures of which I have spoken,—like the reading-room in New York; but I was bent on opening the colleges which already existed to women, and I left it to others to nurse the young life of this. The first medical men, I felt assured, would never, in the present state of public opinion, take an interest in a female college; and I desired, above all things, to protect women from second-rate instruction.
But, when Marie Zakrzewska took up her residence in Springfield Street, it was impossible to feel indifferent. Here was a woman born to inspire faith; meeting all men as her equals till they proved themselves superior; capable of spreading a contagious fondness for the study of medicine, as Dr. Black once kindled a chemical enthusiasm in Edinburgh.
Often did I ponder her past life, which had left significant lines on face and form. We met seldom,—always with perfect trust. Whatever I might have to say, I should have felt sure of being understood, if I had not seen her for six months; nor could she have failed to find a welcome in my heart for any words of hers.
Then I heard the course of lectures which she delivered to ladies in the spring of 1860. For the first time, I heard a woman speak of scientific subjects in a way that satisfied me; nor should I have blushed to find scientific men among her audience. I had felt, from the first, that her life might do what my words never could: namely, inspire women with faith to try their own experiments; give them a dignity, which should refuse to look forward to marriage as an end, while it would lead them to accept it gladly as a providential help. I did not fear that she would be untrue to her vocation, or easily forsake it for a more domestic sphere. She had not entered it, I could see, without measuring her own purpose and its use.
It was with such feelings, and such knowledge of Marie, that in a private conversation, last summer with Miss Mary L. Booth of New York, I heard with undisguised pleasure that she had in her possession an autobiography of her friend, in the form of a letter. I really longed to get possession of that letter so intensely, that I dared not ask to see it: but I urged Miss Booth to get consent to its publication; "for," I said, "no single thing will help my work, I am convinced, so much."
"I look forward to its publication," she replied, "with great delight: it will be the sole labor of love, of my literary life. But neither you nor I believe in reputations which death and posterity have not confirmed. What reasons could I urge to Marie for its present publication?"
"The good of her own sex," I replied, "and a better knowledge of the intimate relations existing between free labor and a pure society. I know nothing of our friend's early circumstances; but I cannot be mistaken in the imprint they have left. This is one of those rare cases, in which a life may belong to the public before it has closed."
I returned to Boston. Later in the season, Miss Booth visited Dr. Zakrzewska. Imagine my surprise when she came to me one day, and laid before me the coveted manuscript. "It is yours," she said, "to publish if you choose. I have got Marie's consent. She gave it very reluctantly; but her convictions accord with yours, and she does not think she has any right to refuse. As for me," Miss Booth continued, "I resign without regret my dearest literary privilege, because I feel that the position you have earned in reference to 'woman's labor' entitles you to edit it."
In an interview which I afterwards held with Marie Zakrzewska, she gave me to understand, that, had she been of American birth, she would never have consented to the publication of her letter in her lifetime. "But," she said, "I am a foreigner. You who meet me and sustain me are entitled to know something of my previous history. Those whom I most loved are dead; not a word of the record can pain them; not a word but may help some life just now beginning. It will make a good sequel to 'Woman's Right to Labor.'"
"Only too good," I thought. "May God bless the lesson!"
It was agreed between Miss Booth and myself, that the autobiography should keep its original, simple form, to indicate how and why it was written: so I invite my friends to read it at once with me. Here is something as entertaining as a novel, and as useful as a treatise. Here is a story which must enchant the conservative, while it inspires the reformer. The somewhat hazy forms of Drs. Schmidt and Mueller, the king's order to the rebellious electors, the historic prestige of a Prussian locality,—all these will lend a magic charm to the plain lesson which New York and Boston need.
* * * * *
New York, September, 1857.
It is especially for your benefit that I write these facts of my life. I am not a great personage, either through inherited qualifications or the work that I have to show to the world; yet you may find, in reading this little sketch, that with few talents, and very moderate means for developing them, I have accomplished more than many women of genius and education would have done in my place, for the reason that confidence and faith in their own powers were wanting. And, for this reason, I know that this story might be of use to others, by encouraging those who timidly shrink from the field of action, though endowed with all that is necessary to enable them to come forth and do their part in life. The fact that a woman of no extraordinary powers can make her way by the simple determination, that whatever she can do she will do, must inspire those who are fitted to do much, yet who do nothing because they are not accustomed to determine and decide for themselves.
I do not intend to weary you with details of my childhood, as I think that children are generally very uninteresting subjects of conversation to any except their parents, who naturally discover what is beautiful and attractive in them, and appreciate what is said in correspondence with their own feelings. I shall, therefore, only tell you a few facts of this period of my life, which I think absolutely necessary to illustrate my character and nature.
I was born in Berlin, Prussia, on the 6th of September, 1829; and am the eldest of a family of five sisters and one brother. My early childhood passed happily, though heavy clouds of sorrow and care at times overshadowed our family circle. I was of a cheerful disposition; and was always in good humor, even when sick. I was quiet and gentle in all my amusements: my chief delight consisting in telling stories to my sister, one year younger than myself, who was always glad to listen to these products of my imagination, which were wholly original; for no stories were told me, nor had I any children's books. My heroes and heroines were generally distinguished for some mental peculiarity,—being kind or cruel, active or indolent,—which led them into all sorts of adventures till it suited my caprice to terminate their career. In all our little affairs, I took the lead, planning and directing every thing; while my playmates seemed to take it for granted, that it was their duty to carry out my commands.
My memory is remarkable in respect to events that occurred at this time, while it always fails to recall dates and names. When twenty years of age, I asked my father what sort of a festival he took me to once, in company with a friend of his with only one arm, when we walked through meadows where daisies were blossoming in millions, and where we rode in carriages that went round continually until they were wound up. My father answered, with much surprise, that it was a public festival of the cabinet-makers, which was celebrated in a neighboring village; and that I was, at that time, only nineteen months old.
