Mabel Edna Dautel
April 27, 1893 — Myrtle Luncheon, Cleveland Sorosis Club, Cleveland OH
The old chivalrous ideas in regard to woman are fast disappearing. In making this assertion, I do not wish to be understood as introducing a pea for the self-assertive, unwomanly woman. A woman’s greatest power consists in her femininity. Her aesthetic sense, her spirituality, her innate refinement, which expresses itself even in the dainty belongings with which she chooses to surround herself, have an influence for good in the world not to be measured by words. Goethe made Faust give expression to this sentiment, when, in the absence of Margherita, he gained access to her chamber. Overcome by the sentiment that expressed itself everywhere, from the flowers in the tiny vase in the lattice window to the book of devotion on the table, in a momentary, at least, state of contrition he exclaimed, “this is the abode of purity.”
But with all this in view, woman still recognizes the fact that if she has to wrestle with the problems of life successfully she must first understand them. This knowledge she can only gain by hearing them discussed intelligently by others and by calm reasoning upon them herself. In other words, by having the same advantages that her husband, her father and her brother possess! Woman’s intuitions have stood her instead of reason about long enough. Let us hope the day is not far distant when a woman’s reason will no longer be — “because.” She has come into the knowledge of her weakness in many things, her ignorance of many more, and is aware that the great problems of life whether of religion, politics, charities, literary or artistic culture, political or domestic economy, require the same solution of her undisciplined and inexperienced mind that they do of that of man, with centuries of discipline and experience behind him. It is the expert against the novice. It is a wonder that man has accomplished as much as he has, yoked to so unequal a partner.
It is the desire on the part of woman to level these inequalities and to better fit herself for her responsibilities, that prompts her to this onward movement. It is that she may better fill her own place in life, rather than that she has ay desire to usurp that of man. Thus, with the cobwebs brushed from her eyes, imbued with the idea that if she is to be more than a man’s shadow while he lives, and his relict at death, in short to be his true helpmeet and companion, she must be up and doing.
With her little hand she has cut the Gordian know that bound her. The pent-up eloquence and long dormant talent which have accumulated to such extent in the brain of the active nineteenth-century woman, have at last found vent in Woman’s Clubs.
The first Woman’s Club was formed by Sappho, and Greek poetess, who was wont to gather her friends around her for intellectual intercourse.
That was early in the Christian era, but the club idea did not seem to take very well until this latter end of the nineteenth century, when the blind struggle after union and co-operation in organized societies is beginning to crystallize. The Woman’s Club has taken definite form and has proved its right to existence, its helpfulness to women, and through her to society. The early steps were slow. Mountains had to be overcome, ridicule being the worst among them, perhaps. The pioneers in advanced education for women were called “short-haired women,” “emancipated females,” etc. Perhaps they were too busy making the rough places smooth to give due consideration to the amenities of life. The pioneers in a new country do not clear the forests in dress suits. And we who are enjoying the fruits of the labors of the women who have borne the brunt of the battle in the advancement of their sex, are just as little justified in criticizing their so-called radical methods as the modern fine gentleman would be in ridiculing the manners and methods of the men who, centuries before, had cleared forest and build roadways.
The clams of a woman’s club are manifold. To begin with, it is elevating, and it inspires her with self-respect. It is broadening. It dispels the old idea of exclusiveness in its narrow sense. It is a refreshment, a change of the mental atmosphere just as necessary as a change of air in the material world. It is a school after school — a place where women will learn to accept honest opposition, goodnaturedly. Here she may get in an hour the result of many hours, study and research, condensed in the various papers read before the club. Here she may learn that there is another point of view besides her own.
In the ideal woman’s club, the interests of the club will be greater than that of any member in it. The nobility of true womanhood, not the aristocracy of wealth or position, should be the “open sesame” to its privileges. Character, intellect and attainments — these should be the credentials necessary for membership. It should be broader than any creed, and wider than any sect.
The object of a woman’s club should be to develop those traits that belong to the ideal woman, and teach her the requirements of a perfect life. It should imbue her with the idea that housekeeping is not all of homekeeping — that at, religion, music and literature are as necessary to a perfect home as good bread, perfect ventilation and good cooking. It is the ideal that endures — material things are only transitory. They only have their place as they minister to the comfort of the individual or convey some idea of beauty to his soul.
A club that does its work properly would lead its members to prefer to be judged as individuals, rather than to have any degree of praise or blame on account of sex. Le it be in this line of thought that they may strive to leave their impress on the world, having endeavored to ennoble and enrich the day and generation in which they have lived. Do you ask me where this ideal blub exists? “In my mind’s eye, Horatio,” and in it are women — and men.
Source: Cleveland Sorosis Annual, (OH: Examiner Publishing Co.) 1893, pp. 51-54.
Also: Early American Women: A Documentary History, 1600-1900, ed. Nancy Woloch (New York McGraw-Hill Education) 2002, pp. 375-377.