Sisters of Charity
Abroad and at Home
February 14, 1855 — a “drawing room lecture,” England
The subject on which I venture to address you is one which will find an interest in every kind heart. It is also one of incalculable social importance. I am to discourse to you of SISTERS OF CHARITY, not merely as the designation of a particular order of religious women, be longing to a particular church, but also in a far more comprehensive sense, as indicating the vocation of a large number of women in every country, class, and creed. I wish to point out to you what has been done in other countries, and may be done in ours, to make this vocation available for public uses and for social progress.
I have to beg your patience, — your indulgence. It will be necessary for me to advert to subjects on which there exists considerable difference of opinion; while the brevity required by a lecture will not allow me to discuss these at length, or to submit all the arguments which might be advanced in favour of my own convictions. I am obliged to concentrate what I have to say into the smallest possible compass ; nevertheless, by recurring to first principles, instead of discussing ways and means, and questions of expediency, I think I shall facilitate the object in view. The deeper we can lay our foundation, the safer will be our superstructure. Therefore, to begin at the beginning. —
There are many different theories concerning the moral purposes of this world in which we dwell, considered, I mean, in reference to us, its human inhabitants ; for some regard it merely as a state of transition between two conditions of existence, a past and a future ; others as being worthless in itself, except as a probation or preparation for a better and a higher life; while others, absorbed or saddened by the monstrous evils and sorrows around them, have really come to regard it as a place of punishment or penance for sins committed in a former state of existence. But I think that the best definition, — the best, at least, for our present purpose, — is that of Shakespeare: he calls it, with his usual felicity of expression, “this working-day world;” and it is truly this: it is a place in which work is to be done — work which must be done — work which it is good to do; — a place in which labour of one kind or another is at once the condition of existence and the condition of happiness.
Well, then, in this working-day world of ours we must all work. The only question is, what shall we do? To few is it granted to choose their work. Indeed, all work worth the doing, seems to leave us no choice. We arc called to it. Sometimes the voice so calling is from within, sometimes from without; but in any case it is what we term expressively our vocation, and in either case, the harmony and happiness of life in man or woman consists in finding in our vocation the employment of our highest faculties, and of as many of them as can be brought into action.
And work is of various kinds: there are works of necessity and works of mercy; — head work, hand work; — man s work, woman’s work ; and on the distribution of this work in accordance with the divine law, and what Milton calls the ” faultless proprieties of nature,” depends the well-being of the whole community, not less than that of each individual.
Domestic life, the acknowledged foundation of all social life, has settled by a natural law the work of the man and the work of the woman. The man governs, sustains, and defends the family; the woman cherishes, regulates, and purifies it ; but though distinct, the relative work is inseparable, — sometimes exchanged, sometimes shared; so that from the beginning, we have, even in the primitive household, not the division, but the communion of labour.
As civilisation advances, as the social interests and occupations become more and more complicated, the family duties and influences diverge from the central home, — in a manner, radiate from it, — though it is always there in reality. The man becomes, on a larger scale, father and brother, sustainer and defender; the woman becomes, on a Larger scale, mother and sister, nurse and help.
Of course, the relations thus multiplied and diffused are less sacred, less intense, but also less egotistical, less individual, than in the primitive tent of the Arab, the lodge of the red-man, or within the precincts of the civilised hearth; but in proportion as we can carry out socially the family duties and charities, and perforin socially the household work, just in such proportion is society safely and harmoniously constituted.
If domestic life be then the foundation and the bond of all social communities, does it not seem clear that there must exist between man and woman, even from the beginning, the communion of love and the communion of labour? By the first I understand all the benevolent affections and their results, and all the binding charities of life, extended from the home into the more ample social relations ; and in the latter I comprehend all the active duties, all intellectual exercise of the faculties, also ex tended from the central home into the larger social circle. When from the cross those memorable words were uttered by our Lord, “Behold thy Mother! Behold thy Son!” do you think they were addressed only to the two desolate mourners who then and there wept at his feet? No — they were spoken, like all his words, to the wide universe, to all humanity, to all time!
I rest, therefore, all I have to say hereafter upon what I conceive to be a great vital truth, — an unchangeable, indisputable, natural law. And it is this : that men and women are by nature mutually dependent, mutually helpful; that this communion exists not merely in one or two relations, which custom may define and authorise, and to which opinion may restrict them in this or that class, in this or that position; but must extend to every possible relation in existence, in which the two sexes can be socially approximated. Thus, for instance, a man, in the first place, merely sustains and defends his home; then he works to sustain and defend the community or the nation he belongs to. And so of woman ; she begins by being the nurse, the teacher, the cherisher of her home, through her greater tenderness and purer moral sentiments; then she uses these qualities and sympathies on a larger scale, to cherish and purify society. But still the man and the woman must continue to share the work ; there must be the communion of labour in the large human family, just as there was within the narrower precincts of home.
You will wonder that I begin with truisms such as no man in his senses ever thinks of disputing; but the wonder is that, while admitted, they are never acted upon. Can you give me any one instance in which this primal law of our being, with regard to the distribution of work, has been taken as the natural and necessary basis for any improvement in legislation or in education? Can you point to any one among these piles of Blue-books and reports, — educational reports, sanitary reports, jail reports, juvenile delinquent reports, — in which such principles are adverted to? It is granted as a principle that ample scope should be given for the man to perform his share of the social work, and ample means of instruction to enable him to perform it well. What provision is made to enable the woman to do her work well and efficiently?
It is not charity, nor energy, nor intelligence which are wanting in our women, any more than dauntless bravery in our men. But something is wanting; or surely from so much good material, more positive and extended social benefits would arise. What is wanting is more moral courage, more common sense, on the part of our legislators. If men were better educated, they would sympathise in the necessity of giving a better education to women. They would perceive the wisdom of applying, on a large and efficient scale, the means of health, strength, and progress which lie in the gentler capacities of the gentler sex, — material ready at hand, as yet wasted in desultory, often misdirected, efforts, or perishing inert, or fermenting to evil and despair.
Lying at the source of the mischief, we trace a great mistake and a great want.
The great mistake seems to have been that in all our legislation it is taken for granted that the woman is always protected, always under tutelage, always within the precincts of a home; finding there her work, her interests, her duties, and her happiness : but is this true ? We know that it is altogether false. There are thousands and thousands of women who have no protection, no guide, no help, no home; — who are absolutely driven by circumstance and necessity, if not by impulse and inclination, to carry out into the larger community the sympathies, the domestic instincts, the active administrative capabilities with which God has endowed them ; but these instincts, sympathies, capabilities, require, first, to be properly developed, then properly trained, and then directed into large and useful channels, according to the individual tendencies. As to the want, what I insist on particularly is, that the means do not exist for the training of those powers; that the sphere of duties which should occupy them is not acknowledged ; and I must express my deep conviction that society is suffering in its depths through this great mistake and this great want.
We require in our country the recognition — the public recognition, — by law as well as by opinion, of the woman’s, privilege to share in the communion of labour at her own free choice, and the foundation of institutions which shall train her to do her work well.
I am anxious that you should not misunderstand me at the outset with regard to this “woman-question” as it has been called. I have no intention to discuss either the rights or the wrongs of women. I think that on this question our relations across the Atlantic have gone a mile beyond the winning-post, and brought discredit and ridicule on that just cause which, here in England, prejudice, custom, ignorance have in a manner crushed and smothered up. It is in this country, beyond all Christian countries, that what has been called, quaintly but expressively, the ” feminine clement of society,” considered as a power applicable in many ways to the amelioration of many social evils, has been not only neglected, but absolutely ignored by those who govern us. The woman cries out for the occasion and the means to do well her appointed and per mitted work, to perform worthily her share in the natural communion of labour. Because it is denied to her she perishes, “and no man layeth it to heart.”
It is true that there is no law which forbids the woman to use her energies but we might as well Ray that no law exists in China which forbids a woman to take a walk into the country. The Chinese content themselves with bandaging and crippling the feet of their women, which is found, as a preventive, quite as effectual as any law. In a very entertaining book about China, which has lately appeared, the author, M. Hue, describes some Chinese ladies setting off on a pilgrimage. Hobbling on their cramped feet, and supporting themselves with a stick, they reach at last the temple to which they are bound. So it is with our women : they attain their objects; but what God made natural, graceful, and easy, is rendered matter of pain and difficulty, is regarded as an indecorum or an extravagance, and is very awkwardly and imperfectly achieved, if at all.
Now the problem which it is given to us in this age and this country to solve as well as we can, — to solve, I will «ay it, or perish morally, — has been partially solved by another church in other countries. And before I proceed to consider the subject with reference to the present condition of society and public opinion among us, let it be permitted to me to advert briefly to the institutions of charitable women, in the Roman Catholic Church, not because I think or wish that these institutions could or ought to be carried out among us precisely in the same manner, as a purely religious establishment, subservient to a hierarchy; but because I am anxious to show you the immense results of a well-organised system of work for women.
I know that many well-meaning, ignorant people in this country entertain the idea that the existence of communities of women, trained and organised to help in social work from the sentiment- of devotion, is especially a Roman Catholic institution, belonging peculiarly to that church, and necessarily implying the existence of nuns and nunneries, veils and vows, forced celibacy and seclusion, and all the other inventions and traditions which, in this Protestant nation, are regarded with terror, disgust, and derision. I conceive that this is altogether a mistake. The truth seems to me to amount to this : that the Roman Catholic Church has had the good sense to turn to account, and assimilate to itself, and inform with its own peculiar doctrines, a deep- seated principle in our human nature, — a law of life, which we Protestants have had the folly to repudiate. We admire and reverence the beautiful old cathedrals which our Roman Catholic ancestors built and endowed. If we have not inherited them, we have, at least, appropriated them and made them ours ; wo worship God in them, we say our prayers in them after our own hearts. Can we not also appropriate and turn to account some of the institutions they have left us — inform them with a spirit more consonant with our national .character and the requirements of the age, and dedicate them anew to good and holy purposes? What prevents us from using Sisters of Charity, as well as fine old cathedrals and colleges, for pious ends, and as a means of social benefit? Are we as stern, as narrow- minded, as deficient in real, loving faith as were our puritanical forefathers, when they not only defaced and desecrated, but would gladly, if they could, have levelled to the earth and utterly annihilated, those monuments of human genius and human devotion? Luckily they stand in their beauty, to elevate the minds and hearts of us, the descendants of those who built and dedicated them, and who boast that we have reformed, not destroyed the Church of Christ! — and let me say that these institutions of female charity, to which I have referred, — institutions which had their source in the deep heart of humanity, and in the teaching of a religion of love, — let me say that these arc better and more beautiful and more durable than edifices of stone reared by men’s hands, and worthy to be preserved and turned to piousness, though we can well dispense with some of those ornaments and appendages which speak to us no more.
Female Religious Communities.
It would take far too much time were I to go over the history of the early ages of Christendom, and show you that women, associated under the ruling civil and ecclesiastical powers, were then officially, but “voluntarily, employed in works of social good. That these women should have been early associated with the church, and held their duties by ecclesiastical appointment, was natural and necessary, because all moral sway, and all moral influence, and all education, and every peaceful and elevating pursuit, belonged, for many centuries, to the ecclesiastical order only. The singular and beneficent power exercised by the religious and charitable women in those times is re marked by all writers, though none of them refer it to a natural law — a great first cause. The whole of the early history of Christianity is full of examples. I will give you one which, on looking over these authorities, struck me vividly.
Paula, a noble Roman lady, a lineal descendant of the Scipios and the Gracchi, is mentioned among the first Christian women remarkable for their active benevolence. In the year 385 she quitted Rome, then still a Pagan city ; with the remains of a large fortune, which had been ex pended in aiding and instructing a wretched and demoralised people, and accompanied by her daughter, she sailed for Palestine, and took up her residence in Bethlehem of Judea. There, as the story relates, she assembled round her a community of women ” as well of noble estate as of middle .and low lineage.” They took no vows, they made no profession, but spent their days in prayer and good works, having especially a well-ordered hospital for the sick.
In the old English translation of her life there is a picture of this charitable lady which I cannot refrain from quoting: “She was marvellous debonair, and piteous to them that were sick, and comforted them, and served them right humbly ; and gave them largely to eat Buch as they “asked; but to herself she was hard in her sickness and scarce, for she refused to eat flesh how well she gave it to others, and also to drink wine. She was oft by them that were sick, and she laid the pillows aright and in point; and she rubbed their feet, and boiled water to wash them; and it seemed to her that the less she did to the sick in service, so much the less service did she to God, and deserved the less mercy; therefore she was to them piteous and nothing to herself.”
This picture, drawn fifteen hundred years ago, so quaintly graphic, and yet so touching in its simplicity, will, perhaps, bring before the mind’s eye of those who listen to me, scenes of the same kind, where female ministry has been called upon to do like offices of mercy; — to wash the wounds and smooth the couch, and ” lay the pillow aright,” of the maimed, the war-broken, the plague-stricken soldier. But we must for a while turn back to the past.
It is in the seventh century that we find these com munities of charitable women first mentioned under a particular appellation. We read in history that when Landry, Bishop of Paris, about the year 650, founded an hospital, since known as the Hotel Dieu, as a general refuge for disease and misery, he placed it under the direction of the Hospitalières, or nursing-sisters of that time, — women whose services are understood to have been voluntary, and undertaken from motives of piety. Innocent IV., who would not allow of any outlying religious societies, collected and united these hospital-sisters under the rule of the Augustine Order, making them amenable to the government and discipline of the Church. The novitiate or training of a Sœur Hospitalière was of twelve years’ duration, after which she was allowed to make her profession. At that time, and even earlier, we find many hospitals expressly founded for the reception of the sick pilgrims and wounded soldiers returning from the East, and bringing with them strange and hitherto unknown forms of disease and suffering. Some of the largest hospitals in France and the Netherlands originated in this purpose, and were all served by the Hospitalières ; and to this day the Hotel Dieu, with its one thousand beds, the hospital of St. Louis, with its seven hundred beds, and that of La Pitié, with its six hundred beds, arc served by the same sisterhood, under whose care they were originally placed centuries ago.
For about five hundred years the institution of the Dames or Sœurs Hospitalières remained the only one of its kind. During this period it had greatly increased its numbers, and extended all through western Christendom ; still it did not suffice for the wants of the age ; and the thirteenth century, fruitful in all those results which a combination of wide-spread suffering and religious ferment naturally produces, saw the rise of another community of compassionate women destined to exercise a far wider in fluence. These were the Sœur Griess or Grey Sisters, so called at first, from the original colour of their dress. Their origin was this:— the Franciscans (and other regular orders) admitted into their community a third or secular class, who did not seclude themselves in cloisters, who took no vows of celibacy, but were simply bound to submit to certain rules and regulations, and united together in works of charity, devoting themselves to visiting the sick in the hospitals or at their own homes, and doing good wherever and whenever called upon. Women of all classes were enrolled in this sisterhood. Queens, princesses, ladies, of rank, wives of burghers, as well as poor widows and maidens. The higher class and the married women occasionally served; the widows and unmarried devoted themselves almost entirely to the duties of nursing the sick in the hospitals. Gradually it became a vocation apart, and a novitiate or training of from one to three years was required to fit them for their profession.
When at Florence, in 1857, I found the noble hospital of S. Maria-Nuova, the Hotel Dieu of Florence, served by this Franciscan sisterhood, to whom it really belonged, though all responsibility with regard to the management had long been taken from them and placed in the hands of government officials. In former times there were at least thirty-three hospitals, each of the guilds or companies having its own, supported by its own members and managed by religious sisterhoods and confraternities. All these small hospitals became gradually merged in the large one ; this rendered the whole establishment more convenient as a medical school, and an assemblage of professorships, but the patients probably suffered from being crowded under ‘ one roof. At the time I visited it there were nearly 3000 sick. The small old hospital, from which the present magnificent institution originally sprung, has been gradually enlarged. It was founded by Folco Portinari, the father of Dante’s Beatrice, who gave it to the charitable nuns. According to the tradition of the place, he had been persuaded to this act of charity by his faithful housekeeper, Madonna Tessa, whose very ancient and homely effigy, removed apparently from her sepulchre, is fixed in the “wall of one of the entrances. Underneath is an inscription, purporting that the surrounding edifice owed its beginning to her; but I do not think that many care to decipher it. The Sisterhood resided in their convent on the opposite side of the piazza, and a subterranean gallery connected the convent with the hospital. They had charge of the linen, the accounts, and the nursing in the female wards. For several generations they had not been allowed to take charge of the men’s wards; but while I was at Florence a change took place ; and principally through the benevolent exertions of two eminent physicians, Professor Cipriani and Dr. Barillai, the men’s wards also were placed under female management. I was a witness to the trembling anxiety — almost consternation — with which these good, simple-minded nuns undertook their new task.
I was long enough at Florence to see the change working well ; the Sisters, full of new interest and animation, thinking the men, on the whole, more manageable than the women ; and the men, full of gratitude, rejoicing in their neat apartments, their well-served meals, and all those nameless appliances which female aid administered.
The origin of the Béguines, so well known in Flanders, is uncertain; but they seem to have existed as hospital sisters in the seventh century, and to have been settled in communities at Liege and elsewhere in 1173. They wear a particular dress (the black gown, and white hood) but take no vows, and may leave the community at any time, — a thing which rarely happens.
No one who has travelled in Flanders, visited Ghent, Bruges, Brussels, or indeed any of the Netherlandish towns, will forget the singular appearance of these, sometimes young and handsome, but always staid, respectable-looking women, walking about protected by the universal reverence of the people, and busied in their compassionate vocation. In their few moments of leisure the Beguines are allowed to make lace and cultivate flowers, and they act under a strict self-constituted government, maintained by strict traditional forms. All the hospitals in Flanders are served by these Beguines. They have besides, attached to their houses, hospitals of their own, with a medical staff of physicians and surgeons, under whose direction, in all cases of difficulty, the sisters administer relief; and of the humility, skill, and tenderness with which they do ad minister it, I have never heard but one opinion; nor did I ever meet with anyone who had travelled in those countries who did not wish that some system of the kind could be transferred to England.
In the fifteenth century (about 1443), when Flanders was under the dominion of the Dukes of Burgundy, a few , of. the Beguines were summoned from Bruges to Beaune to take charge of the great hospital founded there by Rollin, the Chancellor of Philip the Good. They were soon joined by others from the neighbouring districts, and this com munity of nurses obtained the name of Sœurs de Sainte Marthe, Sisters of St. Martha. It is worth notice that Martha, who is represented in Scripture as troubled about household cares, while her sister Mary” sat at the feet of Jesus, and heard his words,” was early chosen as the patroness of those who, instead of devoting themselves to a cloistered life of prayer and contemplation, were bound by a religious obligation to active secular duties. The hospital of Beaune, one of the most extensive and best managed in France, is still served by these sisters. Many hospitals in the South of France, and three at Paris, are served by the same community.
In Germany, the Sisters of Charity are styled ” Sisters of St. Elizabeth,” in honour of that benevolent enthusiast, Elizabeth of Hungary, whose pathetic story and beautiful legend have been rendered familiar to us by Mr. Kingsley’s drama. When Joseph II. suppressed the nunneries through out Austria and Flanders, the Elizabethan Sisters, as well as the Beguines, were excepted by an especial decree, because of the usefulness of their vocation.” At Vienna, a few years ago, I had the opportunity, through the kindness of a distinguished physician, of visiting one of the houses of these Elizabethan Sisters. — There was an hospital attached to it of fifty beds, which had received about 450 patients during the year. Nothing could exceed the propriety, order, and cleanliness of the whole establishment. On the ground-floor was an extensive “Pharmacie,” a sort of Apothecaries’ Hall ; part of this was divided off by a long table or counter, and surrounded by shelves filled with drugs, much like an apothecary’s shop ; behind the counter two Sisters, with their sleeves tucked up, were busy weigh ng and compounding medicines, with such a delicacy, neatness, and exactitude as women use in these matters. A physician and surgeon, appointed by the Government, visited this hospital, and were resorted to in cases of difficulty or where operations were necessary. Here was another instance in which men and women worked together harmoniously and efficiently. Howard, in describing the principal hospital at Lyons, which he praises for its excellent and kindly management, as being “so clean and so quiet,” tells us that at that time (1776), he found it attended by nine physicians and surgeons, and managed by twelve Sisters of Charity. ” There were Sisters who made up, as well as administered, all the medicines prescribed ; for which purpose there was a laboratory and apothecary’s shop, the neatest and most elegantly fitted up that can be conceived.”
I must notice, with due respect and admiration, another female community, also especially excepted by an Imperial decree when other religious orders were suppressed, and for the same reason; — the U routines. We may smile at the childish and melancholy legend of St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins, and at the skulls heaped up in a certain mouldy tawdry chapel at Cologne; but of the Ursulines, as a community, we may be allowed to think seriously and even reverently. Their peculiar vocation was the care and instruction of poor children. They had their infant and ragged schools long before we had thought of them. Even from time immemorial there had existed, as we have seen, numerous communities of women to nurse and to pray and there were isolated instances of women in the higher ranks extraordinarily pious and learned ; but a community especially to take charge of children, to teach, to educate, and prepare and train teachers, was not known in Christendom till the institution of the Ursuline Sisters in 1537. This originated in Brescia. Angela da Brescia, a woman of birth and fortune, lost at an early age and in a painful manner, a young sister, to whom she was tenderly attached. At first her sorrow took refuge in prayer, seclusion, and pilgrimages, after the fashion of that time. It then took another form, and for the sake of her lost sister she devoted herself to the charitable work of collecting and educating poor female children.
It is touching, it is sadly significant, to see how often the beneficent tendencies of women have, when acted out, taken their especial form from some deep domestic sorrow, or some strong bias of the affections. I could mention several examples I have known, where love or grief had thus modified the element of charity.
The institution of Angela da Brescia was the first of its kind ; and so unheard of at this time was the attempt of women to organise a systematic education for their own sex, that when Francoise de Saintonge undertook to found such an establishment at Dijon, she was hooted in the streets, and her father called together four doctors learned in the law, “pour s ‘assurer qu’instruire des femmes n’était pas un œuvre du demon.” Even after he had given his consent, he was afraid to countenance his daughter ; and Francoise, unprotected, unaided, began her first community of Ursulines in a garret with five poor children. Twelve Sears afterwards she was almost carried in triumph through the streets of Dijon, bells ringing, flowers strewed in her path. She had succeeded, and the Church took her under its wing; and with that far-sighted wisdom which Lord Macaulay has pointed out as so characteristic, at once ap propriated her and her good works.
These educational institutions multiplied during the next two hundred years, that is, down to the middle of the last century. The Ursuline Sisters behaved admirably during the French Revolution, and though dispersed and their houses suppressed, they followed their vocation, and by collecting and teaching the poor orphans of massacred parents, and assisting the village Curds, they prevented a mass of evil. As soon as order was restored they were reinstated, but their establishments have not since increased in number. The extension of secular schools in France and Germany, and the popularity of the Sisters of Mercy, who unite the educational duties of the Ursulines with those of the Hospitaliéres, have in some degree superseded them. I have, however, visited several of the Ursuline houses; and I remember one in particular which I visited five and twenty years ago. To reach the school, where more than 300 children were assembled, I had to pass through a room in which about sixty infants were lying in cradles or on mat tresses, while two of the sisterhood were going about with pap, and stilling as well as they could the incessant whimpering and squealing; — it was an absurd and yet a pathetic scene. These were babies left by poor women who had gone to their daily work and were to return for them in the afternoon ; and this plan has since been imitated in the admirable charity of “Les Crèches” instituted at Paris, and similar charities in this country.
Now I do not say that the education given by those good Sisters was the best possible — far from it. It did not go much beyond the a, b, c, the Catechism, and a little needle work, but it was not worse than that which many of our same schools afforded fifty years ago; and it established as a principle that women might be permitted to teach as well as to learn; — a principle so familiar to us in these days, that we quite forget to look back to a period when it was a strange unheard-of novelty, and had to do battle against prejudices, both of the clergy and the people.
It can easily be imagined that institutions like these, composed of such various ingredients, spread over such various countries and over several centuries of time, should have been subject to the influences of time ; though from a deep-seated principle of vitality and necessity they seem to have escaped its vicissitudes, for they did not change in character or purpose, far less perish. That in ages of superstition they should have been superstitious, that in ages of ignorance they should have been ignorant,— debased . in evil selfish times, by some alloy of selfishness and cupidity, — in all this there is nothing to surprise us; but one thing does seem remarkable. While the men who professed the healing art were generally astrologers and alchymists, dealing in charms and nativities, — lost in dreams of the Elixir Vitæ and the Philosopher’s Stone, and in such mummeries and quackeries as made them favourite subjects for comedy and satire, — these simple Sisters, in their hospitals, were accumulating a vast fund of practical and traditional knowledge in the treatment of disease, and the uses of various remedies; — knowledge which was turned to account and condensed into rational theory and sound method, when in the 10th century Surgery and Medicine first rose to the rank of experimental sciences and were studied as such. The poor Hospitalières knew nothing of Galen and Hippocrates, but they could observe if they could not describe, and prescribe if they could not demonstrate. Still, in the course of time great abuses had certainly crept into these religious societies, — not so bad or so flagrant, perhaps, as those which disgraced within a recent period many of our own incorporated charities, — but bad enough, and vitiating, if not destroying, their power to do good. The funds were sometimes misappropriated, the novices ill-trained for their work, the superiors careless, the Sisters mutinous, the treatment of the sick remained rude and empirical. “Women of sense and feeling, who wished to enrol themselves in these communities, were shocked and discouraged by such a state of things. A reform became absolutely necessary.
This was brought about, and very effectually, about the middle of the seventeenth century.
Louise de Marillac — better known as Madame Legras, when left a widow in the prime of life, could find, like Angela da Brescia, no better refuge from sorrow than in active duties, undertaken “for the love of God.” She desired to join the Hospitalières, and was met at the outset by difficulties, and even horrors, which would have extinguished a less ardent vocation, a less determined will. She set herself to remedy the evils, instead of shrinking from them. She was assisted and encouraged in her good work by a man endued with great ability and piety, enthusiasm equal, and moral influence even superior, to her own. This was the famous Vincent de Paul, who had been occupied for years with a scheme to reform thoroughly the prisons and the hospitals of France. In Madame Legras he found a most efficient coadjutor. With her charitable impulses and religious enthusiasm, she united qualities not always, not often, found in union with them : a calm and patient temperament, and that administrative faculty, indispensable in those who are called to such privileged work. She was particularly distinguished by a power of selecting and pre paring the instruments, and combining the means, through which she was to carry out her admirable purpose. With Vincent de Paul and Madame Legras was associated another person, Madame Goussaut, who besieged the Archbishop of Paris till what was refused to reason was granted to importunity, and they were permitted to introduce various improvements into the administration of the hospitals. Vincent de Paul and Louise Legras succeeded at last in constituting, not on a new, but on a renovated basis, the order of Hospitalières, since known as the Sisterhood of Charity. A lower class of sisters were trained to act under the direction of the more intelligent and educated women. Within twenty years this new community had two hundred houses and hospitals in a few years more it had spread over all Europe. Madame Legras died in 1660. Already before her death the women prepared and trained under her instructions, and under the direction of Vincent de Paul (and here we have another instance of the successful communion of labour), had proved their efficiency on some extraordinary occasions. In the campaigns of 1652 and 1658 they were sent to the field of battle, in groups of two and four together, to assist the wounded. They were invited into the besieged towns to take charge of the military hospitals. They were particularly conspicuous at the siege of Dunkirk, and in the military hospitals established by Anne of Austria at Fontainebleau. When the plague broke out in Poland in 1672, they were sent to direct the hospitals at Warsaw, and to take charge of the orphans, and were thus introduced into Eastern Europe; and, stranger than all! they were even sent to the prison-infirmaries where the branded forçats and condemned felons lay cursing and writhing in their fetters. This was a mission for Sisters of Charity which may startle the refined, or confined, notions of Englishwomen in the nineteenth century. It is not, I believe, generally known in this country that the same experiment has been lately tried, and with success, in the prisons of Piedmont, where the Sisters were “first employed to nurse the wretched criminals perishing with disease and despair; afterwards, and during convalescence, to read to them, to teach them to read and to knit, and in some cases to sing. The hardest of these wretches had probably some remembrance of a mother’s voice and look thus recalled, or he could at least feel gratitude for sympathy from a purer higher nature. As an element of reformation, I might almost say of regeneration, this use of the feminine influence has been found efficient where all other means had failed.
Howard — well named the Good — when inquiring into the state of prisons, about the middle of the last century, found many of those in France, bad as they generally were, far superior to those in our own country; and he attributes it to the employment and intervention of women “in a manner,” he says, ” which had no parallel in England.” In Paris, he tells us, there were religious women” authorised to take care that the sick prisoners were properly attended to; and who furnished the felons in the dungeons with clean linen and medicine, and performed kind offices to the prisoners in general.” “The provincial jails, also, have charitable patronesses, who take care that the prisoners be not defrauded of their allowance, and procure them farther relief.” This, you will observe, was at a period when in England felons, debtors, and untried prisoners were, dying by inches of filth and disease and despair. No doubt we have much improved since then, but not so much as we ought to have done.
A late writer observes that “it is astonishing and mortifying to consider how little progress the British legislature has made beyond adopting tardily, partially, and in a vacillating spirit, the improvements suggested seventy-nine years ago by Howard.” The striking remarks and suggestions in respect to the influence of women in some of the hospitals and prisons abroad, which abound in Howard’s works, do not seem to have been noticed or taken into account at all, — not even by the author of the excellent treatise from which I quote.
It appears to be substantiated by the united testimony of some of the greatest medical authorities among us — by such men as Brodie, Clark, Holland, Owen, Forbes, Conolly, and Carpenter, — prefixed to the above-named treatise, that “criminal legislation and prison discipline will never attain to a scientific, consistent, practical, and efficient character until they have become based on physiology of the brain and nervous system,” or, as it is elsewhere expressed, ” while the influence of organism on the dispositions and capacities of men continues to be ignored.” Then have we not to consider, as a next step, what is to influence the organism ? Have we not to consider whether there may not exist organic influences arising out of contrasted yet harmonious organisms, — mutual influences which God has contemplated in those sacred and universal relations which bind his creation together, and which we ought reverently to use for good, instead of allowing pernicious quacks and sensualists most irreligiously to misuse and abuse for evil?
It is difficult to believe in ” invincible pertinacity in evil.” Nevertheless, it does seem that there are some few miserable creatures who are, in respect to the moral organisation, what idiots are in respect to intellect. We know, however, that a large proportion of the convicts in our prisons, and the sick in our hospitals, and the outcasts in our workhouses are unhappy beings, who have never been brought into contact with goodness elevated by the. religious principle, softened by the spirit of love, and refined by habitual gentleness and modesty ; and. we seem in these matters to be in such constant fear of doing mischief, that we have no courage to do good. We stand in such a dastardly terror of the ridicule which follows mistake or failure, that we ought to die of inward shame, while thus entrenching ourselves in the negative good, instead of bravely meeting the positive evil. The hardest thing which visitors of prisons have to contend with in the wretched delinquents, is not so much the propensity to evil as the ignorance of, and disbelief in, goodness ; on men of this stamp and on young offenders, judicious female influence would probably have effect where men in authority, though not less well intentioned and equally judicious, arouse only feelings of suspicion, sullenness, and resistance.
