Oread/August 1895/The New Woman
THE NEW WOMAN.
Address Given by Mrs. Winona Branch Sawyer, Class of '71, at Reunion, June 5, 1895.
There is a prevailing impression that a new woman is abroad in the land. We no longer hear of the coming woman, for the new woman is here, and every one knows it. The questions at once arise, Who is she? What is she? Whence did she come? Why is she here?
The temptation is almost irresistible to draw on the imagination and lend some color to a picture which needs no exaggeration, so eagerly is that one listened to, who can tell something about her. Inquirers cannot go to the fountain head itself, for her essence is not centralized. There is no doubt however of her existence. She meets us on every page of literature. She peers at us out of the most grotesque caricatures. She is the target for every shaft of wit and sentiment. She is the spice of banquets and the text of sermons. In short she is the Alpha and Omega in the alphabet of human life. But though jeers and taunts and ridicule be done away with, the new woman is not thereby eliminated. Though distorted, misrepresented and antagonized in public, she is so absolute, so real, that whether desired or dreaded, she appears in as varied forms as a kaleidoscopic vision, an inciter to reform, a participant in municipal affairs, a factor in economics, as philanthropist, as daughter, sister, wife.
She is neither old nor young, she may be married or single, handsome or plain, wealthy or poor. She is independent in her choice of avocation, and punctilious in her thorough preparation for duty. She cares more for a preponderance of convolutions in her brain than embroidered ruffles on her garments or for the size of her sleeves. She arrogates to herself no supremacy, and desires to be rated only according to her merit. She does not look backward, gloating over her progress, but forward with courage for new acquisitions.
Masculine anxiety attributes many idiosyncrasies to the new woman without obtaining her endorsement as to facts. According to the testimony of one she is about to discard her time-honored draperies and adopt his ungraceful attire. Another harps upon her political aspirations, and her craving for the privilege of supplanting man in every sphere of life from a seat in Congress to the captaincy of a ball team. A third arraigns her for coveting contracts in public affairs, as the sale of bonds and cleaning streets, monopolizing the municipal housekeeping, and relegating men to home keeping and cradle king, and one even claims to have discovered in her possession a revised version of the pentateuch containing the declaration that Adam was the rib. Let humorists and caricaturists have their fun.
Let men jest and quibble as they may, this one fact remains, "Women are not as they used to be." A spirit like that which appeared at Runnymeade, which freed the slaves and manumitted serfs, which has overthrown despotisms and written constitutions, swept away class legislation and abolished caste, is abroad in the land. It is not a new force. Its essential element is the energy of individual life. Out of the widespread educational advantages offered to woman and accepted by her, has come the natural unrest and impatience of restraint, which is inseparable from a consciousness of power. It requires only a short mental review to appreciate how thoroughly and perfectly this country is organized for woman's work. Women are everywhere alert and active, aroused to every call and effort to help bring about an improved condition of affairs, intellectually, morally and politically. And the woman of this transition period, the leader in this revolt is the new woman.
A few months ago, a man sold his farm for $40,000. His wife refused to sign the deed, as her reason for the refusal she said, "I think I ought to be given something out of all this money." The attorney and her husband inquired how much she wanted. She replied, "I think I ought to have as much as $2." This pitiful sum was paid her, and she signed the deed. Her husband pocketed the $39,998 without a protest on her part.
It requires no word painting to emphasize the pathos of such an incident. There is much talk in these days about the "revolt of woman," and determined by incidents like this, it is time there were revolts. But revolt against whom? Rebellion against what authority? Insurrection against what power? What law gave this husband such authority over his wife, his equal in society and almost his equal as a citizen?
The unwritten law of her consent.
What power forged the shackles of her bondage?
That tyrant custom, which has "power to almost change the stamp of nature."
Who fixed the monetary value of her life's work at $2?
