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- A Domestic Problem - 11/12 -


Three effective means by which the desired change may be accomplished are, first, that women meet regularly for the purpose of discussing such matters as especially affect them and their mission; second, that they have a paper for this same object; third, that representative women from different sections of the country come together occasionally, and compare views on these matters. Such means we already have in the "Woman's Club," the "Woman's Journal," and the "Woman's Congress."

The first of these institutions is not what the uninitiated, judging from its name, might suppose. The writer, though not a club-member, can affirm of her own knowledge, that at the weekly gatherings questions are discussed which have a direct bearing on the interests of the family and household. From these gatherings, members return to their homes strengthened, refreshed, enlightened. All teachers can testify that from teachers' conventions they go back to work with awakened interest, fresh zeal, and with newly-acquired ideas. The contact of mind with mind has invigorated them. They have all taken from each other, yet none have been losers, but all have been gainers. Every school which lost its teacher for a season gained tenfold by that teacher's absence. So it is with the club meetings. Women leave their homes to consider how the standard of those homes may be raised. I happened to be present once when the discussion was upon "The amount and kind of obedience to be exacted from children;" and I said to myself, Now, this seems the right thing exactly. How natural, how sensible, for women to meet and confer on such subjects as this, each one bringing her perplexities or her suggestions; the old giving their experience, the young profiting thereby! What better could mothers do for their children than thus to meet occasionally and hold counsel together?

Still people in general do not take this view of the case. People in general are satisfied if a mother is bodily present with her children, and do not trouble themselves as to her enlightenment.

Look at the last Woman's Congress, side by side with three other large conventions held in this country not so very long ago, and compare its purposes with theirs. The questions which occupied the members of one of the three related chiefly to articles of belief, and to those particular articles of belief in which they all believed. It was stated beforehand, that the great object to be attained was unity, and that no subjects would come up which, by calling out opposing opinions, might mar the harmony of the occasion.

Another convention occupied much of its time in deciding whether those of the denomination who sit at communion with others of the denomination who have sat at communion with a person who has not been wholly immersed, shall be fellowshipped by the denomination.

An enthusiastic member of still another convention publishes a long and glowing account of its proceedings, in which account occurs the following curious paragraph:--

"During the discussions in convention, the presentation of petitions and memorials and drafts of canons, the reports of the committees on canons, the amendments and substitutes, the transit of canons back and forth between the two houses, and finally, the conference committee, the slowly developing action of the convention was under such confusion and cloud, that it was and may yet be difficult for many, especially those at a distance, to make up their mind as to what finally took place." The object of this paragraph was to account for some wrong impressions made by the published reports.

I submit that what humanity wants to know is, how to live rightly, and that it is suffering for this knowledge. It is not suffering to know all about "altar cloths" and "eucharistic lights," and "colored chasubles" and "the use of the viretta in worship." It is not suffering to know if certain persons can partake of the Lord's Supper with other certain persons who have partaken with other certain persons. It is not suffering to know that a large number of individuals believe exactly alike, and exactly as did their ancestors. How are all these agreements and disagreements to help a poor fellow who has inherited certain proclivities, and wishes to be rid of them, and that his children may overmaster them?

Humanity does want to know, right away, how to keep itself alive and well and doing well. It wants brought up for consideration the wrongs which oppress it, the evils which defile it, the crimes which degrade it; to have their causes investigated, and their remedies suggested. This is live work; and it is such work as this which occupied the attention of the Woman's Congress. No uncertain sound there. Those "at a distance," those at the very antipodes, might "make up their mind" that its members were asking themselves, what have we, as wives and mothers, to do with these things? While other conventions are "agreeing," and "fellowshipping," and wrangling over "altar cloths," and "virettas," the Woman's Congress considers matters which have an immediate practical bearing on the welfare of human beings. While the community is working away at the surface, with its prisons, its police, its hangmen, its societies for the suppression of vice, its schools for reform, its homes for the fallen (no doubt often with good results), the Woman's Congress strikes at the foundation, and by pointing out "The Influence of Literature upon Crime," and the telling effect of "Pre-natal Influences," suggests how vice may be prevented, character right-formed, and humanity kept from falling. It inquires, "How can Woman best oppose Intemperance?" It considers those two vast underlying subjects, "The Education of Women," and "The Physical Education of our Girls;" while it by no means overlooks those unfortunates whom society sets apart, and labels "fallen women."

