To Young Women
( Originally Published 1879 )
WHAT is womanhood? Is there any more important question for young women to consider than this? It should be the highest ambition of every young woman to possess a true womanhood. Earth presents no higher object of attainment. To be a woman, in the truest and highest sense of the word, is to be the best thing beneath the skies. To be a woman is something more than to live eighteen or twenty years; something more than to grow to the physical stature of women; some-thing more than to wear flounces, exhibit dry-goods, sport jewelry, catch the gaze of lewd-eyed men; some-thing more than to be a belle, a wife, or a mother. Put all these qualifications together and they do but little toward making a true woman.
Beauty and style are not the surest passports to womanhood—some of the noblest specimens of woman hood that the world has ever seen, have presented the plainest and most unprepossessing appearance. A woman's worth is to be estimated by the real goodness of her heart, the greatness of her soul, and the purity and sweetness of . her character; and a woman with a kindly disposition and well-balanced temper, is both lovely and attractive, be her face ever so plain and her figure ever so homely; she makes the best of wives and the truest of mothers. She has a higher purpose in living than the beautiful, yet vain and supercilious woman, who has no higher ambition than to flaunt her finery on the street, or to gratify her inordinate vanity by extracting flattery and praise from society, whose compliments are as hollow as they are insincere.
Beauty is a dangerous gift. It is even so. Like wealth it has ruined its thousands. Thousands of the most beautiful women are destitute of common sense and common humanity. No gift from heaven is so general and so widely abused by woman as the gift of beauty. In about nine cases in ten it makes her silly, senseless, thoughtless, giddy, vain, proud, frivolous, selfish, low and mean. I think I have seen more girls spoiled by .beauty than by any other one thing. " She is beautiful, and she knows it," is as much as to say she is spoiled. A beautiful girl is very likely to believe she was made to be looked at; and so she sets herself up for a show at every window, in every door, on every corner of the street, in every company at which opportunity offers for an exhibition of herself. And believing and acting thus, she soon becomes good for nothing else, and when she comes to be a middle-aged woman she is that weakest, most sickening of all human things—a faded beauty.
These facts have long since taught sensible men to beware of beautiful women-to sound them carefully before they give them their confidence. Beauty is shallow—only skin-deep; fleeting—only for a few years' reign; dangerous—tempting to vanity and lightness of mind; deceitful—dazzling often to bewilder; weak—reigning only to ruin; gross-leading often to sensual pleasure. And yet we say it need not be so. Beauty is lovely and ought to be innocently possessed. It has charms which ought to be used for good purposes. It is a delightful gift, which ought to be received with gratitude and worn with grace and meekness. It should always minister to inward beauty. Every woman of beautiful form and features should cultivate a beautiful mind and heart.
Young women ought to hold a steady moral sway over their male associates, so strong as to prevent them from becoming such lawless rowdies. Why do they not? Because they do not possess sufficient force of character. They have not sufficient resolution and energy of purpose. Their virtue is not vigorous. Their moral wills are not. resolute. Their influence is not armed with executive power. Their goodness is not felt as an earnest force of benevolent purpose. Their moral convictions are not regarded as solemn resolves to be true to God and duty, come what may. This is the virtue of too many women. They would not have a drunkard for a husband, but they would drink a glass of wine with a fast young man. They would not use profane language, but they are not shocked by its incipient language, and love the society of men whom they know are as profane as Lucifer out of their presence. They would not be dishonest, but they will use a thousand deceitful words and ways, and countenance the society of. men known as hawkers, sharpers and deceivers. They would not be irreligious, but they smile upon the most irreligious men, and even show that they love to be wooed by them. They would not be licentious, but they have no stunning rebuke for licentious men, and will even admit them on paroi into their society. This is the virtue of too many women—a virtue scarcely worthy the name—really no virtue at all-a milk-and-water substitute—a hypocritical, hollow pretension to virtue as unwomanly as it is disgraceful. We believe that a young lady, by her constant, consistent Christian example, may exert an untold power. You do not know the respect and almost worship which young men, no matter how wicked they may be themselves, pay to a consistent Christian lady, be she young or old. If a young man sees that the religion which, in youth, he was taught to venerate, is lightly thought. of, and perhaps sneered at, by the young ladies with whom he associates, we can hardly expect him to think that it is the thing for him. Let none say that they have no influence at all. This is not possible. You cannot live without having some sort of influence, any more than you can without breathing. One thing is just as unavoidable as the other. Beware, then, what kind of influence it is that you are constantly exerting. An invitation to take a glass of wine, or to play a game of cards, may kindle the fires of intemperance or gambling, which will burn forever. A jest given at the expense of religion, a light, trifling manner in the house of God, or any of the numerous ways in which you may show your disregard for the souls of others, may be the means of ruining many for time and eternity.
