March 4, 1883 — Frobisher’s Hall, New York City
The reverend gentleman whose last discourse we propose to discuss to-night began his lecture on Friday evening by addressing his audience, two thirds of whom were women, as “dear brethren.” Evidently his observations were intended to please men alone, and doubtless many of them enjoyed his denunciations of “the sins and follies” of our sex which followed. However, I am less surprised at the learned doctor’s difficulty in understanding the facts of to-day, now that I have listened to some of his discourses and find how completely he lives in and with the past. Seated in Trinity Chapel one may easily imagine one’s self in some mediaeval cathedral, listening to the choir of boys’ voices and the service intoned by priests who utter the words so that it is difficult to tell whether they are Latin or English.
Influenced by these surroundings, leading an almost cloistered life, this man has no more sympathy with the rhythm and pulse of the great heart beat of to-day than a stained-glass window. He is a theological Rip Van Winkle, who has slept, not twenty but two hundred years, and who looks across the wide fields of modern progress with eyes dazzled by the light of the nineteenth century. Are the stage-coaches all gone he cries. Have women left off using the spinning-wheel and taken to the study of Latin? And he endeavors to roll back the tide of life with a sermon case and time the march of modern thought to the toll of convent bells.
To show how little he comprehends the sentiment of the day, while speaking in his last lecture of the evils of nihilism, he said, these people “ have no respect for property or human life,” putting property first, with the truly monarchical view that property is more valuable than the lives of the people. And again, he dwelt on the evils which come of educating the children of “the humbler classes” “to a social rank above their own.” Who are these children of the “humbler classes” and “The mill-boy of the Slashes,” who was afterwards America’s greatest orator? “The rail-splitter,” who brought his clear brain and kind heart to the service of his country, and died a martyr to her cause? The canal boy, who grew to be the equal in culture of the most daintily-reared scholar in the land, and fell in his prime to be mourned by the world! Why, the glory of America is the children of the humbler classes who are educated above their rank!
However, in spite of Dr. Dix’s old-world views, he has made some discoveries. He has found out that the position of woman has changed, that she stands not where she once did, but has advanced from the seclusion of the past. This fact, however, he regards wholly with dismay, as he expressed the greatest horror at the thought that women should come before the public in any way. Some of them, he said, actually had their names printed in the newspapers — their full names — like men!
Which recalls a saying that was once held to be quite indisputable, that a woman’s name should never appear in the newspapers but twice, once when she was married and once when she died. How pleasant it has been for men to monopolize all the attention of the public in the past! No wonder they do not like the idea of sharing their honors — of, possibly, being outrivalled.
“I abhor and detest the modern development,” the good doctor says frankly, and we can well fancy that he disapproves violently of any system which will permit his declarations on any point to be controverted, or that any independence should arise in that sex which has so long humbly accepted priestly dictation.
The eloquent divine devoted a considerable portion of his last lecture to a graphic picture of the career of a fashionable girl, who leaves school at eighteen, and achieves what is called “success” in society. He is very much shocked at her frivolity, her love of admiration, her fondness for gayety. Why then does he not offer to the girls something better in the way of employment than the round of idle amusements which are now the only occupations offered to young ladies of a certain social position? He denies to our young women all higher education, closes to them all active careers, and then blames a gifted girl for wishing to achieve success in the only arena open to her.
“Note,” he says, “the ambition to appear clever and brilliant, the desire to say bright things and hear them said,” and he blames the poor girl for being able to “banter, jest, and make repartee.” What better use does he suggest for her powers than the training them for effective display in society?
A young woman who has had all the advantages, even of a fashionable education, must feel that what is offered her by society as occupation for her after school days are over, is miserably frivolous and un satisfactory, and the strictures of Dr. Dix remind me of the reply of a certain well-meaning father to his daughter when she asked his advice. She had returned to her home after graduating at a very good college for young women, and finding, after a little, that the absence of daily tasks seemed to make life very unprofitable, and that she was drifting into habits of idleness and without an aim in life, she appealed to her father, suggesting that he should point out to her some useful occupation for her trained intellect and restless energy. The good gentleman was sadly puzzled at first, but brightened up as he told her that he sadly needed a new pair of slippers, and she might embroider them for him!
It is true that Dr. Dix highly approves of marriage for women, and dwells so much on the importance of their training as wives and mothers that he evidently thinks young ladies have nothing to do after leaving school but walk into some convenient church and be married to some good husband, who is regularly provided for every woman as soon as she reaches a suitable age.
“It will be said,” he admits, “that many women have no homes. That is true; yet they are exceptions, and their unhappy case makes not against the general line of our argument.” This is, certainly, a very airy way of dismissing the facts in the case, which are, that in this country to-day in all our Eastern States women are in the majority — 73,000 more women than men in New York, 66,000 more women than men in Massachusetts, and so on in the older States; and, coupled with this, the other highly significant fact, that, for various reasons, principally owing to their own vice, and not to women’s extravagance, as is sometimes claimed, many men do not marry; so that there are in New York to-day 400,000 women over twenty one and unmarried, either maidens, widows, or divorced wives, which is about one third of the adult female population. When you add to these the many women who are obliged to support not only themselves but their husbands, you have so large a number of women who cannot expect to find homes or a support in marriage that only one who stood in an “early English attitude” would think of considering woman’s position to-day without having something to say in regard to this constantly-increasing army of unmarried and unsupported women.
But this is one of the peculiarities of the good doctor’s attempt to grapple with the “woman question” — that he sees nothing beyond Fifth Avenue and Murray Hill. He knows no life but that of fashion, and has no eyes for the great army of working girls who surge through our streets every morning going to their labors and back again at night. “Man’s is the outer life, woman’s the inner,” he declares. “It cannot be her duty to go down and strive in the streets;” but, ah! it is not only the duty but the necessity of many women in every community to earn their living, by leaving their homes, and striving to make for themselves a place in the world; and at what fearful disadvantages are these women placed by the teachings of just such men as Dr. Dix! Women are laboring in our schools at one half or one third as much pay as men who do no better work, toiling in our shops for a wretched pittance,” and running sewing machines at starvation wages! The picture is a terrible one in some of its aspects.
There are 50,000 women toiling in this city for pay that averages no more than thirty cents a day. Now what does such wretched remuneration as this mean? It means hunger, it means cold, it means misery, and too often it means degradation’ for when a woman is starving and freezing she must have a heart of adamant to resist the tempter who comes to her and offers her comfort and luxury as the price of vice!
But for all these struggling souls Dr. Dix has not a word. The whole, sole, solitary training of a woman must be for the home, which, considering the facts of the case, is about as sensible as if all young men were to be educated for the ministry, with the absolute certainty that there would never be pulpits enough for them to preach from. And even when women are married, may it not be desirable for them to have some art, some trade, or profession, by which they may earn what will make their homes more complete and their lives happier? Machinery has taken from women all their old avocations — spinning and weaving, knitting and sewing; the occupations that once filled up all women’s time and made their services of industrial value have been taken from them by the inventions of the last century. Even the potting, and pickling, and preserving, that were once done at home, are now done at factories, and unless a woman has an unusually large family of children she will have much leisure time, which might be profitably employed if only fair opportunities in life were open to all.
The sad story of one of my young companions strongly illustrates this fact. Pretty, brilliant and attractive, she early married a man of good social position in New York, and was introduced into fashionable life. Her husband was amiable and kind, but had no capacity for money-making. They had two children, one of whom soon died, so that there was but one little one to occupy the mother’s time and thoughts, and this, a boy, who was soon at school. She was expected to take her place in society, to be well-dressed, have a carriage, and all those expensive luxuries which fashionable life demands, and there was no money to supply all this. She was pretty, as I have said, and, in the midst of this gay city, surrounded by constant temptation, she made a gallant struggle in that desperate effort to “ keep up appearances,” doing a large part of the work in her home, practising the most rigid economy, but, of course, refused all opportunities of earning anything.
She was remarkably quick at figures, and had exceptional executive ability, and, in discussing with me the present position of women, she more than once said, “If I only had some way of earning money! If I could only have gone into father’s bank I know I could have done well, and been getting a good salary.” But, of course, every one, including Dr. Dix, would have been shocked at such a suggestion. She would have met men there! And so she met men at parties and scenes of gayety, where the association was a thousandfold more harmful than any business companionship, and — the end is too sad to relate — she lies in an alien grave, dead by her own hand.
Every day the necessity is becoming more apparent of giving women an education that shall fit them for their present position in life, their actual duties to-day, and not for some place they held in the past, or some position they may take in the future. A special training, keeping women always within doors, and fitting them for housekeeping only, tends to exaggerate the present weaknesses of the feminine character. Indeed, the sort of education which women receive to-day is often a positive injury rather than a benefit.
Mr. Buckle says, in his admirable work on the “Influence of Women in the Progress of Knowledge”; “That women think quicker than men be. cause they are more deductive than men, is a proposition which all may not relish, and which yet may be proved in a variety of ways. Indeed, nothing could prevent its being universally acknowledged except the fact that the remarkable rapidity with which women think is obscured by that miserable, that contemptible, that preposterous system, called their education, by which valuable things are care fully kept from them, and trifling things are care fully taught them, until their fine and nimble minds are too often irretrievably ruined.”
That this is painfully true a consideration of the training of any fashionable girl will speedily prove. Only think what would be the effect on a set of young men who should be reared like girls, kept mostly in the house, forbidden to romp lest they should be “tom-boys,” with their waists compressed by corsets, and their limbs hampered by skirts, their whole frames debilitated by their cruel dress and indoor lives, instructed only in the lighter accomplishments, forced to spend many hours of each day in playing on the piano and the setting of minute stitches, and taught that beauty was their highest gift, and marriage the object of life. What sort of creatures would these young men be at twenty I think we may really found a claim for woman’s superiority on the fact that, in spite of this monstrous process of destruction, our girls are as bright as they are. I fancy boys would hardly come out as well.
These young women, thus softly trained, and too often kept in ignorance of the evil of the world they must live in, are thrown into society with young men who have had a robust and varied education, and are well informed on the problems of life. No wonder these youths are likely to feel little respect for these gentle, and too often mentally feeble beings.
Dr. Dix, in his last lecture, drew a forcible picture of the want of deference now shown to women, the freedom with which a society man will treat the maidens he meets, and the disappearance of the old civility. It is quite true, the days of chivalry are over; women no longer command homage simply by reason of their sex; though, if you analyze that much-vaunted courtesy of the past, you will find it was paid to rank rather than to womanhood; for formerly, as to-day, a gentleman who would relieve a lady of a basket or other burden would hand it with indifference to her maid-servant.
Still it must be admitted that there is a great change in the freedom of intercourse among young people in Society; and the ceremonious deference with which a gentleman of the last century asked a lady’s hand in the dance is in strong contrast with the careless manner of the waltzer to-day, who beckons to his chosen partner across the ball-room, with the light request, “Dance — take a turn?”
In these things there are signs of the times, plain as the handwriting on the wall, to show that the only hope for women and for morality is to place in the hands of all women the power of self-protection. It is sometimes claimed that men are the “natural protectors” of women. Are they? Who is it that women fear on lonely roads at night, the members of their own sex or of that sex that claim to be their natural protectors? Any observer of the world knows, that while men may be very good protectors for the women of their own families, they are often very poor protectors for the women of other men’s families.
Ah, no! a woman to-day, who sees as much of life as she must, even from the most secluded home, must, for her own sake and for her daughters’ sake, be equipped with good education, and such admitted social and political power as shall give her the ability to command the respect of the men she meets. Here is the only hope of society and the world, that women shall meet men as their intellectual equals, and have the right to insist that men shall only associate with them as their moral equals.
Dr. Dix says of men to-day: “The sins of men are rank, their follies excessive and without number, their rebellion against God horrible and defiant; they are worse than women;” and again: “I believe that women are morally the superiors of men.”
And yet he would have all laws, legal and social, made by the members of that sex which he holds to be least virtuous! How can women keep even their homes pure if men permit themselves a wild license of indulgence that too often renders their wives wretched, and transmits even to their daughters the taint of unbridled passions! The misery which comes from men’s lawlessness surely cannot be charged on women, for the different code of morality for the two sexes is an invention certainly of men alone; and yet this wise doctor, like Adam before him, blames the woman, and lays the culpability for all social disorders on women alone.
“Generally I say this: that it is the faithlessness of woman to her mission and her duty which emboldens the arch conspirators against her honor.”
It is really amazing, in reviewing these lectures from the beginning, to see how throughout they are pervaded with the idea that women ought to be silent and subordinate, and yet may properly be held responsible for everything in active life. And the other idea, that the world is absolutely man’s, and woman is only allowed any place in it or any ad vantages at his good pleasure, and ought to be very grateful for any toleration she now enjoys. In his second lecture Dr. Dix uses these remarkable words:
“When the clamor for rights appears to be taking the form of a competition with men in a field which God has reserved for men only, in work not suited to the woman, and in professions already over stocked, that must end, not in enhancing the merit of woman in his eyes, but in making her offensive and detestable. There is a point beyond which patience will not hold out, and of this let the woman be sure: that if she go too far the end will come; and men, having long borne her manners, and finding that she is becoming a social nuisance and a general tormentor, will finally lose all respect for her, and thrust her away with loathing and disgust, and bid her behave herself and go back to her old inferiority.”
One is at once amused and indignant at reading this extraordinary tirade. The cool way in which this pulpit dictator assumes that the world is made for men, and that women have no rights here except what they choose to give them; the calm assumption that he knows what work is “unsuited for woman;” and the dreadful penalties he fulminates against one half the human race, to be inflicted by the other half-all these things show how utterly this commentator on life fails to see the facts of the world as they are.
He would forbid women to enter certain occupations as “unsuited to them” — he himself, we presume, to be the judge of the suitability — and does not see that the labor of any individual should be limited only by the abilities which God has given? His declaration that women should not enter professions “already overstocked” makes one think of the remark of a certain physician in England, when the question was mooted whether women should enter the medical profession: “Do these women know that there is not work enough for us men doctors now — as if the world must of course be long to men, and that only after they had filled all desirable positions might women expect to be allowed to take some humble places, and perhaps pick up a few of the crumbs which fell from their well-spread table.
The learned rector of Trinity, then, well-schooled, doubtless, in the lore of the past, but absolutely ignorant of the world as it is, after thus plainly stating how subordinate to man woman is, and ought to be, proceeds to blame her for all the sins against the home to-day.
And really the worthy rector draws so dismal a picture of the homes he has seen that one is tempted to ask what sort of society he has kept that can warrant such utterances as these:
“We see all about us the wrecks of homes, the shadows and ghosts of homes, the parodies of homes; slowly are dying out the home-life, the home-influence, the home-training, the home-religion.”
How false to facts! What an insult to the thousands of happy homes in our land to-day! Ah, if this lecturer wishes to see really happy homes, let him visit the homes of those women who are laboring for the elevation of their sex.
I know that it has been a favorite sneer to declare that “strong-minded” women neglected their duties to their families; but, on the face of the statement, it is likely to be false. If you find a woman full of energy as a writer, as a speaker, in her reform work, you may be sure she will carry that same energy into the administration of her household, and the hands that have been helpful to the world outside will not fall listless in the sacred realm of “home.
Never shall I forget the visit it was once my happiness to pay to the home of Lucretia Mott. It was on an evening during the Centennial summer, while I was visiting Philadelphia, and, leaving the hot and dusty city, went a short distance on the cars, in the cool of the evening, to the abode of that venerated woman — a pretty cottage standing in the dewy country, with grand old trees shadowing its substantial proportions and wide piazzas. Within all was order and neatness, every room in most perfect and scrupulous trim. Presently we were bid den to a well-spread table, where admirably-cooked food was daintily served, and later, on the piazza, we gathered about that noble woman, who, in the evening of her days, could look back to a life well spent in devotion to her family, and beyond that, to the welfare of humanity. She sat among us with the silvery moonlight falling on her lovely face and the pure white of her cap and kerchief; and her chair seemed transfigured to a throne grander than any throne on earth, for it was built up by the purity and beauty of her life.
Ah, friends, the good, anxious rector of Trinity need not fear the destruction of the home, if he will only let women’s voices be heard in the control of society. Home! Why it is the dearest sound to any true woman’s heart, the one place we all dream of and we all love. My own few brief absences from home have taught me how the thoughts and the affections cling with persistent tenderness to the spot where the loved ones are left, and how invisible threads seem to be ever drawing the traveller back to the fireside and the family.
Have we any of us forgotten our childhood? No! Its tender memories linger with us, though the stream of time is bearing us rapidly away from that land of sunshine and of flowers. Still, as we are borne swiftly onward, we catch the faint echo of the laughter and the songs of that light-hearted time; and who was the central figure of that picture — of the past? The mother, going with us hand in hand, sharing our pleasures, consoling our sorrows, and training us in our obligations and our duties. Perchance the grass has waved green on her grave for many a long summer; but still the heart longs sometimes for her counsels, or yearns with an ache that will never wholly cease for one touch from that dear hand, one tone of that beloved voice that is silent on earth forever!
It is this mother-influence that we would see pow erful to-day, the purifying, the ennobling, the moral qualities that make the household happy, that should have their place in the Government also; then, indeed, should we have many happier homes than we have to-day.
For we all know that there are homes wretched as any that Dr. Dix describes, yet not by woman’s sins alone; for where one home is ruined by woman’s extravagance, a hundred are destroyed by man’s vices; and if the wife is sometimes stupid, or negligent, or frivolous, how often is the husband the master and the tyrant, or the drunkard and the brute!
There are homes where the wretched mother vainly strives to obtain from her husband enough money from his earnings to keep her children alive; homes where the wife, instead of listening joyfully for the sound of her husband’s home-coming foot step, hears his heavy tread with shivering terror. Shall I read to you the stories of wife-murderers and wife-beaters that blacken the pages of our journals day after day? Why the night would not be long enough to relate the records of even a few months. So common are such events that the pa pers carelessly chronicle even the darkest of them, under “Minor Items,” or as “Another Wife Murder.” Did any one ever hear of “Another Husband Murder”?
The wife-beater, surly brute! stalks abroad in our streets; the faithless husband lounges on every street corner, and then this dull-eyed observer charges women with being the destroyers of home! In this city, during one quarter, 463 men deserted their families, and only 3 women; yet he declares that women desire to be rid of children, and asserts that the coming of a child is often un welcome to the mother; is it never unwelcome to the father?
I have known cases, and so have you, doubtless, where the wife dared not tell her husband of the trembling hope that was in her heart, lest he should , receive the intelligence with grumbling discontent, and if women are reluctant to assume the responsibility of children, men are far more reluctant to meet the expense.
Much is said by all the critics of women’s position to-day with regard to their duty to their children. These duties cannot be too highly estimated, but women do not need to be preached to on the subject. The divinest instinct of the heart is the mother’s love for her child, and Dr. Dix would do well to spend some time in discoursing to men on their duties as fathers — duties only second in importance to the mother’s, and far more likely to be neglected. It is a curious and cruel feature of the present social condition that while women are so loudly talked to of these duties, they legally have no rights whatsoever to their children in a large number of the States of this Union.
In New York, as in many other States, the law declares the father to be “the natural guardian of the child.” “The natural guardian!” One would be sure that no woman had any voice in framing that statute, when nature herself points beyond question to the mother as the only “natural guardian” of her offspring.
New York law goes farther than this, and gives to the father the absolute right to dispose of the child. It does not legally belong to the mother for a single moment of its existence! By an infamous law,” passed in 1871, the father of a child, though he be a minor, may dispose of the custody and tuition of his child—by deed, if he be living, and by will, even if he die before he ever see its face. You will tell me such a law matters little. Ah, yes, in the happy homes, of which we have so many, in spite of Dr. Dix, homes where husband and wife are happy equals in the care of their children; but laws are not needed to control good men, and we know that in every community there are many bad ones, who will and do use this statute to work infinite woe to women.
On this point, as on as on that of wife-beating, there is a long and terrible record drawn from our probate and police courts — stories of women made wretched by being robbed of their children.” Let me tell you only one of these: Within two months, here in this city, a Chinaman, who had married a decent Irish wife, took her baby from her when it was only three days old.* The poor wretched mother ap pealed to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and the man was brought into court. When asked what he had done with the baby, he replied that he had given it to his brother to be taken away to China. Had the judge one word of censure for this? Not a syllable. His comment was :
“You did perfectly right; you are the natural guardian of the child; you had a right to dispose of it as you thought best;” and to the wretched mother standing there, sobbing and shivering in her poor clothes, he said merely: “Go home, my good woman; you should not be out in such a storm.” No reproof at this act, paralleled only in slave annals! Why a kind-hearted man would not treat his dog or his cat as this man treated his wife — taking her baby from her breast when it was only “three days old! And yet good Dr. Dix cannot see that women have anything to complain of!
We ask better laws to-day for the sake of our. children, because we love them. We can guard them now while they lie in our arms, we can protect them while they toddle at our feet, but when they pass beyond our portals, then what power have we to shield them? Men have opened on every side the doors of places that shall lead our sons—aye, and even our daughters — down to destruction, and we have no power to close them. It is because we love our children, because for their sakes we would use our influence beyond the home to make the world purer and better, that we are asking for greater liberties to-day.
In a happy home and for the rearing of a virtuous family there are needed the two essential elements, a good man and a good woman; the former as important a factor in the problem as the latter. Many such men there are throughout our fortunate land, we all know, men who are true to their homes, to their wives, to all the duties of life. It is because of this fact, that we have so many excellent men, whose kind hearts make laws for their action far more beneficent than any their ancestors have writ. ten, that you find so many women who feel as if there were no need of any change. Their own lives are so sheltered that they cannot realize how others who are out in the storm need better ad vantages and a purer moral code than exists to day.
Ah, my sisters, because we have dear homes and good husbands, shall we not be able to see those others of our sex who are suffering Even if we are happy, shall we not have pity on the unhappy ones? A woman need not have endured any wrong herself to feel the wrongs of others. The good Wilberforce and the eloquent Charles Sumner had never themselves felt the lash of the whip, yet their hearts were full of compassion for the slave; and if some of us have husband, children, home, luxury, it the more behooves us out of our abundance to reach helping hands to women who are struggling or unfortunate.
The happy home, then, needs the union of both the masculine and feminine elements. A household of women alone is but a forlorn place, while a Western “ranche,” where men dwell without women, is prone to become not merely forlorn, but disreputable. The sexes need the companionship of each other in all the departments of life, each modifying the special characteristics of the other, and united forming a harmonious whole.
And how much more likely are marriages to be well formed where there is the association of young people, not only in the ball-room where they are on their good behavior, but in the class-room also, where whatever is stupid, whatever is ill-tempered, is prone to come to the surface.
By the way, it is quite amusing to hear Dr. Dix and others crying out in denunciation of co education, as if it were something new, when many of our fathers and mothers and all our grandfathers and grandmothers were co-educated; when, in fact, as soon as you pass out of New York city, you will find all over the country “mixed schools” where both sexes are taught side by side.
How often, if in the country in winter, we have seen the little ones going to school together. In the clear cold of some bright morning, when the snow has built airy castles on the fences, and the frost has fringed the roof with icicles, the little group of young creatures has passed by with their rosy cheeks aglow, their light breath circling in the crisp air, their shrill voices sounding clearly, making with their scarlet caps and mufflers and mittens a patch of color across the snow. Some of the larger boys are very likely dragging some of the girls on their sleds as they go by, in happy unconsciousness that they are guilty of the shocking impropriety of being co-educated.
The reminiscences of these early school-friend ships are very pleasant, and often last a lifetime. I remember how an old lady who sat with me one day read the news of the death of a man older than herself, and laid down the paper with the tears springing to her eyes as she said: “He was such a nice boy! How often in the cold winter mornings he has drawn me to school on his sled.”
And now let us consider for a moment the qualifications which a woman should have to make her the good wife and mother, and citizen also, doing her duty to the home and the world as well; and such a woman we find described in the chapter in Proverbs which I read to you before beginning my lecture. Now Dr. Dix himself, in one of his earlier discourses, quoted from this same chapter, and yet with his masculine vision was quite unable to understand the meaning of the verses, plain as they are to any feminine eyesight.
We are told, in the first place, in verse 11, that “the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her;” showing that this perfect woman, described as a model for all time, was not a silly, dependent weakling, but a woman, with all womanly grace and beauty doubtless, but also strong and self-reliant, so that husband and children could safely rely upon her in every emergency.
The succeeding verses tell how she excelled in all feminine arts, working in “wool and flax,” rising early in the morning to attend to her household cares, indicating that all these home duties were faithfully performed, although the next verse tells us that she went out into the world and transacted business:
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.”
No mention is made of her asking her husband whether she should buy the property or not, or meekly signing her name to a paper after he had bought it without consulting her, and very likely with her money. The next verse again expatiates on her strength:
“She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”
It is evident that, as she was strong in body, she was strong in mind also, and this strength, instead of being denounced as unbecoming, is highly commended.
The next two verses again depict her household labors, and then, in verse 20, we have a record of her charities:
“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.”
A perfect woman indeed, foremost in all good words and work! Then follows a description of the clothing of her family, including her own, showing that she did not neglect her dress, but was attired “in silk and purple,” as befitted her rank.
And now we come to verse 23, to which I desire especially to call your attention:
“Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.”
You will perceive that he is known as “her husband,” pointed out doubtless as the husband of this grand woman. Evidently he did not amount to very much himself, and was only known as her husband. A very good sort of man, doubtless, but quite inferior to her.
Even Dr. Dix could hardly describe this woman as “a clinging vine” — by the way, what an absurd simile that is! In the first place, every one knows what happens to a tree if a vine does cling to it: it kills the tree. However, conceding that it may be very nice for the vine to have a tall and lofty oak to cling to, what are you going to do for those vines who have no Oaks at all, or for those others whose oaks turn out to be no better than corn stalks?
We return now to the description of this perfect woman, who was no shrinking violet seeking the shade, but rather a splendid magnolia, shedding light and fragrance on all about her.
The verse following again speaks of her public transactions in selling “girdles to the merchants,” and then, as if the poet could never too much ex ult in her glorious strength, there is added another verse of commendation:
“Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.”
The next verse is very important as showing how perfectly rounded is her character:
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
Ah, sisters, what a lesson for us all in this sentence! This grand woman was no slanderer, no spreader of gossip; but with her noble intellect was joined a kind heart, and for those less fortunate, even the erring, she had words of tender charity. Well might it be said of her, as in the succeeding verse:
“Her children rise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
The closing verses are all devoted to further praise of this most perfect woman, described as a model for her sex, and, one would think, for the utter discomfiture of Dr. Dix and all others who would pretend to condemn women to a restricted and dependent life, and find a warrant for their dictations in this good book.
