Women in the Business World
Women’s meeting, North Carolina
Ever since Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden, in the cool of the day, calling upon them to come forth from their hiding place and give an account of themselves for their sin they had committed, when Adam — man-like placed the blame upon the woman, ever since the day God cursed the ground, and told man “in sorrow shalt thou eat of it, all the days of thy life” — in the sweat of they face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the ground — there has been a struggle for something to eat, something to wear, and a place to sleep.
Work or starve has been God’s mandate and all the years of man’s life has been a struggle whereby he could escape toil and place it upon the beasts of the field, upon the woman which God gave him as a help-meet — upon anything and anybody, provided he could enjoy his ease and escape from the sweat and fatigue which labor produces.
When God found out just how helpless man was after he had placed him in Eden, the helpless monarch of all he surveyed — when out from God went forth the proclamation, “It is not good that man shall be alone; I will make him an [sic] help-meet for him — man has been inclined to look upon woman as his God given servant, slave, beast of burden, his hewer of wood and his drawer of water.
The record of woman’s bondage from the gates of Eden to Golgothas [sic] Hill is the common property of this wide world. It is a tale so grievous that one can hardly believe that Adam said when he awoke from his sleep and looked upon the first woman said — “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”
For nineteen hundred yeas a struggle has been going on to release woman from bondage, and to accord to woman from man’s treatment, “something better than his horse, something dearer than his dog.”
We hear much and read much in these days about Woman’s Place; and many have adopted the old maxium [sic] which we have applied to our children — “Children should be seen and not heard” — and have changed it to “Women should be seen and not heard;” and then some attempt to give force to this doctrine by quoting Paul — saying, “Let your women keep silence, and if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home.” In the days of Paul, when we supposed that husbands actually staid [sic] at home, this doctrine might have had some force — but in these days when some few husbands come home at night, bolt their meals, and then go out to return in the, “we [sic] sma [sic] hours” of the morning or eat and drop in bed and conduct a snoring match till time to arise and go hence, if they can learn anything from such husbands, the thing which they learn will be of little service.
I am not before you, to-day, advocating the cause of the something which men, in their ridicule have seen fit to call the “new woman.” I am not before you advocating the masculine woman, I am not here to say one word in behalf of the woman who wishes she was a man and wants to indulge in all the sports and fashionable dissipation of men.
I am talking about women, noble and true and clean. Women that God made, who respect God and bow before Him and try to obey His laws. Women who love their homes, their husbands, their children, and who strive for the uplift and betterment of that home. In these years of fierce competition for something to eat, and where withal to be clothed, the growth of the family, and in many cases, the complete and absolute worthlessness of the man who calls himself husband, women have been forced to leave the fireside and turn their attention to some kind of work to better support themselves and in many instances to support children, mother and father and, too, often a great big, good for nothing, lazy man — called husband.
Woman do not voluntarily leave the shelter of the fireside to engage in the wild rush for an existence. The timidity and retiring disposition of women unfit them for the strife, competition and worry of business life. But, we must do something. We can’t sit still with folded hands and starve. We are up and doing, working and scuffling because our needs and necessities and our ambitions force us to enter the world and contend for a living.
The old doctrine that a man marries a woman to support her is pretty nearly thread-bare to-day: a few men are able and do support their wives. But the greater portion of married men can’t support wife and children — with the wages received by them; hence, the woman that doesn’t want to feel that she is a burden to the man she married — puts forth an effort and goes out into the world — not for name, not for glory and honor, but for bread and for her babies.
There are more women in this world than men. We find more women than men. Each Colored woman, then, in the United States cannot have a husband upon whom to depend for sustenance and hence some of them must look out for their own support. Nearly every day, we hear the cry that women are invading the occupations once exclusively filled by men. That it is true, we all know: but true only as it applies to the white woman.
In early every occupation in which a white man is engaged, except those of extreme laboriousness, the white woman has found her way. She, the white woman is out in the business world and the stubborn prejudice of the white man is giving away, and the white woman is found working side by side with the white man.
She is not doing this because of any great love for work, but she is doing this because she wants clothes, wants food, wants money. White men have ceased to push her back and are now making room for her, and extending to her the helping hand.
But what are the colored men doing to encourage and assist the colored woman in her struggle to feed and clothe herself, so that she may be sweet and clean and maintain her good name? What are the men, into whose faces I am now looking, doing to assist their own women?
Have you ever stopped and considered the helpless condition of your own women? Outside the school room, where a few find occupation and domestic service in the white men’s homes, what is there for the Negro Woman to do?
Don’t you know that ninety-five per cent of our women who go astray, do so not from deliberate choice, but from absolute need, selling their souls to clothe their bodes! Are you going to stand by and see your own women sink into the mire of sin and degradation, when united effort on your part would save them? Instead of scoffing at the efforts of your women, instead of criticizing them, every Negro man, every Negro Newspaper, every Negro preacher should be extending the hand which helps and giving forth the words which encourage — for the path of the colored woman is dark and thorny.
Our men, in no way, measure up to the opportunities for business. They seem, in but the slightest degree, to recognize the old worn out saying, that in union there is strength. They fail to patronize each other — they discourage under rate each other. Suppose the Negro Business concern in Raleigh had the patronage and financial support of the great number of Negroes? We would soon be in a position to overthrow all the ill treatment which we are receiving every day of our lives.
If our men are so slothful and indifferent as to sleep upon their opportunities, I am here to-day to ask the women of North Carolina to awake, gird on their armour [sic] and go to work for race uplift and betterment.
It is no new thing that God has had to make sue of the weaker when the stronger fails to do his duty. Don’t you remember how Deborah had to take the lead and go with the faint hearted Barak to win a victory for the Lord and to overcome those who were oppressing Israel? If our men can’t see, can’t hear, can’t understand and wont take advantage of those golden opportunities by which God surrounds them — then, my dear sisters, we must unite, we must put our feeble selves together, we must gather in our dimes and our nickels and od the work which the race must do.
When we think of the subject of which we have been invited to speak — “Women in the Business World” — we are at a loss to find our women who are really few and far apart — but we are hoping for the day — when, like the white woman, she will step forth and do all that the women of the other race are doing.
Standing before you, women, what is it that hinders you from entering the world of business? Have you ever stopped to think of the money that can be made from butter and eggs. Why not start a dairy? Why not start a hennery or duckery? Don’t you know there is more money in the egg crop of this county than in the out put of the gold mines? Don’t you know that an incubator properly managed is a small gold mine!
Have you ever thought of the money which you are paying somebody else for the hats which I see on your heads to-day? Is there one person in this audience, who has not spent as much as a dollar for the shoes upon his feet? Isn’t it possible to buy hats and shoes from a woman of your own race? Don’t we wll [sic] get sick and need medicine? Don’t you know that a colored woman, with a good education, can be a pharmacist?
Don’t you know that the female doctor, the graduate of a school of medicine has a large field of practice, attending women and children? I would to God that I could arouse you and imbue you with the spirit of push and energy that would awaken your dormant powers!
I am hoping that ere I go hence to that land from whose bourne no traveller ever returneth, that I may see many of my sisters in every part of the Old North State striking out bodily for herself, doing credit to her state, her sex and her race.
What women of other nationalities can do, we can do. The fact that we are at the very bottom of the ladder should not dishearten us. Faith in God and faith in ourselves can work miracles. Sisters, let us join hands. Let us trust each other, let us believe in each other and half of the battle is won.
Courtesy of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Richmond VA