He was so much interested in my story, that I related another of my memories. One dark morning, my mother wakened me, and hastened my dressing. After this was accomplished, she handed me a cup of something which I had never tasted before, and which was as disagreeable as assafoetida in later years. This was some coffee, which I had to take instead of my usual milk. Then I went with my father to the large park called Thiergarten, where we saw the sun rise. I began to spring about; looking at the big oaks which seemed to reach into the heavens, or stooping down to pluck a flower. Birds of all kinds were singing in chorus, while the flower-beds surrounding the statue of Flora scented the pure morning air with the sweetest of perfumes. The sun ascended, meanwhile, from the edge of a little pond covered with water-lilies. I was intoxicated with joy. The feeling of that morning is as fresh to-day as when I related this to my father. I know I walked till I got fairly tired, and we reached a solitary house beyond the park. Probably fatigue took entire possession of me; for I remember nothing more till we were on our way home, and the sun was setting. Then I begged for some large yellow plums which I saw in the stores. My father bought some, but gave me only a few; while I had a desire for all, and stole them secretly from his pockets; so that, when we reached home, I had eaten them all. I was sick after I went to bed, and remember taking some horrible stuff the next morning (probably rhubarb); thus ending the day, which had opened so poetically, in rather a prosaic manner. When I repeated this, my parents laughed, and said that I was only twenty-six months old, when my father's pride in his oldest child induced him to take me on this visit; when I walked the whole way, which was about nine miles. These anecdotes are worth preserving, only because they indicate an impressionable nature, and great persistence of muscular endurance. It is peculiar, that between these two events, and a third which occurred a year after, every thing should be a blank.
A little brother was then born to me, and lay undressed upon a cushion, while my father cried with sobs. I had just completed my third year, and could not understand why, the next day, this little thing was carried off in a black box.
From that time, I remember almost every day's life.
I very soon began to manifest the course of my natural tendencies. Like most little girls, I was well provided with dolls; and, on the day after a new one came into my possession, I generally discovered that the dear little thing was ill, and needed to be nursed and doctored. Porridges and teas were accordingly cooked on my little toy stove, and administered to the poor doll, until the papier-mache was thoroughly saturated and broken; when she was considered dead, and preparations were made for her burial,—this ceremony being repeated over and over again. White dresses were put on for the funeral; a cricket was turned upside-down to serve as the coffin; my mother's flower-pots furnished the green leaves for decoration; and I delivered the funeral oration in praise of the little sufferer, while placing her in the tomb improvised of chairs. I hardly ever joined the other children in their plays, except upon occasions like these, when I appeared in the characters of doctor, priest, and undertaker; generally improving the opportunity to moralize; informing my audience, that Ann (the doll) had died in consequence of disobeying her mother by going out before she had recovered from the measles, &c. Once I remember moving my audience to tears by telling them that little Ann had been killed by her brother, who, in amusing himself with picking off the dry skin after she had had the scarlatina, had carelessly torn off the real skin over the heart, as they could see; thus leaving it to beat in the air, and causing the little one to die. This happened after we had all had the scarlatina.
When five years old, I was sent to a primary school. Here I became the favorite of the teacher of arithmetic; for which study I had quite a fancy. The rest of the teachers disliked me. They called me unruly because I would not obey arbitrary demands without receiving some reason, and obstinate because I insisted on following my own will when I knew that I was in the right. I was told that I was not worthy to be with my playmates; and when I reached the highest class in the school, in which alone the boys and girls were taught separately, I was separated from the latter, and was placed with the boys by way of punishment, receiving instructions with them from men, while the girls in the other class were taught by women. Here I found many friends. I joined the boys in all their sports; sliding and snow-balling with them in winter, and running and playing ball in summer. With them I was merry, frank, and self-possessed; while with the girls I was quiet, shy, and awkward. I never made friends with the girls, or felt like approaching them.
Once only, when I was eleven years old, a girl in the young ladies' seminary in which I had been placed when eight years of age won my affection. This was Elizabeth Hohenhorst, a child of twelve, remarkably quiet, and disposed to melancholy. She was a devout Catholic; and, knowing that she was fated to become a nun, was fitting herself for that dreary destiny, which rendered her very sentimental She was full of fanciful visions, but extremely sweet and gentle in her manners. My love for her was unbounded. I went to church in her company, was present at all the religious festivals, and accompanied her to receive religious instruction: in short, I made up my mind to become a Catholic, and, if possible, a nun like herself. My parents, who were Rationalists, belonging to no church, gave me full scope to follow out my own inclinations; leaving it to my nature to choose for me a fitting path. This lasted until Elizabeth went for the first time to the confessional; and, when the poor innocent child could find no other sin of which to speak than the friendship which she cherished for a Protestant, the priest forbade her to continue this, until I, too, had become a Catholic; reminding her of the holiness of her future career. The poor girl conscientiously promised to obey. When I came the next morning and spoke to her as usual, she turned away from me, and burst into tears. Surprised and anxious, I asked what was the matter; when, in a voice broken with sobs, she told me the whole story, and begged me to become a Catholic as soon as I was fourteen years old. Never in my whole life shall I forget that morning. For a moment, I gazed on her with the deepest emotion, pitying her almost more than myself; then suddenly turned coldly and calmly away, without answering a single word. My mind had awakened to the despotism of Roman Catholicism, and the church had lost its expected convert. I never went near her again, and never exchanged another word with her. This was the only friend I had during eight and a half years of uninterrupted attendance at school.
A visit that I paid to my maternal grandfather, when seven or eight years old, made a strong impression on my mind. My grandfather, on his return from the war of 1813-15, in which he had served, had received from the authorities of Prenzlau (the city in which he lived) a grant of a half-ruined cloister, with about a hundred acres of uncultivated land attached, by way of acknowledgment for his services. He removed thither with his family; and shortly after invited the widows of some soldiers, who lived in the city, to occupy the apartments which he did not need. The habitable rooms were soon filled to overflowing with widows and orphans, who went to work with him to cultivate the ground. It was not long before crippled and invalid soldiers arrived, begging to be allowed to repair the cloister, and to find a shelter also within its walls. They were set to work at making brick, the material for which my grandfather had discovered on his land: and, in about five years, an institution was built, the more valuable from the fact that none lived there on charity, but all earned what they needed by cultivating the ground; having first built their own dwelling, which, at this time, looked like a palace, surrounded by trees, grass, and flowers. Here, in the evening, the old soldiers sung martial songs, or told stories of the wars to the orphans gathered about them, while resting from the labors of the day.
I tell you of this institution so minutely, to prove to you how wrong it is to provide charitable homes for the poor as we provide them,—homes in which the charity always humiliates and degrades the individual. Here you have an instance in which poor crippled invalids and destitute women and children established and supported themselves, under the guidance of a clear-headed, benevolent man, who said, "Do what you like, but work for what you need." He succeeded admirably, though he died a very poor man; his younger children becoming inmates of the establishment, until they were adopted by their relatives.
When I visited my grandfather, the "convent," as he insisted on calling it,—rejecting any name that would have indicated a charitable institution,—contained about a hundred invalid soldiers, a hundred old women, and two hundred and fifty orphans. One of the wings of the building was fitted up as a hospital, and a few of the rooms were occupied by lunatics. It was my greatest delight to take my grandfather's hand at noon, as he walked up and down the dining-room, between the long tables, around which were grouped so many cheerful, hearty faces; and I stood before him with an admiration that it is impossible to describe, as he prayed, with his black velvet cap in his hand, before and after dinner; though I could not comprehend why he should thank another person for what had been done, when every one there told me that all that they had they owed to my grandfather.
One afternoon, on returning from the dining-room to his study, I spied on his desk a neatly written manuscript. I took it up, and began to read. It was a dissertation on immortality, attempting by scientific arguments to prove its impossibility. I became greatly interested, and read on without noticing that my grandfather had left the room, nor that the large bell had rung to call the family to dinner. My grandfather, a very punctual man, who would never allow lingering, came back to call and to reprimand me; when he suddenly started on seeing the paper in my hands, and, snatching it from me, tore it in pieces, exclaiming, "That man is insane, and will make this child so too!" A little frightened, I went to the dinner-table, thinking as much about my grandfather's words as about what I had read; without daring, however, to ask who this man was. The next day, curiosity mastered fear. I asked my grandfather who had written that paper; and was told, in reply, that it was poor crazy Jacob. I then begged to see him; but this my grandfather decidedly refused, saying that he was like a wild beast, and lay, without clothes, upon the straw. I knew nothing of lunatics; and the idea of a wild man stimulated my curiosity to such an extent, that, from that time, I teased my grandfather incessantly to let me see Jacob, until he finally yielded, to be rid of my importunity, and led me to the cell in which he was confined. What a spectacle presented itself in the house that I had looked on as the abode of so much comfort! On a bundle of straw, in a corner of a room, with no furniture save its bare walls, sat a man, clad only in a shirt; with the left hand chained to the wall, and the right foot to the floor. An inkstand stood on the floor by his side; and on his knee was some paper, on which he was writing. His hair and beard were uncombed, and his fine eyes glared with fury as we approached him. He tried to rise, ground his teeth, made grimaces, and shook his fist at my grandfather, who tried in vain to draw me out of the room. But, escaping from his grasp, I stepped towards the lunatic, who grew more quiet when he saw me approach; and I tried to lift the chain, which had attracted my attention. Then, finding it too heavy for me, I turned to my grandfather and asked, "Does not this hurt the poor man?" I had hardly spoken the words when his fury returned, and he shrieked,—
"Have I not always told you that you were cruel to me? Must this child come to convince you of your barbarity? Yes: you have no heart."
I looked at my grandfather: all my admiration of him was gone; and I said, almost commandingly,—"Take off these chains! It is bad of you to tie this man!"
The man grew calm at once, and asked imploringly to be set free; promising to be quiet and tractable if my grandfather would give him a trial. This was promised him: his chains were removed the same day; and Jacob was ever after not only harmless and obedient, but also a very useful man in the house.
I never afterwards accompanied my grandfather. I had discovered a side in his nature which repelled me. I spent the remainder of my visit in the workrooms and the sickroom, always secretly fearing that I should meet with some new cruelty; but no such instance ever came to my view.
On my return from my grandfather's, I found that a cousin had suddenly become blind. She was soon after sent to the ophthalmic hospital, where she remained for more than a year; and, during this time, I was her constant companion after school-hours. I was anxious to be useful to her; and, being gentler than the nurse, she liked to have me wash out the issues that were made in her back and arms. The nurse, who was very willing to be relieved of the duty, allowed me to cleanse the eyes of the girl next my cousin; and thus these cares were soon made to depend on my daily visit. Child as I was, I could not help observing the carelessness of the nurses, and their great neglect of cleanliness. One day, when the head-nurse had washed the floor, leaving pools of water standing under the beds, the under-nurse found fault with it, and said, "I shall tell the doctor, when he comes, why it is that the patients always have colds." "Do," said the head-nurse. "What do men understand of such matters? If they knew any thing about them, they would long ago have taken care that the mattress upon which one patient dies should always be changed before another comes in." This quarrel impressed itself upon my memory; and the wish rose in my mind, that some day I might be head-nurse, to prevent such wrongs, and to show kindness to the poor lunatics.
At the end of the year, my cousin left the hospital At the same time, trouble and constant sickness fell upon our family. My father, who held liberal opinions and was of an impetuous temperament manifested some revolutionary tendencies, which drew upon him the displeasure of the government and caused his dismissal, with a very small pension, from his position as military officer. This involved us in great pecuniary difficulties; for our family was large, and my father's income too small to supply the most necessary wants; while to obtain other occupation for the time was out of the question In this emergency, my mother determined to petition the city government for admission to the school of midwives established in Berlin, in order in this manner to aid in the support of the family. Influential friends of my father secured her the election; and she was admitted to the school in 1839, I being at that time ten years of age.
The education of midwives for Berlin requires a two years' course of study, during six months of which they are obliged to reside in the hospital, to receive instructions from the professors together with the male students. My mother went there in the summer of 1840. I went to stay at the house of an aunt, who wished my company; and the rest of the children were put out to board together.
In a few weeks, my eyes became affected with weakness, so that I could neither read nor write; and I begged my mother to let me stay with her in the hospital. She applied for permission to the director, and received a favorable answer. I was placed under the care of one of the physicians (Dr. Mueller), who took a great fancy to me, and made me go with him wherever he went while engaged in the hospital. My eyes being bandaged, he led me by the hand, calling me his "little blind doctor." In this way I was constantly with him, hearing all his questions and directions, which impressed themselves the more strongly on my mind from the fact that I could not see, but had to gain all my knowledge through hearing alone.
One afternoon, when I had taken the bandage off my eyes for the first time, Dr. Muller told me that there was a corpse of a young man to be seen in the dead-house, that had turned completely green in consequence of poison that he had eaten. I went there after my rounds with him: but finding the room filled with relatives, who were busily engaged in adorning the body with flowers, I thought that I would not disturb them, but would wait until they had gone before I looked at it; and went meanwhile through the adjoining rooms. These were all freshly painted. The dissecting-tables, with the necessary apparatus, stood in the centre; while the bodies, clad in white gowns, were ranged on boards along the walls. I examined every thing; came back, and looked to my heart's content at the poisoned young man, without noticing that not only the relatives had left, but that the prosector had also gone away, after locking up the whole building I then went a second time to the other rooms, and looked again at every thing there; and at last, when it became dark and I could not leave the house, sat down upon the floor, and went to sleep, after knocking for half an hour at the door, in the hope that some passer might hear.
My mother, who knew that I had gone with Dr. Mueller, did not trouble herself about me until nine o'clock, when she grew uneasy at my stay; and, thinking that he might have taken me to his rooms, went there in search of me, but found that he was out, and that the doors were locked. She then inquired of the people in the house whether they knew any thing about me, and was told that they had last seen me going into the dead-house. Alarmed at this intelligence, my mother hastened to the prosector, who unwillingly went with her to the park in which the dead-house stood, assuring her all the way that I could not possibly be there; when, on opening the door, he saw me sitting close by, on the floor, fast asleep.
In a few days after this adventure, I recovered the use of my eyes. As it was at this time the summer vacation, in which I had no school-tasks, I asked Dr. Mueller for some books to read. He inquired what kind of books I wanted. I told him, "Books about history;" upon which he gave me two huge volumes,—The "History of Midwifery" and the "History of Surgery." Both were so interesting that I read them through during the six weeks of vacation; which occupied me so closely that even my friend Dr. Mueller could not lay hold of me when he went his morning and evening rounds. From this time I date my study of medicine; for, though I did not continue to read upon the subject, I was instructed in the no less important branch of psychology by a new teacher, whom I found on my return to school at the close of the summer vacation.
To explain better how my mind was prepared for such teaching, I must go back to my position in school. In both schools that I attended, I was praised for my punctuality, industry, and quick perception. Beloved I was in neither: on the contrary, I was made the target for all the impudent jokes of my fellow-pupils; ample material for which was furnished in the carelessness with which my hair and dress were usually arranged; these being left to the charge of a servant, who troubled herself very little about how I looked, provided that I was whole and clean. The truth was, I often presented a ridiculous appearance; and once I could not help laughing heartily at myself, on seeing my own face by accident in a glass, with one braid of hair commencing over the right eye, and the other over the left ear. I quietly hung a map over the glass to hide the ludicrous picture, and continued my studies; and most likely appeared in the same style the next day. My face, besides, was neither handsome, nor even prepossessing; a large nose overshadowing the undeveloped features: and I was ridiculed for my ugliness, both in school and at home, where an aunt of mine, who disliked me exceedingly, always said, in describing plain people, "Almost as ugly as Marie."
Another cause arose to render my position at school still more intolerable. In consequence of the loss of his position in the army, my father could no longer afford to pay my school-bills; and was about, in consequence, to remove me from school; when the principal offered to retain me without pay, although she disliked me, and did not hesitate to show it, any more than to tell me, whenever I offended her, that she would never keep so ugly and naughty a child without being paid for it, were it not for the sake of so noble a father.
These conditions and harsh judgments made me a philosopher. I heard myself called obstinate and wilful, only because I believed myself in the right, and persisted in it. I felt that I was not maliciously disposed towards any one, but wished well to all; and I offered my services not only willingly, but cheerfully, wherever they could be of the least use; and saw them accepted, and even demanded, by those who could not dispense with them, though they shunned and ridiculed me the same as before. I felt that they only sought me when they needed me: this made me shrink still more from their companionship; and, when my sister did not walk home from school with me, I invariably went alone.
The idea that I might not wish to attach myself to playmates of this sort never occurred to any one; but I was constantly reproached with having no friends among my schoolfellows, and was told that no one could love so disagreeable and repelling a child. This was a severe blow to my affectionate nature; but I bore it calmly, consoling myself with the thought that they were wrong,—that they did not understand me,—and that the time would come, when they would learn that a great, warm heart was concealed beneath the so-called repulsive exterior. But, however soothing all this was for the time, a feeling of bitterness grew up within me. I began to be provoked at my ugliness, which I believed to be excessive. I speculated why parents so kind and good as mine should be deprived of their means of support, merely because my father would not consent to endure wrong and imposition. I was indignant at being told, that it was only for my father's sake that I was retained in a school where I tried to do my best, and where I always won the highest prizes; and I could not see why, at home, I should be forced to do housework when I wanted to read, while my brother, who wished to work, was compelled to study. When I complained of this last grievance, I was told that I was a girl, and never could learn much, but was only fit to become a housekeeper. All these things threw me upon my own resources, and taught me to make the most of every opportunity, custom and habit to the contrary notwithstanding.
It was at this juncture that I found, on my return to school, the psychologic instructor of whom I have spoken, in a newly engaged teacher of history, geography, and arithmetic; all of which were my favorite studies. With this man I formed a most peculiar friendship: he being twenty years older than myself, and in every respect a highly educated man; I, a child of twelve, neglected in every thing except in my common-school education. He began by calling my attention to the carelessness of my dress and the rudeness of my manners, and was the first one who ever spoke kindly to me on the subject. I told him all my thoughts; that I did not mean to be disagreeable, but that every one thought that I could not be otherwise; that I was convinced that I was good enough at heart; and that I had at last resigned myself to my position, as something that could not be helped. My new friend lectured me on the necessity of attracting others by an agreeable exterior and courteous manners; and proved to me that I had unconsciously repelled them by my carelessness, even when trying the most to please. His words made a deep impression on me. I thanked him for every reproach, and strove to do my best to gain his approbation. Henceforth my hair was always carefully combed, my dress nicely arranged, and my collar in its place; and, as I always won the first prizes in the school, two of the other teachers soon grew friendly towards me, and began to manifest their preference quite strongly. In a few months I became a different being. The bitterness that had been growing up within me gradually disappeared; and I began to have confidence in myself, and to try to win the companionship of the other children. But a sudden change took place in my schoolmates, who grew envious of the preference shown me by the teachers. Since they could no longer ridicule me for the carelessness of my dress, they now began to reproach me for my vanity, and to call me a coquette, who only thought of pleasing through appearances. This blow was altogether too hard for me to bear. I knew that they were wrong: for, with all the care I bestowed on my dress, it was not half so fine as theirs; as I had but two calico dresses, which I wore alternately, a week at a time, through the summer. I was again repelled from them; and at noon, when the rest of the scholars went home, I remained with my teacher-friend in the schoolroom, assisting him in correcting the exercises of the pupils. I took the opportunity to tell him of the curious envy that had taken possession of the girls; upon which he began to explain to me human nature and its fallacies, drawing inferences therefrom for personal application. He found a ready listener in me. My inclination to abstract thought, combined with the unpleasant experience I had had in life, made me an attentive pupil, and fitted me to comprehend his reasoning in the broadest sense. For fifteen months, I thus spent the noon-hour with him in the schoolroom; receiving lessons in and reasoning upon concrete and abstract matters, that have since proved of far more psychologic value to me than ten years of reading on the same subjects could do. A strong attachment grew up between us: he became a necessity to me, and I revered him like an oracle. But his health failed; and he left the school at the end of these fifteen months, in a consumption. Shortly after, he sent to the school for me one morning to ask me to visit him on his deathbed. I was not permitted to leave the class until noon; when, just as I was preparing to go, a messenger came to inform the principal that he had died at eleven. This blow fell so heavily upon me, that I wished to leave the school at once. I was forced to stay three weeks longer, until the end of the quarter; when I left the schoolroom on the 1st of April, 1843, at the age of thirteen years and seven months, and never entered it again.
