A Celebration of Women Writers

"Avocations of English Women." by Mrs. Theresa Elizabeth Cope (1858-).
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. 531-534.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 531] 



Modern enthusiasm for the enlightenment of the masses is at all events beginning to show some good results, whatever grumblers may say to the contrary. If properly conducted, general education does encourage a good deal of invigorating brain gymnastics, favorable to the subsequent development of interests that are wholesome relaxations from the specialty we call "our work." More than that, a slight insight into the infinite breadth and depth of possible learning is, and always has been, to anyone inclined to reflect at all, a source of constant humility and tolerance. So vast a vista of what we do not know stretches out before us, as we plant our feet firmly on our small square of conquered knowledge, that consciousness of the tolerance our ignorance must plead for may well make us forbearing with those who, we may fancy, know a little less. We will feel, too, that our "Special" work offers sufficient possibilities of action and improvement for a lifetime, and realize fully why "Jack of all trades was master of none," and never could be. Sympathy with those who, like ourselves, are serving life's apprenticeship, and interest in their efforts, however different from our own, ought surely to be the result of a good education; by which I mean, one that has engrafted into its disciples the conviction that honest individual effort is beset with difficulties, and that no field of action useful to the community is contemptible or incapable of improvement. Petty cantankerous fault finding should perish among those who have sufficient "general education" to grasp the fact that the limits of man's mind are narrow, and that failure is possible in every branch of human effort, in our own case as in those of our fellow-men. Since the possibility, nay the necessity, of merging the terms gentlewoman and workingwoman has been widely recognized, and woman's labor placed in the balance against man's, we have heard much of the selfish and jealous opposition of the stronger sex, more especially of work under-paid because it was woman's work. That many of these complaints are only too well justified it is impossible to deny, but it is well to make out a clear case, and be just, before we begin to argue, above all dispute, for rights, or we may find those so-called rights a fruitful source of palpable wrongs, for the development of which we shall, in the first case, have to thank our own semination of the seeds of discord.

If we women really wish to enter the vast world's factory on equal terms with [Page 532]  men, that is, as animated machines, to be paid for according to our marketable va1ue, we must fairly and squarely acknowledge that, on the whole (giving a large margin to the numerous exceptions that go to prove the rule) man is a more lusty and reliable piece of machinery than woman. During a recent discussion and investigation of the vexed subject of relative salaries in the case of government clerks in England, it was pointed out that female clerks required more frequent holidays. Upheld by a purpose, women workers do frequently succeed in walks that would be tough for men to follow, but sudden collapse has been known to be the aftermath of a rich harvest reaped by female enterprise; and, on the whole, permanent success and enjoyment of it will depend largely on our knowledge of what is familiarly termed "the length of our tether."

Logical argument has hitherto been an exceptional power among us, and I am sure many of us have only fully realized the humiliating fact on perusing the combative newspaper tussles of a few of the women champions of our rights, many of whose barbed words are obviously doomed to miss their mark and recoil upon unintended victims. We have certainly often seen professional men come warmly forward and applaud those who have won laurels in domains hitherto deemed their exclusive hunting-grounds, and the frank "well done" that not long ago greeted Miss Fawcett, of England, who, in the mathematical triumphs, left all competitors far behind, had nothing of envy in its ring.

Some of us are still weak-minded or old-fashioned enough to believe that honor does come to whom honor is due, and that work honestly done for its own sake carries its own reward with it; and many of us have good reason to doubt the assertion of an Amazon of wordy warfare and platform celebrity, to the effect that, "chivalry is dead!"

No mawkish serenades under our window are likely to disturb our night's rest, it is true; but many a noble woman finds gallant knight proud to buckle on his sword in her service, and ready to go forth on her quest, even in these apparently prosaic days of top hats and gaiters. I may safely venture to assert that many, even most women, had rather be fought for than fight, and do not at all care about proving the excellence of their intellect, having never realized that they belonged to an oppressed race.

The consumptive little tailor (alas! I have seen so many in the East End of London), toiling wearily and ceaselessly for his ill-fed family, is not a less pathetic spectacle than the hard working shirtmaker in her attic. The anxious workman, forced unwillingly into a strike by his companions, is as much to be pitied as the hardy char-woman or "scrub-lady," as I hear they term themselves, who fights want single handed, tidies up her children every Sunday and sends them to Sunday-school and chapel, and sobs over her scrubbing brush for the sickly baby who kept her awake at nights, and whom a kind Providence has saved from the evil to come.

How many women have we met whose daily martyrdom was the fear of being crowded out of the work that earned their bread and cheese, are doomed to battle with their bete noire till they fall. Who has not met with them in England, all lonely and unfit for toil; trying, trying, trying, only to be jostled aside at last, and who has not longed at some time or other to help them by teaching them to help themselves?

Every suggestion that promises a reduction of the martyrdom of "worry" and lonely failure is generally welcome. Not long ago a lady gave a sketch of her practical experience of profitable gardening. The publication is valuable for its cheery common sense, and for the really encouraging account of the success in a field of effort as yet almost unexplored for lucrative purposes by educated women in England. The writer tells how, by co-operation and activity, a few ladies with very small capital succeeded in gaining their livelihood from the produce of Mother Earth; how they all improved in health, and to judge from the tone of the writer's article, enjoyed their occupation in spite of its fatigue, disappointments and drawbacks. [Page 533] 

These lady horticulturists did a good deal of grafting; they sold young rose plants, and some cut flowers; had a few shops in London and other towns which they managed and supplied. They found that the roses which were most valued were those that, to my mind, were ugly little enormities. A small, all but black rose, only redeemed from entirely resembling an undertaker's rosette by a faint carnation flush which in the eyes of its growers was its one fault; a tiny green rose, like a pale and bilious Brussel sprout among the darker foliage, and a small orange-colored rose, recalling a double king cup without its gloss. These floral aristocrats had a corner of the garden to themselves, fared delicately, and were sheltered from every blast and every parasite with the tenderest solicitude. May they long retain their exclusiveness!

Old ecclesiastical chronicles sometimes solicit our admiration for St. Thomas or St. Somebody Else, because he never doffed his penitential hair shirt, nor washed and anointed his body. If being uncomfortable were virtue, virtuous indeed those dirty old monks must have been. Well-born ladies, too, would dry a beggar's feet with the hem of their garments to show their lowliness of mind, and walk about humbly in miserable, scrappy under-vests for the glorification of their creed. Our nineteenth century ladies have left them far behind. With the hem of costly gowns they do not dry a tramp's feet that have first been well soaped; no, they sweep up the dust tramps have carried in on unwashed feet from the slums of our great cities, mingled, perhaps, with the refuse of garbage dogs disdained.

Well may they wear those large hats so much the fashion now. Are they not nineteenth century halves? Fit circlets for those who humble themselves to the dust! Our own young men and maidens vie with each other in boating, cricket and golfing. The common, sensible and not unsightly costumes worn during these favorite pastimes are influencing the costumes of working hours and social intercourse. Dress need neither be ugly nor masculine because they are clothes instead of fetters. Indoor trailing garments may be graceful, but even then no garment should be a hindrance.

Women are very eloquent nowadays on what is due to them. "Rights!" "Franchise!" "Equality!" is the burden of a good many speeches.

"When I contemplate the vicious brutality of tyrant man," remarked a lady speaker when I was last in London, to a deeply interested audience, "I am not only glad to be formed in a different mold; I regret that I do not belong to a different genus of created being." After all, one must have something to make speeches out of, and if "brutal man" is the topic of the day, why not discuss him? Reaction will surely set in! It always does. In twenty or thirty years we shall probably be devoted to worsted work and cooing gently. If we progress as we are doing now, the pinnacle will soon be reached.

Nevertheless, at no time have women been such eager candidates for the servitude of government as today, and in fairness be it added, at no time have a greater number been willing to serve the rough apprenticeship that alone can fit them for holding the reigns of government.

The avocations of English women are numerous. We have thousands of lady clerks, typewriters, bookkeepers, cashiers, shop girls, governesses, postoffice and telegraph clerks, sick nurses, a few lady doctors and dispensers of medicine, matrons of hospitals. etc., but the time is too short and my paper too circumscribed to give you all these in detail; suffice it to say that all these women, each in their own specialty, are earning their living nobly and well.

Chopping wood with a razor, and shaving with a hatchet, are laborious, even dangerous, tasks. The razor and the hatchet may be most excellent and useful tools, each in its way and used in the manner its maker intended; but reverse and exchange the work you consigned to them and the chances are ten to one they will cut your fingers, or even your throat. So it is with man and woman–they are each perfect in and fitted for their own sphere, but there is danger and disaster in one climbing into the place of the other. To fill her place fitly is not the ideal of woman's life!

Perhaps the time is not far off when the relative positions of trivial and great [Page 534]  will be more clearly taught, more perfectly understood. Perhaps the pettiness of tyranny and dignity of true humility will then become accepted realities instead of theories suitable for copy-book quotations. We may then possibly realize that it is given to the poorest in earth's dross, the least influential in earth's puppet show to govern by a better and nobler right than can ever be gained in incompetent platform speeches and struggles. Our kingdom will be a garden for weary men and women to rest in. Our ambition will be to make it so fair that the world will protect it unasked.

The noblest lady in our land is such a queen–not by right of the crown she wept to wear, and wears so fitly, but by right of a broad and noble charity that can sympathize with the weak, encourage the strong, that is purified by personal suffering into a more tender pity for those that weep. Not only because Victoria reigns queen and empress of the grandest country in the world are we women of England proud to serve her, but because, as Carlyle says, "she has been a guide and deliverer of many by being servant of many."

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Mrs. Theresa Elizabeth Cope is a native of London, England. She was born in January, 1858. Her parents were J. M. Jaquemot and A. F. Dopry de Lavouse. She was educated in England, Germany, France and Italy, and passed" B. A." of the London University. She has traveled over the world–India, China, Japan and America. She married in 1877 Captain Cope, of the English army. Her special work has been in the interest of the philanthropic work in the East End of London, among women. Her principal literary works are a work on women, dealing with labor questions, and articles in the newspapers. She was a member of the Women's Committee of the Royal British Commission, and had charge of part of the British exhibit in the Woman's Building during the Columbian Exposition. She was also American correspondent during that time to "The Queen," published in London. She is a fluent writer and a brilliant journalist. In religious faith she is a Protestant, and is a member of the Church of England. Her permanent postoffice address is No. 11 Holbein House, London, England.


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.
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Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom