A Celebration of Women Writers

"Landmarks." by Rev. Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell (1825-1921).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 633-636.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 633] 



The earth has its green valleys, its lofty mountains, its fertile plains and its stony hills; but the elevations become the conspicuous landmarks. The higher they rise, the greater distance they overlook, the more noted are they as objects of remote interest and observation. Today we are to consider character as offering mental and ethical landmarks. Fifty years ago, with few exceptions, the womanhood of Christendom was restricted to a few carefully graded, nearly dead-levels of commonplace. The terraces upon which woman stood had several elevations which were largely conventional, artificial. They differed in rank, in position, in wealth, in influential connections which gave distinction: notably they differed little in cultivation or in obvious personal ability. In a terraced vineyard, the vines on a lower level may be more thrifty and beautiful than those higher up. In the old days middle-class womanhood, and that at the very foot of all the other social terraces, was liable to achieve more real individual merit, and the distinction which that confers, than the apparently much more favorably situated. This was largely because it was not thought proper or ladylike to be miscellaneously recognized for anything personal or conspicuous. Every woman thrust into one world of the modest violet order, could bloom and beautify the one private niche which had appropriated her, but she herself and all of her friends believed that it would be little less than desecration to lavish this brightness and loveliness upon the unappreciated public. We have learned that a woman need not lose her modesty, her private worth or her homely virtues because she has gained a wider outlook, and because she has learned that her field of work may be as broad and helpful as she can make it in the service of any human interest. It used to be said that women were not entertaining to each other, the staple of conversation was too limited. Were such women entertaining to men, except in flirtation or as admiring listeners to liberal outpourings of masculine wisdom? I would not depreciate earlier serene and beautiful days. Thousands of admirable women were unselfish in life, gracious in hearing, long suffering in sweet and patient amiability, but we can no more return to their surroundings, pursue their work, or assume their character than a full-grown chestnut tree can put itself back into the chestnut burr in which it was once inclosed. But we of our generation are not the full-grown tree. We are still in the green and juicy state of the young twig, easily bent away and made to grow into deformity. Wood, brick and mortar may be oddly jumbled into the misshapened hollow blocks which we christen houses; these may have utility, and some beauty. They are landmarks, but if enough of them [Page 634]  are scattered nearly at random over the country, each largely a copy of its neighbor, they all become commonplace. Why need we each adopt the far from perfect current manners, customs and opinions of our nearest surroundings as resignedly as children accept mumps, whooping-cough and measles; as rapidly as the tree toad takes on the color of the surface upon which it happens to rest? Why should our prejudices, our politics and our religion follow as closely in the wake of our fathers as sea foam follows in the wake of the ship? We inherit features, tendencies; no one can inherit characters. It is time women make that a deliberate personal formation. To be shaped and molded without our consent has no better justification than Aaron's apology for helping to make the golden calf. He explains: "They saith unto me, make us gods which shall go before us, for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him. Then I cast it (the gold) into the fire and there came out this calf." In the midst of a great clamor of opinions women cast their brightest jewels–the power of testing and proving all things for themselves–into the fire which tries all opinions; but to each there generally comes out the traditions nearest to her hand. The real test is evaded. Thus if the man have eaten sour grapes it is the woman's teeth which are set on edge. In every heart there are ideals which wait to be realized. Like gold tarnished and dim, these ideals are often wrapped in a dark mind-rust. They are so obscured that they are quite unknown to their possessor. If another will burnish them with the light of his vivid perceptions, the possessor is amazed to find such rare gems hidden in the forgotten chambers of his being. He knows little about his untold, unmeasured wealth.

Every human being is an undeveloped wonder. There is no other like him in the universe. Whoever will make it the end of life to embody the vast wealth of hope, truth, beauty and goodness which he can find within himself, to give form and expression to his own highest ideals, such a one will become a glorious landmark at which many will gaze reverently with admiration and emulation.

How pitiable, then, that women who are but just learning what some one assured the poor little Hindoo widows–that the world was made for women, too–are still content to be so largely the weak imitators of the more than questionable methods already too prominently in vogue! Successful men and women are taken as models to be imitated both in their lines of work and in their manner of work. Imitation leaves only a dim, weak copy. Its defects are as glaring as those of the multiples of a good solid handwriting imprinted on poor thin paper by machine pressure. Such reproductions of merely verbal documents are convenient, but for any human being to ape another instead of bringing out the best genuine character still undeveloped within himself is suicidal. Nature, who makes no two leaves nor two blades of grass precisely alike, has given also to every woman her own strength, her own symmetry of possibilities. If these can be steadily unfolded from within, a sweet, wholesome and useful character will certainly be evolved. Such a one may not develop into a high or striking landmark: she will become an altogether admirable one toward which every eye will turn with approval.

"Men have craved greatness where the fates withstood,
   Not in this life can all be greatly wise;
 But all who strive to may be greatly good,
   For in the effort, the attainment lies."

