A Celebration of Women Writers

"Changing Ideals in Southern Womanhood." by Mrs. Sue Huffman Brady (1859-).
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. 306-310.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 306] 



As out of the side of the mountain issue the streams, and out of the lap of the prairie bubble the springs whose mingled waters make the great river and the greater sea, so from the homes of a country comes its civilization; and the one will be broad, strong, progressive and satisfying in proportion as the influences flowing from the other are pure, patriotic and humane, born of kindly hearts and cultured minds.

In order to attain a definite perception of the themes upon which I address you, it will be necessary to draw a faithful picture of the representative type of Southern womanhood as she appears in the three most marked epochs of her history–during the period of the old South, during the transition period succeeding the civil war, and as she stands and acts and looks today.

A proper understanding of the first of these divisions necessitates a brief reference to the status of civilization in the Southern states in ante-bellum times. During the expansion from Colonial days to the period thirty years distant, this section numbered among its settlers the strongest strains of many stocks–Saxons, Celt, Teuton, Puritan and Cavalier, supplemented and strengthened by the blood of the heroic and picturesque Huguenot. The manhood and womanhood resulting from such a combination of racial ingredients present to the world types of intellectual greatness, moral grandeur and domestic refinement of which all America may feel justly proud, and which the older civilizations must regard with wonder and respect. Not mine, but some bolder, surer pen may trace the divergent civilizations of Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, with the relative merits and defects of each, whose better elements as intermingled today shine forth in the rounded achievements of the most perfect expression of government the world has ever known. Nor shall I, to the discredit of the one, make unfriendly and exaggerated pictures of the excellencies of the other. It is only with one side of the shield that it is my pleasant task to deal on this occasion.

I believe the highest expression of the civilization of the old South is typified in the leading men of that period who have made their impress on the pages of the nation's history. Men such as they must, in the very nature of things, have had home influences that inspired them to noble efforts, gave direction to their impulses, sweetened their toils, sanctified their sacrifices and illuminated their successes. These influ- [Page 307]  ences were exercised under the sacred guise of mother, wife or daughter, and in this triumvirate of holy relationship let the women of the old South be portrayed. Let her stand forth modestly, but seen of all eyes, as the rose-tree in the garden of that civilization which changed conditions have swept into the past.

I am well aware of the popular misapprehension that has existed in the North in regard to the South, and in the South in regard to the North; but I am equally as well aware that today I speak to the best informed, the most aspiring and the most cultured body of women in Christendom. Remembering the intelligence which makes you seek truth in every direction; remembering the breadth and force of character which made such an assembly as this possible; remembering the spirit of kindness which you have generated and disseminated to every quarter of the globe, I ask you to listen to a truthful portrayal of the characteristics of the better class of women in the old South.

Remember that there were two distinct civilizations at work in this Union; that the wheel of progress was constantly turning in the North, fed by new forces from the Old World, while the conservative South proceeded along slower lines of development; remember how widely separated were the two peoples–that no iron bands linked their commercial relations; that the lightning had not been harnessed into hourly service; that the press of the country was the principal means of communication, and that it was occupied mainly with the enumeration of exasperating political differences. Would that I had the power of presenting, as it should be presented, the beautiful and pathetic picture of the dutiful, painstaking wife and mother, who was the heart and soul of the old South-land. Instead of being a kind of Oriental queen, served and worshiped by her subjects, she was at the beck and call of everyone about the household. She not only attended to the minutest details of plantation life, but in time of pestilence and suffering she was the ministering angel. The limits of her charity were only bounded by the extent of her knowledge. That distinguished son of the South, Thomas Nelson Page, says: "She was mistress, manager, nurse, counsellor, seamstress, teacher, housekeeper, slave–all at once. What she really was, was known only to her God. Her life was one act of devotion–devotion to God, devotion to her children, devotion to her servants, to her friends, to the poor, to all humanity." Certainly her physical endurance, her moral responsibility, her unflagging tact, were ever taxed to the utmost. I feel that her characteristics have never been more beautifully painted than by one who came from the extreme East, and who spent twelve years studying the South, her conditions and history. I allude to A. D. Mayo of Boston. He says, in speaking of the Southern woman: "She did so prevail in her own sphere of usefulness that the best manhood of the South fell down and worshiped at her shrine. She was the house-mother, the queen of society, the peace-maker of the neighborhood, the saint of the Church."

Passing over those four years during which, owing to the collision of two separate and distinct civilizations, the whole country was bathed in blood, let us view the environments of the Southern woman at the close of that period, and see how she met and coped with the appalling difficulties that confronted her.