We want the girls to rival the boys in all that is good, and refined, and ennobling. We want them to rival the boys,. as they well can, in learning, in understanding, in virtues; in all noble qualities of mind and heart, but not in any of those things that have. caused them justly or unjustly, to be described as savages. We want the girls to be gentle—not weak, but gentle, and kind, and affectionate. We want to be sure, that wherever a girl is, there should be a sweet, subduing and harmonizing influence of purity, and truth, and love, pervading and hallowing, from center to circumference, the entire circle in which she moves. If the boys are savages, we want her to be their civilizer. We want her to tame them, to subdue their ferocity, to soften their manners, and to teach them all needful lessons of order, and sobriety, and meekness, and patience, and goodness.
The little world of self is not the limit that is to con-fine all her actions. Her love was not destined to waste its fires in the narrow chamber of a single human heart; no, a broader sphere of action is hers—a more expansive benevolence. The light and heat of her love are to be seen and felt far and wide. Who would not rather thus live a true life, than sit shivering over the smoulering embers of self love? Happy is that maiden who seeks to live this true life ! As time passes on, her own character will be elevated and purified. Gradually will she return toward that order of her being, which was lost in the declension of mankind from that original state of excellence in which they were created. She will become, more and more, a true woman; will grow wiser, and better, and happier. Her path through the world will be as a shining light, and all who know her will call her blessed.
A right view of life, then, which all should take at the outset, is the one we have presented. Let every young lady seriously reflect upon this subject. Let her remember that she is not designed by her Creator to live for herself alone, but has a higher and nobler destiny—that of doing good to others--of making others happy. As the quiet streamlet that runs along the valley nourishes a luxuriant vegetation, causing flowers to bloom and birds to sing along its banks, so do a kind look and happy countenance spread peace and joy around.
Kindness is the ornament of man—it is the chief glory of woman—it is, indeed, woman's true prerogative—her sceptre and her crown. It is the sword with which she conquers, and the charm with 'which she captivates.
Young lady, would you be admired and beloved? would you be an ornament to your sex, and a blessing to your race? Cultivate this heavenly virtue. Wealth may surround you with its blandishments, and beauty, learning, or talents, may give you admirers, but love and kindness alone can captivate the heart. Whether you live in a cottage or a palace, these graces can surround you with perpetual sunshine, making you, and all around you, happy.
Seek ye, then, fair daughters! the possession of that inward grace, whose essence shall permeate and vitalize the affections,—adorn the countenance,—make mellifluous the voice,—and impart a hallowed beauty even to your motions. Not merely that you. may be loved, would I urge this, but that you may, in truth, be lovely,—that loveliness which fades not with time, nor is marred or alienated by disease, but which neither chance nor change can in any way despoil. We urge you, gentle maiden, to beware of the silken enticements of the stranger, until your love is confirmed by protracted acquaintance. Shun the idler, though his coffers overflow with pelf. Avoid the irreverent, — the scoffer of hallowed things; and him "who looks upon the wine while it is red;"—him, too, "who hath a high look and a proud heart," and who "privily slan dereth his neighbor." Do not heed the specious prattle about "first love," and so place, irrevocably, the seal upon your future destiny, before you have sounded, in silence and secresy, the deep fountains of your own heart. Wait, rather, until your own character and that of him who would woo you, is more fully developed. Surely, if this " first love " cannot endure a short probation, fortified by "the pleasures of hope," how can it be expected to survive years of intimacy, scenes of trial, distracting cares, wasting sickness, and all the homely routine of practical life. Yet it is these that constitute life, and the love that cannot abide them is false and must die.