On the same day that I quitted my school, an aunt, with whom I was a favorite, was attacked with a violent hemorrhage from the lungs, and wished me to come to stay with her. This suited my taste. I went; and, for a fortnight, was her sole nurse.
Upon my return home, my father told me, that, having quitted school, I must now become a thorough housekeeper, of whom he might be proud; as this was the only thing for which girls were intended by nature. I cheerfully entered upon my new apprenticeship, and learned how to sweep, to scrub, to wash, and to cook. This work answered very well as long as the novelty lasted; but, as soon as this wore off, it became highly burdensome. Many a forenoon, when I was alone, instead of sweeping and dusting, I passed the hours in reading books from my father's library, until it grew so late, that I was afraid that my mother, who had commenced practice, would come home, and scold me for not attending to my work; when I would hurry to get through, doing every thing so badly, that I had to hear daily that I was good for nothing, and a nuisance in the world; and that it was not at all surprising that I was not liked in school, for nobody could ever like or be satisfied with me.
Meanwhile, my mother's practice gradually increased; and her generous and kindly nature won the confidence of hundreds, who, wretchedly poor, found in her, not only a humane woman, but a most skilful practitioner. The poor are good judges of professional qualifications. Without the aid that money can buy, without the comforts that the wealthy hardly heed, and without friends whose advice is prompted by intelligence, they must depend entirely upon the skill and humanity of those to whom they apply. Their life and happiness are placed in the hands of the physician, and they jealously regard the one to whom they intrust them. None but a good practitioner can gain fame and praise in this class, which is thought so easily satisfied. It is often said, "Oh! those people are poor, and will be glad of any assistance." Far from it. There is no class so entirely dependent for their subsistence upon their strength and health; these constitute their sole capital, their stock in trade: and, when sick, they anxiously seek out the best physicians; for, if unskilfully attended, they may lose their all, their fortune, and their happiness.
My mother went everywhere, both night and day; and it soon came to pass, that when she was sent for, and was not at home, I was deputed to go in search of her. In this way I gradually became a regular appendage to my mother; going with her in the winter nights from place to place, and visiting those whom she could not visit during the day. I remember that in January, 1845, my mother attended thirty-five women in childbed,—the list of names is still in my possession,—and visited from sixteen to twenty-five daily, with my assistance. I do not think, that, during the month, we were in bed for one whole night. Two-thirds of these patients were unable to pay a cent. During these years, I learned all of life that it was possible for a human being to learn. I saw nobleness in dens, and meanness in palaces; virtue among prostitutes, and vice among so-called respectable women. I learned to judge human nature correctly; to see goodness where the world found nothing but faults, and also to see faults where the world could see nothing but virtue. The experience thus gained cost me the bloom of youth; yet I would not exchange it for a life of everlasting juvenescence. To keep up appearances is the aim of every one's life; but to fathom these appearances, and judge correctly of what is beneath them, ought to be the aim of those who seek to draw true conclusions from life, or to benefit others by real sympathy.
One fact I learned, both at this time and afterwards; namely, that men always sympathize with fallen and wretched women, while women themselves are the first to raise and cast the stone at them. Why is this? Have not women as much feeling as men? Why, women are said to be made up entirely of feeling. How does it happen, then, that women condemn where men pity? Do they do this in the consciousness of their own superior virtue? Ah, no! for many of the condemning are no better than the condemned. The reason is, that men know the world; that is, they know the obstacles in the path of life, and that they draw lines to exclude women from earning an honest livelihood, while they throw opportunities in their way to earn their bread by shame. All men are aware of this: therefore the good as well as the bad give pity to those that claim it. It is my honest and earnest conviction, that the reason that men are unwilling for women to enter upon public or business life is, not so much the fear of competition, or the dread lest women should lose their gentleness, and thus deprive society of this peculiar charm, as the fact that they are ashamed of the foulness of life which exists outside of the house and home. The good man knows that it is difficult to purify it: the bad man does not wish to be disturbed in his prey upon society. If I could but give to all women the tenth part of my experience, they would see that this is true; and would see, besides, that only faith in ourselves and in each other is needed to work a reformation. Let woman enter fully into business, with its serious responsibilities and duties; let it be made as honorable and as profitable to her as to men; let her have an equal opportunity for earning competence and comfort,—and we shall need no other purification of society. Men are no more depraved than women; or, rather, the total depravity of mankind is a lie.
From the time of my leaving school until I was fifteen years old, my life was passed, as I have described, in doing housework, attending the sick with my mother, and reading a few books of a scientific and literary character. At the end of this time, a letter came from an aunt of my mother's, who was ill, and whose adopted daughter (who was my mother's sister) was also an invalid, requesting me to visit and nurse them. I went there in the fall. This was probably the most decisive event of my life. My great-aunt had a cancer that was to be taken out. The other was suffering from a nervous affection, which rendered her a confirmed invalid. She was a most peculiar woman, and was a clairvoyant and somnambulist of the most decided kind. Though not ill-natured, she was full of caprices that would have exhausted the patience of the most enduring of mortals.
This aunt of mine had been sick in bed for seven years with a nervous derangement, which baffled the most skilful physicians who had visited her. Her senses were so acute, that one morning she fell into convulsions from the effect of distant music which she heard. None of us could perceive it, and we fully believed that her imagination had produced this result. But she insisted upon it; telling us that the music was like that of the Bohemian miners, who played nothing but polkas. I was determined to ascertain the truth; and really found, that, in a public garden one and a half miles from her house, such a troop had played all the afternoon. No public music was permitted in the city, because the magistrate had forbidden it on her account.
She never was a Spiritualist, though she frequently went into what is now called a trance. She spoke, wrote, sang, and had presentiments of the finest kind, in this condition,—far better than I have ever seen here in America in the case of the most celebrated mediums.
She even prescribed for herself with success, yet was not a Spiritualist. She was a somnambulist; and, though weak enough when awake, threatened several times to pull the house down, by her violence in this condition. She had strength like a lion, and no man could manage her. I saw the same thing in the hospital later. This aunt is now healthy; not cured by her own prescriptions or the magnetic or infinitesimal doses of Dr. Arthur Lutze, but by a strong emotion which took possession of her at the time of my great-aunt's death. She is not sorry that she has lost all these strange powers, but heartily glad of it. When she afterwards visited us in Berlin, she could speak calmly and quietly of the perversion to which the nervous system may become subject, if managed wrongly; and could not tell how glad she was to be rid of all the emotions and notions she had been compelled to dream out. Over-care and over-anxiety had brought this about; and the same causes could again bring on a condition which the ancients deemed holy, and which the psychologist treats as one bordering on insanity.
The old aunt was extremely suspicious and avaricious. Eight weeks after my arrival, she submitted to an operation. The operating surgeon found me so good an assistant, that he intrusted me often with the succeeding dressing of the wound. For six weeks, I was the sole nurse of the two; going from one room to the other both night and day, and attending to the household matters beside, with no other assistant than a woman who came every morning for an hour or two to do the rough work; while an uncle and a boy-cousin were continually troubling me with their torn buttons, &c.
I learned in this time to be cheerful and light-hearted in all circumstances; going often into the anteroom to have a healthy, hearty laugh. My surroundings were certainly any thing but inspiring. I had the sole responsibility of the two sick women; the one annoying me with her caprices, the other with her avarice. In one room, I heard fanciful forebodings; in the other, reproaches for having used a teaspoonful too much sugar. I always had to carry the key of the storeroom to the old aunt, in order that she might be sure that I could not go in and eat bread when I chose. At the end of six weeks, she died; and I put on mourning for the only time in my life, certainly not through grief.
Shortly after the death of my aunt, the attending physician introduced me to a disciple of Hahnemann by the name of Arthur Lutze; who was, I think, a doctor of philosophy,—certainly not of medicine. Besides being an infinitesimal homeopathist this man was a devotee to mesmerism. He became very friendly towards me, and supplied me with books; telling me that I would not only make a good homeopathic physician, but also an excellent medium for mesmerism, magnetism, &c. At all events, I was glad to get the books, which I read industriously; while he constantly supplied me with new ones, so that I had quite a library when he left the place, which he did before my return. He, too, lived in Berlin, and inquired my residence; promising to visit me there, and to teach me the art he practised.
I remained with my aunt until late in the spring; when my health failed, and I returned home. I was very ill for a time with brain-fever; but at last recovered, and set to work industriously to search for information in respect to the human body. Dr. Lutze kept his word: he visited me at my home, gave me more books, and directed my course of reading. But my father, who had become reconciled to my inclination to assist my mother, was opposed to homoeopathy, and especially opposed to Dr. Arthur Lutze. He even threatened to turn him out of the house, if I permitted him to visit me again; and burned all my books, except one that I snatched from the flames.
From this time, I was resolved to learn all that I could about the human system. I read all the books on the subject that I could get, and tried besides to educate myself in other branches. My father was satisfied with this disposition, and was glad to hear me propose to have a French teacher in the house, both for my sake and for that of the other children. I studied in good earnest by myself at the same time, going through the usual discipline of German girls. I learned plain sewing, dress-making and the management of the household; but was allowed to use my leisure time as I pleased. When my sisters went skating, I remained at home to study; when they went to balls and theatres, I was thought the proper person to stay to watch the house. Having become so much older, I was now of great assistance to my mother in her business. No one complained any longer of my ugliness or my rudeness. I was always busy; and, when at liberty, always glad to do what I could for others; and, though these years were full of hardships, I consider them among the happiest of my life. I was as free as it was possible for any German girl to be.
My household duties, however, continued distasteful to me, much to the annoyance of my father, who still contended that this was the only sphere of woman. From being so much with my mother, I had lost all taste for domestic life: any thing out of doors was preferable to the monotonous routine of the household. I at length determined to follow my inclinations by studying, in order to fit myself to become a practitioner of midwifery, as is usual in Berlin. My father was satisfied, and pleased with this idea, which opened the way to an independent respectable livelihood; for he never really wished to have us seek this in marriage. My mother did not like my resolution at all. She practised, not because she liked the profession, but because in this way she obtained the means of being independent and of aiding in the education of the children. I persisted, however, in my resolution; and immediately took measures to carry it into effect by going directly to Dr. Joseph Hermann Schmidt, the Professor of Midwifery in the University and Schools for Midwives, and Director of the Royal Hospital Charite; while my father, who for several years held the position of a civil officer, made the application to the city magistrates for me to be admitted as a pupil to the School for Midwives in which my mother had been educated. In order to show the importance of this step, it is necessary to explain more fully the history and organization of the school.
About 1735, Justina Ditrichin (the wife of Siegemund, a distinguished civil officer of Prussia) was afflicted with an internal disease which baffled the skill of the midwives, who had pronounced her pregnant, and none of whom could define her disorder. After many months of suffering, she was visited by the wife of a poor soldier, who told her what ailed her; in consequence of which, she was cured by her physicians. This circumstance awakened in the mind of the lady an intense desire to study midwifery; which she did, and afterwards practised it with such success, that, in consequence of her extensive practice, she was obliged to confine herself solely to irregular cases. She performed all kinds of operations with masterly skill, and wrote the first book on the subject ever published in Germany by a woman. She was sent for from all parts of Germany, and was appointed body-physician of the Queen, and the ladies of the court, of Prussia and Mark Brandenburg. Through her influence, schools were established, in which women were instructed in the science and the art of obstetrics. She also taught many herself; and a very successful and respectable practice soon grew up among women. After her death, however, this was discountenanced by the physicians, who brought it into such disrepute by their ridicule, that the educated class of women withdrew from the profession, leaving it in the hands of ignorant pretenders, who continued to practise it until 1818; when public attention was called to the subject, and strict laws were enacted, by which women were required to call in a male practitioner in every irregular case of confinement, under penalty of from one to twenty years of imprisonment, and the forfeiture of the right to practise. These laws still continue in force; and a remarkable case is recorded by Dr. Schmidt of a woman, who, feeling her own competency to manage a case committed to her care, did not send for a male physician as the law required. Although it was fully proved that she had done every thing that could have been done in the case, her penalty was imprisonment for twenty years. Two other cases are quoted by Dr. Schmidt, in which male practitioners were summoned before a legal tribunal, and it was proved that they had not done that which was necessary; yet their penalty was no heavier than that inflicted on the woman, who had done exactly what she ought.
At this time (1818), it was also made illegal for any woman to practise who had not been educated. This brought the profession again into repute among women of the higher classes. A school for midwives, supported by the government, was established in Berlin, in which women have since continued to be educated for practice in this city and in other parts of Prussia. Two midwives are elected each year, by a committee, from the applicants, to be educated for practice in Berlin; and, as they have to study two years, there are always four of these students in the school, two graduating every year. The remainder of the students are from the provincial districts. To be admitted to this school is considered a stroke of good fortune; as there are generally more than a hundred applicants, many of whom have to wait eight or ten years before they are elected. There is, besides, a great deal of favoritism; those women being generally chosen who are the widows or wives of civil officers or physicians; to whom this chance of earning a livelihood is given, in order that they may not become a burden on the government. Though educated apart from the male students while studying the theory of midwifery, they attend the accouchement-ward together, and receive clinical or practical instruction in the same class, from the same professor.
The male students of medicine are admitted to the university at the age of eighteen; having first been required to go through a prescribed course of collegiate study, and to pass the requisite examination. Here they attend the lectures of various professors, often of four or five upon the same subject, in order to learn how it is treated from different points of view. Then, after having thus studied for a certain length of time, they present themselves for an examination by the professors of the university, which confers upon them the title of "M.D.," without the right to practise. They are then obliged to prepare for what is called the State's examination, before a Board of the most distinguished men in the profession appointed to this place by the government: these also constitute the medical court. Of this number, Dr. Schmidt was one.
Dr. Schmidt approved my resolution, and expressed himself warmly in favor of it. He also recommended to me a course of reading, to be commenced at once, as a kind of preliminary education; and, although he had no influence with the committee of the city government who examined and elected the pupils, he promised to call upon some of them, and urge my election. But, despite his recommendation and my father's position as civil officer, I received a refusal, on the grounds that I was much too young (being only eighteen), and that I was unmarried. The latter fault I did not try to remove; the former I corrected daily; and, when I was nineteen, I repeated my application, and received the same reply. During this time, Dr. Schmidt became more and more interested in me personally. He promised that he would do all in his power to have me chosen the next year; while, during this time, he urged me to read and study as much as possible, in order to become fully acquainted with the subject. As usual, I continued to assist my mother in visiting her patients, and thus had a fine opportunity for explaining to myself many things which the mere study of books left in darkness. In fact, these years of preliminary practical study were more valuable to me than all the lectures that I ever listened to afterwards. Full of zeal and enthusiasm, and stimulated by a friend whose position and personal acquirements inspired me with reverence and devotion, I thought of nothing else than how to prepare myself in such a way that I should not disappoint him nor those to whom he had commended me. Dr. Schmidt was consumptive, and almost an invalid; often having to lecture in a reclining position. The author of many valuable medical works, and director of the largest hospital in Prussia (the Charite of Berlin), he found a most valuable assistant in his wife,—one of the noblest women that ever lived. She was always with him, except in the lecture-room; and almost all of his works are said to have been written by her from his dictation. This had inspired him with the highest possible respect for women. He had the utmost faith in their powers when rightly developed, and always declared their intellectual capacity to be the same with that of men. This belief inspired him with the desire to give me an education superior to that of the common midwives; and, at the same time, to reform the school of midwives by giving to it a professor of its own sex. To this position he had in his own mind already elected me; but, before I could take it, I had to procure a legitimate election from the city to the school as pupil; while, during my attendance he had to convince the government of the necessity of such a reform, as well as to bring over the medical profession: which was not so easily done; for many men were waiting already for Dr. Schmidt's death in order to obtain this very post, which was considered valuable.
When I was twenty, I received my third refusal. Dr. Schmidt, whose health was failing rapidly, had exerted himself greatly to secure my admission; and the medical part of the committee had promised him that they would give me their vote: but some theological influence was set to work to elect one of the deaconesses in my stead, that she might be educated for the post of superintendent of the lying-in ward of the hospital, which was under Dr. Schmidt's care. She also was rejected, in order not to offend Dr. Schmidt; but for this he would not thank them. No sooner had I carried him the letter of refusal than he ordered his carriage, and, proceeding to the royal palace, obtained an audience of the king; to whom he related the refusal of the committee to elect me, on the ground that I was too young and unmarried, and entreated of him a cabinet order which should compel the city to admit me to the school; adding, that he saw no reason why Germany, as well as France, should not have and be proud of a La Chapelle. The king, who held Dr. Schmidt in high esteem, gave him at once the desired order; and I became legally the student of my friend: though his praise procured me intense vexation; for my name was dropped entirely, and I was only spoken of as La Chapelle the Second; which would by no means have been unpleasant had I earned the title; but to receive it sneeringly in advance, before having been allowed to make my appearance publicly, was indeed unbearable.
On the third day after his visit to the king, Dr. Schmidt received me into the class, and introduced me to it as his future assistant teacher. This announcement was as surprising to me as to the class; but I took it quietly, thinking that, if Dr. Schmidt did not consider me fit for the place, he would not risk being attacked for it by the profession en masse, by whom he was watched closely.
