A Celebration of Women Writers

"Come South, Young Woman." by Mrs. Martha R. Field (Catherine Cole).
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. 776-781.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 776] 

COME SOUTH, YOUNG WOMAN.

By MRS. MARTHA R. FIELD (CATHERINE COLE).

MRS. MARTHA R. FIELD.
The invitation which I have today the honor and the pleasure to extend to that most important class of American citizens, the young women, is inspired by the triple forces of selfishness, patriotism and hospitality.

It is selfishness of the most admirable quality to enrich our riches by an access of the pure gold of young American womanhood. It is a patriotism of a high order to labor for the proud progress of one's own state, and it is hospitality of the old-time, unquenchable, Southern sort to open our doors, our arms and our hearts and give with that largest beneficence of all, not only the best we have, but all we have.

These are the sentiments, and this the spirit in which, with a great state behind me to corroborate my words, I give the invitation: "Come South, young woman."

In directing an immigration address to young women, rather than to young men, I am conscious that I am inverting the old order of things, but speaking to women in a woman's building that is filled with woman's work–much of it of a character to still happily demonstrate the fact that women, like pigeons, have not yet lost their homing virtues–I could hardly address any other than my sex. Also, I believe that wherever brave, bonnie, winsome young women are, there also the strong, sturdy, desirable young man will be.

Some one tells a story, by the way, to the effect that once on a time all the men were put on one island and all the women on another, and that an ocean rolled between, and that all the women got drowned. I do not believe it, but I do believe that the future of Louisiana is assured if the young women of the North, East and West take us at our word and come South. From the earliest records of our country, the extreme South has managed, somehow, to be always in evidence. It has contributed to literature some of its most picturesque and dramatic pages; to history some of its most heroic deeds, and to the civilization of the New World it has given the most gorgeous and splendid illustrations of effete and luxurious living.

Today life is easier in the South than elsewhere in the United States. The far-sighted observer watching the direction of capital, the gradual opening up of the inexhaustible resources of the New South, is already certain that the Southern States are inevitably circling back to an indestructible prosperity that is to be based this time on the substantial and entirely commendable foundation of material resources that are being practically developed, without the work of any "slave-driver's whip" or the fear of any intervening disruption. [Page 777] 

Less than a year ago it was my good fortune to make the entire tour of the big, beautiful, and infinitely varied State of Louisiana. Less sensational than a journey into darkest Africa or a race over the globe, it was a long story of unique experiences.

With only a small colored lad to drive my wiry little Creole ponies, and a compass and map for a guide, I visited each one of our thirty-nine parishes. Traveling in a buggy, or often in a canoe, or even on that mercurial craft whose equanimity is as susceptible as that of a spirit level–I mean, a pirogue–the journey covered nearly eighteen hundred miles. It extended from the fated Island of the Cheniere Caminada, wrapped in its scarf of sand, to the high red hills of Caddo parish, touching shoulders with Arkansas; from the cypress swamp of the east boundaries to the salt licks and long levels of prairie that margin the shores of the Texan Sabine.

Sometimes, through the pine forests, it meant thirty miles from house to house; sometimes it meant a pallet on the floor, sweet potatoes, and bacon; sometimes it meant a bed a prince of the blood royal had slept in and frapped champagne. But whatever the material environment, on every hearth there burned the torch of hospitality that, come good fortune or ill, never goes out while the home walls hold together.

Once our buggy broke down in a dismal swamp, and I had to walk out of it nine miles. Once we were taken for patent medicine show people. But wherever I went I only gathered more facts to prove that Louisiana is the best poor man's country, and that on its lands and under its sky no one need feel the biting teeth of hunger, the quick of poverty, or know the lack of home comforts.

Louisiana is vaguely but popularly supposed to be composed of swamps, Spanish moss, and alligators–three things that, by the way, have an appreciable market value. My colored friends assure me that a nice boiled alligator's tail is very good eating; in fact, I know that it is a sort of mock pork, and the amphibian's skin is reserved only for the use of the rich. Spanish moss, that hangs our great cave-like forests with its airy stalactites, is worth from three to seven cents a pound, and time and time again have I seen a colored woman snatch up a large bundle of it from her fence and rush off to the little cross-roads store to exchange it there for green coffee or gin. Perhaps all of you have stood in the superb vestibule of the Forestry Building, with its amber walls inlaid with onyx-colored panels of "curly" cypress. It is a hall fit for a king. Less than eighteen months ago all of it was the heart of a moss-hung Louisiana swamp.

These beautiful woods–the world's future strong ships, casks for its most precious wines, cabinets for its loveliest gems, homes for its richest people–these, lying undisturbed in forest primeval, these are the unquarried Canovas, and quite as precious, of Louisiana.

That beautiful vestibule is the enterprise of a Northern firm, who are thriftily buying up timber lands all over the South, knowing it is inevitably the site of the future factory and the future mill.

So you see, if we do have swamps, Spanish moss and alligators, they yield us money as readily as Aladdin's lamp gave him gold. If one should try to paint the picture of Louisiana it would be as difficult a task as trying to write the great American novel. Too many conditions and phases of life are American to be compressed into the limits of one story! Too many geographical features belong to the great Southern state to be artistically placed on one canvas.

High hills, rocks and marbles, gushing waterfalls, mineral springs, rolling uplands, clover pastures, boundless prairies, traveled by wild ponies, pine forests like great green cathedrals, cypress swamps all hung with weeping moss, salt sea marshes, long sand dunes, sluggish bayous, brooks like crystal–all these are Louisiana. The alligator and the turtle, the mocking-bird and the linnet, the pompano and the brook-trout, the quail and the papabotte, the deer and the bear–all these are Louisiana.

The squalor of the cabin, the comfort of the prosperous home, the splendor of the old historic mansion–all these are Louisiana. We have almost the oldest towns in the Union, and millions of acres that no spade has ever touched. We have a culture incomparable, and an ignorance almost incomparable, but between these two is a [Page 778]  great, hearty, wholesome, humanity that knows more of the sweet side of life than the bitter, as little of want as Marie Antoinette knew of the price of bread, and lives like a king with a sugar cane for a scepter, a cotton boll for a royal standard, who tickle the soil with a plow and it laughs into a golden harvest for them.

About the lonely waters of the Gulf of Mexico sand lands dribble off through rushes to the sea. These island lands are the homes of gulls, terns, and those beautiful white-plumaged pelicans we call the white aigrettes, and which are hunted for that single dainty feather that floats like a thistle down on many a lady's best bonnet. It takes sixteen thousand aigrettes to make a pound, and a pound fetches seven hundred dollars. The deer hide in the salty sedges, and through the soilless wastes the bayous trickle like sprawling watery fingers, reaching out from the land to clutch the sea.

On these low coasts and islands are orange groves and cauliflower farms, and here the fisher folk dwell, their only vehicle a little, red latteen-sailed lugger, their only law the good priest whose teachings keep them from evil just as the gulf waters keep them "far from the madding crowd." Westward the coast gets firmer, and the live oak trees lean with the bend of the wind. The orange trees are taller. In Cameron Parish, not twenty miles from the gulf, there is a grand old tree that many times has borne in one crop ten thousand oranges. I have seen it so, and it is a sight to put all the golden apples of Hesperides to the blush.

Beyond the lowlands of the coast we come into a stretch of magnificent prairie, boundless and golden as Nebraska, that unfurls like a scroll waiting to be written on in all the paying hieroglyphics of the plow and harrow. Almost all the northern and western people who have come into the state have settled on this western prairie or in the priceless pine forests that clasp it like a girdle. It is a great rice country. Every fruit known to the Middle and Southern states flourishes here and vegetables grow to an almost unequaled perfection. From ten to twenty dollars an acre is the selling price of these lands. Cattle on these prairies do not need to be housed at all during the year, and require not more than six weeks' feeding, even for milk cows.

To the East, the rolling lands begin to take on hardwood trees; the streams that we call "bayous" braid in and out like silver threads through a sober fabric; the ombs of red-tiled roofs and the admonishing crosses of the village churches paint their serene pictures on the bending sky. The fallow fields swell as if breathing, and here we are in the heart of the "Attakapas country," the land of "Evangeline" and the home of the Arcadians.

It is all as pastoral as England. The green banks of the Teche slope like gardens along the Thames; the light mosses on the oaks float the gray crape of their veils so that their most delicate tendrils are etched against the air; the Creole cattle stand knee-deep in the clover or in the bayou shallows cropping lily pods. Beyond the banks you catch the broad green flicker of the cane ribbons. The contented negro croons over his hoe; a plantation bell rings off the workmen for the noonday rest; a wagon creaks by, frothing over with fresh cotton; a mocking-bird sings on a Cherokee hedge; a pelican rests on the queer pontoon bridge that clasps shore to shore. This is Louisiana.

In the northern parishes, where cotton is an ungrateful king, are steep hills, a great untouched marble quarry bursting its bondage to earth, and the long country roads are lined with walnut and persimmon trees and are thick-set with hazel bushes. Here in the orchards apples, peaches, pears and plums pelt their fruits down into the tangled grasses.