The last verse of all is especially a wonderful contradiction to those who assert that it is of divine decree that women shall lead lives of subordination and obscurity; it runs thus:
“Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
Now this “praise in the gates” was the greatest publicity a person could have in those days when newspapers were unknown; we specially commend this verse to the consideration of this worthy divine, who was so shocked that a woman’s name should be publicly known, and printed in full like a man’s.
This noble woman, then, excellent in all the relations of life, as wife, as mother, as housekeeper, and as friend, had also her distinct public duties, all admirably fulfilled, and yet remained kind, charitable, and loving. And this honored citizen received her due reward in the admiring respect of the world.
Well might it be said of the husband of such a woman, “She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life,” and lofty indeed must be the qualities of the man who would be the fitting mate of this full-rounded and perfect creature!
In the dismal pictures of the society of to-day which this modern Jeremiah has drawn, he hints that there is danger that love will disappear from the world. “It is averred that now nobody falls in love, that the age of sentiment is past.” How ignorant must this good man be of the facts of life. He discoursed eloquently the other evening on the novels of the day, showing an extensive acquaintance with them.* Perhaps, as he spends so much time in the perusal of this light fiction, he has no leisure for reading the newspapers, which teem every day with tragedies which are the result of love, — sometimes, indeed, ill-regulated and illicit love, but often the result of disappointed marriage hopes, and plainly proving that the day is yet far distant when “man will plod on alone as best he may, misanthropical, hateful, and like one upon whose journey has descended the darkness of a night with out a star.”
Cruel and terrible as is ill-regulated passion, do we not all believe that love in its highest and purest form is the redeeming happiness of humanity? The foundation of every true home must be a harmonious and congenial marriage, a union begun and continued in love — that love which glorifies and illumines life, which makes one man and one woman more than all the world to each other, which so enwraps them that, illumined by this wonderful light “that never was on sea or land,” they stand within a new creation, the Adam and Eve of a Garden of Eden, fair as all the dreams of myth or fable; a love that sets apart its ideal, crowned with a grace and beauty indescribable, and transfigures a very ordinary being to a transcendent loveliness. As the lover in Bulwer’s poem says:
There moved about thee forms as fair,
There whispered tones as sweet,
But round thee breathed the enchanted air ‘
Twere life or death to meet;
And henceforth thou alone wert fair,
And, though the stars had sung for joy, thy whisper only sweet.
And later, when the couple thus divinely united go hand in hand to meet life’s duties and life’s cares, though the toils and trials of every day may destroy somewhat of the romance of passion, there remains in its place a tender affection, a deep, abiding love, that is better in its calm sense of restful companionship than all the tumult of the first excitement.
Do we not daily know and see such unions as these, and meet couples who all their lives long are happiest only when together, and who
“Love on through all ills, and love on till they die,
With hearts never changing, and brows never cold”?
I well remember a venerable pair whom I reverenced in my childhood, always together, happy in each other’s companionship after fifty years of marriage, with a complete content that no young love ever gave. Silver-haired and growing feebler as the time passed on, they were at last little seen beyond their home, as their steps grew more slow, their frames more frail, until the gentle messenger came to bear them to their rest, and took first the tender wife. She died in the morning of a beautiful spring day, when all nature was re-enacting the miracle of the resurrection, and all day long the companion of so many years mourned beside the faded form that was all that was left of his hearts’ darling.
“I must go with Mary,” he moaned; “I must go with Mary, she will be so lonely without me; I must go with Mary!”
And it was even so; as the last rays of the light faded the death-angel bore him away to be with Mary in the land where there is never any more parting. Hand in hand they had walked through life’s path together in the Sunshine and the storm; hand in hand they crossed the shadowy river and sought the golden shore.
Source: Woman’s Place To-Day: Four Lectures, In reply to the Lenten Lectures on “Woman” by The Rev. Morgan Dix, D.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York, (New York: John W. Lovell Company) 1883, pp. 55-91.