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What’s to Hinder?

Winter 1872


A good many persons were asking on behalf of women, and many women were asking for themselves, how they could obtain an equal chance with men for work and equal recognition and appreciation of their services, and the universal reply was “What’s to hinder?”

Everything in life has its period. Twenty years ago people said let women write by all means, but only something to amuse. To-day women stand pretty nearly at the head of salaried editorial writers. Twenty years ago ‘twas said, let women go on the platform, but not to vote. Now the dominant party pays a woman hundreds of dollars to tell people how to vote. Twenty years ago did woman try to learn any of the handicrafts or enter the medical profession, people laughed; but to-day woman herself is the only obstacle in her own way in doing whatever she may have the brain and will to perform. Woman was ever asking what could she best do that opened a career to her, and that was the one question which she herself must answer. No brain could measure her destinies but her own. Of a woman’s work it was perfectly safe to say, as of a man’s, if she has picked it, there is plenty to do and decent compensation.

Of the 2,000,000 women in this country who labor outside of the domestic circle 800,000 are servants, and yet a decent one is hard to find and harder to keep. [The lecturer] knew of a hotel keeper who cheerfully paid a male cook $5,000 a year, but most of the women cooks received only three or four dollars per week, and don’t earn half of that. The man makes cooking his trade, the work of his lifetime; the woman begins without knowing how, and keeps on without learning til some man raises her kitchen latch and takes her to a kitchen of his own, where she will poison him with bad cooking, and give him dyspepsia for life.

There are 83,000 women teachers in the country. Of these, 50,000 have selected the business not because they like it, but because it is decent and respectable. Women teachers do not aspire to professors’ chairs. Young men are employed as teachers at salaries of $1,200 and $2,000 when young women would be preferred. It is the same with female telegraph operators. On one railroad, out of 500, 480 believe that sitting at the machine means running it. If you enter a store you will find one or two saleswomen talking together, and another reading a novel. To get their attention you must address them, perhaps roughly, two or three times. The salesman, on the contrary, it he has not what you wish to buy, will show fifty other things, and convince you that you need forty-nine of them. Some one says a man gets 2,000 or 3,000 a year because he is a man, and a woman only half that sum, for equal services, because she is a woman. — No; woman gets less because she earns less. Man deliberately selects the work of his life, and strives to perfect himself in it, having at heart always the desire to be successful; but eight-tenths of the women who work don’t pick theirs, and, having it only until some man takes them from it to make him unhappy for life.

The sole question for women’s consideration is one of training and attention; keeping advancement in view. Not even in seeming would [the lecturer] place an obstacle in the pathway of women trying for a better station, but knowing what the truth was, she dared to speak it. Education and society operated against woman through public opinion. In youth the boy must solve his own problems; but every aid was lent to the girl. He was cheered by voice and example, but he must work and climb alone. Other hands did her work until the doors of her home closed behind her for the last time, as they must one day close forever, when she may have to work unaided and climb in rugged and slippery places. ‘Tis then she learns that while he wins easily, she must go down by the way. While public opinion stimulates him, it drags her down.

Public opinion which in this land will not tolerate idleness even in a rich man, forbids even a poverty-stricken woman to work. But many women don’t want to work, because they are afflicted with that disease common to all humanity — laziness. They prefer to stay at home and let some one else do the work. And yet, the marked tendency of American society, to-day, is to keep young men away from marriage. They can afford anything but that crowning extravagance. And this is so, though they are continually doing their best to create just such girls as abound in American society, and they flee from the results of their own doing. Father and mother began in four rooms and ends in twenty four, and the daughter wants to begin where they leave off.

The young man of the day feels he would be doing something dishonorable if he asked the girl of his heart to share his life if that share meant privation or struggle. That was bad enough but there was worse behind. Men are taught to want and taught to earn, but we are teaching women doubly to want, and tying hand and foot to prevent them from supplying their wants. Its ending is shame — in the sale of body and soul.

Let there be a broader thinking and nobler living, and since for the fulfillment of woman’s mission and great want of life is discipline, let woman be taught to climb alone early in life, and the after struggles will be easier to conquer.



Source: Springville Journal, (NY) November 8, 1873, p. 3