In very truth only a minor portion of the state is composed of swamp land or salt water marsh; only a small portion is in danger of overflow; and in the best alluvial districts the black soil will be thirty feet deep. There are farms in Louisiana that have been in cultivation for fifty years, have never had a pound of fertilizer used on them, and yet show no signs of giving out. These lands are sold at from twenty to fifty dollars an acre, according to the improvements. [Page 779] 

I should like to say a word about the tenant or share system. Any large planter will rent a man, black or white, a farm of, say, forty acres. On it will be a house, a mule, a plow, harness and garden tools. It includes the right to free fuel. The rent is half the man's crop. That is, if he makes four bales of cotton, two go to the planter. This liberal system exists, I believe, nowhere else in the world. It offers to every immigrant a chance for a home and a fortune.

A great many good things are free in Louisiana. In one of the pine land parishes there is a great salt well. If one touches a match to this water it flames up over all its surface and burns for several seconds. The neighboring farmers collect annually at this well, boil huge kettles of the water, and by this entirely simple, primitive and picturesque process get salt enough to savor life.

Louisiana is waiting to be cut up into small holdings, just as it is waiting with all its fallow fields for the young owners and the new, brave, blood that is to come to it from all parts of the country. These Corydons and Phyllises will grow crops for the central factory; they will have market gardens, orchards, dairy farms and poultry yards. They will grow flowers and make honey.

Splendid, indeed, are the stories of what young women have done in Louisiana. It is a record of bravery worthy of a state that allows a woman to be captain of a steamboat–Captain Mary Miller; of a state that builds a great monument to the memory of a woman who never had on a kid glove in all her life, who could not write her own name, who was only great in her goodness. I mean Margaret Haughery, the baker woman, whose loaves built asylums and yet feed thousands of hungry ones.

A few years ago a family owning prairie land in Cameron Parish built themselves a home on it. The nearest neighbor was fifteen miles, the nearest tree four miles. In February they took possession and in July of that year I visited them. The cottage was canopied with roses, and phlox and zennias, carnations and geraniums splashed all the garden walks with bloom. In the kitchen garden where six months since had been only wild hay, corn, tomatoes, ochra, potatoes, egg plants, peas, beans, pumpkins, beets, lettuce and melons grew, equal to the best I have seen at this fair. Two young girls had made that garden, and their sweet faces it was, I reckon, that coaxed from Mother Earth this tribute of all her graces.

Not far from Jennings is a little estate of one hundred and sixty acres, a cottage of three rooms, a few fruit trees, good fences, and all about waving fields of that most beautiful crop, rice. This is the rice farm of a girl squatter, a young Iowa woman, who, with her sixteen-year-old brother came South, took up one hundred and sixty acres of government land, and whose first rice crop paid her $1,200. Her nearest neighbor is another girl farmer who got her land the same way, and who is growing an orchard that already yields her a comfortable living.

Here in Chicago there lives a young dressmaker who saved up enough money to buy twenty acres of land in Louisiana and to start a poultry farm on a small scale. She sent her mother and brother to run the farm, and so successful have they been that this year she is to resign from "seam and gusset and band," and go south to its pine-scented hills, its flower-set hedges, its glorious, generous climate, where, raising her strawberries and early peas for Chicago millionaires, she shall meantime live like a little autocrat on her own principality. All along the line of the Illinois Central road, when it reaches Mississippi and Louisiana, are fruit and vegetable farms managed by women, most of them new comers. A young lady told me how she was one day packing her berries for the Chicago market when she ran out of clover. "I just went to an oldmint bed under the parlor window and cut mint and covered my boxes with that," said she. "To my surprise my Chicago merchant sent me back a dollar for the mint. During the rest of the year I shipped him fifteen dollars' worth of mint and ten dollars' worth of camelias."

On an old plantation just below New Orleans there lives a woman who had this house but no money. She could not eat, wear or read her queer old gabled home, but she sold her camelias and has been twice to Europe on the profits. These are grand [Page 780]  bushes, and I can not describe their alabaster beauty when each one has on it a thousand stainless blooms.

On a cotton plantation in the Red River country, in Grant Parish, lives an eighteen-year-old girl who is her father's engineer. She runs the cotton gin and gins every year about eighteen hundred bales. She handles that snorting machine as if it were a baby, oils it, feeds it, feels over it, scolds it, tidies it up, and when it is working as good as gold she sits beside it dear, dainty and only eighteen–crocheting lace for her petticoats. Dead forever, in the face of these shining facts, is the old reproach, "as helpless as a woman!" In every parish are women farmers, stock raisers and planters, and a typical Louisiana woman planter, honorably representing the gracious womanhood of her state on your Board of Lady Managers, is our Miss Katherine L. Minor. All professions are open to woman. She is legally eligible for any office. I wear today on my breast a medal given me by the working women of New Orleans; the givers represented twenty different trades and professions; and that is not bad for the South, whose women Lincoln emancipated when he did the slaves.

