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WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
BY RHETA CHILDE DORR
TO THE AMERICAN REPRESENTATIVES OF THE EIGHT MILLION— THE EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL FEDERATION OF WOMEN'S CLUBS— THIS VOLUME IS DEDICATED
Many of the chapters contained in this volume appeared as special articles in Hampton's Magazine, to the editor of which the author's thanks are due for permission to republish.
I INTRODUCTORY II FROM CULTURE CLUBS TO SOCIAL SERVICE III EUROPEAN WOMEN AND THE SALIC LAW IV AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE COMMON LAW V WOMAN'S DEMANDS ON THE RULERS OF INDUSTRY VI MAKING OVER THE FACTORY FROM THE INSIDE VII BREAKING THE GREAT TABOO VIII WOMAN'S HELPING HAND FOR THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER IX THE SERVANT IN HER HOUSE X VOTES FOR WOMEN XI IN CONCLUSION INDEX
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
CONVENTION OF CLUB WOMEN AT HOTEL ASTOR, NEW YORK
CARPENTER SHOP, VACATION SCHOOL, PITTSBURGH
CAPTAIN BALL ON GIRL'S FIELD, WASHINGTON PARK, PITTSBURGH
STORY HOUR AT VACATION PLAYGROUND, CASTELAR SCHOOL YARD, LOS ANGELES, CAL.
MRS. SARAH PLATT DECKER
A "WOMEN'S RIGHTS" MAP OF THE UNITED STATES
MISS EMILIE BULLOWA
MRS. FREDERICK NATHAN
MRS. J. BORDEN HARRIMAN
MISS ELIZABETH MALONEY
A DEPARTMENT STORE REST-ROOM FOR WOMEN
MISS MAUDE E. MINER
IN THE NIGHT COURT, NEW YORK
MISS SADIE AMERICAN
A TYPICAL DANCE HALL
AN UNTHOUGHT-OF PHASE OF THE SERVANT QUESTION
ANOTHER SERIOUS CONTRIBUTION TO THE SOCIAL QUESTION
THE SERVANT GIRL AND THE EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
SUFFRAGETTES IN LONDON ADVERTISING A MEETING
MRS. HARRIOT STANTON BLATCH
MEETING A RELEASED SUFFRAGETTE PRISONER
THE WOMEN'S TRADES PROCESSION TO THE ALBERT HALL MEETING, APRIL 27, 1909
HELEN HOY GREELEY
SUFFRAGETTES IN MADISON SQUARE
THE "QUIET WALK" OF THE NEW YORK SUFFRAGISTS, WHOM THE POLICE WOULD NOT PERMIT TO PARADE
SUFFRAGE DEMONSTRATION IN UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK
WHAT EIGHT MILLION WOMEN WANT
For the audacity of the title of this book I offer no apology. I have had it pointed out, not altogether facetiously, that it is impossible to determine with accuracy what one woman, much less what any number of women, wants. I sympathize with the first half of the tradition. The desires, that is to say, the ideals, of an individual, man or woman, are not always easy to determine. The individual is complex and exceedingly prone to variation. The mass alone is consistent. The ideals of the mass of women are wrapped in mystery simply because no one has cared enough about them to inquire what they are.
Men, ardently, eternally, interested in Woman—one woman at a time—are almost never even faintly interested in women. Strangely, deliberately ignorant of women, they argue that their ignorance is justified by an innate unknowableness of the sex.
I am persuaded that the time is at hand when this sentimental, half contemptuous attitude of half the population towards the other half will have to be abandoned. I believe that the time has arrived when self-interest, if other motive be lacking, will compel society to examine the ideals of women. In support of this opinion I ask you to consider three facts, each one of which is so patent that it requires no argument.
The Census of 1900 reported nearly six million women in the United States engaged in wage earning outside their homes. Between 1890 and 1900 the number of women in industry increased faster than the number of men in industry. It increased faster than the birth rate. The number of women wage earners at the present date can only be estimated. Nine million would be a conservative guess. Nine million women who have forsaken the traditions of the hearth and are competing with men in the world of paid labor, means that women are rapidly passing from the domestic control of their fathers and their husbands. Surely this is the most important economic fact in the world to-day.
Within the past twenty years no less than nine hundred and fifty-four thousand divorces have been granted in the United States. Two thirds of these divorces were granted to aggrieved wives. In spite of the anathemas of the church, in the face of tradition and early precept, in defiance of social ostracism, accepting, in the vast majority of cases, the responsibility of self support, more than six hundred thousand women, in the short space of twenty years, repudiated the burden of uncongenial marriage. Without any doubt this is the most important social fact we have had to face since the slavery question was settled.
Not only in the United States, but in every constitutional country in the world the movement towards admitting women to full political equality with men is gathering strength. In half a dozen countries women are already completely enfranchised. In England the opposition is seeking terms of surrender. In the United States the stoutest enemy of the movement acknowledges that woman suffrage is ultimately inevitable. The voting strength of the world is about to be doubled, and the new element is absolutely an unknown quantity. Does any one question that this is the most important political fact the modern world has ever faced?
I have asked you to consider three facts, but in reality they are but three manifestations of one fact, to my mind the most important human fact society has yet encountered. Women have ceased to exist as a subsidiary class in the community. They are no longer wholly dependent, economically, intellectually, and spiritually, on a ruling class of men. They look on life with the eyes of reasoning adults, where once they regarded it as trusting children. Women now form a new social group, separate, and to a degree homogeneous. Already they have evolved a group opinion and a group ideal.
And this brings me to my reason for believing that society will soon be compelled to make a serious survey of the opinions and ideals of women. As far as these have found collective expressions, it is evident that they differ very radically from accepted opinions and ideals of men. As a matter of fact, it is inevitable that this should be so. Back of the differences between the masculine and the feminine ideal lie centuries of different habits, different duties, different ambitions, different opportunities, different rewards.
I shall not here attempt to outline what the differences have been or why they have existed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in Women and Economics, did this before me,—did it so well that it need never be done again. I merely wish to point out that different habits of action necessarily result, after long centuries, in different habits of thought. Men, accustomed to habits of strife, pursuit of material gains, immediate and tangible rewards, have come to believe that strife is not only inevitable but desirable; that material gain and visible reward are alone worth coveting. In this commercial age strife means business competition, reward means money. Man, in the aggregate, thinks in terms of money profit and money loss, and try as he will, he cannot yet think in any other terms.
I have in mind a certain rich young man, who, when he is not superintending the work of his cotton mills in Virginia, is giving his time to settlement work in the city of Washington. The rich young man is devoted to the settlement. One day he confided to a guest of the house, a social worker of note, that he wished he might dedicate his entire life to philanthropy.
"There is much about a commercial career that is depressing to a sympathetic nature," he declared. "For example, it constantly depresses me to observe the effect of the cotton mills on the girls in my employ. They come in from the country, fresh, blooming, and eager to work. Within a few months perhaps they are pale, anaemic, listless. Not infrequently a young girl contracts tuberculosis and dies before one realizes that she is ill. It wrings the heart to see it."
"I suspect," said the visitor, "that there is something wrong with your mills. Are you sure that they are sufficiently well ventilated?"
"They are as well ventilated as we can have them," said the rich young man. "Of course we cannot keep the windows open."
"Why not?" persisted the visitor.
"Because in our mills we spin both black and white yarn, and if the windows were kept open the lint from the black yarn would blow on the white yarn and ruin it."
A quick vision rose before the visitor's consciousness, of a mill room, noisy with clacking machinery, reeking with the mingled odors of perspiration and warm oil, obscure with flying cotton flakes which covered the forms of the workers like snow and choked in their throats like desert sand.
"But," she exclaimed, "you can have two rooms, one for the white yarn and the other for the black."
The rich young man shook his head with the air of one who goes away exceedingly sorrowful.
"No," he replied, "we can't. The business won't stand it."
This story presents in miniature the social attitude of the majority of men. They cannot be held entirely responsible. Their minds automatically function just that way. They have high and generous impulses, their hearts are susceptible to tenderest pity, they often possess the vision of brotherhood and human kinship, but habit, long habit, always intervenes in time to save the business from loss of a few dollars profit.
Three years ago Chicago was on the eve of one of its periodical "vice crusades," of which more later. Sensational stories had been published in several newspapers, to the effect that no fewer than five thousand Jewish girls were leading lives of shame in the city, a statement which was received with horror by the Jewish population of Chicago. A meeting of wealthy and influential men and women was called in the law library of a well known jurist and philanthropist. Representatives from various social settlements in Jewish quarters of the town were invited, and it was as a guest of one of these settlements that I was privileged to be present.
Eloquent addresses were made and an elaborate plan for investigation and relief was outlined. Finally it came to a point where ways and means had to be considered. The presiding officer put this phase of the matter to the conference with smiling frankness. "You must realize, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "that we have entered upon an extensive and, I am afraid, a very expensive campaign."
At this a middle aged and notably dignified man arose and said with emotion trembling in his voice: "Mr. Chairman, and ladies and gentlemen of the conference, this surely is no time for us to think of economy of expenditure. If the daughters of Israel are losing their ancient dower of purity, the sons of Israel should be willing, nay, eager to ransom them at any cost. Permit me, as a privileged honor which I value highly, to offer, as a contribution towards the preliminary expenses of this campaign, my check for ten thousand dollars."
He sat down to that polite little murmur of applause which goes round the room, and I whispered to the head resident of the settlement of which I was a guest, an inquiry as to the identity of the generous donor.
"That gentleman," she whispered in reply, "is one of the owners of a great mail order department store in Chicago." She sighed deeply, as she added: "During the first week of the panic that store discharged, without warning, five hundred girls."
These typical examples of the reasoning processes of men are offered without the slightest rancor. They had to be given in order that the woman's habit of thought might be explained with clearness.
Women, since society became an organized body, have been engaged in the rearing, as well as the bearing of children. They have made the home, they have cared for the sick, ministered to the aged, and given to the poor. The universal destiny of the mass of women trained them to feed and clothe, to invent, manufacture, build, repair, contrive, conserve, economize. They lived lives of constant service, within the narrow confines of a home. Their labor was given to those they loved, and the reward they looked for was purely a spiritual reward.
A thousand generations of service, unpaid, loving, intimate, must have left the strongest kind of a mental habit in its wake. Women, when they emerged from the seclusion of their homes and began to mingle in the world procession, when they were thrown on their own financial responsibility, found themselves willy nilly in the ranks of the producers, the wage earners; when the enlightenment of education was no longer denied them, when their responsibilities ceased to be entirely domestic and became somewhat social, when, in a word, women began to think, they naturally thought in human terms. They couldn't have thought otherwise if they had tried.
They might have learned, it is true. In certain circumstances women might have been persuaded to adopt the commercial habit of thought. But the circumstances were exactly propitious for the encouragement of the old-time woman habit of service. The modern thinking, planning, self-governing, educated woman came into a world which is losing faith in the commercial ideal, and is endeavoring to substitute in its place a social ideal. She came into a generation which is reaching passionate hands towards democracy. She became one with a nation which is weary of wars and hatreds, impatient with greed and privilege, sickened of poverty, disease, and social injustice. The modern, free-functioning woman accepted without the slightest difficulty these new ideals of democracy and social service. Where men could do little more than theorize in these matters, women were able easily and effectively to act.
I hope that I shall not be suspected of ascribing to women any ingrained or fundamental moral superiority to men. Women are not better than men. The mantle of moral superiority forced upon them as a substitute for intellectual equality they accepted, because they could not help themselves. They dropped it as soon as the substitute was no longer necessary.
That the mass of women are invariably found on the side of the new ideals is no evidence of their moral superiority to men; it is merely evidence of their intellectual youth.
Visitors from western cities and towns are often amazed, and vastly amused, to find in New York and other eastern cities little narrow-gauge street car lines, where gaunt horses haul the shabbiest of cars over the oldest and roughest of road beds. The Westerner declares that nowhere in the East does he find surface cars that equal in comfort and elegance the cars recently installed in his Michigan or Nebraska or Washington home town.
"Recently installed." There you have it.
The eastern city retains its horse cars and its out-of-date electric rolling stock because it has them, and because there are all sorts of difficulties in the way of replacing them. Old franchises have to expire or otherwise be got rid of; corporations have to be coaxed or coerced; greed and corruption often have to be overcome; huge sums of money have to be appropriated; a whole machinery of municipal government has to be set in motion before the old and established city can change its traction system.
The new western town goes on foot until it attains to a certain size and a sufficient prosperity. Then it installs electric railways, and of course it purchases the newest and most modern of the available models.
New social ideals are difficult for men to acquire in a practical way because their minds are filled with old traditions, inherited memories, outworn theories of law, government, and social control. They cannot get rid of these at once. They have used them so long, have found them so convenient, so satisfactory, that even when you show them something admittedly better; they are able only partially to comprehend and to accept.
Women, on the other hand, have very few antiques to get rid of. Until recently their minds, scantily furnished with a few personal preferences and personal prejudices, were entirely bare of community ideals or any social theory. When they found themselves in need of a social theory it was only natural that they should choose the most modern, the most progressive, the most idealistic. They made their choice unconsciously, and they began the application of their new-found theory almost automatically. The machinery they employed was the long derided, misconceived, and unappreciated Women's Club.
FROM CULTURE CLUBS TO SOCIAL SERVICE
Unless you have lived in a live town in the Middle West—say in Michigan, or Indiana, or Nebraska—you cannot have a very adequate idea of how ugly, and dirty, and neglected, and disreputable a town can be when nobody loves it. The railway station is a long, low, rakish thing of boards, painted a muddy maroon color. Around it is a stretch of bare ground strewn with ashes. Beyond lies the main street, with some good business blocks,—a First National Bank in imposing granite, and a Masonic Temple in pressed brick. The high school occupies a treeless, grassless, windswept block by itself.
In the center of the residential section of the town is a big, unsightly, hummocky vacant place, vaguely known as the park—or the place where they are going to have a park, when the city gets around to it. At present it is a convenient spot wherein to dump tin cans, empty bottles, broken crockery, old shoes, and other residue. When the wind blows, in the spring and fall, a fine assortment of desiccated rubbish is wafted up and down, and into the neighbors' dooryards.
Everybody is busy in these live towns. Everybody is prosperous, and patriotic, and law-abiding, and respectable. The business of "getting on" absorbs the entire time and attention of the men. They "get on" so well, for the most part, that their wives have plenty of leisure on their hands, and the latter occupy a portion of their leisure by belonging to a club, organized for the study of the art of the Renaissance, Chinese religions before Confucius, or the mystery of Browning. The club meets every second Wednesday, and the members read papers, after which there is tea and a social hour. The papers vary in degree alone, as the writer happens to be a skimmer, a wader, or a deep-sea diver in standard editions of the encyclopedias. The social hour, however, occasionally develops in a direction quite away from the realms of pure culture.
Such a town, with such a woman's club, was Lake City, Minnesota, a few years ago. Lake City had a busy and a prosperous male population, a woman's club bent on intellectual uplift, and a place where there was going to be a park. One windy second Wednesday the club members arrived with their eyes full of dust, soot on their white gloves, and indignation in their hearts. When tea and the social hour came around culture went by the board and the conversation turned to the perfectly disgraceful way in which the town's street cleaning was conducted.
"The streets are bad enough," said one member, "but, after all, one expects the streets to be dusty. What I object to is having a city dump-heap at my front door. Have any of you crossed my corner of the park since the snow melted?"
She drew a lively picture of a state of things gravely menacing to the health of her neighborhood, and that of all the people whose homes faced the neglected square.
"Why doesn't somebody complain to the authorities?" she concluded. "Why don't we do something about it? The next time we meet we might at least adopt resolutions, or, better still, have a committee appointed. What do you think, Madam President?"
Madam President tapped her teaspoon on the edge of her empty cup. "I think," she said, "that we will come to order and do it now. Will you put what you have just suggested in the form of a motion?"
At the next meeting of the club the committee to investigate the park made its report. The club members began a lively canvass among real estate owners and business men, and before long an astonished city council found itself on its feet, receiving a deputation from the woman's club. The women came armed with a donation of fifteen hundred dollars cash, and a polite, but firm, demand that the money be used to clean up and plant the park.
The council replied that it had always intended to get around to that park, and would have done it long ago but for the fact that there was no park board in existence, and could not be one, because the Solons who drew up the city charter had forgotten to put in a provision for such a board.
The club held more meetings, and appointed more committees. One of these unearthed a State law which seemed to cover the case, and make a park board possible without the direct assistance of a city charter. The city attorney was visited, and somehow was coaxed, or argued, or bullied into giving a favorable opinion, after which the election of a park board followed as a matter of course. The town suddenly became interested in the park. The club women's fifteen hundred dollars was doubled by popular subscription, and the work of turning a town rubbish heap into a cool and shady garden spot was brief but durable.
You wouldn't know the Lake City of those years if you saw it to-day. They have an attractive railroad station, paved streets, cement sidewalks, public playgrounds for children, a high school set in a shaded square, and residence streets that look like parkways. And the woman's club was the parent of them all.
There is a theory which expresses itself somewhat obviously in the phrase: "Whatever all the women of the country want they will get." The theory is a convenient one, because it may be used to defer action on any suggested reform, and it is harmless because of the seeming impossibility of ascertaining what all the women of the country really want. The women of the United States and the women of all the world have discovered a means through which they may express their collective opinions and desires: organization, and more organization. Lake City is but one instance in a thousand.
When American women began, a generation ago, to form themselves into clubs, and later to join these clubs into state federations of clubs, and finally the state federations into a national body, they did not dream that they were going to express a collective opinion. Indeed, at that time not very many had opinions worth expressing. The immediate need of women's souls at the beginning of the club movement was for education; the higher education they missed by not going to college, and they formed their clubs with the sole object of self-culture.
The study period did not last very long. In fact it was doomed from the beginning, for it is not in the nature of women, or at least it is not in the habit of women, to do things for themselves alone. They have served for so many generations that they have learned to like serving better than anything else in the world, and they add service to the pursuit of culture, just as some of them add the important postscript to the unimportant letter.
Thus Dallas, Texas, had a women's club of the culture caste. One spring day, after the star member had read a paper on the "Lake Poets," and another member had rendered a Chopin etude on the piano, they began to talk about the stegomyia mosquito, and what a pity it was that the annual danger of contagion and death from the bite of that insect had to be faced all over again. Pools of water all over town, simply swarming with little wriggling things, soon to emerge as full-armed stegomyias, merely because the city authorities hadn't the money, or said they hadn't, to cover the pools with oil.
"Why, oil isn't very expensive," said one of the club women. "Let's buy a whole lot of it and do the work ourselves."
So the work of saving hundreds of lives every year was added to the study of "Lake Poets" and Chopin by the Women's Club of Dallas. The members mapped the city, laid it out in districts, organized their forces, bought oil and oil-cans and set forth. They visited the schools, got teachers and pupils interested, and secured their co-operation. The study of city sanitation was soon put into the school curriculum, and oiling pools of standing water in every quarter of the town is now a regular part of the school program in the upper grades. Every year the club women renew the agitation, and every year the school children go out with their teachers and cover the pools with oil.
That story could be paralleled in almost any city in the United States. Clubs everywhere organized for the intellectual advancement of the members, for the culture of music, art, and crafts, soon added to the original object a department of philanthropy, a department of public school decoration, a department of child labor, a department of civics. The day a women's club adopts civics as a side line to literature, that day it ceases to be a private association and becomes a public institution—and the public sometimes finds this out before the club suspects it.
An Eastern woman was visiting in San Francisco a short time before the fire. In the complication of three streets with names almost identical, she lost her way to the reception whither she was bound. The conductor on the last car she tried before going home was deeply sympathetic.
"'Tis a shame, ma'am, them streets," he declared. "I've always said there was no sense at all in havin' them named like that. A stranger is bound to go wrong. I'll tell you what you do, ma'am: you go straight to Mrs. Lovell White, she that bosses the women's clubs, you know, ma'am. You tell her about them streets, and she'll have 'em changed."
The conductor's simple faith in the Women's Club of San Francisco did not lack justification. In the intervals of studying Browning and antique art, the club found time to discover to San Francisco all sorts of things that the city wanted and needed without knowing that it did.
"We ought to have a flower market," pronounced the club.
"Nonsense," said the City Council. "Besides, where is the money to come from?"
"We'll establish the flower market and show you," returned the club.
They did. They found a centrally located square, the place where people would be likely to go for an early morning sale of potted plants and cut flowers. Prices are moderate in outdoor markets, and nothing else so stimulates in an entire community the gardening instinct, usually confined to a few individuals. The city authorities discovered that the flower market filled a long-felt want. So the city took the market over.
These activities were more or less local. Others, begun as local affairs, ultimately became national in scope. The movement which has resulted in a national program in favor of public playgrounds for children began as a women's club movement. For a dozen years before the Playgrounds Association of America came into existence, women's clubs all over the country had been establishing playgrounds, supporting them out of their club treasuries, and using every power of persuasion to educate boards of education and city councils in their favor.
Pittsburg affords a typical instance. In 1896 there was a Civic Club of Allegheny County, composed of women of the twin steel cities of Pittsburg and Allegheny. At the head of its Education Department there was a woman, Miss Beulah Kennard, who loved children; not beautifully clean, well behaved, curled and polished children, but just children. Children attracted Miss Kennard to such a degree that she couldn't bear the sight of them wallowing in the grime and soot of Pittsburg streets and alleys. Often she stopped in her walks to watch them, dodging wagons and automobiles; throwing stones, tossing balls, fighting, and shooting craps; stealing apples from push-carts, getting arrested and being dragged through the farce of a trial at law for the crime of playing.
"Those children," Miss Kennard told her club, "have got to have a decent place to play this summer." And the club agreed with her. The treasury yielded for a beginning the modest sum of one hundred and twenty-five dollars, and with this money the women fitted out one schoolyard, large enough for sixty children to play in. There was no trouble about getting the sixty together. They came, a noisy, joyous, turbulent, vacation set of children, and the anxious committee from the club looked at them in great trepidation of spirit and said to one another: "What on earth are we going to do with them, now that we've got them here?"
With hardly a ghost of precedent to guide them, the club undertook the work, and as women have had considerable experience in taking care of children at home, they soon discovered ways of taking care of them successfully in the playground.
The next summer the Civic Club invested six hundred dollars in playgrounds. Two schoolyards were fitted up in Pittsburg and two in Allegheny. After that, every summer, the work was extended. More money each year was voted, and additional playgrounds were established. In the summer of 1899, three years after the first experiment, Pittsburg children had nine playgrounds and Allegheny children had three, all gifts of the women. By another year the committee was handling thousands of dollars and managing an enterprise of considerable magnitude. Also their work was attracting the admiration of other club women, who asked for an opportunity to co-operate. In 1900 practically all the clubs of the two cities united, and formed a joint committee of the Women's Clubs of Pittsburg and vicinity to take charge of playgrounds.
All this time the work was entirely in the hands of the club women, who bought the apparatus, organized the games, employed the trained supervisors, and supplied from their own membership the volunteer workers, without whom the enterprise would have been a failure from the start. The Board of Education co-operated to the extent of lending schoolyards. Finally the Board of Education decided to vote an annual contribution of money.
In 1902 the city of Pittsburg woke up and gave the women fifteen hundred dollars, with which they established one more playground and a recreation park. The original one hundred and twenty-five dollars had now expanded to nearly eight thousand dollars, and Pittsburg and Allegheny children were not only playing in a dozen schoolyards, but they were attending vacation schools, under expert instructors in manual training, cooking, sewing, art-crafts. Several recreation centers, all-the-year-round playgrounds, have been added since then. For Pittsburg has adopted the women's point of view in the matter of playgrounds. This year the city voted fifty thousand, three hundred and fifty dollars, and the Board of Education appropriated ten thousand dollars for the vacation schools.
In Detroit it was the Twentieth Century Club that began the playground agitation. Mrs. Clara B. Arthur, some ten years ago, read a paper before the Department of Philanthropy and Reform, and following it the chairman of the meeting appointed a committee to consider the possibility of playgrounds for Detroit children. The committee visited the Board of Education, explained the need of playgrounds, and asked that the Board conduct one trial playground in a schoolyard, during the approaching vacation. The Board declined. The boards of education in most cities declined at first.
The club did not give up. It talked playgrounds to the other clubs, until all the organizations of women were interested. Within a year or two Detroit had a Council of Women, with a committee on playgrounds. The committee went to the Common Council this time and asked permission to erect a pavilion and establish a playground on a piece of city land. This was a great, bare, neglected spot, the site of an abandoned reservoir which had been of no use to anybody for twenty years. The place had the advantage of being in a very forlorn neighborhood where many children swarmed.
The Common Council was mildly amused at the idea of putting public property to such an absurd, such an unheard-of use. A few of the men were indignant. One Germanic alderman exploded wrathfully: "Vot does vimmens know about poys' play?—No!" And that settled it.
The committee went to the Board of Education once more, this time with better success. They received permission to open and conduct, during the long vacation, one playground in a large schoolyard. For two summers the women maintained that playground, holding their faith against the opposition of the janitors, the jeers of the newspapers, and the constant hostility of tax-payers, who protested against the "ruin of school property." After two years the Board of Education took over the work. The mayor became personally interested, and the Common Council gracefully surrendered. They have plenty of playgrounds in Detroit now, the latest development being winter sports.
If the Germanic alderman who protested that "vimmins" did not know anything about boys' play was in office at the time, one wonders what his emotions were when the playgrounds committee first appeared before the Council and asked to have vacant lots flooded to give children skating ponds in winter. Of course the Council refused. Fire plugs were for water in case of fire, not for children's enjoyment. In fact there was a city ordinance forbidding the opening of a fire plug in winter, except to extinguish fire. It took two years of constant work on the part of the club women to remove that ordinance, but they did it, and the children of Detroit have their winter as well as their summer playgrounds.
In Philadelphia are fourteen splendid playgrounds and vacation schools, established in the beginning and maintained for many years by a civic club of women, the largest women's civic club in the country. The process of educating public opinion in their favor was slow, for it is difficult to make men see that the children of a modern city have different needs from the country or village children of a generation ago. Men remember their own boyhood, and scoff at the idea of organized and supervised play in a made playground. Women have no memories of the old swimming-hole. They simply see the conditions before them, and they instinctively know what must be done to meet them. The process of educating the others is slow, but this year in Philadelphia sixty public schoolyards were opened for public playgrounds, and the city appropriated five thousand dollars towards their maintenance. In a hundred cities East and West the women's clubs have been the original movers or have co-operated in the playground movement.
Out of this persistent work was born the Playground Association of America, an organization of men and women, which in the three years of its existence has established more than three hundred playgrounds for children. In Massachusetts they have secured a referendum providing that all cities of over ten thousand inhabitants shall vote upon the question of providing adequate playgrounds. The act provides that every city and town in the Commonwealth which accepts the act shall after July 1, 1910, provide and maintain at least one public playground, and at least one other playground for every additional twenty thousand inhabitants. Something like twenty-five cities in the State have accepted the playgrounds act. It is a good beginning. The slogan of the movement, "The boy without a playground is the father of the man without a job," has swept over the continent.
This surely is a not inconsiderable achievement for so humble an instrument as women's clubs. It is true that in most communities they have forgotten that the women's clubs ever had anything to do with the movement. The Playgrounds Association has not forgotten, however. Its president, Luther Halsey Gulick, of New York, declares that even now the work would languish if it lost the co-operation of the women's clubs.
The scope of woman's work for civic betterment is wider than the interests that directly affect children. How much the women attempt, how difficult they find their task, how much opposition they encounter, and how certain their success in the end, is indicated in a modest report of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Women's Civic Club. That report says in part:
"It is no longer necessary for us to continue, at our own cost, the practical experiment we began in street-cleaning, or to advocate the paving of a single principal street, as a test of the value of improved highways; nor is it necessary longer to strive for a pure water supply, a healthier sewerage system, or the construction of playgrounds. This work is now being done by the City Council, by the Board of Public Works, and by the Park Commission."
Not that the Harrisburg Women's Civic Club has gone out of business. It still keeps fairly busy with schoolhouse decoration, traveling libraries for factory employees, and inspecting the city dump.
In Birmingham, Alabama, the women's work has been recognized officially. The club Women have formed "block" clubs, composed of the women living in each block, and the mayor has invested them with powers of supervision, control of street cleaning, and disposal of waste and garbage. They really act as overseers, and can remove lazy and incompetent employees.
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has a ten-year-old Civic Club. The women have succeeded in getting objectionable billboards removed, public dumps removed from the town, in having all outside market stalls covered, and have secured ordinances forbidding spitting in public places, and against throwing litter into the streets.
Cranford, New Jersey, is one of a dozen small cities where the women's clubs hold regular town house-cleanings. One large town in the Middle West adopted a vigorous method of educating public opinion in favor of spring and fall municipal house-cleaning. The club women got a photographer and went the rounds of streets and alleys and private backyards. Wherever bad or neglected conditions were found the club sent a note to the owner of the property asking him to co-operate with its members in cleaning up and beautifying the town. Where no attention was paid to the notes, the photographs were posted conspicuously in the club's public exhibit.
If the California women saved the big tree grove, the New Jersey women, by years of persistent work, saved the Palisades of the Hudson from destruction and inaugurated the movement to turn them into a public park. As for the Colorado club women, they saved the Cliff Dwellers' remains. You can no longer buy the pottery and other priceless relics of those prehistoric people in the curio-shops of Denver.
I am not attempting a catalogue; I am only giving a few crucial instances. The activities of women if they appeared only sporadically in Lake City, Dallas, San Francisco, and a dozen other cities, would not necessarily carry much weight. They would possess an interest purely local. But the club women of Lake City, Dallas, San Francisco, do not keep their interests local. Once a year they travel, hundreds of them, to a chosen city in the State, and there they hold a convention which lasts a week. And every second year the club women of Minnesota and Texas and California, and every other State in the Union, to say nothing of Alaska, Porto Rico, and the Canal Zone, thousands of them, journey to a chosen center, and there they hold a convention which lasts a week. And at these state and national conventions the club women compare their work and criticise it, and confer on public questions, and decide which movements they shall promote. They summon experts in all lines of work to lecture and advise. Increasingly their work is national in its scope.
In round numbers, eight hundred thousand women are now enrolled in the clubs belonging to the General Federation of Women's Clubs, holding in common certain definite opinions, and working harmoniously towards certain definite social ends. Remember that these eight hundred thousand women are the educated, intelligent, socially powerful.
Long ago these eight hundred thousand women ceased to confine their studies to printed pages. They began to study life. Leaders developed, women of intellect and experience, who could foresee the immense power an organized womanhood might some time wield, and who had courage to direct the forces under them towards vital objects.
When, in 1904, Mrs. Sarah Platt Decker, of Denver, was elected President of the General Federation, she found a number of old-fashioned clubs still devoting themselves to Shakespeare and the classic writers. Mrs. Decker, a voter, a full citizen, and a public worker of prominence in her State, simply laughed the musty study clubs out of existence.
"Ladies," she said to the delegates at the biennial meeting of 1904, "Dante is dead. He died several centuries ago, and a great many things have happened since his time. Let us drop the study of his 'Inferno' and proceed in earnest to contemplate our own social order."
Mostly they took her advice. A few clubs still devote themselves to the pursuit of pure culture, a few others exist with little motive beyond congenial association. The great majority of women's clubs are organized for social service. A glance at their national program shows the modernity, the liberal character of organized women's ideals. The General Federation has twelve committees, among them being those on Industrial Conditions of Women and Children, Civil Service Reform, Forestry, Pure Food and Public Health, Education, Civics, Legislation, Arts and Crafts, and Household Economics. Every state federation has adopted, in the main, the same departments; and the individual clubs follow as many lines of the work as their strength warrants.
The contribution of the women's clubs to education has been enormous. There is hardly a State in the Union the public schools of which have not been beautified, inside and outside; hardly a State where kindergartens and manual training, domestic science, medical inspection, stamp savings banks, or other improvements have not been introduced by the clubs. In almost every case the clubs have purchased the equipment and paid the salaries until the boards of education and the school superintendents have been convinced of the value of the innovations. In the South, where opportunities for the higher education of women are restricted, the clubs support dozens of scholarships in colleges and institutes. Many western State federations, notable among which is that of Colorado, have strong committees on education which are active in the entire school system.
Thomas M. Balliett, Dean of Pedagogy in the New York University, paid a deserved tribute to the Massachusetts club women when he said:
In Massachusetts the various women's organizations have, within the past few years, made a study of schools and school conditions throughout the State with a thoroughness that has never been attempted before.
Dean Balliett says of women's clubs in general that the most important reform movements in elementary education within the past twenty years have been due, in large measure, to the efforts of organized women. And he is right.
The women's clubs have founded more libraries than Mr. Carnegie. Early in the movement the women began the circulation among the clubs of traveling reference libraries. Soon this work was extended, but the object of the libraries was diverted. Instead of collections of books on special subjects to assist the club women in their studies, the traveling cases were arranged in miscellaneous groups, and were sent to schools, to factories, to lonely farms, mining camps, lumber camps, and to isolated towns and villages.
Iowa now has more than twelve thousand volumes, half of them reference books, in circulation. Eighty-one permanent libraries have grown out of the traveling libraries in Iowa alone. After the traveling cases have been coming to a town for a year or two, people wake up and agree that they want a permanent place in which to read and study. Ohio has over a thousand libraries in circulation, having succeeded, a few years ago, in getting a substantial appropriation from the legislature to supplement their work. Western States—Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho—have supplied reading matter to ranches and mining camps for many years.
One interesting special library is circulated in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in behalf of the anti-tuberculosis movement. Something like forty of the best books on health, and on the prevention and cure of tuberculosis, are included. This library, with a pretty complete tuberculosis exhibit, is sent around, and is shown by the local clubs of each town. Usually the women try to have a mass-meeting, at which local health problems are discussed. The Health Department of the General Federation is working to establish these health libraries and exhibits in every State.
Not only in the United States, but in every civilized country, have women associated themselves together with the object of reforming what seems to them social chaos. In practically every civilized country in the world to-day there exists a Council of Women, a central organization to which clubs and societies of women with all sorts of opinions and objects send delegates. In the United States the council is made up of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and innumerable smaller organizations, like the National Congress of Mothers, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. More than a million and a half American women are affiliated.