From recent inquiries I learn that the system of employing Sisters of Charity as visitors in the prisons of Piedmont continues to, work well, and that none of the evils which might have been apprehended have in any instance occurred. But supposing they had occurred; a hundred mistakes and failures at the outset could not invalidate the principle that what had once succeeded on a large scale would, under similar conditions, again succeed: that the expedient of bringing the female mind and temperament to bear on the masculine brain (and of course vice versa), as a physical and moral resource, might be worth a thought, being in accordance with that law of nature or Divine ordinance which placed the two sexes under mutual and sympathetic influences ; not always, as the stupid and profligate suppose, for evil and temptation, but for good and for healing; not in one or two relations of life, but in every possible relation in which they can be approximated. This suggestion I merely throw out here as not unworthy of the consideration of our physicians, moralists, and legislators. I leave it to them and to time, and I proceed.
At the commencement of the French Revolution the Sisterhood of Charity had 426 houses in France, and many , more in other countries ; the whole number of women then actively employed was about 6000. During the Reign of Terror, the superior (Madame Duleau), who had become a Sister of Charity at the age of nineteen and was now sixty, endeavoured to keep the society together, although sup pressed by the government; and in the midst of the horrors of that time — when so many nuns and ecclesiastics perished miserably — it appears that the feeling of the people protected these women, and I do not learn that any of them suffered public or personal outrage. As soon as the Consular government was established, the indispensable Sisterhood was recalled by a decree of the Minister of the Interior.
I cannot resist giving you a few passages from the preamble to this edict— certainly very striking and significant— as I find it quoted in a little book on ” Hospitals and Sister hoods ” now before me.
It begins thus:—
“Seeing that the services rendered to the sick can only be properly administered by those whose vocation it is, and who do it in the spirit of love; —
“Seeing, farther, that among the hospitals of the Republic those are in all ways best served wherein the female attendants have adhered to the noble example of their predecessors, whose only object was to practise a boundless love and charity ;—
“Seeing that the members still existing of this society are now growing old, so that there is reason to fear that an order which is a glory to the country may shortly become extinct ; —
“It is decreed that the Citoyenne Duleau, formerly Superior of the Sisters of Charity, is authorised to educate girls for the care of the hospitals,” &c.
I confess I should like to see an Act of our Parliament beginning with such a preamble! Yes! I should like to see an Act of our Parliament beginning with a recognition that women do exist as a part of the community, whose responsibilities are to be acknowledged, and whose capabilities are to be made available, not separately, but con jointly with those of men. For that surely must be a defective legislation which takes for granted only the crimes, the vices, the mistakes of humanity, and makes no account of its virtues, its affections, and its capabilities.
The whole number of women included in these charitable orders was, in the year 1848, at least twelve thousand. They seem to have a quite marvellous ubiquity. I have myself met with them not only at Paris, Vienna, Milan, Turin, Genoa, but at Montreal, Quebec, and Detroit ; on the confines of civilisation ; in Ireland, where cholera and famine were raging; — everywhere, from the uniform dress and a certain similarity in the placid expression and quiet deportment, looking so like each other, that they seemed, whenever I met them, to be but a multiplication of one and the same person. In all the well-trained Sisters of Charity I have known, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, I have found a mingled bravery and tenderness, if not by nature, by habit; and a certain tranquil self-complacency, arising, not from self-applause, but out of that very abnegation of self which had been adopted as the rule of life.
I have now given you a rapid and most imperfect sketch of what has been done by an organised system of charity in the Roman Catholic church.
I am no friend to nunneries. I do not like even the idea of Protestant nunneries, which I have heard discussed and “warmly advocated. I conceive that any large number of women shut up together in one locality, with no occupation connecting them actively and benevolently with the world of humanity outside, with all their interests centred within their walls, would not mend each other, and that such an atmosphere could not be perfectly healthy, — spiritually, morally, or physically. There would necessarily ensue, in lighter characters, frivolity, idleness, and sick disordered fancies; and in superior minds, ascetic pride, gloom, and impatience. But it is very different with the active charitable Orders, and I should certainly like to see amongst us some institutions which, if not exactly like them, should supply their place.
In speaking on the subject with intelligent and experienced men and women, I have generally met with the strongest sympathy ; but sometimes also with the vague sweeping objection, that such communities are quite contrary to the spirit of the Reformed Church, and among Protestants quite impracticable. The worse for us, if it were true, but is it true?
The experiment has been tried, an attempt has been made, to found such an institution in a Protestant community, though not in this country; it has not yet stood the test of centuries, but let us see what has been done within a period of thirty years.
At Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, a small town near Dusseldorf, a manufactory had been established during the last war, in which the workmen employed were almost all Protestants. In 1822 the manufacturer became bankrupt, and the workmen were reduced to poverty. Their pastor, Mr. Fliedner, then a very young man, travelled through Holland and England to collect from sympathising friends the necessary funds to support a church in his small parish. In this, we are told, he fully succeeded, and, it is added, ” this was the smallest part of the result of his journey.” While in England he became acquainted with Mrs. Fry. It was the meeting of two most congenial minds, and his attention was at once turned to the objects which then occupied her. On his return home he originated at Dusseldorf the first society in Germany for the improvement of prison discipline. Experience in prisons pointed out to him some ways of doing good which came within his then small means. He had been struck with compassion for the desolate condition of women who, when discharged from prison, already depraved by bad habits and without the means of subsistence, “are in a manner forced back into crime.” With one female criminal, and one voluntary assistant, he founded his penitentiary in a little summer-house in a garden. This was in 1833. In the following year he met with a second volunteer assistant, and collected together nine more penitents, of whom eight had been more than once in prison. This part of the institution, memorable as the first beginning of an establishment, which has since extended to so many and various branches, has always been kept’ entirely separate from the rest. A general hospital, a lunatic asylum, an orphan asylum, an infant school, became so many seminaries for training hospital nurses, teachers (i.e. instructing sisters), and visitors of the poor (called parish deaconesses). On these I do not dwell at present, tor we must confine ourselves to the theme in hand. It is the hospital at Kaiserswerth which constitutes the most import ant part of the establishment, and is likely to be the most extensive and permanent in its effects.
In 1836 Mr. Fliedner established his hospital in the deserted manufactory. He had been led to think of it partly from the want of good nurses for the sick; partly from regret, as he said himself, to see ” how much good female power was wasted;” partly from a perception that the women who had voluntarily come forward to assist him required a larger sphere for the exercise of their faculties. He began, as usual, humbly enough — with one patient and one nurse. Within the first year the number of voluntary nurses was seven, and the number of patients received and nursed was sixty, besides twenty-eight nursed at their own houses. The hospital contained in 1854, 120 beds, which were generally full, and more than 6,000 patients have been received since its commencement.
But the chief purpose of this hospital is to serve as a training-school for nursing sisters. Every one who offers herself (and there is no want of offers) is taken on trial for six months, during which she must pay for her board, and wears no distinctive dress. If she persists in her vocation and is accepted, she undergoes a further probation (like the novitiate of the Roman-Catholic Sisters) of from one to three years. She then puts on the hospital dress, and is boarded and lodged gratis. The male wards are served by men-nurses, of whom there are five, who have been educated in the hospital, and are under the authority of the , Sisters. They sleep in the male wards, and sit up in case of need. It is added that ” the most fastidious could find nothing to object to in the intercourse which takes place between patients, surgeon, and Sisters”
As no inducement is offered to these Protestant Sisters any more than in the Catholic Orders, no prospect of pecuniary reward, or praise, or reputation, nothing in short but the opportunity of working for the sake of God and humanity, so, if this does not appear sufficient for them, they are dismissed. After they have been accepted and made their profession, they receive yearly a small sum for clothing, and nothing more ; they can receive no fee or reward from those they serve, but in age or illness the parent institution is bound to receive and provide for them.
A certain number of these Sisters obtain a particular education to fit them for parish visitors. The absolute necessity that women should be especially trained in order to make good and efficient parish visitors is apparent ; for it is wonderfully, and often pathetically, absurd to see what a large stock of goodness and conscientious anxiety, and what a small stock of experience, knowledge, and sympathy with their objects, some excellent women set off on their task as lady visitors of the poor. A number of the Sisters, trained properly, have been sent to distant towns and villages, at the request. of clergymen and visiting societies. Others are occupied in nursing in private families, their services being repaid to the parent institution.
Let me add that Miss Florence Nightingale went through a regular course of training at Kaiserswerth, before she took charge of the Female Sanitarium in London.
In imitation of this establishment, a similar institution for the training of Protestant nurses and teachers has been opened at Paris ; another at Strasbourg ; another at Berlin. A similar establishment was founded at Dresden by the late excellent and amiable Countess Alfred Hohenthal (nee Princess Biron), in which twenty-one women are under a course of instruction. There are besides ten other institutions which I find described as existing in different localities, but all emanating from the same origin, and containing in 1855 not less than 429 members. Since that time the number has at least trebled, and there are charitable houses belonging to this community at Constantinople, Smyrna, and Jerusalem, besides those in Germany, France, England, and America ; so that they bid fair to emulate the sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in number and usefulness.
When I was last in Paris I witnessed the reception of two ladies into the order of Protestant deaconesses, after a laborious novitiate of two years. It was essentially a religious ceremony, and the duties were undertaken in a religious spirit : they did not absolutely ” take vows,” as it is called, but entered into a solemn contract to serve faithfully for two years; they were then at liberty to dissolve or renew the contract. Similar institutions are springing up every where in England — ” Homes” they are called — in which charity is administered by sisters taking various appellations, and aiming at various purposes. In some of these institutions I have found a small infirmary for sick women and children ; a small school for the girls of the neighbourhood; an infant-school; a day-nursery (Crêche), where mothers employed as charwomen, &c, might deposit their infants for a few hours, paying a very small sum; the whole well managed under religious influences on a small scale, and the smaller the better, the more like a family.
It is then no longer a question as to whether, in Protestant communities, a number of women can be properly trained and organised for purposes of social benefit, authorised and employed by the Government, aided and directed by intelligent and good men, and sustained by public opinion. I consider that the question has been answered; and I must repeat my strong conviction, that such a communion of labour and of love as I have endeavoured to describe is not a thing of country, creed, or custom, but is. founded in the very laws of our being, — in that selfsame law which is the basis of domestic life; that it is one of the main conditions of social happiness and morals; and that the neglect of it in any country or community strikes at the heart of all that is best in men and women, increases the faults of both and their ignorance of each other, and tends consequently to the ultimate degradation and misery of all society.
