Girls and Women Part 2

But why do I call this a practical education? Before I answer the question, I must say more on the subject of reading. A girl may enjoy biography, history, travels, and science and yet not have a taste for the best reading, that is, for true literature. She needs essays, novels, and especially poetry. She needs to be able to decide what is best and what is not; she must learn to respond to beauty and truth, and to repel what is false and ugly. This is the practical education, because it bears upon both happiness and character. It is practical as it makes the most of life not only for the woman herself, but for those about her. Bear in mind always that we have supposed her to have a high character and a perfectly trained will. Such reading will develop her judgment as to what is right.

But some women like to read too well. Their will is not perfectly trained, and they would rather think out a domestic problem than act it out. The education of books alone is so one-sided that we cannot consider it practical; it must be supplemented by cooking and sewing.

At our present stage of progress cooking is more important than sewing.

Sewing can be more easily put out of the house than cooking; and in any emergency sewing may be neglected from week to week without serious consequences, while cooking must go on every day. Moreover, cooking is by far the more healthful occupation, and one of the aims of a practical education is to make healthy women.

I do not glorify cooking. I do not think a good cook is the highest type of woman. I do not even think it is the duty of every woman to cook. But cooking is certainly practical, ninety-nine women in a hundred have occasion some time in their lives for this accomplishment, and if they are married it is nearly indispensable for them to have a knowledge of it for the comfort of their families.

Few women are born to be cooks, but most intelligent women can learn to cook. It saves immense labor, however, if as girls they learn the art.

It is singular that so many who fancy they want to be chemists hate the idea of going into their own kitchens to work. It is possibly because they cannot choose their own hours for cooking. Cooking certainly develops the mind as much as chemical experiments, and at the end of the process you have something of direct service to mankind, which may or may not be the case with work done in the laboratory.

Cooking, sewing, and housekeeping are essential for any woman, married or unmarried, who wishes to make a home, and a home is the practical goal of the majority of women. A woman who is neat and intelligent generally proves to be a good housekeeper without special instruction; but with cooking and sewing, "Who wishes to be a master must begin betimes."

Arithmetic is a science which a girl needs to understand thoroughly--not necessarily business arithmetic, which she can learn if occasion requires, but the principles of arithmetic, and she should be able to work in numbers quickly and accurately.

The tide of opinion is against me here. A boy must know arithmetic of course, or how can he fulfill his destiny and make money? But a girl!

Nevertheless, no woman can manage a household properly, or even guide her own affairs as a single woman, without a good knowledge of arithmetic. Her money will be wasted, her servants will cheat her, tradespeople will be demoralized by her. There may be so much money at her command that she goes on serenely unaware of harm. She may perform feats of charity, but what was meant to be a blessing becomes a curse through her ignorance.

A millionaire who meant to give his daughter every advantage began as usual with a French nurse and a German maid and a music master who could command a fabulous price, while he engaged an artist of distinction to oversee her untidy attempts at drawing. At last he remembered that she ought to have a teacher in English, and a lady was engaged to teach grammar and literature and history. "And arithmetic?" she asked. "A little, perhaps. Girls need very little."

The millionaire's daughter came to take her lesson--a bright, handsome girl, full of good nature. "I hate arithmetic, you know," she said confidingly, shrugging her shoulders and puckering her brows. "And then, what's the good of it for a girl?"

The teacher did not argue the question, but began her task. "If thirteen yards of ribbon cost $3.25, how much will one yard cost?" As doing this problem in her mind was quite out of Miss Malvina's power, she was allowed paper and pencil. She wrinkled her forehead, curled her lip, looked up and laughed, "I haven't the faintest idea, don't you know?" A few judicious questions led her to see the necessity of dividing $3.25 by 13, and she went to work. After a season of struggle her countenance cleared. "Upon my word, I've got the answer--25!" "Twenty-five what?"

"Twenty-five--why--twenty-five dollars!" "Wouldn't that be rather high for ribbon?" asked the teacher. "Oh, I don't know," replied Miss Malvina carelessly. "I'll tell you," she added triumphantly; "I should tell them to give me the best, and I suppose they would know what I ought to pay." This is hardly an extreme case. In the public schools the girls still learn arithmetic,--perhaps they spend too much strength upon it for the practical mastery they get; but in private schools the best of teachers find it almost impossible to give girls a working knowledge of the subject, because the tide of feeling is so strong against it.