On the same day, a little incident occurred which I must mention. In the evening, instead of going alone to the class for practical instruction, I accompanied Dr. Schmidt at his request. We entered the hall where his assistant, the chief physician, had already commenced his instructions. Dr. Schmidt introduced me to him as his private pupil, to whom he wished him to give particular attention; ending by giving my name. The physician hurriedly came up to me, and grasped my hand, exclaiming, "Why, this is my little blind doctor!" I looked at him, and recognized the very Dr. Mueller with whom I used to make the rounds of the hospital when twelve years old, and who had since risen to the position of chief physician. This rencontre, and the interest that he manifested afterwards greatly relieved Dr. Schmidt, who had feared that he would oppose me, instead of giving me any special aid. During this winter's study, I spent the most of the time in the hospital, being almost constantly at the side of Dr. Schmidt. I certainly made the most of every opportunity; and I scarcely believe it possible for any student to learn more in so short a time than I did during this winter. I was continually busy; acting even as nurse, whenever I could learn any thing by it. During the following summer, I was obliged to reside wholly in the hospital; this being a part of the prescribed education. Here I became acquainted with all the different wards, and had a fine opportunity to watch the cases by myself. In the mean time, Dr. Schmidt's illness increased so rapidly, that he feared to die before his plans in respect to me had been carried out; especially as the state of his health had compelled him to give up his position as Chief Director of the Hospital Charite. His design was to make me chief accoucheuse in the hospital, and to surrender into my hands his position as professor in the School for Midwives, so that I might have the entire charge of the midwives education. The opposition to this plan was twofold: firstly, the theological influence that sought to place the deaconess (Sister Catherine) in the position of house-midwife; and, secondly, the younger part of the profession, many of whom were anxious for the post of professor in the School for Midwives, which never would have been suffered to fall into the hands of Sister Catherine. Dr. Schmidt, however, was determined to yield to neither. Personal pride demanded that he should succeed in his plan; and several of the older and more influential members of the profession took his part, among whom were Johannes Mueller, Busch, Mueller, Kilian, &c. During the second winter, his lecturing in the class was only nominal; often nothing more than naming the heads of the subjects, while I had to give the real instruction. His idea was to make me feel the full responsibility of such a position, and, at the same time, to give me a chance to do the work that he had declared me pre-eminently capable of doing. This was an intrigue; but he could not have it otherwise. He did not intend that I should perform his duty for his benefit, but for my own. He wished to show to the government the fact that I had done the work of a man like himself, and done it well; and that, if he had not told them of his withdrawal, no one would have recognized his absence from the result.
At the close of this term, I was obliged to pass my examination at the same time with the fifty-six students who composed the class. Dr. Schmidt invited some of the most prominent medical men to be present, besides those appointed as the examining committee. He informed me of this on the day before the examination, saying, "I want to convince them that you can do better than half of the young men at their examination."
The excitement of this day I can hardly describe. I had not only to appear before a body of strangers, of whose manner of questioning I had no idea, but also before half a dozen authorities in the profession, assembled especially for criticism. Picture to yourself my position: standing before the table at which were seated the three physicians composing the examining committee, questioning me all the while in the most perplexing manner, with four more of the highest standing on each side,—making eleven in all; Dr. Schmidt a little way off, anxious that I should prove true all that he had said in praise of me; and the rest of the class in the background, filling up the large hall. It was terrible. The trifling honor of being considered capable was rather dearly purchased. I went through the whole hour bravely, without missing a single question; until finally the clock struck twelve, when every thing suddenly grew black before my eyes, and the last question sounded like a humming noise in my ear. I answered it—how I know not,—and was permitted to sit down and rest for fifteen minutes before I was called to the practical examination on the manikin. I gave satisfaction to all, and received the diploma of the first degree. This by no means ended the excitement. The students of the year were next examined. This examination continued for a week; after which the diplomas were announced, when it was found that never before had there been so many of the first degree, and so few of the third. Dr. Schmidt then made it known that this was the result of my exertions, and I was pronounced a very capable woman.
This acknowledgment having been made by the medical men present at the examination, Dr. Schmidt thought it would be an easy matter to get me installed into the position for which I had proved myself capable. But such could not be the case in a government ruled by hypocrisy and intrigue. To acknowledge the capability of a woman did not by any means say that she was at liberty to hold a position in which she could exercise this capability. German men are educated to be slaves to the government: positive freedom is comprehended only by a few. They generally struggle for a kind of negative freedom; namely, for themselves: for each man, however much he may be inclined to show his subserviency to those superior in rank, thinks himself the lord of creation; and, of course, regards woman only as his appendage. How can this lord of creation, being a slave himself, look upon the free development and demand of recognition of his appendage otherwise than as a nonsense, or usurpation of his exclusive rights? And among these lords of creation I heartily dislike that class which not only yield to the influence brought upon them by government, but who also possess an infinite amount of narrowness and vanity, united to as infinite servility to money and position. There is not ink and paper enough in all the world to write down the contempt I feel for men in whose power it is to be free in thought and noble in action, and who act to the contrary to feed their ambition or their purses. I have learned, perhaps, too much of their spirit for my own good.
You can hardly believe what I experienced, in respect to intrigue, within the few months following my examination. All the members of the medical profession were unwilling that a woman should take her place on a level with them. All the diplomatists became fearful that Dr. Schmidt intended to advocate the question of "woman's rights;" one of them exclaiming one evening, in the heat of discussion, "For Heaven's sake! the Berlin women are already wiser than all the men of Prussia: what will become of us if we allow them to manifest it?" I was almost forgotten in the five months during which the question was debated: it became more than a matter of personal intrigue. The real question at stake was, "How shall women be educated, and what is their true sphere?" and this was discussed with more energy and spirit than ever has been done here in America.
Scores of letters were written by Dr. Schmidt to convince the government that a woman could really be competent to hold the position in question, and that I had been pronounced so by the whole Faculty. The next objection raised was that my father was known as holding revolutionary principles; and to conquer this, cost a long discussion, with many interviews of the officials with my father and Dr. Schmidt. The next thing urged was that I was much too young; that it would be necessary, in the course of my duties, to instruct the young men also; and that there was danger in our thus being thrown together. In fact, this reason, read to me by Dr. Schmidt from one of the letters written at this time (all of which are still carefully preserved), runs thus: "To give this position to Miss M. E. Zakrzewska is dangerous. She is a prepossessing young lady; and, from coming in contact with so many gentlemen, must necessarily fall in love with some one of them, and thus end her career." To this I have only to reply, that I am sorry that I could not have found one among them that could have made me follow the suggestion. This objection however, seemed for a while the most difficult to be met: for it was well known, that, when a student myself, I had stood on the most friendly terms with my fellow-students, and that they had often taken my part in little disturbances that naturally came up in an establishment where no one was permitted to enter or to leave without giving a reason, and where even my private patients were sent away at the door because I did not know of their coming, and could not announce to the doorkeeper the name and residence of those who might possibly call.