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- A Domestic Problem - 10/12 -


You sometimes see a woman, after hurrying through her forenoon's work, sink down entirely prostrated, too tired to speak a loud word, every nerve in her body quivering. The jar of a footfall upon the floor sets her "all a-tremble." As dinnertime approaches, you see that woman stepping briskly about the house, a light in her eye, a flush on her cheek, vivacity in her motions. She is "living on excitement;" "it is ambition which keeps her up." Her husband, coming in to his dinner, takes her briskness and vivacity as matters of course, regarding her, probably, as a woman who has nothing to do but to stay in the house all day. He has no more idea of the condition of that woman than her infant has.

There are thousands of husbands, who, if they knew, would lift the burden of at least the heaviest drudgery from their wives, thus giving them longer leases of life. But, as a rule, wives keep their bad feelings to themselves. They know that "a complaining woman" is a term of reproach. They are exhorted in newspaper after newspaper to "make home happy by cheerful looks and words." They wish to do so. With a laudable desire to save money, they spend themselves, and "get along" without help. It is truly a getting-along, not a living. Sometimes, however, they are obliged to mention their feebleness, or their ailments, as reasons for neglect of duty. It is astonishing how little importance, in many cases, the husband attaches to the facts thus stated. Apparently he considers ailments either as being natural to woman, or as afflictions sent upon her by the Lord. He seems to look upon her as a sort of machine, which is liable to run down, but which may easily be wound up by a little medicine, and set going again. If the medicine does not set her going again, he brings her pastor to pray for her; if she dies, he says, "The Lord hath taken her away." All this because he does not know. When husbands are enlightened on this important point, this solemn point, they will insist on less work for women. Less work implies more leisure, and with leisure comes time for culture.

Another step towards the immediate solution of our problem is, to establish the fact that woman stands on a level with man, and is neither an appendage nor a "relict." Relict, it is true, only means that which is left; still we do not hear James Smith called the "relict" of Hannah Smith. Standing on the same level does not imply a likeness, but simply a natural equality,--equality, for instance, in matters of conscience, judgment, and opinion. It is often said, that, as a barbarous race progresses toward civilization, its women are brought nearer and nearer to an equality with its men. Thus in the barbaric stage woman is an appendage to man, existing solely for his pleasure and convenience. She is then at her lowest. As civilization progresses, she rises gradually nearer an equality with man.

When she is all the way up, when her individuality is recognized as man's is recognized, then civilization, in this respect, will have done its perfect work. Woman among us is almost all the way up, but not quite. She is still considered, and considers herself, a little bit inferior by nature. We see at once how this bears upon our question. Just so much as woman is considered inferior, just so much less importance is attached to the nature of her occupations and acquirements. It is all right enough that an inferior being should devote herself to follies, or to drudgeries, or to catering to fastidious appetites. These duties are on a level with her capacities; for these she was created, and for these culture is unneeded. When civilization shall have finished its work, so far as to bring woman up to her true position of equality with man,--equality in matters of conscience, judgment, opinion, and privileges,--then will man be able to put off from his shoulders the responsibility of deciding what is, and what is not, proper for her to do. He has carried double weight long and uncomplainingly, and should in justice to himself be relieved. Equals need not decide for equals. Woman will take up the burden he throws off, and decide for herself. We must proceed cautiously here, for there are lions in the path. Being free to choose, she may choose to take interest in such kinds of public affairs as have a bearing on her special duty. We are interested in this, remember, because whatever affects her special duty affects the solution of our problem.

Now let us ask, under our breaths, what are public affairs? The public consists of individuals. If there were no individuals there would be no public. Public affairs, then, are only individual's affairs, managed collectively, because that is the most convenient way of managing them. Their good or bad management affects the comfort of men, women, and children. Let us ask, why, simply by being christened "public affairs," should they be turned into a great, horrid bugaboo, too dangerous for women even to think of? Schools are a part of public affairs, and one would suppose it to be a part of woman's vocation to ascertain what is the influence of these schools on the children she is bringing up; to learn whether they are working with her or against her. Cases might arise concerning choice of teachers, hours of study, kinds of study, ventilation, and so forth, in which it would be her duty, as a child-trainer, to express an opinion: like the following one, for instance, which comes to us in the newspapers, as "criminal negligence in the affairs at the Mount Pleasant Schoolhouse, by which about a dozen children have died of disease, others passed through severe sickness, and not a few, including teachers, made temporary invalids, or infected with boils or scrofulous sores, caused by breathing the polluted air that has infested the building from neglected earth-closets. The Board of Health officially announced that this was the cause of the sickness, and recommended the removal of the earth-closets. The janitor of the building, it seems, is incompetent, and holds his place only because he is also a member of the School Board; which suggests the query whether men unfit for janitors are usually placed on the Nashua School Committee.... Five of the lads who died were among the brightest scholars in the public schools. The building has not yet been properly renovated."

