Woman's Profession Dishonored.
THE delicate constitution and failing health of young girls, the sickness and sufferings of mothers and housekeepers, the miserable quality of domestic service, the stinted wages of seamstresses, the despair of thousands who vainly strive for an honest living, and the awful increase of those who live by vice, are more and more pressing on public attention.
"What is the cause of all this? The chief cause is, that woman is not trained for her profession, while that profession is socially disgraced.
Women are not trained to be housekeepers, nor to be wives, nor to be mothers, nor to be nurses of young children, nor to be nurses of the sick, nor to be seamstresses, nor to be domestics.
And yet what trade or profession of men involves more difficult and complicated duties than that of a housekeeper? Where is skill and science more needed than in the selection, cooking, and economy of food? What wisdom and self-control are needed to perform all the duties of a wife! What can demand more practical science and skill than the care of infants and young children? What profession of man requires more knowledge and wisdom than the training of the human mind at its most impressible period? Where are science and skill more needed than in woman's post as nurse of the sick? And where is trained handicraft more important than in making, mending, and preserving the clothing of a family?
And yet where is the endowment and where is the institution that has for its aim the practical training of woman for any one of these departments of her sacred profession?
When parents are poor, the daughters are forced into considerable practical training for future duties, though many a mother toils to the loss of health that her daughters may have all their time for study and school.
In the more wealthy classes the young girl is subjected to a constant stimulus of the brain. involving certain debility of nerves and muscles. Books in the nursery — books in the parlor-books in the school-room surround her. Her body is deformed by pernicious dress, her stomach weakened by confectionery and bad food. She sleeps late in the morning, lives more by lamps and gas than sunlight, breathing bad air in close rooms or a crowded school. A round of scientific study and fashionable accomplishments alternate, while her ambition is stimulated to excel in any thing rather than her proper business.
School is succeeded by a round of pleasurable excitement till marriage is secured, and then — perhaps in one short year — the untrained novice is plunged into all the complicated duties of wife, mother, and housekeeper, aided only by domestics as ignorant and untrained as herself.
What would a watch-maker be called who should set up his son in the trade when he had never put together a watch, furnishing only journeymen and apprentices as ignorant as his son? If in addition to this the boy's right hand were paralyzed, he would be no more unfit for his business than are most young girls of the wealthy classes, when starting in their profession at marriage.
Then, on the other hand, women who do not marry, especially in the more wealthy class, have no profession or business, and are as ill-provided as men would be, were all their trades and professions ended, and nothing left but the desultory pursuits of most single women who do not earn their living. A few such can create some new sphere as authors, artists, or philanthropists. But the great majority live such aimless lives as men would do were all their professions ended.
Almost every method that can be devised to make woman's work vulgar, and disagreeable, and disgraceful has been employed, till now the word "lady" signifies a woman that never has done any of the proper work of a woman.
Dark and dirty kitchens, mean and filthy dress, ignorant and vulgar associates, inconvenient arrangements, poor utensils, hard and dirty work, and ignorant and unreasonable housekeepers — these are the attractions offered to young girls to tempt them to one of the most important departments of their future profession.
The care of infants and young children is made scarcely less repulsive and oppressive, and usually is given to the young or the ignorant. Thus the training of young children at the most impressive age, the providing of healthful food, and suitable clothing, and of most of home comforts are turned off to the vulgar and the ignorant. A woman of position and education who should attempt to earn her living in any of
767these departments of woman's proper business would be regarded with pity or disgust, and be rewarded only with penurious wages and social disgrace.
Meantime, while woman's proper business is thus disgraced and avoided, all the excitements of praise, honor, competition, and emolument are given to book-learning and accomplishments. The little girl who used to be rewarded at school for sewing neatly, and praised when she had made a whole shirt for her father, now is rewarded and praised only for geography, grammar, and arithmetic. The young woman in the next higher school goes on to geometry, algebra, and Latin, and winds up, if able to afford it, with French, music, and drawing. Twenty other branches are added to these, not one of them including any practical training for any one of woman's distinctive duties.
The result is, that in the wealthy classes a woman no more thinks of earning her living in her true and proper profession than her brothers do of securing theirs by burglary or piracy.
This feeling in the more wealthy classes descends to those less favored by fortune. Though forced by lack of means to some degree of training for woman's business, the daughters of respectable farmers and mechanics never look forward to earning a living in their proper business, except as the last and most disgraceful resort of poverty. They will go into hot and unhealthy shops and mills, and even into fields with men and boys, rather than to doing woman's work in a private family. Not that, take the year around, they can make so much more money, but to avoid the tyranny and social disgrace of living as a servant in kitchen, with all the discomforts connected with that position. Few except the negro and the poorer German and Irish will occupy the place which brings to respectable and educated women social disgrace and the petty tyranny of inexperienced and untrained housekeepers, who know neither how to perform their own duties nor how to teach incompetent helpers to perform theirs.
Of that great body of women who must earn their living, and yet can not find employment, nine-tenths of them would gain at least tolerable wages were they properly trained to any kind of woman's work. But those who have attempted to aid seamstresses say that all efforts fail because women are not taught either to cut and fit or even to do plain sewing properly. Neither are they trained for any other woman's work. Afraid of the disgrace of servitude, they throng to our great cities to perish in vice or on wages that will not keep soul and body together.
The following extract from Madame Demorest's Mirror of Fashion gives the views of a practical woman in a position that makes her a competent judge:
"It has been the great curse of American women that work — work for a living — was considered dishonorable, and only to be resorted to in cases of the direst necessity. Even then it must be cloaked and hooded, and disguised in all sorts of ways; and, if discovered, apologized for, as if a crime had been committed, instead of an honorable effort made to obtain a livelihood.
"It is this absurd prejudice against labor which makes girls eager to rush into matrimony with the first man who makes them an offer, be he who or what, he may, which precipitates them, without reflection or thought of consequences, into unions so unhappy that their whole afterlives are spent in unavailing repentance and remorse. It is this which fills our streets with the wretched daughters of shame, which desolates happy homes, and if it does not urge to crime, does to pitiful meanness, humiliating subterfuge, and constant effort to seem to be what they are not.
"Thus it happens that in no department of business can competent women be found to fulfill the duties as required. Only the extremest necessity will induce them, as we have said, to obtain employment, and then, ignorant though they may be, they imagine themselves conferring a favor, and expect wages that can only be paid to the most experienced persons.
"Any business by which a livelihood can be obtained requires industry and application, as well as some natural ability, before it can be mastered, but this is rarely thought of by girls or women who seek employment. They will apply for positions of the duties of which they are totally ignorant, vaguely supposing that they shall learn somehow, and quite satisfied if they succeed in getting their pay. Many young women, indeed, make a merit of never having been obliged to work; evidently supposing that the mistress of a large establishment will consider herself honored by the possibility of adding to her corps so distinguished a person, and offer increased pay in consequence.
"Feeling no respect for their calling, and determined to escape from it at the first opportunity, girls rarely acquire that proficiency which is only the result and reward of devotion to and honest pride in any profession.
"Where such cases occur, and of course they are to be found occasionally, they are sure of appreciation and substantial encouragement, especially if united to integrity of purpose.
"Take a large dress-making establishment, and imagine how much more profitable a dozen swift, competent, well-paid hands will be than twice the number of slow, ignorant, ill-paid ones, whose work has to be carefully prepared, and half taken out, and who can not be relied upon for any thing but their blunders."
The system of our public schools, especially in large towns and cities, is tending to the destruction of female health, as also to this degradation of woman's profession. A recent writer in a leading Boston paper thus describes what is true all over the nation:
"Our school system supposes that the human being from the age of five to fifteen has nothing to do but to acquire by memory the results of the study of the world for some hundred centuries. The system gives no fit place for physical exercise, for personal observation of nature, or for practical experience in the humblest details of human life. The girl, properly educated in the system of our public schools, when at the crown of its operation at the Normal Schools, has only one hour a week for herself. All the rest of her time is devoted to the studies of the school, and to the minimum of exercise by which life can be preserved through the school's ordeals.
"But we shall be told that some girls of the lower classes in our grammar-schools are taught a little sewing in spite of a system which deifies memory. We are aware that a pretended concession to good sense is made in this direction by the employment of a few teachers for a few hours a week. We are aware also, however, that the experiment, as it is always called, is frowned on as grossly exceptional by nine out of ten of the authorities; that only the smallest girls avail themselves of it; that no material for work is provided, and that the results are indefinitely small. It answers as so much additional recess, for which we are duly thankful, and for little or nothing more.
"We shall be told again that, when the hours of school are over, study is over; that, in the girls schools, the rules forbid study at home. To which we reply, that we
768never meet a company of school girls in the streets but they are lugging more school books than ought to answer the whole purpose of their school-training; and that every head of a family knows that the school regulation must be systematically disobeyed.
"It is evident that careful parents, who care more for the health of their children than for their laurels, more and more regularly attempt to withdraw them from the public schools.
"When do we find any skillful physician intrusting his daughters even to the best public schools? Yet there is virtually no choice. The private schools are worked at as high a pressure. Their teachers are intelligent enough to regret it, as are their fellow-laborers who work for the public, but that vitiated public sentiment or public indifference which mistakes book-learning for wisdom, drives them up to the overwork which, with very few exceptions, is the vice of our whole system.
