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Girls and Women Part 3

But although I do not think that all girls should be urged to support themselves, the majority must do so, or they will burden others. There is also a large class of women who do not absolutely need to earn money, who nevertheless will be better and happier to do so. Independence is very sweet, and even if for love's sake a woman chooses to give it up, it is more inspiring to make a deliberate sacrifice of it than to be dependent because she must be. All homes are not happy, even where the members of the family love each other and have a general purpose to do right. Perhaps it may be said that few young people are satisfied thoroughly with their homes. Would it not mean the destruction of the ideal if they were? It would be terrible to them to have the home broken up, and they do love their parents, but they think they could manage better, and may be right in thinking so.

Now, if a girl at home has this feeling of unrest, she may be too ready to marry the first suitor, because she thinks more about the ideal home she can make than about the husband. If, on the contrary, she goes away and earns her living, she will look around her with less prejudiced eyes. If her home is really unhappy, she will be free from it. If its troubles are merely superficial, she will find this out as soon as she compares it with other homes. If she has not been willing to meet her share of trial and responsibility, she will now find that a change of place has not set her free, for the trouble was in herself. When she does go back to her home it will be with very different appreciation of it.

When a girl has become a woman her instinct leads her to long to be at the head of her own home, whether she is married or unmarried. To be absolute mistress even of one room in a lodging-house at the end of a day's labor is often better to her than to be at the call of everybody in her father's beautiful home where she is supposed to be at leisure all day. And this is right. If a girl has been badly trained, how can she help thinking she may do better than her mother does? If she has been well trained, she ought to be able to do better than her mother, for every generation begins at a higher point than the preceding. She has much of her mother's experience to help her while she is still fresh and strong and enthusiastic. There are very few women between the ages of twenty-five and forty who can be thoroughly contented in any home of which they are not the mistress, however patiently and nobly they may conceal their feelings. After forty they are often so tired as to be glad of any kind of a home.

Then there are women with special gifts. I am thinking now of one who had a fortune, and yet chose to do the hard work of a physician. She had the aptitude for the work and the means for thorough study. She was among the most skillful physicians of her native city. She saved many lives, and relieved much suffering. She gave her priceless services to hundreds of poor people, but she did not give to those who could pay for them. I think she was altogether right. The world was better because she used her gift, and she was happier, as all are who exercise their powers.

Perhaps she blocked the way of less fortunate physicians. But this was because she gave a better gift than they could give. Certainly she had a right to give it even to the rich whose money could only buy a part of it. If she had served the rich without taking their money, she would not only have sapped their self-respect, but she would have been a more formidable obstacle in the way of poorer physicians. She would have been offering a premium in money to those who employed her, whereas the only premium she had a right to offer was her superior skill. It was because she could give priceless services that she had so clear a right to fix a price which she did not need.

Suppose another woman her equal by nature, but who had not had the means for so complete an education, was set aside because she could not compete with one who had both the nature and the education,--even then the case would not be altered, for still the richer woman had a higher gift to give than the poorer one. It would be a bitter trial to the poorer woman to be met only by philosophy and religion; but if she were a just woman, she could not say that her rich rival had not done right.

When a beautiful young society woman of Boston consents to play at a concert every one feels it to be right, because few people can play so exquisitely. When she gives her services for some charity there is an especial fitness in it, since those who go to hear her wish to pay the high prices for the rare treat, and would still wish to do so if she were to keep the money for herself. But if she plays at a symphony concert, she certainly has a right to be paid as others are. That is a matter of self-respect. Why should she compete with other musicians on any unnatural basis?

These instances will show what I mean by saying that a rich woman who has a great gift has a right to use it in earning money, when if the gift were smaller she might not be justified.

There are some qualities which are gained by self-support better than in any other way. By receiving money in return for service, we learn what our service is worth to others. We learn what we can do and what we cannot do. We exchange self-conceit for self-respect. With a true estimate of ourselves we learn how to estimate others more correctly. We learn the real needs of the world and the way to meet them. In a word, we learn justice.

It is generally supposed that the qualities in which men are superior to women are justice and courage. Courage, too, is cultivated by self-support. A woman who daily faces the outside world may not be braver than one who faces the little world at home, but she probably will be. At the last moment the woman at home may sometimes shirk a task which seems formidable to her, though she may be ashamed of her cowardice; but a woman who has agreed to do a certain thing for a certain sum of money cannot shirk, however frightened she may be, and by degrees she learns to subdue her terror and go cheerfully and calmly to her work.

Furthermore, a woman who earns her money generally spends it more wisely than when it is given to her. She may not be as economical in all ways perhaps; but if she chooses to spend three dollars for a Wagner opera ticket when she has a shabby bonnet, because she loves music, she may be putting the true emphasis on her purchase, which she might not dare to do if some one else supplied the money.

On the whole, I am inclined to think that most unmarried women, as well as many who are married, should support themselves. Where the necessity exists, it is base to shrink from doing one's part. When others of the family must endure privation to keep her at home, it is seldom that home is a girl's place. But I would not have a girl too eager to support herself. And I would not have her urged unless there is necessity. Above all, I would guard her from illusions.

It is not easy to earn one's living. It is true there are some delightful modes of making money open to the fortunate few. But if one earns all one spends,--which is the meaning of earning a living,--there will always be hardships to meet. It is not best to anticipate trouble, but it is cruel to let any girl try to make her way in the world with the fancy that it will be easy. Yet most must make their own way, and perhaps most of these have a fair share of happiness, for there are compensations in all work done in the right spirit.

V.

SELF-SUPPORT--HOW SHALL GIRLS SUPPORT THEMSELVES?

And now how shall a girl choose her occupation? And how shall she be fitted for it?

If she has a superb voice she may sing. If she has undoubted genius in any direction her decision is easy, whatever difficulty there may be in getting her education. Most people, however, have not genius. They can do some things better than others, and it is of great importance to their success and happiness that they should be able to use their natural powers to the best advantage. Still their gifts are not great enough to be perfectly clear at sight. It is only by careful cultivation that they become really available, and if a mistake is made in the line of one's education it is hard to repair it.

I think the course I have already described as practical for girls should be the foundation for the education of all girls, save in a few exceptional cases. If, in the end, a girl marries, her reading and cooking and housekeeping are all necessary. How can she use these homely accomplishments in earning a living?

They will not, to be sure, bring her a large income, but there is a steadier demand for good work in these directions than in any others. So a woman who has them is almost sure of a modest support. She need not go out to service to be a cook. Who has seen the dignified and refined Mrs.

Lincoln giving lessons at the cooking-school without realizing that cooking may be a fine art, or who has read the cook-book of Mrs.

Richards without perceiving that cooking may be an intellectual pursuit?

But these women are exceptions. I will take a humbler example. I knew at school a stylish, energetic girl who was too dull to learn her lessons, but who had the air of polish which comes from association with educated people. Half a dozen years later she found herself obliged to earn her living. She had a little money, and she risked it in leasing a good house on a good city street which she filled with boarders. She worked very hard, and she had much to discourage and disgust her. But she knew how such a house ought to be kept, and she had the determination to keep it in that way. It will be seen that she was a rare landlady. Some landladies do not know how a house ought to be kept, and some have no clear purpose of keeping it as it ought to be kept when they do know the way. Therefore she had great success. There were always two applicants for every vacant room. Higher and higher prices were offered her. At last she bought her house. Then she laid aside money. By and by she had a comfortable fortune. She might then have retired from business, but she chose to go on. During the first five years of her career her experience had been so bitter that only necessity kept her at her post.

But now she had learned how to meet her difficulties, and it was a real pleasure to her to see how well she could do her work. It was the work she was born to do, as certainly as Raphael was born to paint pictures.

Few women are so successful; but at the present stage of the world I think it is true that no woman who thoroughly understands cooking and housekeeping need fear that she cannot support herself if she must. I knew a lady who excelled in these arts who was able to help her husband in establishing a school. He was a fine teacher, but too individual to work well in most schools. She took a dozen young people into the house and gave them a delightful home. Her husband earned the living of the family, and a very good living, too. She did little work with her hands, and an assistant teacher was employed to care for the pupils out of school. The housekeeping took but little time, and the lady was apparently almost as free as when her husband had been struggling along in a high school. But she understood so well what was needed that a word here and a look there kept all things smooth, and her husband who had seemed on the brink of ruin came out a successful man.

But all who can manage their own homes cannot manage those of others, even if they are willing to do so. Suppose with all her practical education our girl never shines as a cook or a housekeeper! I have suggested that she should be so thoroughly grounded in primary school work that she could teach her own children till they are twelve years old. Then, if she has the natural power to discipline, she can, if need be, teach a primary school. Now the number of primary schools to be taught is vastly greater than in any other grade, because all pupils must begin at the foot of the ladder, though most of them do not climb to the top. And it is doubtful whether competition among teachers of primary grades is proportionately great. I have heard of a leading normal school principal who decided to train his own daughter for primary work, because his experience showed him there was always a demand for such work. He said truly, "There are few schools which will pay much for unusual learning. Executive ability and tact in imparting knowledge are most wanted, together, of course, with thorough grounding in the rudimentary branches."

His daughter had both taste and talent for higher studies. He wished her to indulge her taste. "But," he added, "she must buy this higher knowledge as she would any other luxury, and not delude herself with the idea that it will make much difference with her power of earning money. If she earns her living by primary work, which requires little study out of school, she will have leisure to pursue her own tastes. Of course she may thus in time be fitted for higher work, and she may prefer to do it, and may even earn more money by it, but she will then do the work because it is her natural choice and not for the sake of the money." So altogether I believe that any girl who has the foundation education which will fit her for a home life will also be able to earn a respectable living if the need arises.

I would not, however, have her stop there. A woman who has to work wishes to work to the best advantage, both as to the amount of money she earns, and the quality of the work she does. I believe every girl should have the simple solid foundation I have indicated, but I also think that in most cases a superstructure should be reared upon it, and that there should be almost as many forms of superstructure as there are individuals. Therefore, in choosing your occupation I will suggest this rule: Do not despise the lowest drudgery which comes plainly in your way; but always choose the highest work you are able to do.

For example, I knew a highly educated young lady who found it necessary to teach. She hated the work, as many teachers do, and yet she had a fine, forcible character, so that she did her work well. One day in a moment of vexation she was heard to exclaim, "I would rather be a waiter in a restaurant than teach school!" Now it happened that one of her pupils did become a waiter in the very restaurant which had called out the remark. And she made an excellent waiter. Her apron was always clean and her hair was always smooth. She was quick and quiet in filling an order, and modest and self-possessed and sweet-tempered. She did her work well and used her leisure well, and she deserved great praise. But in her case this was the best work open to her. She was a hopelessly dull scholar, and she was awkward with her needle. Nor did she have the kind of mind necessary to direct others. She could not have conducted a boarding-house. She could, however, do her own little bit of work well.

Now what was fine in her would not have been fine in the teacher. To be sure, it is a pity to teach if one hates it, more of a pity than to do some mechanical work, because there is danger that the feeling may react upon the scholars. Still, this woman had the necessary self-control to do this good work. On the other hand, she was not attracted to any inferior work for its own sake. She would have made an excellent duchess. Her talents as well as her tastes fitted her for such a life.

But she had to earn her living, and so far as she or her friends could see there was no direction in which she could work without finding it intolerable. And so it seems to me she did right to choose the best work open to her and do it as well as she could, and I think if she had forsaken the school-room for the restaurant she would not have done what was best either for herself or for others.

I have known an ignorant woman who kept a lodging-house with such devotion that it was like a work of art. Its purity and freshness, its warmth and light had a charm beyond that of comfort. Such work is to be done, and it is not often done well, because the woman who does it is below rather than above her task. "Let the great soul incarnated in some woman's form, poor and sad and single, in some Dolly or Joan, go out to service, and sweep chambers and scour floors, and its effulgent day beams cannot be muffled or hid, but to sweep and scour will instantly appear supreme and beautiful actions, the top and radiance of human life, and all people will get mops and brooms; until lo, suddenly the great soul has enshrined itself in some other form and done some other deed, and that is now the flower and head of all living nature."

The lower work must be done, and often by the highest natures. It must then be done willingly and with a recognition that it can be made a work of art. But it should be deliberately chosen only by those to whom it is the highest work. I have in mind a young man who might have been a musician, but he would not practice, so he became a shoemaker. He had to work harder as a shoemaker than he would have done as a musician, but it was from hand to mouth. He did not have to work steadily towards a future good. He had no gift but that of music, so that even if he had been a musician he would have ranked far lower in the scale of manhood than the shoemakers of the village; but he would have done the best he could do, while as a shoemaker he was despicable.

I knew a good teacher, capable of taking responsibility, who hated it so that she gave up work the moment she had acquired a miserable pittance.

She lived ever after a pinched life, whose chief source of happiness to herself was the negative satisfaction of escaping responsibility; for she was too poor to gratify any of her many beautiful tastes. She had the power to lead a large, full life, but she had not the will and courage to meet the obstacles in her way. She chose instead to stunt herself and be a drudge. She swept her poor rooms clean, and she was willing to sweep them, but I do not think she "swept them as to God's law," for though she often made them "fine," I do not think she made "the action fine."

But such a case is rare. More people choose work too high for them. We all like to think we have some touch of genius, though we may be discreet enough not to say so. But few of us have talents at all equal to our tastes, and we must beware of trying to get our livelihood in the direction of our tastes rather than of our talents.

One girl in ten thousand has the voice of a _prima donna_. Ten other girls in ten thousand have voices so good that they believe them to be like that of a _prima donna_. The first will succeed beyond her wildest dreams. She will have fame and fortune. The other ten will have some success, success which will seem great to the lookers on, but they will have heart-breaking disappointments within their own breasts. A hundred girls in the ten thousand have more talent for music than for most other things, and if they are well educated, they may perhaps make a good living as teachers, church singers, organists, or accompanists. This is not what they hoped, but they do the work that belongs to them, and on the whole may be counted successful. Another hundred like music, and can learn enough to add to their enjoyment and to that of those about them.

They might even teach music, if the demand for teachers were not already filled by those who have a greater gift. But now it is clear their bread must depend on other work for which they have less taste. These are the "betwixt and between" who are always fighting a battle between taste and talent. They have a compensation,--they are less one-sidedly developed than if all their talents were concentrated in one; but they hardly realize this.

Now, how is the line to be drawn among the musical? Who are to earn their living by music and who are to be amateurs? Especially as fifty of our second hundred can with proper education easily excel fifty of the first hundred who have less education. Who is to decide whether it is prudent for a girl to spend all she has on a musical education with the hope of making herself independent in the end? No one can decide positively, but at least do not let any girl fancy that she is the one of ten thousand or even one of the ten. And let her ask for the judgment of more than one good musician before she is sure she belongs to the first hundred. If she loves music supremely, it may be worth while for her to spend everything on her education, even if she finally has to support herself with her needle, for it will be its own reward, and having tried to do what she believed to be her best, even her failure will not be a failure of character.

If there is any occupation delightful in itself, there will always be many people who will hope that they have talent enough to make it a source of livelihood. We all wish to be musicians and artists and poets.

The most bitter disappointments come to those who try these paths and fail. It has always seemed to me that where bread-winning is a necessity, we ought first to secure the means of living in some humbler way, and then there may be a chance to pursue these higher occupations for their own sake, and not to degrade them by false methods which we think will bring us money.

I have heard of a poor girl who had a genius for acting. She went out to service while she was studying, she learned how to do housework well, and she had that resource always left to her in case she should fail on the stage. She succeeded, but she could not have succeeded if she had insisted on acting at the outset.

I knew a girl who had ability as a story writer. Two positions were open to her at the same time, one as a book-keeper, the other as writer for a certain department in a third-rate magazine. She chose to be a book-keeper, for she knew that if she took the magazine work she must write whether in the spirit or not, and that the rank of the magazine was such that she would have little encouragement to do her best. Of course, as book-keeper she had very little leisure. Stories germinated in her brain which she had no time to write; but when she was thoroughly possessed by a story, she did find time to write it, and her work was good. She chose to do the second best work for money, so that her best work might not be degraded by the need of money.

Few persons have genius enough to undertake any artistic work if they have a pressing need for the money they are to receive from it. With ever so small an income from other sources, they may cheerfully try their best and prove what they can do. But with no income at all, they will be too greatly tempted to prostitute the talent they have. Yet "if you cannot paint, you may grind the colors." Occasionally our cravings for artistic work may partially be gratified by doing lower work in the same line, and this may sometimes be a foundation for the higher work.

A young girl had an ardent desire to be an elocutionist. She had a good voice, a flexible body, and some intelligence. She was willing to spend every penny on her education. Fortunately she had an unusually fine teacher, who told her the truth. He said, "You could easily learn the little tricks of voice and gesture which bring applause from ignorant people, and make one blush to be called an elocutionist, but you have not the dramatic sense and can never be a great reader. What you need to do is to study some literary masterpiece till you thoroughly appreciate it, and then read it as simply and clearly as possible."

"But would anybody come to hear me read?" she asked.

"I am afraid not," he said; "but you could teach reading."

This had not been her ambition, but she had an earnest character and was willing to read in the right way. She did take a place in a school and became a power there. She taught her scholars how to use the breath, to sit and stand easily and gracefully while reading, to enunciate clearly, and pronounce correctly. Moreover, she taught them to read noble poems instead of the flimsy showy jingles which had at first attracted her. She never made any figure as a public reader, but she did not regret serving the art she had learned to reverence on a lower plane.

But, some one may say, suppose she had not been able to teach! She might not have understood the art of controlling scholars even if she understood what to teach them. In that case she might have been a private reader to some elderly or infirm person. There is a demand for private readers, but few can fill such a place, though we fancy everybody can read. Even where there is intelligence so that one is a pleasant reader, there are few who can manage the voice well enough to read several hours in succession as is often desired.

A woman with artistic tastes will probably do better service in studying ways of making beautiful homes or in lines of decorative work than by striving to paint great pictures. Let her paint the pictures if she is moved to do it and has time, and if they turn out to be great pictures that will be well; but until her greatness has been proved, would it not be better for her to depend for her support on the less ambitious departments of her art, especially as a beautifully planned home gives a higher artistic pleasure than second-rate painting?

It is strange that so few women are architects. Architecture is the sublimest of arts, and yet it has room to employ humble talents. A practical woman with a love of beauty, a mathematical mind, and a knowledge of mechanical drawing would undoubtedly be a great help to an architect in planning dwelling-houses. At any rate, as the matter stands at present, very few interiors are either convenient or beautiful in proportion to the money spent on them. A woman might not plan a public building well, but her help is needed in all our homes, and especially in tenement houses.

I once knew a woman who was a poet. Her songs were full of beauty and helpfulness, but poetry is not lucrative. She took a position as teacher of literature in a girls' school. There never had been such teaching as hers in the school before. She showed the girls the poetic meaning of the great writers, and gave them a moral and intellectual impulse which lasted through life. Sometimes in an hour of inspiration she still wrote poems. Her teaching was so excellent that she was sought after in other schools. But she found that when she undertook too much her spirit flagged. She could still teach, but she could not write. So she went back to her first plan. Of course it was hard work. The girls were often dull and unsympathetic. Yet her study of literature helped her in her own great purpose of life, and the contact with youth was sometimes an inspiration in itself. Usually, however, teaching is an injury to a writer, because of the need of constantly adapting one's self to inferior minds.

There are few women who can devote themselves to pure literature, and few of these can earn a living by it; so, delightful as it is, it can hardly be counted among the bread-winning occupations. But if a woman thinks she can be satisfied to work regularly on a newspaper or a magazine she may often earn a large income. If money or fame is her object she must always sign her own name to everything she writes, as it takes genius to coerce the public into admiration of anonymous work.

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