By and by Miss Malvina's father found himself having trouble with his workmen. There were strikes. The family received threatening letters.

Malvina's rosy cheeks grew pale. "I don't know what they want," she said forlornly. "They say we are all so extravagant. I don't know what difference that makes to them if we pay for what we buy. We never hurt them. I wish we were not rich at all. It would be much nicer to be poor.

I should like to be a--what is it?--a commoner--or a communist or something. Then nobody would be envious."

Now there was not a more generous girl in the world than Malvina. If she had been afloat on a raft after a shipwreck she would have been the one to give up her last ration of water to any one who needed it more. She was ready to pour out money in any case of distress, but she had no idea of its value, and none of her charities prospered, except so far as her rosy, good-natured face could be seen, for that, to be sure, did good like a medicine.

And she was not a stupid girl, though certainly not brilliant in mathematics. If she had been taught that arithmetic is positively needed by every girl, rich or poor, she could have learned all she needed to know of figures to make her life a blessing to hundreds of people whom she only injured for lack of such knowledge.

A vast amount of the daily comfort of people of narrow means depends on the understanding the mother of a family has of accounts, so that the real needs and pleasures may be provided for without the contraction of debt. In a rich family the burden of the mother's incapacity for figures does not fall directly on those dearest to her, but it has unconsciously a far greater weight in the world at large, and is one of the chief among the unrecognized elements causing the increasing bitterness between the rich and the poor.

Let every girl, rich or poor, be required to keep her own accounts accurately from the time she is old enough to have an allowance of even ten cents a month, and there would be a perceptible amelioration in some of the hardest of present conditions.

I believe that some music should be included in a practical education,--certainly if a girl has a taste for it. The ability to sing hymns and ballads, and to play accompaniments well, adds so much to the happiness of a woman herself, and usually to that of her family, that it ought to be considered as something more than an accomplishment. I should not wish to be understood as limiting a musical education to these requirements. I should like to have every girl carry her education as far as she can without neglecting duties she feels more important.

Even when she has no musical talent, but merely a love for music, though she cannot give much pleasure to others, I think she may get an elevation of mind from stumbling through Beethoven and Wagner which is worth the time she spends. Still, I think singing is of more practical use than instrumental music, and the power to play simple things well which is so rare is in most cases more to the purpose than to stumble through Beethoven and Wagner.

Drawing is practical as it trains the eye and hand, but unpractical if it leads a girl to think her commonplace pictures are works of art. It seems to me that a good way for girls to study art is for them to look at good pictures with older people who have taste and judgment, because this gives them new resources of enjoyment. Of course when a girl has special talent she needs the training which will give her the power to produce, but this chapter is devoted to the general education of girls.

Every girl should study at least one science. Science trains the mind in a different way from other studies. And one science sheds light on all the rest. Then, anything which puts cheap pleasures within our reach is a safeguard and a blessing. The happiness of life is no light thing, and those who have tested it know how much simple happiness comes from the pursuit of botany or ornithology or mineralogy.

It would be a great thing if every woman could be so well educated that she could teach her own children, at least the main branches, up to the time when they are twelve years old. This is by no means saying that it is not well for many children to be sent to school, but it is calling attention to a great privilege which some mothers and some children may enjoy. What ought a woman to be able to teach her children? To read, in the broad sense, to write a legible hand, and to speak correctly. She ought to be able to teach them arithmetic, and also the rudiments of one science, to give them in early life the right outlook upon the world around them. She ought particularly to be able to give them fine manners, but these belong to the moral training which was spoken of at the beginning of the chapter. They do bear, however, on that part of the social life which may not be distinctly moral, but which is of high practical importance to one's success in life, as well as to one's happiness. Many of the noblest women are shy and awkward except with their special friends, and so are unfitted for practical life. Mothers should remember this and make a determined effort to give children the practice of meeting many people, though, of course, the kind of people and the conditions under which they are to be met require careful consideration.

As for the entirely moral qualities which contribute most to what is usually called success in the world, they are probably courage, good temper, thoughtfulness for others, perseverance, and trustworthiness.

And all this time I have said nothing of any use to be made of education in earning a living. Yet is not that just what our education must do if it is to be practical? I do not ignore this, and shall have more to say of self-support elsewhere. But on the principle that we eat to live rather than live to eat, I think even from a practical standpoint the full development of a woman is of more consequence than the amount of money she can earn. As far as the mere living goes, a practical woman can live better on a little money than an unpractical one on much. When her practicality comes from the high quality of her character, she will lead the best possible life whether she be rich or poor, and I believe the kind of culture I have outlined in this chapter will do something to add happiness to goodness and usefulness.



I Once knew an agreeable girl whose great failing was her self-conceit.

She was sure she could do everything anybody could do. As she did not look down on other people's efforts, she was amusing rather than annoying. She was always ready to write a poem, or sing a song, or paint a picture, and as she was a society girl and lived in a grand house, her little doings were often favorably mentioned in the local papers, so she may be pardoned for believing she had a variety of talents, though nobody who read her poems or heard her songs agreed with her.

Then came a crisis in her affairs. She was thrown on her resources without a moment's warning. She had to earn her living or starve. She had plenty of energy, and was willing to work. She took a rapid review of her powers. Then the scales fell from her eyes. She felt very doubtful if there was one among her accomplishments which would furnish bread for her. She would have said that all her conceit was gone. But it was not so. As her need was so urgent, she tried to find work first in one way and then in another. She was prepared to have the editors reject her manuscripts, and she was not surprised that she could not sell her pictures; but it was amazing to be told that her grammar and spelling were faulty, and it was hard to see the amusement in the faces of the art-dealers when they regarded her most cherished paintings.

No woman can earn a living without some mortifying experiences, but the more conceited she is the more such experiences she meets, because she is inclined to attempt things preposterously beyond her. So this poor girl who had always held her head high was snubbed by everybody; she was told the truth with brutal frankness, and in time she learned her lesson. She was not a dull girl nor a weak girl. There was one thing she could do well at the outset, though she had so little discrimination in regard to herself that it did not occur to her that this would be her lever for moving the world. She was a beautiful housekeeper.

She remembered this finally and acted accordingly. I cannot say that she enjoyed her experience with a series of widowers, but she did her work well and was paid for it. She also had a talent--strange to say it was for drawing. She did not realize this either, for she could not discriminate enough to see that her amateur work as an artist was at all different from her amateur singing and playing. At first she had thought she could do everything well, and then she thought she could do nothing well. But by slow degrees, and through much tribulation, she began to set her faculties in order, and when she found her germ of a talent she cultivated it. Ten years later she was able to support herself as an engraver.

By this time her one fault had vanished. She was simple and modest and self-respecting, while she retained the courage and cheerfulness which had made her attractive as a girl. "If you wish to cure a girl of conceit," she once said to a friend, "let her try to earn her living. As long as she does not ask to be paid, everybody will praise her work, but let her offer to sell her services and then see!"

I have not told this story to discourage girls who wish to be independent, but to show them the difficulties in their way. There is no doubt that every girl should be able to support herself. This very case makes it clear. But it does not seem to me equally clear that every girl should support herself, and certainly, if she does, it requires great judgment to select the way.

Fifty years ago women were very dependent, but now many avenues are open to them, and perhaps they have been urged almost too much to earn their own living. I will therefore speak of some circumstances in which it seems to me a girl is to be excused from that.

1. If she is rich, I think there are two objections to her earning money. One is trite and has been often answered. She should not take the bread out of the mouths of those who need it. I do not think this a very strong objection, because every one who works and produces anything adds to the wealth of the world, and sets others free to work for new ends.

But one can do good service, without working for money, and, in point of fact, a woman who chooses any of the common ways of earning money usually does shut out some one else.

