Girls and Women Part 4

A great many women have found it well to be teachers, and most of their work is conscientiously done, though few have the highest ideal so constantly before them as to find pleasure in the work when their own faults are of such a nature that success depends on overcoming them. A firm, quick-witted woman, with sufficient self-reliance to relish responsibility, is the only one who can be happy in a large school or at the head of a small one. Now, those are the lucrative positions for teachers, and, indeed, the positions in which the largest results can be accomplished, and they ought to be filled by the finest women. But the finest women must have certain other qualities. They need to be thoughtful even more than quick witted; they must be able to balance conflicting interests, and that is hard to reconcile with firmness; and if they are modest and conscientious they rarely have the self-reliance which makes responsibility anything but a grievous burden. Yet there are teachers who have enough of all these contradictory qualities to succeed in doing the difficult and admirable work if they are only willing to be unhappy for the sake of doing something noble.

But some can never be disciplinarians, however determined their character may be, principally, I think, because the true student must usually be occupied with a train of thought which cannot be interrupted from moment to moment to detect the petty tricks of insubordinate pupils. So if you mean to be a teacher, think first whether you have quick observation; then, are you firm, and are you willing to give your whole heart to your work? If you can answer these questions favorably, you may persevere in your attempt to make your way to the head of a school, even if your first trial does not succeed. If you have not the executive ability, then turn all your energy in other directions. There are positions as assistants in grammar schools where any woman of good education who is conscientious and persevering may in time work to advantage, and though such positions are probably more mechanical than any others, yet they often leave the teacher considerable freedom to pursue her own tastes outside of school.

But if you feel that your temperament is essentially that of the student, so that you could fill the place of assistant in some advanced school, then give yourself to special studies. I would not say study history exclusively for ten years, even if you have a taste for history, because there are few schools where a teacher can be employed for history alone. But suppose you spent half your time for twenty years on history, and the other half on literature, languages, etc., you would probably find some place open to you all the time, and at the end of twenty years you might be fit for a college position, and much more fit than if you had narrowed yourself to one study. In most cases the bent in one direction is not so strong that the student cannot do many things fairly well. The half dozen best scholars in most secondary schools are usually the best in mathematics, in the sciences, in literature, and in language. It is a good plan for such scholars to "level up" in every direction. Two years' study in each line after leaving school will carry them beyond the requirements of most schools,--though of course no teacher can hope to succeed who does not study daily the branches she teaches, to keep abreast of the times, and to make her teaching fresh,--and if she is able to teach a variety of subjects she is pretty sure to find an engagement in some of the many schools where only a few assistants can be employed. And it is no small additional advantage that her own mind is more evenly developed than that of a specialist.

Just now the demand for women to teach the sciences seems to be greater in proportion to the supply than in any other direction. If a girl has a natural taste for chemistry, zoology, or mineralogy, and cultivates it, she is very sure to "put money in her purse." But the supply is increasing, so this state of things may not last long.

No one thinks sewing an attractive means of livelihood, but where a girl has a decided taste for the needle there are openings for her gifts. I know a mother and daughter who support themselves in comfort by embroidering dresses for the stage, and by giving lessons in the making of fine laces. And I heard the other day of a farmer's daughter who came to the city to work as a dressmaker, and who showed such taste and skill that she soon commanded a salary of two thousand dollars for overseeing an establishment. It is pleasant to add that she married a rich man of refined tastes, and that she made a beautiful home for him, a centre for all lovers of the fine arts.

A thousand occupations are now open to women. You can be a type-writer, or a stenographer, or a private secretary, or saleswoman. You can keep a bakery, or do city shopping for country ladies. But whatever you do, keep these principles in mind:--

1. Do not drift into any work. Circumstances may force you to do something unsuited to you, and then you must do your best; but where even a narrow choice is left, try to weigh your own tastes and talents truly, and choose something to which you are willing to give your energies, and in which, if you work hard, there is reasonable hope you will succeed.

2. Whether you like your work or not, make it something more than a means of self-support. We all want "a broad margin to our lives," and we may do our great life-work entirely outside of our work for bread. But most of us necessarily put so much of our strength as well as our time into earning our livelihood, that, if we are the women we ought to be, that too must express our nobleness. We may not like our work, but we can make it worth doing, even if we never gain a penny from it. Milton was no doubt sorry to receive only 15 for "Paradise Lost," but we should all be willing to starve in a garret to do work like that. It ought to be the same with the humblest occupation. We should like to earn something by it, but first we wish to have it worth more than money, and it will be so if we work in the right spirit.



In one of George Eliot's letters she says that her chief hope from the higher education of women is that they will do much unproductive labor which at present is either badly done or not done at all. But she thought it would be unbecoming in her to say much publicly on that subject, for she could not fail to know that her own genius set her apart from other women and gave her a definite work to do.

For those who have simply many good powers without any dominating one the case is different. The poor must use their gifts to gain bread; but if they do not make their occupation the medium of higher work, they are no better than the idle rich. The rich, instead of being excused from work by circumstances, are the more bound to work, because they can choose what is best in itself.

Where a girl has many equal gifts it may be well sometimes to have several occupations; but it is usually best to choose some one form of daily employment as the nucleus of her life, and to persevere with that till she accomplishes something.

Most girls would choose to devote themselves to some charity. I will speak of that in another chapter. Here I wish to say something of occupations which can be followed only by those who are rich enough to dispose of their own time, and which, though at first they may not seem to be of much use to others, are indirectly among the most powerful factors in the progress of the world.

In New England, at least, girls often stay in school till they are twenty, and by that time they have learned the elements of chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, physiology, geology, and astronomy. If they have learned these thoroughly, the variety of studies is an advantage, as one science throws light on all the rest. Yet of course they have learned only the rudiments of any of these subjects, and if they try to carry them all on after leaving school they can hardly do very good work in any.

Suppose a girl decides that chemistry is the most fascinating of the group. Then let her make a special study of that. She will know enough of the other sciences to use them when she needs their help, or she may wish to study minerals or plants or animals chemically. If she is rich, she ought to carry on her study with special teachers till she reaches a point where she can do original work. Then, let her have her own little laboratory, and give some hours every day regularly to experiments.

"Original work" sounds terrifying to most girls; they think it requires genius. It does take genius to gather the results of experiments into laws. But as I have elsewhere suggested, the experiments must all be first tried; and many a girl is neat and skillful and accurate enough to do all the drudgery necessary, leaving the man,--or woman,--of genius free for the higher work. True, it takes genius to know what experiments to try. But a girl who has had special teachers is sure to know one among them who is doing original work, and who wishes the days were twice as long that he might try more experiments. Let her ask him to trust some work to her. She may make some discoveries herself, but at any rate she will do work which is needed.

I call to mind a case in point. A young lady had a great taste for drawing, as well as a good scientific mind. She became acquainted with a physician who was making original studies in the microscopic germs of disease. They worked side by side. The physician detected the animalcules and plants and crystals with the microscope, and explained to her how he wanted them represented. She was intelligent enough to understand his explanations and skillful enough to make the drawings.

His own drawings were too clumsy to convey his idea, but with her help his observations were made available for others.

Suppose a girl enjoys botany. I know a woman who has made lichens the study of a life-time. This has been a source of high culture as well as of pleasure to herself, for, as she says, this is the most intellectual family of plants, and no one can study their structure without being brought face to face with profound questions. Moreover, this study has opened her eyes and those of her friends to much beauty; for until we begin to look at lichens we are often conscious of hardly more than a dull wall of rock or the dead gray wood of old buildings, when in truth every inch of their surface is decorated with rich forms and delicate colors. She won a certain measure of fame by the discovery of a new lichen, but she did better than that, she made one of the finest collections in the United States for a local city museum, so that the fruits of her labor were thus accessible to future lichenists; and she gave much needed help to geologists in investigating fossil lichens.

Local collections of any kind are valuable. A young lady who superintends the making of one in the town or village where she lives will learn much herself, and she will attract many other young people to pursue an innocent and healthful pleasure, so becoming a power in the community. There are few such collections now in existence, and any girl living in a small place who has a taste for science may act as a pioneer. She can begin modestly with a single case at her own house, or, better still, at the public library, and she will be surprised to see how fast the museum will grow, and how useful and delightful it will be.

If a woman likes to experiment with plants, let her study botany at the Harvard Annex. There she will learn how many questions in vegetable physiology are awaiting investigation. Darwin studied one twining plant after another till he discovered the rate of motion for each. Dr.

Goodale tells us how to trace the motion of ordinary growth. But think of the myriads of plants which have not yet been examined, any one of which is likely to yield suggestive results.

If a woman loves flowers and does not care for botany, she has the whole beautiful domain of horticulture open to her. Naturally she will have a garden of her own and be connected with some flower mission. But she might do more. A rich woman in the country who determined to make that her principal work could easily interest every child in the community in a garden, and by perseverance she might make the whole village blossom with new beauty. In the city she might be the means of making the balconies in whole streets lovely with growth.

I heard of a young lady not long ago who was raising spiders for the purpose of studying their habits. If she is in earnest, and has the intelligence to try experiments, she may some day contribute something substantial to scientific knowledge. I have heard of another who is raising snails, and of still another who makes a specialty of caddis-flies. Most people consider such work innocent and amusing, but it may easily be made more. Take the question of the antennas of insects. It took the combined experiments of a German and an American to discover that the plumed antennae of the male mosquito vibrated differently to different parts of the female's song, thus representing an outward ear. Now, of the two hundred thousand known species of insects, all of which have antennae, probably less than fifty have been examined with anything like patience. These organs apparently serve in some cases for touch, and sometimes for smell. It will take years of study by hundreds of people to make the experiments necessary to decide on their relations to the senses and the brains of insects. When they are thoroughly understood, some light may be thrown on our own brain and senses.

Who but the rich can have leisure for such important experiments? Yet any girl with a school knowledge of zoology could begin to work with some common insect, and be all the better for spending several hours every day in such a pursuit.

I know a lady devoted to zoology who has many opportunities to travel.

She comes home laden with rare specimens which she distributes to all the people she knows who can appreciate them; and another who has given several years past to the study of geology. She has now become so accomplished as to have made an excellent geological map of the town she lives in. Such a map is greatly needed in any town, but how few are to be found!

Another lady who has a taste for mineralogy has unconsciously done good in her own village by means of it. All the boys and girls in town are ready to help her and have learned something from her. Her collection is open to everybody. She has formed a club of ladies for the study of the science in the winter evenings. There is a higher intellectual and moral tone in the place because of this new interest.

Goethe makes one of his heroines a lover of astronomy; he represents her as living quietly with her telescope, and passing night after night in close study of the stars. There is something ideally beautiful in his description of her.

One of my friends chose to give most of her time to music. Without being a genius, she played remarkably well, and she made her work available for others by playing the organ in a church which was rich, in everything but money. I knew another fine pianist who gave lessons to children who could not otherwise have had them. In both these cases the ladies were as much bound by their self-imposed tasks as if they had been earning their living, and their characters received almost as great benefit; but it would not have been well that they should be paid for their work. Why should they compete with those who needed the money?

Harriet Martineau was not rich, but when she settled down in her own little country-house she had a competence. She made her study useful to the people around her, as well as to the world. She was skilled in political economy, and she took pains to present its knotty problems in a clear and simple form to the untrained minds of her poor neighbors.

All women are not born to lecture even in this small way. But the study of history, and still more of philosophy, does something more than to broaden the mind of the student. A woman with a clear mind looks at every subject more wisely than if she were half educated. Her judgment has weight with every one she comes into contact with; but however little her influence may be, it is likely to be on the right side. What we are is so much more than what we do! Girls who are longing to do some great thing are impatient when they are told this. It is so much easier to measure what we do than what we are. I know a girl with a fine intellect who loves to study, but who cannot quite give herself up to study because she is haunted by the feeling that in this way she is concentrating her life on herself. It is true there are learned women who are very selfish, but it is not true that their learning makes them so, certainly it is not, if they think and judge as well as learn. This girl believes she ought to visit the poor, and some time she may do some good in that way; but her natural aptitude is in another direction. If she ever succeeds in so disciplining her intellect that she has just views of life, she will have it in her power to exert a wide influence.

If she could, for instance, convince her imperious father and brothers that there was something to be said on the side of their striking workmen, she would indirectly do the poor more good than she could ever do directly. Perhaps she could convince them. One reason that her father is so eager to grind men down is because her mother is frivolous and extravagant.

I call to mind a girl who has been studying art abroad for some years.

She has talent enough to earn her living by her work, if that were necessary. As it is not, she has chosen to do a fine thing. She has made copies of many of the great paintings of the world, and she has given these to the quiet boarding-school where she was educated. The copies are good enough to be a factor in the education of the girls who have not yet seen the originals. She has also used her skill and taste in selecting almost a thousand unmounted photographs from the great masters for the same school. These she has arranged herself, mounting them and writing out plainly on each card the name of the picture with that of the artist and a few words referring to the time and place of the painting. As arranged, these photographs form an illustrated history of art.

Another girl perhaps chooses to study languages. When this leads to the foreign literatures, it is one of the highest intellectual occupations possible. But there are ways of making languages outwardly available. I remember a friend at a custom-house who successively helped three steerage passengers out of unknown troubles by speaking French, German, and Italian with them, and interpreting to the officers, one of whom at last turned with a laugh, saying, "I wonder if there are not any Chinese about. This lady would be sure to help them."

Translation, as everybody knows, does not pay. A few very famous books are brought out by the half dozen leading translators, and all others must either lie unread or be translated by those who do not need any money for their work. Yet there are books which ought to be translated, though they will not pay. And how rare it is to translate well! Even rarer than to write English well. If a woman is aware that she has grace in expressing herself, and a delicate perception of the meaning of words, and the power to comprehend the thought of a writer, then can she do better with time and money than to perfect her knowledge of a language so that she can make a good translation of some fine book which would otherwise be neglected? If she should also have some poetic gift, she might even translate poems which ought to be known. Probably no poem was ever poetically translated for money.

There is another occupation for rich women more exclusively womanly--the care of children. I remember a rich mother who did this work well. She had a nurse, indeed, to relieve her of some of the drudgery, though she did not shrink from this, too, when it was needed; but the greater part of the day was passed with her children. She knew what words they heard and what actions they saw. She identified herself thoroughly with them.

I will not say that she knew all their thoughts, but I think she knew all they were willing to express to any one. She entered into their games and taught them to play. But though she was so much with them she did not let them feel that she had no other uses for her time. She read or wrote or sewed at one end of the long nursery, while they played at the other. She tried to develop their independence, and she trusted them little by little, more and more, as she saw they had strength to take care of themselves. She studied their characters, and gave much thought to the way to correct their faults. Sometimes a single word of reproof or command was the result of hours of thought, but they could not know that. At last they seemed to be thoroughly self-governing. They did the right thing instinctively, whether she was there to see them or not. If they were in doubt they came of their own accord to ask her advice, not requiring her command.

By degrees she separated herself from them for most of the day simply to teach them self-reliance, not because she was tired of her task. The hours of separation were still given to them. She thought of them and studied for them, and planned ways of making herself most charming to them when they were together again. In the end they were free strong men and women, able to stand alone, and yet enthusiastically attached to their mother, so that every pleasure was the dearer if she shared it.

If a woman has no children of her own, it often happens that she may do this good work for her little brothers and sisters, or for her nieces and nephews. Or, if there is no one among her kindred who needs her care, there are always the orphan children.

If a woman of wealth and leisure adopts a child the experiment usually fails. I have often wondered why, and I think I can see the reason. A rich and cultivated woman who has also the large heart which leads her to take a child belongs to the very highest development of the race.

The destitute waif is often from the dregs of the people. The distance between them is too wide for sympathy. She trains this child as she would train her own, and the child feels oppressed. Its faults are so different from those of her own childhood, that she is overwhelmed by them and quite at a loss how to meet them. And yet, it would be a pity for her to repress the generous wish to help a child. I think such a woman may sometimes find the child of educated parents, perhaps from among her own circle of friends whom she can naturally help; and if she will take two children instead of one, her task will be lightened for they will help each other.

But if she finds it best to adopt one of the lowest class, she may still succeed by remembering several things. 1. It is too much to expect to train such a child to be a real companion, though in some rare cases this may follow. Her main effort should be to awaken and guide the moral nature, and to do this she must learn to look at the child from another standpoint than her own prejudices. 2. She must give the child an abundance of simple physical pleasures, and, if possible, companions of about its own intellectual grade. 3. She must enter heartily into all the child does, and endeavor to understand the workings of its mind.

Many young women who would hesitate to take the whole responsibility of one child may find useful and pleasant employment for themselves by teaching a class of children of the poor. They can teach them to sew or to read, they can provide simple pleasures for them, and supplement the work of the public schools in a hundred ways necessary in cases where there is no adequate home life.

There is another great work to be done by rich women--that of giving a higher tone to society. I knew a delicate woman who went to live in a large and rapidly growing Western city. On account of her wealth and connections all the leading people in the place called upon her at once, and her house became a centre of society. She used her good taste in making her home really beautiful--not showy or fashionable. Then she opened it freely to congenial friends. Some of her visitors were society people, but many were not. There were thoughtful teachers, clever young collegians who had gone West to seek a fortune and had found drudgery awaiting them instead, half a dozen unknown musicians and artists, and a few educated Germans and Swedes whom fate had stranded far from home.

These people were welcome every day and at all hours. For this lady, who had intellectual tastes, had been forced by the weakness of her eyes to get her education from people rather than from books. So a perpetual _salon_ was a pleasant thing to her. All who were invited to her home had some moral or intellectual gift which made their company desirable, not only to the hostess but to the other guests. The rich and poor met together there, but not the cultivated rich and the uncultivated poor, or the uncultivated rich and the cultivated poor. Consequently, the conversation was real. A young professor would come in with the "Atlantic Monthly," begging leave to read an article to her, and the reading would begin without any superfluous remarks about the weather.

Others would come in, but the reading would go on and the discussion it suggested. An artist would bring a new picture, and the conversation would turn in a new direction. A musician would sing an air, and a quiet German would be led to speak of his life in the Fatherland.

But with all her leisure, my friend found it a burden to keep up the round of merely formal calls required of her. She did not wish to hurt the feelings of any one, so she persevered for a while. She set apart one day in a fortnight for a reception day. (You may be sure none of her bright and interesting friends came then.) And once a fortnight she took her card-case in hand and drove rapidly about the city, returning calls.

But she seldom called formally on anybody who had once been asked to her _salon_. These were the people, she said to herself, who could _understand_.

Her delicate health excused her from giving parties. Coffee and cakes were always at hand for refreshment, and any caller was welcomed to lunch or dinner if he happened to be at the house when the bell rang.

The dinners were always good, but no change was made for a visitor. She always refused to go to parties or receptions, which she thought insufferable except when there was dancing. But she could not escape the burden of party calls. The difficulty in carrying out her plans was that there was no definite line between her sheep and goats. There were some with whom she had to be both formal and informal, and she knew it could not be right for her to drop totally everybody whom she did not fancy.

Many other women had felt the same burdens too heavy to be borne, but had seen no escape. She suggested a club-house for ladies in some central part of the city which they all often passed in shopping. It should be a comfortable resting-place, with restaurant, reading-room, etc. It should always be open, but one afternoon in the week should be considered a special reception day. That would give ladies a chance to see each other with very little trouble. When a stranger came into town, if it was thought she would be a congenial acquaintance, two members were to call upon her and invite her to the club, and see that she was properly introduced. Then she was considered one of their number, and was free from the bondage of calls ever after. There were many other regulations emancipating the members from the tyranny of unsocial society. Of course many ladies objected to all this. Their idea of society was the conventional one, and they continued to live on that basis. Most of them were welcomed at the club, but its members did not call upon them, or go to their parties, or give them parties in return, always excepting parties with an object like music and dancing. Parties had given place to informal gatherings like my friend's _salon_, where something real could be said.

Chapter end

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