Four hundred and twenty-six women's organizations belong to the council in Great Britain. In Switzerland the council has sixty-four allied societies; in Austria it has fifty; in the Netherlands it has thirty-five. Seventy-five thousand women belong to the French council. In all, the International Council of Women, to which all the councils send delegates, represents more than eight million women, in countries as far apart as Australia, Argentine, Iceland, Persia, South Africa, and every country in Europe. The council, indeed, has no formal organization in Russia, because organizations of every kind are illegal in Russia. But Russian women attend every meeting of the International Council. Turkish women sent word to the last meeting that they hoped soon to ask for admission. The President of the International Council of Women is the Countess of Aberdeen. Titled women in every European country belong to their councils. The Queen of Greece is president of the Greek council.
The object of this great world organization of women is to provide a common center for women of every country, race, creed, or party who are associating themselves together in altruistic work. Once every five years the International Council holds a great world congress of women.
What eight million of the most intelligent, the most thoughtful, the most altruistic women in the world believe, what they think the world needs, what they wish and desire for the good of humanity, must be of interest. It must count.
The International Council of Women discusses every important question presented, but makes no decision until the opinion of the delegates is practically unanimous. It commits itself to no opinion, lends itself to no movement, until the movement has passed the controversial stage.
Those who cling to the old notion that women are perpetually at war with one another will learn with astonishment that eight million women of all nationalities, religions, and temperaments are agreed on at least four questions. In the course of its twenty years of existence the International Council has agreed to support four movements: Peace and arbitration, social purity, removing legal disabilities of women, woman suffrage.
The American reader will be inclined to cavil at the last-mentioned object. Woman suffrage, it will be claimed, has not passed the controversial stage, even with women themselves. That is true in the United States and in England. It is true, in a sense, in most countries of the world. But in European countries not woman suffrage, but universal suffrage is being struggled for.
I had this explained to me in Russia, in the course of a conversation with Alexis Aladyn, the brilliant leader of the Social Democratic party. I said to him that I had been informed that the conservative reformers, as well as the radicals, included woman suffrage in their programs. Aladyn looked puzzled for a moment, and then he replied: "All parties desire universal suffrage. Naturally that includes women."
Finland at that time, 1906, had recently won its independence from the autocracy and was preparing for its first general election. Talking with one of the nineteen women returned to Parliament a few months later, I asked: "How did you Finnish women persuade the makers of the new constitution to give you the franchise?"
"Persuade?" she repeated; "we did not have to persuade them. There was simply no opposition. One of the demands made on the Russian Government was for universal suffrage."
The movement for universal suffrage, that is the movement for free government, with the consent of the governed, is considered by the International Council of Women to have passed the controversial stage.
The whole club movement, as a matter of fact, is a part of the great democratic movement which is sweeping over the whole world. Individual clubs may be exclusive, even aristocratic in their tendencies, but the large organization is absolutely democratic. If the President of the International Council is an English peeress, one of the vice-presidents is the wife of a German music teacher, and one of the secretaries is a self-supporting woman. The General Federation in the United States is made up of women of various stations in life, from millionaires' wives to factory girls.
The democracy of women's organizations was shown at the meeting in London a year ago of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, where delegates from twenty-one countries assembled. One of the great features of the meeting was a wonderful pageant of women's trades and professions. An immense procession of women, bearing banners and emblems of their work, marched through streets lined with spectators to Albert Hall, where the entire orchestra of this largest auditorium in the world was reserved for them. A published account of the pageant, after describing the delegations of teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists, artists, authors, house workers, factory women, stenographers, and others well known here, says:
Then the ranks opened, and down the long aisle came the chain makers who work at the forge, and the pit-brow women from the mines,—women whose faces have been blackened by smoke and coal dust until they can never be washed white.... To these women, the hardest workers in the land, were given the seats of honor, while behind them, gladly taking a subordinate place, were many women wearing gowns with scarlet and purple hoods, indicating their university degrees.
Every public movement—reform, philanthropic, sanitary, educational—now asks the co-operation of women's organizations. The United States Government asked the co-operation of the women's clubs to save the precarious Panama situation. At a moment when social discontent threatened literally to stop the building of the canal, the Department of Commerce and Labor employed Miss Helen Varick Boswell, of New York, to go to the Isthmus and organize the wives and daughters of Government employees into clubs. The Department knew that the clubs, once organized, would do the rest. Nor was it disappointed.
The Government asks the co-operation of women in its latest work of conserving natural resources. At the biennial of the Federation of Women's Clubs in 1906 Mr. Enos Mills delivered an address on forestry, a movement which was beginning to engage the attention of the clubs. Within an hour after he left the platform Mr. Mills had been engaged by a dozen state presidents to lecture to clubs and federations. As soon as it reached the Government that the women's clubs were paying fifty dollars a lecture to learn about forestry work, the Government arranged that the clubs should have the best authorities in the nation to lecture on forestry free of all expense.
But the Government is not alone in recognizing the power of women's organizations. If the Government approves their interest in public questions, vested interests are beginning to fear it. The president of the Manufacturers' Association, in his inaugural address, told his colleagues that their wives and daughters invited some very dangerous and revolutionary speakers to address their clubs. He warned them that the women were becoming too friendly toward reforms that the association frowned upon.
This is indeed true, and women display, in their new-found enthusiasm, a singularly obstinate spirit. All the legislatures south of the Mason and Dixon Line cannot make the Southern women believe that Southern prosperity is dependent upon young children laboring in mills. The women go on working for child labor and compulsory education laws, unconvinced by the arguments of the mill owners and the votes of the legislators. The highest court in the State of New York was powerless to persuade New York club women that the United States Constitution stands in the way of a law prohibiting the night work of women. The Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional, and many women at present are toiling at night. But the club women immediately began fighting for a new law.
The women of every State in the Union are able to work harmoniously together because they are unhampered with traditions of what the founders of the Republic intended,—the sacredness of state rights, or the protective paternalism of Wall Street. The gloriously illogical sincerity of women is concerned only about the thing itself.
I have left for future consideration women who having definite social theories have organized themselves for definite objects. This chapter has purposely been confined to the activities of average women—good wives and mothers, the eight hundred thousand American women whose collective opinion is expressed through the General Federation of Women's Clubs. For the most part they are mature in years, these club women. Their children are grown. Some are in college and some are married. I have heard more than one presiding officer at a State Federation meeting proudly announce from the platform that she had become a grandmother since the last convention.
The present president of the General Federation, Mrs. Philip N. Moore of St. Louis, Missouri, is a graduate of Vassar College, and served for a time as president of the National Society of Collegiate Alumnae. There are not wanting in the club movement many women who have taken college and university honors. Club women taken the country over, however, are not college products. If they had been, the club movement might have taken on a more cultural and a less practical form. As it was, the women formed their groups with the direct object of educating themselves and, being practical women used to work, they readily turned their new knowledge to practical ends. As quickly as they found out, through education, what their local communities needed they were filled with a generous desire to supply those needs. In reality they simply learned from books and study how to apply their housekeeping lore to municipal government and the public school system. Nine-tenths of the work they have undertaken relates to children, the school, and the home. Some of it seemed radical in the beginning, but none of it has failed, in the long run, to win the warmest approval of the people.
The eight million women who form the International Council of Women, and express the collective opinion of women the world over, are not exceptional types, although they may possess exceptional intelligence. They are merely good citizens, wives, and mothers. Their program contains nothing especially radical. And yet, what a revolution would the world witness were that program carried out? Peace and arbitration; social purity; public health; woman suffrage; removal of all legal disabilities of women. This last-named object is perhaps more revolutionary in its character than the others, because its fulfillment will disturb the basic theories on which the nations have established their different forms of government.
EUROPEAN WOMEN AND THE SALIC LAW
Several years ago a woman of wealth and social prominence in Kentucky, after pondering some time on the inferior position of women in the United States, wrote a book. In this volume the United States was compared most unfavorably with the countries of Europe, where the dignity and importance of women received some measure of recognition. Women, this author protested, enjoy a larger measure of political power in England than in America. In England and throughout Europe their social power is greater. If a man becomes lord mayor of an English city his wife becomes lady mayoress, and she shares all her husband's official honors. On the Continent women are often made honorary colonels of regiments, and take part with the men in military reviews. Women frequently hold high offices at court, acting as chamberlains, constables, and the like. The writer closed her last chapter with the announcement that she meant henceforth to make her home in England, where women had more than once occupied the throne as absolute monarch and constitutional ruler.
It is true that in some particulars American women do seem to be at a disadvantage with European women. With what looks like a higher regard for women's intelligence, England has bestowed upon them every measure of suffrage except the Parliamentary franchise. In England, throughout the Middle Ages, and even down to the present century, women held the office of sheriff of the county, clerk of the crown, high constable, chamberlain, and even champion at a coronation,—the champion being a picturesque figure who rides into the hall and flings his glove to the nobles, in defense of the king's crown.
In the royal pageants of European history behold the powerful figures of Maria Theresa, Catherine the Great, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, Mary of Scotland, Christina of Sweden, rulers in fact as well as in name; to say nothing of the long line of women regents in whose hands the state intrusted its affairs, during the minority of its kings. In the United States a woman candidate for mayor of a small town would be considered a joke.
These and other inconsistencies have puzzled many ardent upholders of American chivalry. In order to understand the position of women in the United States it is necessary to make a brief survey of the laws under which European women are governed, and the social theory on which their apparent advantages are based.
In the first place, the statement that in European countries a woman may succeed to the throne must be qualified. In three countries only, England, Spain, and Portugal, are women counted in the line of succession on terms approaching equality with men. In these three countries when a monarch dies leaving no sons his eldest daughter becomes the sovereign. If the ruling monarch die, leaving no children at all, the oldest daughter—failing sons—of the man who was in his lifetime in direct line of succession is given preference to male heirs more remote. Thus Queen Victoria succeeded William IV, she being the only child of the late king's deceased brother and heir, the Duke of Kent.
Similar laws govern the succession in Portugal and Spain, although dispute on this point has more than once caused civil war in Spain.
In Holland, Greece, Russia, Austria, and a few German states a woman may succeed to the throne, provided every single male heir to the crown is dead. Queen Wilhelmina became sovereign in Holland only because the House of Orange was extinct in the male line, and Holland lost, on account of the accession of Wilhelmina, the rich and important Duchy of Luxemburg.
Luxemburg, in common with the rest of Europe, except the countries described, lives under what is known as the Salic Law, according to which a woman may not, in any circumstances, become sovereign.
A word about this Salic Law is necessary, because the tradition of it permeates the whole atmosphere in which the women of Europe live, move, and have their legal and social being.
The Salic Law was the code of a barbarous people, so far extinct and forgotten that it is uncertain just what territory in ancient Gaul they occupied at the time the code was formulated. Later the Salian Franks, as the tribe was designated, built on the left bank of the Seine rude fortresses and a collection of wattled huts which became the ancestor of the present-day city of Paris.
The Salic Law was a complete code. It governed all matters, civil and military. It prescribed rules of war; it fixed the salaries of officials; it designated the exact amount of blood money the family of a slain man might collect from the family of the slayer; it regu lated conditions under which individuals might travel from one village to another; it governed matters of property transfer and inheritance.
The Salian Franks are dust; their might has perished, their annals are forgotten, their cities are leveled, their mightiest kings sleep in unmarked graves, their code has passed out of existence, almost indeed out of the memory of man,—all except one paragraph of one division of one law. The law related to inheritance of property; the special division distinguished between real and personal property, and the paragraph ruled that a woman might inherit movable property, but that she might not inherit land.
There was not a syllable in the law relating to the inheritance of a throne. Nevertheless, centuries after the last Salian king was laid in his barbarous grave a French prince successfully contested with an English prince the crown of France, his claim resting on that obscure paragraph in the Salic code. The Hundred Years' War was fought on this issue, and the final outcome of the war established the Salic Law permanently in France, and with more or less rigor in most of the European states.
At the time of the French Revolution, when the "Rights of Man" were being declared with so much fervor and enthusiasm, when the old laws were being revised in favor of greater freedom of the individual, the "Rights of Woman" were actually revised downward. Up to this time the application of the Salic Law was based on tradition and precedent. Now a special statute was enacted forever barring women from the sovereignty of France. "Founded on the pride of the French, who could not bear to be ruled by their own women folk," as the records are careful to state.
The interpretation of the Salic Law did more, a great deal more, than exclude women from the throne. It established the principle of the inherent inferiority of women. The system of laws erected on that principle were necessarily deeply tinged with contempt for women, and with fear lest their influence in any way might affect the conduct of state affairs. That explains why, at the present time, although in most European countries women are allowed to practice medicine, they are not allowed to practice law. Medicine may be as learned a profession, but it affects only human beings. The law, on the other hand, affects the state. A woman advocate, you can readily imagine, might so influence a court of justice that the laws of the land might suffer feminization. From the European point of view this would be most undesirable.
The apparently superior rights possessed by English women were also bestowed upon them by a vanished system of laws. They have descended from Feudalism, in which social order the person did not exist. The social order consisted of property alone, and the claims of property, that is to say, land, were paramount over the claims of the individual. Those historic women sheriffs of counties, clerks of crown, chamberlains, and high constables held their high offices because the offices were hereditary property in certain titled families, and they had to belong to the entail, even when a woman was in possession. The offices were purely titular. No English woman ever acted as high constable. No English woman ever attended a coronation as king's champion. The rights and duties of these offices were delegated to a male relative. Every once in a while, during the Middle Ages, some strong-minded lady of title demanded the right to administer her office in person, but she was always sternly put down by a rebuking House of Lords, sometimes even by the king's majesty himself.
In the same way the voting powers of the women of England are a result of hereditary privilege. Local affairs in England, until a very recent period, were administered through the parish, and the only persons qualified to vote were the property owners of the parish. It was really property interests and not people who voted. Those women who owned property, or who were administering property for their minor children, were entitled to vote, to serve on boards of guardians, and to dispense the Poor Laws. Out of their right of parish vote has grown their right of municipal franchise. It carries with it a property qualification, and the proposed Parliamentary franchise, for which the women of England are making such a magnificent fight, will also have a property qualification.
The real position, legal and social, which women in England and continental Europe have for centuries occupied, may be gauged from an examination of the feminist movement in a very enlightened country, say Germany. The laws of Germany were founded on the Corpus Juris of the Romans, a stern code which relegates women to the position of chattels. And chattels they have been in Germany, until very recent years, when through the intelligent persistence of strong women the chains have somewhat been loosened.
A generation ago, in 1865, to be exact, a group of women in Leipzig formed an association which they called the Allgemeinen Deutschen Frauenbund, which may be Anglicized into General Association of German Women. The stated objects of the association give a pretty clear idea of the position of women at that time. The women demanded as their rights, Education, the Right to Work, Free Choice of Profession. Nothing more, but these three demands were so revolutionary that all masculine Germany, and most of feminine Germany, uttered horrified protests. Needless to say nothing came of the women's demand.
After the Franco-Prussian War the center of the women's revolt naturally moved to the capital of the new empire, Berlin. From that city, during the years that followed, so much feminine unrest was radiated that in 1887 the German Woman Suffrage Association was formed, with the demand for absolute equality with men. Two remarkable women, Minna Cauer and Anita Augsberg, the latter unmarried and a doctor of laws, were the moving spirits in the first woman suffrage agitation, which has since extended throughout the empire until there is hardly a small town without its suffrage club.
Now the woman suffragist in Germany differs from the American suffragist in that she is always a member of a political party. She is a silent member to be sure, but she adheres to her party, because, through tradition or conviction, she believes in its policies. Usually the suffragist is a member of the Social Democratic Party, allied to the International Socialist Party. She is a suffragist because she is a Socialist, because woman suffrage, and, indeed, the full equalization of the laws governing men and women are a part of the Socialist platform in every country in the world. The woman member of the Social Democratic party is not working primarily for woman suffrage. She is working for a complete overturning of the present economic system, and she advocates universal adult suffrage as a means of bringing about the social and economic changes demanded by the Socialists.
These German Socialist women are often very advanced spirits, who hold university degrees, who have entered the professions, and are generally emancipated from strictly conventional lives. Others, in large numbers, belong to the intellectual proletarian classes. Their American prototypes are to be found in the Women's Trade Union League, described in a later chapter.
The other German suffragists are members of the radical, the moderate (we should say conservative), and the clerical parties. These women are middle class, average, intelligent wives and mothers. They correspond fairly well with the women of the General Federation of Clubs in the United States, and like the American club women they are affiliated with the International Council of Women. Locally they are working for the social reforms demanded by the first American suffrage convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. They are demanding the higher education, married women's property rights, free speech, and the right to choose a trade or profession. They are demanding other rights, from lack of which the American woman never suffered. The right to attend a political meeting was until recently denied to German women. Although they take a far keener and more intelligent interest in national and local politics than American women as a rule have ever taken, their presence at political meetings has but yesterday been sanctioned.
The civil responsibility of the father and mother in many European countries is barbarously unequal. If a marriage exists between the parents the father is the only parent recognized. He is sole guardian and authority. When divorce dissolves a marriage the rights of the father are generally paramount, even when he is the party accused.
On the other hand, if no marriage exists between the parents, if the child is what is called illegitimate, the mother is alone responsible for its maintenance. Not only is the father free from all responsibility, his status as a father is denied by law. Inquiry into the paternity of the child is in some countries forbidden. The unhappy mother may have documentary proof that she was betrayed under promise of marriage, but she is not allowed to produce her proof.