The outside world has had no conception of the complete wreck of private fortunes during the great struggle. History of recent date is beginning to throw some light upon the almost incredible privations of multitudes of Southern families, but its portrayal must necessarily have the weakness of the echo when compared with the actual suffering and despair of that day. Strange to say, the blow fell heaviest upon those who were the least prepared to withstand its severity. During the days of reconstruction, as during the war, the women carried the heavy end of the burden. How fresh in the memory of all is the magnificent struggle made by the women of New England, on the bleak Atlantic coast, in the two centuries succeeding the landing of the Mayflower. Their toils, their hardships, their trials and sacrifices, were almost incredible, and the bravery and heroism with which they were encountered have never been surpassed in the annals of history.

The difficulties that confronted the women of the South in the reconstruction [Page 308]  period were equally great. But how were they met? Just as bravely, just as patiently, and with the same womanly devotion to duty that has thrown a halo of heroism and sacredness around the memory of their Puritan sisters.

At first completely dazed, it took them some time to realize the terrible situation. But when the awakening did come, with a marvelous rebound of energy and ambition they shouldered the sad and hopeless burden of personal bereavement, and entered bravely the hand-to-hand fight with poverty.

In the dawn of the great change–loss of fortunes, loss of homes, loss of loved ones–all paled before the great problem of the hour–self-support.

This had, during the old régime, devolved wholly upon the male members of the family. But a new era was at hand. The whole bassal structure of society was shaken to its foundation. Many of the strongest men bent before the storm of humiliation, suffering and despair that swept over the country. So to the exhausting duties and crushing sorrows of household life of the women was added the task of comforting and encouraging the returning soldier. No pen can ever picture the utter sacrifice of self made by the women of this period in behalf of father, brother and son. Often the boys were slow to be reconciled to the evil fate that robbed them of the accustomed luxuries of home, and of the old glory of the fighting days. The girls not only displayed a wonderful capacity toward adjusting themselves to circumstances, but exhibited the marvelous power of wrenching the best things out of the most uncompromising surroundings. The boys were conceded all advantages particularly those of education. The promising son was kept at school while the whole family practiced the most rigid economy, often denying itself the common comforts of life. The girl who was fortunate enough to be sent away and educated must not only come home and teach the younger sisters, but also save money to send the brother to college. This, too, was often accomplished under the most trying circumstances. Neither the chill and sleet of winter nor the blazing heat of a midsummer sun ever made her waver in her noble undertaking.

It will be remembered that for nearly fifteen years the majority of academical schools for girls were closed. Many of the colleges lost their endowments and many of them found their buildings in ruins and their teachers scattered. The educational pedant would open his eyes in wonderment at the circuitous routes and incomprehensible ways in which the women of this period secured advantages. The history of the efforts of some Southern girls to obtain an education would read like fiction.

But the greatest struggle is yet to be mentioned–that of breaking down the barriers that had so long barred women from the fields of useful labor. I believe the proudest hour of my life was when I read, upon the establishment of our first normal school, that girls would be admitted as students, that they were to be allowed to fit themselves for at least one useful vocation. But, thanks to the spirit of the age, not only the teaching profession, but hundreds of other occupations are opening their portals, bidding them enter, save themselves from a life that is not only dependent, but aimless, and therefore hopeless.

The last thirty years have been one continuous school of toil, economy and sacrifice, but it has sent out graduates who eat the white bread of independence, and who carry in their hands the lantern of hard-earned experience, lighting the way to higher, truer, broader views of life. The sorrows of the woman of this period and their magical uprising have left their indelible impress upon the brow of the nineteenth century. The prodigious mental and moral force and the executive ability generated by this curriculum of hardship and responsibility, illumine and strengthen the character of the wide-awake womanhood of today.

All honor, I say, to the women of the transition period. They have passed through the fiery furnace of trial, have come out unsullied and strong, and now, with wings unpinioned, they are ready for the loftiest flights of the new American civilization.

To the people of the Southern States the last thirty years have been essentially an age of action rather than of study and of thought. No sooner had they emerged [Page 309]  from the condition of absolute poverty in which they were plunged at the beginning of that era, than they discovered that the material interests of the country demanded immediate attention. Waste places must be made to bloom again, railroads had to be built, rivers spanned, and all the wheels of agricultural, manufacturing and commercial development set in motion. Little time was there for thought of any art save the art of making money. How admirably they have succeeded in material development is patent to all whose eyes have rested on the waving fields, the comfortable homes, the prosperous towns and cities that dot these states from center to boundary line.

Following in the wake of industrial progress came the great educational wave that has swept over the entire South. Nothing ever wrought more marvelous changes in the same length of time to any race of people than this new impetus that has been given to the minds and thoughts of its youth. While it has been the means of elevating and rendering more useful the boys of the South, to the girls it has been a precious beacon light, beckoning them on to an entirely new life filled with hope, ambition and consolation.

They are the children, as it were, of two civilizations.

From the old South they inherit gentleness of manner, purity of heart, and nobility of soul; from the transition period they bring persistence, obstinate and marked individuality making them strong and self-reliant. So, from this blending of character colors, the Southern girls, when brought beneath the search-light of this new and progressive civilization, which you in your wisdom and foresight have been so long laboring to effect, are destined to give forth a brilliancy that betrays the presence of the flawless jewel.

Yes, the new woman's day has dawned in the South-land. And though the product of the evolution has not yet assumed the exact counterpart of the progressive woman of the East, still it has bidden every daughter of the South throw aside the veil of helplessness and walk forth into the sunlight of independent labor. She has already had an opportunity to test her strength. New chances are daily offered to her; and in every state we find her ready and willing to

Seek Dame Fortune's golden smile,
  Assiduous wait upon her,
And gather gear by every wile
  That's justified by honor;
Not to hide it in a hedge,
  Not for a train attendant,
But for the glorious privilege
  Of being independent.

But what has brought about this great change? The marvelous development of the natural resources of the country and the increase of wealth have enabled the South to turn somewhat from the practical affairs of life and give more time and attention to intellectual culture.

Old institutions have been revived, new ones of great merit have been established, and a complete reformation has been wrought in the educational world. A growing interest in solid instruction is everywhere noticeable. In New Orleans, in the Sophia Newcombe Institute and in the Converse College in North Carolina, we find as good work as is being done in any of the colleges for men. The public high schools of the country are accomplishing wonders, and in all of these, the girls lead in numbers and they lead in rank.

Nor is this demand for a higher and more thorough education the only mark of progress. A decided effort toward purifying society by means of temperance and other organizations, indicates that the morals of the country are not being overlooked. A new interest is taken in the affairs of the church, and in all the various charities which many women so willingly, tenderly and gracefully perform. [Page 310] 

The charge has been made upon all lines of industry; the defective stones in the walls of society have been assailed; and more beautiful than all else, women are standing by one another, while the spirit of kindness beams on every face and pervades every meeting. History presents no more striking contrast than is seen in the conditions, aims and ambitions distinguishing the women of the old South and those of the new. The former were educated principally with an eye to the beautiful, but the intervening change has forced the latter to devote more attention to the useful. The women of the old South no doubt possessed, in a latent state, the same energies, but the times and conditions did not call them forth. No matter how active their minds, or how willing their hands, they were not permitted to enter the field of useful labor. In the new South the bars of all professions and industries are thrown down, and women roam at will the pleasant fields of all forms of activity.

In the old time the young girl looked to matrimony as the only condition to save her from a life of dependence. The girl of today basks in the rays of an age of relief from such helplessness, and while she considers the life of the woman who is happily married a beautiful one, at the same time she realizes that there is no wail on earth so pitiable, no cry so hopeless, as that which arises from the wives of unhappy homes.

How I wish it were in my power to picture, as she should be pictured, the ideal woman of tomorrow. I can only say that I would have her given the fullest development of which she is capable. I would see her have the most complete equipment, the broadest and best training that the strongest institutions in the country can afford. I would have her realize that this is an age of individual achievement. I would place in her hand a banner bearing the inscription: "Success. Eternal Vigilance. Devotion to Duty." And then, not waiting for others to command, let herself give the order to advance. Thus panoplied, let her invade the realms of learning, seize its choicest treasures, destroy the fortifications erected by wrong, build in their place the stronghold of the right, and fight the best fight of which she is capable for herself, her country and her God.

Let her be a woman who will strive, who will persevere, who will persist and gain strength from every lost endeavor. Let her be able to grapple hand to hand with destiny, to laugh at defeat, to be undaunted by opposition and strong enough to brave the darkest hours of adversity. Teach her to hold fast, to hold hard, and to look upon poverty and misfortune as ordeals sent to test the sublimity of her soul. Such are the examples which the Nation needs–such the light that will electrify her people.

[Page 306] 

Mrs. Frank Brady is a native of Richmond, Madison County, Ky. She was born May 12, 1859. Her parents were Philip A. and Caroline Huffman. She was educated at Fort Worth High School, Galveston Female Academy, and Sam Houston Normal Institute, Huntsville, Tex. At a competitive examination for the Sam Houston Normal Institute held in 1879 she obtained the remarkable average of one hundred throughout. She graduated from that institute In 1880, and was awarded the Peabody medal. She is a woman of thorough learning and rare accomplishments, to which are added many personal charms. She has traveled all over the United States and in Canada. She married in 1882 Mr. Ed. F. Warren, who died in 1889; in 1892 she married Mr. Frank Brady. She organized and graded the public schools of Fort Worth, and also those of Decatur, Tex., being the first superintendent of those schools, and the first lady superintendent in Texas. Mrs. Brady is a member of the Christian Church. Her postoffice address is Fort Worth, Tex.


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
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom