Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/Editor's Table
A PROFESSION FOR WOMEN.
THE crusade for the higher education of women that is now going on seems to have two chief impelling forces. One is the necessity for a growing number of the sex to provide for their own support; the second is the weariness of being idle that is afflicting another class of women. It is not necessary to point out here the reasons why women without male supporters are more numerous than formerly. They are mainly such as cause the deferment or abandonment of marriage by many men and women, through making family life less attractive and single life more satisfactory to both sexes. The same reasons, with others, operate to increase the number of wealthy women who have nothing to occupy them.
As a remedy for both these ills, collegiate education is being widely prescribed. This promises admission to lucrative professions to the bright women who must support themselves, and offers the degree of a men's college as the goal of their wealthy sisters' efforts. These remarks have been suggested by a recent volume in the International Education Series, on Higher Education of Women in Europe, by Helene Lange, which advocates the collegiate education idea, though in a notably reasonable and discriminating manner. But this way of treating the difficulty has serious defects. In the first place, it tends to increase the evil which it is expected to cure. The lack or deferment of suitable marriage is what is at the bottom of the whole matter, and the literary and professional education of women would make this lack greater. Independence of a husband's support would favor maiden life (though to the extent of preventing false marriage this is a good thing); so, too, would the absorption of women's interest and ambition in study or in a professional career. Moreover, women who have been occupied with books or business to the exclusion of learning how to make a home will not be very desirable as wives. Secondly, the proposed remedy would stimulate that undesirable trait, selfishness. It puts before a young woman the ideal of learning a profession for the benefit of self, of winning honors for self, of acquiring a high culture for self. It crowds out the opposite idea of fitting herself to co-operate with a husband for their joint benefit and that of their children, or the idea of using her leisure for the elevation of the race. Furthermore, anything that teaches men and women to live independently of each other lessens the respect that belongs to the family as an institution, and robs parenthood of the honor that it deserves.
Before reading thus far, our critics will be demanding what alternative remedy we have to offer for the ills whose existence we admitted at the outset. We would strike at the root of the difficulty, and remove the disturbing cause instead of accepting it as inevitable. Earlier and more numerous marriages should be the rule, and women can bring this about if they choose. Mothers should so rear their daughters that young men can afford to marry them. A young woman properly brought up would be healthy and strong enough to need few or no servants and little doctoring; she would be competent to manage a household; and would not have a fondness for extravagance that is like a second nature. "Women should discountenance the men who remain bachelors without good reason, and especially should shut out of good society those dissipated youths and wealthy rakes who are the deadliest enemies of the marriage relation. By these and similar means women can secure for most of their sex the most natural mode of support—that which belongs to a wife. For those women who do not lack means, but only an object on which to employ their energies, there is worthier occupation than acquiring culture for its own or rather their own sake. There are social and ethical questions, and other problems, whose solutions are demanded, and which can be best solved by women. There are affairs to be administered and abuses to be corrected for which woman's nature especially fits her; and there are other fields of labor, not hers exclusively, but which are imperfectly worked because left to man alone. As a shining example of women who have already seized upon such a chance for usefulness may be mentioned the Ladies' Health Protective Association in New York city, which is engaged in abating nuisances prejudicial to the public health. There might remain some women who could not be provided for in the ways just suggested, but they would be exceptions, and their wants could properly be met by exceptional methods.
There is a class of women to whom the counsel in this article will be very distasteful. The career of a wife and mother has little appreciation in their eyes. It is not enough appreciated by a large share of both sexes. But the remedy for this is in the women's own hands. If they would have an honorable profession, they have only to do a quality of work that is worthy of honor. Surgery was once a branch of the barber's trade, and certainly no more honored than house-work is to-day; but men have made a study of it, have given it a broad, scientific basis, invented instruments and processes to increase its efficiency, and arranged a systematic mode of learning its practice, with the result that the surgeon of to-day has one of the most honorable of professions. In a similar way dressmaking—which is a trade in the hands of women—has been made a profession in the hands of one man. The ordinary dressmaker gets little respect; Mr. Worth is held in high esteem, and the difference is that ho does work which compels esteem. The ordinary housewife and mother takes little pains to learn her business; she follows rule-of-thumb methods handed down from her great-grandmother, introducing no improved processes or appliances, and feeling no shame if her home is ill managed or her children ill trained. If women doubt that competent administration in the home would win the same esteem that is paid to the competent surgeon, or lawyer, or merchant, or college professor, they should recall the Roman matron, Cornelia, whose fame has already lasted for nearly a score of centuries. With her spirit the modern woman should say of her home, "This is my diploma"; and of her children, "These are my degrees."
SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION.
That civilizations have perished in the past is a commonplace of historical reflection. That all is not well in the latest of civilizations is a truth which earnest men are feeling more deeply from day to day. Undoubtedly there are influences at work that tend to antagonize the true evolution of society. There probably never was a time when so many people felt themselves unsuited to their environment, when there was so much of unsatisfied' ambition or so much unsettlement of purpose. We have disengaged forces that sometimes threaten to be too strong for us. We have created in thousands of minds expectations which even the improved conditions of modern life are unable to satisfy. Men have been taught that two giants of unexampled strength are ready to do their bidding, one called Science and the other Legislation: with these the world is to be renovated. That there can be little renovation apart from renovation of individual character is a truth which, whether believed in or not, has been kept in the background. The discussion that has taken place regarding "General" Booth's scheme for the extinction of pauperism and degradation in London has made it clear that certain guiding principles of social reformation are seriously needed, and that, unless these are found and acted upon, our whole social system may suffer grievous injury.
The key-note, the watch-word of social reform, some say, is to be found in charity—that is to say, in the benevolent interest of man in his fellow-man. These would organize moral salvage corps, would visit the poor and degraded and try to heal and restore them by kind words, good advice, and pecuniary or other equivalent assistance. That, under favorable circumstances, something can be accomplished in this way we should be extremely sorry to deny. Many a man doubtless needs no more than some slight, kindly intervention to enable him to recover a wavering balance and betake himself with fresh courage to the battle of life; but whether wide-spread social diseases are to be successfully coped with by charity in any of its forms is still a question. Charity is the word of Religion, and a beautiful word it is, expressing fundamentally a beautiful idea; but it is not the word of Science: the word of Science is Justice. Are, then, charity and justice incompatible? Far from it; there is a charity that is just—that is no more and no less than justice—and there is a justice that is charitable in the highest sense. We shall attack our social problems successfully only when, leaving all sentiment and all unproved assumptions aside, we seriously ask ourselves as a community what we ought to do, what justice requires us to do. If justice demands what might be called charity, let us not call it charity or disguise it under any other specious name, but let us call it justice and nothing else. If it is pleasant to get good in the form and name of charity, far sweeter and far more strengthening and every way beneficial is it to get it in the form and name of justice. It is a misfortune that the word justice has been so often associated with the penal administration of the law, and that in this way it wears a severer aspect than properly belongs to it. The law should be a terror to evildoers and to none else; and we should accustom ourselves to think of justice as the most beneficent of divinities and the very palladium of our civilization. This it is, whether we so recognize it or not; only as we are in the main a nation of just men is our civilization secure.
To follow out in detail the applications of the principle of justice to our social miseries and weaknesses is beyond oar present purpose. So much, indeed, do people in general think of charity as a social remedy, and so little do they think of justice in that light, that it would not be surprising, were a change of policy from charity to justice decided on, if there should be a marked unreadiness and inaptitude for the practice of the new virtue. It might be found, moreover, to involve a great deal more than charity had ever appeared to involve. When a man is bestowing charity he may give little or much; as it is all a free gift, there is virtue, there is merit, there is room for self-commendation, however little he gives; but when he is dealing out justice the case is different: he must go to a certain line or he fails in justice and is open to condemnation. No wonder charity is the favorite virtue; but the more we compare the two the more we see that justice is the better for the soul. It does not flatter self-love, and it is more favorable to respect for our fellows.
Justice, we have said, is the word of science, and herein we see where science may powerfully help to strengthen the social fabric. On the one hand, science tends to produce social ferment by continually introducing new ideas and continually unsettling commercial arrangements in the various ways which Mr. D. A. Wells has so well pointed out. On the other hand, if science can be made to ever inculcate andthe idea of justice, it will do vastly more by that means to knit, than it possibly can in any other way to loosen, the bonds of society. Let us have science, then, in our schools; but let it not be a mere matter of experimenting with gases and acids, with air-pumps and electric machines, but let it be brought home as Nature's message to the hearts as well as to the minds of the young. Let it teach them justice; let it impress upon them that there is a right, that there is a true, that there are moral balances as well as chemical ones, that there are conditions of moral stability and instability just as of chemical or mechanical or electrical. The teacher who can not extract moral instruction ar.d inspiration out of physical science ought to leave it alone—whether he is fit to teach anything is a question. There are countless useful analogies to be drawn between the laws of matter and those of mind and of society. To mention but one that occurs to us at this moment, the law of the expansion of gases with diminishing pressure is an apt illustration of the expansion of human desires with enlarging scope, or, in other words, as external pressure diminishes. As in tho one case with every added volume tho elasticity becomes less, so too often in human life, the more desires are gratified, the less there is of that elasticity of spirits which made life seem worth living.
The law of natural selection, again, might be made to teach many most useful lessons. It shows in the first place that, as the world is constituted, it is a great privilege to live. Then, if life is to be maintained on a satisfactory footing, it must be by the exercise of prudence, of industry, and whatever other virtues make for individual success. The thought that so many lives are abortive, far from cultivating pride or selfishness, should add a certain tinge of solemnity to all one's thoughts of life. "In me," each of us may think, "that spark which struggled vainly to maintain itself in so many others has become a living flame. How shall I use the powers so mysteriously bestowed and on which in many ways such vast issues depend? Shall I make life, as I ought, a sacred thing, or shall I pass my days in idle frivolity or yet more idle gloom? Seeing that I possess the gift of life, shall I not strive to raise it to its highest value and its best expression?" If life is a struggle, it is a struggle not so much against living competitors—that is a view of which quite too much is made—as against antagonist influences chiefly in the way of ill-regulated desires; and the law of natural selection rightly expounded will teach us that, if we wish to survive, we must cultivate all the qualities that make for fitness, and repress those that tend to produce unfitness.