To illustrate: I knew two school-girls who were classmates, both excellent girls. Martha was the best scholar in school. Lucy was rather dull, though not conspicuously so. Martha wished to teach, as her mother was a widow and poor. She applied for a situation in a neighboring town, but was told that some one had been before her, and though the matter was not then decided, the school was at last given to the first-comer, who proved to be Lucy. Lucy's father was a well-to-do merchant whose name was known to the committee, and this settled the question. Lucy herself was quite innocent. She had no wish to interfere with Martha.

Nor had she any special wish to teach. But she wanted a new silk dress, and she thought she should like to earn it. Her friends said she showed the right spirit and encouraged her. Martha and her mother suffered the most pinching poverty while Lucy was earning her dress, and when Martha at last found a place she proved to be a wonderful teacher, while Lucy was a commonplace one. It might, of course, have been the other way. If Lucy had been the gifted girl, then she certainly ought to have used her gifts, but not necessarily for money.

This is one of many instances which lead me to think that if girls who are rich try to earn money they crowd out those who are poorer. They do, however, gain some things so valuable as almost to offset this objection; for instance, they are cured of conceit. I shall return to this subject.

The other objection to the earning of money by the rich is, that there is so much work to be done in the world which cannot in the nature of things be done by those who have to earn their living, that the rich cannot be spared for ordinary occupations. I shall give a special chapter to the work of the leisure classes.

2. There are many families of moderate means where one daughter, at least, can be supported at home without great sacrifices on the part of any one. This is true of almost every family where a servant is kept, for a mother and daughter together can usually do the work of a family more quickly and better than the mother and a servant. Now, if a girl has domestic tastes and is willing to work at home, it seems to me better for her to stay there, even with very little money, than to try to make herself independent elsewhere. If her tastes are not domestic, it changes the case entirely. Then let her go out and use the powers which have been given her.

3. A girl is sometimes needed at home by an invalid father or mother, or she can help the children or make them happy. No general rule can be laid down, because no two cases are alike, but it is often true that a girl ought to give up not only earning money, but even using some of her powers, for the sake of doing still better work at home. And there are multitudes of instances in which she should not be urged to leave home unless she wishes it.

Practically a home life is a good preparation for marriage, which will be the lot of most girls. But though it is a good preparation, it is not the best. Every girl needs a broader outlook on life than she can get in her own home. If she is rich she can choose her way of getting it, by travel, or in charities, or even through society. But the best knowledge of the world is gained through the attempt to support herself. If her occupation takes her into new sections of country, it also develops her just as travel might do.

I am inclined to think that the ideal preparation for marriage would demand half a dozen years between school and the wedding-day, divided into three parts, given in order to a home life, to self-support, and to travel.

It is often said that a girl ought actually to support herself before she can be fitted to do so in case of an emergency. I remember the daughter of a wealthy man who went into a counting-room and worked several years for this reason. Her father said that as soon as she could live on the income she earned he thought the experiment would have succeeded and she might return home. At first it seemed as if it never would succeed. She was a good accountant and earned a fair salary. But she had been accustomed to spend more than most girls can earn, and she was loth to reduce her expenses just when she was working for money. By the end of the second year, however, she began to be tired of her work, so she rigorously kept within her salary for the third year, and then retired. Her experiment had been infinitely easier than if she had been obliged to make it without having other resources, but she had learned valuable lessons.

It seems to me that if a girl who need not work for money does so she will do well to live on what she earns, at least for a time. To earn an extra silk dress does not seem an adequate object. I think if our accountant had gone on many years as she began she would not only have taken the place needed by some one else, but she would have made other accountants discontented because they could not dress as she did. She would have raised the standard of luxury among them without adding anything to their power to reach it.

I knew a young lady with a narrow income who for that reason chose to teach in a large school where several other teachers were employed at the same salary, namely, six hundred dollars. Everybody praised her judgment and taste, for she appeared to be able to do so much more than the rest with her money. Everybody said that six hundred dollars was a fine salary for anybody who had the wit to use it. Some thought a general reduction of salaries would not be amiss. Nobody knew of her reserve. The other teachers tried their best to do as well, but they grew discouraged and envious. Of course she was not to blame, but I think that in general the common welfare is best served when the wage-workers live on what they earn, at least while they are earning it.

The surplus can be laid aside for the time when they are at leisure.

Chapter end

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