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What Shall We Do With Our Redundant Women?

April 3, 1873 — Steinway Hall, New York City


When she reached America, in October last, she had not expected to find it so very hard to say farewell in the following April. From the moment of landing she had been the recipient of the kindliest hospitality, and now that the time had come to sever the ties which, manifold and strong, bound her to America and Americans, she felt too much regret to trust herself to give expression to her emotions, and gladly recalled the object of the meeting. The subject on which she was to speak had received unmerited abuse, and its agitators had been charged with trying to set women against men. The movement truly arises from the deepest sympathy with men, with their noblest efforts and best aspirations. It is a war of principles, and in it men and women are equally interested. There are three great subjects at present exciting England: first, the Relations of Labor to Capital; second, Pauperism; third, the Woman Question. The last, taken in its broadest sense, was to be the theme of the speakers’ utterance on this occasion. She would not appeal to chivalry and compassion, but to justice and good sense.

In England there are now nearly 3,000,000 women dependent on their own exertions. To tell such as these that woman’s proper sphere is home is mockery, for they are forced from their homes to get bread. Though many a barrier to woman’s earning a livelihood has been broken down, there are still terrible difficulties in finding employment for women. Specially onerous is the effort in the case of those of fallen fortunes, members of the genteel classes. To relieve such [she] has founded a “Fund for Destitute Gentlewomen,” to which she would devote the proceeds of the lecture. True it is that young men now find it hard to get suitable work; they often have to go West. But there is not analogy among them to the wholesale yearly destruction of consciences, bodies, and souls among women — destruction too often brought about by destitution. How can tender-hearted people fold their hands while so many of their sisters are driven to the gates of hell by want of bread? Statements are published that capable women, willing to work, can get employment at good wages. Good, steady skilled labor is wanted in just those departments where women have gained position. The unremitting, earnest application required to acquire skill in these departments, is hard for women to go through. In them, love of work for its own sake is no more inherent than in men. Moreover, women are always looking for the appearance of the possible emancipator. Men have nothing but their work to look to for dependence. The greatest evil of all is the lack of the right early training, and for this the family, the parents, society in general, must be impeached. Society casts a stigma on women who earn their own livelihood, and parents pray that their daughters may never be brought so low. As to education, a girl’s training stops just where the main part of a boy’s begins. Men are allowed full opportunity to devote themselves to their chosen work, and are not diverted by social demands.

The problem, what shall we do with our redundant women in England, is answered by some philosophers by proposing emigration and marriage. But emigration has already bene largely tried, and Scotch, English, and Irish women have been sent to Australia and America in great numbers without much diminishing the gravity of the problem; while as for marriage, there is yet to be found the woman to say “No” when the right man appears. As long as the number of women in Great Britain exceeds that of the men by six per cent, marriage will not wholly do away with the difficulty unless Mormonism is tried.  True marriage is the crown and glory of a woman’s life; but it must be founded on love, and not on the desire of a home or of support; while nothing can be more deplorable, debasing, and corrupting than the loveless marriages brought about in our upper society by a craving ambition and a longing for a good settlement. Loveless marriages and a different standard of morality for men and women are the curses of modern society. Women must have such occupations as will give them true and genuine sympathies with their fathers and husbands, who are toiling day by day for their support, while the women dependent on them are wearying out the hours trying to kill time. In this way a wide gulf, constantly expanding, is opened between men and women.



Source: The Phrenological Journal, June 1873, pp. 376-378.