The Vocations Of Woman
( Originally Published 1907 )
"ISN'T Mrs. O'Brien going to give us the pleasure of her company this evening?" asked Professor Shannon. "You know we want her to instruct Dr. Studevan on the kind of education that is needed to fit our girls to become ideal wives and mothers."
"Kate will join us later. Mary is a bit under the weather this evening, and until she is safely in dreamland claims her mother's undivided attention."
"At our last meeting the Doctors seemed to make a very strange division of womankind," said Miss Ruth. "They have apparently forgotten the existence of the bachelor girl, but I am afraid she will refuse to be ignored."
"If Dr. Studevan had his way," said Miss Geddes, "he would send every unmarried girl over twenty years of age into the convent."
"Oh, it's hardly as bad as that, Miss Geddes. But, really, I do question whether there is a third vocation for woman. If she is to become an integral part of the social system, she must find her orbit either in the home or in some organization for social service call the organization a sisterhood or what you will. These lone women wandering through life without attachments are, like comets or meteors, strange beings sadly out of place in the social world."
"That is hardly a fair way to look at the question, Doctor," said Miss Ruth. "The social and economic conditions of our times have advanced the marrying age of both sexes. Multitudes of our young women must labor to support themselves for some years, even though they contemplate marrying later on. A great many of them, in addition to supporting themselves, must care for aged parents and not infrequently for the younger members of the family as well. Many of these women do not feel themselves called to the religious life and they still remain single all their lives. There can be no question of the duty of educational institutions to minis-ter to the needs of these people. It looks as though we must reckon with at least three vocations for women."
"Studevan's objection to the third vocation applies to bachelors with even greater force than it does to bachelor girls," said Mr. O'Brien. "If unmarried women over twenty years of age should enter the convent, what about unmarried men of over thirty?"
"Why, they are not only out of place," said Dr. Studevan, "but they are more culpably so than women. Every individual owes a duty to the race which he should not be al-lowed to shirk. He should either found a home and strengthen his people numerically, or he should become a member of some regular organization for social service, and in this way discharge his duty to society. The bachelor girl may not be altogether responsible for her detached condition, since it is quite possible that she would change it if the right man appeared on the scene, but society does not allow her freedom in seeking for a suitable companion, while it leaves man absolutely free in this respect."
"Would you advocate the passage of a law, Doctor," said Mr. O'Brien, "compelling all bachelors to marry? If it is their selfishness that keeps them single, would it not be wise for the state to tax them so heavily that they would find it to their advantage to marry and thus discharge their duty to society ?"
"On general principles I am inclined to agree with you," replied Dr. Studevan, "but, after all, our evenings would be rather dull without Shannon, and if he had a young wife and children to take care of, I am afraid he would find it rather difficult to grace our meetings with his presence. Society would sadly miss the mellow old bachelor."
"And what would my wife do without Aunt Mary, who is always on hand in time of family need?" asked Mr. Eaton. "She makes the clothes for the little ones and is chief nurse in time of sickness."
"That is all true, Mr. Eaton," said Mr. O'Brien, "but you are thinking of the old maid and we were speaking of the bachelor girl; these are quite distinct species, you know. The sudden increase in the number of bachelor girls is one of the alarming symptoms of the present situation. From Miss Ruth's statement of the case, this sudden increase is due to the social and economic conditions of the time, but would not the converse of this be much nearer to the truth? Are not the social and economic conditions here referred to traceable to the bachelor girls? W. A. Curtis in the Outlook for December 13, 1902, says:
" 'Man is face to face with the fact that woman in the twentieth century is not his ally, his helpmate, his wife, but his competitor, his rival. . . . Once woman doubled our joys and halved our sorrows. She now halves our incomes and doubles those seeking employment. Declaiming against the injustice of paying her half what a man got, in her blindness to the fact that man got twice as much in order that he might give her half, she has succeeded in getting her rate of compensation raised somewhat, but his has descended to meet it. And so, some assert, result the unmarried and unhappy thousands of women and men, so the increase of the social evil, so the weakening of the national stamina that assails a nation where family life is passing. Blindly, unconsciously, rudely, unchivalrously, yet with a righteous purpose at bottom, though he know it not, the college man strikes at coeducation."
"That sounds like a voice from the last century," said Miss Ruth, "but it suggests many themes which would probably furnish profitable discussion for our evenings. Have man's wages descended? If there are too many seeking employment, why admit a million laborers a year to glut the market? Besides, woman has never been an idler and it is hardly fair to blame her for following her employment when it left the home.
"There are many families in our cities that consist of several grown girls and whose only male bread winner is the father, whose earning capacity is constantly diminishing as the needs of the family increase. Who are going to share their wages with these girls? They are not averse to marrying if decent men who are able to support them and who are worthy of their affection appear on the scene to claim their love and devotion ; meanwhile they must work for a living, and that away from home. The only question is whether they shall enter the labor market uneducated and try to earn their living by the use of their muscle, of which they seem to have too scanty a supply, or whether they shall first receive an education that will enable them to live by their talents. Woman has chosen the latter of these alternatives and she feels herself entirely within her rights when she demands a share in the best education that society affords.
"Dr. Shahan emphasizes this thought in 'The House of God' (page 337). Let me read the passage for you :
'And the world of woman? The institutions of a given society are always affected by the prevailing forms of government. And so the logic of Democracy has already compelled our modern society to open its schools to woman and grant her that equality of academic privileges that she once sighed for in vain. It is because a good education for woman is no longer an ornament, but a necessity. And it is such because education is rap-idly becoming the indispensable need of every member of society who would cultivate God-given gifts and opportunities. From all sides comes a recognition of the new and unique position among states of our own beloved land. This United States is no longer the land of buccaneers or knights-errant of the world, but a magnificent, closely knit, self-conscious organism, filled with youth and strength, dragging along no ancient impediments of hatred and wrong, that proposes in-deed an incredible advance, but proposes also to begin where other societies have stopped. It is in such a world that economic and social changes of the widest import are placing woman everywhere upon the intellectual level of man frequently enough, indeed, much higher. She is beginning, in the most honorable way, to shine in sciences that seemed once closed to her almost by a law of nature. Here, too, are we to take no account of the flood that is rising on all sides, but fold our arms and placidly wait for the extinction among us of all the glorious prestige and moral power that will attach to learning so long as society exists ?' "
"I am glad to welcome you to our side of this controversy, Miss Ruth," said Professor Shannon; "I always felt that your good judgment would assert itself in the end and that you would abandon Studevan and his vagaries. Woman has been compelled to enter into competition with man, and in seeking an education in the institutions which have equipped her competitors she is using her common sense and following her instincts, which are always true."
"Are not your conclusions just a bit hasty, Professor?" asked Dr. Studevan. "I find my-self agreeing with everything that Miss Ruth has said and in entire accord with every line of Dr. Shahan's magnificent essay on the Need of a Catholic University, from which she has just read.
"The time has come for the higher education of our sons and daughters, and in this work Catholics can not afford to lag behind the movement; they must be its leaders and its guides. With the flower of Catholic manhood and womanhood devoting themselves with zeal and enthusiasm to the cause of education, there is only needed a helping hand from those amongst us whom God has blessed with wealth to put Catholic educational institutions in the forefront of the movement. The Catholic heart that built the cathedrals of Europe and laid the foundations of its great universities will not permit our religious teachers to go forth to their life work with-out the best intellectual equipment that the age affords.
"However, your statement that 'woman has been compelled to enter into competition with man' seems strangely out of place on the lips of a modern sociologist. Any close observer of present social and economic conditions must see that the age of competition is passing; the future belongs to cooperation.
"But to return to Miss Ruth's statement, I quite agree with her that woman is not responsible for the present conditions, as Mr. Curtis would seem to imply. Labor-saving machinery, by sweeping industry from the home, has compelled woman to seek employment in new fields. In doing this she is not invading man's province. Employment for both men and women has completely changed and both have to adjust themselves to these changed conditions. The man who inveighs against woman labor bases his judgment on superficial aspects. Whether woman works in the home, in the office, or in the factory, is a mere accident; the important thing has remained unchanged that is, that she works.
"A close survey of the field reveals the fact that woman is claiming for herself certain industrial provinces which she will make her own and from which she will eliminate man quite as effectively as she formerly eliminated him from spinning and weaving. There is a strange mixture of truth and error in that article of Mr. Curtis. Will you let me have the magazine for a moment, Mr. O'Brien? Just listen to this :
" 'Numerically the college woman is not a large factor, but she is a sure factor, and the college man, obeying one of those strange psychological waves that sweep over a nation and make all blind, unconscious agents in a great change, a great reform, is trying to save her from herself for himself. Coeducation will not pass. But the competition of woman with man will pass.'
"In the years which have elapsed since Curtis wrote this, the number of co-eds has in-creased with great rapidity, nevertheless I believe he was mistaken when he said 'coeducation will not pass.' The truth of his other statement, that competition will pass, must be evident to every student of sociology. Woman never has been in any serious competition with man in the labor market. When the new province of woman in the industrial world be-comes clearly defined, woman will find it to her interest to seek her education in those schools which in scope and method are being developed to meet her peculiar needs."
"Are we to understand, Doctor," said Professor Shannon, "that man is about to abdicate the learned professions because woman has put in an appearance? and that woman is to do all the teaching and to fill all the clerical positions and to do all the journalistic work and to write our magazine articles and our books? If these positions are not to be relinquished to women, how is competition to cease between man and woman? And if woman is going to claim all this as her province, the next generation of men will have to take to the tall timbers."
"It's coming to that very rapidly," said Mr. Eaton. "It is already becoming very difficult to secure domestic servants. The other day a friend sent a colored girl to us, and when my wife took her into the kitchen and began to instruct her concerning her duties, the girl grew quite indignant and asked my wife if she really expected her to stand over a hot stove cooking and gave her to understand that she was a high school graduate."
"Your alarm, gentlemen," said Dr. Studevan, "reminds me of an old friend, who, after quoting a splendid passage descriptive of the solar system, proceeded to exhibit his utter failure to comprehend the fundamental laws of the system. He reasoned that if from any cause the weight of the earth were increased it would drop into the sun, and that if its motion were retarded ever so little the same dire fate would befall it; while if its weight were diminished or its motion increased it would wander off in ever widening circles into inter-stellar space. He had evidently failed to realize the power of adjustment possessed by the solar system. And so I sometimes think that our alarmists fail to realize society's power of self-adjustment.
"Woman has entered the industrial arena, where she must find her employment in the future; she is crowding the academic departments of our universities and colleges, from which the young men have departed to prepare for their future in technical and professional schools. But even if woman's orbit is being changed under the stress of present conditions, we need feel no alarm. Woman will find her new orbit and be as true to it as she has been to the old."
" 'Frailty, thy name is woman,' was probably due to Hamlet's liver," said the Professor, "but to what shall we attribute Dr. Studevan's inconsistency? A little while ago he denied to the bachelor girl a vocation and set up the old cry that every woman should marry or betake herself to a convent, and now he calmly assures us that woman in this 'Third Estate' has conquered for herself whole provinces of the industrial world and in fact that she is moving in a new orbit."
" 'Aye, Nello, and if they tongue can leave off its everlasting chirping long enough for thy understanding to consider the matter, thou mayst see' that there is in this seeming inconsistency no sterner stuff than dreams are made of. If you were consistent, you would accuse all Catholics of inconsistency, since they accept purgatory and still subscribe to the belief that there are only two eternal states. If you had been attending to the discussion in-stead of allowing your fancy to wander in more pleasant places, you would have learned ere this that multitudes of women who occupy these newly conquered industrial provinces have not relinquished the hope of reigning over homes of their own. You would have learned also that this lady-bachelordom, which seems to have obsessed you, is a sort of tad-pole state of existence in which certain women dwell for a time before passing into the realms of bliss."
"Lady-bachelordom," said Mr. O'Brien, "would seem to be a state which it is highly desirable that young women should avoid, and if the uncontrollable current of events should leave any fair maiden's bark stranded on these desolate shores, it is the duty of friends and neighbors to hasten to the rescue. Have I caught your meaning, Doctor?"
"The gentlemen are frivolous to-night," said Miss Ruth, "which is hardly worthy of them or of the subject under discussion. We are confronted by conditions, not theories. While the fact remains that multitudes of young women must labor to support them-selves and those dependent upon them, educational institutions cannot afford to neglect their intellectual needs. And, as I have said before, there are a great many women who never marry and who, nevertheless, feel no call to the religious life. Have these women no rights that educational institutions should respect?"
"My dear madam, if I have given offense by my seeming levity, let me hasten to apologize. You know it is hard to be serious when Professor Shannon espouses the cause of the bachelor-girl. But I was really in earnest in maintaining that there are only two vocations for women. Each one of us owes to society a duty that is above all selfish or individual interests, and this duty we can fully discharge only by becoming organic parts of society, either as a member of a home group or of some larger group whose explicit aim is social service. A woman who does not marry and who feels no call to the religious life may still take part in uplifting her race by cooperating with some permanent organization by the work of her hands or of her brain or by contributing of her worldly possessions.
"As to those women who labor for a time to support themselves and those dependent upon them before they assume the duties of married life, it is quite evident that their needs in this temporary state of existence should be taken into account, but their education should be so conducted that this passing phase of their existence and its needs would remain subordinate. The chief purpose of their training should be to fit them for the worthy discharge of their duties when they take up their real life work.
"I am not forgetting that many women who have no call to the religious life remain in the world unmarried. There is no class of women in the community more conspicuous for social service. How many a home is pre-served by the heroic self-sacrifice of these women? How many an aged father and mother are kept from the poorhouse and al-lowed to spend life's evening in the peace and comfort of their own home through the devotion of their daughters, when, as too often happens, their sons have failed to realize the hopes and expectations of their boyhood!
"It is surely as worthy a social service to labor in this way to prevent the helpless from becoming a public burden as it is to minister to those who have become demoralized through poverty and hardship. It not infrequently happens that a member of a religious community is sent back into the world to care for an aged parent whom the waves of adversity have left stranded on a desolate shoal. But while I recognize all this, I believe, nevertheless, that a life of this kind is not and should not be chosen as a life's vocation, and hence the school cannot take it into account as such.
"The young woman in her generosity assumes these burdens intending to carry them for a time only. She usually hopes later on either to marry or to enter a convent, but it too often happens that in the faithful discharge of these duties her youth slips from her, and when freedom comes it is too late to do either.
"My contention, consequently, amounts to this: every girl who does not intend to join a sisterhood should be so educated that she will be able to discharge efficiently the duties of a wife and mother should Divine Providence call her to that position. I hold, this contention being granted, that an education which is shaped exclusively to meet man's needs will prove inadequate to the needs of our young women."
"You are just in time, Mrs. O'Brien," said Professor Shannon; "Dr. Studevan has been floundering hopelessly in his endeavor to en-lighten us concerning the kind of education that is suitable for the wife and mother of today."
"How is Mary?" asked Miss Ruth.
"She caught a severe cold and is a bit feverish, but is sleeping nicely now, thank you. I am very sorry to have missed the discussion this evening. Please tell me what it was about."
"There wasn't much new in it," said Miss Geddes. "Dr. Studevan was trying to prove that our educational institutions should take account of only two vocations for women; their treasures are for those who marry or for those who enter the convent; the rest of us are to be entirely ignored."
"Now, that is hardly fair, Mrs. O'Brien; all I have said is this : all women who do not intend to become Sisters should fit themselves during their school-days to discharge the duties of wives and mothers, because there is really no telling where the lightning will strike, you know."
"I am afraid I shall have to agree with you, Doctor. I have grown very distrustful of the higher education of woman as it is too frequently understood at present. Of course I do not believe that anybody, man or woman, can be too highly educated, but a great many people in these days seem to get the wrong kind of education. It seems to me that whenever an education renders people unhappy and discontented with their state in life it is the wrong kind of education."
"That is the sanest view of the subject that has been expressed," said Dr. Studevan. "Education should be a developmental process; it should lift up and ennoble the ordinary things of life; it should glorify duty and trans-figure labor; it should perfect the adjustments of individual life and promote the happiness and well being of society. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' And the higher education of women that fails to bring forth these fruits stands condemned, like the barren fig tree of the Gospel."
"There, Studevan is at it again," said the Professor. "We have been waiting all evening for Mrs. O'Brien to tell us the kind of education that is most helpful to wives and mothers, but of course Studevan must crowd her off the platform and preach to us again."
"Don't mind him, Doctor; I would much rather listen to you talk. You say the things that I have been thinking and you say them much better than I could."
"That's very kind of you, Mrs. O'Brien, but really, I have told them all I know about the subject, and Shannon is right; you have been patiently listening to us for several evenings and we have all grown hungry for your views."
"It didn't take any patience on my part, I assure you ; on the contrary, I have been very much interested in what you were all saying and did not think of anything to say myself.
"I wonder if psychologists do understand women, after all. No, I didn't mean the Doctor; I was thinking about what Professor Munsterberg said. He could not have understood women when he wrote that higher education removed from them the desire to marry. It is not easy for any woman to part with these deep instincts of her nature. Even when a woman goes into the convent it is not because she finds in her heart no promptings to love and marriage. In the generosity of her soul she offers these things up to God in remembrance of what He suffered for us and she devotes her life to the service of others that she may grow daily more like her divine Master.
"I don't agree with the Professor at all when he blames the cultural development of women for preventing marriage and for rendering married people unhappy. Even though a wife's cultural development be superior to that of her husband, it will not render her unhappy, that is, if she has good common sense. Women are able to appreciate a diamond in the rough. And a sensible woman doesn't love a man the less because he is unable to talk about literature and art. And, be-sides, if a woman has the right kind of culture herself, she will impart a great deal of it to her husband. I sometimes think that real culture must be a matter of inheritance; it is the fine feeling and the quick sympathy rather than the external polish.
"Higher education may be responsible for keeping many women from getting married; and it may also be responsible for a great deal of the wretchedness and unhappiness of married life; but, if so, the blame should be laid on the things that have not been taught rather than on the things that our girls actually learned at college.
"For instance, there is Mrs. Hamlyn, as charming a little woman in many ways as you could find in the city. She has an M. A. degree from the State University. Some of her verses are really exquisite and her pictures are not bad. But all this has not contributed much to the happiness of her home. Mr. Hamlyn has a fair income, they entertain very little, and yet they are always in debt. They are both excellent people and might be expected to make each other very happy, but I believe if they could untie the knot to-morrow without giving scandal, they would gladly do so.
"Now, what is the trouble? I don't mean that all the blame rests on Mrs. Hamlyn; but there is more food wasted in her kitchen than would support two families; she is always in trouble with her servants and she lives in abject terror of them; the meals are irregular, the table is seldom appetizing, and Mr. Hamlyn's tastes are never considered; her house is usually in disorder and her children are absolutely undisciplined.
"I cannot help thinking what a happy little home she would have if she had received the right kind of training when she was a young girl. But her mother never asked her to do a thing about the house ; she was not allowed to wet her fingers lest it might render them unfit for the piano; and during all the years that she spent in the high school and at the university she devoted her entire attention to science and literature and to everything, in fact, but to that which she most needs now.
"A woman in Mrs. Hamlyn's position would seldom need to cook, but if she under-stood cooking as a science and delighted in it as an art, she would so supervise the work as to prevent waste. She would be absolutely independent of her servants and would have no difficulty in holding their respect. And then, too, her table would not be such a trial to her husband's temper. If her artistic taste had been developed along the lines of dress and home adornment, it would contribute in no inconsiderable degree to her own happiness and to the welfare of her family."
"Training of the kind you advocate," said Miss Geddes, "might have sufficed in the past, and it is doubtless all right for those who de-sire it in the present, but there are many women who have made up their minds to remain single rather than be any man's drudge. I'd like to see myself doing the marketing, paring the potatoes, washing the dishes, and nursing the children, to satisfy any man. The days for that sort of thing have passed. The woman of today claims an equal right with man to share in the things of the mind."