In regard to our problem, if any light has been thrown, if, "the word" has been guessed, I should say "the word" is "enlightenment," --enlightenment of the community as to the requirements of woman's mission, enlightenment of woman herself as a preparation for that mission. What say you, friends? Shall our women receive such enlightenment? and shall it come in to the finishing or supplementary part of their education (so called)?

True, this will cause innovations; but is it _therefore_ objectionable? No one will call our present system of education a perfect one; why, then, should there not be innovations? "Why, indeed," asks a writer in "The Atlantic," "except that the training of their children is the last thing about which parents and communities will exert themselves to vigorous thought and independent action? No more striking proof of the inertia of the human mind can be found," he says, "than the fact... that for many generations the true philosophy of teaching has had its prophets and apostles, and yet that substantially we are training our children in the same old blundering way." The fault of this "old blundering way," it seems to me, is its one-sidedness. It educates only the intellect. Is this the right way? Surely the moral nature is also educable. Indeed, if the mind is trained to act energetically, so much more should the moral sense be trained to control the workings of that mind. Then, since the world, we hope, is outgrowing battles, why is it considered _essential_ that we inform ourselves so particularly, so minutely, so statistically, concerning battles fought so long, long, long ago? Does the process hasten on the time of beating swords into ploughshares? Suppose each generation, as it comes on to the stage, does inform itself thus minutely: what, in the long-run, does humanity gain thereby?

But these considerations open up subjects too vast and too important to be even mentioned in these closing chapters. Will not you who know the inevitable influence of the mother upon her children,--will you not see to it that some portion of the time devoted to her education is spent in preparing her for her life-work? Can you think of any surer way than this by which good citizens may be raised up for our country? Wickedness abounds. It is omnipresent. Every day,--yes, twice a day,--the newspapers bring us tidings of corruption, fraud, villany, not only in low places, but in high places; in exceedingly high places. Crime is on the increase. Public officials, supported and trusted by the people, hesitate not to defraud the people. Individuals in good and regular standing socially and religiously, church-members, sabbath-school teachers, defraud their nearest friends.

Nobody can tell whom to trust. If, then, neither church, nor state, nor social position, nor any outside influence, has power to make men honest, where shall we look for such power? We must look to an inside influence. The restraining power, in order to be effective in all cases, must proceed from the character of the individual; and the character of the individual is formed to a very great degree by early training; and early training comes from--women. So here we are again down to our working ground.

Let us hope that innovations will be made. Let us hope that at no distant day it will be thought as important for a young person to be made a good member of society as to be able to cipher in the "rule of three," in "alligation medial" and "alligation alternate." A recent writer, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania, urges "the importance of incorporating into our public school systems such studies and such training as will tend to educate men for their place in the body politic." He says, "A line of teaching which concerns matters of more importance to society than all the ordinary branches of knowledge put together is allowed to have no formal provision made for it." This writer recommends the study of biographies. In Locke's system good principles were to be cared for first, intellectual activity next, and actual knowledge last of all.

Suppose the young women of thirty years ago had been thoroughly instructed in hygienic laws: would not the effects of such instruction be perceptible in our present health-rates and death-rates? Let us begin now to affect the health-rates and death-rates of thirty years hence. And it will do no harm to instruct young men also in such matters. Even while I am writing these pages, a State Board of Health report comes to me, in which it is shown by facts and figures how our death-rates are affected by ignorance,--ignorance as exhibited in the locating, building, and ventilating of dwelling-houses, drainage, situation of wells, planting of trees, choice of food and cooking of the same, as well as in the management of children. Can any subjects comprised in any school course compare in importance with these? For humanity's sake, let our young people take time enough from their geographies and Latin dictionaries to learn how to keep themselves alive! It is possible too, that, if the young women of thirty years ago had been enlightened on the subject of moral and mental training, our present crime rates might be less than they are, and dishonesty and dishonor in high places and in low places be less frequent.

Mr. Whittier tells the story of a man in a certain town, who desired the removal of an old building--an almshouse, I think--from a certain locality. As the quickest way of accomplishing this, he gave a man a dollar a day on condition that this man should do nothing else but talk from morning to night with various people on the subject of having that building moved. And it was moved. The old building we have to move is made up of prejudices, ignorance, settled opinions, and firmly-established customs, and it is therefore quite time we were beginning our work. Remember the tremendous importance of our object. An Englishman, Lord Rosebury, in a recent address, insists on a special preparation for the hereditary rulers who sit in Parliament; and, if those who are to rule mind need this, how much more do they need it who are to stamp mind, and give it its first direction! Horace Mann shall close this chapter with one of his impressive sentences.


A Domestic Problem - 11/12

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