The Evils Suffered by
American Women and American Children
1846 — To a meeting of ladies, Cincinnati OH
Ladies and Friends, the immediate object which has called us together is an enterprise now in progress, the design of which is to educate destitute American children, by the agency of American women. It is an effort that has engaged the exertions of a larger number of ladies of various sects, and of all sections in our country, and one that, though commencing in a humble way and on a small scale, we believe is eventually to exert a most extensive and saving influence through the nation.
Permit me first to present some facts in regard to the situation of an immense number of young children in this land, for whom your sympathies at this time are sought. Few are aware of the deplorable destitution of our country in regard to the education of the rising generation, or of the long train of wrongs and sufferings endured by multitudes of young children from this neglect.
The last twelve years I have resided chiefly at the West, and my attention has been directed to the various interests of education. In five of the largest Western states I have spent from several weeks to several months — I have traveled extensively and have corresponded or conversed with well-informed gentlemen and ladies on this subject in most of the western states. And I now have materials for presenting the real situation of vast multitudes of American children, which would “cause the ear that heareth it toggle.” But I dare not do it. It would be so revolting — so disgraceful — so heart-rending — so incredible — that in the first place, I should not be believed; and in the next place, such an outcry of odium and indignation, which cannot be disputed, because they re obtained from official documents, submitted by civil officers to our national or state legislatures. Look then at the census, and by its data we shall find that now there are nearly a million adults who cannot read and write, and more than two millions children utterly illiterate, and entirely without schools. Look at individual states, and we shall find Ohio and Kentucky, the two best supplied of our western states, demanding five thousand teachers each ,to supply them in the same ratio as Massachusetts is supplied. Ten thousand teachers are now needed in Ohio and Kentucky alone, to furnish schools for more than two hundred thousand children, who otherwise must grow up in utter ignorance.
To exhibit some faint idea of the results of such neglect, let me give an extract from a private letter of a friend of mine, on a journey of observation in regard to education in one of these states, which was addressed to his children.
“Could you, my dear daughters, see what I in my journeys so often see, the poor of your own sex and age, limited in wardrobe to one sordid cotton garment, without education to read a word, without skill to make or mend a garment, without a sufficient variety of proper food to unfold their forms to any perfection, lank as greyhounds, and their clothes hanging upon them like dressed upon a broomstick, and yet possessed of all your native love of dress, your quick capacity and your sprightliness, I do think you would behave better, be more humble, study harder, and feel more kindly to the poor than you ever have done. And yet what is all this to having the mind darkened, the feelings hardened, and the interests of the would neglected, as is the case with so many thousands around me? My heart bleeds at the irreligion, ignorance, abject poverty, filth, and wretched vice which everywhere prevail. But my Heavenly Father enables me to hold on, and I am tolerably well: yet I cannot say that I am cheerful: it is too intolerable, and my spirits sink. The Methodist circuit riders are doing something, and have pitched upon the very plan I had thought of, that of having traveling schools among the most sparsely settled districts. Oh that our Heavenly Father may bless my mission, and that light may enter here!”
This presents only a glance at the forlorn and degraded state of large portions of our country where education is totally neglected. A picture almost as melancholy is presented when we examine into the shocking abuse of young children in some of those states which are doing the most for education. The state of New York, for a few years, has been making exemplary efforts to raise her common schools from the low state in which they were found. In every country of the state a salaried officer devotes his whole time to the improvement of the common schools in his country, and every year he sends an account of them, to be presented to the legislature by the state superintendent.
The following is extracted from the general report made up by the general superintendent from these reports of the county superintendents for the year 1884,
“The nakedness and deformity of the great majority of the schools, the comfortless and dilapidated buildings, the unhung doors, broken sashes, absent panes, stilted benches, yawning roofs, and muddy, mouldering floors, are faithful portrayed; and many of the self-style teachers, who last and dogmatize in these miserable tenements of humanity, are shown to be low, vulgar, obscene, intemperate, and utterly incompetent to teach anything good. Thousands of the young are repelled from improvement, and contract a durable horror for books by ignorant, injudicious, and even cruel modes of instruction. When the piteous moans and tears of the little pupils supplicate for exemption from the could drudgery or the more pungent suffering of the school, let the humane parent be careful to ascertain the true cause of grief and lamentation. . .
No subject connected with the cause of elementary education affords a source for such humiliating reflection, as that of the condition of a large portion of the schoolhouses visited. Only one-third of the whole number was found in good repair; another third in only comfortable circumstances; while three thousand three hundred and nineteen were unfit for the reception of either man or beast. Seven thousand we found destitute of any playground, nearly six thousand destitute of convenient seats and desks, and nearly eight thousand destitute of any proper facilities for ventilation; while six thousand were destitute of outdoor facilities for securing modesty and decency!”
“And it is in these miserable abodes of filth and dirt, deprived of wholesome air or exposed to the the assaults of the elements, with no facilities for exercise or relaxation, with no conveniences for prosecuting their studies, crowded on to comfortless benches, and driven by dire necessity to violate the most common rules of decency and modesty, that upward of six hundred thousand children of this state are compelled to spend an average of eight months each year of their pupilage! Here the first lessons of human life, the incipient principles of morality, and the rules of social intercourse, are to be impressed upon the plastic mind. The boy is here to receive the permanent model of his character, and imbibe the elects of his future career. Here the instinctive delicacy of the young female, the characteristic ornament of her sex, is to be expanded into maturity by precept and example. Such are the temples of science, such the ministers under whose care susceptible childhood is to receive its earliest impressions! Great God! shall man dare to charge to thy dispensations the vices, the crimes, the sickness, the sorrows, the miseries and brevity of human life, who sends his little children to a pest-house fraught with the deadly malaria of both moral and physical disease? Instead of impious murmurs, let him lay his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dusty, and cry unclean!”
It must be remembered that this is the dark side of the picture. Were it my object to show how much New-York excels most other states in her care of education, I should speak of her noble school system (one of the best in the world), her liberal provision for school libraries and apparatus, her well-endowed normal school, the many philanthropic citizens who labor in this cause, the great success that has crowed their efforts, and the very superior teachers and schools so often found in that states. But my object is to show how much neglect and abuse there is where most is done. How much worse then must it be in those states where less is attempted! New-York has done so much that she is not ashamed to search out her defects and publish them, that they may be remedied. Those states which are behind her in efforts, have a still more fearful reckoning yet to come.
How must it look to those benevolent spirits who minister to those despised little ones of our country, whose whole career for eternity depends upon their training in this life, living among civilized and even Christian people, so neglected, so utterly contemned, that anything on earth secures more attention and interest than the work of rearing them to virtue and heaven! Christian women are sitting in the reach of their young voices, twining silk, working worsted, coning poetry and novels, enjoying life and its pleasures, and not lifting ga hand or spending a thought to save them. Thus it is that two millions of American children are left without any teachers at all, while, of those who go to school, a large portion of the youngest and tenders are turned over to coast, hard, unfeeling men, too lazy or too stupid to follow the appropriate duties of their sex.
And thus it has come to pass, that while every intelligent man in the Union is reading and saying every day of his life that unless our children are trained to intelligence and virtue, the nation is ruined; yet there is nothing else for which so little interest is felt, or so little done. Look now at that great body of intelligent and benevolent persons, who are interesting themselves for patriotic and religious enterprises. We see them sustaining great organizations, and supporting men to devote their whole time to promote enterprises which draw thousands and hundreds of thousands for their support. There is one organization to send missionaries to the heathen and to educate heathen children; another to furnish the Bible; another to distribute tracts; another to educate young men to become ministers; another to send out home missionaries; another to sustain western colleges; another to promote temperance; and another to promote the observance of the sabbath. Then we have an association to take care of sailors; another to promote the comfort and improvement of convicts; another to relied and ransom the slave and another to colonize the free colored race. All these objects are promoted by having men, sustained by voluntary contributions, who spend their whole time in urging these various objects on the public mind, while almost all have a regular periodical to advocate their cause. But our two millions of little children, who are growing up in heathenish darkness, enchained in ignorance, and in many cases, where the cold law provides for them, enduring distress of body and mind greater than is inflicted on criminals, whee is the benevolent association for their relief? Where is there a periodical sported by the charitable, to tell the tale of their wrongs! Where is there a single man sustained by Christian benevolent to operate in their behalf? Instead of spending time and money and employing agents to save the children of our country from ignorance and sin, the whole benevolent energies of the Christian world are engaged to remedy the evils that spring from this neglect. Children are left to the full influence of ignorance and neglect till moral health and strength are ruined, and then the cure is sought in temperance lectures, Bibles, tracts, colporteurs, and home missions. If all the labor and money spent for these objects at the West, for the last twenty years, had bene employed in securing, for the generation now on the stage, six hours a day of good moral and intellectual training by well qualified teachers, who will firm that the result would not have been better? “These things ye should have done, and not have left the others undone.”
I wish now to point out certain causes which have exerted a depressing influence upon our sex in this land; for we shall find that the very same effort, which aims to benefit the children of our country, will tend almost equally to benefit our own sex. The first cause that bears heavily on our sex is, the fact that in our country, the principle of caste, which is one of the strongest and most inveterate in our nature, is strongly arranged against healthful and productive labor.
To understand the power of this principle, see what sacrifices men and women make, and what toils they endure, to save themselves from whatever sinks them in station and estimation. And this is a principle which is equally powerful in high and low, rich and poor. To observe how it bears against healthful and productive labor, let any woman, who esteems herself in the higher grades of society, put the case as her own, and imagine that her son, or brother, is about to marry a young lady, whose character and education are every way lovely and unexceptionable, but who, it appears, is a seamstress, or a nurse, or a domestic, and how few are there, who will not be conscious of the opposing principle of caste. But suppose the young lady to be one, who has been earning her livelihood by writing poetry and love stories, or who has lived all her days in utter idleness, and how suddenly the feelings are changed! Now, all the comfort and happiness of society depend upon having that work properly performed, which is done by nurses, seamstresses, chamber-maids, and cooks; and so long as this kind of work is held to be grading, and those who perform it are allowed to grow up ignorant and vulgar, and then are held down by the prejudices of caste, every woman will use the greatest efforts, and undergo the greatest privations, to escape from the degraded and discreditable position. And this state of society shows, by the natural course of things, bringing a just retribution on the classes who cherish it. Domestics are forsaking the kitchen, and thronging to the workshop and manufactory, and mainly undertake in influence of the principle of caste; while the family state suffers keenly from the loss. Meantime the daughters of wealth have there intellectual faculties and their sensibilities developed, while all the household labor, which would equally develop their physical powers, and save from ill-health, is turned off to hired domestics, or a slaving mother. The only remedy for this evil is, securing a proper education for all classes, and making productive labor honorable, by having all classes engage in it.
The next cause which bears severely on the welfare of our sex, is the excess of female population in the older states form the disproportionate denigration of the other sex. By the census we find in only three of the small older states, twenty thousand more women than men, and a similar disproportion is found in other states. The consequence is, that all branches of female employment in the older states are thronging, while in our new states, domestics, nurses, seamstresses, mantua-makers, and female teachers are in great demand. In consequence of this, women at the East become operatives in shops and mills, and at the Waste, men become teachers of little children, thus exchanging the appropriate labors of the sexes, in a manner injurious to all concerned.
Meantime, capitalists at the East avail themselves of this excess of female hands. Large establishments are set up in eastern cities to manufacture clothing. Work of all kinds is got from poor women, at prices that will not keep soul and body together; and then the articles thus made are sold for prices that give monstrous profits to the capitalist, who thus grows rich on the hard labors of our sex. Tales there are to be told of the sufferings of American women in our eastern cities, so shocking that they would scarcely be credited, and yet they are true beyond all dispute.
The following extracts, from some statistics recently obtained in New-York city, verify what has been stated.
“There are now in this city, according to close estimates, ten thousand women who live by the earnings of the needle. On an average, these women, by working twelve or fourteen hours a-day, can earn only twelve and a half cents, with which they are to pay for rent, fuel, clothes, and food.” Here follow the prices paid for various articles of women’s work at the clothing stores, and then the following: — “A great multitude of women are employed in making men’s and boys’ caps. We are told by an old lady, who lives by this work, that when she begins at sunrise and works till midnight, she earns fourteen cents a-day! That is, eighty-four cents a-week, for incessant toil every waking hour, and this her sole income for every want! A large majority of these women are American born; some have been rich, many have enjoyed the ease of competence; some are young girls without homes; some are widows; some the wives of drunken husbands. The manner in which these women live; the squalidness, unhealthy location and nature of their habitations; their total want of recreation, or of intellectual or moral improvement; their forlorn situation in all respects, may be imagined, but we assure the public, that it would require an extremely active imagination to connive the reality. When winter comes they are destitute of means to obtain fuel or warm clothing, while their work is often cut off, and then they have no resource but the poor-house, or the pauper ticket; and in this misery they have been often found so given over to despair, at repeated rebuffs from over-driven officers, that they have resolved to starve without further effort.”
In a recent New-York paper I saw it stated, that in a report made, in New-York, to a meeting upon this subject, the committee stated that more than a hundred women had been turned away, without help, for want of funds. These women, it is related, sought aid, even with tears, and in many cases offered to sew all day simply for food and a home.
A lady of New-York told me that she went one day to an office opened to aid domestics in finding places. She found there ar large room so crowded that it looked like a meeting; and as the employers went around to make their selection from the anxious crowd, she could think of nothing but a slave market, so utterly helpless seemed these victims of poverty and neglect, not one-half of whom, after waiting all day, could find a place to earn their bread. Of course, vice or starvation were the alternatives constantly before their eyes.
Let us now turn to another class of our countrywomen — the female operatives in our shops and mills. Unfortunately, this subject cannot be freely discussed without danger of collisions with the vast pecuniary and party interests connected with it. I therefore shall simple state facts, without expressing the impressions of my own mind.
Last year, I spent several days in Lowell, for the sole purpose of investigating this subject. I conversed with agents, overseers, clergymen, physicians, editors, ladies resident in the place, and a large number of the operatives themselves. All seemed disposed to present the most favorable side of the picture; and nothing unfavorable was said except as drawn forth by my questions.
In favor of this situation it was urged, that none were forced to go, or to stay in the mills, and therefore all use believe themselves better off there than in any other situation at command; that owners and agents insure great pains and expense to secure the physical comfort and intellectual and moral improvement of the operatives; that much care is used to exclude vicious persons; that great pains and expense to secure the physical comfort and intellectual and moral improvement of the operatives; that much care is used to exclude vicious persons; that great pains are taken to secure respectable women to keep the boarding-houses; that the board and lodging provided are at least comfortable; that the state of society and morals is good, and is superior to what many enjoy at home; that the esprit du corps of the community guards its morals; that there is much good society among the operatives, as is manifest from the great number who have been school teachers; that the bills of mortality show that there are fewer deaths in proportion than in any other country places; and finally, that the night schools, Sunday schools, and faithful labors of the clergy secure great advantages and most favorable results.
Let me now present the facts I learned by observation or inquiry on the spot. I was there in mid-winter, and every morning I was wakened at five, by the bells calling to labor. The time allowed for dressing and breakfast was so short, as many told me that both were performed hurriedly, and then the work at the mills was begun by lamp-light, and prosecuted without remission till twelve, and chiefly in a standing position. Then half an hour only allowed for dinner, from which the time for going and returning was deducted. Then back to the mills, to work till seven o’clock, the last part of the time by lamp-light. Then returning, washing, dressing, and supper occupied another hour. Thus ten hours only remained for recreation and sleep. Now eight hours’ sleep is required for laborers, and none in our country are employed in labor more hours than the female operatives in mills. Deduct eight hours for sleep and only two hours remain for shopping, mending, making, recreation, social intercourse, and breathing the pure air. For it must be remembered that all the hours of labor are spent in rooms where lamps, together with from forty to eighty persons, are exhausting the healthful principle of the air, where the temperature, both summer and winter, on account of the work, must be kept at 70°, and in some rooms at 80°, and where the air is loaded with particles of cotton thrown from thousands of cards, spindles, and looms.
Now there is almost nothing which a man cannot believe, if only he wishes to believe it; of which there rarely is better evidence than a pamphlet prepared by Dr. Bartlett, a very intelligent and worthy physician of Lowell, who thinks he therein proves that, in these circumstances, the female operatives are more favorably situated for health than in the pure air of their father’s homes, amid the hills and mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont. His chief evidence of this is the bills of mortality, which show fewer deaths in proportion in Lowell than in most other country towns, and all the results of questions put to a large number of the operatives themselves.
As to the bills of mortality, two things have not been brought into the account. One is, that the population is made up almost entirely of persons from the country, of laboring persons, and of persons in the healthiest period of human life, while most of those who are sick unto death, go home to die.
As to the results of the questions proposed, instead of establishing what was designed, they are mournful proofs of the opposite conclusion. The following is a specimen. Twenty-six hundred girls were questions; and of these, one hundred and seventy replied, that their health had improved since entering the mills; fifteen hundred and sixty-three said, their health remained uninsured, and eight hundred and seventy said, their health was not so good as when they came. That is, more than one-third were not so well. Now consider that from this number all were withdrawn who had become so sick as to be unable to stay longer, and their places were filled by new receipts, who had not yet begun to feel the effects of their new life. Consider, too, that a seamstress, or any one injured by sedentary pursuits, would, for a time, be benefited by a change to active life, and this accounts for those who were improved in health. Consider, also, that the average age of the female operatives is twenty-three, the healthiest period of a woman’s life, while the average time they remain is only three years. And the mournful result is, that an average period of only three years’ labor in mills, at the healthiest period of a woman’s life, is returning back to the country more than one-third of these young women with impaired constitutions. It is well known that the constitution of children depends on the health of the mother; what then are they future prospects of the manufacturing portions of our country, which every third year are sending at least sixty thousand American women from domestic labors to toil in shops and mills, and in three years receiving back at least one in every three with impaired institutions?
I inquired of one of the most intelligent and respectable physicians of the place his opinions on the subject, and he replied that it could not be denied that working in a standing position so many hours, and in such a heated and impure air, did produce debilitating complaints that were a gradual and imperceptible drain on the constitution.
In regard to intellectual advantages, such as night schools, lectures, reading and composition, all time devoted to these must be taken from the yours required for recreation or needful reposes. Neatness and health deemed that a woman should devote at least one hour a-day to the care of her person and the making and mending of her wardrobe, while certainly one other hour is needed for social relaxation and breathing the pure air aboard; and this is all not demanded either for labor or sleep. Of course, every moment devoted to lectures, study ,or writing, must be robbery on health, and worse than nothing.
I asked one of the young operatives if they could not take turns in reading aloud while sewing. She replied that they were all either too tired, or they wished a little time to talk, and so they never succeeded when they attempted it. As to the periodical, the Lowell Offering, I found that out of six thousand women, mary of them school-teachers, but about twenty were contributors to its pages, while the best pieces were written by the two lady editors, neither of whom are operatives, though both had been so at former periods. All written by actual operatives is probably done in hours which should have been given to sleep.
As to religious advantages, the operatives are place in six or eight in a room, so that even on Sunday they never have a half hour t be lone, but live in the perpetual buzz of machinery or conversation, from month’s end to month’s end.
As to morals, let these facts be pondered. Every pleasant night, six thousand women and two thousand men (except when too much fatigued) are turned out to roam over the adjacent fields, or through streets lined with tempting articles of dress or confectionery, while the customers and the wages tempt the long and thoughtless to extravagance. I found, too, that theaters and dancing assemblies attracted many to use up their remaining strength in hours which ought to be given to repose, while I had abundant evidence ethic extravagant dress and dangerous appliances for increasing personal beauty abounded.
I heard one of the lady editors lamenting also the increase of flirtations between young men of that and of adjoining places, and the women, whom they would never thing of marrying. I was told that the dining-room of every boarding-house was always given up evenings for each purposes, if requested, and to as late an hour as was wished. When I stated to one of the agents the impropriety of this custom, and asked why a rule was not enforced requiring all company to depart, and all the operatives to retire at ten o’clock, I could learn no the reason except that it would be very unpopular.
Let my countrywomen remember what human nature is, and the history of the past, and then for their own opinion of this state of society, and they probably will draw conclusions which were abundantly verified by facts obtained fro persons who could not have the latest possible motive for exaggeration .
As to the wages, the average is found to be $1.75 a week; but they are paid by the job, so that all are thus stimulated to work as much as possible every day, while prizes are given to such overseers as get the most work out of those they superintend. Thus everything goes under the stimulus of rivalry, ambition, and the excitement of gain, leading multitudes to sacrifice health for money. Thus it is said that the hours of labor are not more than the majority of the operatives desire, while sometimes even the regular hours are exceeded, to the great discontinue of the over-worked and feeble minority. As to the large sums deposited in the Savings’ bank, it is found that, of TEN thousand women, less than one thousand have made such deposits, and that the average of such deposits do not amount to but about $100 for each depositor for three years of such hazardous toils. This fact I obtain from Dr. Bartlett’s pamphlet, who presents it as a favorable item.
Now, without expressing any opinion as to the influence, on health and morals, of taking women away from domestic habits and pursuits, to labor with me in shops and mills, I simply as if it would not be better to put the thousands of men who are keeping school for young children into the mills, and MAPLE the women to train the children?
Wherever education is most prosperous, there woman is employed more than man. In Massachusetts, where education is highest, five out of seven of the teachers are women; while in Kentucky, where education is so much lower, five out of six of the teachers are male.
Another cause of depression to our sex is found in the fact that there is no profession for women of education and high position, which, like law, medicine, and theology, opens the way to competence, influence, and honor, and presents motives for exertion. Women ought never to be led to married’s life except under the promptings of pure affection. To marry for an establishment, for ap option, or for something to do is a deplorable wrong. But how many women, for want of a high and honorable profession to engage their mite, are led to this melancholy course. This is not so because Providence has not provided an ample place fo ruse a profession for women, but because custom or prejudice, or a low estimate of its honorable character, prevents her from entertaining it. The educating of children, that is the true and noble profession of a woman — that is what is worthy the noblest peers and affections of the noblest minds.
Another cause which deeply affects the best interests of our sex is the contempt, or utter neglect ad indifference, which has befallen this only noble profession open to woman. There is no employment, however disagreeable or however wicked, which custom and fashion cannot render elegant, interesting, and enthusiastically sought. A striking proof of this is seen in the military profession. This is the profession of killing our fellow-creatures, and is attended with everything low, brutal, unchristian, and disgusting; and yet what halos of glory have been hung around it, and how the young, and generous, and enthusiastic have been drawn into it! If one-half the poetry, fiction, oratory, and taste thus misemployed had been used to embellish and elevate the employment of training the mind of childhood, in what an altered position should we find this noblest of professions!
As it is, the employment of teaching children is regarded as the most wearying drudgery, and few resort to it except from necessity; and one very reasonable cause of this aversion is the utter neglect of any arrangements for preparing teachers for this arduous and difficult profession. To a teacher is committed a collection of these delicate contrivances; and, without experience, without instruction, it is required not only that each one should be tuned aright, but that all be combined in excellent harmony: as if a young girl were sent into a splendid orchestra, all ignorant and unskillful, and required to draw melody from each instrument, and then to combine the whole in faultless harmony. And in each case there’re, here and there, individual minds, who, without instruction, are gifted by nature with aptness and skill in managing the music withe rof matter or of mind; but that does not lessen the folly, in either case, of expecting the whole profession, either of music or of teaching, to be pursued without preparatory training.
Look now in to this small school-room, where are assembled a collection of children, with a teacher unskillful in her art. What noise and disorder! — what indolence, and discontent, and misrule! The children hate school and all that belongs to it, and the teacher regards the children as little better than incarnate imps!
Look, again, into another, where the teacher, fitted by nature or trained by instruction and experience, is qualified for her office. See the little happy group around their best-beloved friend — their beau ideal of all that is good, and wise, and lovely! How their bright eyes sparkle as she opens the casket of knowledge, and ears out its treasures! How their young hearts throb with generous and good emotions. as she touches the thrilling chords she has learned so skillfully to play! What neatness and order in all her little dominion! What ready obedience, what loving submission, what contrite confession, what generous aspirations after all that is good and holy! She spends the pleasant hours of school in the exercise o the noblest power of intellect and feeling. She goes to rest at night, reviewing with gratitude the results of her goals; and as she sends up her daily thanks and petitions for her little ones, how does the world of peace and purity open to her vision, where, by the river of life, she shall cater her happy flock, and look back to earth, and on through endless years, to trace the sublime and never-ending results of her labors. Oh, beautiful office! — sublime employment! When will it attain its true hours and esteem?
There is another class of evils, endured by a large class of well-educated, unmarried women of the more wealthy classes, little understood or appreciated, but yet real and severe. It is the suffering that results from the inactivity of cultivated intellect and feeling.
The more a mind has its powers of feeling and action enlarged by cultivation, the greater the demand for noble objects to excite interest and effort. It is the entire withdrawal of stimulus from the mind and brain that makes solitary confinement so intolerable that reason is often destroyed by it. Medical men point out this want of worthy objects to excite, as the true cause of a large class of diseases of mind and body, that afflict females of the higher classes, who are not necessitated to exertion for a support, especially those who have no families. And the greater the capacity and nobler the affections, the keener is this suffering. It is only small and ignoble minds that can live contentedly without noble objects of pursuit.
Now, Providence organs that, in most cases, a woman is to perform the duties of a mother. Oh, sacred and beautiful name! How many cares and responsibilities are connected with it! And yet what noble anticipation, what sublime hopes, are given to animate and cheer! She is to train young minds, whose plastic texture will receive and retain each impress for eternal ages, who will imitated her tastes, habits, feelings, and opinions; who will transmit what they receive to their children, to pass again to the next generation, and then to the net, until a whole nation will have received its character and destiny from her hands. No imperial queen every stood in a more sublime and responsible position, than that which every mother must occupy, in the eye of Him who reads the end from beginning, and who, foreseeing these eternal results, denominates those of our race who fulfill their high calling, “kings and priest until God.” Kings, to rule out the destiny of all their descendants — priests, by sacrifices and suffering to work out such sublime results!
Now, every woman whose intellect and affections are properly developed is furnished for just such an illustrious work as this. And when such large capacities and affections are pent up and confined to the trifling pursuits that ordinarily engage our best educated young women between school life and marriage, suffering, and often keen suffering, is the inevitable result. There is a restless, anxious longing for they know not what; while exciting amusements re vainly sought to fill the aching void. A teacher, like myself, who for years has been training multitudes of such minds, and learning their private history and secret griefs, knows, as no others can, the great amount of suffering among some of the loveliest and best of the youthful portion of our sex from this cause. True, every young lady might, the moment she leaves the school-room, commence the exalted labor of molding young minds for eternity, who again would transmit her handiwork from spirit to spirit, till thousands and thousands receive honor and glory from her hands. But the customs and prejudices of society forbid; and instead of this, a little working of muslin and worsted, a little light reading, and little calling and shopping, and a great deal of the high stimulus of fashionable amusements, are all the ailment her starving spirit finds. And alas! Christina parents find no way to remedy this evil!
The next topic I wish to present, and which has been brought to my observation very often during my extensive travels, is, the superior character of my countrywomen and the great amount of influence that is placed in their hands. The superior moral and intellectual character of American women, the commanding position they occupy, and the generous attentions accorded to them by the other sex, is a subject of admiration to all foreigners. For the last two or three years, my attention has been particularly directed to the discovery of those ladies in each community whose intelligence and excellence give them influence; and the result has been a matter of sincere gratulation and patriotic pride. So many women of high cultivation and pure moral sentiments, united with such retiring modesty, and such energy and activity in their appropriate and unpretending duties!
It is the high character of my countrywomen, and the great power and influence they thus command, which has been my chief encouragement in laboring in this cause. In the aristocratic countries of Europe, the wrongs of the neglected and oppressed are so inwrought in the framework of society, that it is an almost hopeless task to attempt to rectify them. All that can be done is to try to alleviate, at least a little. But to us opens a fairer prospect. Everyone of the evils here portrayed, it is in the power of American women fully to remedy and remove. No thing is wanting but a knowledge of the evils, and a well-devised plan for uniting the energies of our countrywomen in the effort, and the thing will be speedily and gloriously achieved.
It is the immediate object of this enterprise now presented, to engage American women to exert the great power and influence put into there hands, to remedy the evils which now oppress their countrywomen, and thus, at the same time, and by the same method, to secure a proper education to the vast multitude of neglected American children all over our land.
The plan is, to being on a small scale, and to ask women already qualified intellectually to teach, and possessed of missionary zeal and benevolence, and, after some further training, to send them to the most ignorant portions of our land, to raise up schools, to instruct in morals and piety, and to teach the domestic arts and virtues. The commencement of this enterprise, until we gain confidence by experiment and experience, will be as the opening of a very small sluice. but so great is the number of educate dnd unemployed women at the East, and so greatly the necessity for teachers at the West, that as soon as the stream begins to move, it will grow wider and deeper and stronger, till it becomes as the river of life, carrying health and verdure to every part of our land.
If our success equals our hopes, soon, in all parts of our country, in each deleted village, or new settlement, the Christian female teacher will quietly take her station, collecting the ignorant children around her, teaching them habits of neatness, order, and thrift; opening the book of knowledge, inspiring the principles of morality, and awakening the hope of immortality. Soon her influence in the new village will create a demand for new laborers, and then she will summon from among her friends st home, the nurse for the young and the sick, the seamstress and the matuamaker; and these will prove her auxiliaries in good moral influences, and in sabbath school training. And often as the result of these labors, the Church will arise, and the minister of Christ be summoned to fill up the complement f domestic, moral, and religious blessings. Thus, the surplus of female population will gradually be drawn westward, and in consequence the value of female labor will rise at the East, so that capitalists can no longer use the power of wealth to oppress our sex. Thus, too, the profession of a teacher will gradually increase in honor and respectability, while endowed institutions will arise to qualify women for her profession, as freely as they are provided for the other sex. Then it will be deemed honorable and praiseworthy for every song and well-educated woman, of whatever station, to enter this profession, and remain in it till pure affection leads her to another sphere. Then a woman of large affection and developed intellect will find full scope and happy exercise for all the cultivated energies conferred by heaven, alike for her own enjoyment and the good of others.
This will rove the true remedy for all those wrongs of women which her mistaken champions are seeking to cure by drawing her into professional and pursuits which belong to the other sex. When all the mothers, teachers, nurses, and domestics are taken from our sex, which the best interests of society demand, and when all these employment are deemed respectable, and are filled by well-educated women, there will be no supernumeraries found to put into shops and mills, or to draw into the arena of public and political life.
In various places, in every section of our country, associations of ladies are formed, or are being formed, to aid in this tuner-rise. Beside these, quite number of individual ladies of wealth and benevolence have contributed one hundred dollars each, for the support of missionary teachers. The plan adopted in many cases is, for an individual lady, or association, to raise one hundred dollars, and place it in the hands of the Central Committee for Promoting National Education, now organized at Cincinnati, to aid in the location of a missionary teacher, who will then correspond with those who have thus aided her. By this method an interest will be created and sustained between those benefited and their benefactors.
In raising funds for this enterprise, another method has been adopted in which I myself feel a peculiar interest, for reasons which I beg leave to state. For twenty years I have had change of a female seminary, first at Hartford, Conn., and afterward at Cincinnati, during which time, nearly a thousand young ladies came under my care; some from every state in the Union, and most of them from the more wealthy classes. The prostration of health for several years, has led to protracted journeyings, which have extended through most of the sites of the Union, and thus I have been made acquainted with the domestic history of my former pupils, and that also f many of their friends. I have thus been led to apprehend the deplorable amount of suffering endured in this country by young wives and mothers, especially in the more wealthy classes, from the combined influence of poor health, poor domestics, and a defective domestic education. The prosperity of our country is constantly increasing the number of those who wish to hire, while it is diminishing the number of those willing to go to service. In the newer states, where domestics are most needed, the deficiency of female population renders it almost impossible to hire nurses or domestics; and when they are obtained, the are, in most cases, only the awkward and ignorant foreign domestics, who must be taught almost everything. The vexation, anxiety, and hard labor, that come upon a young housekeep from this cause, are incalculable and endless. And in most cases these young housekeepers have never acquired physical strength for these labors by any previous habits of domestic exercise. To this evil, in a great multitude of cases, is added a debilitated constitution or destroyed health. Says Von Raumer, a late German tourist, “all travelers admire the beauty of the women in the United States, but at the same time they say that they soon grow old, and lose their beauty. And certainly I have seen no country in the world, where among so many handsome women, there were so many pale and sickly faces.” On the contrary, American travelers speak with delight of the full health and ruddy vigor of English matrons, and allow that these are but rarely seen at home.
A perfectly healthy women, specially a perfectly healthy young mother, is so infrequent among the more wealthy classes, that it may be regarded as the exception, and not as the general rule. And the number of those whose health is crushed before the first few years of married life are passed, would seem incredible to one who has not investigated the subject. And few can realize what distress, discouragement, and sorrow are the inevitable consequences when the wife and mother is ap perpetual invalid. And few are aware how many motherless children through our land, are bewailing a love which can never be restored.
To ill-health and poor domestics, in a great majority of cases, is added, total inexperience and ignorance in all the most difficult duties of a wife and mother. A woman who, by instruction or practice, is mistress of her domestic profession, can perform duty with half the labor and anxiety that come upon an inexperienced novice. And how many thousands of young, inexperienced girls are very year taken from school, or the resorts of gay pleasure, perfectly ignorant of all they most need to know, and as utterly incompetent to fill the complicated offices of wife, mother, nurse, or housekeep, so cruelly imposed, as they would be to take charge of a man-of-war!
Those difficulties are often heightened by the low and depraved character of a great portion of those who act as nurses for young children. One single vulgar, or deceitful, or licentious domestic may, in a single month, mar the careful an anxious training of years. Under the control, and in the constant society of such a nurse, to whom the feeble and inexperienced mother must give up her child, the indelible impressions on character and habit are made, not by the refined mother, but by the lowbred or vicious hireling, while the parts through life bewail and evil they strive in vain to repair.
It is probably that one-half of the evils experienced from changing or incompetent domestics results from the fact, that young ladies are not trained for their profession. They know not how to train those who are incompetent; they know not how to systematize, or to direct the labor of those who are competent. they know not how to escape the thousand mistakes and perplexities, from which instruction and experience would save them.
Permit me to draw one sketch, not from fancy — alas! I could point to many, who would claim that it was an incident of their own dearly domestic history.
See that young mother, sitting by the disturbed slumbers of her sick infant, while her puny elder boy is fretting for his morning meal. She has passed a sleepless night, is sick and wary, her only domestic has forsaken her, her hair is disheveled, her dress discolored, her countenance pale and haggard.
That was the bright young girl, who, four years ago, has not known sorrow, the darling of her father, the pride of her mother, the pet of her brothers, and the cynosure of fashion and pleasure. She had read in novels and magazines, that marriage was the climax of women’s happiness, and when the noblest and most beloved wooed her to enter this fairy-land with him, she joyfully gave her hand.
And now she is sitting in mute desolation, recalling her past brilliant career, her mother’s love, her happy home. And now she returns to her present lot: feeble health, sleepless nights, anxious days, no nurse, cross and incompetent domestics, sick children, no comfortable food, a house all in disorder. Troubled days and sleepless nights have irritated the nerves of both husband and wife, hard words have passed, and now – oh, bitterest of all! she is imagining that the love for which she gave up all and suffers all, is chilled, cold, or departed. Her child moans and weeps, but fever and inexpressible suffering have dried up the fountain nature opened for its relief, and her inexperience hand has night but unhealthful food or baleful drugs to still its cries. She wishes she were dead, thinks of ways to end her woes and her life, till thoughts of her forsaken babes bring the balmy tears of a mother’s love, and she rises to pursue her hopeless and melancholy task. Ill-fated child! It is thy parents who have planted the thorns that so keenly wound. What have then done to prepare thee for thy most difficult and most sacred duties? Look at the long train of teachers, masters, and schools? Not a word, not a thing has been afforded to guard from so sad a fate! I do not present this as the ordinary lot of young mothers. Heaven forbid! but I present it as what is so often to be found, especially when nurses and domestics are scarce, that many a mother has reason to expect that the sad reality may some day be met in her own daughter.
When I so often see gay young girls, in one short year changed to the pale and anxious wife, directing a complicated household, managing wayward domestics, nursing a delicate infant, trying to accommodate to a husband’s peculiarities, and harassed by a thousand cares; and then have seen too how gently, how patiently, how bravely they give up gay pleasure, and ben to their heavy toil: I know not whether most to pity or to admire! But I have known so much sickness, sorrow, and discouragement among the young mothers of this land, that I seldom see a young bride led to the altar, without a pang of the heartache. Would to God that the mothers who are now training their daughters for their future hard lot, could see this subject aright, how greatly would they modify their course!
It was with reference to these many griefs of the young of my sex, that I prepared a work on Domestic Economy, in which the causes which destroy female health are set forth, and the modes of avoiding them; while that work, and the Domestic Receipt Book (which is a supplement to it), contain a complete course of instruction upon all the duties which belong to a mother and housekeep. These works were prepared by the aid of some of the most experienced mothers and housekeepers in our land. The first-named volume has bene issued some time, and the Receipt Book is just published.
The profits of both are devoted to the tuner-rise now presented. Had I been writing for fame, I should have chosen some other than the humble subject of Domestic Economy. Profit I expect not, and my highest ambition, in preparing these works, has been to raise an income by them, to support an agent to devote his whole time to the enterprise now presented. I ask the aid of my country women in this effort. If they will use their influence to have th work on Domestic Economy introduced as a text book or reading book into our female schools, the most effectual mode of saving our young countrywomen from suffering will be secured. The Domestic Receipt Book embraces the favorite receipts of some of the best housekeepers in every section of our country, especially of dishes for everyday use, and must be valuable to every housekeeper. An extensive sale of these works will produce a large and steady income to meet in part the large demand for funds needed in this enterprise. I hope that many who can contribute in no other way, may be induced to do so in this.
It is the design those who are conducting this enterprise to begin locating missionary teachers, as soon as funds are furnished that weill suffice to put our agencies into operation. We have a large number of well-qualified teachers waiting to enter this service — far more than we have means to employ — and they are women of excellent piety, discretion, energy, and self-denying zeal. It is calculated that, on an average, one hundred dollars contributed will enable us to locate one such teacher. In some cases a larger sum will be required, and in others a smaller will suffice; but this will be about the average. The chief expense in this enterprise will be the employment of agents to go to the destitute places, to make arrangements for the teachers and to aid the in commencing their labors; for we do not in any case design to send a woman alone on such an enterprise. We design that she shall have a suitable escort to her field of labor, a suitable home provided, a school-room and its furniture prepared, and all proper arrangements made for her comfort and success; and we wepseically intend that she shall, in every department, be throughly prepared for her duties and trials. As soon as each teacher is stationed, she will comic a correspondence with the individual or association who furnished the funds employed in aiding her, and repay her communications to the as often as is desirable.
This, ladies, is the general outline of the plan in which you are now invited to engage — a plan which aims alike to promote private and individual comfort, and national safety and prosperity — a plan which claims your attention, not only as a benevolent and religious enterprise, but preeminently as a patriotic one.
It is to be lamented that the principle of national patriotism has had very little nourishment in our country, and, instead, has given place to sectional or state partialities. The South and the North, the East and the West, instead of uniting to cherish common interests and a common amor patriae, have rather been thrown apart by clashing interests and jealousies, while this sacred principle has been drawn around only some small portion of our common country. What more promising method for remedying this defect than uniting American women of every state and every section in a common effort for our whole country? To what could such an effort be more beneficially directed than the training of the whole rising generation in the common principles of justice,e peace, and love. None but the most mad and ultra-reformers, from whom there is no hope of cooperation, would ever introduce into the school-room the vexed questions that agitate and divide society. On the contrary, all must see that the surest, as well as the most peaceful method of bringing to an end all social evils, all wrong, and all injustice, is to train the young children of our nation “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”
It probably will not be expedient or practicable to carry on such an enterprise by a great organization, in which all parties and sections shall unite; but simultaneous action all over our nation, in a cause so noble and patriotic, will, in the end, secure harmonious, and, to a great extent, unified action.
Permit me, before I close, to say a few words to those who profess to be the disciples and true followers of Jesus Christ. Who are the true followers and disciples of Christ? It is those only who have his spirit, and follow his example. What then do we find these to be? He gave up honors and joys, such as none of us ever possessed, and spent thirty-three years in toils and sufferings, to save the ignorant and lost. And he did it because he loved to do it! He so loved us, and our lost fellow-creatures, that he came not by compassion, but gladly, by toils and sacrifices, to save us. And when the rich young man came to ask how he should gain eternal life, the reply was, “Sell all that thou hast, and come and follow me.” And to all his followers he said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God — deny thyself daily, and take up thy cross and follow me.” This was what the early Christians did. They gave up all — became as the filth and off-scouring of the earth — and were scattered abroad everywhere preaching the word – some by precent, all by example.
My fellow Christians, we have far higher cultivation, far more extensive knowledge, far more abundant means than the early Christians; and does Christ say to us, “Sell all that thous hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me!” or does he say to us who have received the ten talents, “Seek out the pleasantest field you can find, where you will have the least self-denial, and then do as much good as is consistent with your own convenience and comfort, and no more.” Alas! my friends, how many progressed followers of Christ so read the Bible as to feel their conscience easy in taking this last course!
I find, as I travel among Christian friends, some who really are so engaged in the work of saving the lost, that the kingdom of God is sought first – it is the deep-seated interest of their souls. Ease, comfort, honor, wealth, amusement, are sought only as secondary and subordinate to this. They spend money on themselves grudgingly; for their destitute fell-w creatures they pour it out with rejoicing, and every toil is a pleasure, when they feel it is promoting this noble end. Again, I see others who feel annoyed because they are so many calls on their time and charity, who spend money for dress, furniture, and pleasure with alacrity, and receive calls for the cause of there lost fellow-creatures with a secret wish to escape them.
And thus it is written, “How hardly shall they that have riches, enter the kingdom of heaven!” In these days of ease and prosperity, it is much harder to be a real Christian, than it was in the days of persecution. Then, the Christian actually gave up all at one stroke, and ever after was obliged to walk in the path he had chosen. Now, the Great Master gives abundance of wealth and influence, and says, “Use them, not for yourselves, but for my cause;” and oh, how hard it seems to obey! The standard of Christian character int eh church at this time does not require those who have abundance to practice self-denial — or too make it their chief business to spend their time, and talents, and wealth in saving the ignorant and lost. And I greatly fear that multitudes who now call themselves Christians, will at least hear the dreadful sentence, Depart from me — I never knew you.”
It is in this view of the subject that I have felt a peculiar interest in efforts to bring this plan to the attention of those of my countrywomen who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. It is a plan which will enable every woman, whatever may be her standing and character, to devote her life to an enterprise in which every one can find something to do that may task every energy, and fill up every hour. I ask every one of my fellow Christians, who fears that the world has the wrong place in her thoughts and interests, to produce a little volume entitled The Duty of American Women to their Country. In it she will find the details of this enterprise, and the many various modes in which Christian women can spend their wealth, influence, and time, in promoting it. I especially ask attention to the method there presented, of introducing religious and moral instruction into common schools, and yet so as to avoid sectarianism, and I request any lady who reads it, to inquire whether she cannot exert some influence toward securing the introduction of that, or some similar method, into the schools of her own vicinity. And may God grant that in that last every day, when we stand before that Almighty Savior, who has done and suffered so much for us. His Omniscient Eye shall beam upon us with approving love, as those who in the trying days of prosperity have maintained his benevolent self-denying spirit, and followed his laborious and perfect example.
Source: Beecher, Catharine Esther. The Evils Suffered by American Women and American Children: The Causes and the Remedy, Presented in an Address by Miss C.E. Beecher, To Meetings of Ladies in Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Other Cities.” (New York: Harper & Brothers), 1846, pp. 5-10.
Also: The Educated Woman in America: Selected Writings of Catharine Beecher, Margaret Fuller, and M. Carey Thomas, ed. Barbara M. Cross, (NY: Teachers College Press) 1965, pp. 67-75.