"On the other hand, we constantly hear of children withdrawn where the direction of the physician is the reason assigned. The strain on the whole system is so severe, just at the period of life when the physical functions should be gaining strength, that a medal or a diploma is rightly considered poor pay for epilepsy, for dyspepsia, for typhoid fever, or for pulmonary disease.
"The boys, as has been intimated, take this thing a good deal into their own hands. But girls can not go into water, can not play cricket on the Common, can not form drill clubs; and yet, though the earlier development of women makes it specially necessary that we should relieve them earlier than boys from school, by a sort of fatality we pile upon them a mass of additional sciences which the boys by some good fortune escape from. At fourteen most of the boys throw the whole thing up. Their wages are worth something to their parents, or they themselves decline to have any thing more to do with the schools. Some years are left them, therefore, to renew or to create physical vigor before the age of growth is over.
"The girls at the same age are at the most critical period of life. The body is growing most rapidly; its functions are undergoing the most critical changes; its organs are adapting themselves to the necessities of womanhood; and yet at that precise period it is that we say that the rest of the body may look out for itself, but that what we care for is brain, and nothing but brain. The blood shall feed the brain with such nutrition as it can give, and all the rest of the system may go. Still we will not give appetite enough to endow the blood tolerably; for we will not give air or exercise enough to create a healthy appetite. We will have girls who can explain to us the binomial theorem: who can tell us how many metaphors there are in the Bugle Song, and how many metacarpal bones they have. If they can do this it is no matter, we say, whether their metacarpal bones can sustain the weight of a pail of water, or whether they themselves are ever fresh enough or free enough to have written for themselves a Bugle Song.
"Now this becomes a serious matter when, as a generation passes, we find that half our young men are exempt from bearing arms by physical weakness, and that half our young women, in what was once the prime of life, are confirmed invalids. It is a serious matter when, for the class which graduates this year at the Normal School, we find that there is another class, as large, of those who have dropped out by the way, unable to bear the high pressure of the Grammar schools and of the Normal. Such facts of themselves show that the practice is as disastrous as the system is absurd."
The results of boarding-schools, as they have been made known to the writer, would make a still more mournful impression. Especially so in those great brick establishments where one, two, and three hundred young girls, at the most critical period of life, are congregated to be put under the extremest intellectual excitement, without parental care to watch and regulate.
God made woman so that her health and comfort are best promoted by doing the work she is appointed to perform. The tending of children, the house-work of a family, duly combined with its sedentary pursuits, all tend to strengthen and develop those central muscles of the body that hold its most important organs in their place.
But most young girls grow up without those tonic exercises of the arms, chest, and trunk, either at home or at school. Instead of this, a weight of clothing that ought to be held by the shoulders encircles the lower part of the body, impeding action in the most important sustaining muscles, and debilitating also by the heat, drawing the blood from other portions. Then the central part of the body is compressed by tight dress pressing the central organs on to those below, bringing them into a condition similar to a finger when bound with a tight string, thus inflaming or debilitating all the lower organs. Then the brain is excited by constant intellectual stimulus, absorbing to itself and the nerves an over-exciting excess of nourishment, and robbing the muscles of their normal portion.
Deformed and weakened, the young girl is then sent to those great boarding establishments, where the muscles of the lower limbs and spine are overworked by the stairs of three and four stories; thus again drawing nutriment from the central organs. And when, under all this, the system begins to fail, then some scheme of Calisthenics comes, in many instances, to add to the mischief by unscientific and indiscriminate application. If most of those institutions were labeled aright, they would read, "Hospitals for the Destruction of Female Health."
If the public only knew all that medical men and women could narrate, especially those who conduct health establishments frequented by women and young girls, a cry of horror would go up more agonized than the wail over sons slaughtered on the battle-field. For while the sons are sacrificed for liberty and country in honorable martyrdom, the daughters are led as lambs to a more dreadful and disgraceful slaughter, or to a lingering fate far worse than death. The truth on this subject can not be spoken — can not be written — for it is too dreadful and disgraceful to be tolerated in expression.
The census tells us that before the war there were in Massachusetts 37,000 more women than men, in Connecticut 8000, in New Hampshire 7000, in New York 11,000. To these must be added the mournful multitudes of wives and betrothed maidens widowed by the war, and a large increase from this cause of the relative female population all over the nation.
What is to become of this multitude of women who can not have homes of their own, while it is disgraceful to do the healthful work that I should bring them as honored and well-paid helpers into the homes of others?
These questions are now assuming a shape in which the women of this nation will be called upon to take some practical action. There are plans being devised and discussed that aim to remedy the evils here set forth.