For intelligible reasons I made no reference in this lecture, in its original form, to what has been considered as the particular province of all Sisters of Charity deserving the name, — the management of Penitentiaries and Houses of Refuge for the erring and the fallen of their own sex. I shall merely observe that there is no department of active benevolence requiring more careful preparation and more especial instruction than this. The treatment of women whose habitual existence has been a perpetual outrage of their nature, must be special and exceptional; and I do not think that this is always well understood by the excellent and virtuous ladies who undertake to manage these scarcely manageable creatures. They are thought to be mentally and morally depraved, when in fact it is often the complete derangement of the nervous system, brought on by vice and disease, which produces those changeful moods, those fits of sullenness, excitability, obtuseness, insolence, and desperation by which I have seen the most benevolent filled with disgust and the most hopeful with despondency. I believe it to be true that women, even from the superior delicacy of the moral and physical organisation, can be more thoroughly, hopelessly, and constitutionally vitiated than men; this I have often heard urged as an argument for rejecting and punishing them when bad, never for protecting and sparing them when good. Such forms of malady in such sacrificed creatures are best treated in the country, by avoiding too much sedentary employment, by active exercise and really hard work in the open air, by talking to them and suffering them to talk as little as possible of themselves, and by gradually opening the mind to religious impressions without exciting resistance or despondency. No mere impulse of pity, no mere power of will, can enable any one to undertake this most difficult mission, which ought to combine the vocation of charity with some of the qualifications of a physician.
Since the above was written (early in 1855), there have been strange revelations on this most painful subject openly published and discussed. The newspapers tell us that the cry is for “Refuges,” which indeed are rising up in all directions. There are twelve in London and the neighbourhood under one Society only, besides many others in every large provincial town. Meetings are held the Bishops of London, Oxford, St. David’s, and the influential rectors of Marylebone and St. James’s, make eloquent appeals to ” pious ladies,” tenderly nurtured and brought up amid all the guarded sanctities of home,— ladies “of birth, position, and refinement,” f who could not some years ago have supposed the existence of outcasts of their own sex, or of vicious excesses on the part of the other, without an imputation on their feminine decorum. A woman, urged by clerical and philanthropic friends, lends herself gladly to this work of mercy; but can these dreadful revelations be brought within range of her active charities — make a part of her experience — without producing a feeling of disgust and indignation, as well as of pain and pity? Is her reverence for the men around her, her faith in the superior strength and higher qualities of those she is called upon to love, honour, and obey, increased or diminished, when a terrible significance is given to terms once lightly used, and sins once lightly glanced at I know nothing more horrible than the attempts which have been made to sentimentalise vice. We talk of “fallen women;” but for the far greater number there is no fall; they just, like blind creatures, walk from the darkness of ignorance into the foulness of sin. They are starving, and they sell themselves for food. What a spectacle for chaste Sisters of Mercy, and gentle anxious mothers with sons and daughters just entering into life! Are they the better or the worse for it?
But it will be said, perhaps, that even in these painful revelations may lie the seed of ultimate good. Men are awakening up to an uneasy suspicion that society is beginning to have a conscience in these matters, — that they may possibly sink in the estimation of the woman they most wish to please, — may lose their manly prestige in her eyes, and be vulgarised to her imagination, when once the veil is withdrawn.
It is, I suppose, from some such instinctive alarm that we Owe the sneering attacks lately made on refuges for ” fallen women,” and the ladies who patronise them ; attacks of which those who pen them ought to be ineffably ashamed.
The fact is, however, (and God knows, men have little reason to mock at it!) that now and then one wretched creature out of hundreds may be saved or reclaimed, and where shall we look for prevention ? Where but to our clergy, our schoolmasters, our physicians ? With them it rests, not with us.
WORK AT HOME
Let us now look at home, and consider what has been done in our own country. Is there any hope, any possibility, of organising into some wise and recognised system the talent and energy, the piety and tenderness, of our women for the good of the whole community?
The subject becomes one of awful importance when we consider, that in the last census of 1851, there appears an excess of the female over the male population of Great Britain of more than half a million, the proportion being 104 women to every 100 men. How shall we employ this superfluity of the “feminine element” in society, how turn it to good and useful purposes, instead of allowing it to run to waste? Take of these 500,000 superfluous women only the one hundredth part, say 5,000 women, who are willing to work for good, to join the communion of labour, under a directing power, if only they knew how — if only they could learn how — best to do their work, and if employment were open. to them, what a phalanx it would be if properly organized!
Everywhere I find the opinion of thoughtful and intelligent men corroborative of my own observations and ‘conclusions. In spite of the adverse feeling of “that other public, to which we, the sensible reflecting public, are not in the lest degree related,” — in spite of routine and prejudice, — the feeling of those who in the long run will lead opinion is for us. They say, “In all our national institutions we want the help of women. In our hospitals, prisons, lunatic asylums, workhouses, reformatory schools, elementary schools, — everywhere we want efficient women, and none are to be found prepared or educated for our purpose.” The men whom I have heard speak thus seem to regard this infusion of a superior class of working women into our public institutions as a new want, a new expedient. They do not seem to feel, or recognise, the profound truth, that the want now so generally felt and acknowledged arises out of a great unacknowledged law of the Creator, a law old as creation itself, which makes the moral health of the community to depend on the co-operation of woman in all work that concerns the well-being of man. For, as I have said before, it is not in one or two relations, but in all the possible relations of life, in which men and women are concerned, that they must work together for mutual improvement and the general good; and I return to the principle laid down at first, “the communion of love and the communion of labour.”
“In England,” (it has been truly said,) ” there are no men to be found systematically trained to the moral management of convicts, such as are to be found in Ger any and other countries. It is the bane of the English system of government throughout, that it does not render the public service, in its various civil departments, a series of professions, for which men must be specially educated and trained ; and the great English universities, in consequence, do not educate young men for any pursuits on earth, except those of a gentleman and a scholar.” In the same manner, the education given to our women is merely calculated to render them ornamental and well- informed; but it does not train them, even those who are so inclined and fitted by nature, to be effective instruments of social improvement. Whether men, without the assistance and sympathetic approval of well-educated women; are likely to improve and elevate the moral tone of society, or work out good in any especial sphere or profession, is, I think, rather doubtful. God, who created the human race male and female, did not make human culture and progress to depend on one half of it.
I believe the employment of well-trained women in the reformatory schools for juvenile delinquents, which are to be established under a late Act of Parliament, has been already suggested. It is a great advance in opinion, that the possible good of such a measure should be spoken of in high quarters. For about ten years, perhaps, the means of carrying it out may be considered and debated ; in another ten years, some plan will be proposed and in another ten years, perhaps, adopted; for such is the usual progress of any great moral movement in “that other public,” — that self-satisfied, unreasoning, cowardly, somnolent public which tee repudiate; wherein such topics are discussed with reference merely to custom and expediency, not to justice and necessity, — with reference to human laws, which can be made and unmade, not with reference to divine laws, immutable principles of life, which cannot be violated or neglected in any social community, without bringing in die elements of demoralisation and decay.
And respecting that movement in favour of the wretched children who so long infested our streets and crammed our gaols, and for whom a long delayed measure of wisdom and justice was obtained last year, may I not be permitted to say how much that cause owed to the unceasing exertions of three ladies, true “sisters of charity,” who, to my know ledge, have been occupied in this good work for twenty years? With regard to the first of these ladies, her attention was early called to the subject, and she never ceased to advocate, and, I may say, to agitate the theme. She , moved in high society ; she was nobly born and connected, eloquent, and clever, and lively; and she made use of all these advantages to promote the settled purpose of her mind. She failed in some attempts to execute plans of reform without the legislative sanction, but she was not discouraged. She attacked Home Secretaries, and she plagued magistrates ; no M.P. was safe from her, no Minister of State. Like the woman in Scripture who persecuted the unjust judge, she made herself listened to by her ” much speaking,” and at length leavened the society in which she moved with her own feelings, her own hopes, her own faith. The second lady I refer to, was one who carried out into action, and tested by practical experience, and illustrated by published documents, by well-digested, facts, and eloquent reasoning, the truths which her sister in beneficence had advocated. Need I name Mary Carpenter — a name publicly and inseparably connected with the cause? When called up before a Committee of the-House of Commons, her evidence was so clear, so conclusive, and given with such self-possession and precision, as well as feminine feeling, that I have heard those who were present express their admiration, — their conviction that the testimony and the arguments of this excellent woman had, in fact, turned the scale. The third lady I will not name. She not only brought to the question a noble and powerful intellect, but she invested in it a portion of her affections — a part of her very heart ; she gave it all the advantages of her character and position ; and she had wealth which enabled her to purchase and pay well for the exertions of others, their brains, their pens. In 1855, after more than twenty years had thus passed, an Act of Parliament was obtained which, however inadequate in some respects, did at least recognise the principle for which they had so long con tended. God forbid that I should seek to lessen the value of the voluntary aid, the indefatigable exertions, the eloquent pleading of those wise and good men who were united in this cause, and at length succeeded in gaining it ; but let me say that this was a strong instance of what I mean by the “communion of love and the communion of labour,” carried out into social public objects.
It is perfectly notorious that in the reformatory and elementary schools for boys in America, great use is made of female influence and tuition. Women were first resorted) to from a scarcity of masters, and the greater cheapness of S female labour. What was at first a matter of expediency S and necessity, has since become matter of choice, for the )’ experiment has been crowned with success, and has been I productive of far more good than was at first contemplated; ( and I believe that in the Schools or Houses of Detention contemplated here under the new Act of Parliament, for young delinquents, the teaching and influence of well- trained gentlewomen, invested with an official authority, might exercise incalculable good. ” I can manage any number of naughty boys,” said a lady who is celebrated among us as a Protestant Sister of Charity on a large scale, “no matter how wicked and mutinous. I feel that I have the power to subdue them; but I confess I have great difficulty with girls,— I do not know why.” The cause, if we looked to Nature and her wise adaptations, would not be far to seek.