Shall woman's sons be thus destroyed, and woman be powerless to interfere?

In urgent cases like this, it might become the duty of the mother to express her opinion by dropping a slip of paper with a name written on it into a hat or a box. It would even be possible to conceive of emergencies in which these slips of paper would so affect some vital issue,--as, for instance, the choice or removal of the janitor who will furnish the air for her children to breathe,--that the father would stay with the children while the mother went out to thus express her opinion.

Then, indeed, would the climax be reached! Then would that state of things so long foretold have come to pass: the husband takes care of the children, while the wife goes out to vote! Then would the funny artist snatch up his pencil, and the funny editor his quill. It has always been a mystery to me where the laugh came in on this joke. True, it is not his calling; but what is there so very incongruous in a father's "taking care" of his own children? Fathers love their children, and will toil night and day for them, even for the very small ones. Is there any thing ridiculous, then, in their taking them in their arms, and overlooking their childish sports? A man may take a lamb in his arms without losing an iota of his dignity, and without being caricatured in any one of our weeklies. It is quite time that these precious little human lambs ceased to be the subjects of scoffs and sneers.

But we must pass on from this part of our subject, and glance at one or two other ways of immediate escape from the present unsatisfactory state of things. See how quickly such escape might be made by a truly enlightened family. First, they hold counsel together, men and women, all desiring the same object. Question, How shall "mother" find time for culture? Say the male members, "Mother's work must be lessened,--must be: there is a necessity in the case."--"But how?"--"Well, investigate. Begin with the cooking. Let's see what we can do without." Three cheers for our side! When man begins to see what cooking he can do without, woman will begin to see her time for culture. Dinners are summoned to the bar, examined, and found guilty of too great variety and of too elaborate desserts. Sentence, less variety, and fruit for dessert instead of pies, or even pudding: exception filed here in favor of simple pudding when first course is scanty or lacking. Suppers summoned, tried, and found guilty of too great variety and too much richness; sentenced to omit pies for life, and admonished by judge not to cling too closely to work-compelling cake. The time thus rescued from the usurper, Cooking, is handed over to "mother," the true heir, to have, and to hold.

Or, suppose the question to be one of health. "'Mother' works too hard. She will wear herself out."--"She doesn't complain."--"That makes no difference. She must have help."--"Where is the money coming from to pay the help?"--"Make it; earn it; dig for it; do without something; give up something; sell something; live on bread and water. Is there any thing that will weigh in the balance against 'mother's' life? We shall feel grief when she is worn out; why not when she is wearing out? We would make sacrifices to bring her back; why not to keep her with us?" The truth is, that heretofore the wrong things have been counterbalanced. Placing simple food in one scale, and dainties in the other, of course the latter outweighs the former; but place "mother's" needs and "mother's" life in one scale, and dainties in the other, and then will the latter fly up out of sight, and never be heard from any more. Councils of this kind, we must remember, are not to become general until the requirements of "woman's mission" are generally understood, and until a great many men are made aware that a great many women are killing themselves by hard work and care, and until academic professors perceive that it is wiser to give a young woman the knowledge she will want to use than that which is given for custom's sake. But how is this general enlightenment to be effected? I don't know, unless the lecturer makes these subjects the theme of his lecture, or the poet the burden of his verse, or the minister the text of his discourse.--Not proper to be brought into the church? Why not? A great deal about heathen women is brought into the church. Are American women of less account than they? Does not the condition of our women call for missionary effort? True, American wives do not sacrifice themselves for their deceased husbands, but we have seen that they are sacrificed. There is here no sacred river into which the mother hurls her newborn babe; but it has been shown, that, because American mothers are left in ignorance, a large proportion of their children drop from their arms into the dark river of death.

Should any object that such subjects are below the dignity of the church, we might reply that the church is bound to help us for the reason that the present state of things is partly owing to her efforts. The ministers of the church in past times have labored to convince people that this life for its own sake is of little account; that we were placed here, not to develop the faculties and enjoy the pleasures which pertain to this stage of our existence, but solely to prepare for another. They have taught that we sicken and die prematurely because God wills it, not because we transgress his laws. To those suffering physically from such transgression they have said in effect, "Pray God to relieve your pain, for he sent it upon you."

CHAPTER X.

MEANS OF ESCAPE ALREADY IN OPERATION.


A Domestic Problem - 10/12

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