Woman's Work And Woman's Wages
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
There is no happiness in idleness. It may be with hand, it may be with brain, it may be with foot, but work a woman must, or be filled with wretchedness. "The curse of our American society," says Dr. Tal-mage, "is that our young women are taught that the first, second, third, fifth, seventh, tenth, fifteenth and thousandth thing is to get somebody to care for them." Instead of that folly, young women ought to be taught the valuable lessons of industry and self-help. For the fact is, that a large majority of women do have to take care of themselves and their families sooner or later. And many times they have to do this after having wasted years, through the false notions of their parents, and the habits of indolence they were taught in early life. Madame de StaŽl was very proud of her ability as a writer. There was no subject connected with her life upon which she was so susceptible of flattery ; but according to her own statement she was more proud of having ten occupations, in any one of which she could have earned a livelihood, than of being one of the foremost writers of France. Society is impregnated with false notions in regard to woman's work and wages. We hold it to be a shame for a woman to be incompetent, while her father toils for her support. It is a crime for young women to live in idleness, while a mother supports them. It is as honorable for a daughter to sweep the house, prepare the meals, bend over the wash-tub, as it is to strike an attitude in the parlor and twist a watch chain. Yes, it is a thousand times less disgraceful, if the necessity of such work is laid upon the mother and the daughter. Society seems to draw the line of respectability in woman's labor between that which is useless and that which is useful. So long as woman can do that which is of no use to herself and the world, it is respectable, but so soon as she ventures on the dangerous 'ground of profitable production, and works to earn something for her own support, it is no longer regarded respect-able in fashionable society. A woman may make a costly cushion for an easy chair, spend several dollars in doing that which adds nothing to the value of the chair, but by no means shall she earn the funds with which to purchase the materials for her fancy work or the money with which to buy the chair. In a word a woman must not turn her hand to anything remunerative or profitable, if she would be thought respectable in polite society. This is a false notion and an open disgrace to those who entertain it. It puts a low estimate on the worth of woman's toil, it degrades the the worth of her abilities and leads her to put a mean value upon her capacity to do honorable work. What right has a woman to occupy a place in society, to obtain a support from the labor of that society and live the life of idleness and uselessness ? What right has she to be a pauper, though dressed in satin and velvet, more than the poor outcast that she spurns from the marble threshold ? If we want a place in the world, a high and honorable place, we must earn it, woman as well as man ; so says the law of nature and the law of God. The bird of the forest builds its nest before it rears its young ; the lark earns its breakfast by a song ; the patient domestic beast earns its food ; and man, "the roof and crown of things" must also earn the food and luxuries of his daily life. Did it ever occur to you, idle woman, that somebody was toiling with hand and brain for you and your happiness ? Did it ever occur to you that the hours of your idle life make the labors of some man or woman doubly severe? Did it ever occur to you that every pleasant thing, every luxury, every blessing in your life is the price of somebody's toil? Is it the price' of your toil and your self-denial? is the important question for you to answer. If not, go, hide your head in some darkness, in some obscurity, till you have learned to support yourself by some kind of honest labor. Shame on you, sweetest of mortals ! Shame on you in your idleness, in your unhappiness!
And yet women are not wholly to blame for this false notion in society. There are those who would say that she must be industrious, but would shut up her efforts to a few kinds of labor, and these comparatively unremunerative. The ideas of society need reconstructing upon this point. Until women can go into life, enter any vocation or any field of labor for which their abilities fit them, and receive the same wages as men for the work of that vocation, society will not be set right on this question of woman's labor. If Clytemnestra, with her many accomplishments of mind, could best stand at the loom and weave a robe for a prince, let her stand at the loom and do honor to her work. If Penelope, fairer than driven snow, with suitors from every land of Greece, could do the work of her house so as to attract the praise of a Homer, let her be busy with her household labors, and let her name be praised to the end of time. If Rosa Bonheur could wield the brush and give to canvas a vision of entrancing life, let her paint the animals that were so dear to her. Let her make an era in the history of painting, and let her name be sounded to the end of the world. If Miss Mitchell can turn her eye to the starry heavens and do a man's work in the science of astronomy, let it be so. Let her mount the ladder to the dizzy height of eminence. If any woman under the sun wishes to prepare herself for any work soever, and wishes to enter upon that work with purpose and devotion, let no one say nay. Compel the accumulated treasure of earth to unlock its golden doors and pay her munificently for that work. Let the foolish notions that prevail so widely be rebuked and banished from society. Let it be acknowledged that woman, as well as man, may do any work she pleases and receive an honest compensation for the effort expended and the work performed. I have somewhere read a story of a courageous woman who supported an aged mother, a drunken husband and three young children by her own toil. She paid her house-rent, always had wholesome food, and clothed those dependent upon her in decent garb. Such a woman has courage and ability enough to do anything she pleases, and do it well. She would be an ornament to any occupation or profession. With such a purpose in life, a woman can rise to any degree of excellence and greatness. And where is the dastard who will say that she shall not ? Where is that scoundrel, be he the employer of women in a store, be he one of the vultures of society who prey upon the vitals of sewing-girls and sewing-women, be he the member of a school corporation, who, says that a woman's work shall not receive a man's pay. Where is that dastard, I say, who would seek to depreciate woman's toil with a scale of wages one-third less than that paid to men for the same work ? Would that the patient goddess that stands forever upon the temple of justice, with the scales in her hand and the sword at her side, would unsheathe that glowing weapon and slay the employers of women who have not manhood and decency enough to pay honest wages for honest toil. It is a notorious fact that the female employees in the offices of the national government at Washington get one-third less pay than men for doing the same work, working the same number of hours, in the same office, and at the same desk. And we are told by those who know that they can scarcely eke out an honest livelihood with this poor pittance of pay ; and hundreds of the poor creatures, so we are told, give up in despair and sell their virtue to the highest bidder. It is a notorious fact that women who are so fortunate as to become principals of high-schools receive about one-half the pay that men do in similar positions. And teachers, in all the grades of public school work, are receiving less pay than men could be hired for, to do the same work. We hold this to be wrong in principle, wrong in practice, and beastly wrong to woman's energy and talent. We think this tendency in our modern society is a remnant of the barbarism of past ages. Woman has come up, through a long struggle, from degradation to a place of honor. The whole fabric of society is not yet set right upon the question of wages and labor, and especially in the matter of female labor. That the question is being rapidly solved and that the worst of the tyranny and injustice is a matter of history, we may well believe. The iron gates of prejudice are being battered down, and we fully believe that the time is speedily coming when honest work will have honest pay, and the question of sex will not be raised.
We believe, as already stated, that women must pay more special care to their preparation for work. Owing to certain follies in society, women are generally not quite as well prepared to enter upon their work as men are. Woman's life has not yet taken on that practical cast which belongs distinctively to a man's life. It is incumbent upon women, there-fore, to make themselves worthy first To educate the hand and brain for usefulness. Let woman make herself thoroughly capable to do her work and then let her enter upon that work by the side of a man with an equal chance for remuneration and success. When this law of labor is fully complied with, we somehow believe that the prejudices of society will soon melt away before the results of woman's toil. Along the skies of the future, radiant with the bloom of morning, a new hope is rising for woman and for woman's work. Prejudice, tyranny and injustice must melt away before the scorching light of this sun which is dawning.