The fable of the birds who agreed that whoever could fly the highest should become their king is very suggestive. The feeble bat tucked himself under a feather of the eagle's wing, so light a weight that the eagle did not even know he was there. When the strong wing of the royal bird was weary, and the kingly eagle was compelled to descend, the bat spread his skinny wings and fluttered up a few feet beyond all of the others, then down he floated leisurely, wings but half closed, to receive admiring congratulations and the coronation. But pitiable little king! he has never dared to [Page 635]  face the daylight since, lest his real weakness and his fraud should be discovered. Borrowed plumes are always dangerous. Mishaps are liable to intervene under such conditions. Too often the homely old proverb is illustrated, "Up like a rocket and down like a stick." Parchment wings are no better than the thin membrane of the bat; but to rely on our own resources, utilized by one's self, means an unending increase of power.

I rejoice that women have not proved themselves to be pre-eminently given to that class of methods. But if no progressive woman would descend even in the least degree to these unworthy, pitiable, political but really most impolitic measures, the great cause of womanhood would be much more rapidly advanced, and in the end every woman would stand in her own true niche an honored, approved, wholly beautiful madonna of integrity.

Men and women are the whole earth's rightful sovereigns by virtue of their intelligence and their higher appreciation of justice and equity. The physical forces wait their command, for it is intellect alone which can give them improved direction and control. The strength, the beauty, the grandeur of the world are the lawful servants and the inalienable possessions of all mankind. Many hued tiny blossoms and rich fruits, divinely tinted regal lands and skies gladden human lives. The tall firs, the white barked quivering aspens, the hearts of oak and the cedars of Lebanon are but precious gems often in a setting even richer than they. All these are for intelligent admiration, but equally for more prosaic human uses devised through ingenious re-adaptations. Mind alone can re-create a still nobler earth. But simple absolute truth to nature, physical and mental, is the charming method through which all desirable transformations must be effected. As heat, light, and the power in steam and electricity can not be cajoled, cheated or defrauded, so neither can that in the far more admirable mental and moral forces. The intellectual and ethical worlds await transformations infinitely more glorious than can ever be realized in the physical domain. Women just entering upon their heritage of work in that wider field which is privileged to merge self-interest in the broader welfare of progressive humanity, are not destined to become the simple imitators of our brothers, even as to their best methods–certainly not as to their worst. Imitation is the genius of commonplace; it proclaims its own insufficiency, its poor mediocrity. Imitation has a tone, a puerile side to even its best attempts. As womanhood is not a copy of manhood but its correlate, so the ways and means of the women who become world-workers are not to be the dimmer repeated impressions of the ways and means of the world-workers among men. The monkey, like a good many queer plants and many still more odd and curious animals, is certainly one of the numberless creative jokes. They all illustrate the desirability of humor, the wholesome sense of fun and enjoyment to enliven the earnest realities of life. They serve to impress the lesson that a laugh may be quite as healthful as a tear. The monkeys, whimsical caricatures of human beings, have imitation as their leading characteristic mentally. They are the best illustrations we have of the very low plane upon which we must place all pure imitation of every degree. The blundering attempt to do what some one else has done well is often deliciously absurd, and so far good as laughter provoking. It has its uses when imitation is made a light, practical gymnastics; but one can almost fancy a leading intention in making the monkey the standing illustration to enforce the imbecility of all serious mimicry of others. Young children are mimics of course; but to women, it is both a right and a duty to express their own individuality and every woman should aim to express something of her own ideal character in her work. She can realize her best self in her occupations very much as a novelist writes himself into the treatment of his characters. He may do this voluntarily; he is impelled to do it involuntarily. In the same way the life work of every woman becomes a revelation of herself and should be made to represent the highest ideal, womanly self. In the beginning God made male and female. Granite mountains joining their leagues of cold, rocky hands, but lifting white crowned heads upward toward light and sunshine in all their grandeur, are not [Page 636]  man's superiors but his docile servitors. They are the high seats from which his penetrating eye can study limitless spaces; and the foothills are but man's footstools. Pathless oceans have easily become his entirely convenient highways. At human option Niagara, earth's diadem of waterfalls, is transformed into a still more magnificent jewel in the coronet of intellect and its rational utilities. Men and women are rightfully to possess the earth and its fullness of treasures; are to re-create a new earth in which the desert will blossom as the rose. Better still, the swords must be beaten into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks. But in all intellectual and moral advancement in the consummation of applied higher truths and the more unselfish virtues, woman everywhere must uplift her own standards and illustrate her own best achievements.

[Page 633] 

Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell is a native of New York. She was born March 20, 1825. Her parents were Joseph Brown and Abby Morse, both of New England. She was educated at Oberlin, Ohio, graduated in literary course in 1847; in theology in 1850, and was ordained an Orthodox Congregationalist in 1853. She has traveled as a lecturer for a number of years. She married in 1856 Samuel C. Blackwell. Her family consists of five daughters. Mrs. Blackwell is a minister, lecturer and author of much popularity. Her postoffice address is Elizabeth. N.Y.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Kris Kleeberg.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom