Women And Business Habits
( Originally Published 1884 )
Education of Women.—Nations and Mothers.—True Sphere of Women.—Women and Work.—Women and the Art of Preparing Food.
"Lord! with what care hast Thou begirt us round!
WE have spoken of the mother of Washington as an excellent woman of business; and to possess such a quality as capacity for business is not only compatible with true womanliness, but is in a measure essential to the comfort and well being of every properly-governed family. Habits of business do not relate to trade merely, but apply to all the practical affairs of life--to every thing that has to be arranged, to be organized, to be provided for, to be done. And in all „those respects the management of a family and of a household is as much a matter of business as the management of a shop or of a counting-house. It requires method, accuracy, organization, industry, economy, discipline, tact, knowledge, and capacity for adapting means to ends All this is of the essence of business; and hence business habits are as necessary to be cultivated by women who would succeed in the affairs of home in other words, who would make home happy as by men in the affairs of trade, of commerce, or of manufacture.
The idea has, however, heretofore prevailed, that women have no concern with such matters, and that business habits and qualifications relate to men only. Take, for instance, the knowledge of figures. Mr. Bright has said of boys, " Teach a boy arithmetic thoroughly, and he is a made man." And why ?—Because it teaches him method, accuracy, value, proportions, relations. But how many girls are taught arithmetic well? —Very few indeed. And what is the consequence? When the girl becomes a wife, if she knows nothing of figures, and is innocent of addition and multiplication, she can keep no record of income and expenditure, and there will probably be a succession of mistakes committed which may be prolific in domestic contention. The woman, not being up to her business--that is, the management of her domestic affairs in conformity with the simple principles of arithmetic will, through sheer ignorance, be apt to commit extravagances, though unintentional, which may be most injurious to her family peace and comfort.
Method, which is the soul of business, is also of essential importance in the home. Work can only be got through by method. Muddle flies before it, and hugger-mugger becomes a thing unknown. Method demands punctuality, another eminently business quality. The unpunctual woman, like the unpunctual man, occasions dislike, because she consumes and wastes time, and provokes the reflection that we are not of sufficient importance to make her more prompt. To the business man, time is money; but to the business woman, method is more it is peace, comfort, and domestic prosperity.
Prudence is another important business quality in women, as in men. Prudence is practical wisdom, and comes of the cultivated judgment. It has reference in all things to fitness, to propriety; judging wisely of the right thing to be done, and the right way of doing it. It calculates the means, order, time, and method of doing. Prudence learns from experience, quickened by knowledge.
For these, among other reasons, habits of business are necessary to be cultivated by all women, in order to their being efficient helpers in the world's daily life and work. Furthermore, to direct the power of the home aright, women, as the nurses, trainers, and educators of children, need all the help and strength that mental culture can give them.
Mere instinctive love is not sufficient. Instinct, which preserves the lower creatures, needs no training; but human intelligence, which is in constant request in a family, needs to be educated. The physical health of the rising generation is intrusted to woman by Providence; and it is in the physical nature that the moral and mental nature lies enshrined. It is only by acting in accordance with the natural 'laws, which, before she can follow, woman must needs understand, that the blessings of health of body, and health of mind and morals, can be secured at home. Without a knowledge of such laws, the mother's love too often finds its recompense only in a child's coffin.
It is a mere truism to say that the intellect with which woman as well as man is endowed has been given for use and exercise, and not " to fust in her unused." Such endowments are never conferred without a purpose. The Creator may be lavish in his gifts, but he is never wasteful.
Woman was not meant to be either an unthinking drudge, or the merely pretty ornament of man's leisure. She exists for herself as well as for others; and the serious and responsible duties she is called upon to per-form in life require the cultivated head as well as the sympathizing heart. Her highest mission is not to be fulfilled by the mastery of fleeting accomplishments, on which so much useful time is now wasted; for, though accomplishments may enhance the charms of youth and beauty, of themselves sufficiently charming, they will be found of very little use in the affairs of real life.
The highest praise which the ancient Romans could express of a noble matron was that she sat at home and span" Domum mansit, lanam feat." In our own time it has been said that chemistry enough to keep the pot boiling, and geography enough to know the different rooms in her house, was science enough for any woman; while Byron, whose sympathies for woman were of a very imperfect kind, professed that he would limit her library to a Bible and a cookery-book. But this view of woman's character and culture is absurdly narrow and unintelligent.
Speaking generally, the training and discipline that are most suitable for the one sex in early life are also the most suitable for the other; and the education and culture that fill the mind of the man will prove equally wholesome for the woman. Indeed, all the. arguments which have yet been advanced in favor of the higher education of men plead equally strongly in favor of the higher education of women. In all the departments of home, intelligence will add to woman's usefulness and efficiency. It will give her thought and forethought, enable her to anticipate and provide for the contingencies of life, suggest improved methods of management, and give her strength in every way: In disciplined mental power she will find a stronger and safer protection against deception and imposture than in mere innocent and unsuspecting ignorance; in moral and religious culture she will secure sources of influence more powerful and enduring than in physical attractions; and in due self-reliance and self dependence she will discover the truest sources of domestic comfort and happiness.
But while the mind and character of women ought to be cultivated with a view to their own well-being, they ought not the less to be educated liberally with a view to the happiness of others. Men themselves can not be sound in mind or morals if women be the reverse; and if, as we hold to be the case, the moral condition of a people mainly depends upon the education of the home, then the education of women is to be regarded as a matter of national importance. Not only does the moral character but the mental strength of man find its best safeguard and support in the moral purity and mental cultivation of woman; but the more completely the powers of both are developed, the more harmonious and well-ordered will society be the more safe and certain its elevation and advancement.
When, about fifty years since, the first Napoleon said that the great want of France was mothers, he meant, in other words, that the French people needed the education of homes, presided over by good, virtuous, intelligent women. Indeed, the first French Revolution presented one of the most striking illustrations of the social mischiefs resulting from a neglect of the purifying influence of women. When that great national out-break occurred, society was impenetrated with vice and profligacy. Morals, religion, virtue, were swamped by sensualism. The character of woman had become depraved. Conjugal fidelity was disregarded; maternity was held in reproach; family and home were alike corrupted. Domestic purity no longer bound society together. France was motherless; the children broke loose; and the Revolution burst forth, " amidst the yells and the fierce violence of women."
But the terrible lesson was disregarded, and again and again France has grievously suffered from the want of that discipline, obedience, self-control, and self-respect which can only be truly learnt at home, It is said that the Third Napoleon attributed the recent powerlessness of France, which left her helpless and bleeding at the feet of her conquerors, to the frivolity and lack of principle of the people, as well as to their love of pleasure which, however, it must be confessed, he himself did not a little to foster. It would thus seem that the discipline which France still needs to learn, if she would be good and great, is that indicated by the First Napoleon —home education by good mothers.
The influence of woman is the same everywhere. Her condition influences the morals, manners, and character of the people in all countries. Where she is de-based, society is debased; where she is morally pure and enlightened, society will be proportionately elevated.
Hence, to instruct woman is to instruct man; to elevate her character is to raise his own; to enlarge her mental freedom is to extend and secure that of the whole community. For nations are but the outcomes of homes, and peoples of mothers.
But while it is certain that the character of a nation will be elevated by the enlightenment and refinement of woman, it is much more than doubtful whether any advantage is to be derived from her entering into competition with man in the rough work of business. Women can no more do men's special work in the world than men can do women's. And wherever woman has been withdrawn from her home and family to enter upon other work, the result has been socially disastrous. Indeed, the efforts of some of the best philanthropists have of late years been devoted to withdrawing women from toiling alongside of men in coal-pits, factories, nail-shops, and brick-yards.
It is still not uncommon in the north of England, for the husbands to be idle at home, while the mothers and daughters are working in the factory; the result being, in many cases, an entire subversion of family order, of domestic discipline, and of home rule.
One special department of woman's work demanding the earnest attention of all true female reformers, though it is one which has hitherto been unaccountably neglected, is the better economizing and preparation of human food. If that man is to be regarded as a benefactor of his species who makes two stalks of corn to grow where only one grew before, not less is she to be regarded as a public benefactor who economizes and turns to the best practical account the food-products of human skill and labor. The improved use of even our existing supply would be equivalent to an immediate extension of the cultivable acreage of our country not to speak of the increase in health, economy, and domestic. comfort.