Liberty must be preceded by a consciousness of injustice and an intelligent revolt against it. It is not sufficient that there exists a consciousness of something wrong, a sensation of discomfort, a conviction of unfairness, the consciousness and sensation, and conviction must contain the active principle of an internal force sufficient to counteract external ills. The suffering must be acute enough to cause some effort to relieve the pain. One who fixes the recompense and requital for forty years of toil and responsibility at the paltry sum of $2, has suffered only $2 worth during those forty years. This fact does not exonerate the husband from one iota of culpability. She submitted for forty years to a servile life, and for forty years he permitted it. The moral is contained in the fact that she herself established the ratio of 2 to 39,998.
For forty years as wife and mother she had worked early and late, doing her share of the farm-work rearing children, nursing them through illness, rising first in the morning and being the last to seek her bed at night; had washed and ironed and scrubbed and sewed and mended, and as a compensation for all this, she asked as her share of the fortune which her economy and industry had helped create, $2.
It is true her husband had given her shelter, food and clothing, all of the necessaries and some of the comforts of life. Yet of their accumulated surplus, $40,000, she was satisfied with $2.
This request to sign a paper was probably the first time it had dawned upon her mind that she as an individual was a rational being, endowed with the power of free will. This was probably her first hint that the law gave her liberty to express her prejudices and preferences. Her husband had never asked her opinion, nor sought her permission in any of his transactions, and her own opinions were too puerile and undetermined to seek expression.
It is useless to argue that she was afraid of her husband; "duty hath no place for fear," "fear always springs from ignorance." That she knew nothing of the value of money she certainly knew much of that which is the equivalent of purchase money, viz., labor. That she was ignorant of her rights, privileges and power-—it is just that knowledge which makes a distinction between man and the brute creation.
"The lamb, thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy reason would he skip and play?
Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood."
This woman should be neither blamed nor censured for her ignorance. It was her misfortune not her fault. Her mother before her had doubtless given the example of patient, silent servitude, and her environments were bounded by the same horizon. She knew no other world. There might have been concealed under the mark of stolid obedience, some sparks of rebellion or despair, but who sounds an alarm for a smouldering fire which shows neither smoke nor flame.
This incident is an extreme case, it is to be hoped without a duplicate, but it illustrates the type of servitude against which the new woman is inaugurating a revolt.
At the present time there is no occasion for revolt against legislation. Women can do and accomplish what they choose to do, and all for which they fit themselves. No laws are actually enforced which work any hardships to woman since property laws and those affecting domestic relations have been modified. The new woman asks no special or class legislation, nor has she occasion to revolt against industrial, educational or social conditions. Every avocation and profession is now open to her. She must submit to the same laws of competition. supply and demand as man. She must travel through the same cycles of evolution that he has traversed. She must specialize and sacrifice just as he has done, and in a few years discrimination in the labor market will be determined exclusively by ability and fitness. She now shares in schools and universities the advantages offered to man in the lines of advanced education. Man is eager to accord to her a deep and lasting respect for the faithful discharge of responsibilities. She asserts an authority which he does not dispute in the sphere called home. She is infinitely helpful, as an instructor by her enlarged education which he does not grudge, and when she raps at the door of professions and avocations, he does not withhold congratulations. Yet with all the advantages of legislation, education and avocation there is still something lacking.
There is in womankind, an inertia, a matter-of-course submission, born of established usages and unwritten laws for which the new woman seeks a counteracting force.
There are women, and not a few, who believe that universal suffrage will accomplish this purpose. That in the folds of the ballot is concealed a talisman having power to work transmutations, to impart life to indifference and inactivity.
Another portion, no less in numbers, fail to accredit such potency to the ballot. A mustard plaster even of as ample dimensions as an Australian ballot will not raise a loaf of bread, not even if applied at a ratio of 16 to 1. The admixture of a very small quantity of yeast, will in a few hours leaven the whole lump. No one believes the ballot will deter woman from rising, but many doubt the drastic power of outward applications, without an internal vitalizing impulse. To them there is something repugnant in soliciting credentials, asking rights, claiming suffrage and demanding admittance. They hope to accomplish the same end in a different way, by working from within, developing latent powers, building even on slender foundations a broad true culture, so that woman will be invited to positions of trust, and offered rights so long withheld. The new woman has discovered that in the discontent of woman lies the impulse to overcome her inertia. Impelled by this in pulse she has inaugurated a tremendous revolt against unwritten laws, laws of customs, restrictions, environments, laws which neither say "thou shalt," nor "thou shalt not," laws which operate like a hypnotic trance, the subject being unconscious of individual ability or power, laws which cannot be corn piled in statute books any more than can the laws of influence.