Women are a power in the South of fearful force when they organize. It was the women of Louisiana who killed the Louisiana State Lottery. When the Women's Anti-Lottery League was formed, the lottery leaders practically admitted they had got their Waterloo.

I have said that life is easy. Perhaps it is too easy to be quite good for us. One day I called a colored man out of the street to help us move some furniture. He was, as he expressed it, "settin' on the wheel of time," and "letting it roll over with him." I offered him a quarter for the job. He rummaged in his pockets and finally bawled back at me: "I reckon I ain't gwine to missy; I'se got fifteen cents."

Our climate is genial. We do not need heavy clothes or big fires. In the country, and in nearly all the small villages and towns, fuel costs only for the hauling. Diphtheria, typhoid fever and small-pox are never dangerously prevalent. Yellow fever has been quarantined out of the state successfully for fifteen years. It will never devastate us aagain. House rents are cheap, schools are good, and it is indeed God's country for little children.

And this brings me to say a word on the relations between the blacks and the white people. What a child-like, lovable, improvident, aggravating, dependent creature the negro is on his native heath only those who are born and brought up amongst them know. It is to the older ones we must turn for all those beautiful and humorous traits that grace the exquisite and tender stories of Thomas Nelson Page, Richard Malcolm Johnson and Joel Chandler Harris. What a pride of family have these fine old mammies and sable men-servants who toted their masters and mistresses when all were children together. In my own family is an eccentric old fellow who owns us all and rules us with a rod of iron. His name is "Mr. Montague." Often on those red letter Sundays when we are to have ice cream for dinner, he will go to the street corner and call back to know if it is time to come and freeze the cream. I mildly scolded him for this. "Well," said he, "when we is going to have ice cream we might as well let the neighbors know about it."

One proud old mammy, who is now out at pasture, or "exempt," in the home she served so faithfully, told me with delight that when the soldiers came to search her madame's house during the war, she hung all the family silver under her dress and sitting by the fire, pretended she was too old and too fat to stir. 1 might tell stories galore of the picturesque, pathetic and sweet side of the negro character as we know it best.

Is a woman safe in the South?

A thousand times, yes. She gets always what she asks for, and every man is her guard of honor. To the working woman every man's hat is off, and in social life she holds securely the position that her virtues, her brains and her blood demand. I can say no better word for the chivalry of the men of my state than to remind you that alone, with a twelve-year-old lad, I traveled in a private vehicle eighteen hundred [Page 780]  miles in Louisiana as safely and unafraid as I could walk the halls of this woman's Temple.

Divorces are almost unheard of in my state. Even in the newspapers a woman's name is sacred.

The South has faith in its women, especially its coming women; such faith even as Mrs. Gladstone, who knows him best of all, has in the Grand Old Man. One day a clergyman went to call on the Gladstones to condole with them at a particularly troublous time. Mr. Gladstone was not present, and the visitor said: "Do not despair, dear Mrs. Gladstone, there is One watching over all." "Indeed, I know there is," exclaimed the lady; "he's just changing his shirt, and bid me say he'd be down in a moment." They tell the story of a Kansas family who moved so much that whenever the chickens saw a covered wagon come into the yard, they laid down on their backs and put up their legs to be tied. If that family had only moved South, even the chickens would have known it was for good and forever.

Come South, young woman, and you will never leave it. You will take root in its rich soil and flower there, perfuming all the air with your sweetness. There you can be freely what you will–an ant in the morning, a bee at noon and a butterfly at night. Once on a time there were two knights who went away from their beautiful home gardens to search for some wonderful roses. They went the wide world over and at last came back with empty hands. Lo! upon the old familiar walls there grew, as for years, the very roses of their quest.

In the sweet gardens of Louisiana there are blossoming the most beautiful roses the heart can wish–the immortal flowers of time, opportunity, content, love and happiness. These are the roses of our quest.


[Page 776] 

Mrs. Martha R. Field (Catherine Cole) is a native of Lexington, Mo. She was educated in New Orleans at the Macé Lefranc Institute. She has traveled all over Europe, America and Mexico. She married Charles W. Field, a prominent stock broker of San Francisco. Her special work has been in the interest of literature, decidedly eclectic and especially in the interest of Louisiana. Her profession is that of a journalist, and she is the best known newspaper woman in the South. During the Chicago Fair she wrote daily letters from there to the Picayune, which were declared by the New York press to be the finest accounts of the Fair published. In religious faith she is an Episcopalian: member of the Trinity Church in New Orleans. Her postoffice address is New Orleans. La., care of Picayune office.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom