The Riverside Library for Young People
GIRLS AND WOMEN
(Harriet E. Paine)
BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Company.
I. AN AIM IN LIFE 7
II. HEALTH 24
III. A PRACTICAL EDUCATION 38
IV. SELF-SUPPORT.—SHALL GIRLS SUPPORT THEMSELVES? 49
V. SELF-SUPPORT.—HOW SHALL GIRLS SUPPORT THEMSELVES? 63
VI. OCCUPATIONS FOR THE RICH 82
VII. CULTURE 99
VIII. THE ESSENTIALS OF A LADY 116
IX. THE PROBLEM OF CHARITY 127
X. THE ESSENTIALS OF A HOME 136
XI. HOSPITALITY 154
XII. BRIC-A-BRAC 165
XIII. EMOTIONAL WOMEN 173
XIV. A QUESTION OF SOCIETY 187
XV. NARROW LIVES 201
XVI. CONCLUSION.—A MISCELLANEOUS CHAPTER 218
GIRLS AND WOMEN.
AN AIM IN LIFE.
For the sake of girls who are just beginning life, let me tell the stories of some other girls who are now middle-aged women. Some of them have succeeded and some have failed in their purposes, and often in a surprising way.
I remember a girl who left school at seventeen with the highest honors. Immediately we began to see her name in the best magazines. The heavy doors of literature seemed to swing open before her. Then suddenly we heard no more of her. A dozen years later she was known to no one outside her own circle. She was earning her living as book-keeper in a large five-cent store! She led the life of a drudge, and that was not the worst of it. She was a sensitive woman, and there was much that was mortifying in her position. All her Greek and Italian books were packed away. She knew no more of science than when she left school. At odd minutes she read good novels, and that was all she had to do with literature. Those who had expected much of her thought her life was a failure, and she thought so too.
Yet there is another side to the picture. The aim she had set for herself in life was not to be an author, though that idea had taken strong hold on her, and she tried to realize it in spite of great discouragements. This was her minor aim, but the grand aim with her had always been to lead the divine life at whatever cost. It proved to cost almost everything. Her utmost help was needed for her large family, which was poor. Unusual as her success with editors had been, no girl of seventeen could depend on a large income from magazines. A good salary was offered her as book-keeper, and she accepted it.
She tried to continue her favorite occupation by rising early, but she was not strong enough to go on long in that way. She sometimes had an hour in the evening, but when she saw the wistful look in her mother's face she would not shut herself up alone. At the rare times when she was still free to choose she went back to her books and her pen, but she could not do much, and at last she felt it would be better not to try. It was simply a source of vexation, and she needed a serene mind above all things.
The only way her life could open towards beauty or happiness at all was by putting the true spirit into her daily work. With a resolute heart she did this. No books were ever more beautifully kept than hers; every figure was clear and perfect; every column was added without a mistake. In short, she did her work like an artist.
To the sales-girls she was like a guardian angel. She might have written good stories all her life without helping others half so much. Little, weak, frivolous girls became strong, fine women simply from daily contact with her. She did not realize that. She only knew that she loved the girls and that they loved her. She did know that she helped her family—with her money. Her spirit helped them unconsciously still more.
When at last she gave up the minor aim of her life, and no longer tried to be learned or famous, she had her energies set free for many little things which had previously been crowded out. It was easy now to find a leisure hour to help any one who needed sympathy. There was time to watch the beauty of the sunset or of the falling snow. If she had no time to scramble through a volume of a new poet, she could still learn line by line some favorite old poem, and let it sink into her heart, so that it did its work thoroughly. If she could not find time to learn the history of all the artists from the time of Phidias to the last New York exhibition, yet when a beautiful picture was before her she could look at it thoughtfully without feeling that she must hurry on to the next. In this way, perhaps, she gained a more absolute culture than in the way she would have chosen, a culture of thought and character which told on every one who came near her.
She was always climbing up towards God, and his help never failed her. The climbing was hard, yet the pathway was radiant with light. Those who were stumbling along in the darkness by her side saw the light and were able to walk erect.
I cannot say she was altogether happy with so many of her fine powers unused. Perhaps she was not even quite right in sacrificing herself completely. Sometimes she fostered selfishness in others while she tried to cast it out of herself. But so far as she could see she had no choice. If she had refused the sacrifice, it would have been by giving up the grand aim of her life. Her minor aim was good in itself, but it conflicted with something better. Those who did not know her life intimately thought it a failure. Those who saw deeper knew that her utter failure in what was non-essential had been the condition of essential success.
I remember another brilliant girl who did win her way. She was poor and plain and friendless, but she won wealth and fame and friends, and then, with all this success, she blossomed into beauty. She had a struggle, but she came out victorious. I think she was happy. She was glad to be beautiful and to be loved. She had music and pictures and travel in abundance, and she appreciated these things. She liked to give to the poor, and she did give bountifully and with a grace and sweetness better than the gift.
She painted pictures which everybody admired, and that pleased her. She had dreamed of all this when a child. She had genius and she had perseverance. Her aim was to be a famous artist, and she did not flinch from any work or sacrifice which would help her to that end. So far all was well, and she reached the goal. As there was nothing to prevent her carrying out secondary plans at the same time, she could be cultivated and charitable without giving up her great object.
She wanted to be good besides. She never deliberately decided for the wrong against the right. And yet a noble life was not first in her thoughts. When she was a school-girl she had a lover who was like a better self. By and by he chose to study for the ministry, while she went to the city to try her fortune. So far they shared every thought and feeling and hope. She knew she was a better woman with him than with any one else. But at last he was called to a remote country parish, and for himself was satisfied with it. But she—how then could she be his wife? Her heart was torn in the strife. Some women whose vision was less keen would have married him, hoping that in some way they might still carry out their own ambition. But she was at a critical point in her career and she knew it. She had just begun to be known personally to influential people, and her name was beginning to be known to the public. She dared not risk leaving her post. She wrote her lover a charming letter,—for she did love him,—and told him how it was. "When I have won my victory," said she, "I shall be a free woman. And you will love me just as much when I have more to give you than I have now. But now I have my little talent confided to me, and I dare not fold it away in a napkin." Her lover agreed to this, though it was hard for him. They worked apart year after year. At last she was a free woman, with money enough to live without work at all, and with fame enough to work when and where she pleased. But gradually she cared less and less for the objects of her lover's life. She would not own to herself that she had failed in constancy to him. She always thought she was glad to see him when he came to the city. But he felt the difference in her, though he tried not to see it. She was far more beautiful than when he had first loved her; but in the days when she was so plain and had worn shabby dresses there had been an expression about her mouth which he missed now. The lovely face was still eager with longing, but it had lost the look of aspiration. Reluctantly, he admitted the change in her. At last he told her what he felt, that she had ceased to love him. She had deceived herself so far that she had not realized how idle her excuses were for putting off the marriage from year to year. When the separation came she felt a sharp pang—as much of mortification at her own failure as of wounded love. Yet she consented to the separation, and she seemed to be happy after it. She thought her life had been tragic, and that she had made a heroic sacrifice of her love to the necessity which her genius laid upon her to do a certain work in the world.
I should be afraid to say that she was altogether wrong. There are, no doubt, some women who are meant to serve the whole world rather than the little domestic circle. And yet she did give up what she had believed the best part of herself. And her pictures, though they were admired, lacked an indescribable something of which her first crude sketches had given promise. I do not think that, after all, they did very much to interpret beauty to the world. She had two aims in life, both good, but she placed the first second, and the second first. Perhaps, on the whole, she was happier for the choice she made. But she missed something better than happiness which is always missed by those who make the lower aim their object—she missed the aspiration for higher happiness.
I have seen many successful lives led by women who as girls showed very moderate abilities, simply because they had one definite aim. I knew a girl who became an excellent actress. She was a pretty girl with a little talent. She was not poor, but she had an ambition to be on the stage. She had the good sense to see that she was not a genius, but she also had courage enough to persevere in using the ability she had. For the first ten years she made so little apparent headway that even among her acquaintances many people did not know she had ever acted at all. In the mean time she had studied hard. She knew many popular plays by heart, and had carefully watched other actresses. She was acquainted with a number of theatrical people. She had always been at hand when a manager wanted an extra peasant girl, or when a waiting maid was ill. She had joined a small troupe traveling through the bleakest and roughest parts of the Northwest in midwinter. By and by she was fitted to be of use in a stock company. Then, after a few more years, she achieved what she had been striving for. She was able to take the slighter characters in the plays of Shakespeare. No one excelled her here. No great actress would take so small a part, and no small actress was willing to take such pains. Her power was unique and she was indispensable. Her name was seldom on the play-bills, but she added something to the culture of the world by making the interpretation of Shakespeare more complete.
Her success came first from having a definite aim, and second, from understanding herself sufficiently to aim at something within her power; but happily it was also the highest thing within her power. She was both humble and aspiring. She showed her humility in shrinking from no drudgery, and satisfied her cravings for the ideal by doing the smallest thing in the best way possible to her. She enjoyed even her drudgery because she put the best of herself into it, but, more than that, she knew it was leading her exactly in the direction she wanted to go. If the drudgery had led to nothing she would have needed all the moral power of our little book-keeper to save her from misery. Her own happier life required some moral power, how much it is hard to say. A woman might do all she did and be little the better for it. It would depend on the aim she cherished in her heart. If she had no higher aim than to be a good actress her life did not avail much. But if her acting was only the minor aim, then her life was thoroughly noble as well as successful. Her choice of a minor aim makes it probable that she also had the highest aim. Otherwise she would have been either more or less humble. She would either have wished to be a star actress or have been contented with any trifling parts which brought her money and admiration.
The best happiness comes from our perseverance in following the grand aim of life. But "the kind of happiness which we all recognize as such" is generally that which comes from the successful pursuit of our minor aim. Herbert Spencer says that every creature is happy when he is fully using his powers. I have known a girl with a magnificent voice who endured great hardships for a musical education, and who finally accomplished her purpose and enchanted the world with her singing. She was happy. Of course everybody expected her to be. But I have known another girl, equally happy, carefully working in the laboratory to find the water-tubes of a star-fish or the nerves of a clam. This girl said to me with a face bright with enthusiasm, "When I first began to work with Professor —— in the laboratory it was as if I had been traveling all my life in a desert land, and had suddenly come upon fountains of fresh water." She was as poor and obscure as my singer was rich and famous, but she was using her powers and was happy.
Of course the kind of happiness to be found even in secondary success depends on the great aim of any life. In some cases it almost seems as if the minor aim were the only one. The happiness it brings cannot go very high, yet so far as a looker-on may judge it feels like happiness. But most people—perhaps all, if we only knew it—do acknowledge the grand aim in life, even though they make very little effort to reach it. When they consciously neglect this for the minor aim, they are uneasy and not thoroughly happy; but when the minor aim is good in itself and is always made subservient to the higher, success there does prove a well-spring of delight.
Spencer's remark is also true in the best sense, for no powers crave exercise so much as the higher powers. If my singer had done a sinful deed no applause could have made her happy. And, on a lower plane, if she had lost the husband she dearly loved, even her art would not have satisfied her.
It may seem as if I am choosing all my illustrations from among people who have special gifts, and that nothing I say applies to the great army of girls who will never be distinguished, and who are all the dearer for not wishing to be so. I have not forgotten this, but I began with striking illustrations because they are easiest to understand.
The grand aim of life should be the same for all, whether gifted or not. But the particular aim must vary with the individual. Probably with five girls out of ten the particular aim is to have a happy home. Once we might have said nine girls out of ten, but the present tendency of thought is to make girls ambitious,—too ambitious, it sometimes seems, for the very best of life.
Of course selfishness shows itself in various ways, and the girl who wishes to have a happy home without thinking how she shall make a happy home may be more selfish than the girl who dreams of fame, but with the understanding that the price of fame is, and ought to be, the giving of some blessing to the world.
I know a delightful girl who seems to think of nothing but making others happy from the moment when she meets her maid with a cheerful "Good-morning," till she contrives that some less attractive girl shall have the most desirable partner in the ball-room in the evening. She gives her money and her time and her thought to the service of other people. This is so natural to her that no one thinks of her as making it a conscious aim, but the result is so beautiful as to suggest that it would be the best aim for every girl. Nevertheless she has a still higher aim, for sometimes the happiness of other people—at least their visible happiness—clashes with some other duty. Then she does not fail. She gives her hard refusal in pleasant but firm words, and she tells the truth even if it makes some one wince. She is not a genius, but, on the whole, I hardly know another girl so full of the best life. That her highest aim is the true one is without question, and that her minor aim is the true one for her must also be admitted. Whether it is so for all is not quite clear. She has the natural gift which makes all her ministrations to others acceptable, but every one is not so endowed.
She has a cousin as unselfish as she is whose capacity is entirely different. She is a quiet, reserved, thoughtful girl, who always speaks slowly. She is just and good-tempered, and is ready to give her time and money when she sees she can be of use. But her thoughts move in other channels. She has excellent mathematical abilities, and she is always resolving some difficult problem. She hopes some day to do some work in astronomy. Of course she would be glad to do some great work and be known as a benefactor to mankind, but probably she works from love of her work more than from the hope of doing good. She, too, is charming, but it takes a long time to know her well.
Should one of these girls try to do the work of the other? Or is one better than the other? I think not, since both look so steadily towards the highest star in their field of vision. The minor aim of life must always have reference to the gifts of the individual. Even visiting the poor would become absurd if nobody did anything else.
If we believe in an overruling Providence we cannot of course say that anything is by chance; but so far as we can see, failure in this world—that is, failure to reach our minor aim—does sometimes seem to be due to a trifling accident. Yet success is not so. If Byron, for instance, awoke one morning and found himself famous, it was because he had previously done the work which was suddenly recognized by the world. Indeed, none of us need look for success who does not choose a definite aim in life. And, more than that, no discouragement must turn us aside from it. We may fail in the end then, but we shall have followed the only possible path to success.
How shall we choose our aim? We know what our grand aim must be, and that if we do our part there we shall not fail, for we shall have God to help us; and we know that our minor aim must never be opposed to this. But what shall our minor aim be, or shall we be content to drift without any at all?
We must try to understand ourselves so far at least as to know what our own powers and tastes are, and choose accordingly. A young girl hardly knows her own bent. Then the uncertainty in regard to her marriage and the great change that necessarily makes in her pursuits renders the problem harder for her than for her brothers.
Most girls wish to be the centre of a happy home, but many of them are very careless about the means of making themselves fit to be such a centre. They think when love comes it will do everything, and it is true that it will do wonders. But suppose a girl remembers that if she is well she can make her family happier then if she is always ailing,—suppose she remembers how much good housekeeping does to make a home attractive; that if she is musical her singing will calm the troubled waters, while if she is not her practicing will be a burden; that there are some studies which bear directly on life and some others which will be of infinite use to a mother in training her children,—is she not more likely to have a happy home than if her aim had been less definite?
But what of the girls who choose this aim and who never have a home? Their lot is hard, but they may add happiness to some home not their own. If they are not obliged to support themselves, they can probably create some kind of a home for themselves, though not that of their ideal. If they must earn their living, the problem is harder. Circumstances may force them into a widely different path from that they would have chosen. Then they must remember the grand aim of their lives, and do the best work they can for the sake of it. Still, they may use the home-making faculty in some measure in the humblest attic.
But there is a large and ever larger class of girls with other tastes than domestic ones. Here, I think, the danger is greater than in case of even the most unfortunate girls with domestic tastes; for tastes and talents do not always agree. We have all known girls willing to practice six hours a day who could never be musicians, and most girls think they could write a book. Many people who are quite free to choose make too ambitious a choice. It seems a part of the office of culture to correct such ambitions. I have in mind a class of half-taught school-girls many of whom fondly hoped to be poetesses; and I remember a class of highly cultivated girls, who had had every advantage of education which money could buy, who were full of anxiety on leaving school because they could not see that they had capacity enough to do any work worth doing in the world. The general verdict among them was that as they had money they could give it to the poor, but that they had nothing in themselves. They were as much too timid as the others were too confident.
A girl who has to earn her living has a safeguard, for which few are very thankful. No one will pay her to indulge her tastes without reference to her talents. She finds out gradually what ought to be her minor aim, for she discovers the special service she can render to the world in return for what it offers to her. In most cases she wins a reasonable measure of success and happiness.
But some of us are obstinate. We see one pathway we long to tread even though it is beset with stones and briers. We are determined to take that way, even if we never climb high enough to penetrate the low-lying mists which darken it. We would rather pursue even a little way the painful pathway which leads to the glorious mountain-top than to follow an easier path to some lower summit. If we truly feel that, we do well to take the path, for we have a right to forget ourselves for the sake of our aim. But if we ask for success after all, it is mere blind vanity which makes us so obstinate in our choice.
Let us remember that our direct usefulness in the world and most of our conscious happiness will depend on our choosing and steadily pursuing as our minor aim that for which our nature fits us, even if we wish our nature had been different; while our utmost usefulness and our highest happiness will depend on our clearness of vision in seeing, and our unwavering fidelity in following, the grand aim of life.
Mr. Clapp says enthusiastically that we cannot imagine Rosalind or Portia or Cordelia or Juliet with neuralgia or headache. And I believe that Shakespeare's women have now taken the place of the more lackadaisical and sentimental heroines of the past in the minds of many girls.
Now that girls wish to be well, it is worth while to consider two questions. First, why is health so important? Unless the answer to this question is clear, how can any one be ready to sacrifice health to any higher duty? Girls do sacrifice it frequently even when they know what they are doing, but it is generally for a caprice, because they want to dance later or skate longer, or study unreasonably; or sometimes they cannot resist the temptation of food which is not convenient for them, or they are willing to indulge their nerves too much, or it is too much trouble not to take cold.
I wish every girl who knows that she does not live up to her light in this respect would say to herself once a day for a month, "I ought to be vigorously well if I want to do my part in the world, or to be in thoroughly good spirits." I wish she would think of the meaning of what she says, and then see if she does not do some things she is loth to do and avoid some pleasing temptations. I believe a month's application of this formula would give her a new insight into the value of health. I speak not only of health, but of vigorous health. We want to do our part in the world, and that part ought to be our utmost. Agassiz could work fifteen hours a day. Most of us could never do anything so magnificent as that, and the attempt to do it would probably end in our being unfitted to do any work at all. But suppose Agassiz had said, "Twelve hours is too much for most men to work, so I can afford to be careless of my surplus health as long as I have strength to work twelve hours." The world would not only have lost much in the matter of his discoveries, but the spirit of all his work would have been different. I do not mean that it was necessarily the best thing for Agassiz even to work fifteen hours a day on fishes. He might have given part of his time to music, or friends, or novels, because he saw that, on the whole, such recreation met the higher needs of life. But I mean that he was a man to whom a full life was possible for fifteen hours a day, and that he would have been wrong to be satisfied with less.
And now, second, how shall girls be thoroughly well? The laws of health are few and simple. They are so well understood by the parents of this generation that it may seem a waste of time to allude to them here. Yet I am writing for girls whose ideas are often vague.
One word in regard to the study of Physiology. It is a fine study. If a girl thoroughly understands how her body ought to work in health, how one organ acts with another, then, in case of any local disturbance, she will probably be capable of seeing how, if the general tone of the system is raised, the particular difficulty will disappear, and she will no longer follow blindly rules she has learned by rote. Yet people learn more by practice than by theory, and it is probable that the fascinating study of Physiology is of more use intellectually than physically to most school-girls. If they are allowed to dwell much on diseases of the body instead of on its normal action, the study may be a positive injury to them by leading to morbid conditions.
And now again, What are the essentials of health? Several things may be regarded as equally necessary, so that I cannot lay down rules in exactly the order of importance, yet it is purposely that I begin with
Breathe fresh air.
Food is important, but we can live hours without taking food, while we must have air every moment. Moreover, the oxygen of the air actually nourishes the body as food does, by forming a part of the blood.
How shall we get fresh air? First, by spending all the time possible out of doors, both in summer and winter, in storm and sunshine. Every one acknowledges the advantage of exercise in the open air for its own sake; but in New England we have not yet learned how far it is possible to live in the open air. I was once at a country-house in Switzerland which illustrates this ideal. The breakfast-table was spread on a terrace shaded by plane-trees, outside the dining-room door. The table was then cleared and books and work brought out. The family devotions were conducted there. The students studied and wrote, the ladies sewed and knit, and the maids prepared the vegetables for dinner which was also eaten there. For six months in the year this was the ordinary course of life. It would not, to be sure, be possible in all climates, but oftener than we think.
Yet two thirds of our life must be passed in the house, and usually in closed rooms on account of the cold. Now two persons cannot sit an hour in one room before the air becomes vitiated. Most forms of ventilation prove inadequate. M. was a vigorous young lady who made it a rule to leave a window slightly open all the time she was at work, being careful not to sit in the draught. But where this is not convenient, it is a good plan to open a window wide every hour or two for a minute. I knew a girl who tried that plan, but gave it up because it seemed so ridiculous to jump up from her studies every little while for the purpose. Yet nothing is worse than to sit still at one occupation for several hours, and even the slight change of position would do one almost as much good as the fresh air.
It is indispensable to have the window open through the night in every sleeping-room. But here caution is needed, because when the body is quiet a draught is a serious injury. Strips of wood across the open part of the window will generally be sufficient protection. Some of you shiver at the idea of breathing out of door air in the winter. You are so cold! Do you know that the moment you begin to breathe it you begin to grow warm from the increased action of the blood? But
Do not take cold.
The results of colds are more serious than one likes to say. Consumption, pneumonia, catarrh, deafness are some of their names. And the whole tone of the system is lowered by them. But the over-careful people are precisely those who suffer most from colds, because here, as in so many other directions, the nerves have sway.
Now, most colds are taken in one of four ways: By sitting in a draught, by becoming thoroughly chilled, by wetting the feet, and by breathing raw air. But none of these things are necessarily injurious to a young girl in ordinary health—provided she at once does what she can to counteract their effects. Move out of the draught, warm the body as thoroughly as it was chilled, dry the feet before sitting down, and cover the mouth with a veil so that the air is slightly warmed before breathing. Then one need never stay in for the weather, even if one already has a cold.
Of course there are very delicate girls who need special care, but I am speaking to the average girl. Do not forget that a cold is a terrible thing, but also remember that it can be avoided by a little care at the right time, and by entire forgetfulness at other times.
Take plenty of exercise.
The more you can exercise in the open air the better. And if you take exercise you will find it possible to be out of doors on very cold days. If you are not strong on your feet, perhaps you are strong in the muscles for rowing. If you cannot row, perhaps you can ride. If you cannot ride, perhaps you can drive. If you cannot drive, perhaps you can exercise in the gymnasium. If you cannot do any of these things, do what you can. Walk from your door to the street and back again. Do the same thing over in fifteen minutes, and unless you are a miserable bona fide invalid your muscles will soon become more useful. Doing errands, and going about to people who need you, will give you valuable exercise for which you take no thought.
But some of you are too busy to exercise many hours a day in the open air, and so you ought to be. The next best thing for you is housework. Perhaps you do not like that because you see it under the wrong angle of vision. Whether you like it or not, it is within reach of most of you, and would do you good.
But suppose your books and your sewing are necessary and keep you busy all day. Then you are to remember to change your position often. At the end of every hour, when you open the window, take a few deep breaths, stretch your arms and legs and fingers, and you will be better able to go on with your task.
Eat such food as you can thoroughly digest.
There are persons who are always troubled as to what they shall eat, and who, with all their care, are always ailing. I do not want you to think about your food so much that you can digest nothing, but I believe that a very little observation will teach you what is good for you individually. If you have a dizzy head, or rising of food, or a bad breath, or uneasiness of the bowels, you may be pretty sure that you have eaten something that disagrees with you, and by a little watchfulness you may discover what it is and avoid it.
Food that you can digest very well when you are fresh may be much too heavy for you when you are tired. And if you are thinking intently while you eat, the blood is drawn from the stomach where it should be to the brain where it should not be. Few people can digest vegetables not thoroughly cooked, or fruit not thoroughly ripe. I think the study of Physiology is of more practical hygienic value in teaching the absolute necessity of using food that can be readily assimilated by the body, and in showing how different foods should be combined to that end, than in any other way. A little fish or meat, especially beef, considerable bread, especially of the coarser grains, some vegetables, and fruit according to individual organizations, make up the necessary daily fare. A tired stomach should begin with soup. As for the thousand appetizing viands set before us, each must decide for herself what to eat. As long as you have none of the symptoms of indigestion, it is probably safe to gratify the appetite and take delight in food without further care; but if these symptoms appear, think first whether you were too tired, or had too busy a brain to digest anything; next, whether anything you ate was unripe or underdone, and finally, whether there was anything in the bill of fare which had ever troubled you before. Then correct your future practice accordingly, and think no more about it. Depend upon it, you will soon be well, and, further, you will find, with mortification perhaps, that some of the headaches you thought came from overtaxing the brain, or from sensibility to the woes of the world, were really due to improper food. As compensation for your mortification you will be a more useful woman for your whole life.
Work regularly with both body and mind.
Those who must work for self-support are probably, on the whole, in better health than those who are free from necessity. A girl who stands all day behind a counter runs some risks in health, but her chances are still as good as those of the fine lady who broods over imaginary ailments till they become real. To those who must work I have but little to say, for they have a narrow margin of choice. There are several suggestions to be made, however. If your work is physical, use a little of your leisure every day in some mental occupation. The best thing is to do some real studying. If you can only spend fifteen minutes every day on history or literature or botany or French, you will find yourself the better for it bodily, because it will give you an outlook beyond the daily horizon, and take your thoughts from your own weariness. If you have no leisure, or if your work is so exhausting that even fifteen minutes of study seems burdensome, then keep some interesting novel of good tone at hand, and read a little in that every day to change the current of your thoughts. If you find, however, that you usually have more than an hour for your novel, you may suspect that fifteen minutes of study would not hurt you.
Do you know that you are never resting when you are thinking that you are tired? When you are tired rest at once, if you can, by sitting or lying down, or taking recreation, as experience has shown you to be best. But then think no more about it. Perhaps you may be overworking. If you truly believe this and see any possibility of saving yourself, do so, even if you have to give up something which seems particularly important. If you must overwork,—and there are such cases, though they are not so common as we think,—accept the condition as a part of the discipline of life, rest whenever you can, and say and think as little about it as you can. This advice is to save you from one form of the nervous diseases which are the peculiar misfortune of our time.
If your work is sedentary take physical exercise in your leisure time,—out of doors, if possible; but remember that housework is the best substitute for that.
The women who are not obliged to work are those who most need this precept. They can drive, and by and by they cannot walk. They can lie on the lounge when they feel indisposed, and they lie there long after they would get up if they had any work to do. They have the best chance for complete physical development, but they have great temptations to neglect their opportunities. Among the sweetest of such women there is an alarming amount of nervous disease, which is, alas! at the foundation a refined selfishness. To speak plainly, as one has said, we are all as lazy as we dare to be, and these women have no check upon laziness. No power of body or mind can be preserved without exercise, and the muscles grow soft, and the moral fibre grows weak. These women are lovely, they speak in gentle voices, and they never use a harsh word, but they rule all about them with a rod of iron. Dr. Weir Mitchell, in his blunt way, says that nervous diseases among women have destroyed the happiness of more families than intemperance.
By and by the invalid cannot rally even if she has the will, but it is hard to decide where responsibility ends. If your mothers or your aunts are nervous invalids, do not judge them. Causes may have been at work which you cannot see. Pity their terrible misfortune, and do all you can to make them happy. But you, who have the added light of another generation, are inexcusable if you fall into such a state.
How can you avoid it? It is easy to say, "Do not talk about your headaches, or your delicate constitution;" but how are you to help thinking about these things? Decide on regular daily work for yourselves. If you are still school-girls and your head feels heavy in the morning, think whether you would be justified in staying at home if you were a teacher. Teachers have headaches too, but they seldom stay at home for one, and they are seldom the worse for going to school.
When you leave school undertake some regular work. Take charge of the marketing, or oversee the housekeeping for a year. Ask the officers of the Associated Charities to give you something definite to do, and do it regularly. If you are not fitted for visiting the poor, suppose you make experiments in natural science. See what Lubbock did with ants, bees, and wasps. There are thousands of such experiments to be tried, but few people have the leisure for them. You may not understand your results, but you can make the accurate observations which are absolutely necessary before a great man can find out the laws which govern them.
Some mental work you must do. Of course you wish that. If you are in a city like Boston, I will tell you what you will be tempted to do. You will be tempted to sandwich your parties and calls and concerts with two or three courses of morning lectures given by highly trained specialists. In this way you will get a delightful society knowledge of history and literature and art and science, but you will not really exercise your mind very much. Your knowledge will be available for talk, but not for thought. Go to the lectures by all means,—though perhaps one course at a time will do; but be sure that every day at a fixed hour you study the subject of the lecture by yourself, and make it thoroughly your own.
Am I wandering from the topic of health? I think not, because during the last fifty years we have learned almost all the laws of health, and yet we are not much better than before, for our nerves are still on edge. Now girls, even rich girls, can control their nerves, if they begin soon enough, with will and intelligence. And nothing will help them more than to have their bodies and minds constantly employed in rational ways so that there is no room for nervous fancies.
Take the rest you need.
It is hard to know how much you need. Some people must have more than others. It is easy to be lazy on the one hand, and to be dissipated on the other. Some people are injured by springing out of bed as soon as they wake, and others by letting the time drift by while they doze. Some one gives this good rule, "Decide when you ought to rise to make the best use of your day. Make a point of rising at that time; but go to bed earlier and earlier till you find out how much sleep you need in order to be fresh at that hour in the morning." Such a rule would meet most cases, but not all; for though regularity is as important for health as for a wise life, it cannot be an iron regularity, especially if a girl is at all delicate. I would give more flexible rules, though it is harder to keep flexible rules than iron ones.
I have said before that when you are tired you should rest at once, if you can. Rest completely, but not long. Half an hour on the sofa is generally enough. Rise early, because an extra hour in the morning can be better used than one later in the day, and if duties crowd you get tired in remembering what you cannot do. But if you are not fresh in the morning, go to bed earlier. If that does not meet the case, your weariness probably comes from some other cause than insufficient rest. Perhaps your room is not well ventilated, or you may suffer from indigestion, or you may exercise your brain too much and your body too little. If you sit over books or sewing all day, you will always be tired however many hours you sleep. Most girls from fifteen to twenty need about nine hours sleep. If you wish to rise at six, you ought to be in bed at nine.
A few, a very few, of you must be invalids. You may have inherited a wasting disease, an accident may have crippled you, or something else beyond your control may have brought this misfortune upon you. But most of you have it in your power to be well, and remember you will be doing something morally wrong if you become feeble women.
A PRACTICAL EDUCATION.
What is a practical education for a girl? Whatever will fit her for life. The question and answer are trite. What will best fit a girl for life? First of all a well-balanced character. I knew a girl who was a good cook before she was ten years old; she had a genius for sewing; she was an excellent scholar in school, and had musical talent, and yet because of her capriciousness she never filled any place she was called upon to fill in life, and her home was a place of discomfort to her husband and children. Another girl, one of the noblest I ever knew, also found the practical details of life easy, but she was always tossed about from one occupation to another, and from one home to another, because when she found every reality fall short of her ideal she had not the good sense to work quietly to improve the matter, but went about proclaiming her disgust. The first thing we all need is to have our wills so trained that when we see the right, we may instantly do it, and after that we need to be taught to see clearly what is right.
But as character may be formed in many ways why not form it by teaching practical things? What, then, does a girl most need to learn?
To read, to cook, and to sew.
I put reading first, for though no civilized beings can live without cooking and sewing, and we occasionally find good and gentle women who cannot read, yet a woman of real character who can read can teach herself any branch of housekeeping which she is convinced she ought to know, while a cook cannot teach herself to read in any broad sense; for by reading I do not mean pronouncing words. I want a girl to have a taste for good reading. She may study the whole circle of the sciences without reaching this end, or she may not have more than half a dozen books in her library and yet learn the lesson. The practical advantage of most of her studies in school depends on whether or no they lead to this result. How many girls ever use chemistry, or physics, or geology, or zooelogy in any practical way? Yet what a difference the study of all these things makes in the kind of reading women enjoy! Who can learn enough history in school to be equipped even to teach history? Every teacher knows that to be impossible. But a girl who has studied history properly in school, who has been taught to think about the influence of men on nations and of nations on men, has open to her a vast treasure-house of books which will add both to her usefulness and happiness.
Some of you may think it is artful in me to propose this broad education under the pretense of requiring that one learn to read, but it is not so. I do believe in a very broad education for girls; but if I had to choose between a broad education which had crammed a girl with knowledge, yet left her without a love for good reading, and a very narrow one which had awakened that thirst, I should choose the second.
But why do I call this a practical education? Before I answer the question, I must say more on the subject of reading. A girl may enjoy biography, history, travels, and science and yet not have a taste for the best reading, that is, for true literature. She needs essays, novels, and especially poetry. She needs to be able to decide what is best and what is not; she must learn to respond to beauty and truth, and to repel what is false and ugly. This is the practical education, because it bears upon both happiness and character. It is practical as it makes the most of life not only for the woman herself, but for those about her. Bear in mind always that we have supposed her to have a high character and a perfectly trained will. Such reading will develop her judgment as to what is right.
But some women like to read too well. Their will is not perfectly trained, and they would rather think out a domestic problem than act it out. The education of books alone is so one-sided that we cannot consider it practical; it must be supplemented by cooking and sewing.
At our present stage of progress cooking is more important than sewing. Sewing can be more easily put out of the house than cooking; and in any emergency sewing may be neglected from week to week without serious consequences, while cooking must go on every day. Moreover, cooking is by far the more healthful occupation, and one of the aims of a practical education is to make healthy women.
I do not glorify cooking. I do not think a good cook is the highest type of woman. I do not even think it is the duty of every woman to cook. But cooking is certainly practical, ninety-nine women in a hundred have occasion some time in their lives for this accomplishment, and if they are married it is nearly indispensable for them to have a knowledge of it for the comfort of their families.
Few women are born to be cooks, but most intelligent women can learn to cook. It saves immense labor, however, if as girls they learn the art. It is singular that so many who fancy they want to be chemists hate the idea of going into their own kitchens to work. It is possibly because they cannot choose their own hours for cooking. Cooking certainly develops the mind as much as chemical experiments, and at the end of the process you have something of direct service to mankind, which may or may not be the case with work done in the laboratory.
Cooking, sewing, and housekeeping are essential for any woman, married or unmarried, who wishes to make a home, and a home is the practical goal of the majority of women. A woman who is neat and intelligent generally proves to be a good housekeeper without special instruction; but with cooking and sewing, "Who wishes to be a master must begin betimes."
Arithmetic is a science which a girl needs to understand thoroughly—not necessarily business arithmetic, which she can learn if occasion requires, but the principles of arithmetic, and she should be able to work in numbers quickly and accurately.
The tide of opinion is against me here. A boy must know arithmetic of course, or how can he fulfill his destiny and make money? But a girl! Nevertheless, no woman can manage a household properly, or even guide her own affairs as a single woman, without a good knowledge of arithmetic. Her money will be wasted, her servants will cheat her, tradespeople will be demoralized by her. There may be so much money at her command that she goes on serenely unaware of harm. She may perform feats of charity, but what was meant to be a blessing becomes a curse through her ignorance.
A millionaire who meant to give his daughter every advantage began as usual with a French nurse and a German maid and a music master who could command a fabulous price, while he engaged an artist of distinction to oversee her untidy attempts at drawing. At last he remembered that she ought to have a teacher in English, and a lady was engaged to teach grammar and literature and history. "And arithmetic?" she asked. "A little, perhaps. Girls need very little."
The millionaire's daughter came to take her lesson—a bright, handsome girl, full of good nature. "I hate arithmetic, you know," she said confidingly, shrugging her shoulders and puckering her brows. "And then, what's the good of it for a girl?"
The teacher did not argue the question, but began her task. "If thirteen yards of ribbon cost $3.25, how much will one yard cost?" As doing this problem in her mind was quite out of Miss Malvina's power, she was allowed paper and pencil. She wrinkled her forehead, curled her lip, looked up and laughed, "I haven't the faintest idea, don't you know?" A few judicious questions led her to see the necessity of dividing $3.25 by 13, and she went to work. After a season of struggle her countenance cleared. "Upon my word, I've got the answer—25!" "Twenty-five what?" "Twenty-five—why—twenty-five dollars!" "Wouldn't that be rather high for ribbon?" asked the teacher. "Oh, I don't know," replied Miss Malvina carelessly. "I'll tell you," she added triumphantly; "I should tell them to give me the best, and I suppose they would know what I ought to pay." This is hardly an extreme case. In the public schools the girls still learn arithmetic,—perhaps they spend too much strength upon it for the practical mastery they get; but in private schools the best of teachers find it almost impossible to give girls a working knowledge of the subject, because the tide of feeling is so strong against it.
By and by Miss Malvina's father found himself having trouble with his workmen. There were strikes. The family received threatening letters. Malvina's rosy cheeks grew pale. "I don't know what they want," she said forlornly. "They say we are all so extravagant. I don't know what difference that makes to them if we pay for what we buy. We never hurt them. I wish we were not rich at all. It would be much nicer to be poor. I should like to be a—what is it?—a commoner—or a communist or something. Then nobody would be envious."
Now there was not a more generous girl in the world than Malvina. If she had been afloat on a raft after a shipwreck she would have been the one to give up her last ration of water to any one who needed it more. She was ready to pour out money in any case of distress, but she had no idea of its value, and none of her charities prospered, except so far as her rosy, good-natured face could be seen, for that, to be sure, did good like a medicine.
And she was not a stupid girl, though certainly not brilliant in mathematics. If she had been taught that arithmetic is positively needed by every girl, rich or poor, she could have learned all she needed to know of figures to make her life a blessing to hundreds of people whom she only injured for lack of such knowledge.
A vast amount of the daily comfort of people of narrow means depends on the understanding the mother of a family has of accounts, so that the real needs and pleasures may be provided for without the contraction of debt. In a rich family the burden of the mother's incapacity for figures does not fall directly on those dearest to her, but it has unconsciously a far greater weight in the world at large, and is one of the chief among the unrecognized elements causing the increasing bitterness between the rich and the poor.
Let every girl, rich or poor, be required to keep her own accounts accurately from the time she is old enough to have an allowance of even ten cents a month, and there would be a perceptible amelioration in some of the hardest of present conditions.
I believe that some music should be included in a practical education,—certainly if a girl has a taste for it. The ability to sing hymns and ballads, and to play accompaniments well, adds so much to the happiness of a woman herself, and usually to that of her family, that it ought to be considered as something more than an accomplishment. I should not wish to be understood as limiting a musical education to these requirements. I should like to have every girl carry her education as far as she can without neglecting duties she feels more important. Even when she has no musical talent, but merely a love for music, though she cannot give much pleasure to others, I think she may get an elevation of mind from stumbling through Beethoven and Wagner which is worth the time she spends. Still, I think singing is of more practical use than instrumental music, and the power to play simple things well which is so rare is in most cases more to the purpose than to stumble through Beethoven and Wagner.
Drawing is practical as it trains the eye and hand, but unpractical if it leads a girl to think her commonplace pictures are works of art. It seems to me that a good way for girls to study art is for them to look at good pictures with older people who have taste and judgment, because this gives them new resources of enjoyment. Of course when a girl has special talent she needs the training which will give her the power to produce, but this chapter is devoted to the general education of girls.
Every girl should study at least one science. Science trains the mind in a different way from other studies. And one science sheds light on all the rest. Then, anything which puts cheap pleasures within our reach is a safeguard and a blessing. The happiness of life is no light thing, and those who have tested it know how much simple happiness comes from the pursuit of botany or ornithology or mineralogy.
It would be a great thing if every woman could be so well educated that she could teach her own children, at least the main branches, up to the time when they are twelve years old. This is by no means saying that it is not well for many children to be sent to school, but it is calling attention to a great privilege which some mothers and some children may enjoy. What ought a woman to be able to teach her children? To read, in the broad sense, to write a legible hand, and to speak correctly. She ought to be able to teach them arithmetic, and also the rudiments of one science, to give them in early life the right outlook upon the world around them. She ought particularly to be able to give them fine manners, but these belong to the moral training which was spoken of at the beginning of the chapter. They do bear, however, on that part of the social life which may not be distinctly moral, but which is of high practical importance to one's success in life, as well as to one's happiness. Many of the noblest women are shy and awkward except with their special friends, and so are unfitted for practical life. Mothers should remember this and make a determined effort to give children the practice of meeting many people, though, of course, the kind of people and the conditions under which they are to be met require careful consideration.
As for the entirely moral qualities which contribute most to what is usually called success in the world, they are probably courage, good temper, thoughtfulness for others, perseverance, and trustworthiness.
And all this time I have said nothing of any use to be made of education in earning a living. Yet is not that just what our education must do if it is to be practical? I do not ignore this, and shall have more to say of self-support elsewhere. But on the principle that we eat to live rather than live to eat, I think even from a practical standpoint the full development of a woman is of more consequence than the amount of money she can earn. As far as the mere living goes, a practical woman can live better on a little money than an unpractical one on much. When her practicality comes from the high quality of her character, she will lead the best possible life whether she be rich or poor, and I believe the kind of culture I have outlined in this chapter will do something to add happiness to goodness and usefulness.
SELF-SUPPORT.—SHALL GIRLS SUPPORT THEMSELVES?
I Once knew an agreeable girl whose great failing was her self-conceit. She was sure she could do everything anybody could do. As she did not look down on other people's efforts, she was amusing rather than annoying. She was always ready to write a poem, or sing a song, or paint a picture, and as she was a society girl and lived in a grand house, her little doings were often favorably mentioned in the local papers, so she may be pardoned for believing she had a variety of talents, though nobody who read her poems or heard her songs agreed with her.
Then came a crisis in her affairs. She was thrown on her resources without a moment's warning. She had to earn her living or starve. She had plenty of energy, and was willing to work. She took a rapid review of her powers. Then the scales fell from her eyes. She felt very doubtful if there was one among her accomplishments which would furnish bread for her. She would have said that all her conceit was gone. But it was not so. As her need was so urgent, she tried to find work first in one way and then in another. She was prepared to have the editors reject her manuscripts, and she was not surprised that she could not sell her pictures; but it was amazing to be told that her grammar and spelling were faulty, and it was hard to see the amusement in the faces of the art-dealers when they regarded her most cherished paintings.
No woman can earn a living without some mortifying experiences, but the more conceited she is the more such experiences she meets, because she is inclined to attempt things preposterously beyond her. So this poor girl who had always held her head high was snubbed by everybody; she was told the truth with brutal frankness, and in time she learned her lesson. She was not a dull girl nor a weak girl. There was one thing she could do well at the outset, though she had so little discrimination in regard to herself that it did not occur to her that this would be her lever for moving the world. She was a beautiful housekeeper.
She remembered this finally and acted accordingly. I cannot say that she enjoyed her experience with a series of widowers, but she did her work well and was paid for it. She also had a talent—strange to say it was for drawing. She did not realize this either, for she could not discriminate enough to see that her amateur work as an artist was at all different from her amateur singing and playing. At first she had thought she could do everything well, and then she thought she could do nothing well. But by slow degrees, and through much tribulation, she began to set her faculties in order, and when she found her germ of a talent she cultivated it. Ten years later she was able to support herself as an engraver.
By this time her one fault had vanished. She was simple and modest and self-respecting, while she retained the courage and cheerfulness which had made her attractive as a girl. "If you wish to cure a girl of conceit," she once said to a friend, "let her try to earn her living. As long as she does not ask to be paid, everybody will praise her work, but let her offer to sell her services and then see!"
I have not told this story to discourage girls who wish to be independent, but to show them the difficulties in their way. There is no doubt that every girl should be able to support herself. This very case makes it clear. But it does not seem to me equally clear that every girl should support herself, and certainly, if she does, it requires great judgment to select the way.
Fifty years ago women were very dependent, but now many avenues are open to them, and perhaps they have been urged almost too much to earn their own living. I will therefore speak of some circumstances in which it seems to me a girl is to be excused from that.
1. If she is rich, I think there are two objections to her earning money. One is trite and has been often answered. She should not take the bread out of the mouths of those who need it. I do not think this a very strong objection, because every one who works and produces anything adds to the wealth of the world, and sets others free to work for new ends. But one can do good service, without working for money, and, in point of fact, a woman who chooses any of the common ways of earning money usually does shut out some one else.
To illustrate: I knew two school-girls who were classmates, both excellent girls. Martha was the best scholar in school. Lucy was rather dull, though not conspicuously so. Martha wished to teach, as her mother was a widow and poor. She applied for a situation in a neighboring town, but was told that some one had been before her, and though the matter was not then decided, the school was at last given to the first-comer, who proved to be Lucy. Lucy's father was a well-to-do merchant whose name was known to the committee, and this settled the question. Lucy herself was quite innocent. She had no wish to interfere with Martha. Nor had she any special wish to teach. But she wanted a new silk dress, and she thought she should like to earn it. Her friends said she showed the right spirit and encouraged her. Martha and her mother suffered the most pinching poverty while Lucy was earning her dress, and when Martha at last found a place she proved to be a wonderful teacher, while Lucy was a commonplace one. It might, of course, have been the other way. If Lucy had been the gifted girl, then she certainly ought to have used her gifts, but not necessarily for money.
This is one of many instances which lead me to think that if girls who are rich try to earn money they crowd out those who are poorer. They do, however, gain some things so valuable as almost to offset this objection; for instance, they are cured of conceit. I shall return to this subject.
The other objection to the earning of money by the rich is, that there is so much work to be done in the world which cannot in the nature of things be done by those who have to earn their living, that the rich cannot be spared for ordinary occupations. I shall give a special chapter to the work of the leisure classes.
2. There are many families of moderate means where one daughter, at least, can be supported at home without great sacrifices on the part of any one. This is true of almost every family where a servant is kept, for a mother and daughter together can usually do the work of a family more quickly and better than the mother and a servant. Now, if a girl has domestic tastes and is willing to work at home, it seems to me better for her to stay there, even with very little money, than to try to make herself independent elsewhere. If her tastes are not domestic, it changes the case entirely. Then let her go out and use the powers which have been given her.
3. A girl is sometimes needed at home by an invalid father or mother, or she can help the children or make them happy. No general rule can be laid down, because no two cases are alike, but it is often true that a girl ought to give up not only earning money, but even using some of her powers, for the sake of doing still better work at home. And there are multitudes of instances in which she should not be urged to leave home unless she wishes it.
Practically a home life is a good preparation for marriage, which will be the lot of most girls. But though it is a good preparation, it is not the best. Every girl needs a broader outlook on life than she can get in her own home. If she is rich she can choose her way of getting it, by travel, or in charities, or even through society. But the best knowledge of the world is gained through the attempt to support herself. If her occupation takes her into new sections of country, it also develops her just as travel might do.
I am inclined to think that the ideal preparation for marriage would demand half a dozen years between school and the wedding-day, divided into three parts, given in order to a home life, to self-support, and to travel.
It is often said that a girl ought actually to support herself before she can be fitted to do so in case of an emergency. I remember the daughter of a wealthy man who went into a counting-room and worked several years for this reason. Her father said that as soon as she could live on the income she earned he thought the experiment would have succeeded and she might return home. At first it seemed as if it never would succeed. She was a good accountant and earned a fair salary. But she had been accustomed to spend more than most girls can earn, and she was loth to reduce her expenses just when she was working for money. By the end of the second year, however, she began to be tired of her work, so she rigorously kept within her salary for the third year, and then retired. Her experiment had been infinitely easier than if she had been obliged to make it without having other resources, but she had learned valuable lessons.
It seems to me that if a girl who need not work for money does so she will do well to live on what she earns, at least for a time. To earn an extra silk dress does not seem an adequate object. I think if our accountant had gone on many years as she began she would not only have taken the place needed by some one else, but she would have made other accountants discontented because they could not dress as she did. She would have raised the standard of luxury among them without adding anything to their power to reach it.
I knew a young lady with a narrow income who for that reason chose to teach in a large school where several other teachers were employed at the same salary, namely, six hundred dollars. Everybody praised her judgment and taste, for she appeared to be able to do so much more than the rest with her money. Everybody said that six hundred dollars was a fine salary for anybody who had the wit to use it. Some thought a general reduction of salaries would not be amiss. Nobody knew of her reserve. The other teachers tried their best to do as well, but they grew discouraged and envious. Of course she was not to blame, but I think that in general the common welfare is best served when the wage-workers live on what they earn, at least while they are earning it. The surplus can be laid aside for the time when they are at leisure.
But although I do not think that all girls should be urged to support themselves, the majority must do so, or they will burden others. There is also a large class of women who do not absolutely need to earn money, who nevertheless will be better and happier to do so. Independence is very sweet, and even if for love's sake a woman chooses to give it up, it is more inspiring to make a deliberate sacrifice of it than to be dependent because she must be. All homes are not happy, even where the members of the family love each other and have a general purpose to do right. Perhaps it may be said that few young people are satisfied thoroughly with their homes. Would it not mean the destruction of the ideal if they were? It would be terrible to them to have the home broken up, and they do love their parents, but they think they could manage better, and may be right in thinking so.
Now, if a girl at home has this feeling of unrest, she may be too ready to marry the first suitor, because she thinks more about the ideal home she can make than about the husband. If, on the contrary, she goes away and earns her living, she will look around her with less prejudiced eyes. If her home is really unhappy, she will be free from it. If its troubles are merely superficial, she will find this out as soon as she compares it with other homes. If she has not been willing to meet her share of trial and responsibility, she will now find that a change of place has not set her free, for the trouble was in herself. When she does go back to her home it will be with very different appreciation of it.
When a girl has become a woman her instinct leads her to long to be at the head of her own home, whether she is married or unmarried. To be absolute mistress even of one room in a lodging-house at the end of a day's labor is often better to her than to be at the call of everybody in her father's beautiful home where she is supposed to be at leisure all day. And this is right. If a girl has been badly trained, how can she help thinking she may do better than her mother does? If she has been well trained, she ought to be able to do better than her mother, for every generation begins at a higher point than the preceding. She has much of her mother's experience to help her while she is still fresh and strong and enthusiastic. There are very few women between the ages of twenty-five and forty who can be thoroughly contented in any home of which they are not the mistress, however patiently and nobly they may conceal their feelings. After forty they are often so tired as to be glad of any kind of a home.
Then there are women with special gifts. I am thinking now of one who had a fortune, and yet chose to do the hard work of a physician. She had the aptitude for the work and the means for thorough study. She was among the most skillful physicians of her native city. She saved many lives, and relieved much suffering. She gave her priceless services to hundreds of poor people, but she did not give to those who could pay for them. I think she was altogether right. The world was better because she used her gift, and she was happier, as all are who exercise their powers.
Perhaps she blocked the way of less fortunate physicians. But this was because she gave a better gift than they could give. Certainly she had a right to give it even to the rich whose money could only buy a part of it. If she had served the rich without taking their money, she would not only have sapped their self-respect, but she would have been a more formidable obstacle in the way of poorer physicians. She would have been offering a premium in money to those who employed her, whereas the only premium she had a right to offer was her superior skill. It was because she could give priceless services that she had so clear a right to fix a price which she did not need.
Suppose another woman her equal by nature, but who had not had the means for so complete an education, was set aside because she could not compete with one who had both the nature and the education,—even then the case would not be altered, for still the richer woman had a higher gift to give than the poorer one. It would be a bitter trial to the poorer woman to be met only by philosophy and religion; but if she were a just woman, she could not say that her rich rival had not done right.