With regard to the employment of women in the lunatic asylums, I can only say that I have the testimony of men of large experience, that feminine aid, influence, presence, would in many cases be most beneficial in the male wards. Of course there are certain cases in which it would be dangerous, inadmissible ; but it is their opinion that in most cases it would have a soothing, sanitary, harmonising effect. In reference to this subject let me mention a lady with whom I have the honour to be personally acquainted. She is a native of the United States, and has given her attention for many years to the management of the insane, and the improvement of mad-houses. She has travelled alone through every part of the United States — from New York to Chicago, from New Orleans to Quebec. She has been the means of founding nineteen new asylums, and improving and enlarging a greater number. She has won those in power to listen to her, and is considered in her own country a first-rate authority on such subjects, just as Mrs. Fry was here in regard to prisons, Mrs. Chisholm in regard to emigration, and Miss Carpenter in regard to juvenile criminals. As to the use of trained women in lunatic asylums, I will say no more at present, but throw it out as a suggestion to be dealt with by physiologists, and entrusted to time.
With reference to the employment of women as a higher order of nurses in hospitals, late events might almost render it superfluous to speak at all, but that it is important to my present theme to look back to the history of public opinion on this subject.
I find that more than thirty years ago — long before the institution at Kaiserswerth existed or was thought of — the late Dr. Gooch entertained the idea of establishing in this country some institution analogous to that of the Sisters of Charity. Dr. Gooch is to this day a great medical authority as a physician ; he was also a philanthropist and a philosopher. During a tour in Belgium he had been struck — as all are struck — by the institution of the Beguines, their well-ordered hospitals, and their general efficiency in visiting and prescribing for the sick poor. He corresponded with Southey on this subject, and at the end of the second volume of Southey’s ” Colloquies ” may be found the ideas he had brought from the Netherlands, and communicated to his friend also two letters published in the ” Medical Gazette,” and signed “A Country Surgeon,” which are now known to have been written by Dr. Gooch. There is also a most eloquent exposition of Southey’s own opinions, holding up to us the example of the Béguines and the Sisters of Charity ; and, which is curious, he seems to have put his trust in Quakerism rather than in our own Church (the church which he so devoutly admired and defended) ; and he even hoped that Airs. Opie would do for our hospitals what Mrs. Fry had done for our prisons. But he mistook the character of Mrs. Opie : it was not the vocation of that amiable and gifted woman.
You must permit me to read one or two passages from these letters written by Dr. Gooch in 1825, because of their beauty, and because of their good sense. He begins by describing at length the appearance and manners of the Sisters of Charity in France and Belgium ; their respect able, kindly appearance ; their peculiar yet appropriate dress ; the care, the tenderness, the skill with which they attended on the sick. He then adds: —
This plan may appear at first sight somewhat Utopian; but is it so really ? Could there be a better way of employing some of our superfluous women?
I must quote one more passage :—
“Many will think that it is impossible to impart a useful know ledge of medicine to women who are ignorant of anatomy, physiology, and pathology. A profound knowledge, of course, would not, but a very useful degree of it might: a degree which, combined with kind ness and assiduity, would be far superior to that which the country poor receive at present. I have known matrons and sisters of hospitals with more practical tact in the detection and treatment of dis ease than half the young surgeons by whom the country poor are commonly attended.”
These were the words of an eminent practical physician thirty years ago. No result followed, — scarcely was public attention wakened to the subject, and the writer went down to his last rest with a favourite idea unaccomplished.
The feeling with which the expedition of the lady -nurses to the Crimea was regarded by the lower order of medical’ men was exhibited in many ways not very creditable. It reminded me of what had taken place some ten or twelve years ago when the female School of Design was first projected ; when a petition was drawn up and handed round for signature by a certain set of artists and engravers, praying that the women might not be taught at the expense of government ” arts which would interfere with the employment of men, and take the bread out of their mouths.” The men who signed and circulated this precious document were not wicked or bad-hearted. I dare say they meant well. They only took that selfish, one-sided view of the subject natural in persons who had been ill- educated, and were totally ignorant of the bearings of any large moral or social question. Of the obvious benefit such an institution might afford to their daughters or sisters, thus lightening the burthen on men with largo families, they did not think; — far less on the right of every human being to the due cultivation and exercise of every good gift ” hat cometh from above.” Had their views been’ listened to, how many hundreds of young women who are now maintaining themselves or helping their families, would be perishing on the streets, in prisons, in workhouses 1 And who would have been the better? Of the artists who signed that petition some are dead, and some whom I know would not like to be reminded of their share in it — are indeed thoroughly ashamed of it. I believe that if . among medical men a petition were now handed round for signature, praying that women should not be taught at the expense of government the physical and moral conditions of health, the symptoms of disease, the preparation of the best remedies and the rules for administering them, lest they should ” interfere with the employments of men, and take the bread out of their mouths,” — I am afraid there are well-intentioned and well-educated men who would at this time be induced to sign such a paper ; but I believe that twenty— even ten — years hence, they would look back upon their signatures and the whole transaction with as much disgust and amazement as is now excited by the exploded attempt to crush and sneer down the female School of Design.
As I have said, — no immediate result followed upon the suggestions of Dr. Gooch ; but the good thus sown only slept, like the seed in wintry ground.
A few years ago, several intelligent and benevolent persons, men and women, who had had opportunities of studying the management of the institution at Kaiscrswerth, conceived the idea that a similar institution, for similar purposes, might be founded in England, and that both our government and our clergy would be induced to co-operate in such a plan, if once public interest could be excited in its favour. It was admitted on all sides that the general management of our hospitals and charitable institutions exhibited the want of female aid, such as exists in the hospitals abroad, — the want of a moral, religious, intelligent, sympathising influence, combined with the physical cares of a common nurse. Some inquiry was / made into the general character of hospital nurses, and the qualifications desired ; and what were these qualifications ? Obedience, presence of mind, cheerfulness, sobriety, patience, forbearance, judgment, kindness of heart, a light delicate hand, a gentle voice, a quick eye; — these were the qualities enumerated as not merely desirable, but necessary, in a good and efficient nurse — a long list of virtues not easily to be purchased for 14l 10s a year! — qualifications, indeed, which in their union would form an admirable woman in any class of life, and fit her for any sphere of duty, from the highest to the ‘ lowest. In general, however, the requirements of our medical men arc much more limited ; they consider them selves fortunate if they can ensure obedience and sobriety, without education, tenderness, intelligence, religious feeling, or any high principle of duty. On the whole, the testimony brought before us is sickening. Drunkenness, profligacy, violence of temper, horribly coarse and brutal language, — these arc common. We know that there are admirable exceptions, more particularly in the great London Hospitals. But the toil is great, the duties disgusting, the pecuniary remuneration small in comparison; so that there is nothing to invite the co-operation of a better class of women, but the highest motives which can influence a true Christian. At one moment the selfishness and irritability of the sufferers require a strong control ; at another time their dejection and bodily weakness require the utmost tenderness, sympathy, and judgment. To rebuke the self-righteous, to bind up the broken-hearted, to strengthen, to comfort the feeble, to drop the words of peace into the disturbed or softened mind just at the right moment; — there are few nurses who could be entrusted with such a charge, or be brought to regard it as a part of their duty : while the ” overworked chaplain,” as he is called, in some of the evidence before me, cannot suffice for all, and pays his visits only at stated times, unless urgently called for.
It was from a consideration of these and other evils, and a comparison of our system with that of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Sisterhoods abroad, that a paper. was drawn up and -sent round to a number of chaplains, medical men, and governors of hospitals, containing a sketch of the training system adopted in the institutions at Kaiserswerth and elsewhere, and inquiries as to the best means of raising the moral character of hospital nurses by .substituting women of a better class, properly instructed, and capable of being at once the delegates of the medical men, the assistants of the chaplain, the comfort, blessing, and supporter of the poor sufferers to whom they minister.
The answers which this circular elicited, twenty-three in number, were very curiously characteristic of the state of feeling and opinion on a most important subject. But, however differing in views and in character, the writers, almost without exception, agree in two things, — in testifying to the evils complained of, even to their utmost extent, and in their despair of any remedy. The so-called’ practical men, clergy and laity, admired the project, praised the amiable enthusiasts who advocated it, and shook their wise heads, just as they had formerly shaken them over theories of education and plans of juvenile reform.
When Admiral Sir Edward Parry was at the head of the naval hospital at Haslar, the necessity for a better order of nurses for his sick men was forced on his attention. Perhaps he had heard of the employment of the Sisters of Charity in the naval hospitals of France; at all events, the hope of procuring nurses of a similar character induced him to draw up a sort of appeal, in which he adverted to the impossibility of obtaining any attendance for the hospital inmates, but such as was of the lowest grade — such as only “the most absolute necessity would justify his admitting into the establishment.” The result was incalculable evil to the men; who, instead of being elevated and softened by suffering and seclusion, were morally lowered and hardened by contact with coarse and immoral women, even at the very moment when all that was best and manliest within them ought to have been wakened up and appealed to ; and most earnestly he solicited the aid of all good Christians to induce three or four respectable women to volunteer their services, and to undergo an especial training, such as had been adopted at Kaiserswerth; then to superintend others, and thus to help him in his earnest endeavour to raise the moral tone of one of the most important of our national hospitals. The paper was signed by five medical officers, and circulated extensively. It did not elicit a single offer. “I confess,” said Sir Edward, commenting with some sadness on his complete failure,” I have never been able to arrive at any definite or satisfactory conclusion as to the best, mode of meeting the requirements of a Protestant community.
It would have been said, in truth, but a short time ago, that no cause could be more hopeless than that which I am now advocating. The obstacle seemed to consist, not in the want of charity, but in the want of moral courage, and the most obtuse ignorance. Opinions are believed in simply because they are echoed round us. The conscience is trained to obey the pressure of an exterior force, rather than trust to the promptings of an internal impulse ; and the convictions and the will of a generous and powerful individual nature sink into inertness for want of self- reliance. How many women, widows, and unmarried of a certain age, would have gladly responded to the appeal from Haslar Hospital, if ignorance, timidity, and defective education, and a terror of the vulgar, stupid prejudices around them — chiefly, I am ashamed to say, masculine prejudices — had not stifled their natural feelings and trammelled their natural energies! True, hundreds of women had done the same thing before ; but then those were Nuns and Roman Catholics — words of fear! — prcecedents to be repudiated! — snares forged by Satan himself in guise of philanthropy 1 Thus the women had no moral courage for themselves. On the part of the men — (and no combined efforts of women can possibly succeed or come to good without the co-operation and guidance of men) — there was an absurd horror of all innovation; want of confidence in the material to be employed; want of talent and influence to organise it.
Every one admitted, as a natural law, an undeniable truth, that early education and the nursing of the sick belong especially to the women; and yet every one ad mitted the great, the almost insuperable difficulty of finding women competent to educate, or competent to nurse. To furnish them with the means of acquiring skill and competency in their own department of work has never been regarded as the duty, the business, the interest of our pastors and masters; while, with a strange injustice, the want of such skill and competency has been a perpetual source of complaint and ridicule. The education commonly given to a boy makes him, at least, a brave man ; a man who can fight till he falls. – Docs the education given to a woman make her a brave woman? Yet how every man feels the value of those words, “A brave woman! ” — a woman who knows how to act in difficulties, how to endure in suffering, how to be faithful to a trust, and who can speak the truth without fear and without disguise. A woman should be a brave woman who aspires to please a brave man!
Whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are wise, whatsoever things are holy, must be accomplished by communion between brave men and brave women. The work must be shared between them, or it will perish and fail utterly. Yet up to this moment you will find men and women working separately. You will observe that all legislation takes for granted that men and women are to be an everlasting cause of mutual mischief wherever combined; and always supposes an antagonistic position if they are separated. The most humane and recent laws aspire no farther than to defend the women from being beaten to death, and this because all legislation is derived from the old Pagan law, or the old monkish prejudices. These barbarous, and stupid, and irreligious notions have caused the evil they supposed, and incalculable has been the amount of sin and misery springing from them.
Not for ever, certainly — but for how long a period, who can tell? — such miserable obstacles might have continued to limit, to perplex, to paralyse the aspirations of the wise and benevolent, if a crisis had not come, and if that crisis had not found among us a man with sufficient faith and courage to break down the barriers of routine; and a woman generous and gentle, and gifted with sufficient energy to act out “the plan which pleased her childish thought,” and prepared, by education and habit, as well as by a rare combination of the sympathetic and administrative faculties, to do so. Nothing could more strongly exhibit the perplexed state of feeling and opinion in this country on some momentous points than the manner in which Mr. Sidney Herbert’s proposal to send off a staff of voluntary female nurses to our hospitals in the East, and Miss Nightingale’s consent to place herself at the head of them, were received by the people, and commented on by the newspapers. There was, indeed, a genuine spontaneous burst of admiration from the public heart, mixed up, however, with fear, with incredulity, with amazement ; as if it were a thing unheard oi, unknown, and now for the first time attempted, that women of refined habits, and holding a certain position in society, should, from motives of piety and humanity, become nurses in an hospital. “Common-sense” styled them romantic, a convenient epithet, by which the worldly- minded set the seal of reprobation on any thing which steps beyond the bounds of conventionalism — as if all that is really great and good in humanity were to be kept for fiction and poetry, and only its futilities and frivolities acted out into realities! And “sentiment,” with that squeamishness in regard to manners and latitude in regard to morals which characterise certain classes of society, stigmatised the whole arrangement as “unfeminine,” — another word of most convenient misapplication. The most hopeful and liberal-minded were troubled by a vision of a hundred enthusiastic sentimental women rushing oil’ to Scutari, and on their arrival there falling into hysterics; — of ” hard- headed Scotch surgeons,” wrathfully aghast at the invasion of their domains by impertinent formalities. Then there was the mockery of the light-minded ; the atrocious innuendo of the dissolute ; the sneer of the ignorant ; the scepticism of the cold. I have seen men, who deem it quite a natural and necessary thing that a woman — some women at least — should lead the life of a courtezan, put on a look of offended propriety at the idea of a woman nursing a sick soldier. I have seen men, aye, and women too, who deem it a matter of course that our streets should be haunted by contagious vice, disgusted by the idea of women turning apothecaries and hospitalières. And worse than all, I have heard men, and women too, who acknowledge the teaching of Christ, who call themselves by his name, who believe in his mission of mercy, disputing about the exact shade of orthodoxy in a woman who had offered up every faculty of her being at the feet of her Redeemer!
On the other hand, people were heard congratulating each other on ” the lucky chance ” that a Miss Nightingale should have been forthcoming just at the moment she was wanted. Suppose there had been no Miss Nightingale at once able and willing to do the work — no woman in a position which gave her social influence to overcome the obstacles of custom and prejudice — suppose that the ex ample of noble courage and devotion which led the way for others had been wanting — is every crisis of danger, dis tress, and difficulty involving human life, human suffering, human interests of the deepest consequence, to find us at the mercy of “a lucky chance? ” — at the mercy of people who have never thought seriously on any great question, or taken the trouble to make up their minds one way or another? I trust that England has many daughters not unworthy of being named with Florence Nightingale ; as quick in sympathy, as calm in judgment, as firm in duty, as awake to charity; but the ability, the acquirements, the experience, the tact, the skill in judging and managing character, and overcoming adverse circumstances, at which ministers and officials were filled with wonder, — were these matters of chance? They were the result of years of study, of patient observation, of severe training. In what school? In none that England affords to her daughters; this is the wonder!
Even in the applause — the sort of glorification — which followed on the success of this experiment, there was some thing to sadden and humiliate a thinking and feeling mind. There was a perpetual reiteration of astonishment at the magnanimity of those who had quitted a comfortable, and in some cases a luxurious home, and all the pleasures of a refined and intellectual existence, “to assuage the sufferings of our gallant countrymen, and to perform a sacred and sublime duty;” as if to assuage suffering and to prefer a sacred and sublime duty to the temptations of leisure or pleasure, were not the woman’s province and privilege as well as the man’s ; as if the same thing had never been done before in past times and other creeds ; as if in these present times we had not known women who, in the midst of all the splendour of a luxurious home, have perished by a slow wasting disease of body and mind, because they had nothing to do — no sphere of activity commensurate with the large mental powers or passionate energy of character with which God had endowed them. Send such a woman to her piano, her books, her cross-stitch she answers you with despair! — But send her on some mission of mercy, send her where she may perhaps die by inches in achieving good for others, and the whole spirit rises up strong and rejoicing.
I am anxious on this point not to be misunderstood. If you speak to sonic people of the necessity of finding better and higher employment for women, they inquire merrily how you would like a female house of parliament? or they congratulate themselves that ladies are not likely to act as constables or to be drawn for the militia. Tints they would put down one of the most terribly momentous questions that has ever occupied the thoughts of thoughtful men — a question which is at the very core of social morals: but none who now listen to me would, I think, condescend to such cruel and absurd wit.
Then again an intelligent and amiable man will say:— ” It is all very well; but I should not like my daughter to do so-and-so.” But the question is not what this or that individual would choose his daughter to do. It remains with him to settle this within the precincts of his family; only it is most unjust to make his particular feelings and ) opinions the rule of life for others, without once approaching the question as one of social morals, as one of justice and (humanity ; without once reflecting that all the unemployed and superfluous women in England cannot be sempstresses, governesses, and artists. Why is it that we see so many women carefully educated going over to the Roman Catholic Church? For no other reason but for the power it gives (them to throw their energies into a sphere of definite utility under the control of a high religious responsibility. What has been done by our sisters of the Roman Catholic Church, can it not be accomplished in a religion which does not aim to subjugate, but to direct the will? What has been done under the hardest despotisms, and recognised in the midst of the wildest excesses of democracy, can it not be done under a political system which disdains to use the best and highest faculties of our nature in a spirit of calculation, or in furtherance of the purposes of a hierarchy or an oligarchy, — which boasts its equal laws and equal rights, and is at this moment ruled by a gentle-hearted, noble-minded woman?
The experiment of sending out women to nurse in the military hospitals (if that can be called an experiment which the experience of a thousand years had established as a principle), succeeded beyond all hope, and its success has demonstrated the deep-lying wisdom of what was at first a mere expedient adopted for a passing difficulty. “I believe,” said Mr. Sidney Herbert, speaking from his place in Parliament, “that not only the patients themselves, but every person connected with the hospital, will be benefited by the admixture of this new element in the management of a military hospital.” It will extend yet farther, as I hope and believe; to results incalculable and certainly not contemplated, when that baud of sisters, accompanied by tears, prayers, and blessings, departed from our shores to the far East.
Another speaker expressed his belief that the mere presence and superintendence of gentle well-educated women would be morally beneficial. I recollect that it was said at first, that not only the medical attendants but the sick and suffering would be quite uncomfortably “embarrassed” by this innovation; but if a cessation of coarse language, if better feelings, if more self-control, arise from patients and orderlies being ” embarrassed ” by the presence and ministration of superior women, I conceive that it will not be an evil but a benefit, and one that will not, in all cases, cease with the hour of suffering. We may at least hope that a man who has been thus tended by gentle and superior beings of the other sex, will hardly be so ready as heretofore to make women the victims of his levity or brutality; what he did not spare for the sake of mother or . sister, he may perhaps, in some hour of temptation and selfish impulse, spare for the sake of those who bent over him when “pain and anguish wrung the brow,” and whispered low the solemn words of peace, of patience, of divine hope and comfort, while laying the pillow under a | poor fellow’s rough head, or holding the cup to his parched lips. As woman, even because she is woman, feels all the healing and strengthening power which lies in the man’s mind, and in cases of severe physical or moral suffering, throws herself with almost helpless confidence on her priest or her physician — so it is with man: — he softens under the influence of a softer nature, he confesses a healing power in the organism which was created thus to refresh, restore, and purify his own, and yields to woman where he would not’ yield to one of his own sex. This I believe to be a simple universal physiological law, not yet recognised in all its bearings. To borrow a. happy illustration from Lord Macaulay — he asks, somewhere, “in how many months would the first human beings who settled on the shores of the ocean have been justified in believing that the moon had an influence on the tides?” and I may ask, for how many more centuries shall we stand on the shores of the great ocean of life without knowing under what near or remote mysterious influences its Hoods rise or fall, are moved to disturbance or hushed to tranquillity?
I am acquainted with an army surgeon whose regiment, a few years since, was ordered to India. Almost immediately on landing, numbers of the men were attacked by cholera. They were prostrated one alter another— sank — died, almost as much from terror and despair as from the disease itself. As the senior surgeon, my friend felt deeply his responsibility — as a humane man he felt for the suffering of his men. He had exhausted all the resources of his art, but the disease was spreading fearfully. One morning, on coming home to his wife, after visiting the hospital, he said, “I don’t know what to do with my poor fellows — they wring my very heart — they are dying of faint-heartedness as much as anything else.” “Suppose,” said she, ” I were to go and see them — would it do any good?” “Well,” he replied, with tears in his eyes, “I should not have asked it of you, but, as you offer it, I think it would do good.” She threw on her dressing- gown, and repaired at once to the hospital. Leaning on her husband’s arm, she walked through the wards where the sick and dying lay crowded together; — she spoke kind and cheerful words to those who could hear her, and they seemed to revive under the influence of her presence. She continued her visits daily. The most despairing took comfort; men whose condition seemed hopeless recovered. They thought, they even said, “It is not so bad with us if she can come among us!” They watched for her coming, and received her, when she came, with blessings: and the ravages of the. disease were from that time allayed. Now there is nothing extraordinary in all this; hundreds of such instances might be recorded; some example of the kind will probably start into the recollection of many who listen to me; but such facts have never been brought together, | _ and considered in the abstract as illustrating a principle, or as substantiating a truth — a most important principle, and a most vital truth; they remain, consequently! isolated fact, strongly exciting our sympathy and interest; and nothing more.