Under the French Code, the substance of which governs all Europe, it is distinctly a principle that the woman's honor is and ought to be of less value than a man's honor. Napoleon personally insisted on this principle, and more than once emphasized his belief that no importance should be attached to men's share in illegitimacy.
These and other degrading laws the European progressive women are trying to remove from the Codes. They have their origin in the belief in "The imprudence, the frailty, and the imbecility" of women, to quote from this Code Napoleon.
Whatever women's legal disabilities in the United States, their laws were never based on the principle that women were imprudent, frail, or imbecile. They placed women at a distinct disadvantage, it is true, but it was the disadvantage of the minor child and not of the inferior, the chattel, the property of man, as in Europe.
Laws in the United States were founded on the assumption that women stood in perpetual need of protection. The law makers carried this to the absurd extent of assuming that protection was all the right a woman needed or all she ought to claim. They even pretended that when a woman entered the complete protection of the married state she no longer stood in need of an identity apart from her husband. The working out of this theory in a democracy was far from ideal, as we shall see.
AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE COMMON LAW
A little girl sat in a corner of her father's law library watching, with wide, serious eyes, a scene the like of which was common enough a generation or two ago. The weeping old woman told a halting story of a dissipated son, a shrewish daughter-in-law, and a state of servitude on her own part,—a story pitifully sordid in its details. The farm had come to her from her father's estate. For forty years she had toiled side by side with her husband, getting a simple, but comfortable, living from the soil. Then the husband died. Under the will the son inherited the farm, and everything on it,—house, furniture, barns, cattle, tools. Even the money in the bank was his. A clause in the will provided that the son should give his mother a home during her lifetime.
So here she was, after a life of hard work and loving service, shorn of everything; a pauper, an unpaid servant in the house of another woman,—her son's wife. Was it true that the law took her home away from her,—the farm that descended to her from her father, the house she had lived in since childhood? Could nothing, nothing be done?
The aged judge shook his head, sadly. "You see, Mrs. Grant," he explained, "the farm has never really been yours since your marriage, for then it became by law your husband's property, precisely as if he had bought it. He had a right to leave it to whom he would. No doubt he did what he thought was for your good. I wish I could help you, but I cannot. The law is inexorable in these matters."
After the forlorn old woman had gone the lawyer's child went and stood by her father's chair. "Why couldn't you help her?" she asked. "Why do you let them take her home away from her?"
Judge Cady opened the sheep-bound book at his elbow and showed the little girl a paragraph. Turning the pages, he pointed out others for her to read. Spelling through the ponderous legal phraseology the little girl learned that a married woman had no existence, in the eyes of the law, apart from her husband. She could own no property; she could neither buy nor sell; she could not receive a gift, even from her own husband. She was, in fact, her husband's chattel. If he beat her she had no means of punishing, or even restraining him, unless, indeed, she could prove that her life was endangered. If she ran away from him the law forced her to return.
Paragraph after paragraph the child read through, and, unseen by her father, marked faintly with a pencil. So far as she was aware, father, and father's library of sheep-bound books, were the beginning and the end of the law, and to her mind the way to get rid of measures which took women's homes away from them was perfectly simple. That night when the house was quiet she stole downstairs, scissors in hand, determined to cut every one of those laws out of the book.
The young reformer was restrained, but only temporarily. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton she lived to do her part toward revising many of the laws under which women, in her day, suffered, and her successors, the organized women of the United States, are busy with their scissors, revising the rest.
Not alone in Russia, Germany, France, and England do the laws governing men and women need equalizing. In America, paradise of women, the generally accepted theory that women have "all the rights they want" does not stand the test of impartial examination.
In America some women have all the rights they want. Your wife and the wives of the men you associate with every day usually have all the rights they want, sometimes a few that they do not need at all. Is the house yours? The furniture yours? The motor yours? The income yours? Are the children yours? If you are the average fond American husband, you will return the proud answer: "No, indeed, they are ours."
This is quite as it should be, assuming that all wives are as tenderly cherished, and as well protected as the women who live on your block. For a whole big army of women there are often serious disadvantages connected with that word "ours."
In Boston there lived a family of McEwans,—a man, his wife, and several half-grown children. McEwan was not a very steady man. He drank sometimes, and his earning capacity was uncertain. Mrs. McEwan was an energetic, capable, intelligent woman, tolerant of her husband's failings, ambitious for her children. She took a large house, furnished it on the installment plan, and filled it with boarders. The boarders gave the family an income larger than they had ever possessed before, and McEwan's contributions fell off. He became an unpaying guest himself. All his earnings, he explained, were going into investments. The man was, in fact, speculating in mining stocks.
One day McEwan came home with a face of despair. His creditors, he told his wife, had descended on him, seized his business, and threatened to take possession of the boarding house.
"But it is mine," protested the woman, with spirit. "I bought every bit of furniture with the money my boarders paid me. Nobody can touch my property or my earnings to satisfy a claim on you. I am not liable for your debts."
One of the boarders was a lawyer, and to him that night she took the case. "A woman's earnings are her own in Massachusetts, are they not?" she demanded.
"You are what the law calls a free trader," replied the lawyer, "and whatever you earn is yours, certainly. That is—of course you are recorded at the city clerk's office?"
"Why no. Why should I be?"
"The law requires it. Otherwise this property, and even the money your boarders pay you, are liable to attachment for your husband's debts. Unless you make a specific declaration that you are in business for yourself, the law assumes that the business is your husband's."
"If I went to work for a salary, should I have to be recorded in order to keep my own money?" Mrs. McEwan was growing angry.
"No," replied the lawyer, "not if you were careful to keep your income and your husband's absolutely separate. If you both paid installments on a piano the piano would be your husband's, not yours. If you bought a house together, the house could be seized for his debts. Everything you buy with your money is yours. Everything you buy with money he gives you is his. Everything you buy together is his. You could not protect such property from your husband's creditors, or from his heirs."
Mrs. McEwan's case is mild, her wrongs faint beside those of a woman in Los Angeles, California. Her husband was a doctor, and she had been, before her marriage, a trained nurse. The young woman had saved several hundred dollars, and she put the money into a first payment on a pretty little cottage. During the first two or three years of the marriage the doctor's wife, from time to time, attended cases of illness, usually contributing her earnings toward the payment for the house or into furniture for the house. In all she paid about a thousand dollars, or something like one-third of the cost of the house. Then children came, and her earning days were over.
Unfortunately the domestic affairs of this household became disturbed. The doctor contracted a drug habit. He became irregular in his conduct and ended by running away with a dissolute woman. After he had gone his wife found that the house she lived in, and which she had helped to buy, had been sold, without her knowledge or consent. The transaction was perfectly legal. Community property, that is, property held jointly by husband and wife, is absolutely controlled by the husband in California. In that State community property may even be given away, without the wife's knowledge or consent.
It happened not many years ago that one of the most powerful millionaires in California, in a moment of generosity, conveyed to one of his sons a very valuable property. Some time afterwards the father and son quarreled, and the father attempted to get back his property. His plea in court was that his wife's consent to the transaction had never been sought; but the court ruled that since the property was owned in community, the wife's consent did not have to be obtained.
This particular woman happened to be rich enough to stand the experience of having a large slice of property given away without her knowledge, but the same law would have applied to the case of a woman who could not afford it at all.
It is in the case of women wage earners that these laws bear the peculiar asperity. Down in the cotton-mill districts of the South are scores of men who never, from one year to the next, do a stroke of work. They are supposed to be "weakly." Their wives and children work eleven hours a day (or night) and every pay day the men go to the mills and collect their wages. The money belongs to them under the law. Even if the women had the spirit to protest, the protest would be useless. The right of a man to collect and to spend his wife's earnings is protected in many States in the chivalric South. In Texas, for example, a husband is entitled to his wife's earnings even though he has deserted her.
I do not know that this occurs very often in Texas. Probably not, unless among low-class Negroes. In all likelihood if a Texas woman should appeal to her employer, and tell him that her husband had abandoned her, he would refuse to give the man her wages. Should the husband be in a position to invoke the law, he could claim his wife's earnings, nevertheless.
The Kentucky lady who chose England for her future home, had she known it, selected the country to which most American women owe their legal disabilities. American law, except in Louisiana and Florida, is founded on English common law, and English common law was developed at a period when men were of much greater importance in the state than women. The state was a military organization, and every man was a fighter, a king's defender. Women were valuable only because defenders of kings had to have mothers.
English common law provided that every married woman must be supported in as much comfort as her husband's estate warranted. The mothers of the nation must be fed, clothed, and sheltered. What more could they possibly ask? In return for permanent board and clothes, the woman was required to give her husband all of her property, real and personal. What use had she for property? Did she need it to support herself? In case of war and pillage could she defend it?
Husband and wife were one—and that one was the man. He was so much the one that the woman had literally no existence in the eyes of the law. She not only did not possess any property; she could possess none. Her husband could not give her any, because there could be no contract between a married pair. A contract implies at least two people, and husband and wife were one. The husband could, if he chose, establish a trusteeship, and thus give his wife the free use of her own. But you can easily imagine that he did not very often do it.
A man could, also, devise property to his wife by will. Often this was done, but too often the sons were made heirs, and the wife was left to what tender mercies they owned. If a man died intestate the wife merely shared with other heirs. She had no preference.
Under the old English common law, moreover, not only the property, but also the services of a married woman belonged to her husband. If he chose to rent out her services, or if she offered to work outside the home, it followed logically that her wages belonged to him. What use had she for wages?
On the other hand, every man was held responsible for the support of his wife. He was responsible for her debts, as long as they were the necessities of life. He was also responsible for her conduct. Being propertyless, she could not be held to account for wrongs committed. If she stole, or destroyed property, or injured the person of another, if she committed any kind of a misdemeanor in the presence of her husband, and that also meant if he were in her neighborhood at the time, the law held him responsible. He should have restrained her.
This was supposed to be a decided advantage to the woman. Whenever a rebellious woman or group of women voiced their objection to the system which robbed them of every shred of independence they were always reminded that the system at the same time relieved them of every shred of responsibility, even, to an extent, of moral responsibility. "So great a favorite," comments Blackstone, "is the female sex under the laws of England."
You may well imagine that, in these circumstances, husbands were interested that their wives should be very good. The law supported them by permitting "moderate correction." A married woman might be kept in what Blackstone calls "reasonable restraint" by her husband. But only with a stick no larger than his thumb.
The husbandly stick was never imported into the United States. Even the dour Puritans forbade its use. The very first modification of the English common law, in its application to American women, was made in 1650, when the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed that a husband beating his wife, or, for that matter, a wife beating her husband, should be fined ten pounds, or endure a public whipping.
The Pilgrim Fathers and the other early colonists in America brought with them the system of English common law under which they and their ancestors had for centuries been governed. From time to time, as conditions made them necessary, new laws were enacted and put into force. In all cases not specifically covered by these new laws, the old English common law was applied. It did not occur to any one that women would ever need special laws. The Pilgrim Fathers and their successors, the Puritans, simply assumed that here, as in the England they had left behind, woman's place was in the home, where she was protected, supported, and controlled.
But in the new world woman's place in the home assumed an importance much greater than it had formerly possessed. Labor was scarce, manufacturing and trading were undeveloped. Woman's special activities were urgently needed. Woman's hands helped to raise the roof-tree, her skill and industry, to a very large extent, furnished the house. She spun and wove, cured meat, dried corn, tanned skins, made shoes, dipped candles, and was, in a word, almost the only manufacturer in the country. But this did not raise her from her position as an inferior. Woman owned neither her tools nor her raw materials. These her husband provided. In consequence, husband and wife being one, that one, in America, as in England, was the husband.
This explanation is necessary in order to understand why the legal position of most American women to-day is that of inferiors, or, at best, of minor children.
It is necessary also, in order to understand why, except in matters of law, American women are treated with such extraordinary consideration and indulgence. As long as pioneer conditions lasted women were valuable because of the need of their labor, their special activities. Also, for a very long period, women were scarce, and they were highly prized not alone for their labor, but because their society was so desirable. In other words, pioneer conditions gave woman a better standing in the new world than she had in the old, and she was treated with an altogether new consideration and regard.
In England no one thought very badly of a man who was moderately abusive of his wife. In America, violence against women was, from the first, an unbearable idea. Laws protecting maid servants, dependent women, and, as we have seen, even wives, were very early enacted in New England.
But although woman was more dearly prized in the new country than in the old, no new legislation was made for her benefit. Her legal status, or rather her absence of legal status apart from her husband, remained exactly as it had been under the English common law.
No legislature in the United States has deliberately made laws placing women at a disadvantage with men. Whatever laws are unfair and oppressive to women have just happened—just grown up like weeds out of neglected soil.
Let me illustrate. No lawmaker in New Mexico ever introduced a bill into the legislature making men liable for their wives' torts or petty misdemeanors. Yet in New Mexico, at this very minute, a wife is so completely her husband's property that he is responsible for her behavior. If she should rob her neighbor's clothesline, or wreck a chicken yard, her unfortunate husband would have to stand trial. Simply because in New Mexico married women are still living under laws that were evolved in another civilization, long before New Mexico was dreamed of as a State.
Nowhere else in the United States are women allowed to shelter their weak moral natures behind the stern morality of their husbands, but in more than one State the husband's responsibility for his wife's acts is assumed. In Massachusetts, for one State, if a woman owned a saloon and sold beer on Sunday, she would be liable to arrest, and so also would her husband, provided he were in the house when the beer was sold. Both would probably be fined. Simply because it was once the law that a married woman had no separate existence apart from her husband, this absurd law, or others as absurd, remain on the statute books of almost every State in the Union.
The ascent of woman, which began with the abolishment of corporeal punishment of wives, proceeded very slowly. Most American women married, and most American wives were kindly treated. At least public opinion demanded that they be treated with kindness. Long before any other modification of her legal status was gained, a woman subjected to cruelty at the hands of her lawful spouse was at liberty to seek police protection.
The reason why police protection was so seldom sought is plain enough. Imagine a woman complaining of a husband who would be certain to beat her again for revenge, and to whom she was bound irrevocably by laws stronger even than the laws on the statute books. Remember that the only right she had was the right to be supported, and if she left her husband's house she left her only means of living. She could hardly support herself, for few avenues of industry were open to women. She was literally a pauper, and when there is nowhere else to lay his head, even the most miserable pauper thinks twice before he runs away from the poorhouse. Besides, the woman who left her husband had to give up her children. They too were the husband's property.
There were some women who hesitated before they consented to pauperize themselves by marrying. Widows were especially wary, if old stories are to be trusted. A story is told in the New York University Law School of a woman in Connecticut who took with her, as a part of her wedding outfit, a very handsome mahogany bureau, bequeathed her by her grandfather. After a few years of marriage the husband suddenly died, leaving no will. The home and all it contained were sold at auction. The widow was permitted to buy certain objects of furniture, and among them was her cherished bureau. Where the poor woman found the money with which to buy is not revealed. In time this woman married again, and again her husband died without a will. Again there was an auction, and again the widow purchased her beloved heirloom. It seems possible that this time she had saved money in anticipation of the necessity.
A little later, for she was still young and attractive, a suitor appeared, offering his heart and "all his worldly goods." "No, I thank you," replied the sorely tried creature, "I prefer to keep my bureau."
The first struggle made by women in their own behalf was against this condition of marital slavery. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lydia Maria Child, and others of that brave band of rebellious women, were active for years, addressing legislative committees in New York and Massachusetts, circulating petitions, writing to newspapers, agitating everywhere in favor of married women's property rights. Finally it began to dawn on the minds of men that there might be a certain public advantage, as well as private justice, attaching to separate ownership by married women of their own property.
In 1839 the Massachusetts State Legislature passed a cautious measure giving married women qualified property rights. It was not until 1848 that a really effective Married Women's Property Law was secured, by action of the New York State Assembly. The law served as a model in many of the new Western States just then framing their laws.
These New York legislators, and the Western legislators who first granted property rights to married women, were actuated less by a sense of justice towards women than by enlightened selfishness. The effect of so much freedom on women themselves was a matter for grave conjecture. It was not suggested by any of the American debaters, as it was later on the floors of the English Parliament, that women, if they controlled their own property, would undoubtedly squander it on men whom they preferred to their husbands. But it was prophesied that women once in possession of money would desert their husbands by regiments,—which speaks none too flatteringly of the husbands of that day.
Men of property stood for the Married Women's Property Act, because they perceived plainly that their own wealth, devised to daughters who could not control it, might easily be gambled away, or wasted through improvidence, or diverted to the use of strangers. In other words, they knew that their property, when daughters inherited it, became the property of their sons-in-law. They had no guarantee that their own grandchildren would ever have the use of it, unless it was controlled by their mothers.
It was the women's clubs and women's organizations in America, as it was the Women's Councils in Europe, that actively began the agitation against women's legal disabilities. The National Woman Suffrage Association, oldest of all women's organizations in the United States, has been calling attention to the unequal laws, and demanding their abolishment, for two generations.
Practically all of the state federations of women's clubs have legislative committees, and it is usually the business of these committees to codify the laws of their respective States which apply directly to women. In some cases a woman lawyer is made chairman, and the work is done under her direction. Sometimes, as in Texas, a well known and friendly man lawyer is retained for the task. Almost invariably the report of the legislative committee contains disagreeable surprises. American women have been so accustomed to their privileges that they have taken their rights for granted, and are usually astonished when they find how limited their rights actually are.