When a beautiful young society woman of Boston consents to play at a concert every one feels it to be right, because few people can play so exquisitely. When she gives her services for some charity there is an especial fitness in it, since those who go to hear her wish to pay the high prices for the rare treat, and would still wish to do so if she were to keep the money for herself. But if she plays at a symphony concert, she certainly has a right to be paid as others are. That is a matter of self-respect. Why should she compete with other musicians on any unnatural basis?
These instances will show what I mean by saying that a rich woman who has a great gift has a right to use it in earning money, when if the gift were smaller she might not be justified.
There are some qualities which are gained by self-support better than in any other way. By receiving money in return for service, we learn what our service is worth to others. We learn what we can do and what we cannot do. We exchange self-conceit for self-respect. With a true estimate of ourselves we learn how to estimate others more correctly. We learn the real needs of the world and the way to meet them. In a word, we learn justice.
It is generally supposed that the qualities in which men are superior to women are justice and courage. Courage, too, is cultivated by self-support. A woman who daily faces the outside world may not be braver than one who faces the little world at home, but she probably will be. At the last moment the woman at home may sometimes shirk a task which seems formidable to her, though she may be ashamed of her cowardice; but a woman who has agreed to do a certain thing for a certain sum of money cannot shirk, however frightened she may be, and by degrees she learns to subdue her terror and go cheerfully and calmly to her work.
Furthermore, a woman who earns her money generally spends it more wisely than when it is given to her. She may not be as economical in all ways perhaps; but if she chooses to spend three dollars for a Wagner opera ticket when she has a shabby bonnet, because she loves music, she may be putting the true emphasis on her purchase, which she might not dare to do if some one else supplied the money.
On the whole, I am inclined to think that most unmarried women, as well as many who are married, should support themselves. Where the necessity exists, it is base to shrink from doing one's part. When others of the family must endure privation to keep her at home, it is seldom that home is a girl's place. But I would not have a girl too eager to support herself. And I would not have her urged unless there is necessity. Above all, I would guard her from illusions.
It is not easy to earn one's living. It is true there are some delightful modes of making money open to the fortunate few. But if one earns all one spends,—which is the meaning of earning a living,—there will always be hardships to meet. It is not best to anticipate trouble, but it is cruel to let any girl try to make her way in the world with the fancy that it will be easy. Yet most must make their own way, and perhaps most of these have a fair share of happiness, for there are compensations in all work done in the right spirit.
SELF-SUPPORT—HOW SHALL GIRLS SUPPORT THEMSELVES?
And now how shall a girl choose her occupation? And how shall she be fitted for it?
If she has a superb voice she may sing. If she has undoubted genius in any direction her decision is easy, whatever difficulty there may be in getting her education. Most people, however, have not genius. They can do some things better than others, and it is of great importance to their success and happiness that they should be able to use their natural powers to the best advantage. Still their gifts are not great enough to be perfectly clear at sight. It is only by careful cultivation that they become really available, and if a mistake is made in the line of one's education it is hard to repair it.
I think the course I have already described as practical for girls should be the foundation for the education of all girls, save in a few exceptional cases. If, in the end, a girl marries, her reading and cooking and housekeeping are all necessary. How can she use these homely accomplishments in earning a living?
They will not, to be sure, bring her a large income, but there is a steadier demand for good work in these directions than in any others. So a woman who has them is almost sure of a modest support. She need not go out to service to be a cook. Who has seen the dignified and refined Mrs. Lincoln giving lessons at the cooking-school without realizing that cooking may be a fine art, or who has read the cook-book of Mrs. Richards without perceiving that cooking may be an intellectual pursuit?
But these women are exceptions. I will take a humbler example. I knew at school a stylish, energetic girl who was too dull to learn her lessons, but who had the air of polish which comes from association with educated people. Half a dozen years later she found herself obliged to earn her living. She had a little money, and she risked it in leasing a good house on a good city street which she filled with boarders. She worked very hard, and she had much to discourage and disgust her. But she knew how such a house ought to be kept, and she had the determination to keep it in that way. It will be seen that she was a rare landlady. Some landladies do not know how a house ought to be kept, and some have no clear purpose of keeping it as it ought to be kept when they do know the way. Therefore she had great success. There were always two applicants for every vacant room. Higher and higher prices were offered her. At last she bought her house. Then she laid aside money. By and by she had a comfortable fortune. She might then have retired from business, but she chose to go on. During the first five years of her career her experience had been so bitter that only necessity kept her at her post. But now she had learned how to meet her difficulties, and it was a real pleasure to her to see how well she could do her work. It was the work she was born to do, as certainly as Raphael was born to paint pictures.
Few women are so successful; but at the present stage of the world I think it is true that no woman who thoroughly understands cooking and housekeeping need fear that she cannot support herself if she must. I knew a lady who excelled in these arts who was able to help her husband in establishing a school. He was a fine teacher, but too individual to work well in most schools. She took a dozen young people into the house and gave them a delightful home. Her husband earned the living of the family, and a very good living, too. She did little work with her hands, and an assistant teacher was employed to care for the pupils out of school. The housekeeping took but little time, and the lady was apparently almost as free as when her husband had been struggling along in a high school. But she understood so well what was needed that a word here and a look there kept all things smooth, and her husband who had seemed on the brink of ruin came out a successful man.
But all who can manage their own homes cannot manage those of others, even if they are willing to do so. Suppose with all her practical education our girl never shines as a cook or a housekeeper! I have suggested that she should be so thoroughly grounded in primary school work that she could teach her own children till they are twelve years old. Then, if she has the natural power to discipline, she can, if need be, teach a primary school. Now the number of primary schools to be taught is vastly greater than in any other grade, because all pupils must begin at the foot of the ladder, though most of them do not climb to the top. And it is doubtful whether competition among teachers of primary grades is proportionately great. I have heard of a leading normal school principal who decided to train his own daughter for primary work, because his experience showed him there was always a demand for such work. He said truly, "There are few schools which will pay much for unusual learning. Executive ability and tact in imparting knowledge are most wanted, together, of course, with thorough grounding in the rudimentary branches."
His daughter had both taste and talent for higher studies. He wished her to indulge her taste. "But," he added, "she must buy this higher knowledge as she would any other luxury, and not delude herself with the idea that it will make much difference with her power of earning money. If she earns her living by primary work, which requires little study out of school, she will have leisure to pursue her own tastes. Of course she may thus in time be fitted for higher work, and she may prefer to do it, and may even earn more money by it, but she will then do the work because it is her natural choice and not for the sake of the money." So altogether I believe that any girl who has the foundation education which will fit her for a home life will also be able to earn a respectable living if the need arises.
I would not, however, have her stop there. A woman who has to work wishes to work to the best advantage, both as to the amount of money she earns, and the quality of the work she does. I believe every girl should have the simple solid foundation I have indicated, but I also think that in most cases a superstructure should be reared upon it, and that there should be almost as many forms of superstructure as there are individuals. Therefore, in choosing your occupation I will suggest this rule: Do not despise the lowest drudgery which comes plainly in your way; but always choose the highest work you are able to do.
For example, I knew a highly educated young lady who found it necessary to teach. She hated the work, as many teachers do, and yet she had a fine, forcible character, so that she did her work well. One day in a moment of vexation she was heard to exclaim, "I would rather be a waiter in a restaurant than teach school!" Now it happened that one of her pupils did become a waiter in the very restaurant which had called out the remark. And she made an excellent waiter. Her apron was always clean and her hair was always smooth. She was quick and quiet in filling an order, and modest and self-possessed and sweet-tempered. She did her work well and used her leisure well, and she deserved great praise. But in her case this was the best work open to her. She was a hopelessly dull scholar, and she was awkward with her needle. Nor did she have the kind of mind necessary to direct others. She could not have conducted a boarding-house. She could, however, do her own little bit of work well. Now what was fine in her would not have been fine in the teacher. To be sure, it is a pity to teach if one hates it, more of a pity than to do some mechanical work, because there is danger that the feeling may react upon the scholars. Still, this woman had the necessary self-control to do this good work. On the other hand, she was not attracted to any inferior work for its own sake. She would have made an excellent duchess. Her talents as well as her tastes fitted her for such a life. But she had to earn her living, and so far as she or her friends could see there was no direction in which she could work without finding it intolerable. And so it seems to me she did right to choose the best work open to her and do it as well as she could, and I think if she had forsaken the school-room for the restaurant she would not have done what was best either for herself or for others.
I have known an ignorant woman who kept a lodging-house with such devotion that it was like a work of art. Its purity and freshness, its warmth and light had a charm beyond that of comfort. Such work is to be done, and it is not often done well, because the woman who does it is below rather than above her task. "Let the great soul incarnated in some woman's form, poor and sad and single, in some Dolly or Joan, go out to service, and sweep chambers and scour floors, and its effulgent day beams cannot be muffled or hid, but to sweep and scour will instantly appear supreme and beautiful actions, the top and radiance of human life, and all people will get mops and brooms; until lo, suddenly the great soul has enshrined itself in some other form and done some other deed, and that is now the flower and head of all living nature."
The lower work must be done, and often by the highest natures. It must then be done willingly and with a recognition that it can be made a work of art. But it should be deliberately chosen only by those to whom it is the highest work. I have in mind a young man who might have been a musician, but he would not practice, so he became a shoemaker. He had to work harder as a shoemaker than he would have done as a musician, but it was from hand to mouth. He did not have to work steadily towards a future good. He had no gift but that of music, so that even if he had been a musician he would have ranked far lower in the scale of manhood than the shoemakers of the village; but he would have done the best he could do, while as a shoemaker he was despicable.
I knew a good teacher, capable of taking responsibility, who hated it so that she gave up work the moment she had acquired a miserable pittance. She lived ever after a pinched life, whose chief source of happiness to herself was the negative satisfaction of escaping responsibility; for she was too poor to gratify any of her many beautiful tastes. She had the power to lead a large, full life, but she had not the will and courage to meet the obstacles in her way. She chose instead to stunt herself and be a drudge. She swept her poor rooms clean, and she was willing to sweep them, but I do not think she "swept them as to God's law," for though she often made them "fine," I do not think she made "the action fine."
But such a case is rare. More people choose work too high for them. We all like to think we have some touch of genius, though we may be discreet enough not to say so. But few of us have talents at all equal to our tastes, and we must beware of trying to get our livelihood in the direction of our tastes rather than of our talents.
One girl in ten thousand has the voice of a prima donna. Ten other girls in ten thousand have voices so good that they believe them to be like that of a prima donna. The first will succeed beyond her wildest dreams. She will have fame and fortune. The other ten will have some success, success which will seem great to the lookers on, but they will have heart-breaking disappointments within their own breasts. A hundred girls in the ten thousand have more talent for music than for most other things, and if they are well educated, they may perhaps make a good living as teachers, church singers, organists, or accompanists. This is not what they hoped, but they do the work that belongs to them, and on the whole may be counted successful. Another hundred like music, and can learn enough to add to their enjoyment and to that of those about them. They might even teach music, if the demand for teachers were not already filled by those who have a greater gift. But now it is clear their bread must depend on other work for which they have less taste. These are the "betwixt and between" who are always fighting a battle between taste and talent. They have a compensation,—they are less one-sidedly developed than if all their talents were concentrated in one; but they hardly realize this.
Now, how is the line to be drawn among the musical? Who are to earn their living by music and who are to be amateurs? Especially as fifty of our second hundred can with proper education easily excel fifty of the first hundred who have less education. Who is to decide whether it is prudent for a girl to spend all she has on a musical education with the hope of making herself independent in the end? No one can decide positively, but at least do not let any girl fancy that she is the one of ten thousand or even one of the ten. And let her ask for the judgment of more than one good musician before she is sure she belongs to the first hundred. If she loves music supremely, it may be worth while for her to spend everything on her education, even if she finally has to support herself with her needle, for it will be its own reward, and having tried to do what she believed to be her best, even her failure will not be a failure of character.
If there is any occupation delightful in itself, there will always be many people who will hope that they have talent enough to make it a source of livelihood. We all wish to be musicians and artists and poets. The most bitter disappointments come to those who try these paths and fail. It has always seemed to me that where bread-winning is a necessity, we ought first to secure the means of living in some humbler way, and then there may be a chance to pursue these higher occupations for their own sake, and not to degrade them by false methods which we think will bring us money.
I have heard of a poor girl who had a genius for acting. She went out to service while she was studying, she learned how to do housework well, and she had that resource always left to her in case she should fail on the stage. She succeeded, but she could not have succeeded if she had insisted on acting at the outset.
I knew a girl who had ability as a story writer. Two positions were open to her at the same time, one as a book-keeper, the other as writer for a certain department in a third-rate magazine. She chose to be a book-keeper, for she knew that if she took the magazine work she must write whether in the spirit or not, and that the rank of the magazine was such that she would have little encouragement to do her best. Of course, as book-keeper she had very little leisure. Stories germinated in her brain which she had no time to write; but when she was thoroughly possessed by a story, she did find time to write it, and her work was good. She chose to do the second best work for money, so that her best work might not be degraded by the need of money.
Few persons have genius enough to undertake any artistic work if they have a pressing need for the money they are to receive from it. With ever so small an income from other sources, they may cheerfully try their best and prove what they can do. But with no income at all, they will be too greatly tempted to prostitute the talent they have. Yet "if you cannot paint, you may grind the colors." Occasionally our cravings for artistic work may partially be gratified by doing lower work in the same line, and this may sometimes be a foundation for the higher work.
A young girl had an ardent desire to be an elocutionist. She had a good voice, a flexible body, and some intelligence. She was willing to spend every penny on her education. Fortunately she had an unusually fine teacher, who told her the truth. He said, "You could easily learn the little tricks of voice and gesture which bring applause from ignorant people, and make one blush to be called an elocutionist, but you have not the dramatic sense and can never be a great reader. What you need to do is to study some literary masterpiece till you thoroughly appreciate it, and then read it as simply and clearly as possible."
"But would anybody come to hear me read?" she asked.
"I am afraid not," he said; "but you could teach reading."
This had not been her ambition, but she had an earnest character and was willing to read in the right way. She did take a place in a school and became a power there. She taught her scholars how to use the breath, to sit and stand easily and gracefully while reading, to enunciate clearly, and pronounce correctly. Moreover, she taught them to read noble poems instead of the flimsy showy jingles which had at first attracted her. She never made any figure as a public reader, but she did not regret serving the art she had learned to reverence on a lower plane.
But, some one may say, suppose she had not been able to teach! She might not have understood the art of controlling scholars even if she understood what to teach them. In that case she might have been a private reader to some elderly or infirm person. There is a demand for private readers, but few can fill such a place, though we fancy everybody can read. Even where there is intelligence so that one is a pleasant reader, there are few who can manage the voice well enough to read several hours in succession as is often desired.
A woman with artistic tastes will probably do better service in studying ways of making beautiful homes or in lines of decorative work than by striving to paint great pictures. Let her paint the pictures if she is moved to do it and has time, and if they turn out to be great pictures that will be well; but until her greatness has been proved, would it not be better for her to depend for her support on the less ambitious departments of her art, especially as a beautifully planned home gives a higher artistic pleasure than second-rate painting?
It is strange that so few women are architects. Architecture is the sublimest of arts, and yet it has room to employ humble talents. A practical woman with a love of beauty, a mathematical mind, and a knowledge of mechanical drawing would undoubtedly be a great help to an architect in planning dwelling-houses. At any rate, as the matter stands at present, very few interiors are either convenient or beautiful in proportion to the money spent on them. A woman might not plan a public building well, but her help is needed in all our homes, and especially in tenement houses.
I once knew a woman who was a poet. Her songs were full of beauty and helpfulness, but poetry is not lucrative. She took a position as teacher of literature in a girls' school. There never had been such teaching as hers in the school before. She showed the girls the poetic meaning of the great writers, and gave them a moral and intellectual impulse which lasted through life. Sometimes in an hour of inspiration she still wrote poems. Her teaching was so excellent that she was sought after in other schools. But she found that when she undertook too much her spirit flagged. She could still teach, but she could not write. So she went back to her first plan. Of course it was hard work. The girls were often dull and unsympathetic. Yet her study of literature helped her in her own great purpose of life, and the contact with youth was sometimes an inspiration in itself. Usually, however, teaching is an injury to a writer, because of the need of constantly adapting one's self to inferior minds.
There are few women who can devote themselves to pure literature, and few of these can earn a living by it; so, delightful as it is, it can hardly be counted among the bread-winning occupations. But if a woman thinks she can be satisfied to work regularly on a newspaper or a magazine she may often earn a large income. If money or fame is her object she must always sign her own name to everything she writes, as it takes genius to coerce the public into admiration of anonymous work.
A great many women have found it well to be teachers, and most of their work is conscientiously done, though few have the highest ideal so constantly before them as to find pleasure in the work when their own faults are of such a nature that success depends on overcoming them. A firm, quick-witted woman, with sufficient self-reliance to relish responsibility, is the only one who can be happy in a large school or at the head of a small one. Now, those are the lucrative positions for teachers, and, indeed, the positions in which the largest results can be accomplished, and they ought to be filled by the finest women. But the finest women must have certain other qualities. They need to be thoughtful even more than quick witted; they must be able to balance conflicting interests, and that is hard to reconcile with firmness; and if they are modest and conscientious they rarely have the self-reliance which makes responsibility anything but a grievous burden. Yet there are teachers who have enough of all these contradictory qualities to succeed in doing the difficult and admirable work if they are only willing to be unhappy for the sake of doing something noble.