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The Social Claim Versus The Family Claim

( Originally Published 1907 )

"FROM Dr. Studevan's argument Iast Friday evening," said Miss Geddes, "one would imagine that there is such a conflict between home duty and social service that the same individual cannot respond to both. I suppose he would make our soldiers and statesmen, our doctors and lawyers, celibates like himself."

"Why, no, Miss Geddes, I would not willingly diminish the number of marriageable men, of whom there seem to be too few as the case stands. I was thinking only of woman and of her difficulty in adjusting the social claim to her home duties. Miss Addams offers valuable testimony on this subject. Speaking of the college graduate she says:

" 'The daughter finds a constant and totally unnecessary conflict between the social and the family claim. In most cases the former is repressed and gives way to the family claim, because the latter is concrete and definitely asserted, while the social demand is vague and unformulated. In such instances the girl quietly submits, but she feels wronged whenever she allows her mind to dwell upon the situation. She either hides her hurt and splendid reserves of enthusiasm and capacity go to waste or her zeal and emotions are turned inward, and the result is an unhappy woman, whose heart is consumed by vain regrets and desires.

"We all recognize the fact that woman fulfils certain social functions without neglecting home duties, still, it is quite evident that as society grows in complexity it demands among women vocations to a social service quite incompatible with ordinary home duties. Even our school boards seem to recognize this fact by their refusal to employ married women. Their experience does not warrant them in imposing these two burdens on the same woman.

"There was a time, doubtless, when the mother was quite able to take care of the education of her children, but that was when society was in its infancy. No inconsiderable share of the work of education still rests upon the mother, but this is quite apart from the school. Today the duties of either home or school are quite sufficient to absorb the energy of any one woman."

"Again I must protest," said the Professor, "that you are hitting wide of the mark and and that you have not cleared up the point that you promised to make so plain. Public school teachers are not married women, and, from your own admission, they devote all their time and energy to the work of teaching; whereas, the Sisters, from your own ad-mission also, are compelled to divert a large share of their energy into other channels. The advantage, therefore, is decidedly on the side of the public school teachers."

"Ah, Professor, 'still harping on my daughter!' There are many phases of the subject yet to be considered and one can not say everything at once. But it is, perhaps, as well to remind you right here that the disadvantages are not all on the side of the Sisters. They act under the guidance of the Church, who, in her divine wisdom, has always recognized the differentiation of structure and the specialization of function in all phases of social development.

"The Sisters may, therefore, consistently develop to the fullest extent the tendency to social service wherever they find it. Where it becomes the dominant tone in character, the young woman is not sent back to home life to eat out her heart in vain regrets. A career is open to her in any one of the innumerable Sisterhoods, where she may respond to the social claim with the devotion of her life. And where this vocation does not manifest itself, the Sisters prepare the girl for the worthy discharge of home duties. The failure to recognize vocations to social service and the at-tempt to coerce all women into the narrower circle of home duties is responsible in no small measure for that discontent which in too many cases manifests itself in the divorce court.

"We must not forget that religion is the great force that has lifted man out of his selfishness and savagery. The voice of the Master who bade His followers to return the sword into its scabbard and to love one another irrespective of tribe or tongue or creed has been the most potent factor that has ever entered into the world for the development of the ethical element in man.

"The public school teacher is not permitted to teach religion or to utilize the resources which it offers for the development of the characters of the children committed to her care; whereas religion is the mainstay of the Sister.

"Moreover, the selfish tendencies in man are deeply ingrained qualities which he has inherited through countless generations; whereas the ethical element, the tendency to place the public good above all private gain, is largely the result of education. Now, if we remember what an all-important rôle imitation plays in the development of the mind and heart of the child, it will be evident that the mere presence in the schoolroom of a teacher whose very dress is the outward symbol of a life consecrated to the public service is of more value for the development of the ethical nature of the child than any effort along the line of verbal instruction.

"Besides, it is quite evident that a woman who thus consecrates herself to the public service is better qualified to foster and develop the vocation to social duty in the children committed to her care than a woman who is looking forward to home duties and family ties."

"That is a rather startling view of education," said Miss Geddes. "It is, however, a test of efficiency in teaching that is not likely to find acceptance in these practical days. Imagine measuring the relative standing of a school by the number of girls which it sends into the convent or by the number of boys which it sends into the priesthood!"

"I am afraid, Miss Geddes, that you have missed my thought. But, after all, would it be such a poor test of the relative efficiency of schools? `By their fruits ye shall know them.' The vocation to social service, however, which I had in mind is not necessarily connected with either sisterhood or priesthood. It is simply the recognition of the social claim which should be more or less articulate in the life of every man and woman. It is this civic virtue, this placing of the public good above all private gain, this sense of human fellowship, this readiness to respond to the cry of suffering, that I have been holding up as the su-preme test of education. And the question under immediate consideration is the relative equipment of sisters and of public school teachers for the development of this quality in the characters of the children committed to their care.

"You remember how Savonarola developed this quality in Romola. I would like to read for you the entire chapter on The Arresting Voice, but instead let me read two brief passages which have a direct bearing on the subject in hand:

" 'She had started up with defiant words ready to burst from her lips, but they fell back again without utterance. She had met Fra Girolamo's calm glance, and the impression from it was so new to her that her anger sank ashamed as something irrelevant.

" 'She stood silent, looking at him. And he spoke again.

" "You assert your freedom proudly, my daughter. But who is so base as the debtor that thinks himself free?"

" 'There was a sting in those words, and Romola's countenance changed as if a subtle pale flash had gone over it.

" ' "And you are flying from your debts: The debt of a Florentine woman; the debt of a wife. You are turning your back on the lot that has been appointed for you—you are going to choose another. But can man or woman choose duties? No more than they can choose their birthplace or their father and mother. My daughter, you are fleeing from the presence of God into the wilderness."

" 'The source of the impression his glance produced on Romola was the sense it con veyed to her of interest in her and care for her apart from any personal feeling. It was the first time she had encountered a gaze in which simple human fellowship expressed itself as a strongly felt bond. Such a glance is half the vocation of the priest or spiritual guide of men, and Romola felt it impossible again to question his authority to speak to her.'

"This is the qualification of the teacher as well as of the priest. The source of Savonarola's power over his followers is to be found in the consecration of his life to the public service. Such lives always exert a powerful influence in lifting to a higher ethical plane those with whom they come in contact. In this it is plain that the religious teacher has a great advantage over those who devote themselves temporarily to the work of teaching. The unconscious effect produced on the children by the religious vocation of the teacher is rendered articulate on the lips of Savonarola in this passage:

" ' "And do you owe no tie but that of a child to her father in the flesh? Your life has been spent in blindness, my daughter. You have lived with those who sit on a hill aloof, and look down on the life of their fellow-men. I know their vain discourse. It is of what has been in the times which they fill with their own fancied wisdom, while they scorn God's work in the present. And doubtless you were taught how there were pagan women who felt what it was to live for the Republic; and you have never felt that you, a Florentine woman, should live for Florence. If your own people are wearing a yoke, will you slip from under it, instead of struggling with them to lighten it? There is hunger and misery in our streets, and you say, 'I care not ; I have my own sorrows; I will go away, if peradventure I can ease them.' The servants of God are struggling after a law of justice, peace, and charity, that the hundred thousand citizens among whom you were born may be governed righteously; but you think no more of this than if you were a bird that might spread its wings and fly whither it will in search of food to its liking. And yet you have scorned the teachings of the Church, my daughter. As if you, a wilful wanderer, following your own blind choice, were not below the humblest Florentine woman who stretches forth her hands with her own people, and craves a blessing for them, and feels a close sisterhood with the neighbor who lives beside her and is not of her own blood."

"Granted," said Professor Shannon, "that what Savonarola is here pleading for is the quality that should be developed in all our children; but is it not coeducational institutions that are awakening in our young women the consciousness of this social claim? Miss Addams brought this out very clearly when she said: The modern woman finds herself educated to recognize a stress of social obligations which her family did not in the least anticipate when they sent her to college. She finds herself, in addition, under the impulse to act her part as a citizen of the world."

"Coeducational institutions haven't a monopoly of the development in the minds of women of this impulse to a larger life," said :

Mr. O'Brien. "Women's colleges and the academies and colleges conducted by our sisterhoods in all parts of the country have had their full share in this awakening. This theme was beautifully developed by Dr. Shahan in an address delivered in Trinity College a few years ago at the dedication of the O'Connor art gallery. I found the address the other day, among other essays, in 'The House of God'; let me read you this passage from it (page 47) :

" 'The demand for women of solid Christian virtue and well-cultivated minds is increasing. There is no city in the land where they are not prized and where a dozen tasks do not await each one. The immense democracy of opportunity solicits our American women on all sides, and her naturally independent spirit urges her to profit to the utmost by every opening that is made for her. It is in the United States that genuine superior schools for women first arose; they are still growing all over this land, often richly endowed by other women, and all of them helping to uplift and illustrate their sex. Immemorial prejudice against the intellectual improvement of woman is disappearing, and barriers are falling that seemed as inviolable as the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Errors and failures there have been, but the whole movement is sane, admirable, eminently Christian, and rich with future promise. Anyhow, the lords of creation have not always managed their own higher education so blamelessly that they can reproach their sisters with their initial stumblings and wanderings. Their cause is just, and no society in the world has so large an interest in its success, in the growth of a great multitude of superior women, as our American society. Virtue and intelligence are indispensable props of every democracy, and they are never imported. They grow in the family, or they grow not at all. It is the women of the family, the wife, the mother, the sister, who educate the average American citizen. He is what they make him or fail to make him. Hence, the most imperative need of our society is a womankind that shall not only feel its responsibility, but shall also dispose of sufficient knowledge to handle well its opportunities of every day and every hour; that shall be the equal of the husband and brother, the superior guide of growing youth, an element of good counsel, civic wisdom, and moral strength in the community. One weakness of modern society is not the learning, but the ignorance of woman, that condemns her too often to look on helplessly at a frittering and degradation of life, of which she is again the first victim. Hence, if Catholicism is to be a social force in the future of our American humanity, it must look to the education of its women with all the practical earnestness and enlightened zeal that it manifests for the education of its men; nay, with more, for man be-comes an educator only occasionally, while education is the habitual calling of all women; they are its prophetesses and its priestesses, conversant with all its mysteries, and endowed by God with a hundred secret affections, inclinations and tastes in this sense that render the work easy and successful.'

"Our colleges and universities have not confined their efforts in the past, and are not confining them in the present, to the mere teaching of the classics and the sciences; their highest function has always been the development of the social element in their pupils. They send forth from their doors soldiers to defend the country in time of danger and statesmen to guide the nation in the pursuit of peace and public-spirited men everywhere who interest themselves in the welfare of their fellow-citizens.

"It is quite natural, therefore, that our young women, on entering these institutions of learning, should feel the pulse of this larger life and find the call to social service imperative; but the point to be considered is this : are the colleges which were developed to minister to man's needs equipped to guide the awakening social impulses of our young women into the proper channels?

"Many thoughtful men think that women's colleges must solve this problem. There seems to be no good reason why they should not give the young women the practical and cultural elements of a collegiate education and the impulse to a larger life which have heretofore been characteristic of men's colleges and coeducational institutions. Moreover, there is every reason to hope that these desirable features of our existing universities and men's colleges will be incorporated in women's colleges with other elements that are essential to the peculiar needs of woman and that will fit her more effectively for the large work in the social world which she is now called upon to perform.

"It is doubtful whether the universities and coeducational institutions can deal safely or effectively with the development of woman's mind and heart. As Dr. Shahan has so clearly shown, woman reached her present elevation through the uplifting power of Christian teaching and Christian ideals, and she cannot now eliminate from her development this phase, even if we could imagine her dwelling on some higher plane of intellectual and moral life than that to which Christianity has lifted her. The law so often invoked by embryologists here holds as rigidly as it does in all other fields of organic and mental development : ontogeny is a recapitulation of phylogeny is, therefore, doubtful whether any institution that ignores religion and dispenses with its uplifting influences can ever solve woman's problems or guide her development successfully."

"Miss Addams description of the young college woman in the rôle of a charity visitor emphasizes this doubt," said Miss Ruth. "The college seems to have awakened in her a keen consciousness of the social claim, but it has failed to direct this awakened energy into effective channels of social service. The chapter on Charitable Effort, which to me is the most interesting one in the book, is a vivid picture of the utter failure of the charity visitor to understand the people whom she would serve, and the endless misunderstanding of her motives by these people which lead to consequences that are neither foreseen nor desirable.

"Her failure to elevate their ethical standard is due to her inability to comprehend it, and when she undertakes to substitute her own standard for theirs, 'the perplexity and clashing of different standards, with the consequent misunderstandings, are not so bad as the moral deterioration which is almost sure to follow.' It usually takes the charity visitor some time to discover the impossibility of substituting a higher ethical standard for a lower one with-out similarity of experience."

"She would not be thus perplexed," said Dr. Studevan, "had the school in which she was trained been animated by the wisdom of the Church. The daintily clad charitable visitor, before she sprouted her wings, would have learned that Christ did not send angels to convert the world. 'Every high priest, taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God.' The Church has always adjusted herself to the people whom she would lift up and save. She recruits her priesthood and her sisterhoods from all walks of life and thus becomes all things to all men in order to save all."

"Although the young visitor may fail at times to accomplish the good that she desires," said Professor Shannon, "we must not on that account overlook the good work that is being done by the Associated Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul societies."

"Miss Addams is evidently not much better satisfied with the organized efforts of these people than she is with individual strivings," said Miss Ruth. "I find this passage on page 25:

" 'Even those of us who feel most sorely the need of more order in altruistic effort and see the end to be desired find something distasteful in the juxtaposition of the words "organized" and "charity." We say in defense that we are striving to turn this emotion into a motive, that pity is capricious, and not to be depended upon ; that we mean to give it the dignity of conscious duty. But at bottom we distrust a little a scheme which substitutes a theory of social conduct for the natural promptings of the heart, even although we appreciate the complexity of the situation.' "

"That is a statement of the problem," said Dr. Studevan, "which the Church has solved in the organization of her clergy and in the formation of her religious orders. Has she not here again and again lifted up capricious pity into permanent charity and transfigured the emotion of love into the conscious duty of a lifetime?

"Miss Addams seems at times to be on the point of recognizing this fact as when she says, in speaking of the experience of the charity visitors :

" `It induces an occasional charity visitor to live in a tenement house as simply as the other tenants do. It drives others to give up visiting the poor altogether, because, they claim, it is quite impossible unless the individual becomes a member of a sisterhood, which requires, as some of the Roman Catholic sisterhoods do, that the member first take the vows of obedience and poverty, so that she can have nothing to give save as it is first given to her, and thus she is not harassed by a constant attempt at adjustment.'

"It is somewhat surprising that a woman of Miss Addams' penetration should have failed to see that the sisterhoods of the Catholic Church contain the solution of her problem."

"Why did you stop reading there? asked Miss Geddes; "the really significant part of the chapter is that which follows."

"I was animated by no more deeply laid scheme, Miss Geddes, than the fear of trying your patience too severely. But here is the rest of the passage:

" 'Both the tenement-house resident and the Sister assume to have put themselves upon the industrial level of their neighbors, although they have left out the most awful element of poverty, that of imminent fear of starvation and a neglected old age.' "

"So that the adjustment which is secured by the convent," said Miss Geddes, "is, after all, a mere sham ! It's another case of 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark. They wear the outward semblance of poverty without being poor in reality."

"Your catalog of shams would prove an interesting one," replied Dr. Studevan. "I notice that in spite of the danger of being called hard names by over-zealous philanthropists the life-saving crew seldom feel it necessary to put themselves in all respects in the condition of the shipwrecked in order to be of service to them. The saint in his lowliness mingles with sinners and outcasts without leaving his sanctity behind him. When God became man to lift up fallen human nature He brought His divinity with Him; and the Sisters, following in His footsteps, labor incessantly to save and uplift the wreckage of human society without making themselves as one of the victims of human vice and cruelty."

"Charities and corrections furnish a very interesting theme for discussion," said the Professor, "and I hope we shall find time for it on some other evening, but I don't want to let Studevan escape from the tight corner in which we have him until he acknowledges like a man that he has been in the wrong. We have all been interested in the work of Miss Addams, Miss Scudder, Miss Haley and other women of their kind who are not Sisters. The awakening and developing of the social impulses in these women have been the work of coeducational institutions, and it is evident, therefore, that it is to these institutions we should look for aid in adjusting woman to her new social and economic environments."

"Whether or not it be due to the lateness of the hour," said Dr. Studevan, "I find it rather hard to follow the logic of the Professor's argument. Personally, I have always considered it time to drop a discussion when the participants became more interested in personal triumphs than in the cause of truth. I wonder if this haste on the part of the Professor to put me in a corner is in any way responsible for his failure to remember that Miss Addams received her education in a woman's college in Rockford, Ill., that Miss Scudder is a product of Smith, and that Miss Haley was educated by the Sisters of the Holy Cross? Or is it possible that he is not aware that much of the best work along these lines outside the convent as well as within its walls is done by women who were trained by the Sisters or in women's schools and colleges conducted by women of the world?"

"Coeducational institutions have not had time to have a large representation in work of this kind," said Miss Geddes, "but wait for the future and you shall see what they will accomplish I Anyhow, neither Miss Addams nor Miss Scudder is the product of a convent school nor did it take a religious vocation to develop in them a response to the social claim."

"All of which I most willingly grant," said Dr. Studevan. "I yield to none in my admiration for the work of such women as Miss Addams and Miss Scudder. Nevertheless, I cannot help believing that if Miss Addams were a Catholic and that if she had received her training in a convent school she would now be at the head of some great sisterhood with a thousand Sisters sharing her enthusiasm and working under her direction.

"Nor would I have any one think me unappreciative of the splendid work for the higher education of women which is being done by many of the existing women's colleges outside the Church. Still I can not help comparing results. I can not escape the conviction that all the enduring work of society must flow in the channels of regular organization. Individual effort however brilliant is likely to be local and short-lived. If it spreads over a large area, unless it is organized, it soon disintegrates into a thousand conflicting attempts which often retard progress.

"Nowhere does the Church's genius for organization show to better advantage than in her dealings with women. She first separates those who by nature and inclination are peculiarly adapted to social service from those who are constitutionally and temperamentally fitted to become wives and mothers; and then from among those who are eager to devote themselves to the public service, she selects one band who devote themselves exclusively to the care of neglected old age, and another to the care of helpless infancy; one band to the care of the sick and the wounded in body, and another to the rescue and preservation of those who are weak morally. Some sisterhoods de-vote themselves chiefly to the formation of ideal wives and mothers among the children of the wealthy, while others undertake to care for the orphan and to educate the children of the poor.

"All this work goes on quietly, without noise or bustle, but there is a consciousness of permanency in it all. The members of this vast army labor in the consciousness of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Individuals come and go, but the organization lives and continues through the centuries to produce for society its saving fruit. In the life and organization of the Church the principle of selection, call it divine selection or vocation, if you will, finds fullest and freest play."

"Is not that a new meaning that you are giving to religious vocation, just to suit your present purpose?" asked Miss Geddes. "Do you mean to tell us that the young man who believes himself called to the priesthood or the young woman who talks about her vocation to the sisterhood is merely responding to the social claim?"

"Why, yes; that is precisely what I mean, and if you will take the trouble to consult the literature on the subject written by the great masters of the spiritual life, you will find that their concept of the religious vocation is not really different from that which I am here trying to explain. No Catholic youth or maiden expects God to come down in person and call him or her by name and indicate the religious order that he or she is to enter. These young people are filled with the consciousness of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, and in the generosity of their young hearts they consecrate themselves wholly to their Father's service and expect to discover their Father's wish chiefly in the need of their brother and in their own capacity and inclination. To secure them against error in this direction the Church requires them to consult the spiritual guides whom she appoints to direct her children in the ways of peace and life."

"Studevan has a way of talking all around a subject," said Professor Shannon, "and he never will stop if he is allowed to ride his hobby 'the glory of the vocation to the religious life.' What would become of the world if we all became priests and nuns? He seems to have adopted as his philosophy of life Hamlet's advice to Ophelia: `I say we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.'

"He seems to forget that even under ideal conditions the schools have to train fifty girls who are to marry and remain in the world for every one that is destined for the religious life, and it is with the education of the fifty and not with that of the one that we are concerned in the question of coeducation. Of course no one expects the candidates for the priesthood and the sisterhoods to be trained in coeducational institutions. Keeping these religious vocations in the foreground is one of Studevan's devices for evading the real point under discussion. Please stick to the point, Doctor, and tell us whether a convent school is better able to train a young woman for the world, whether it is more competent to give her the kind of training that she needs to b-come a wife and mother, than are coeducational institutions."

"Don't be so grouchy, Shannon; I really have no desire to evade the question as you state it, but we shall have to postpone discussion until next Friday evening and then we shall have to appeal to Mrs. O'Brien for illumination on this phase of the subject. Her experience will help us to reach a decision concerning the kind of education that is best suited for the wives and mothers of our day."

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