I have met with Protestant Sisters of Charity — very many — who did not assume that name for themselves. I will mention one instance. She was a lady, a foreigner not merely of good birth, but of high and titled rank. She had begun life in a court; she had been dame d’honneur to a brilliant princess. Certain events, on which I have no right to dwell, clouded her youth and gave her the wish to devote herself wholly to the service of the wretched. She consulted a well-known physician, who looked upon her resolve as a mere fit of excitement, and reasoned strongly against it. Finding this in vain, he thought to shock her delicate nerves by assigning to her at first some of the most trying, most revolting duties of an hospital. The effect was the reverse of what he expected. The near spectacle of Buffering which she had power to aid and alleviate, the perception of certain evils she might have the power to reform or at least ameliorate, only made her more resolved, and she quietly took her vocation upon her and pursued it steadily. The first time I saw this lady she was seated in the garden of a mutual friend. It was a beautiful summer evening; she had finished her day’s work, and her later duties had not commenced. She was sitting on a bench knitting, with a cup of coffee beside her, dressed with great simplicity, but without peculiarity ; her face was grave, but when she looked up to speak it brightened into a ready smile. She had at that time pursued her vocation, un faltering in courage and perseverance, for sixteen years ; she had introduced, as I was told, many salutary reforms into the hospitals she had attended, and exercised wherever she went a beneficent influence.
Mr. Sidney Herbert, in requesting the assistance of Miss Nightingale, after using some arguments drawn even from that task “full of horror ” to which he invited her, — arguments which no woman at once capable and tender hearted could have resisted, — alluded to more remote but probable results following on her conduct. He said truly: — “.
If this succeed, an enormous amount of good will be done now, and to persons deserving every thing at our hands; and a prejudice will be broken through and a precedent established which will multiply the good to all time.”
No doubt; but it will be through the patience, faith, and wisdom of men and women working together. In an under taking so wholly new to our English customs, so much at variance with the usual education given to women in this country, we have met and shall meet with perplexities, difficulties, even failures. No doubt there are hundreds of women who would now gladly seize the privileges held out to thorn by the example of Florence Nightingale, and crowd to offer their services where needed; but would they pay the price for such dear and high privileges? Would they fit themselves duly for the performance of such services, and earn, by distasteful and even painful studies, the necessary certificates for skill and capacity? Would they go through a seven years’ probation, to try at once the steadiness of their motives and the steadiness of their nerves? Such a trial is absolutely necessary, for hundreds of women will fall into the common error of mistaking an impulse for a vocation. But I do believe that there arc also hundreds who are fitted, or would gladly, at any self-sacrifice, fit themselves, for the work, if the means of doing so were allowed to them. At present an English lady has no facilities whatever for obtaining the information or experience required; no such institutions are open to her, and yet she is ridiculed for presenting herself without the competent knowledge! This seems hardly just.
The horrors of war which called forth so noble a display of the best capabilities of women, are accidents in the world’s history; but the capabilities so called forth are not accidental, nor will they cease with the occasion. They are intrinsic and essential and ever at hand, though hidden under a mass of cruel conventionalities, like that ship-load of precious drugs and medicaments, which, as we are told, were stowed away under heaps of shell, shot, and gun-powder. Having once discovered their treasures, men have now to use them. War will cease, but here at home, the need of women’s active intelligence and tenderness to alleviate a mass of social evils, will not cease. The time is surely coming when we shall know how to apply such material better than we have yet done. The time is surely coming when private charity will not be so often desultory, capricious, misdirected, meddlesome, and unwelcome ; when public charity will not be worked like a steam power, through mere official mechanism, but by human sympathies, cheerful, wise, and tender. The contributions poured into the magistrates’ poor-box on every public appeal, the distribution of blankets and flannels, and soup, and all creature comforts, are in themselves things excellent and seasonable, and worthy of all imitation; but should this be the only intercourse between those who give and those who want? — those who pity and those who suffer ? The love that works for our good should elicit love in return, or it is nothing but a machine. Such is not God’s love to us, whose highest benefit it is that it awakens our responsive love for him, and makes us better through that love. Should we not also endeavour to make our fellow-creatures better through our charity, to touch the nature and make it respond to our own, till there shall be more of mutual faith and comprehension as well as a more diffused sympathy through the different orders of society?
An institution such as I have in my mind, should be a place where women could obtain a sort of professional education under professors of the other sex, — for men are the best instructors of women; — where they might be trained as hospital and village nurses, visitors of the poor, y and teachers in the elementary and reformatory schools; so that a certain number of women should always be found ready and- competent to undertake such work in our public charitable and educational institutions as should be fitted for them; — I say fitted for them, and for which by individual capacity and inclination they should be fitted, and f that corresponding fitness tested by a rather lengthened probation and a strict examination. It seems rather unjust to sneer at a woman’s unfitness for certain high duties, domestic and social, unless the possibility of obtaining, better instruction be afforded. All the unmarried and widowed women of the working classes cannot be sempstresses and governesses; nor can all the unmarried women of the higher classes find in society and visiting, literature and art, the purpose, end, and aim of their existence. We have works of love and mercy for the best of our women to do, in our prisons and hospitals, our reformatory schools, and I will add our workhouses but then we must have them such as we want them, — not impelled by transient feelings, but by deep abiding motives, — not amateur ladies of charity, but brave women, whose vocation is fixed and whose faculties of every kind have been trained and disciplined to their work under competent instruction from men, and tested by a long probation.
It will be said, perhaps, that when you thus train a woman’s instinctive feelings of pity and tenderness for a particular purpose, to act under control and in concert with others, you take away their spontaneousness, their grace, even in some sort their sincerity ; consequently their power to work good. This is like the reasoning of my Uncle Toby, who, in describing the Béguines, says, ” They visit and take care of the sick by profession; but I had rather, for my own part, that they did it out of good nature.” Would Uncle Toby have admitted the necessary inference — namely, that when you train and discipline a man to be a soldier, to serve in the ranks, and obey orders under pain of being shot, you take away his valour, his manly strength, his power to use his weapon? We know it is not so.’ Never yet did the sense of duty diminish the force of one generous impulse in man or woman! — that sublimest of bonds, when in harmony with our true instincts, intensifies while it directs them.
There are many other objections and obstacles, lying in our onward path, of which I cannot dissemble the magnitude. There is in this country a sort of scrupulousness about interfering with the individual will, which renders it peculiarly difficult to make numbers work together unless disciplined as you would discipline a regiment. Yet in any community of reasonable beings, therefore in any community of women, as of men, there must be gradations of capacity, and differences of work.
A wisely organised system of work — intellectual and moral as well as mechanical work — provides for this natural inequality, and does not place human beings in positions which they are naturally unable to fill with advantage to themselves or others; and that would be a strange law which should oblige a master manufacturer to employ botchers in the place of skilled workmen because they present themselves, and because they also have a right to live by their work.
To make or require vows of obedience is objectionable; yet we know that the voluntary nurses who went to the East were called upon to do what comes to the same thing — to sign an engagement to obey implicitly a controlling and administrative power — or the whole undertaking must have fallen to the ground. Then, again, questions about costume have been mooted which appear to me wonderfully absurd. It has been suggested that there should be something of uniformity and fitness in the dress worn when on duty, and this seems but reasonable. I recollect once seeing a lady in a gay light muslin dress, with three or four flounces, and roses under her bonnet, going forth to visit her sick poor. The incongruity struck the mind painfully — not merely as an incongruity, but as an impropriety, like a soldier going to the trenches in opera hat and laced ruffles. Such follies, arising from individual obtuseness, must be met by regulations dictated by good sense, and submitted to .as a matter of necessity and obligation.
But it is not my intention to go into any of these minor points of discipline and questions of detail. One great object has been achieved — a principle has been admitted, a precedent has been established, of female labour, organised for noble purposes of public utility, approved by public opinion, guided and assisted by man’s more comprehensive intellect, sustained and sanctioned by the authority of the ruling powers. All schemes for the public good, in which men and women do not work in communion, have in them the seeds of change, discord, and decay. Some time, ago Miss Bremer (the Swedish authoress) planned a sort of universal feminine coalition — a sort of female corresponding society for sundry pious and charitable purposes. Her plan virtually excluded the co-operation of the masculine brain, thus dividing what Nature herself has decreed should never be disunited without mischief, the element of power and the element of love. The idea was simply absurd and necessarily impracticable. Such an association of one half of the human species in an attitude of independence as regards the other, would have excited a spirit of antagonism in the men; and among the women, would have speedily degenerated into a gossiping, scribbling, stitching community, unstable as water; and nothing more need be said of it here, except that it fully deserved the witty rebuke it met with, though not solely nor chiefly on the alleged grounds.
And now I may leave the question at the point to which I have brought it. I will only add that the history of the past, of the possible, of the actually accomplished, which I have here rapidly sketched out, should give us courage in the present and hope for the future.
It is a subject of reproach that in this Christendom of ours, the theory of good which we preach should be so far in advance of our practice; but that which provokes the sneer of the sceptic and almost kills faith in the sufferer, lifts up the contemplative mind with hope. Man’s theory of good is God’s reality; man’s experience, is the degree to which he has already worked out, in his human capacity, that divine reality. Therefore, whatever our practice may be, let us hold fast to our theories of possible good; let us, at least, however they outrun our present powers, keep them in sight, and then our formal lagging practice may in time overtake them. In social morals, as well as in physical truths, “The goal of yesterday” will be the starting point of to-morrow; and the things before which all England now stands in admiring wonder will become the simple produce of the common day.” Thus we hope and believe.
Source: Sisters of Charity; And, The Communion of Labour, Two Lectures on the Social Employments of Women. A New Edition Enlarged and Improved with a Prefatory Letter to the Right Hon. Lord John Russell, President of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, on the Present Condition and Requirements of the Women of England (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman, and Roberts) 1859, pp. 23-66.