This revolt implies no usurpation. Woman cannot fill man's place any better than man can fill woman's place. It is not even necessary for her to establish an ability to do the same kind of work that man has done.
The two distinct forces, the centripetal and centrifugal, acting together, produce a resultant which is described by a perfect circle. The predominance or usurpation of either force would annihilate the universe. Each supplements the other, performs what the other could not do—-each complements the other, supplies that, without which neither would be complete.
In seating a public hall, checks are sometimes duplicated. No such blunders occur in issuing of checks for our appointed spheres in life. Each is to fill a place which some one else is not filling, or which may be reserved by legitimate competition. Nor does this revolt imply a commotion and turmoil. The silent force of gravity moves more machinery than all the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions combined. So woman's fitness and ability is a surer force to persuade men to seek her will, than mandates and decrees.
This revolt is manifested in a widespread and unanimous desire, not for the agitation of woman's rights, not for the hastening of woman's suffrage, not for the adoption of dress reform, nor any other specialty but a universal desire for facilities for generating thought, methods for strengthening force, abilities to form opinions, opportunities for expressing opinions, glimpses of social, economic and ethical questions which exist within the broader horizon of man's life, development of faculties which would otherwise remain dormant, directing reading into useful channels, filling gaps and strengthening weak places in education.
The success and impetus of this craving for a larger life, broader culture and its influence upon woman has exceeded the most sanguine hopes.
Women to-day have many fold more responsibilities than their grandmothers, and I know the placid old ladies by the fireside, in snowy caps and sober garb, would second the motion to grant different and greater preparation to meet and discharge these increased responsibilities.
This desire is both the cause and the solution of the uprising, called Woman's Clubs. It has been gathering force for a long time. It has suddenly and spontaneously burst into bloom like a century plant. But the plant that has waited a hundred years for its life's fulfillment, is as truly a symbol of growth as the morning glory which expands its petals to greet the dawn, and that which is attained by the slower process of years is more lasting than the iridescent dream of a night.
Its growth was characterized by a quiescence like that of the chrysalis during the formative period of that life which, when sufficiently matured, bursts its cell and enters a new atmosphere, fresh, keen, and full of sunlight.
As sunlight kills many noxious germs, so the atmosphere of this club-life destroys the germs of ignorance, narrowness, over-sensitiveness, lack of self-confidence, sentimentality; it disintegrates cliques and classes, it melts the cold reserve of formality, it thaws the ice of indifference, and prejudices pall into nothingness. It has been demanded by an inward force, and enthusiastic, womanly ambition, that womankind might be transferred into a broader life. That by utilizing the helpful agents of common aims, voluntary co-operation, and the strength of union, they might secure a better understanding of their duties.
Woman is not losing thereby her sweetness and gentleness, she is losing lines of anxiety and care from her face. In the glorious sunshine of a broader world, she forgets her wail of discontent to join the refrain, "Who labors alone wears the crown."
From the first, Women's Clubs have differed in aim and utility from those for men, to whom they signify a place for rest, ease or recreation; for women they imply a source of inspiration, a place for work. They make women better talkers, better listeners, better hostesses, better guests, better companions. better mothers. They make no one discontented, except in a noble way in which it is an honor to feel discontent. She whose mind is broadened by contact with the world, knows better how to keep the wheels of her domestic machinery oiled, than the woman who never goes outside the round of daily duties. She learns to manage her household with the same kind of business sagacity that her husband uses in his calling.
The club movement which is the new woman's exponent is a sign of progress, because it is an effort to satisfy wants. A savage, having nothing, is perfectly content so long as he wants nothing. The first step toward civilization is to create a want, and the effort made to satisfy that want is the measure of progress. The evidence of intellectual progress is not in the fact that a man has a library. but that he wants one. In the wonderful leveling down of barriers during the last few years, woman's horizon has marvelously expanded. There has been a prodigious multiplication of her wants and club activity measures her desire to supply those wants.
The club woman is a bee not a butterfly. The bee and the butterfly may bask in the same sunshine, may extract sweets from the same flower. One exists only the satisfaction or enjoyment of the present—-the other garners and carries home a surplus for future use. The woman who attends the club with no other motive than to while away a pleasant hour, only smells of a feast without eating of it. She who does not carry home some bit of information, some inspiration, some material to be incorporated into the tissues of home life, to beautify or to strengthen, loses a higher pleasure than entertainment.
Thousands of women will endorse the expression of that woman who declared, "This is the busiest world I ever lived in." With the multiplicity of duties which confront each one of us, obligations which "wait and will not go away, wait and will not be gainsaid," it is utterly impossible for any one to keep up with the whole busy world, with nations, rulers, statesmen, scientists, inventors and writers racing, rustling and jostling each other like the denizens of an ant-hill, and herein lies the secret of mutual help.
Turning from the past and present-—what of the future? Ignorance and narrowness being vanquished by the club scheme of the new woman, against what other sentiment shall revolt be instituted?
The new woman has announced that something ought to be done to eradicate the erroneous idea that the proper thing to do is to depreciate and minify the duties of home. Domestic life is a profession just as truly as medicine, journalism and law, and it is a profession which in truth requires a more liberal preparation than any other.
There are misfits in every profession, and home making is not an exception to the rule. We have heard of men proving a failure in the law who might have been excellent machinists, of others who stumbled into the pulpit, but might have served their fellow men better as professors, others have attempted to pound ideas into brains, but would have elicited more sparks from an anvil. There are too many homes whose comforts are dispensed from a hand-me-down counter, but it will be found that the home maker who is mistress of her profession, possesses an unlimited education, quite as much executive ability, judgment and discrimination as is needed in the so-called wage earning professions, and her holdings in these lines frequently rival the tenure of her husband.
The mother with her infantile disputants, must exercise as great aptness and discrimination as the judge on the bench. She requires as great fertility of resource and attention to details as the petitioner at the bar. In the oversight of procuring needed supplies and the manufacture of raw materials into food, clothing and comforts for the family, she exercises a greater versatility, superintends the working of a larger number of machinery, turns out an infinitely larger variety of products than any manufactory or laboratory in the world.
The head of a mammoth iron establishment admits that he knows comparatively nothing of fabrics, silk, linen, cotton and wool, he is not a connoisseur of china or furniture, he is not a judge of leather and its manufactured forms, he is not versed in the unwritten lore of food products; but the home maker must know something of all trades and professions, from hats to hams, from mirrors to carpet tacks, from laces to door mats, from pottery to pills and from edibles to bric-a-brac.
Besides this materialistic knowledge she is expected to know something of poetry, history, fiction, music and art; must be versed in the newest ideas of science, know more nostrums than the family doctor, answer theological questions which puzzle the preacher, and so on, ad infinitum. The only wonder is that one head can contain it all. The ludicrous experiences of the husband who exchanged places for one day with his wife is no impossibility.
It fails of recent confirmation simply because the husbands of to-day are too shrewd to be caught in such a trap.
Truly home making is a profession without a rival. All others dwindle into respectable "second best."
Because so much of this department of woman's work is "far from the maddening crowd," because her full returns are not immediate, because her books cannot be balanced until the generation which follows her has audited the accounts, because it is not so prominent as important, not so brilliant as inspiring, not so showy as divine; woman herself has permitted it to be called drudgery. The home maker has without protest permitted a $2 estimate of her profession, and let clerks, saleswomen, dressmakers, milliners and type-writers pocket the $39,998 worth of praise to which she has an equal right.
Let us hope that the present agitation of thought and the opportunity for getting a good square look at things as they really are, will teach home makers to place a fair estimate upon themselves.
Some other hobgoblins which the new woman seeks to expose to the light of reform (and correctly named hobgoblins, because as soon as confronted they vanish), are these, an over-sensitiveness, a lack of self-confidence, a sentimentality of feeling rather than reason, a preference to imitate rather than initiate.
These are legacies for which woman is not responsible for the inheritance, though she may be amenable for continued possession. If a man finds himself the possessor of a box of fleas, the bequest of an eccentric relative, he is not thereby compelled to keep and propagate them as heirlooms in the family.
She who has for ages lived in her home as a nun in a cloister, who has studied no translation of the world except the expurgated condition which custom and tradition has vouchsafed her, is in the renaissance of a new day, like a blind person suddenly restored to sight. He has no idea of perspective. He will put his hand on the window to touch the tree across the street; will shrink back lest the passing vehicles run over him; will hesitate to step over a crack in the floor. Woman has been so long accustomed to retirement, to avoiding criticism, to feeling her way, that it takes time for her to acquire confidence. She must encourage the culture of definite ideas, learn to focus thoughts and concentrate effort, not to expend ten pounds of flutter for each pound of result, nor drape a dollar's worth of words on a nickle idea.
The new woman has also found a screw loose in the machinery of social conditions. It is undeniable that men as a class prefer clinging, to independent women. The doll-like society girl has a dozen offers of marriage when her self-reliant sister has but one. May not this be equally true, that the majority of men recognize the fact, that the woman who has gained strength and breadth of character, who is no longer a child or plaything, demands of the man she would marry an equivalent in exchange, that he shall himself keep the law of conduct he lays down for her, that for her to be proud of him, he must first be proud of himself.
This we know to be true, that woman of strong individuality have made happy homes and served their families with great fidelity, while those of the vine-like type do not always make model house-keepers, nor raise the best behaved children.
We do not hear much of the "new man" but he is evolving side by side with the ." new woman" and it is the silent influence of the latter which gauges the standard and measures the progress of the former. Imperfect as he may be in his present condition, the new woman has no thought of undertaking his complete elimination from the scheme of creation. If he cannot keep up with her pace, he deserves to be left behind. But he will keep up—-and try to deserve her—-thus the best result of the new woman will be the new man. He will see as never before that home encircling a noble and excellent womanhood—-is the safeguard of a nation. However no one expects him to be as interesting a novelty as the "new woman."
Much has been said and written concerning the ideal woman. The new woman does not profess to be the ideal but she has an ideal.
Poets from the days of Homer have sung of beauty as the chief characteristic and charm of ideal woman.
It is quite comforting to the majority of women to know that physical beauty seems of little importance to the masculine mind of the present century. One connoisseur says she is like a rose. With the rose you can tell by every indication of its health, strength and beauty that it is from one of the finest strains of roses, and that all the conditions of its development have been as nearly perfect as they could be made. So with the ideal woman, one knows by every look and word and by the subtle charm of thought unexpressed, that she has developed as perfectly as the rose.
Another critic asserts that there is no definite ideal of womanhood. Our age is so generous it discards the Grecian measurements and symmetry between nose, forehead, mouth and chin. It matters not whether her hair be black, brown or auburn. She may permit it to hang loose or pile it up in a psyche knot. She may have the soft black eye of a gazelle or the squint of an Ellen Terry. Her ear and hand were better free from jewelry, she might compromise on a ring and necklace if she would let the ear go unmutilated, but it is indispensable that a soul adorn her face.
She must be a scholar, a thinker and a talker, possess eternal good humor and plenty of sense. A noted conversationalist decides that the ideal woman must possess the tact to keep conversation going about her, but must not herself be a great talker. She must never let those about her know all that she knows, but keep them in doubt as to her mental resources.
Some extol physical strength and courage, some have no leisure to discuss a theme so axiomatic as an ideal woman. Some fearlessly relegate her throne to the kitchen and the nursery and brand her as an intruder and tresspasser if she cross the limits of those domains, some generously accord her a place in affairs of state and municipal government, if she so desire, but for their own part think she is happier in the home, and the ideal woman must be the happiest woman.
Some aver that the ideal woman will exist only in an ideal society which condition of that state called the millennium, an altruria of which poets and reformers dream. That she would be out of place in the fierce competition of to-day, in the life and death struggle in which so few miserably succeed, and the masses patiently suffer.
A word artist paints as his ideal, not a statuesque Juno, not a voluptious Venus, not a sedate Minerva, not an unfettered Diana, but a home angel, crowned by a halo of motherhood. One man has found a living ideal, "twenty-two years ago I met her," he said. She was good-looking, not handsome, with a voice soothing and yet inspiring in its very tenderness. She was reserved, discreet, and fully capable of governing herself under all circumstances. Her mind was alert and bright, above all cruel jests, and fully appreciative of her home duties. She has cheerfully and willingly shared adversity and accepted prosperity. Her heart was always pure and free from selfishness, her love has been most loyal, her friendship unswerving. My ideal, perhaps is high, but she is a loving reality, and though the inevitable has changed her dark hair to beautiful silver gray, her other charming attributes remain and she is still my ideal, my wife!
The ideal of the new woman is a composite portrait which embodies the ideal of the rose, the aesthetic soul, the physical courage, the fearless sovereign, the symbol of happiness, the fireside queen, the home angel, the living flesh and blood companion.
Her ideal is not one who abnormally develops only one of the trinity of mind, heart and body. Not that one who dwells in the highest empyrean of intellect, who pities you that you have not read Ibsen and Dante and Browning, who laments lest you may never attain her lofty plane.
Not that one who is a devotee to charity and benevolence, who founds hospitals for four-footed animals and feathered bipeds, but has no leisure for children, nor kind words for those in the humbler walks of life, not that one who is an extremist in physical development, who drapes herself in garments fearfully and wonderfully made, who bends and gyrates through 600 distinct exercises, invented for the development of 600 different muscles of the body. But she is the symmetrical woman who fearlessly and intelligently decides upon what she can best do, and does it, performing such duties becomingly and well, and enjoying the life which opens before her. She asserts no legal claim to a place for which she knows she has no equitable title. She transforms minute irritating duties of every-day life, into gems for her own coronet, even as the oyster converts grains of sand to shining pearls. She sees before her a large and beautiful career of trying to make it harder for peo-ple to do wrong and easier for them to do right. She is prepared to take her place in society wherever her influence can help brighten the lives of those around her. She has an excellent recipe for happiness, to cultivate hopeful, cheerful spirits and enjoy things as they are.
Her idea of power is not a landscape illumined with gay uniforms of a vast standing army, but the wealth and power she covets is in the light from myriad happy homes all over the land. The real new woman, is not the creation of newspaper paragraphs and caricaturists, the embodiment of fads and foibles, but is so much like the sensible wives, mothers and daughters of the homes we have known and honored all our lives; that she is not always recognized because she preserves her womanhood. There is no radical change in her nature and never can be, by an awakened interest in the real things of the world, the problems as well as the beauties, she makes herself more indispensable, more reliable, more powerful. She brings her case before the tribunal of the public for adjudication. It is an action entitled, Sense vs. Folly--Reason vs. Prejudice—-Dolls vs. Brains.
Open wide every door of opportunity and development. And the woman who chooses the duties of wife and mother, the home maker, let her not demean her calling, and her sisters in other avocations, let them not like Niobe of old, enjoying the divinity of her life, deride with jingles of "pots and pans, cradles and tubs, butchers and bakers, maids and dress-makers," lest the punishment of Niobe fall on them.
Leaving to women the perfect freedom of choice and development in the sphere of duty will not result in domestic desolation.
So long as man is man, and woman woman, the old, old story will never go out of print. The throne of the fireside queen will not be vacant, and baby will be king. Romeos and Juliets will never die, the wife will be the loving and beloved companion, faithful unto death. And motherhood will ever be Cornelia and her Jewels.
The twentieth century with its cleaner purposes, its higher endeavor, its limitless opportunities welcomes the real new woman.